Trust before eyeballs

21 Dec,2015


Ajay Kakar, Chief Marketing Officer– Financial Services, Aditya Birla Group, feels there are two problems with the sector he works in. While the first is poor penetration and knowledge about various offerings, such as insurance or mutual funds, the bigger issue is that of building trust in your brand – and not necessarily through splashy advertising campaigns. If you have customers’ trust, you have them for life, Kakar tells Pradyuman Maheshwari


So this is a season for financial services, for investments?

The Aditya Birla financial group represents 10 lines of businesses across the financial services spectrum, and we intend to launch an eleventh, which is health insurance. While people view these as individual categories, ie, life insurance, mutual fund, banking, broking, wealth management and such, we see all of these as representing only one product category, which is money, and these are all shades of it. It’s like when Asian Paints advertises, you know they are advertising one product called paint, and they will have various shades of it.


But money is possibly the toughest thing to part with.

Yes, that’s why I started with that, and will then come to the individual categories. Interestingly, you will find certain common trends, whether it is a consumer site or industry site across all these verticals. First, imagine a category that is relevant to any and every person alive, and that is money. This needs no sell. Yet banking in India has got only 40 % penetration. I would have thought that everyone across the country, even in the smallest pockets, would have a bank account with, say, the State Bank of India. Yet that is not the case. Second, while all of us are busy selling our products and categories, very few of us are even thinking of selling solutions to either the customer’s felt or perceived needs. That’s why we advertise what we sell; we don’t advertise what customers buy. For example, nobody ‘buys’ a car loan. You want a car and the loan is a necessary evil. All of us are busy talking about what we have. We don’t try to understand the customer’s unique need.


I believe the Indian financial services consumer is a financial simpleton, even though he may be globally aspiring, thanks to the media and the opening up of boundaries. And even the richest man may not have the time to manage his finances, let alone a common, office-going person. They want somebody to hold their hand and guide them to their dream destination. There is still a lack of connect between what the customer wants and what we offer, and that’s why [the financial services] penetration levels remain low. So we at the Aditya Birla Financial Group, decided to be different. The first thing we decided is that we must be an agent provocateur to help the Indian masses self-realise the importance of making money work in their lives. So that’s why we’re taking approach to customer with the entire spectrum called money and yes, we have products and solutions in every category. We are committed to being a broad-based as well as an integrated player.


Your ‘Janoge tabhi toh Manoge’ campaign has been there for more than three seasons. Don’t you think people would tire of the same kind of message?

Of course. But, first of all, ‘Janoge’ is a brand created for investor education and is directly related to Birla Sunlife mutual fund. Two, it’s a brand which tells me what’s in my best interest. We are wearing two hats — we are wearing the earning hat or the business hat, and we are also wearing the corporate social responsibility (CSR) hat. We want to tell you to buy our products and solutions but first tell you what is in your interest. Our commitment in ‘Janoge’ is investor power; making you learn how to fish, rather than handing you some fish. Second, we have found different facets in mutual funds in our three seasons. In our first season, we talked about how mutual funds need time though not a lot of money. Today, we are talking about a smarter way to benefit from the equity market. So we are changing our message with every season.


When it comes to mutual funds, people look at NAVs, past performance, and which scheme will make them the most money. Given this, does advertising really work?

We need our customers of Mass India to realise the cost of no action. Having taken a decision, you must act because not acting is going to make you miss the bus. You won’t get money sitting at home; you have to work at it. So be smart about it, take an informed decision. Brands capture the hearts of customers but the problem with our category is under-penetration. If we don’t understand why this is so, it will not work. The life insurance industry loses money if a customer leaves after two or three years. But If I’m in a hurry to make a sale, there is a chance the customer will, after two or three years, question his decision to have bought the insurance. So if you buy for the right reasons, you will stay for the right reasons.


In the last few years we have seen a severe liquidity crunch and job losses. How much has that impacted the investment behaviour of people?

Everyone needs money, and those who have it, need to know what to do with it. And this will always be the case, in both good times and bad. But a lot of financial services categories are fair-weather friends; they advertise when the market is good, and pull back when it is not. Imagine a doctor who will be ready to see you when you’re healthy, but is not available when you are ill. Customers want and need to see throughout the year. They need to know that what they are buying, is in their interest. If they trust you, they will stay with you for a lifetime


There are a host of players in this business, and while some of them advertise, many others don’t. What are the most critical components to look at?

Everyone has his own strategy. The Aditya Birla group is highly committed to building and nurturing brands because they believe brands abide for generations. They believe in investing across economic and sentimental cycles because they know that at the end of the day, the human being decides with his heart which brand to go with. There are three things you need to look at for this. First, are you fortunate enough to have and invest in a brand, to start with. Second is what you say, and third is how you say it. And I think we are blessed with all three. We don’t rest on past laurels but keep nurturing and investing in our brands. Advertising is not the end; striking a cord [with people] is. Our brand track shows that as against our investments — which are most conservative compared to our competition — our benefits have been the highest.


What is your strategy towards promotions, in terms of percentage spends on ATL, BTL etc?

A marketer spends where he can capture the most eyeballs, right? And that differs from category to category, and from brand to brand. In the financial services industry, you reach out to a relatively mature consumer, so you must target [people of a] certain age and above. To reach mass India, you must use mass media. About 70% of our marketing spends are on campaigns leaning towards mass media and television. Mostly television because we are not only selling categories, we are selling categories the emotional way. So print takes a back seat.


How much of digital do you use?

Last year, our life insurance campaign was a 3.5-minute film where we dared to tell a story, rather than have a regular ad. We dared to not plug our product or category, and we dared to invest heavily in digital, even though this reaches a far lower mass [of people]. This strategy paid off, and now three leading brands have followed us in quick succession with possibly the same strategy. It’s not the spends, but what you do with the spends. In financial services, the biggest award you can think of is the Midas Award of New York, where you only compete against the financial services ads of the world. We have won for five consecutive years. I believe that customers have given us the thumbs-up (if you look at our brand track scores) and I think the industry and our peers have given us a thumbs-up, going by our awards and recognition.


How much of social media and content marketing do you use to influence the influencers?

We have something called zipsip which is an instant and convenient way of investing in systematic plans of mutual funds. It’s in our portal. We have promoted it in a very big way and it has surpassed our marketing and business expectations. For that, we spent a lot because we knew it was a product for the digital-savvy audience in a digitally-savvy world. With our ‘Khud ko ker Buland’ campaign, we crossed one million views on YouTube within days. We were trending on Twitter on Day Two. Today, we have five million views by people who have chosen to view our film so the fact is we do work for our audiences, irrespective of where they are, and then we tailor [our campaigns accordingly]


But YouTube hits and ‘likes’ are not verified, right?

I would like to believe that in social media, you have to crank the engine and then see where you go. And the fact is, you can land up anywhere. For example when we had [cricketer] Yuvraj Singh talk about his illness on social media, I would like to believe that ours was the platform which was helping him spread the message.


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