In LEADERBRIEF, Yashwant Kumar, co-Founder of GenY Medium & GenY Labs, in a deep-dive conversation with Pavan R Chawla
Yashwant Kumar is an experienced marketing professional who, along with his partner Ravi Jain, started GenY Medium & GenY Labs in 2012. GenY Medium is a full-service digital marketing agency that promises to ‘Enhance your digital presence by combining the art of marketing with the science of digital’.
GenY Medium, which was born as a 2-member team in 2012, is today one of India’s respected digital marketing agencies with clients across India, Canada and North America. Their strong focus on the technological aspect of digital marketing with the help of tools and analytics developed by them adds an edge to their services rendered. They are all about delivering customer trust to their client brands by using personalised marketing at scale.
And a lot more.
I caught up with Yashwant for a deep dive into how GenY came into being, his career and learnings before he co-founded GenY, his views on the Digital Marketing space, frontier technologies, reminiscences from his growth story, and, looking ahead, the opportunities and challenges he can see on the Digital Marketing horizon. Read on.
Immediately after you graduated from IIT Mumbai, you joined and stayed with Procter & Gamble, and worked across several top brands. What was that experience like – a chemical engineer diving headlong and deep into marketing? Which brands did you work with?
Out of IIT and into P&G was a big opportunity, but then, I guess the engineer in me was wired to balance the ‘aesthetically appealing’ with the ‘most effective’, if you will, in perhaps any space, even that of marketing communications and strategizing, which was where P&G placed me. And there I worked on and learnt about all aspects of marketing for the brands I managed, including digital and mobile. I oversaw the creation of viral videos, mobile games and execution of social media campaigns for brands. I also worked on product development and have a patent to my credit.
And the brands?
P&G has several billion-dollar brands in its portfolio. Given my experience in different markets including Japan, China and Singapore, I was asked to lead branding initiatives for P&G’s billion-dollar brand Pringles, and after that, for a short stint, another multi-billion-dollar brand, Pantene. This was primarily for south-east-Asian markets between 2009 and 2011.
During my roles with P&G, I was exposed to the opportunities in Digital and saw the capability gaps within both — the in-house marketing teams as well as professional service providers like the ad agencies, media planners and digital consulting firms of that time
When did you start thinking about starting GenY Medium?
There wasn’t any one specific trigger, but several, over some time. See, during my roles with P&G, I was exposed to the opportunities in Digital and saw the capability gaps within both — the in-house marketing teams as well as professional service providers like the ad agencies, media planners and digital consulting firms of that time.
I think being aware of how marketing communication needs to be tailored to different audiences for effective marketing… and having learnt from first-hand experience about both- the potential as well as the gaps in digital and mobile marketing, I was inspired to co-found GenY Medium along with my partner Ravi (Jain) who at that time was leading an ed-tech start-up team in 2008-2009 and saw the same opportunity while trying to build an online training business on a lean budget.
What was the, let’s call it, baseline of your offering?
We were addressing the dearth of expertise and strategic know-how about how to leverage digital for solving real business problems. And that’s why Ravi and I came together in early 2012 to build a performance-marketing firm which would specialise in leveraging tech and analytics to deliver superior business value for our customer-partners.
Decoding Gen Y: Young people like brands that make life easier for them, not those that want a conversation. Convenience is highly valued and is what the majority like most about buying online
What was the main driving force of your offerings to CMOs?
We believe that the focal point of modern marketing is to deliver experiences that are both rewarding for the consumer and have the potential to deliver maximum value for the business.
Personalised marketing at scale is one of the key tools in the marketer’s toolbox to achieve this goal. This is the only proven way to deliver in-context recommendations, content, promotions, and experiences, across all channels and devices, in real-time, at every stage in the customer-decision journey. This has remained as one of GenY’s core beliefs since inception.
We believe that the focal point of modern marketing is to deliver experiences that are both rewarding for the consumer and have the potential to deliver maximum value for the business. Personalised marketing at scale is one of the key tools in the marketer’s toolbox to achieve this goal
So the constant endeavour of GenY is to help the CMOs and marketing leaders leverage the right mix of technologies and tools, minimise disconnects between sales and marketing, and win customers’ trust.
Implementing and integrating the right technologies create significant complexity and call for a lot of coordination. We enjoy breaking these down and addressing the technology and business challenges by working closely with both the marketing and technology teams of our customers.
Let me forewarn you – this is a very long question. The customer-decision journey was something every digital marketer has been keeping tabs on through cookies, and for quite some time now, some – in fact, many – naysayers have been predicting the demise of cookies-based marketing. It started, if I remember correctly, sometime in 2017 when Apple announced it was shutting the door on intrusive cookies into its customers’ Safari browsers. And now Google too, perhaps not with the best intentions and forced by the privacy advocates, has announced its Chrome browser will bar entry to third-party cookies, but will continue to keep track of its direct customers and users. Which is what Facebook too is doing and will continue to do.
How, as someone who has remarkably led the surge for highly effective digital marketing at scale, do you view this? Is this going to be a big obstacle to the kind of cookies-based digital marketing that we have known so far? What would digital marketers need to do to continue to keep delivering effectively to their clients? Please answer in as much detail as you wish.
It will be very interesting to watch this play out over the next 2 years when Google and other industry leaders provide alternatives to third party cookies. Most of the digital practitioners were anticipating this move and we knew this was inevitable.
In simple words, using first-party cookies means it’s your domain collecting data. This translates into direct control and full ownership of data. In other words, you can handle the user’s data responsibly and safeguard it as best as possible
This change will almost be earth shattering for the ad tech and martech industries. Several sub-industries have been built around third party cookies to do anything ranging from A/B tests to hyper targeted campaigns. It will take significant technical efforts across the globe to first figure out the impact and then find alternative solutions for the businesses.
On the other hand, it is also very encouraging to see that companies like Google are taking user’s data privacy very seriously and have started enabling the user to control what all data points can be used to personalize their experiences. We are looking forward to making use of suitable alternatives which are less invasive and annoying and still allow us to achieve full funnel attribution.
I would encourage brand managers and digital marketers to prioritize collecting first party data of their users and really leverage that to enrich consumer’s experiences. First-party cookies bring considerable advantages. In simple words, using first-party cookies means it’s your domain collecting data. This translates into direct control and full ownership of data. In other words, you can handle the user’s data responsibly and safeguard it as best as possible.
Further, first-party cookies are valid for a longer duration. Of course, users can delete cookies on their devices, but first-party cookies won’t be vulnerable to automatic cookie blockers like private browsers or ad blockers.
Basically, first-party cookies are more flexible, and are better for storing and using data for various marketing and analytics strategies. They’re also considered more user friendly, as they help sites recognize visitors, automatically log users in, and personalize content without being intrusive or violating user privacy.
My simple advice to digital marketing teams and agency leaders is to invest in win-win relationships. They should leverage each other’s strengths and create value for the business in both short-term and long-term
Let’s get specific to some GenY initiatives and learnings therefrom, in the space of Digital Marketing. The ‘Y’ in the Gen of your company is a constantly evolving, extremely responsive and very opinionated beast, as it were. How have you been reaching out to the young generation through digital marketing?
The youth of India is an evolved user of digital and they represent a mass of niches. It is estimated that by 2030, there will be a billion people in India who are connected to the internet.
The largest segment of this digital user base would be what we are calling the “digital enthusiasts”, which includes a majority of the early adopters of the internet, as well as the Millennials and Generation Z who will be entering their prime working years.
This group is accustomed to leveraging the power of the internet in their everyday lives – across finances, education, travel, food, entertainment and livelihood.
And how does this generation expect brands to engage with them?
In a personalized and contextual way. Young people like brands that make life easier for them, not those that want a conversation. Convenience is highly valued and is what the majority like most about buying online.
Reaching and engaging this generation is an interesting challenge in this ever-changing digital landscape. For the brands that we work with, we have tried to get the attention of the youth with meaningful and useful content across different both owned and paid media.
We have seen vernacular and video content doing wonders on platforms like Sharechat and TikTok. Even in customer acquisition campaigns through pay per click campaigns, vernacular testimonials are yielding great results.
What aspect about marketing to the youth keeps you on your toes at all times?
To keep winning with the youth, it is critical to keep an ear to the ground and be ready to evolve both your creative and media strategies as their content consumption habits and favourites change every quarter or sometimes every month.
Tell us how you went about building GenY from the ground up in the early days. How easy was it to convince an SMB owner to invest in digital?
In the initial years? Very difficult! And to overcome this, we invested a lot in building in-house technologies and also partnering with some of the leading solutions providers across the world in order to showcase tangible ROI to the customer.
This, in turn, helped us become a specialist in performance marketing and build several remarkable case studies in personalized marketing, SEO, dynamic retargeting, conversational landing pages, using AI for generating consumer insights in real-time, etcetera.
The future will belong to those who will be able to use data and technologies to develop intelligence and translate them into creative insights. It is not data vs. creativity anymore; the new game to be played is data-inspired creativity
Building GenY Medium as one of the country’s leading performance marketing firm has been a roller coaster ride full of surprises and a lot of learning and growth both personally and professionally.
I’ve enjoyed the experience of building teams, coaching people.
What kind of companies and clients have you worked with?
We’ve enjoyed engaging with businesses across different industries, start-ups, family-owned, large corporate houses. It has also been a privilege to learn from our investors, customers, other entrepreneurs, and our employees.
What’s really satisfying is that what started as a small 2-member team in Hyderabad in 2012 has now become one of the leading digital marketing-tech firms with a team of 120 digital experts with offices in Hyderabad, Delhi and Bangalore, and also an overseas office in Toronto. We’re proud to have names like Manipal Cigna Health Insurance, Heritage Foods, 24 Mantra Organic, O2 Spa, HealthCare atHome, vHealth by Aetna, Onco.com, Aparna Constructions, Aegon Life, Dr. Reddys, Apollo Hospitals, CredR in our client list.
Do you still see the same kind of knowledge/skill/talent gaps today that you saw when you started GenY? Or are they different, or reduced?
The skill gap in digital marketing industry has definitely come down significantly since we started in 2012. Today digital has become a mainstream career opportunity and many colleges, universities, MBA programs and also online learning platforms are offering a plethora of courses which cover different aspects of digital marketing. We are seeing that a lot of working professionals and fresh graduates are investing in skillsets like web analytics, social media, content marketing, data science, machine learning etc which equip them for an exciting career path in this new economy.
What would you advise any Digital marketing team on how it should work with its external agency partner? And the other way round too.
My simple advice to digital marketing teams and agency leaders is to invest in win-win relationships. They should leverage each other’s strengths and create value for the business in both short-term and long-term. Agency partners should invest more time in understanding the product, the brand and the consumers whereas the marketing team should take the time to learn about the digital touchpoints, their unique dynamics and best practices to engage with the consumers on each of these platforms. Once all of these fall in place, we will see better briefs from our clients and much more impactful execution with excellence by the agencies.
What kind of Frontier technologies do you consider the most important for any marketer or communications expert – as new emerging client opportunities, and as technologies that digital marketers can and must profitably use?
I believe that the future will belong to those who will be able to use data and technologies to develop intelligence and translate them into creative insights. It is not data vs. creativity anymore, the new game to be played is data inspired creativity.
Right now is the best time to be a creative. In an increasingly cluttered world, there’s more need for big thinking and substantial power of great ideas. Research by Nielsen and Facebook backs up what we have always believed to be true: Creative assets are still the most important element in driving brand growth and sales. A lot of people are worried whether technology is going to eat up creative jobs. Whenever I get asked this question, I say that there will never be a machine that can replace a human with his imagination and ability to ideate.
At the same time, new data, technology and possibilities with artificial intelligence are coming up every week. There are more platforms, more signals and more data sources available as inputs to the creative process than ever before. We strongly believe that those who draw on this data and technology are able to take more creative risks, make better choices and prove the value of their ideas.
And now let’s look back, and ahead. What helped you along your way to your present stature, and what are the challenges or rather opportunities you see on the Digital Marketing horizon?
What’s really helped us has been the opportunity to meet with and learn from some of the best minds in the marketing and technology industries. Through our partnerships with giants like Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and Oracle, our teams are learning about the latest and cutting-edge practices in both – the B2B and B2C domains.
Speaking of challenges, well, you’re right, we see them as opportunities, and we’re aware that working with customers from a wide variety of industries and also from different geographies and cultures, we are bound to encounter a huge variety of business challenges in both marketing and sales funnels.
The opportunity that truly excites us is solving them together with the customers, learning from in-market feedbacks and experimenting with new creative and technology solutions.
That’s what makes this journey exciting every day.