Creating the next-generation digital platform for the modern marketer: Sidharth Rao

We catch up with Rao and his partner, Madhu Sudhan, to learn more about Punt Partners

Oct 11, 2022 08:53:00 AM | Article | Campaign India Team

(From left: Sidharth Rao and Madhu Sudhan)
 
Last month, former group CEO, dentsuMB, Sidharth Rao, announced the launch of his venture, Punt Partners. Rao partnered with Madhu Sudhan, an entrepreneur, to launch this mar-tech venture, which focuses on customer retention from brands. 
 
We caught up with Rao and Sudhan to learn more about the venture.
 
Edited excerpts:
 
The idea behind the launch of Punt? Is it the start of another Webchutney journey?
 
Sidharth Rao: I realised way back in 1999 the need for brands to shift towards digital, and started one of the first digital agencies in India. The past few years have been a whirlwind, and while we seem to be at a tipping point, agencies are not able to fully grasp and build their marketing technology services stack. On the one hand, you have digital advertising surpassing TV spends across the world while on the other it's the mar-tech landscape that's gaining significance. Madhu has been a serial entrepreneur himself and comes with a rich body of experience in technology services. I reached out to him and over many conversations, we arrived at the fact that there is a US$100 billion digital services opportunity at the intersection of marketing and technology that's not being correctly addressed at the moment. We realised that the incumbents are either IT services firms handicapped without complete marketing context or traditional advertising networks who're currently playing catch up through inorganic buy-out strategies'.
 
Madhu Sudhan: As the next decade of digital marketing is expected to evolve, and with so much uncertainty around what that means for brands, it's clear there needs to be innovations. We're anticipating a giant wave of large-scale mar-tech service providers built out of India and we want to get a serious head-start. That’s what Punt is all about. 
 
From our conversation, we learned that it's a mar-tech company that focuses on customer retention. Does this mean advertising doesn't help with the same?
 
Sudhan: We want to build Punt as a ‘retention specialist’. Advertising is great for acquisition but does not typically help with user retention. Legacy marketing agencies are typically focused on acquisition driven by performance marketing solutions, which is increasingly expensive and will ultimately plateau for brands. First-party data of customers can be a powerful tool for marketers, but it's currently underutilised. It’s important to keep an eye on this field especially since it helps maintain a competitive edge over competitors as well as enhances business performance. Punt is looking to leverage this massive data set via technology, to drive deeper engagements with customers, and increase their lifetime value to drive business goals.
 
You spoke about mar-tech getting only 10% of spends in a marketer's media mix. How do you plan on changing that?
 
Sudhan: Currently, the marketer spends a bulk on the acquisition, but a future that allows them to spend more of their budget on retaining users already engaged with the brand is coming and it is here today. This is also being driven by the growing number of marketing tools and solutions brands are using, plus the increased adoption of marketing technology that will fuel the demand for marketing automation services too. We don’t see the need to change the media mix, we do think that it is an ongoing trend and is playing out in the market anyway.
 
Talent is said to be an issue in the advertising space. How are you looking to grow the team? Are you looking at more tech-related hires or more creatives? 
 
Rao: With consulting and technology services at the heart of everything we do, we are looking to hire more ‘left-brained’ talent that can comfortably sit at the intersection of marketing and technology.
 
Sudhan: Punt is structured around the key lines of business which are defined by the sales and marketing tech stacks. We are building the initial team around new-age SaaS platforms specialising in retention. The goal is to build expertise in specialised stacks such as the implementation of customer data platforms, analytics and engagement etc.
 
Are any hires from Dentsu on the cards?
 
Rao: As of now, none. However, ours is a small industry. As time passes, it is but natural that some of the Dentsu alumni and current team's path cross with ours.
 
Which agencies would you consider to be competition?
 
Rao: The top three competitors for me would be: the IT services firms, big 4 consulting companies and advertising networks. While some of them cater to the digital transformation needs of large enterprises, we feel we hit the digital sweet spot, bringing a marketer outcome lens to executing the changes for the marketing team.
 
When it comes to a marketing idea - would you lay more emphasis on the creative idea or technology?
 
Rao: Creativity will always be at the heart of any marketing idea. The goal of Punt is to take it one step forward by helping marketers engage the consumer in a more personal way, using the power of storytelling and technology. Punt is the next-generation digital platform for the modern marketer.