“The first person I hired at Cequity was a gold medallist from BITS Pilani,” reveals Nishad Ramachandran. That was about two years ago, when he joined Hansa Cequity from iContract, where he was national creative head since 2006. Things had changed a lot for the creative who started off in Contract in 1992 and moved to SSC&B six years later, across Bengaluru and Mumbai.
But he had always been seen as a ‘tech guy’ – he was even ‘a slide’ on the SSC&B creds deck, getting called into pitches in other cities like Delhi, when ‘someone needed a web banner’. So when you ask him if creativity has taken a back seat, he offers a story instead.
It turns out that gentleman from BITS, his first hire at Cequity, took a break to head to the US. When he returned, he didn’t come back to office. And Ramachandran and team knew that he had also been in the process of shifting houses. They knew the locality, but did not know the house. There was ‘major panic’, recalls Ramachandran, because he was the only one who could do certain kind of work.
Reaching the locality, Ramachandran was affronted with a society of some 20 floors with 11 towers or so. There was no record of the resident by name. He thought of something. He called Domino’s and gave the missing person’s number. Promptly, the lady on the other end of the line read out the address to verify where the pizza needed to be delivered. “The answer was in technology, in the database,” underlines the creative who has embraced technology.
‘Storytelling isn’t going away’
At Cequity today, there are about 300 people, not counting another 200 at a call centre. There are around 30 analysts, an equal number of account management folks, over 60 data people, a campaign team, a tech team, a customer engagement team and some feet on street. In Bengaluru, where there is a small team of five in place now, the mandate is to grow the number to 50 - with 30 in place by the end of 2014. A technology development centre is being planned in a 12 to 18-month horizon.
And of course, part of the team is a group of 20 creatives, up from four when Ramachandran came in. How different are the creative folks in a set up that attempts to marry technology, data targeting and creativity all the time?
“What Cequity is able to do, is hit the sweet spot with technology and marketing people, addressing CTOs and CMOs,” he notes. They address about 25 clients, including Axis Bank, Tata Sky, Mahindra Holidays, Mahindra Auto, TVS, Nerolac and Yatra.com. And the creative team has a lot to do. On one technology platform for Axis Bank alone, they end up churning out about 200 pieces of creative a month. “It’s a factory model of creative. The minute someone changes their maiden name, it can trigger off a chain of actions. It’s a very new kind of creative – creativity has changed from being touchy, playing on feelings, to being an inventor,” he explains.
Data to him is a system that offers hundreds and thousands of leads, be they web leads, transaction leads or something else. They need to be cleaned out, de-duped and given direction as the need may be - with the aid of a relevant creative.
“Where we’ve upped the ante is on the technology side. With one of the solutions, for example, Ajay (Kelkar, COO, Hansa Cequity) implemented it first as CMO at HDFC. In India, there must be half a dozen agencies who do it. It helps you orchestrate hundreds of campaigns at the back end,” he adds.
He acknowledges though that storytelling isn’t going away: “There is scope for both. But in my head, things have changed.”
He cites examples of getting creative right with the use of technology, starting with one for a client selling mobile phone insurance. The agency bought external databases and decided to show consumers ‘How easy it is to get into your phone’. The solution was if someone didn’t complete an action, s/he would get an SMS reiterating the message.
The kind of people Ramachandran works with is also propelling him on. The first hire’s designation was ‘Creative Technologist’. It was the first time the creative head was sitting with an engineer in a creative department. “He was a coder at heart. Tell him anything, he will develop a prototype,” Ramachandran adds.
Another one on the team is working on content. He passed out from IIT and moved from Deutsche Bank, because he wanted to ‘produce stuff’. It is this new breed of creatives that he is now helming.
For the ‘inventors’ using creativity, acceptance is sometimes a challenge they have to contend with, says the Cequity creative head. It is this, more than challenges of implementation, that is impeding innovation, he alleges.
He cites the example of a ‘Red Button’ solution proposed for an insurance player. The emergency button would be given to elderly people at home. Once pressed, the button would light up an alert at a call centre. The solution was developed using the SMS platform.
“The clients sometimes think, ‘We ask for a TV commercial and a digital campaign and these guys brings us a ‘Red Button’. It could be a solution for an auto client - it is a product innovation that could come to use. But from an agency, marketing inputs never get into products in a strong way. That’s the barrier – not technology,” he explains.
But building an app and getting it through by itself does not suffice today, he adds.
“If you have built an app and it is doing all the functions it is expected to do, it’s not enough in today’s attention-starved world. You need to create wave after wave of this. You need to build the flavours to create the buzz on the product you have put out. The big shift in marketing is that it is not marketing as we knew it. Everything you do, it needs to start telling a story, or keep adding to a story,” he elaborates.
Mining data for rewards
Work like the Pizza Hunger Button gets the creative in him hungry for more. That kind of work is inspirational and opportunities to create such campaigns do come from time to time. Meantime, what excites the creative head in the day-to-day work churned out by Cequity is the incremental business the campaigns generate for clients, and the instant measurability of success. A campaign for Westside using Facebook was used to address lakhs of members lapsing out from a loyalty programme. The brand targeted them on Facebook. For every Rs 1 spent, Ramachandran claims the return was Rs 43, in terms of business.
“Facebook is possibly the best one-to-one creative platform. The beauty of it is someone has imagined a system at some point that is capable of delivering one-to-one, basis several parameters. Across platforms, smaller things are being built in today. Someone calls you on the mobile, and you get an engaged tone. Today the moment your phone is free, I can get an alert. These are things that didn’t exist earlier and there is scope to build more and more of them,” he says, in a rare moment of excitement.
He also cites work from the Cequity, a Mobile Loyalty Programme, Celio Fantastic. It uses social media points and transaction points – where the consumer is rewarded for both, not just transactions. “Every social interaction is worth money,” he notes.
For Ramachandran, who started off in Contract and cumulatively spent 15 years with the agency, the agency has admittedly been a ‘huge influence’ on his evolution as a professional.
“Culturally, yes, Contract has been a huge influence. It’s a place that taught me to focus on work and not bother about anything else – like office politics,” he reflects.
Among people who have helped his evolution, he names Ravi Deshpande and Umesh Shrikhande, long-time heads at Contract, besides S Swaminathan of course. The duo started off together at Contract and continue to work together – Swaminathan is CEO at Hansa Cequity. He also remembers fondly John Kuruvilla, the man who got Ramachandran into Contract.
The Cequity creative also reminds us that the best creative solutions are the ones that address real needs of consumers. The best creative minds therefore, must put themselves in consumers’ shows, he underlines. He draws inspiration from companies like Amazon, from instances like his recent experience with the e-com major.
“I had a Jawbone wristband. I wanted something better and looked up a specific model I wanted. It was not available. This morning I got a mail from Amazon. All the permutations and combinations of the features I searched for, they bundled it in an offer to me. That’s where we need to be,” surmises Ramachandran.
▲ Celio Fantastic: This is something we imagined and created at Hansa Cequity. Good example of modern marketing. Data, technology, CRM, social media and digital marketing coming together. Thanks at a visionary client, Rajiv Nair CEO of Celio India.
HSBC Your Point of View: This was part of an activation campaign iContract did for HSBC in 2006 or so to support their global campaign Different Points of View. The idea was from Prabhakar Jampa, Rayomand Patell wrote copy to support it. Proved that you can take an idea that was created in some part of the world and rethink it for a completely different context.
Mitsubishi Cedia Great Driving Challenge: This was one of the first integrated digital media campaigns to come out of India. The idea came out of a meeting with the CEO of Mitsubishi India. Srreram Athrey was instrumental in getting the idea executed along with the team from Experience Commerce.
HSBC AMC: Something Satish Ambewadikar and I did for HSBC Asset Management in 2007 when Deepali Naair was the head of marketing. A mail pack talking to distributors on how their new fund was a high growth opportunity. A big winner in the awards circuit.
OneAssist: One of the biggest challenges for marketing is to get people to notice it. Even if it is noticed, a small fraction of people actually take action. This email campaign we ran for OneAssist a start-up offering services to secure smart phones, wallets and such. At Hansa Cequity we invented a new kind of email, which triggered an auto SMS if no action was taken on the mailer. Gagan Maini was our client.
Shoppers Stop: Two examples of some early social media work we did for Shoppers Stop. Likes Wins, done when such ideas were still legal on Facebook. Shoppers’ was launching their new season on Facebook. Simple idea that got us a lot of new fans. Made possible thanks to the support of Vinay Bhatia and Anuradha Bose at Shoppers Stop.
Vaango: New marketing, I believe, is more about inventing and creating rather than just creating. The idea was very straightforward when I saw it. A normal printed direct mailer cut like a dosa with the Like Button Photoshopped on it. We decided to create a special tava at Vaango restaurants which could punch out dosas with Facebook Like impressions on them. Shibu Itti and Prabhakar Jampa were my partners in crime.
Westside: One more inventive piece of work I love. We asked people to dedicate their Twitter bios to their fathers of Fathers’ Day. Normally we would have been happy to end it there. But we then pushed it further, into Real Time Manufacturing, where the bios people created were converted into custom fridge magnets and couriered out to their parents. Team: Samit Malkhani, Anna Fernandez and Faye Rodrigues along with Uma Talreja from Westside.