Campaign India Team
May 27, 2024

The CMO's MO: Kia India's Shakti Upadhyay on thinking global, acting local

The head of marketing and PR discusses how the brand is embracing 'glocalisation', explains their ongoing commitment to the belief that content reigns supreme, and shares his vision for transforming Kia India into a provider of sustainable mobility solutions.

The CMO's MO: Kia India's Shakti Upadhyay on thinking global, acting local

The CMO’s MO (modus operandi), spotlights some of India’s top CMOs as they share their marketing mantra, trends for the future, and what keeps them up at night. Here, we chat with the country’s leading marketers, keep the tone conversational and crisp, with questions that allow leaders to shine a light on their personalities, plans, and passions projects for the year ahead. 

In this week's edition of CMO's MO, we catch up with Shakti Upadhyay, head of public relations and marketing for Kia India, who's been with the auto brand for over six years. Having been a part of the team that launched the Korean brand into the Indian market, Upadhyay leads all-things brand marketing, strategy and PR for Kia India. With over 19 years of experience in the field of marketing and communication, he previously held pivotal roles at Samsung consumer durables and Hyundai Motor India.

Scroll on to find out more.

1. What are the three biggest marketing challenges for your brand right now?

Our top three challenges are:

1. Building a long-term purpose-led brand with a distinct brand identity: We are addressing this by establishing a design and technology-led experience brand in India, characterised by a unique positioning and compelling content.

2. Staying relevant with ever-evolving customers: The consumers, aged between 20 and 44, represent a crucial demographic for our brand's growth. To engage and capture their attention, we employ a digital-first approach, focusing on interactive and educational content. Our recent collaboration with Bobby Deol is a key example for this, as we leveraged his charisma and style to connect with Gen Z and millennials. His alpha-male contrarian demeanour and iconic style add to his fandom and reverberate with these generations. Seltos and ‘Lord Bobby' mirror each other's style and boldness, making this collaboration truly electrifying.

3. Driving brand-empowered sales & brand advocacy: With over one million families already associated with our brand, word-of-mouth (WOM) advocacy becomes very important. As a new-age brand, we understand the power of authentic recommendations and are focused on cultivating strong relationships with our customers.

2. What are the biggest opportunities for your brand? 

The biggest opportunities we identify:

1. We are a young brand with a young fanbase. With 59% of Kia India website visitors being under 35 years of age and boasting a healthy gender ratio of 73:27 (male to female), we have an opportunity to connect with a youthful audience. This demographic presents immense potential for brand growth and engagement, as they are often early adopters and influencers within their peer groups.

2. New age customers affinity towards purpose and experience-driven brands is a huge opportunity. Kia's global commitment to sustainability aligns perfectly with this trend, offering us a competitive edge in capturing attention and loyalty. Additionally, our strong global sports associations, such as the Australian Open (AO) and FIFA, provide further opportunities to engage Gen Z and millennials through meaningful experiences and shared passions. 

3. Where are you investing your marketing budgets this year? In what areas are you increasing or cutting spending?

We believe in the power of screens— digital PR along with engaging stakeholder content and effective targeting. We are strategically investing in digital marketing to maximise our impact and reach. With the majority of our customers online, investing in digital channels allows us to effectively engage with them where they are most active. By leveraging digital platforms such as social media, search engine marketing and online advertising, we can target our audience with precision and deliver personalised messages that resonate with their interests and preferences. 

4. Marketing maestros or growth gurus: Are chief marketing officers the new chief growth officers?

Absolutely, yes! The traditional marketing roles are evolving to capture a broader focus on demand generations and maximising return on investment (ROI), leading to profits. We all strive to maximise RoE (revenue on expense), ensuring every business expenditure contributes to revenue generation and profitability. As marketers, we have to increasingly take on the mantle of CGOs, tasked with not only building brand awareness, but also driving tangible business outcomes and maximising ROI.

5. Trendjacking the metaverse train: Is it for your brand or not?

For our brand, trendjacking the metaverse train isn't on our agenda. We firmly believe in focusing on sustainable strategies rather than experimental avenues. For us, content is king. We prioritise creating engaging and compelling content along with on-ground experiences that resonate with our audience, particularly new age customers.

6. Give us one example to convince our readers that your brand is walking the talk on sustainability.

Kia's vision to evolve into a 'sustainable mobility solutions provider' underscores its commitment to sustainability and creating innovative mobility solutions that benefit consumers, communities, and global society. Aligned with this vision, in India, we launched the EV6 two years ago, marking the beginning of our journey towards sustainable mobility. Building on this momentum, we are committed to expanding our EV lineup with the upcoming release of EV9 this year, followed by the introduction of four additional EV models by 2027. This ambitious roadmap demonstrates our determination to lead the transition towards electric mobility in the Indian market. We are set to enter the mass-market EV segment by introducing a locally manufactured EV in 2025.  

7. What do you feel separates your brand culture from others?

What sets our brand culture apart from others is that it's always day one at Kia. The entrepreneurial spirit within the organisation drives innovation, agility, and a constant pursuit of excellence. One of the key factors that contribute to our unique brand culture is our ability to blend the best of both worlds—global and Indian influences. Furthermore, the concept of "glocalisation" allows us to leverage the strengths of our global presence while also adapting to the unique needs and preferences of the Indian buyers. By embracing diversity and local insights, we can create products and experiences that resonate deeply with our customers.

8. Complete the“Today’s CMO must think…” 

Like a customer! Empathising with their not only unmet, but even unfelt needs and aspirations, desires, and challenges to create meaningful and engaging experiences that resonate with them.

9. What kind of a CMO are you?

Bold, passionate and outlier. I believe in taking a bold approach to fearlessly tackle challenges and pursue ambitious goals. And with a passion for cars and marketing, I strive to make Kia the most aspirational brand.

Campaign India

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