Anupama Sajeet
Nov 17, 2023

The CMO's MO: Maruti Suzuki's Shashank Srivastava on driving customer ethos for the automaker

Shashank Srivastava, senior executive officer, marketing and sales, Maruti Suzuki India, headlines this edition by delving into being a completely 'customer-obsessed' CMO and giving a peek into his lesser-known fascination for the origins of the universe and human evolution

The CMO's MO: Maruti Suzuki's Shashank Srivastava on driving customer ethos for the automaker

The CMO's MO: 9 questions with dynamic marketing leaders, insights and personalities revealed. 

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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 while giving us a peek into the person behind the title. Here we chat up with the who’s who of the country’s leading marketers, keep the tone conversational, crisp and throw in questions that allow leaders to shine a light on their personalities, plans, and passions projects for the year ahead. 
This week we have Shashank Srivastava, senior executive officer, marketing and sales, Maruti Suzuki India, on the hot seat.

Maruti Suzuki India, a subsidiary of Suzuki Motor Corporation, Japan, is India’s largest passenger car maker, with a market share of over 45%.
Having joined the company as a management trainee, straight out of college from IIM Ahmedabad in the year 1989, Srivastava has played a crucial role in developing the dealer network and refining processes at Maruti Suzuki through his over three-decade career and diverse expertise in sales, supply chain, digital marketing, business communications, and international relations, contributing significantly to shaping a stronger future for the automaker.  
In this column, Srivastava decodes his understanding of consumer behaviour and market trends that have enabled him to drive business transformation, competitiveness, and customer ethos at Maruti Suzuki. He also shares his views on how the modern CMO is no longer a marketing maestro but rather an 'orchestrator of strategies that extend far beyond conventional marketing', and more.

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

In a competitive industry like ours, the challenge of marketing saturation prompts us to innovate persistently. We aim to stand out by crafting unique strategies that resonate with consumers amidst the marketing noise. Embracing this challenge, our focus lies in delivering authentic and impactful messages.

Secondly, adapting to evolving consumer preferences is both a challenge and an opportunity. We must be agile and adapting in tailoring our products and marketing strategies to align with these shifting trends to stay ahead.

Finally, with a vast and diverse portfolio of brands, coordinating marketing across all channels poses a logistical challenge. To address this, we prioritise a unified approach. Implementing cohesive, cross-channel strategies with consistent brand messaging is pivotal.

What are the three biggest opportunities for your brand?

Multi-powertrain approach: We are committed to providing green mobility solutions that align with the government's vision of carbon neutrality. Our multi-powertrain strategy is a testament to this commitment.

SUVs: Our SUV portfolio is strong, which has helped us maintain strong sales momentum. We have a sub-segment approach, which means we have an SUV for every type of customer, whether they prefer a traditional boxy shape SUV, modern design SUV, lifestyle SUV, or premium SUV.

Network strength: Our extensive network of over 4,000 sales and 4,700+ service outlets is our biggest strength, which we will continue to leverage for sustained growth and new opportunities.

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

Our marketing expenditure has increased by 15% this fiscal year, demonstrating our commitment to diversification. We are strategically directing a substantial portion of this budget towards vernacular-focused campaigns, timed specifically around festive seasons.

Our research has revealed that young consumers are highly interested in vernacular content consumption. Therefore, we are focusing our efforts on general entertainment channels (GECs) across both television and over-the-top (OTT) platforms. This approach ensures an engaging outreach to this evolving consumer segment. Additionally, we are incorporating a significant portion of digital into our media mix.

Our allocated annual budget for marketing campaigns this year is approximately INR 1,000 crore. This investment reinforces our commitment to adaptability, consumer-centric approaches, and a proactive strategy in line with the ever-evolving preferences and behaviours of our audience. With this approach, we can meet the needs of our diverse audience and provide them with a memorable experience.

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

In today's fast-paced business world, chief marketing officers (CMOs) have evolved from marketing specialists to strategic growth leaders. They are now known as chief growth officers - individuals who play a transformative and pivotal role in driving business expansion. What sets them apart is their ability to fuse marketing expertise with data analytics, technological innovation, and customer-centric insights.

This unique combination of skills enables them to create comprehensive strategies that span revenue generation, customer experience enhancement, and market diversification. By aligning marketing initiatives with overall business objectives, CMOs have become the architects of growth. Their visionary approach and expanded skill set position them as vanguards of business expansion and success.

They have become growth gurus who are committed to driving growth through strategic foresight, adaptability, and a deep understanding of their customers. The modern CMO is no longer a marketing maestro but rather an orchestrator of strategies that extend far beyond conventional marketing.

Are you tapping into Gen AI’s awesomeness to future-proof your marketing efforts? Spill the C-suite strategy around Gen AI.

Artificial intelligence has become an integral part of our lives, revolutionising the way we conduct business and communicate with each other. From streamlining business processes to chatbots, AI's benefits are all-encompassing. Recently, the release of ChatGPT and DALL-E 2 has brought the conversation around AI and ML (machine learning) to a new crescendo.

For companies like Maruti Suzuki that serve millions of customers, AI chatbots have become essential in addressing customer inquiries. Through the use of chatbots, we have been able to handle 97% of our service-related customer queries with ease. Managing diverse queries from such a wide consumer base is crucial to our success, and AI has made it possible.

Trend jacking the metaverse train: Is it for your brand or not?

As consumers embrace their digital native status, the emergence of the Metaverse as a global, interoperable digital ecosystem is a compelling frontier. At Maruti Suzuki, we proudly lead the charge in exploring the potential of the Metaverse, offering innovative ways for customers to engage and interact with our products.

Our proactive approach includes launching a car in the Metaverse. Furthermore, our entire Auto Expo 2023 exhibition was also hosted on the EXPOverse platform, signalling our commitment to immersive experiences. Initiatives like NEXAVERSE and ARENAVERSE redefine the car buying journey, enhancing immersion. Our Grand Vitara launch on NEVAVerse secured a staggering 55,000 pre-bookings, highlighting the power of virtual experiences. This signals a promising future for our engagement in the Metaverse, amplifying our excitement for the potential these technologies offer.

Getting on top of things at Maruti Suzuki

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

I can give many as Maruti Suzuki India has made remarkable progress in its commitment to sustainability.

  • Reducing carbon emissions in manufacturing operations and greener logistics:

Maruti Suzuki has increased the use of solar power in vehicle manufacturing, with a total installed capacity of 26.3 MWp. The Company’s solar power generation capacity will increase to 48.15 MWp, from the existing 26.3 MWp, by FY 2024-25.Maruti Suzuki dispatches record 3.2 lakh vehicles by railways in CY2022 and saves over 1800 MT of Co2 emissions. 

  • Reducing emissions through products:

Cumulative CO2 emissions of 1,922,656 MT have been avoided using green vehicles (CNG + Smart Hybrids) till FY 2022-23. The share of sales from green vehicles at 37% in FY 2022-23. These include Intelligent Electric Hybrids, Smart Hybrids and S-CNG powertrain technology Expanding strong hybrid portfolio of cars with Grand Vitara and Invicto.

  • Water Stewardship Initiatives:

Maruti Suzuki employs zero liquid discharge techniques and maximizes water recycling in manufacturing facilities. Use of dry-wash technology in workshops saved 1,800 million litres of water in FY 2022-23. Groundwater dependence is reduced by recharging the water table through 233 recharge wells.

  • Optimising the Use of Finite Resources by Promoting 3R Practices

5,300 MT of steel was saved in FY 2022-23 through yield improvement activities undertaken at the company and across its suppliers’ manufacturing facilities.

Suppliers and other recycling agents reused more than 98,260 MT of steel scrap and 5,650 MT of aluminium scrap generated by the company. 

What do you feel separates your brand culture from others?

Maruti Suzuki's brand culture is a fusion of legacy, innovation, and an unwavering focus on customers that distinguishes us from the competition. Our legacy spans decades, and our values of trust, reliability, and quality are deeply ingrained. However, what truly sets us apart is our culture of continuous innovation, constantly pushing boundaries to meet the ever-evolving needs of our customers.

Our products represent a shift from simply fulfilling functional needs to fulfilling the aspirations of the modern Indian consumer. Customer satisfaction is one of the core elements of our culture which has driven the evolution of our products and the creation of meaningful experiences throughout the purchase lifecycle.

We also take our social responsibility and sustainability seriously, which sets us apart in the automotive landscape. This unique blend of our legacy, innovation, customer-centricity, and responsibility defines our brand culture, carving out a distinctive space for Maruti Suzuki in the industry.

What needs to change in your industry when it comes to working culture?

The automotive sector is experiencing unprecedented disruption through changing technologies. The impact of this trend will have sweeping implications on talent in the sector for the coming years and decades. Thus, a more profound integration of digital tools and technology is crucial. Implementing cutting-edge technology not only streamlines operations but also enhances efficiency and innovation, ensuring the industry remains at the forefront of technological advancements.

Complete the sentence: “Today’s CMO must be….”

In today's fast-paced marketing landscape, the role of the CMO has become all the more demanding. The ideal CMO should be a skilled orchestrator, effortlessly blending data-driven insights, innovation, and customer-centric strategies. They must be quick to adapt and possess visionary leadership qualities, not only focused on building brand awareness but also driving revenue growth by aligning marketing initiatives with broader business objectives. Furthermore, a successful CMO should be a digital transformation champion, using the latest technologies to create personalised, captivating customer experiences. Ultimately, the CMO is both a strategic leader and a creative visionary, guiding the brand towards greater agility, relevance, and resonance in an increasingly competitive market.

What kind of a CMO are you? Answer using a maximum of three adjectives.

Customer obsessed, customer obsessed, customer obsessed.

Tell us one personal thing about yourself that others might not know.

A personal aspect that may be less known about me is my profound fascination with the origins of the universe and the evolution of humans.

What’s your favourite brand campaign that you participated in or wish you had?

Two recent ad campaigns that I like are 'Jimny – never turn back' and Arena's 'find your match.' The 'never turn back' campaign evoked a sense of adventure and excitement, while 'find your match' resonated profoundly with the younger audience, leaving a lasting impression.

Name another brand (can’t be yours) with an amazing customer experience that you really admire. Why is it great?

Apple is a brand that is widely known for its exceptional customer experience. They are committed to creating a harmonious ecosystem by seamlessly integrating hardware, software, and services. This approach ensures that the user journey is smooth and enjoyable. Apple's focus on simplicity, intuitive design, and unwavering quality resonates deeply with its customers. Apple's retail stores offer a unique and inviting atmosphere, and their knowledgeable and friendly staff provide personalized experiences that go beyond mere transactions. The brand's dedication to customer satisfaction, from product design to post-purchase support, sets a standard of excellence in customer service that many brands aspire to achieve.

What keeps you up at night as a CMO?

As a chief marketing officer (CMO), my biggest concern is how to navigate the interplay of rapidly shifting consumer behaviour, aspirations and a constantly evolving technological landscape. It is a persistent challenge to devise strategies that meet these ever-changing needs while staying competitive in a fast-paced market.

In addition, harmonising our initiatives with emerging technologies and leveraging data for personalised marketing while maintaining a clear focus on ROI and overall business growth presents a delicate balancing act. The continuous challenge lies in striking the right equilibrium between innovation, fostering meaningful engagement, and delivering impactful results.



Campaign India

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