Anupama Sajeet
Apr 24, 2024

The CMO's MO: Niva Bupa's Nimish Agrawal on why marketing and Gen AI are 'a match made in heaven'

The executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Niva Bupa discusses the obstacles involved in increasing market penetration and creating a unique brand identity, while addressing issues of trust, accessibility, and relevance for consumers in the health insurance sector.

The CMO's MO: Niva Bupa's Nimish Agrawal on why marketing and Gen AI are 'a match made in heaven'
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 up with the who’s who of the country’s leading marketers, shining a light on their personalities, plans, and passions projects for the year ahead. 
In this week's edition of CMO's MO, we have Nimish Agrawal, executive vice president and chief marketing officer, Niva Bupa on the hot seat.  A marketing specialist with over 15 plus years of experience, he currently leads everything from brand planning, communications, digital and social media platforms, consumer insights, loyalty, and customer relationship management for the health insurance major.  
Prior to joining Niva Bupa, he headed marketing at Infoedge for the recruitment portfolio which includes, NaukriGulf, FirstNaukri and other businesses.
Scroll on to read his full insights.
1. What are the three biggest marketing challenges for your brand right now?

There are three key things that come to mind:
  • Opening new funnels as lead acquisition sources beyond regular search.
  • Strengthening analytics and attribution to understand the impact of our actions on brand/ business and develop clear, actionable insights from there. 
  • Attracting and retaining key talent in the marketing functions. 
2. What are the three biggest opportunities for your brand?
The Health Insurance category is such that it’s extremely difficult to build a brand differentiator on the basis of just product and services alone, as most of the visible facets of our operations are similar or get copied within months of a launch. The opportunity therefore, is to build a brand that is distinct, most trusted and loved.
3. Where are you investing your marketing budgets this year? In what areas are you increasing or cutting spend?
Our marketing budgets are deployed across a mix of digital and traditional channels to maximise unaided awareness and consideration in our target group. Over the last three years, we have strengthened our media analytics to identify what works for us and what does not, on key KPIs via regression testing. So, we are likely to over-index our media spends on a mix of OTT, sports, and key programs on TV. We also plan to increase our budget for consumer/seller insights. This is the single most important area in our endeavour to create a distinct brand. 
We're looking to optimise cost in two key areas: 
  • New content creation cost: We currently spend a reasonable money on the creation of fresh assets. The impact of an asset and the cost incurred are not linearly related. Hence, we are looking to optimise the cost of asset creation and deploy the savings to media.
  • Non-consumer-facing utility spends: We shall continue to reduce spends that are less likely to reach our consumers. These may be small spends but add up in any year—like diaries, calendars, goodies for partners etc. 
4. Marketing maestros or growth gurus: Are chief marketing officers the new chief growth officers?
CMOs have always been growth officers—putting insights into action, building a narrative that consumers relate to, leveraging innovation to tap new opportunities, and leading performance via growth marketing channels. CMOs have also always been a key stakeholder in demand or revenue generation.
Two things have brought this realisation into the forefront today: The attribution of what marketing does to business has become better than what it was earlier—especially around digital marketing and the evolution of market mix modelling. Secondly, the chatter around growth—scalability and profitability—are key challenges for businesses around the world. The role that marketing plays in the value chain is immense, from right value proposition to communicating the same. 
In some sense, this question reminds me of the chatter around AI. AI has been around for a few decades and people were using it as well. But the current euphoria around us makes us believe that it all just happened with the launch of ChatGPT last year. 
5.  Are you tapping into Gen AI’s awesomeness to future-proof your marketing efforts? Spill the C-suite strategy around Gen AI.
It’s an interesting technology. There used to be a big divide between people who could use technology (the coders) and the rest. With generative AI this divide doesn’t exist anymore. Anybody can use this technology and people who know how to ask the right questions can use it a little better than others. This is a fundamental shift as for the first time machine is learning our language. 
Marketing has always been the function that is tasked to bring in new insights, generate new ideas and create new things. This is almost the job description of generative AI. So, marketing and Gen AI are a match made in heaven or some dark-site lab. 
For us, we are running a few pilots: 
  • Chatbots for customer servicing, acquisition, and full journey till purchase.
  • Rather than limiting translation of marketing collaterals into only a few popular languages, we are building vernacular content at scale.
  • Enhancing efficiency and quality of our social media content, emailers, SEO, and SEM. 
At a company offsite: 'A team that travels together, stays together'
6. Trend jacking the metaverse train: Is it for your brand or not?
As of now, we have not participated in the metaverse frenzy and are likely to continue that stance, unless we know more than what we do now. 
As marketers we have a very serious task cut out which is to drive penetration and build a distinct brand identity while doing so. Health insurance has existed for decades and even post-pandemic, the penetration continues sub 10%. This indicates that there are big barriers around trust, accessibility, and relevance for consumers. I currently believe that we will not be able to move the needle on any of these barriers at scale using metaverse. 
We are consumer and task loyalist versus platform loyalist. If tomorrow we see scalable traction around any of the barrier, we will review our stance and take the leap. 
7. What do you feel separates your brand culture from others?
The entry for consumers in this category is propelled largely by anxiety—discovery of a disease, hospitalisation of friends and family, retirement, any major life event etc. Consumers today expect health insurance brands to be more empathetic and positive. The dominant narrative in the category has always been riding on fear and vulnerabilities of life. 
Our brand proposition “Zindagi Ko Claim Kar Le(claim your life) rides on the strategic pivot that “health insurance is for freedom and not constraints.” Our stories and narratives talk about the freedom that comes from good health as opposed to what happens when we are not in the pink of it. We never have and will use cues that stoke fear. 
Even internally at an organisation level, we optimise all services and process that help consumers spend as little time as possible interacting with us—be it in the hospital waiting for discharge or even waiting for a claim. Our app today hosts many services that enable consumers to take charge of their health with on-demand consultation, home delivery of medicine, physiotherapy at home, second medical opinion, discount on diagnostic tests, blogs and tips on staying healthy and understanding more about diseases, their symptoms and line of treatment in association with Bupa. That is our differentiator.
8. What needs to change in your industry when it comes to working culture?
The industry work culture is as good or bad as any other that I have worked, so I do not see a big departure from others. One thing although I feel in this industry is that there is too much dependence on distribution. Insurance has always been a push category and maybe that has made it the way it is. 
Given the change in demand pattern with end consumers being involved in the overall process, I feel a major shift in mindset is required to be more consumer-focused which would imply simplifying insurance literature and vocabulary, reimagining consumer journeys, relatable narratives and communications and a lot of efforts on deep-mining consumer pain points. 
9. Complete the sentence: “Today’s CMO must be ….”.
Curious. Childlike curiosity is the single most important trait. A lot is changing today, be it media consumption patterns, newer formats of advertising, the latest trends, down-ageing of the category, the rise of direct-to-consumer, new technology, and many more. The ecosystem is more complex than it has ever been in the past. 

Curiosity is a pre-cursor to learning, staying humble and discovering new things or new ways to do the same things.
10. What kind of a CMO are you? Answer using a maximum of three adjectives.
 Analytical, ambitious, and a work in progress.
11. What is your favorite brand campaign that you participated in or wish you had?
My favourite campaign is our "Start Young" campaign. Health insurance has never appealed to the younger audience in the age group of 22 to 35, with the median age of consumers being 37 years old. The biggest barrier is the relevance of the category to the young audience who see health insurance premiums as a wastage and feel that they may need it later in life, hence delay their purchase. Given the increase in incidences of hospitalisation for the younger cohort, the category is extremely relevant but the way to communicate this to the younger audience must be quite different. 
Leo Burnett our agency partner along with the brand team came up with a life insight that youngsters today crave being seen as mature and wise as opposed to adulting. And when it comes from their family it is the highest form of compliment for them as that is the ultimate sign of coming of age and of having 'arrived'. We flipped this insight to the fact that the purchase of insurance, especially by youngsters is a sign of maturity which has never been attempted in the category. 
The central character Anupama who is a 23-year-old is considered to be the wisest in the family as she has taken a wise call to purchase a plan at an early age. Hence her opinion is sought in all critical decision-making of the family. 
The campaign reached one million plus likes within 10 days of launch with 90% VTR on YouTube which is exceptional for this target group in the category. 
 12. Name another brand (can’t be yours) with an amazing customer experience that you really admire. Why is it great?
I love American Express (Amex) and have been a fan of their service for a very long time. They are the epitome of customer delight. The interaction with the call centre executive is such an amazing experience that without any branding, the experience stays, and each time forges a deeper bond. A few things that stand out for Amex: 
  • The quality of the people they deploy. Each interaction is a reminder of the fact that you are dealing with a premium financial service player. 
  • The decentralisation of decision-making. The call center executive is empowered and authorised to waive financial charges, and revert lost reward points and a host of other things. Small things but make a significant impact. 


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