A digital marketing lead is an evolving role and would mean different things for different companies, depending on the challenges and tasks at hand.
Before joining Johnson and Johnson I spent two years at Reliance Digital, the electronics arm of Reliance Retail, to build the digital marketing arm to cater to the omni-channel experience.
Prior to working with Reliance Retail I was the Marketing Lead for SVG. I also spent 5 years with the investment arm of the Times of India Group, Brand Capital, for 360 degree Marketing & Media before which I also worked with Radio Big FM as a Radio Jockey and at IBM for a year and a half each.
I’m from Lucknow, grew up in Muscat and then studied at Delhi University at Hindu College, where I was the President of the Debating society and also the founding president of the Fashion society. I then did my post graduation in Marketing from the Times School of Marketing.
Who is a Digital Marketing Lead?
A digital marketing lead is an evolving role and would mean different things for different companies, depending on the challenges and tasks at hand. A company just starting out in digital will need the digital lead to play the role of a guide, whereas a more evolved journey on digital will require a thought leader and someone who can be a catalyst, gatekeeper and a guide all rolled into one.
A digital lead has to keep abreast of all that’s happening in the fast evolving pace of the digital world. Moreover should be grounded enough to filter the fancy yet irrelevant shiny new toys so that innovation isn’t just a buzzword. All digital or other marketing efforts must sooner than later impact the company’s top line and ultimately the bottom line.
What motivated you to become a Digital Marketing Lead?
My dad was an FMCG marketer, so I grew up going to ad shoots and being privy to conversations about launching new products. In fact a lot of our visits to the super markets in Muscat were about my dad doing a recce of visual merchandising and share of shelf space for the detergents category that he looked after as a marketer. In those days, digital didn’t exist, it was a time where pagers were the coolest thing.
I always knew I wanted to be a marketer, and just like him, a good storyteller. I’m still trying to be as good as him.
What do you do and how do you do it?
My job involves working with the franchise teams for an integrated marketing plan with digital delivering on the short term and long term goals of the business. Be it Johnson’s Baby, Stayfree, Clean & Clear, Neutrogena, Listerine, Benadryl or any of our other brands – working with our digital creative agencies, media agency, our global partners and media houses bring to life the digital strategy. In terms of the best in class online experience for our target audience and to engage with our consumers through a medium that enables not only dialogue but listening to all stakeholders.
Enabling learning, agency engagement, workshops, best in class digital creative built for purpose and for platform, optimised digital media plans, influencer marketing, actionable insights from digital analytics, ecommerce shopper marketing and more.
What drives you?
I like working with people, on understanding them, their stories, their aspirations and becoming a part of them in a way that will enable them to do what they set out to do and more.
To enable my own learning and journey, I like partnering in any little way possible and also learning from every person and story that I come across .
How different are you from an 18 year old you?
At 18 I wanted to change the world. But today I realise that change begins with me. If you begin with yourself or just one person at a time and be invested for as long as it takes, it makes far more impact than trying to do it all at once.
Like they say, if you want to change the world, go home and love your family. I truly believe that deep meaning and genuine relationships at all levels are truly the treasures one earns along life’s journey. And when you go after success at the cost of relationships, it will leave you rather lonely at the top. Making time for those you love and those who love you is important. While I always followed this advice, over time it’s importance gets reinforced.
What steps did you take to land in your present job?
I made sure to follow the people that I admired and learned from their stories and continued to do what I love – read, read and read some more.
In the digital industry nobody is an expert – if you aren’t reading, viewing, consuming, discussing, questioning and learning – you’ll get rendered redundant sooner than later.
I think it’s also important to continue sharing what your thoughts are and inviting discussions and comments – so I did this through my articles on LinkedIn. It was and always will be a share out of thoughts and never an expert opinion.
What have been the most surprising elements of this career?
I think the most important thing to know is that you can’t just be a digital marketer.
Luckily for me, I was looking at integrated marketing campaigns when I was with the Times of India Group and also when I was the marketing lead at SVG. You have to understand marketing holistically to be able to understand where digital fits in or sometimes doesn’t. Digital is just another marketing platform, but far more complicated than the other ones. So while you can be a digital specialist, as I’ve chosen to be – but that’s only after I’ve done roles where I looked after marketing as a holistic function. Sooner than later it’s going to be an integrated marketing world and digital a key part of the entire plan. It’s important to have the mindset of a commercial business leader while approaching any go to market plans – digital or otherwise.
What things would you do differently in preparing for this career?
If I could do it differently when I was younger, the one thing I would probably do is, learn more about the tech side of marketing and far more in depth, as that is going to become a key competitive advantage in the years to come.
Now everyone seems to be a Digital Marketing Expert. How are you different?
I believe that nobody in this field is an expert. The industry itself isn’t old enough and neither is the acquaintance that it has with the marketers. I think there are thought leaders and people who share what they’ve learnt. And some of the ideas, discussions and learnings are truly interesting and insightful.
I’m also not a believer in right or wrong as I began my career with IBM as a trainer and one of the first books I read is – I’m ok, You’re ok by Thomas A. Harris. The concept of right or wrong doesn’t exist in my mind when it comes to marketing strategy. I like strong opinions loosely held and like associating with people who have the ability to entertain a thought without necessarily accepting it.
What do you love about your current role?
I like the fact that I get to work on all brands for India and across countries for my Asia Pacific role. The varied categories at different stages of evolution in terms of markets, category, consumer, platforms and more is challenging and also keeps the learning curve going.
I also love the fact that Johnson & Johnson gives me the flexibility of timing. Apart from that I have extremely humble and knowledgeable bosses who are fantastic at delivering outcomes which inspire teams and leaders who are genuinely invested in grooming the next set of leaders in a holistic way.
Great colleagues and great working relationships only add to the experience.
What are the challenges you face in your career?
I think the most challenging part of a digital lead’s job is to take care of different stages of learning on digital that exist across the organisation. So, sometimes you’re back to discussing the basics like why search is important and at other times you’re sharing thoughts on connected commerce and the internet of things.
It’s challenging and that’s why it’s so interesting.
What type of Digital Marketers will be high in demand in the near future?
I think digital marketers who have holistic marketing backgrounds and understand integrated marketing will be preferred to digital specialists. I’m grateful that I have walked that path and then chosen to do digital after having done integrated marketing.
Can you please summarise your career journey?
- 12th – Arts (Humanities) with Economics, La Martiniere (2000-2002).
- Graduation – Honours in English, Hindu College, Delhi University (2002-2005).
- Senior Voice Accent and Soft Skills Trainer – IBM (2005 -2006).
- Radio Jockey – Big FM (2006-2007).
- Post Graduation – Marketing, The Times School of Marketing (2007 -2008).
- Brand Communications Consultant – Brand Capital, Erstwhile Times Private Treaties (2008 -2013).
- Executive Course in Brand Management – ISB, Hyderabad.
- Strategic Business Director and then Marketing Lead – SVG (2013 -2014).
- Digital Marketing Lead – Reliance Digital Retail Ltd. (2014-2016)
- Head of Digital Consumer India and Digital Lead FemCare APAC – Johnson & Johnson (2016 – Present).
What sort of experiences helped prepare you most?
My best decision was to get classroom grounding for marketing skills at the Times School of Marketing and then joining a department like Times Private Treaties, that gave me learnings across industries and access to the minds and conversations of CXOs very early on in my career.
At IBM I was promoted within the first three months of joining, at the Times Group I was given two promotions within three years and at Johnson & Johnson I was given my first promotion within a year and a half. While these aren’t milestones or achievements in themselves, but why they matter to me is because to my mind these are forms of recognition that go a long way in keeping the flame of self belief ignited.
I think my biggest learning has been those good bosses and leaders who define the culture of a company as much as we do ourselves. And as important as it is to choose good bosses, it’s equally important to be one yourself.
It will never be about how many you led, but more about how many leaders you created.
How do you like to spend your free time?
I like to spend my free time reading, writing, travelling, decorating places, having conversations with my loved ones or trying out new restaurants or hotels.
How can I become a Digital Marketing Lead?
With the way marketing is evolving in a digital world, it is hard to say what will be required in the future. However, what is always required is a learning mindset to succeed in this space.
I would recommend:
- reading blogs
- watching videos of current digital practitioners, big publishers and service providers
- reports from industry bodies
- networking with people in the industry
- keeping abreast of the latest trends
- mentally comparing notes on your own stance or views
Apart form all these, I think understanding digital transformation across all departments is increasingly important.
I am 17 and I am planning for a similar career path like yours. What advice you have for me?
Well, if you’re 17 and a digital native, I’d probably ask you for advice 🙂
The only two bits that I’d share are:
- The art of listening – to contrary points of view and thinking through the deluge of information that will come your way.
- Being able to find your own voice and opinion – this is going to be critical in a world where there will be more voices and the cacophony may be at times deafening.
I think trying to do a project while you’re still studying is a great way to get a conversation with a potential recruiter going.
Try and figure a challenge the company is currently facing and work on a solution and share that or ask for a window to share it, alternatively you could look at internships with companies you aspire to work for in the future. Interning with the agencies that service these companies is a great way of understanding this space as well.
While I recommend classroom grounding, learning and hands on experience, I’m not an advocate of degrees. Wherever technical know how is important there are enough and more certifications that exist and some of the best ones are from Google, Facebook, Amazon and other large Internet and e-commerce giants themselves.
What do you think potential recruiters look for in a fresh Digital Marketer?
I think the right attitude and mindset is as important as the right skill set.
Both are equally important for sure, but attitudes are far more difficult to teach 🙂
What are some resources you use to keep yourself updated about the industry?
Jeff Bullas is someone I’ve read ever since I got interested in digital. The other reading I recommend is everything that comes your way.
Jokes apart, I genuinely believe that it’s important to read as much as one can about as many things as possible. My go to mantra on what to read next is – by identifying words or topics that are related to my field which I don’t know much about. You have to be your own teacher, the Internet has a lot of material to offer, make sure you refer to articles, blogs and other contents checking the source and cross checking it once again.
What do you think everyone leaving higher secondary school should know?
Use the first few years of your career well, figure out what rocks your boat and then once you’ve identified what really drives you, do everything it takes to be the best version of yourself.
Always remember to add value to the lives of people around you, it’s your biggest investment and good will is considered an asset for a reason.
From your point of view what you do think the current generation and their parents are collectively doing wrong?
Like I said, I don’t believe in passing judgment on what’s wrong or right, but what I can tell you is that today’s parents and children are both far more informed and open than the yesteryears.
I think allowing for space and freedom lets children have open conversations. Treating them as adults who must take responsibility for their actions adds confidence and being there in their highs and lows alike, instills a sense of calm. Beyond that, like they say – life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans.
Any final thoughts?
- Be the best version of yourself and make your contributions count.
- Be kind whenever possible, it’s always possible.
- Don’t forget to earn people along your journey, as you get busy earning everything else.
- Hire good players, because good teams make for great results.
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