Seema Gupta for GoFYI

Digital Marketing: An Emerging Field

Professor SEEMA GUPTA, faculty at IIM Bangalore in Marketing, with Digital Marketing  as her domain speaks to Kalyani Majumdar, about the exciting future of Digital Marketing and its challenges, along with some important advice for MBA aspirants.

Q. What is it that excites you most about teaching digital marketing?

Earlier, I was teaching marketing and marketing communication, and gradually I shifted my focus to teaching digital marketing at IIM Bangalore. Since we are all consumers, marketing becomes an extremely relatable subject, and that’s what makes it so interesting. We are consumers too. Marketing has always been a combination of art and science, but it is becoming more and more data driven now. Earlier it was creative, intuitive thinking and judgement oriented, now with digitisation, the interface of marketing and technology along with data is making it even more interesting. I feel it is one of the most interesting careers one could look at.

Q. What do you feel are the aspects of marketing that has changed with the advent of digitisation as a medium?

Earlier, marketing was completely a one way street, as it was controlled by the marketer. So the marketer would decide the positioning of the brand, the target segment, etc. It was a monologue! But now with digitisation, marketing is co-creation, and it is a dialogue. Now, the consumers play a big role in shaping your brand, products and services. A marketer can’t have a bull’s eye positioning anymore. For example, Coca Cola says they are classical, that the core of the brand is traditional, but when consumers start commenting on their Facebook page and bring in their own humour, the brand can’t stop people from saying what they want to say, right? It is not controlled. So your positioning cannot be that sharp anymore. Now you have to incorporate feedback, you have to listen. Listening has become very important. So in this day and age, marketers have to be comfortable with losing control, since they don’t have this control on the brand, product and services anymore anyway.

Q. You are regularly mentoring and guiding start-ups, especially in the digital sector, could you tell us a bit about that?

Most of my interaction with entrepreneurs is about guiding them on how to leverage digital marketing for scaling up their businesses. Actually, digitalisation can become very overwhelming, because there are so many platforms and so many mediums and one can easily lose focus. The entrepreneur has to decide if their focus should be on search engine optimisation, whether they should rely on organic or paid campaigns, bloggers and influencers, et al. It is very important to understand and identify their target audience and the channel where this target audience spends most of its time. So, it is very important to identify the relevant platforms and work only on those, because as a start-up and not an established company, you have limited resources and you can’t be everywhere! So, I help start-ups identify these platforms and then craft a strategy for those focal platforms. Start-ups are always very interesting as they are trying to solve a consumer’s problem. Whenever there is a pain point, a start-up will identify the problem and provide a solution. The question to continuously ask yourself is whether the problem is really compelling. Also, entrepreneurs need to be flexible. After starting with an idea, they test it out in the market and it may or may not work. So they have to come back to the drawing board immediately and pivot and tweak their idea and then again go back to the market. You cannot first perfect the plan and then implement. If you have a plan, test it in the market immediately. If it works, allocate more resources, and if it doesn’t, shift to Plan B.

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Q. With digitisation coming in, what will happen to traditional marketing mediums?

They will coexist in a more integrated marketing fashion. Look at it this way: People still watch TV, right? Digitisation hasn’t resulted in people ditching the TV. Yes, there’s been a decline in newspaper readership. But the reach is still there. If you want to reach traditional people you will find them moving to TV. The reputation still exists that if a brand is being advertised on TV, it is trustworthy and has financial resources. This brand image doesn’t form if a brand is only advertising digitally. Of course, digital media is eating away the share of other mediums, and will become the largest. But others will also exist. TV is in fact still growing. In the US, the digital medium is the number one medium, with 38% of marketing budget being allocated to it, whereas TV has dropped to 37%. Digital marketing is gradually increasing in developed markets. In India, digital is only around 15%, and TV is strong at around 38%. So we have along way to go. Marketers are now pumping in and putting in more money in digital, but challenges such as frauds do exist with less transparency.

Q. Are there any major differences between MBA in India and MBA abroad in terms of study methodology?

Of course different schools will have different approaches. Harvard believes more in the case study method. In India, IIM-A is similar. At IIM-B, we aren’t completely driven by the case study approach. In some countries, B-schools use a more participant-centred learning method, in which the teacher only facilitates as an instructor, and their responsibility is not to provide the solution but to guide the student to solutions on their own. And a lot of emphasis lies on group learning and group projects. I feel this is slightly more evolved, so students are also disciplined and they read and come.

Q. According to you, how important are case studies and industry sessions?

Which method is more effective? Beyond a point, industry sessions are not very useful. It is of course good to have guest lectures to bring in different perspectives, but since they are not academicians, they might not be able to distil it into concepts that can be applied in a variety of situations. They mostly explain their own experiences and what they are currently doing in the company. So I don’t think we should have too many guest lectures. Moreover, it also depends on the field one is specialising in. For instance, digital marketing benefits from more industry guest lectures, because these are more at the interface of industry or business. The industry expert will share their interesting best practices. But core disciplines like Marketing, Finance and so on are not depended on guest faculty. The foundation has to be established first by concepts and theories. Case studies are very good as they develop your analytical mindset. Also, during case study sessions, you realise that your peers may not agree with you, and you hear divergent perspectives and develop a tolerance and respect for other points of view. You understand that data is not complete in case studies, and so you develop comfort with ambiguity and decision making with limited information. The other approach is running live campaigns or the workshop method, wherein you learn by doing. So any education has to have a blend of theory and practice. Only then can it be interesting!

Q. According to you, how important is sales experience in marketing?

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I feel it’s a must have, because only if you have experience of working from the ground up and have interacted with the consumers can you truly step into their shoes and understand and empathise with them. Only then will you devise solutions and connect with your consumers through your content. But of course, not all sales people will make a fantastic marketer, because marketing is very different from sales. Sales is narrow in scope, and Marketing is far broader. Sales can be subsumed as part of Marketing. It covers all the aspects of how you design a product, features that are important for consumers, pricing, promotions, creative art, which media to choose and so on, thus it is more comprehensive.

Q. Being in a B-school can be very hectic. Any preparatory tips that you would suggest?

Business schools, and any education for that matter, should be thoroughly enjoyed. Only then will you internalise your learning. Otherwise, you’re just reading from a book and attending lectures. Spend an hour in the classroom, but three hours outside it, and you’ll find you can extract the full value from that particular session. The attitude to learn, not just to get a job placement, is very important, because that will make you put in the effort. You have to stay involved and motivated and willing to put in the hard work. Typically, we see students struggling with quantitative subjects like data analytics, basic accounting, statistics and so on. Many business school students come from various educational backgrounds, and they may have never studied accounts. So brush up before the MBA programme starts. There are many online courses, and many B-schools have preparatory courses as well. That way, students can enjoy their B-school experience more, otherwise there will be a lot of pressure simply to pick up the new subjects, especially in the first year as all the subjects are compulsory.

Q. Do you have any suggestions for an MBA aspirant?

Even in premier schools like IIMs, I have seen students reading basic textbooks and so on. But they don’t realise the importance of investing time in analysing a situation or a case study. Particularly in India, the culture is to focus on how to get grades and clear exams, but the hunger for knowledge is missing. You shouldn’t be in any programme only for the sake of a career. Getting a job is a natural outcome, but it cannot be the goal. Enjoy what you’re doing, because the goal has to be to gain knowledge.

Q. What do you expect from a student who wants to get into IIMB?

Of course, the first step is the CAT. So first of all is discipline; prepare in a disciplined way for a few months. Simultaneously, identify the target institutions where you have a realistic chance of getting in and accordingly plan your career. If you are targeting IIMs, do you have a backup plan? It’s always good to have one. Also, you should have some work experience, as it will get you some points. Of course, 30% of our students don’t have work experience. But then these are exceptionally good students to have gotten admission without work experience. Clarity of thought when you are appearing for your interview is very important. You should have in depth knowledge of your field so that you are able to connect with the interviewer. You must appear genuine and exude confidence, although not overconfidence. So it requires lot of grounding, maturity and humility to be able to make it through, apart from clearing the exam.