In this exclusive “Masters of Media” series, Integral Ad Science (IAS) speaks to the Movers and Shakers of the APAC advertising industry, on all matters digital.
Azmat Habibulla is the Chief Marketing Officer of South Indian Bank. She is a marketing leader and digital enthusiast who, in a career spanning more than 25 years, has led business transformation at some of the leading brands in the country in the FMCG & BFSI sectors. She is an expert across a wide spectrum of domains such as digital marketing & business generation, marketing communication & branding, experiential and knowledge events, strategic partnerships, community building and thought leadership initiatives. Azmat is passionate about mentoring and investing time in nurturing talent.
IAS: Please tell us about your digital advertising journey and your current role at South Indian Bank
I consider myself a thoroughbred marketing professional and digital enthusiast, who has led business transformation at some of the leading brands in the country. The digital way is the new constant while being dynamic in its ever-evolving form. As a marketer, especially in the BFSI segment, it is not only unavoidable but also a growing part.
In the fascinating world of digital, I’m especially passionate about the use of digital technology as a tool for business growth. I have driven business acquisition and revenue generation by developing a robust digital marketing ecosystem across various channels. I have also launched innovative digital engagements, including the creation of many digital communities.
Being future-focused, I have a keen eye for emerging trends and have leveraged them effectively and have been the driving force to launch many digital industry-first initiatives, such as automated chatbots, instant lead calling, click-to-call, multi-channel communication media (MCCM), IP-targeted banner communications on the organization’s website, enabling customized videos and banner communication basis user behaviour and location and many more.
As the Chief Marketing Officer at South Indian Bank, I lead the South Indian Bank’s marketing and communication function. Enhancing the brand value of the bank is one of my key responsibilities. My team and I strive to create the right perception of the bank, manage media relations, scale up our visibility through our branch channel as well as other media, and design new channels of communication for younger audiences. We also manage the customer experience across various touch points over multiple channels.
Additionally, driving sales through digital marketing, adopting new digital technologies, and managing data-driven segmented personalized campaigns are also part of our core responsibilities. We constantly delve into customer insights digitally and through market research and deliver customer campaigns, both through on-ground activation and digitally.
The key focus area for me is to increase the awareness of the bank pan-India by communicating our inherent strengths of being a trustworthy, digital and tech-savvy bank catering to all demographic profiles. I am also focusing on scaling up our digital presence towards becoming a strong alternate acquisition channel.
IAS: Has consumer behaviour changed when interacting with banking products?
The Gen Z generation, born in the internet era, has embraced mobile banking and fintech in a way that previous generations did not and is open to experimenting with financial tools. With this digital-first mindset, the new digital-native consumers opt for personalized banking that comes with speed, convenience with simple yet efficient tech-based functionality. In this sense, the consumer experience in all digital interfaces becomes critical.
We are looking at a segment that has a limited attention span, so much so that they are popularly known as the Gen Now generation. We need to communicate with short DIY video formats and long emotive videos to narrate a story. Voice-based searches are growing, especially in tier-2 cities and the use of voice technology is growing fast, even in banking. We need to capture this opportunity. Rather than product-based, our marketing efforts need to be purpose-led.
The expectation from a bank has also changed for the current customer. The bank is now more like a financial partner, who helps the customer with all his/her financial needs and beyond. The newer generation expects to have a deeper, more meaningful relationship with their financial partner or bank.
Loyalty is at a decline when it comes to banking, a category which enjoyed strong brand loyalty in the past. Customers are now looking at multiple banking partners to satisfy their evolved requirements and for diversification of financial products.
While digitisation in banking is imperative, the human touch remains vital for customer engagement. We, as human beings, still strive for human experiences, connections, and that empathetic emotional touch, especially in the BFSI sector.
IAS: What are some challenges Indian marketers face in digital advertising?
As the digital marketing environment continues to ebb, flow, evolve and grow, it is important to stay abreast of the critical trends and major changes, both at the customer behaviour level and at the digital media execution level. This dynamism is what makes the digital world so exciting as well as challenging for marketers like us. The challenges for marketers in digital advertising are many:
- Attention and engagement – Many brands want to capture the attention of Gen Z, but the short attention span among this digital-savvy generation makes it quite difficult. Therefore, creating engaging short brand content that creates maximum brand engagement will be one of the biggest challenges for any brand.
- Catching up with trends of the ever-evolving tech – Technology is growing faster than human needs and cognition. So, staying on top of marketing is incredibly challenging; especially, as the MarTech landscape continues to grow rapidly as there are constant feature changes across channels. The frequent changes in the platform/ digital channel’s algorithms, further add to this complication.
- Personalisation at scale and segmentation – Today, the customer expects more personalised messaging from his/her brand. Personalisation at scale and effective segmentation for relevant messaging have become critical.
- Attribution – With so many digital tools in the game, attribution mapping has also become difficult as more and more variables have come into play, such as: traditional vs digital, omnichannel, multiple touchpoints at a customer journey, unable to identify the primary source of conversion, etc.
- Humanizing the tech – There is a clear need for making technology and digital interactions more human to help us do things faster and smarter. Our recent inventions have always been too fast for human needs, in terms of their cognitive ability and their ability to adapt. Technology has evolved enormously, but it seems to have lost the human aspect. It is our responsibility, to not outcast the human in this race to make everything technically advanced.
- Transparency and trust challenges in digital – With digital ad spending reaching $500 bn. Globally, combatting ad frauds to minimise budget wastage has become exceedingly important.
To conclude, on the customer side, keeping in mind the digital nativeness and changing behaviour we need to serve personalised and relevant communication only. We need to serve this as a partner and beyond a bank, looking at everything digital-first with the highest level of customer experience. This new generation of customers seeks a partner that is experiential and one that resonates with him/her. On the other hand, we need to deploy the communication through digital medium and counter execution challenges like ad frauds, attribution and the choice of tools to be deployed for the expected delivery at the right investment which justifies ROI.
IAS: If there’s one myth related to programmatic you’d like squashed, what would that be?
Programmatic marketing is basically about using technology to automate ad delivery such that the right TG is served with the right message while all of this happens in real-time.
There are many myths regarding programmatic such as
- Mainly for conversions – Many consider programmatic buying as a tool for optimising clicks and conversions but along with such optimisation, it also plays a larger role in the customer journey. Programmatic advertising eliminates the need to retarget at the end stage entirely. It brings the company, product, or services, to the forefront of qualified customers and initiates the purchase cycle instead. Advertisers will get better ROI because their ads get shown to people who are most likely to click on their site or purchase their products and services.
- Real-time bidding (RTB) and programmatic are one and the same – In reality, RTB is a real-time auction mechanism to discover the right price in real-time and thus is just one part of programmatic
- Ad frauds are only prevalent in programmatic – Ad fraud is prevalent in today’s digital world across mediums and not only in programmatic. At its core, programmatic buying, in fact, promotes transparency and increases the number of control buyers have when it comes to when and where their ads are displayed. Buying ads for programmatic advertising isn’t any riskier than if you make general market buys.
However, the one critical Myth that I would like to dispel is that programmatic is mainly for conversions. Many consider programmatic buying for conversions but it plays a larger role in the customer journey. Programmatic buying can serve customers on digital platforms by providing meaningful communication at various digital touch points. With programmatic ads, we can create an omnichannel presence for the customer with the right placements across different mediums thus creating a better customer experience from an awareness stage to final conversion. It in fact addresses the entire marketing funnel.
IAS: In your opinion, is the industry doing enough to combat the trust and transparency challenges in the digital supply chain?
Interestingly, when the advertising ecosystem started witnessing a shift towards digital advertising, transparency was believed to be a key differentiator. Now, as digital continues to dominate a major chunk of ad revenues, the question is whether it is transparent enough. With increasing digital spending, comes a greater amount of digital ad fraud. According to Juniper Research, ad fraud reached $42 billion of ad spending in 2019 across online, mobile and in-app channels. Advertisers are made to pay for impressions and clicks that never took place, using fake audiences, fake installs and conversions.
Marketers have been wondering for a long time about the complex and ‘not-so-transparent’ digital ad tools used by various digital platforms. The entire digital ecosystem — from the tech giants to data mining companies to supply chain intermediaries — is now under the scanner due to its complexities and lack of transparency. Such is the trust deficit that most brands have started using third-party tools to get a clear picture of their ROI. If you deploy the right tools, your trust in the overall digital system will grow. Since these tools increase advertising costs considerably, it is not an easy decision for many brands.
IAS: Any advice for leaders on talent retention and supporting a hybrid workforce?
Remote work is increasingly being accepted as the industry is moving towards the “new normal”. Firms are restructuring their operations and systems as they see the preferences of the employees evolving.
While at one end employees are seeking positions that allow them to achieve better work-life balance — cut some unnecessary expenses, remove the daily commute, and free up more time to spend with their families or friends — on the other side, physical connections and social engagement go a long way in making work fun, efficient, impactful and inspirational. Today, a hybrid workforce model correctly fits in such a dynamic ecosystem. Personally, the pandemic has taught us how one can effectively work remotely. Also, I think we should harness this into developing a hybrid work culture which effectively balances the conveniences of working from home as well as the social integration and efficiencies of working from an office. Needless to say, the heightened motivation of employees will also help in talent retention.
IAS: What’s your favourite book/podcast/movie and why?
My favourite movie has been “Life is Beautiful”. This is a very emotional film shot against the backdrop of the world war. It is about a loving Jewish family, where the father and his son become victims of the Holocaust. The protagonist, Guido, the father, uses a perfect mixture of will, humour, and imagination to protect his son from the dangers around their camp.
Love and hope are key messages in the movie. When the father and his son were taken to the concentration camp. The father, Guido’s love for his son Joshua, kept him alive when he smartly hides their terrifying circumstances from his little son, presenting the whole affair as an elaborate game with the end prize of a tank. He manages to convince his son that every situation is part of the game: the kids who told Joshua there is no game, that’s just their strategy to win; the Nazi guards who shout orders, that’s so the game will be difficult; the children and men who leave and never return, that just means they’re out.
In the end, due to his wit and love for his son, Guido manages to save Joshua’s life. Joshua eventually reunites with his mother, Dora. Guido depicts persistent hope throughout the film.
The narrator, Joshua makes his grand return, revealing himself to be the adult Joshua. He informs us that this is his story, a story about his father’s gift to him.
The message and the emotion throughout the film brought tears to my eyes. It’s been 20 years since I watched the film and I still remember every aspect of it and still remains my favourite.
IAS: What is your advice to the fresh talent in the industry?
The advice I would like to give to the young talent is to believe in themselves as well as in their dreams and go all out to achieve them. Hard work, dedication and persistence pay off. There are no shortcuts; working with dedication and with the highest level of integrity is the winning combination.
It is important to have a fulfilling role which is fun yet one that you are passionate about. Seek this richness in your job profile rather than the remuneration and rewards, which will anyways follow.
In this new reality, one might find it more challenging to excel in their careers since the world is dealing with uncertainty with the future stepping into the ‘unknown-unknown’ quadrant. Seeking mentorship and garnering the required support shall give you confidence and set the right momentum for the career ahead.