Up Close with Mr. Suresh Ramaswami

Up Close with Mr. Suresh Ramaswami

December 15, 2016

Suresh Ramaswamy is the digital lead for South East Asia at Grey. He leads creative digital solutions for multi-national brands across the Asia-Pacific region. Prior to Grey he was the regional director of social and mobile at Leo Burnett where he lead social media marketing for Samsung Electronics across the Asia-Pacific and Middle East and North African regions. Suresh is passionate about helping brands creatively engage and sell across the web. He comes with over 20 years of experience in advertising, direct, digital and data-driven marketing in both agency and client roles. Suresh holds a bachelor’s in telecommunications engineering and an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore.

BBF: Share a few words about your career. How did the journey start?

Suresh Ramaswami: It’s been great.  Right from the time when I was contacted, up until my session, BBF has been very communicative. In terms of the purpose of the talk and the speakers who were present, they’ve been very responsive. The enthusiasm was huge and that was one big motivating factor, you know, to take a time out to help with the talk and meeting peers on Saturdays and Sundays, to speak with.

BBF: You have been in the industry for over two decades now. What are some of the major changes that you have observed?

Suresh Ramaswami: The changes have been rapid. One is definitely the pace at which the industry needs to move. Before, you’d have to think about your new campaign about six months prior to its launch. Now, you’d have a week or a month at the most. So the time, right from thinking about a campaign idea to actually having in market, has reduced. Secondly, we are now looking at many more canvases. Before, you had the radio, the TV and print. But today, if you’re doing a social media campaign, even within the ad units that are available, each one has to be thought of as an individual ad, which is designed for mobile and social. So, there are far more pieces of work that are needed to be done. There’s also a disconnection between media and creative. When I started, one agency controlled both the media and the creative, and then it broke away. That is both good and bad, because right now, we are buying for efficiency. I also find that there has been an exodus of seniors in the industry. If you look around, you don’t see many senior people in the advertising business today. There’s a lot more roles in advertising today. Today, you have tech, you have data; a lot of other people with different roles are coming into the business. You have big platforms coming up; they are the ones controlling the business right now. In terms of device adaption and the devices that you have to use to reach people are changing too. Media is becoming much more personal than being more broadcasted. These are some of the changes that I have observed.

BBF: Given all these changes that are happening in the industry, how does it change the goal setting strategies in the agencies?

Suresh Ramaswami: In goal setting strategies, the challenges will always remain the same. When you are a big brand, you’re always tracking. You’re tracking its performance, equity, penetration etc.  Most brands do have a dashboard, where they see how they are faring against their own objectives; and later see if any course corrections are required or not. You have to keep an eye on the pulse of the performance. You have to think and run at the same time; you cannot take a step back.

BBF: What do you think of the digital landscape of South Asia compared to the Western world? What are the improvements that this region has to go for?

Suresh Ramaswami: Except for China, the channels which are used in digital advertising are the same all over the world. The only big difference that we find is that in South Asia, the most used device to get online is the mobile, compared to a desktop in the West. The second is speed. You do have a challenge in some of the markets and areas. In Bangladesh, for example, you have 3.5G and now 4G is coming up. But there could be some other parts in Bangladesh where the connection is still 2G. So, there is a disparity of speeds and in terms of device capabilities. You have low end and high end devices.  But the platforms are all the same. These platforms do provide some watered down version. But they are trying to push for speed. If you look at Google, for example; they are promoting a new thing called AMPs, it significantly decreases the time to load pages in mobile devices. But eventually, 2G will become 3G and 3G will become something faster. There’s always talk about 5G coming up soon. The other thing we need to understand are the limitations; you have to plan within those limitations. Take the lowest common denominator, and work your way up from there. Or, you have two other things- provide a very rich experience to the people who have access to those type of band width and device, and then provide another experience, which is a slightly watered down version for the people who may not have access to those levels of device and speed.

BBF: In FMCG products, when it comes to advertising a campaign, what are the difficulties from transitioning from traditional media to social media?

Suresh Ramaswami: The number one challenge for all FMCG brands is brand penetration. This is what is driving their sales, growth etc. Here, we are doing some very specific work. For example, if I want to speak to mothers, within permissible rules, I can speak to mothers who have three year old kids compared to speaking to just mothers. What you should focus on is micro growth. Where’s your next growth going to come from? Once you identify that for brands, there are very specific communications that you can plan out for them within the capabilities that these channels offer to you. Firstly, you need to have a clear plan from where your growth is going to come from. After your growth plans are identified, then the channels come in, in terms of reach. It is a business decision first, and then you can have a communication decision and channel decision which comes in later.

BBF: You pointed out a number of challenges in your presentation. Coming to the perspective of Bangladeshi marketers, what would be a few solutions/guidelines that you would point out to them?

Suresh Ramaswami: If we were to take a step back, usage of digital technology has two types of audiences. One was interested in connecting with you, and the other you’d need to reach out and pursue, and that model does not change, no matter where you go. In terms of the people in the market who are ready to reach out to you, you need to figure out what you want to say to them, what you want them to do and what you want them to feel. For example, if somebody is searching for a specific product. You know that there is a level of intent/interest in that product. You have to organize your channels, whether it’s web or search, or any other type of display advertising that you have to reach those people and talk to them. The other thing is that, when you are talking about your outreach, it’s pretty much in terms of the people you want to connect with. Whether it’s a competitive brand user, a certain demographic, a socio economic segment or a specific city that you’re planning on targeting. You need to identify it first. Have a plan, and then integrate digital tech into the place. Sometimes, digital marketing is being discussed at a very operational level. It needs to evolve into a more strategic discussion. Then the way you address those challenges will be different compared to the tactical stuff that you might be doing.

BBF: Since we are in an era of innovation, what would be your mantra for effective creative communication?

Suresh Ramaswami: The three things that I have mentioned beforehand are universal. How do you stand out? What is the fresh thinking that you are having, in terms of being original? When you create an idea, brands would create a way of saying that they are going to create a campaign and leave some gaps for people to come and fill in, and then become part of the campaign. This is not going to interest them. You have to make it worth their while, if you want them to be a part of it. Charm them with good execution. There are a few inefficiencies in advertising; I think technology can help reduce some of that.

BBF: What do you have to say to the future digital marketers?

Suresh Ramaswami: Stay curious, that would be the number one thing. Play around with the digital space. You need to have more of a hacker mentality. If a platform is offering you some options, ask “What if?” Learn the rules first, and then try to break them. Learn the basics of communication and don’t get too carried away by the latest thing that comes up because there is a lot of hype in the industry. Whether it’s a new piece of technology that has come up, or anything else, you need to understand it. You can’t just gloss over it. If you do have senior heads in your company, have a discussion with them. They might be struggling with some of the tech changes that are happening, but there are a lot of things that they can pass on to the younger digital marketers. If you work in tandem with someone who has had experience and someone who is enthusiastic, willing and not afraid to explore, that would be a good way for people to build out.

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