Content is the Queen, says Sony Bhandwalkar, Director-Strategy & Transformation- Commercial & Industrial at Schneider Electric.

Content is the Queen, says Sony Bhandwalkar, Director-Strategy & Transformation- Commercial & Industrial at Schneider Electric.

Ramdas Shenoyy talks to Sony Bhandwalkar on strategies,b2b marketing in the digital world and her inspiration in life and business.

How has marketing evolved in the last decade? 

Our individual consumption habits are indicative of the changes we have seen in marketing over the last ten years. We have moved from a marketing or sales-led buying journey to a consumer-led buying journey where the buyer has already made much of their decision before ever interacting with a person. As a result, marketers are catering to the buyers ‘journey with more content, longer engagement cycles and content that is personalized and digital. 

This change may seem like a disadvantageous shift; however, as we have adapted to become voracious consumers of digital content we’ve also become more comfortable with sharing data – via cookies or through form-fills, for example. This enables sales and marketing to become more agile, serving content better suited to the needs of the buyer and shifting strategy and messaging if needed. In a decade I have seen marketing evolve from a place where we devised ‘positioning’ of brands and value proposition aiming at a desired result in customers’ psych to an era where the target audience today is in the driver’s seat. An era where customers’ have an ADD towards a barrage of content and information, marketers today have to develop longer cycles of Engagement, relationship, with relevant content that is transparent and personalized. In the last decade the marketeer’s communication tools have also evolved: from a balanced mix of traditional plus digital tools to a more digital plus social. Customers today steer towards anything or anyone talking to them on a personal level. The millennials today place more trust on virtual relationships and Digital connect. Marketing and marketeers are quickly adapting to suit these ways of communication. Gen Zers as they are known, place a big emphasis on personalization and relevance and on average they use 5 screens for interaction; a smartphone, TV, laptop, desktop, and iPod/iPad.

In B2B marketing Agile marketing is crucial today. A marketing team that is agile provides a lot of strategy and theoretical results to their stakeholders with an emphasis on ROI. The most recent era is the digital era where mass adoption of the internet into everyday life is the single biggest event that has affected marketing over the last three decades. The introduction of social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter made this all the more possible as internet users started sharing more and more personal data online and this gives an opportunity for marketers to leverage SEO techniques like keyword stuffing,  tagging, and backlinks to generate high rankings. This digital precision marketing using the power of predictive analytics today we are able to access the exact ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ of customers and also the ‘when’ and ‘how’. This is a huge evolution for companies to develop specific products catering to specific needs.

As a business strategist, what are the pointers that you look for in devising a transformational strategy?

Strategic planning serves as the foundation for achieving growth goals – in the short and long term. It starts with a deep, holistic look at the changing industry, trends and their impact on our customers, technologies and sustainability. We work closely with executive teams to challenge existing assumptions, define new areas of growth and objectives and build an actionable plan. In all things, we put the customer first and strategy is no exception. Strategic planning includes creating the right value proposition to the customer in a way that aligns with their core values and needs. After the customer, we ensure the decisions we make in the strategic planning process consider the environment, nature and respective valuable resources. When done well a clear, well-developed strategic plan helps companies decide where to focus, where to compete and how to allocate resources.

A transformational strategy is a plan of action aimed at shifting a company’s operating course, usually over many years. However short-term strategies are also planned to focus on improving the operational and deployment plans, behavior and most of all to change the mindset from within company systems and procedures. Deep diving into the status quo of ‘what got us here will most certainly take us there”. Strategic planning also represents a deep, holistic look at the changing industry, dynamics, technologies, and most importantly sustainability. We work closely with executive teams to challenge existing assumptions, define new areas of growth and objectives and build an actionable plan. Strategy planning also involves creating the right value proposition to the customer in a way that suits and aligns with their core values and customer needs. An integral part of this is to give a ‘collaborative’ and the joint proposition that can impact not just the company and their customers but also have a contributing factor towards the environment, nature, and respective valuable resources.  It helps companies decide where to focus, where to compete and how to allocate resources. Strategic planning serves as the foundation for achieving growth goals and a strong portfolio strategy to improve, change and grow.

What are the key challenges in implementing a communication plan in today’s ever-changing digital environment?

The biggest challenge today is to keep up with dynamically changing market conditions, varying customer behaviors in the digital medium. digital marketing has changed and keeps changing the way businesses and brands operate.

Instantaneous communication – Interacting with customers in digital space is like poker with customers and competitors at the same time. To add to the complexities the rules of the game keep changing by every entrant and as time changes. The marketeer as the dealer needs to keep all players engaged and not quit the table and yet give the opportunity to let them see the incentive and benefit by doing so.

Content is queen! Yes, Queen. The networking and communication strategy of a queen always has an emotional and feminine side that has the power to touch the emotional chord of the intended audience. And in marketing and in today’s times this is most important to ensure the customer stays connected and engaged.  Even more challenging is in developing new content or new ways of presenting the same content that generates interest is key.

Data and Analytics– With the possibility of collecting all possible preferences and buying behavior of the target audience, its key to know HOW and WHAT you will derive in a way that will shape your timely solution to customers. Modern technology allows marketers to gain a tremendous amount of knowledge about their customers. However, companies need to know how, where and when to use that data. Which metrics to use, Which customer channels to prioritize on, and what personalized content to focus on.

From Intel to Schneider Electric, what are the similarities of working in different work culture?

Overall, I have seen work cultures evolve in a way that made the world smaller, accessible and closer. From the office behind the cubical, employees are able to stretch their creative muscles and contribute from almost any location. It is possible today to have the team spread out across the globe and focus on your contribution to the common good. It’s also a phase where collaboration is imperative over the competition. Tools are enabling quick and effective interaction and discussion (skype, video call, etc) over the erstwhile emails in the past.  Today, we are in a very very enlightening phase, the workplace consists of members spread across four very different generations: Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials, and Gen Zars. This provides a perspective, collective experience that fuels collaboration, a faster learning curve and most of all making it fun. It also drastically reduced the hierarchical patterns to a more flatter organization structure.  Progressively, organizations have been striving to become more adaptive and innovative. While Innovation demands new behaviors from leaders and employees that are often antithetical to corporate cultures, Schneider electric’s work culture is inclusive, empowered with a very good balance of Diversity(not just gender) and work-life balance.

Marketing is often seen as a domain, where everyone has a say or have a view about the strategy, how do you drive the real agenda in such a scenario?

That is true. If you work in B2C Marketing, you’re already familiar with everyone around you having a strong opinion about: how the budget is unjustifiably low or high, how the advertising could be better, how you could easily sell more. Since marketing deals with human behavior and emotions, everyone has a view and opinion from their own experience and perception. There’s always someone that’s going to want to give their opinion on what a good marketing strategy or campaign is about, especially if it involves communication content that caters to their customer(s).  Everyone is a critic. They all know (think they know) what a good ad or a campaign is.  Most of them -They don’t.  It is a Marketing person’s duty and purpose to know their products and brand better than anybody else. To know what resonates with customers, what excites them, how they respond, and what they respond to.   It is only this way that the Marketing manager will be able to know if the communication is right for its target if it’s efficient and it’s memorable.  They are the ones with the responsibility to judge the ads, content and campaign and decide if its right for its purpose. The bottom line, we drive our agendas with clear marketing KPIs and metrics and also demonstrate this in a way that impacts business in a positive way. A worthy marketeer is someone who can contribute and demonstrate at least 10% of the total company’s revenue through marketing efforts.

How can a digital strategy effectively work in a B2B environment? If you could share some examples?

B2B marketing requires a well thought out and creative plan that spans across an entire customer journey cycle starting from generating awareness for the brand, Solution, driving Engagement, relationship, recall, preference, influence, through leadership and then advocacy.  The strategy requires a good mix of direct outbound and inbound techniques. Eventually building metrics of measurement also. Metrics to not just measure brand awareness, click rates or readership but also closing the loop of how many of those customers eventually inquired’ and bought your products? In a B2B environment too when someone wants to buy a product, solution or service, the first instinct is to google it. To see who the players are, what’s the industry trends, what are the general conversations around this etc. in such an environment a digital marketing strategy should focus on a few very important tools and techniques.

  • Spend skilled time and efforts on your ‘Earned media (Public relations, what people say about you), Owned media (your website, blog sites, social media sites), Bought media(SEO, PPC, Digital ads and banners, etc) spaces.. Bought media is a very intrinsic, fun and skill-oriented platform. For example, it’s not possible to get new visitors to your site without SEO. Without visitors, you cannot grow your business. If you can tempt clients back to your site with strong content, you are more likely to forge trust, which can, in turn, lead them to the end of the conversion funnel.
  • On another note, limiting digital marketing strategies are not the need of the hour today. Companies today do continue to have offline marketing activities to stay close to customers in the physical space, meet, hear, see, listen is still a very integral part of the marketing and sales strategies. Therefore, integrating online and offline marketing efforts is a must to get a holistic view of how marketing is effective.
  • Digital also enables us to test various techniques, messaging platforms and tools and shift quickly based on the results either with a corrective action plan (if no desired results) or continue /improvise if its getting desired results. Digital marketing allows this with less wastage(paper /print etc), and turnaround time.

Who has been your motivation in life and in business?

I would rather use the word Inspiration and learning. It would be a stunt on my growth if I were to credit one person who I have taken inspiration and learned from life or business. There have been multiple people who have influenced me over the years and continue to do so even today.

  1. Starting with my mother who has immense strength and perseverance where presently, she’s recovering from very serious brain surgery.
  2. Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev (spiritual leader) who can answer on any spiritual, universal, existential questions that are relatable in today’s times and makes perfect sense, logic, and inspiration. In addition, he is leading environment-saving projects like #RallyforRivers, etc. 
  3. On the business front, I admire Elon Musk for he dared to make reality out of what some people would say is unimaginable with his SpaceX project and Electric car ventures Tesla.
  4. Sudha Murthy (Co-founder of Infosys) for her high thinking and able to have a very simple living and outlook.  
  5. A group of awesome women who collectively call themselves as ‘The Gulabi gang’ has set an example of how women-kind can join hands and fight for justice for oppressed and abused women in society.
  6. Sindhutai Sapkal has devoted her entire life to raising 1050 orphan children. Known as the ‘Mother of Orphans’ she now has 207 sons-in-law, 36 daughters-in-law and over 1000 grandchildren

What is your view on work-life balance?

Work-life balance is an important aspect of a healthy work environment. Maintaining this balance helps reduces stress and prevent burnout. First of all, there is no such thing as ‘perfect balance’. Since both -my delicate (family, friends, me-time, etc.)  and professional lives are important constituents in my life, I decide the weightage on each based-on circumstance and need of the hour. I believe that the opportunity for me to choose and decide the weightage itself is a very good balance in life.

What is your prediction on the changing face of Marketing in this new decade?

Customers, their needs and wants is the centrifugal force to the changing face of marketing. Changing patterns, behaviors, and preferences will change the way marketing also will adapt. For example, for Gen X ownership and possession were a major yardstick for success but for the millennials and Gen Zars it’s all about Untethered freedom. They don’t want to be tied down to one place and owning a house and vehicle is a deterrent. They believe in having ‘life experiences’. Many of us have evolved into hiring/renting Ola or Uber rather than buying and owning a very expensive car or house.  With this customer dominance, many markets are now being segmented and sub-segmented which is forcing the marketeer to focus and work on the characteristics of each segment devising a creative sales approach. There is also this dystopian view where everyone knows what everyone is doing, watching, seeing, going raising fear in consumer’s privacy and intrusion space, but as long as both sides respect the ‘Opt-In’ permission given by customers and respect for privacy given my marketeers, I believe there are more creative and innovation in marketing coming our way.

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