Industry Insights - Marketing

Interview With Akshay Salaria, Director – Acquisition and Growth MarTech, Tata Digital

Pradeep Chopra (Co-Founder, Digital Vidya): Marketing is one of the most dynamic areas of any business today. Using Digital Marketing is no more an option.

Cost-effectiveness, reach, flexibility, effective targeting, and measurability are a few reasons, which made digital media so critical today.

According to Wordstream, “63% of businesses have increased their digital marketing budgets just this past year.”

At the same time, given the unprecedented growth of digital media, the gap between the desired and the available pool of skilled digital marketing talent is only growing.

In this interview, I spoke to Akshay Salaria from Tata Digital about the opportunities and difficulties that the rapidly expanding digital marketing sector presents for both businesses and individuals.

Akshay Salaria

He has helped influential Indian bands such as Tata Digital and Zee 5 with his expertise in verticals like Growth Marketing, Customer Acquisition, Retention, MarTech, Digital Analytics, and Sales.
Additionally, he has earned numerous honors for his marketing initiatives, including a Gold Abby at Goafest, a WARC award, and most recently, a MarTech award.

In addition to his job, Akshay instructs and trains aspiring digital marketers at numerous colleges.”

When was the 1st time you experienced the power of Digital Marketing? What did you feel about Digital Marketing then?

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Akshay: I was first introduced to digital marketing in 2016 and was amazed by the feeling that Digital Marketing democratized marketing. Anyone with a Gmail id could use Google Ads and promote their products/services.

One didn’t need to know an agency, didn’t need to know publishers, didn’t need a school/college degree, didn’t need a video file, and didn’t need a minimum/threshold budget.
Personally, I also felt that I had stumbled upon something that I could understand well and could be good at.

Would you like to throw some light on the “a-ha” moments in your Digital Marketing journey up till now?

Akshay: I have had many of them! Most of them were at the beginning of my career and were cases when ‘digital marketing theory’ was applied to ‘real-world situations and yielded results.

A) We had set up a campaign where our search ad results contained the latest headlines from the breaking news section of a news website.

It was real-time and automated. Our agency team had a major role to play in this campaign – they had conceptualized and executed it. When we saw the search ads change each time we entered the search query – that was an a-ha moment for me.

We went on to win a Gold Abby at the Goafest and a WARC award for this campaign.

B) We had set up an A/B test in a search campaign.

We had made a custom landing page for a specific ad group. The ad group was previously running a generic landing page. The A/B test ran for 4 weeks and the results came – that was an a-ha moment for me.

The quality scores had improved, the CTR had increased, and the CPC had gone down. All because we made a custom landing page and patiently waited for the campaign to complete the A/B test.

C) Whenever there was a multimedia campaign running

We saw a positive impact on our KPIs. And when the multimedia campaign stopped we saw a negative impact. In short – how the multiplier in multimedia campaigns impacts each of the media channels was an a-ha moment.

What do you think is your greatest achievement in Digital Marketing to date?

Akshay: I would list down three achievements.

  • I am now a Digital Marketing Trainer/Teacher. From starting to learn and execute digital marketing campaigns myself a few years back and now am able to teach – SEM / Social Media Marketing / Growth Marketing / Digital Analytics etc.
  • Have won various awards in Digital Marketing and MarTech.
  • To move from an Individual contributor role managing campaigns to leading teams with the overall responsibility to manage Growth, Acquisition, Retention, CLM, CRM, etc.

According to you, in what kind of situations, conventional marketing techniques (e.g. Newspaper/TV) are still valuable?

Akshay: In my opinion, Digital Marketing is one of the ‘legs’ of the ‘Marketing table’. It is an essential part but not the only part.

Conventional marketing/media techniques are still relevant and valuable. It is up to the marketing team of the company to figure out which one is to be used and to what extent in the marketing strategy/plan.

How do you think Digital Marketing for B2B is different from Digital Marketing for B2C?

Akshay: The framework or concepts are the same, but the application is different. Targeting is different, objectives are different, and strategy is different. If one understands the basics then both can be done very well.

According to you, what are the top 3 mistakes committed by organizations today in leveraging Digital Marketing?

Akshay: Organizations still view branding and performance in silos. These need to be looked at as two weapons that jointly help achieve business objectives.

Digital marketing needs a lot of tech support. Expecting a lot from Digital Marketing without enabling the tech part does not help.

The fact that the outcome of digital marketing campaigns can be exactly measured is both a boon and a bane. This prevents fair competition/assessment between digital and non-digital channels.

What do you recommend between outsourcing Digital Marketing to an Agency or doing it in-house?

Akshay: It depends on what a company thinks is the ‘core of its business and whether it would like to have an ‘expertise’ in digital

The core of a company that makes shoes – is to identify customer needs and make great shoes. Hence, making shoes is something that the company needs to build expertise in.

Would such a company want to build expertise in digital marketing too? That is a business call it needs to take after analyzing all aspects of the decision.

Which are your favorite Digital Marketing channels/techniques (e.g. LinkedIn, SEO, Facebook Ads) and why?

Akshay: My personal favorite is Search (both Paid and Organic). I think that Search is one of the few ‘solicited’ marketing activities or ‘permission’ marketing activities because I think most of the marketing is unsolicited.

A billboard on a highway, an ad on TV, a display ad on a website, a pre-roll ad on a streaming video platform, an audio ad on a radio channel, a phone call for a credit card, etc are all unsolicited.

The best time to communicate is when a user is looking for what you have to offer and a marketing manager must make the most of that opportunity.

Also, Google has managed the search part very well. In Paid search: quality sore, impression share, and the auction process are wonderful concepts. In organic search: The ranking algorithm (which we know very little about) is also wonderful.

My next favorite is long-form content marketing. I realize that video is the medium that works in today’s day and age, but my personal preference is still for long-form text, long copies, and text-based content marketing. I still see more value in textbooks than in e-learning courses and more value in books than in movies!

Why do you think most marketers bet heavily on “online advertising” as part of their digital marketing strategy? Do you think that the resource allocation including budget distribution between Online Ads and SEO/Organic is justified?

Akshay: Online advertising immediately impacts business KPIs and hence companies bet on online advertising a lot.
The distribution of focus and budget on online ads vs organic is dependent on the objectives and priorities of a business.

Given the objectives that companies have today: a much higher budget and focus on online ads are justified. Whether the objectives themselves are justified or not, is a very different question, and beyond my scope of commentary.

What do you think is the role of technology in marketing in today’s world? Would you like to share any good examples in which technology is efficiently leveraged for the success of marketing?

Akshay: Technology has been building inroads into digital marketing steadily. Hence the words ‘Ad-Tech’, ‘Mar-Tech’ etc. Technology is here to stay and the role of technology is only going to increase.

The biggest use case is the ad auction itself. There are billions of ads being shown across the globe every day and each ad has an auction.

The auction has to run in a way that benefits all four parties – the advertiser, the publisher, the customer, and the ad network.

Technology is able to pull this off. In my opinion, the ad auction is as responsible for the stupendous growth of digital marketing as stock exchanges are for capitalism.

Another use case is about ads. The essence of marketing is to figure out a user segment and to communicate to it with marketing communication.

The job of figuring out what to communicate, at least in digital marketing, has been taken over by technology.

A marketing manager uploads n number of creatives in a campaign and the machine decides which creative to show to a particular user. In my opinion, this is one of the biggest and oldest use cases where technology has impacted the success of marketing.

Which are your favorite Digital Marketing Tools and why?

Akshay: The top 3 are as follows:

  • I have always been a fan of google analytics (GA). There are three reasons. GA is the first digital marketing tool that I learned. I am now a trainer in GA. I implemented GA, from scratch, in one of the products that I worked on a few years back.
  • MS Excel, though it is not a digital marketing tool, is also a favorite. I still write and read long-form content about excel.
  • I like Zoho’s products too, I think they are world-class products.

After the top 3, there are various others that I have had a good experience with – Google Ads, Google Data Studio, and Hubspot.

Do you recommend that freshers should consider “Digital Marketing” for building their career? What is your advice for newbies, who are looking at entering the Digital Marketing industry?

Akshay: Absolutely, both freshers and experienced people can consider digital marketing to build their careers.

What are the top skills (other than technical skills such as SEO/SEM) you look for when hiring a candidate for an entry-level role in Digital Marketing?

Akshay: Willingness to learn, willingness to work hard, willingness to start from scratch, and having the right attitude.

How do you stay updated on the latest trends in Digital Marketing? Which are the Digital Marketing resources (i.e. blogs/websites/apps) you visit regularly?

Akshay: Attending industry conferences is number one. I am also a member of various WhatsApp groups which connect people from the industry (including a Digital Vidya Trainers Group too!).

I also subscribe to newsletters from various websites so news/trends pour into my mailbox regularly.

How do you see Digital Marketing evolve in the future? What are the top trends you foresee for 2022-23?

Akshay: Digital Marketing is moving to a cookie-less world and a device id-less world. While we are still not sure of the magnitude of the impact, we are also not sure how to prepare for it. That is going to be a big task going forward.

The other trend is a reduction in manual control over campaigns and an increase in machine control.

If you were given the power to make one change in the Digital Marketing industry today, what would you do?

Akshay: Take user privacy very very seriously. Various types of campaigns will have to stop. Various data collections will have to stop.

As an outcome – digital marketing efficiencies will decrease. Everything has pros and cons: the con here is that I suspect the big players who have deeper pockets will be benefited.

Would you like to share a few words about the Digital Marketing education we are imparting at Digital Vidya?

Akshay: I have been a trainer with Digital Vidya! It was great to train students in an offline/classroom-based model – I think it really helps the learner to learn better and the teacher to teach better.

About the course – I liked both the width and the depth of the syllabus. Also, it is great to know that DV has trained thousands of learners in Digital Marketing!

Anything else you would like to share with our readers?

Akshay: This year has been very bad for the environment (droughts/floods/heatwaves etc). Carbon emissions are increasing and that is said to be the reason for environmental issues.

Sustainability was always important, but it is only recently that capitalism started to discuss it. This discussion should also happen in digital marketing circles – on how we make our businesses sustainable.

Pradeep (to our readers): I hope you find the insights shared by Akshay valuable. In case you have any questions for him or me, please post them in the comments section.

Would you like to have 10x Growth in your Career or Business by leveraging digital marketing? Join our upcoming live online Digital Marketing Foundation Masterclass worth Rs 1999 FREE.

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