Sudeep Chawla - Great Marketing Is a Product of a Great Marketing Ecosystem (VP Marketing, Pidilite Industries Limited)

Marketing fundamentals have remained the same, but the avenues of marketing and the availability of data have significantly changed in the last decade. These changes are allowing marketers and brands to know and communicate with their consumers more intimately than ever before.

1. Tell us about your background and journey

I am an Engineer by education, a poet by interest, and a marketer by profession. I grew up in a small town called Bhiwani in Haryana and did my Engineering at Punjab Engineering College, Chandigarh. One of the key decisions I made in my engineering college was to not hang out with students of my state only and to expose myself to various clubs & activities available in the college. This made me overcome my initial small-town inferiority complex. I joined TCS from campus but quickly realized that I can’t make a career in that field. Thankfully, I cleared FMS and that’s where I chose marketing and marketing chose me. The pedagogy of my marketing professor Mr. Harsh Verma, my summer internship at GSK, and all the discussions that I had with my fellow marketing enthusiasts in FMS made me sure that marketing was what I wanted to do in the long run.

I joined Cadbury India from campus, and did my sales stints in UP and Delhi, before getting a break in the marketing team when I handled Cadbury Dairy Milk as brand manager. Then I handled Gems and Eclairs, both of which were pivotal stints where I worked extensively on product, packaging & proposition and learned immensely from, what I would consider, a marketing dream team at Cadbury India. After spending 5 years in marketing stints, I did a 2-year sales leadership stint in North India before I moved to Pidilite Industries.

Pidilite, another company with incredible brand-building capabilities, exposed me to a very different side of the target segment (contractors, architects, engineers, etc.) and a very different way of doing marketing. I would say that Cadbury taught me the fundamentals of brand marketing and Pidilite taught me how to apply those fundamentals to do ab-initio marketing for products & brands and how to create categories. I have worked in the Corporate Marketing team for some time, then as Category Head with the Dr. Fixit business, then worked with the US art & stationery business (Sargent Art) for 6 months, then handled India art & craft business (Fevicol MR, Hobby Ideas, Fevicryl, Rangeela, etc.) for 6 months and now I am back to heading marketing for Dr. Fixit business.

2. What has changed about marketing in the last decade and what will be the future according to you? 

Marketing fundamentals have remained the same, but avenues of marketing & availability of data have significantly changed in the last decade. These changes are allowing marketers and brands to know and communicate with their consumers more intimately than they did ever before. 

Also, the availability of data and the ability to use it to customize one’s offering creates the need for the marketer to be adept at handling data meaningfully. I believe that this trend is going to continue, while the core principle of brands succeeding because of their ability to connect with the emotions of their target segment while improving their lives will continue to hold true till eternity.

3. How do you gauge recall of your creative ads or in-stadium displays and activities? More importantly, how do you assess whether your brand was correctly linked to your ads and activities? 

This can be gauged qualitatively as well as quantitatively. I have seen most companies run a post-campaign dipstick amongst consumers to check the recall of their brand and various associations with it. This dipstick can be done physically (via research agencies) or digitally (like Brand Lift Surveys offered by Google & FB). If you have the leeway to design your dipstick, you should try to measure salience (Spontaneous as well as aided awareness), mind associations (relatability of imagery statement vs competition) as well as behavioral scores (Preference, Intention to Purchase) amongst consumers to get a holistic idea of the campaign on your brand amongst your target consumers.  

4. How do you measure if your brand perceptions and imagery were enhanced during the IPL and how much of it was due to the various IPL activities that you conducted? 

IPL is meant to be a high-impact medium that allows your brand message to reach an immense number of consumers in a powerful manner. Any immediate & significant build-up in awareness or imagery would get attributed to a high-impact investment like IPL. However, if you have made 2 high-impact investments in parallel i.e. IPL and a few 1-day ad blocks on an entire network, then one might find it difficult to differentiate the impact of these two, but the possibility of this happening is very minimal.

5. Do you feel it is important to gauge whether recall of your brand is impacted by the performances of your team?

If the mention of “team” in the question refers to the performance of an IPL team, then I would say that with the kind of clutter that we see on IPL today, it is impossible for a brand to drive recall only basis associated with a team. The final responsibility of recall falls onto the communication of the brand and the kind of reach & frequency that it is able to achieve. Hence, the efficacy of the media plan will definitely trump the impact of the team’s performance, in my opinion.

6. How do you achieve this currently? 

When we advertised on IPL, we had a pre and post-campaign brand dipstick to understand the impact of the campaign on the brand. We hadn’t associated ourselves with a team and hence will not be able to comment on the team association metrics.

7.   Which is your favorite book and why? 

I am currently reading “Atomic Habits” by James Clear and it seems like a very powerful but simple idea. I think this principle applies to all kinds of professions as well as to one’s personal life.

8. What is your greatest life lesson so far and a piece of advice that you would like to share with future marketers? 

On 22nd January 2014, the Brand Equity section of the Economic Times featured an article on Gems and praised the “Raho Umarless” positioning that Gems took in 2012 to talk to elder ages without alienating its core target segment – young kids. In the same newsletter, a Cadbury Choclairs TVC was adjudged Bekaar in the “Best Vs. Bekaar” section. Both these were my work and the lesson I took was – “You are not as bad as your last failure and you are not as good as your last success. So learn to have your head in the cloud and feet on the ground”.

Two pieces of advice for future marketers –

  • Obsession with your consumer will help you succeed in any marketing task that you take up. So never make the mistake of thinking that you or your near & dear ones are consumers. Keep meeting your consumers frequently and start empathizing with them, so that you can build a sound judgment of what will work for them!
  • Great marketing is a product of a great marketing ecosystem, that consists of brand marketers, insight teams, media teams, research partners, creative partners, media partners, etc. So all good marketers should invest in creating an ecosystem that is capable of producing inspiring work

9. What is your favorite marketing campaign and why?

Amongst the campaigns that I have worked on, one of my favorite ones was the campaign where we changed the long-standing branding of Cadbury Eclairs to Cadbury Choclairs by telling consumers that “Cadbury Eclairs ban gaya hai Cadbury Choclairs aur ab ye chakra nahin hai”. Given that we were talking about Re.1 candy, we needed to create an impactful campaign amongst consumers as well as dealers, who become an important component for impulse brands like candies. 

With the help of our media agency (Madison) and their media-layering tool (M-spectra), we calculate what kind of reach would we get in different states if we rode different mediums of communication. This led us to some interesting media choices, like railway station announcements in UP and cybercafé advertising in AP. To influence the dealers, we distributed a significant number of money-counting sponges with a printed message “Ab na note chickeny, na hi Cadbury Choclairs”.

Another one that I really admire is the Fevicol 60-year Sofa campaign. This campaign breaks stereotypes by being a digital-first campaign with a 90-sec commercial that has the brand appearing only at the 90th second. Despite this, the ad has 80 million views and 34k interactions just on YouTube. It forces everybody to acknowledge the power of storytelling and brings the focus back to brand fundamentals in today’s times of fashionable quick growth hacks!

Brief Bio:

Sudeep is passionate about storytelling, building brands & categories, and perfecting human connections. He has spent the last 17 years in various sales and marketing roles in Cadbury/ Mondelez and Pidilite, both companies with incredible brand-building capabilities. This combination also makes him a rare marketer to have built brands in B2C as well as B2B space. He is passionate about everything that’s related to marketing and people. 

He is also a Marketing educator who conducts a course titled “Science behind the art of advertising” at GrowthSchool where he unpacks frameworks to create effective & measurable brand campaigns. His course has added value to around 2500 industry professionals, marketing enthusiasts, and students thus far. He also hosts a marketing podcast titled “CoBB - Conversations over Business of Brands” with his ex-colleague from Mondelez, where they try to dispel myths & misinformation related to marketing.


Interviewed by - Harshita