Karun Thareja

Head of Marketing & Product, CMPO at Faircent

Karun Thareja on Navigating the Digital Age

Karun Thareja, Head of Marketing & Product, CMPO at Faircent, talks to Prateek Kalra, Associate Director - Sales at Pepper Content, about his perspectives on the transformation occurring within the digital marketing world. He skillfully outlines the shift from traditional quarterly marketing strategies to the current dynamic of immediate actions, bringing promising opportunities and noteworthy challenges. Drawing from his involvement with Faircent, he details the dedicated and time-intensive approach necessary for effecting changes in customer behavior, even in the face of tempting quick wins.

Thareja goes on to delve into the significance of empathy in achieving marketing success, the potency of content, and the intricacies tied to quantifying the impact of content. He concludes by discussing the measurement of PR impact and artificial intelligence's role in content marketing.

1. Please tell us about your journey.

I hold degrees in engineering and an MBA. I pursued engineering at Raleigh College of Engineering, now known as DTU, and later completed my MBA from FMS in 1996. My professional journey spans 27 years in the business world. Throughout my career, I've engaged with startups, international giants, and Indian firms. My primary role revolved around leveraging marketing strategies to foster business growth. My journey commenced at Amity, where innovative technology was utilized to educate children across subjects for about four years.

Subsequently, I joined IBM, dedicating three years to promoting specialized software. A stint in Dubai involved program management across the Middle East. Returning to Microsoft, I witnessed a shift from sales to marketing, targeting smaller enterprises with software solutions. In later roles, I marketed startup products to US, UK, and Australian markets. Additionally, I contributed to an analytics company, harnessing data for improved customer experiences and internal processes.

Over the past seven years, I've been part of Faircent. Initially, in marketing, my role expanded to encompass products and technology. Faircent facilitates investments that fuel loans to others, pioneering peer-to-peer lending in India. Our offerings have evolved, allowing investments in various plans with corresponding returns. Partnering with others expanded our reach beyond marketing alone. Central to all efforts, marketing entails engaging customers, conveying the right message, and fostering trust. Ultimately, the objective remains customer happiness.

Fundamentally, as a marketer, you need to be like an actor. You need to be able to put yourself in your customer's shoes or an actor's shoes and understand what that character's all about.

2. How has marketing evolved over the past thirty years, considering logos, markets, and technology changes while maintaining its core principles?

I believe the technological aspect of marketing has undergone significant growth. While it has always been present in various forms, as the saying goes, "the more things change, the more they stay the same." The core principles remain constant – focusing on the customer and the value we offer them. Like Ogilvy's famous quote, spending money on marketing often includes some waste, but it's hard to tell where that is.

However, with the evolution of marketing, we've gained better insights into what's effective and what isn't. The risk of allocating a marketing budget and not knowing the outcomes has been reduced. It's become more predictable. Nevertheless, as predictability increased, the options have expanded tremendously. This can be overwhelming, making it challenging to decide where to invest.

When I studied marketing for an MBA, we learned about Kotler and the four P's of marketing, which was the standard. Later, the concept expanded to the seven P's with services marketing. But nowadays, the list of marketing levers is seemingly endless. Figuring out which will make an impact is a mix of trial and error, experience, and, most importantly, placing the customer at the heart of decisions. It's about envisioning what would matter to the customer and thinking from their perspective to create impactful strategies.

3. What are the current challenges that marketers are grappling with, and what do you think is the core behind these challenges?

Looking back about a decade ago, I noticed a challenge that stands out. Crafting quarterly plans required weeks of preparation. Today, everything is instant – content creation, campaign launches, and investments offer rapid outcomes. Adapting to this speed is challenging, especially for things that can't be rushed. Reflecting on Faircent, I remember shifting consumer behavior. Changing norms takes time. Initially, investing money in loans was unfamiliar. Educating people was vital, reshaping ideas and actions, not just providing information.

Our focus was a marketplace with investors and borrowers. Borrowing was known, but investing in loans was new. We needed trust-building, not quick fixes like organic search. PR was our tool, working with financial publications to educate. With time, it paid off, and we refined our product for investors, making it less risky.

A persistent challenge is understanding customers. Creating personas helps, but genuinely empathizing is the goal – sensing their goals, struggles, and pain to communicate effectively. This remains vital over time, knowing customers so well they take action. Today, experimentation is feasible, unlike a decade ago when risks were high. Tools have evolved, suiting our challenges. Amid this change, grasping customer personas and using tools wisely is crucial.

4. How do you handle the pressure on marketers for faster execution, AB testing, and content creation while ensuring a robust content strategy?

I believe placing the customer at the center of our approach is pivotal, a theme that will thread through our conversation. Regarding ideal content, it's all about catering to the customer's needs and delivering value. If the value is something a customer would eagerly share, that's even better. This can turn the customer into a referral source, potentially making content go viral and gain widespread attention.

In today's dynamic ecosystem, things shift rapidly. Strategies that worked in SEO three years ago might not be relevant, especially with news of Google overhauling its algorithms. However, if content speaks for itself and offers value, it stands out. Think about quotes from decades ago that still resonate – they are content that endure.

Now, measuring content's impact can be nuanced. Metrics tell us how many saw it, but they can't gauge the emotions or reactions it elicited. In the real world, content's success is about affecting emotions – evoking happiness, sadness, or even fear. It's subjective, varying from person to person. What matters most is whether you achieve the desired impact, regardless of strict measurement.

Results show in more tangible ways than views, likes, or subscriptions. We pioneered tracking PR's effect by analyzing shifts in our website traffic after each PR effort. This allowed us to gauge which articles were impactful and whether we were headed in the right direction. Ultimately, content with inherent value tends to create an undeniable impact, transcending mere numbers.

5. What's your take on AI, given your experience in its development and use across different sectors? How confident are you in its current state, and where do you see its future heading?

It's a bit tricky to predict the future of AI. It's like reflecting on when computers were becoming common everywhere, and nobody knew the extent of their impact. I recall my days at IBM, and there was a time when the idea of a global market for PCs was a single entity. Now, computer chips are virtually everywhere.

With AI, there are concerns, but I believe any technology can be used positively or negatively. Proper boundaries will likely emerge as we become more accustomed to its dynamics. The challenge is that AI's developments happen much faster. There's talk of putting limits on AI advancement after ChatGPT 5 because of the complexities within it.

At FairSense, AI trials for borrower risk assessment have yielded success. Technology excels in reliability and eliminating human errors. It aids routine tasks sans creativity. AI gradually supersedes tasks demanding intelligence. Preceding AI, Robotic Process Automation made waves. AI's reach is vast and subject to ethical considerations. Currently, we employ ChatGPT for technical solutions, enhancing traditional tools. Determining AI's direction rests on our choices.

If content speaks for itself regardless of whosoever is reading it or valuing it, it will stand out.

6. How do you manage challenges, adapt quickly, and ensure efficient content processes in a fast-paced environment while emphasizing adaptability, testing, and measurement?

Content in various forms, like LinkedIn articles, podcasts, videos, and more, is at the heart of customer communication today. Whether it's a testimonial video, a professionally produced film studio video, or user-generated content (UGC), the possibilities are diverse. Third-party articles or journalist features about you also contribute to the mix.

When considering a content marketing stack, I am a bit uncertain about its specifics. Generating content predictably and swiftly is crucial for organizations with specific goals, but scope encompasses more than just this aspect. For instance, addressing trust involves third-party endorsements, which go beyond the traditional content marketing stack.

Endorsements from credible sources or influencers play a significant role in establishing trust and brand credibility. This extends even to influencer marketing, a potent avenue for content generation. At Faircent, we've experimented with influencer marketing and observed its impact firsthand. The concept of a content marketing stack seems to revolve around written content, particularly for SEO purposes. This might involve leveraging a content factory to create SEO-focused written content.

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