Shubham Khurana

Brand Head at Cleartrip

Shubham Khurana on Breaking Through the Clutter and Embracing Innovation in Marketing

Step into the future of marketing with our exclusive interview featuring Shubham Khurana, an industry giant who scrutinizes the transformative role of AI in branding, content creation, and reaching campaign objectives. Experience a deep dive into the pain points and challenges marketers encounter in an era of fleeting trends and heightened competition.

Shubham Khurana, Brand Head at Cleartrip, in conversation with Agam Mathur, ex-Director of Sales at Pepper Content, discloses how to balance brand and performance marketing, break through the clutter, plan multi-channel media, and deal with attribution issues in complex consumer journeys. One of the vital aspects explored is the importance of capturing consumers' attention in just one fleeting moment. He also lays out his four critical benchmarks for evaluating any content piece.

1. Could you share your journey and experience in marketing and how you got into the field?

My journey in the marketing field has been incredibly diverse and enriching. It all began at Unilever, an organization with a remarkable legacy of 89 years, where I embarked on my career as a sales marketing BLT, akin to a management traineeship. I gained valuable insights into field operations as a sales manager in Delhi before progressing to manage the iconic brew coffee brand. My journey led me to the startup landscape at Trevo Hotels, where I headed brand marketing. This experience allowed me to apply my Unilever-learned marketing techniques and delve into the dynamic startup world. I was instrumental in establishing a marketing team from scratch, handling campaigns and agencies, and strategizing for remarkable growth.

My path then transitioned to a role at Meta (previously Facebook) as a Client Solutions Manager, collaborating with major consumer goods companies like Unilever, Nestle, Mondelez, GSK, and ITC. My role involved optimizing their marketing strategies across Facebook's array of platforms. I've come full circle, back to my passion for brand marketing, as I head the brand marketing division at Cleartrip. My journey has taken me from traditional marketing foundations to mastering digital platforms, adapting to changing marketing channels and embracing novel challenges. It's a testament to my belief in the significance of diversification and continuous learning in the ever-evolving marketing realm.

With communication, I think more and more innovative, disruptive, clutter-breaking content, which is built for the platform, is how it will go.

2. Given your diverse experience across FMCG, hospitality, and Facebook, how do you view the future impact of marketing, especially in light of the trend toward personalized and humanized content?

Undoubtedly, the dynamic marketing field is constantly evolving, and I see its significance only growing further. While a fantastic product is crucial, marketing is pivotal in ensuring its reach and impact. As we navigate this space, I see three key areas of evolution: channels, communication, and the role of marketing in business.

Firstly, channels are continuously changing, driven by consumer behavior. Once peripheral, social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram are now integral to marketing strategies. Staying attuned to where consumers spend their time is essential, ensuring our message captures their attention effectively. Secondly, communication is becoming more complex. With an influx of tools and organizations, creativity is at its peak. However, attention spans are shrinking, demanding innovative, platform-specific, and attention-grabbing content. The ability to create disruptive, platform-tailored content is paramount to cutting through the clutter. Lastly, the role of marketing has deepened. It's no longer just about awareness; we optimize for conversions and immediate purchases through growth marketing. The focus has shifted from a top-of-funnel approach to a full-funnel strategy, tracking and optimizing every stage of the consumer journey.

3. What tools do you believe are making a significant impact, and what components do you envision in an optimal marketing stack?

That's an intriguing question, and I'd like to emphasize that there's no universal formula for crafting a marketing stack. It's contingent upon several factors, notably the industry, brand, and most crucially, the consumer base. When dissecting the core components of a marketing stack, it becomes evident that diverse brands wield different channels. For instance, a mass FMCG brand may rely on traditional mediums like television for a broad reach. In contrast, tech-enabled hospitality or travel brands might lean heavily on digital platforms, making platforms like YouTube and Instagram vital pillars.

In our context, digital channels such as YouTube and social media play a pivotal role. Programmatic buying has proven essential due to its consolidated nature, enabling us to allocate resources more effectively. Analytics tools, including Google Analytics, Branch, and AppsFlyer, empower us to decipher consumer journeys across channels and campaigns, honing our efficiency. On the creative front, we've embraced an in-house approach for routine tasks, ensuring a deeper brand understanding. However, for larger projects, we collaborate with creative agencies, complemented by tools to facilitate the creation of diverse adaptations.

Yet, despite technological strides, areas like PR remain reliant on the human touch. Technology hasn't entirely replaced the need for a strong PR agency to navigate this high-touch landscape. Building an effective marketing stack requires a meticulous blend of tools, strategies, and human expertise tailored to each brand's unique dynamics.

4. Shifting the focus to the prevalent AI domain, particularly with advancements like OpenAI and GPT-3, how do you perceive these technologies shaping the industry's future?

I'm a strong advocate for embracing new tools that enter the market, as they bring excitement and potential for enhanced performance. From a marketing perspective, two key objectives always drive us: efficiency and effectiveness. Efficiency involves streamlining costs in reaching consumers, while effectiveness centers on maximizing impact per impression. AI holds promise in elevating both aspects. In terms of efficiency, AI can accelerate creative production, enabling a higher volume of tailored content. This enhanced efficiency directly contributes to effectiveness, as more relevant and relatable messaging boosts receptivity. Furthermore, AI's processing power and data utilization offer refined media optimization potential.

Immediate opportunities lie in leveraging AI-generated ideas as creative starting points. While AI isn't a completely innovative replacement yet, it sparks novel directions that enrich the creative process. In this context, AI influences both efficiency and effectiveness, creating a significant role in shaping marketing outcomes. My team actively explores new AI tools to integrate them into our campaign strategies seamlessly.

5. Could you shed light on marketers' challenges in staying updated with the ever-evolving marketing world? How do you navigate this dynamic and perceive the overarching trends?

Let me break this down into five key aspects, each intricately woven into the fabric of modern marketing. Firstly, striking the delicate equilibrium between time and performance marketing has emerged as a pressing challenge. The allure of immediate results through growth and performance marketing tools has altered the landscape, demanding a recalibration of the traditional brand-performance balance. Next, the struggle to break through the clutter is an ever-mounting hurdle. With numerous startups and established companies vying for consumer attention on shared platforms, carving a distinct and resonant space in the digital sphere has grown more formidable.

Navigating multi-channel media planning constitutes the third facet of this evolving challenge. While tools exist for digital planning, there's a conspicuous absence of a comprehensive solution that seamlessly integrates both online and offline channels, hindering the holistic assessment of unduplicated reach. The fourth dimension encompasses the intricate dance of attribution. Unraveling the convoluted threads of consumer journeys woven across diverse touchpoints has become increasingly intricate. As digital consumption diversifies, deciphering the impact of each channel on a consumer's decision-making process is an ever-evolving puzzle.

Lastly, the pivotal task of capturing fleeting attention spans stands as the fifth crucial hurdle. The window to captivate a consumer's interest has diminished dramatically in a world of swipes and scrolls. The challenge now lies in crafting content that not only arrests attention in a heartbeat but entices viewers to linger, absorbing the essence of the message.

The role of marketing has therefore become deeper because you're not just responsible for the top of the funnel, which is what it traditionally used to be.

6. What's your approach to crafting an optimal content strategy that considers brand tonality, consumer mindset, geography, product, and competition?

Evaluating content is definitely a fascinating endeavor. Back at Unilever, we employed frameworks like the "art framework," which gauged authenticity, relevance, and talkability. In my approach, I've distilled this process into four key benchmarks that guide my content assessment.

Firstly, it must align with the brand and adhere to the outlined brief. While it might seem obvious, this parameter can often be misused as newer brands chase disruptive content without considering its strategic fit. Secondly, relatability holds significant weight. A strong insight forms the core here, as content built on a powerful insight resonates with the audience far better. This insight-driven approach ensures that the content is memorable and impactful. Thirdly, disruption is pivotal. Content must be innovative and unique to cut through the clutter and capture consumers' fleeting attention.

Lastly, a critical aspect is crafting content specifically for the platform. Adapting content to suit the platform's nuances is crucial, whether it's Instagram's vertical aspect ratio, the engagement possibilities of video platforms, or the auditory focus of radio.

A cookie-cutter approach won't suffice in a landscape where tailored content is king. These four filters serve as my template when crafting an effective content strategy.

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