Sujay Ray

Head of Digital Marketing at L'Oréal

Sujay Ray on Reality of Technology Adoption and Impactful Marketing Campaigns

Get ready for a thought-provoking conversation where Sujay Ray, a tech enthusiast and marketing guru, dives beyond buzzwords and hype. He brings some refreshing perspectives on the realistic adoption of technology and the critical aspects of crafting impactful marketing campaigns. Ray highlights how businesses often overemphasize technologies and forget their fundamental purpose: simplification, using examples from the rise of QR codes to the utilization of chatbots.

Rishabh Shekhar, Co-Founder and chief Operations Officer at Pepper Content, talks to Sujay Ray, Head of Digital Marketing at L'Oréal, about the factors behind technological adoption, their effective deployment, and the associated triggers for mass acceptance. Ray's intriguing insights and vibrant examples are an excellent guide for marketers aspiring to leverage technology in transformative ways.

Here are some distilled gems:

1. Can you please tell us about your journey?

For the past 17 years, I've been navigating the corporate world, driven by an unrelenting passion for marketing. It all began in 2006 when I started my journey with the Times Group. Those were my content marketing days, coinciding with my foray into product management.

Through the years, I've had the privilege of working with iconic brands and organizations. At Bharti Airtel, I delved into consumer behavior as a brand manager and contributed to impactful campaigns. My fascination with sports led me to Disney Star, where I played a role in ventures like Pro Kabaddi and ISL, blending sports marketing with content expertise.

Mindshare became my home for three and a half years, allowing me to explore media dynamics across India and the Philippines. And in the past year and a half, I've been part of L'Oreal India's professional products division, orchestrating digital transformation and reshaping media strategies.

2. Can you identify a crucial moment in your 17-year journey that caused notable shifts in your marketing or content approach?

Reflecting on my 17-year journey, I've been fortunate to witness the evolution of digital firsthand. Throughout, my passion for digital remained unwavering. The changes have been monumental from 2006, when digital marketing began, to the present Web 3.0 era. 2006 digital marketing was still developing, and I was starting in content. The digital landscape was more straightforward, far from today's clutter. People were still attached to traditional media like newspapers.

During 2010-2011, India saw a significant shift with the rise of social media like Facebook and YouTube. This was the first tipping point, where people realized the power of connectivity and sharing. The second pivotal moment arrived in 2016 with Jio's impact, making digital accessible to millions overnight. This marked a significant change in two distinct phases.

We sometimes forget the basics. Technology is there to simplify things for us, not just something we have to use because it exists.

3. Being part of the workforce in 2006 during the digital transformation's early stages, can you highlight challenges companies like Times Group face in adopting a digital-first approach?

Looking back, I can wholeheartedly say it was a delightful experience. Guided by exceptional mentors, I learned a lot. Being the 'digital guy' in a digital-focused company came with its quirks, but it honed my skills in structuring themes, presenting to stakeholders, and bringing concepts to life.

Back then, things we now take for granted were big hurdles. We had to consider users with slow connections, browser compatibility, and screen sizes. The absence of mobile dominance meant designing for different browsers, including the emerging Google Chrome.

Today's app-centric world makes those challenges seem small, but they were pivotal in shaping my understanding of the digital landscape. These experiences remind me of the transformation that has led to today's thriving digital ecosystem.

4. Could you share your perspective on how content marketing has transformed over the years?

Content marketing has undergone a remarkable evolution. From India's early TV days in the 80s, when content consumption was limited, the pivotal shift arrived with the 1984 Asian Games, ushering in TV's content showcase. We witnessed the rise of larger displays from small screens as technology progressed. Social media's surge around 2011-2012 marked a turning point, emphasizing connectivity and content creation. Even I, having experienced single-TV households, became a cord-cutter in 2013-2014, embracing digital consumption.

Today, every device is a content hub, exemplifying the power of democratized content creation. From TV to digital, it's a journey of transformative change, where content marketing adapted and thrived.

Technology needs to be affordable. Then it will scale up.

5. How does the content boom affect content longevity?

From a marketer's perspective, the landscape of content longevity has shifted dramatically. Today, fixating on content longevity isn't paramount unless one operates as a dedicated content company. Even within content-centric domains, the content's ability to engage is the focal point. Recalling the past, the 80s and 90s saw limited content creators, compelling viewers to engage with the available content repeatedly. Technological progress has flipped this dynamic, granting viewers many options accessible at the tap of a remote.

This phenomenon extends to the concept of "thumb-stopping" content, which is critical in our fast-paced digital realm. Consumers' attention spans have shortened with various choices, challenging marketers to swiftly capture fleeting focus. The sphere of memorable ad jingles supports this trend. Catchy tunes persist over a decade, yet the future predicts even these melodies will fade from memory. Music faces a similar fate, where melodies thrive while lyrics recede.

This competitive backdrop heightens the marketer's challenge. The entertainment industry competes directly with brands, leveling the field. TikTok sensations share the stage with superstars, reshaping the content landscape. The transformation of content longevity underscores evolving consumption dynamics, memory, and competition. A new era dawns, promising ongoing adaptation, and evolution in this intricate paradigm.

6. With AI-driven content creation and shifting marketing trends, how do you foresee the future, and what key strategies should marketers prioritize for staying ahead?

In my view, the allure of technology often leads us astray. We tend to overemphasize its significance, losing sight of the basics. It's crucial to remember that technology exists to simplify our lives, not solely because it's available. We must consider whether it genuinely enhances our experiences or our organizations' operations. Take QR codes, for instance. They were around for over a decade before their sudden surge in popularity, around 2016-17. The trigger? The evolution of mobile camera phones and improved internet connectivity made scanning QR codes feasible. This example highlights how technology adoption doesn't always align with availability; it requires the right conditions to thrive.

Web 3.0, AI, and ML are buzzwords that dominate industry conversations. Yet, we must pause and assess their actual impact. At L'Oreal, we harnessed technology through chatbots, a tool that has been available for a while. Chatbots eased basic customer queries, reducing the load on our call centers. The key was to identify where technology could genuinely make a difference.

Technology's effectiveness lies in its delta – the measurable impact it brings. Metaverse experimentation revealed challenges due to device accessibility. The convergence of two curves at an inflection point, as seen with QR codes or affordable smartphones, underscores the role of affordability in scaling technology's reach. Ultimately, we must resist the allure of technology for technology's sake. Instead, we should focus on discovering where technological interventions enhance efficiency, create value, and bridge gaps. A well-considered, balanced approach ensures that our technology adoption aligns with real needs, avoiding the pitfalls of mere trend-chasing.

Is AI making my life easier? Or is it making my organization's life easier? We'll have to think from that lens. And that is how that entire technology adoption happens.

7. Could you mention a standout campaign from the last 20-30 years that has inspired you and that you aim to replicate in your current and future work?

Narrowing down a single favorite campaign is quite a challenge, but the Vodafone Zoo Zoo campaign is a recent standout for me. This creative endeavor launched around 2008 to 2011, left a lasting impression. What truly captivated me was the campaign's unique approach. Vodafone emerged as a game-changer in a sea of telco operators fixated on technical features and bundles.

Their debut coincided with the inaugural season of the IPL, marking a bold entry into the market. What set this campaign apart wasn't just its creative execution, although the quirky bobblehead creatures and clever visuals were captivating. It was the storytelling that genuinely resonated, cleverly infused with humor and devoid of traditional dialogues.

This innovative narrative approach struck a chord with consumers, sparking a connection that extended well beyond the ad. Vodafone's strategic pivot towards relatable storytelling resulted in a long-lasting impact, setting them on a trajectory of success.

During my time at Airtel, which I joined in 2011, we couldn't help but closely monitor Vodafone's moves. Their reign from 2008 to 2011 shone as a golden era, showcasing the power of creativity, innovation, and the ability to connect with audiences meaningfully. The Vodafone Zoo Zoo campaign left an indelible mark, reminding us of the profound influence that a fresh, engaging approach to storytelling can have within the competitive scene.

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