Focused on building a unified APAC data & product offering across dentsu network: Gautam Mehra

Growing at around 25-30 per cent year-on-year, digital marketing is sailing the boat of popularity and recognition for many brands these days. The investments are pouring in and the role of data and analytics is spanning beyond just digital marketing. What used to be a throwaway thought for marketers just a few years ago, is now at the core of every planning and strategy meeting.

And leading the field in delivering data-driven marketing solutions are stalwarts like dentsu programmatic CEO & chief data officer of denstu– south Asia. Gautam Mehra. Now, as he takes on additional charge as chief data &  product officer - Asia Pacific (APAC) for the agency, he spent some time with’s Mansi Sharma, sharing his thoughts on the industry, how it has evolved, and his plans to navigate the diverse APAC market.Excerpts from the interview:

·        On the evolution of digital marketing over the years.

Digital marketing has been one of the most dynamic and vibrant components of the realm of advertising. I remember when I had started, we used to buy keywords for twenty dollars a month (back in ’99) and that was digital marketing. Then it came down to brand heads and CMOs telling us to put out say 12 Facebook posts a day and 10 tweets a day (around ’05-‘09). Next was putting the ad on Facebook ads section, which my then agency Ignitee was the first-ever agency to deliver in this country. Their only intention was to make it visible to the higher management of their organisations. I remember a period when brands would quote 2 lakh rupees for an account that we had quoted Rs20 crore for.

Today, in a world of high-touch customer experiences driven by technology and strengthened by the volume and veracity of consumer data, digital advertising continues to dominate. There is no dearth of funds when it comes to driving improved ROIs and brands are willing to invest as much as is required. Over the years, I’ve seen digital marketing move from a “needs to be sold” to a “must-have” avenue of client investment.

·        On his new roles and responsibilities.

APAC is a very unique and diverse region. There are so many cultural differences amongst the markets within the cluster. Even if you just look at south east Asia; China is a completely different market from the rest, Singapore is very different from, say, Vietnam or Indonesia, and ANZ is again distinctively placed. So, APAC is not just one big region but 15 very different markets and that is very exciting for me to dive into in my new remit.

I would be focused on building a strong and unified APAC data and product offering across the dentsu network in the region and establishing data-led solutions to localised client challenges.

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On digital marketing’s position in the APAC region.

Digital marketing in APAC is the most vibrant and fastest-growing in the world with the largest players in bigtech heavily invested in driving their next level of growth. I suppose the common perception is that we often set Europe or the US as the benchmark when it comes to digital marketing. But as for mobile and conversational marketing, many APAC countries are leading the charge. The  Philippines and Indonesia have a vibrant conversational commerce ecosystem and WhatsApp commerce is exploding in India. As a matter of fact, a dentsu report shows a leading majority of voice searches are coming from India. So, it is a very unique time and place for APAC.

On whether the education system in India and APAC needs to change to facilitate the development of data and analytically skilled (wo)manpower.

Speaking specifically for a market like India, I think there is a huge gap in the Indian market when it comes to vocational training. We are still teaching the same curriculum that was meant for the German manufacturing industry. It definitely needs a wave of future-proofing and I suppose the new changes to the system is but a first step in that direction. Interestingly, when it comes to women in tech, India has 32 per cent women in engineering education, compared to just 20 per cent in the US and 28 per cent in the European Union, according to Catalyst. I’d say there is a definite drive for women to take up more leading roles in tech in India and other markets in the region.

On how the next generation of professionals can be trained better to take up these roles.

We need to develop a culture of learning to learn. Digital is an evolving medium and no amount of training can equip you for the changes that keep on happening. You earn a new skill today and it will be non-relevant in the next three months. Therefore, we need to develop this spirit of constantly learning and evolving and only industry leaders can drive that change.

On his  short term and long term goals.

With the start of every new specialisation, step one would always be to take stock and consolidate. I have already been in touch with our teams across the region via the dentsu Marketing Cloud (DMC) ecosystem that we have built and scaled across the globe. Having grown a team of in-house experts who are thinking beyond just providing data solutions or providing a dashboard, and actually creating software like dentsu Marketing Cloud, dentsu Play, denstu True Value, that solves numerous challenges uniquely. We are going to add more to the list as we discover areas of opportunity to solve client challenges in the region. There are social media platforms apart from Google, Amazon, and Facebook, that are popular in APAC markets. We want to extend our solutions for marketers to analyse their marketing performances on them as well.

On his experience of being assigned a new responsibility during the lockdown.

Fortunately for me, I had already been interacting with 32 global markets for our dentsu Marketing Cloud (DMC) ecosystem and have already travelled extensively within the region for numerous pitches. With the advantage of already being in touch with our teams and having known them for quite some time, it has not been a really big challenge to me in connecting with teams during this lockdown phase as we progress in creating new solutions even during the lockdown.

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