CMOs who chase trends tend to last as long as these fads: Karthi Marshan, Kotak Mahindra Group

Karthi Marshan Kotak Mahindra Group

Karthi Marshan, CMO, Kotak Mahindra Group sheds light on the brand’s association with Ranveer Singh, the relevance of storytelling in the BFSI sector, and the challenges faced in terms of marketing.

With two decades of experience in the marketing industry , Karthi Marshan, CMO, Kotak Mahindra Group shares insights on the brand’s latest campaign, BFSI marketing trends, and more.


Kotak has been associated with Ranveer Singh for quite some time now. How has the celebrity ambassador helped the brand achieve its objective?

Our choice to associate with Ranveer was quite deliberate. Ranveer represents the new India, a confident, assertive, comfortable in its skin India, which the brand seeks to acknowledge and celebrate. In getting resonance for these values that the brand espouses, and getting consumers to register it and connect it uniquely with Kotak, the actor was a perfect choice.

In an age of social media influencers, how do celebrity brand endorsers add value? 

I see celebrity brand endorsers as blockbusters and social media influencers as long-tail success stories. Both have their role in the mix. Celebrities’ aura is built on performance and success, which lends them credibility and heft across categories. Whereas, social media influencers need domain credibility. So for instance, I’d be willing to defer to an athlete about sports gear, but probably not about banking.

We are yet to see the emergence of popular social media stars in the context of financial products in this country.

As a brand, Kotak has often latched itself to a narrative that is above the brand – be it #DriveLikeALady or The Bench of Unity. What kind of an appeal does cause marketing have for BFSI brands? How has this approach performed for Kotak? 

We are very particular about how we deploy cause-marketing, as you call it. For us, it’s not a gimmick to gain gratuitous empathy for the brand. Rather, we look for opportunities that are inextricably linked to the business we do and the segments we serve, where our product, service or intervention can make a difference to a section of society.

#DriveLikeALady was an example of Kotak busting chauvinist myths about lady drivers being accident-prone and celebrating their superior driving skills by rewarding them with better pricing on vehicle insurance.  

What was the insight behind your recent campaign, #DreamsInvited? What was the brief given to the creative team/agency?

#DreamsInvited is an update on our previous campaign #IndiaInvited. The last round promised to enable access to financial services to Indians from all walks of life, without discriminating on any grounds whatsoever. We saw that it resonated with large sections of society who heard an empathetic voice in their corner for the first time. This year, we wanted to move the conversation forward from enabling access to enabling dreams.

The insight was that the new, emerging, confident and assertive Indian now does not constrict her dreams based on her context. Everyone feels confident about dreaming really big and bold. We wanted to acknowledge and celebrate this phenomenon in the most vivid way possible.  

As a marketer, what is the core objective of your overall marketing strategy? Please take us through your media mix 

Our marketing strategy’s ultimate goal is to make selling superfluous. What this means is that marketing must learn enough about the potential consumer and her pain points to design not just the most optimal product or service, but also a delivery system and experience that woos and delights her beyond belief.

In short, our marketing strategy is to wow the consumer so that it weds us.

Media mix is an outcome of this desire and deep knowledge about how consumers and media interact.

Out attempt is always to be smart shoppers of media, to buy less and make it work more.

One of the biggest challenges faced by the BFSI industry is creating financial awareness among the millennials. How do you tackle this issue? How helpful has digital media been in lead generation in this sector? 

Financial awareness or rather financial literacy is not an ailment suffered only by millennials, or indeed any specific class of people. Digital media is an efficient means to spread the word and educate people from all walks of life, and we spend large sums doing this on the internet in various ways.

The real insight is that finance intimidates most people. Hence, the real solution is to create edutainment tools and tricks to worm your way into the minds of the audiences. This is why Kotak’s advertising has always been very counter-intuitively non-bank like. The issues we address in our messaging are always larger human ones. This is why we have managed to build brand aura that helps us punch above our weight class.

Also read: Case Study: How Kotak 811 inspired Indians to open digital accounts

2019 witnessed a number of marketing trends including, the rise of 10-second spots, UGC platforms such as TikTok, and moment marketing. Which of these trends worked well for the brand? Any other specific trend that stood out to you? 

Today’s trend is tomorrow’s fad.

CMOs who chase trends tend to last as long as these fads.

We see all new things like tools, nothing more. We certainly try, test and deploy anything we find relevant, effective and appropriate.

How has BFSI marketing changed/evolved in this decade? Key milestones that stood out for you.

BFSI marketing has really come of age over the last decade. 3 key things to notice are-

  • Regulators have driven reforms in the sector which created opportunities for both incumbents as well as disruptors to create breakthrough offerings. Deregulation of savings interest rates at the start of the decade, for instance, gave challenger brands like Kotak a huge opening to establish a beachhead. RBI offering payment bank licenses etc, followed by demonetization and the ability to use Aadhaar remotely for KYC led to an explosion in the sector. Marketers got a seat at the table where the product was being designed, because for the first time, perhaps, things in BFSI were happening at the speed of thought.
  • Again, regulators requiring that players invest in educating the consumer, either through their own awareness programs or by funding those championed by the regulator, have led to the creation of some really groundbreaking work, particularly in the mutual funds’ space. I see this trend now playing out in the other verticals like insurance, banking, payments as well.
  • The use of digital media to experiment with new ideas at relatively low cost is something BFSI marketers have become particularly adept at over the last few years. It’s great to see many many small and clever films circulating on WhatsApp, as well.

3 marketing trends that you foresee for the BFSI sector in 2020 

The end of puffery, the ascendancy of authenticity and a growing emphasis on education to prevent getting defrauded.

What does your marketing plan for 2020 look like? Any key events you will be investing in?

2020 will be the year we tune up our investments in the most important segments, namely women & teenagers.