Karthi Marshan

Executive Vice President &  Head – Group Marketing

Kotak Mahindra Bank Limited

Karthi Marshan heads marketing for the Kotak Mahindra Group, India’s fourth largest private sector bank and BFSI conglomerate. In his role at Kotak, Karthi oversees marketing efforts across all the verticals that Kotak is present in, including insurance, banking, brokerage, asset management et al. Previously, Karthi has headed marketing at IDBI Bank, and co-founded Sharekhan, one of India’s leading retail brokerage firms. 

Karthi started his professional career as a copywriter, then moved on to account management at Grey Worldwide, and subsequently produced television content for Sony India. Prior to joining Kotak, Karthi was based in Sydney, where he helped turn around an ailing DTH business that catered to the Indian diaspora in the ANZ region.

An alumnus of IIM Bangalore, Karthi is a Bombayite who has been trying to escape from the madness of Mumbai all his adult life. Bangalore is his favorite city in India, Goa comes a close second. Karthi talks about customer centricity in the BFSI and Kotak in particular and more.

CRM is an important aspect for the Banking Sector, what are few loopholes where oft the players are going wrong?

The most fundamental problems emerge when we miscalculate the delicate balance between efficiency and service delight. For example, while many technology tools like IVR and mobile banking can and must be leveraged for improved quality and speed, it can be detrimental if we focus primarily on the efficiency benefit to the firm. What I mean by that is, while asking the customer to serve herself is of value in some contexts, like say in a supermarket, making her punch menu choice after menu choice on the IVR may not always be in her best interest.

 Whereas, at ATMs, being sensitive to unique customer needs and customizing screen menus for that may look like a good idea, but when she is faced with many people in queue behind fidgeting over how long she is taking, we may be serving her better by keeping e-choices really limited.

Give two ways by which BFSI can nurture customer loyalty also how big an issue is maintaining customer loyalty vis-a-vis your own brand?

Anticipate and delight: For example, if a customer took a car loan from you 30 months ago, there is a very good chance she is in the market for a replacement in 6 months’ time. Reach out and offer advice, information and help on choosing the next car and selling the current one. Or, if you observe a regular cash withdrawal of a particular sum at the start of the month by your premium customer, set an alert, next month, call her a day before and offer to deliver the same amount home. You can charge a fee for such a service, but also delight dramatically in the bargain. 

Another would be to provide experiences money can’t buy. This could be simple things like a meeting with a calligraphy expert if that is what a section of your customers are interested in, or access to educational or entertainment content that is not available in the open market.

 Look for more such opportunities to anticipate, delight, and surprise. That is the path to engendering loyalty.

 How are you using social media to develop and enhance customer relationship?

We are using social media in three distinct ways to enhance our relationship quotient with customers. We use it to listen actively, spot issues early and respond with concern as well as resolution at speed. This is paying us great dividends, with customers complimenting us and commenting that we are better than leading telcos in this aspect. Second, we use social media as a powerful way to keep customers informed of deals, events and experiences that we work on bringing to them, in a fairly non-intrusive but customized fashion. Third, we use social media also to target prospects in a finely segmented fashion and deliver sharply focused messaging based on either their demographic attributes or their expressed interests, with a view to converting prospects to customers via the philosophy of the long tail. Our conversion rates for acquisition via social media are as high as 30% due to these techniques.

 In terms of media vehicle and recall, which one has been particularly working well for Kotak?

I would have to say TV followed by OOH. But that is also largely due to the fact that measurement methods are not robust for these vehicles currently, as opposed to digital, cinema or radio.

There has been fairly memorable/ noticeable campaigns on TV  for Kotak in the last one year, what is the one thing that you always keep in mind when briefing the agency on any campaign?

I would mention two mantras that we follow: 

Consumer first. We try our best to ensure that the campaign is primarily about the consumer’s life situation, and only inter alia about how the brand could play an enabling role in it. So we attempt to make it less about the brand, more about the customer.

Brand recognition. The ad must be the brand. What I mean by this is, that I should not need the logo in the ad for it to be recognizable as a Kotak ad. The entire ad must remind you of Kotak. We tested this recently in March when we ran an ad without the logo in it and over 80% of viewers recognized it as a Kotak ad.

Catch them young, help them grow- how is the platform helping the Kotak brand grow? 

Being a young brand ourselves, it makes eminent sense for us to target the young consumers. Further, as we are all learning, the youngest person in every home tends to have the loudest voice when it comes to influencing decisions on brand choices, across categories. So we are also betting on her power to persuade the decision maker in her household. Finally, since the time we admitted to being 25 years old, we have more than doubled the size of our business, and grown customer base by over 50%. 

In terms of innovative marketing, can you share anything that Kotak has done recently?

Our latest product launch is one such initiative, I believe. We recently launched a savings product for children dubbed Junior. While all banks offer accounts for minors, the innovative spin we added was a package of features and benefits that extended the appeal of the product far beyond the base benefit of 6% that we offer on all our accounts.

We offered a unique plastic card that is not a debit card (since kids below 10 are not allowed to have one) but has benefits like discounts on ice cream, books, et al. We also bundled a long-term savings product with it where if the parent commits to save for the child religiously every month in a recurring deposit or a Mutual Fund SIP, the child is rewarded regularly for this with tickets to children’s movies or bookstore vouchers. We further launched it in association with a successful talent show called Indian Idol, on their first outing in a kid’s avatar, called Indian Idol Junior. We have brought FMCG marketing strategies to banking via this launch.

As a player in the BFSI sector, can you point out one thing that will shape the future of marketing of this sector?

Authenticity. We believe we are now completely in the era of authenticity. The time for puffery and fluff is long gone. Empty promises of happiness, success and wealth must be replaced with meaningful promises of assistance, advice and service that we can and must deliver on. 


This article first appeared in Marketing Booster magazine


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