Marketing pundit Mamta Varerkar talks industry digitalisation and empowering the entrepreneur

Dubai, United Arab Emirates—Over the last 13 years, Mamta Varerkar has helped various brands reach their market through omni-channel strategies as a marketing professional, all the while building her own name as an influential marketing and advertising powerhouse in Dubai. Now the Digital director and partner at Yellow, a branding and advertising agency, the businesswoman in Mamta has also made her an active agent in the startup scene. She is the CMO of Ejarcar, UAE’s largest car rental marketplace; she also co-hosts the podcast Startup Hustle Middle East, dedicated to shedding light on growth-hacking for entrepreneurs. Here’s some excerpts of our interview with Mamta, in which she also shares the experience of being the face of the Shark Tank of Dubai and her plans for the future. Gulf Tomorrow [GT]: You’ve been a marketing professional for over a decade. How different is the industry now from when you first started out? Mamta Varerkar [MV]: The industry has evolved significantly, which I find very exciting! When I started, we were only working on traditional media, and advertising was almost formulaic. The media channel mix and the messaging followed a somewhat defined structure. Don’t get me wrong, I think there were some amazing ads back then (one of my favorites still is 1984 by Macintosh), but communication was very top-down and one-way between brands and customers. Metrics were GRPs and advertising professionals were just not as accountable as they are today, since you could not quantify your advertising efforts and calculate ROI. We are now living in an age where brands and consumers have a conversation, consumers are more savvy, numerous platforms exist, and attention spans are shorter. Advertising now has to be a lot smarter to stand out, and deliver ROI. GT: What made you choose marketing as profession and what makes it so interesting? MV: I started in marketing because I thought it was the perfect mix of creativity, commerce and psychology. Now we can add technology to that mix as well. I think compelling advertising and branding has the power not only to move products but also to shape culture – From ‘Wazzzzzap’ to ‘Just do it’, branding and advertising has been a part of our vernacular for a very long time, and this is what makes it so interesting for me! GT: What would you say is the main highlight of your career so far? MV: I would say one of the main highlights of my career was to make the transition to the digital department. I was motivated to head the digital department, but not ready for it when I got the opportunity, and I feel that is the best way to learn and know what you are made of. My first day on the job, I was lost trying to figure out how to work the Umbraco CMS, but I did some research, leaned on a few people, and worked it out. I realised then that I will not know all the answers, but I am resourceful, and will find a way to find them. These are also exciting times as I have recently partnered with a branding and digital consultancy startup called Yellow, a lean team of very talented, experienced and passionate people. Digital consultants have a tough job since they need to be a jack of all trades when it comes to digital marketing. Hiring a digital consultancy company like https://www.freshconsulting.com/company-digital-consultant/ is a great idea if you need some digital help with your business so I’d recommend it to everyone! GT: What do you think of the digital marketing industry in the UAE? MV: I think digital marketing, like quite a few industries in the UAE, still has some catching up to do, but it is happening quickly. We live in a place with one of the highest smartphone penetrations so consumer behaviour and brand behaviour is changing rapidly. I can see this change happening with leading family businesses also shifting their approach from traditional media and brick and mortar to digital marketing and ecommerce. There are lots of companies undergoing digital transformation and they are educating themselves on tactics they can implement. For an agency, this is great because it removes the need to convince the client to get on board. Overall, we are in a great position to have foresight into upcoming trends by looking at the West and preparing for that change. There are many excellent agencies like Ram Digital Marketing who we can look to because they really are setting the trends in our field. GT: What dominant digital marketing trends in 2018 will still dominate 2019? What’s your forecast on the new trends that will come out? MV: I am very excited about all the buzzwords that everyone is talking about – marketing automation, data insights, AI and Machine learning. It has been interesting to see how these trends are already impacting existing platforms, for example how Google Ads has evolved since Google’s acquisition of DeepMind. Marketing automation, assisted by AI, is and will continue to have an impact on media buying and targeting. Unfortunately, I also don’t see influencer marketing going away, but I think brands and influencers will get better at quantifying the impact of this on the bottom line, and not just use this as a tactic for quick reach and awareness. In ecommerce, I think personalisation and voice search could be very interesting and have a profound effect on shopper experience and help advance customer relationships. In 2019, I am interested in seeing how platforms and brands implement these trends, not for technology’s sake, but to solve actual problems and to react faster to market dynamics. GT: Can you tell us more about your involvement in the startup industry? How is the experience of being the CMO of Ejarcar? MV: I have always been fascinated by the startup ecosystem, I have spoken at and attended major startup conferences and events a few times, visited random pitch days and entrepreneur-focused events, and I have to admit, I am also influenced by my husband, Siddharth Varerkar. He launched his startup Ejarcar (UAE’s largest online car rental marketplace) almost 2 years ago, and I work with him as an unofficial co-founder and as the official CMO. Working on EjarCar has been an interesting experience because when think like a founder, the marketing needs to be very lean and effective. With EjarCar, we have invested time and efforts towards content marketing. It has been a long-term strategy which has helped grow the business organically and help create brand awareness. Siddharth and I also co-host a podcast together called: Startup Hustle Middle East, where we focus on the startup ecosystem in the region. We interview founders and VCs, and share our journey as well. It has been growing organically and receiving positive feedback, and I am learning a lot from the process. GT: You hosted The Equity Room, which is being hailed as the Shark Tank of Dubai. Can you tell us more about it? MV: I am obsessed with Shark Tank, so, when I got an opportunity to host Dubai’s own version of it, I jumped at the chance! It was a very exciting, adrenaline-pumping experience to see the Sharks in action, to watch the founders pitch and to see how the audience reacts to the pitches. I think The Equity Room is a great platform, that will help evolve the startup ecosystem in the region. I hope there are several more, and I would love to continue to be a part of it in some way. GT: How important is a marketing plan for startups, and where do you think they should start when developing one? MV: As a startup, I really believe that you need to be agile and adaptable, so I don’t buy into a ‘business plan’ in a traditional sense. I think a lean business model canvas is enough for the founders to understand the moving parts of the business, and yes, a business plan can prove helpful, but it is important to get your product to market quickly and get feedback and traction early to really understand how your business would work. I think marketing for the startups should also work in the same way. All our actions in marketing can be attributed now, and marketing can be used as a tool to test and adapt. My approach with founders is to use lean marketing budgets and test different platforms, messages, landing pages etc., to get an understanding of what combination derives the best cost per acquisition, and then invest in consistently optimising this. GT: What are some of the rookie mistakes a young marketing professional could commit when creating a digital campaign? MV: Investing based on assumptions is a rookie mistake. The best thing about digital marketing is that everything can be measured, so it is important, with any digital campaign to focus on a multivariate testing approach and use the learnings and insights to optimise the campaign. GT: What’s next for Mamta Varerkar? MV: A few things: make Yellow one of the leading independent agencies in the region. Grow the podcast – Startup Hustle Middle East, to be one of the top, most-listened to startup podcasts. Raise investment and form strategic partnerships to scale EjarCar to new heights. Continue to take part in speaking opportunities, and speak on the TED stage soon.

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