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An Interview With Sandeep Bali, VP, Digital, Embibe

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Sandeep BaliSandeep Bali has worked with both agencies and companies with in-house teams over last 10 years for profiles that include dedicatedly handling SEO, SEM or Analytics. This helped in very focused learning early on in the career. Few of his earlier jobs were with the companies like Lebhar Friedman, Euromoney and Flightnetwork.com, catering to western markets such as UK, US and Canada. However, Sandeep’s recent work has been with Indian companies like Foxymoron, CouponDunia & Embibe which are focused on Indian audience, with exception of Browserstack, which is based out of Mumbai but has a global audience.

Sandeep is currently working with Embibe overlooking digital marketing activities. Embibe is an online test prep website for entrance exams such as JEE Main, AIPMT etc. Being an online-only product, it is crucial for them to have strong web presence, so obviously digital marketing is essential for them.

How did you get into Digital Marketing? What interested you in learning Digital Marketing?

Sandeep: I made my very first website when I was in 9thstd on Yahoo Geocities. I developed interest in web development and security early on. By 11th standard, I owned a forum to discuss web exploits for hacking and cracking websites with 800+ active members. This is when I started to think about ways to increase users on my website. Learning digital marketing was never a goal for me, but in order to own a successful website, digital marketing was one of the essential skills required.

Being a witness to ever changing web technologies since the era of first dotcom boom helped a lot to develop first-hand understanding of the industry. Most of my learning came from googling online, but Bobby Heard, my director at Flightnetwork.com mentored me to take it to the next level.

According to you, what are the advantages of conventional marketing over Digital Marketing? Do you think that Digital Marketing is a threat to the future of conventional marketing?

Sandeep: Talking strictly about advantages, conventional marketing has more human touch to it than digital, simply for the fact that it encourages more human-to-human interaction than online marketing. Most conversion points in conventional marketing require you to transact with a real person on other end. This helps you understand the diversity and specific needs of your audience and you’re able to serve them better.

I wouldn’t call digital marketing a threat, but rather a successor to conventional marketing. Digital marketing has developed several concepts focusing their efforts local to a region (Google Local, Adwords Express) ,while some of them are yet to arrive in India but are popular elsewhere (ibeacon). This, with emergence of hyperlocal startups gives a good idea of how conventional marketing is going to evolve and compliment digital marketing to help businesses reach their target audience.

Share about your 3 favorite Digital Marketing case studies. What did you like most about them?

Sandeep: 

  • At Euromoney, We were able to prove that online advertising is the way forward for b2b lead generation for our company by showing massive ROI compared to traditional methods. This led to a major shift in marketing and sales strategy globally prioritizing web as the primary channel for all lead generation. :  Apart from the obvious benefits we observed from this change, what was very interesting to observe was that a very large panel of stakeholders were readily convinced for such a major change given that there was sufficient data to back it up.
  • At Flightnetwork.com, we were able to beat Expedia.ca for all organic rankings and were able to rank 1 for keyword “cheap flights” after beating our competitor cheapflights.ca.: Although we were aiming for it, the odds of us beating these two were very low, given the size of Expedia’s brand, and secondly for cheapflights.ca owning the brand “cheap flights”. To be able to beat them was great learning that a quality product and focused efforts are key to success.
  • At Coupondunia, we were plagued by spammy websites which were able to outrank us within 3-4 days from the purchase of their domain and new website setups. We decided to reverse engineer their methods and verify our learning by executing them on a test website. : Although black hat methods are not recommended, having a know-how of them is very useful in understanding how technology works.
According to you, what are the top 3 mistakes committed by organizations today in leveraging Digital Marketing?

Sandeep: 

Not investing enough in people.: Digital marketing campaigns require people with skillset comprised of marketing, technical and content skills, and such candidates don’t come cheap. Cutting costs for this department puts the whole campaign at risk.

Not investing enough in tools. :Be it SEO, SEM, Social Media or Analytics, there are several tools available in the market to automate processes, improve efficiency and cutting costs. Avoiding using such tools results in missed opportunities and keeps campaigns from reaching their true potential.

Over reporting and optimizations: While trying to be “data-driven”, several companies end up spending too much time and resources into tracking and calculating every possible thing they can. For smaller companies with limited resources, it is better to rather focus on next big opportunity then to fix every little issue. For larger organizations, sometimes, over optimization may backfire the campaign. And in most cases, so much time is spent in preparing reports, and very rarely this intelligence is ever put to use.

Between Agency and In-house, which approach would you recommend for maximum value of Digital Marketing? Why?

Sandeep: Both of these approaches have their own advantages and disadvantages. If one can afford, managing digital marketing campaigns inhouse is far better in the long run. Agencies can be fairly useful for companies that don’t have a core business in digital products and services. For such companies, agencies can provide a better understanding of the industry and reach, while the company can focus on their core product.

This is rarely true in the case of digital brands. Companies with digital products and services usually understand their product and audience far better than an external entitycan. It is very hard for agencies to live upto their expectations. Also most digital brands rely on growth hacking, while the core profits for most agencies come from the campaigns that include massive budgets.

If you’re a digital product or service and are competing with the giants in industry, it is indispensable for you to have a great in-house digital marketing team.

Which are your 3 favorite Digital Marketing Tools?

Sandeep: We can’t beat our competitors using the same tools as they use. We need better. So, making your own tools is something you should be prepared for.

Luckily there are many great tools available for our industry. I am a big fan of set-it-&-forget-it kind of tools. Two such tools are:

  • com : It lets you track all your keywords ranks on daily basis. It is ideal to add as many keywords as possible as it helps you understand trends as they happen. One great feature of the tool is that it keeps historical data for your website and all your competitors and allows you to download in raw format. It is very useful for advanced data manipulations.
  • Deepcrawl: It is a great tool to keep your website’s health in a check and track changes historically.
  • It is very hard to choose just three favorites from so many great tools available, but my third favorite would be:
  • Coschedule: It is a great tool for content management, with Buffer-like scheduling features for social media as well as blog posts.
Why do you think it’s important for entrepreneurs, marketing professionals and students to learn Digital Marketing today?

Sandeep: 

  • Digital marketing brings scalability and predictability to businesses, which is essential for every business, and entrepreneurs understand that. Most tech startup founders are well versed with digital marketing skills already. While many brick and mortar businessmen have also started appreciating the ease and reach it provides for their businesses.
  • For professionals, there are endless uses of digital marketing. They can use it for generating leads, building personal brand, networking or simply adding it to compliment their current skill set.
  • For students who are yet to step into professional world, digital marketing offers a great opportunity to showcase their skills and standout in the crowd. They can use digital marketing as their core skill to promote themselves and network or they can showcase their other skills on the popular platforms more effectively.
What are the top 3-5 skills you look for when hiring a candidate for Digital Marketing profile?

Sandeep: 

  • Passion about technology and industry we’re in. In an ever-changing digital landscape, it is crucial to know the latest offerings.
  • To be generally smart and good at learning new skills. Digital marketing isn’t hard to learn, but it takes quite some creativity to apply this knowledge effectively.
  • To understand technology. Digital marketing is slightly different from marketing; technology plays a big part in it. People who find it hard to understand technology in general will find it harder to succeed in diverse scenarios.
  • Great communication skills. Since you require working with several teams and many people to make a campaign successful, it is important to be able to articulate your thoughts. You may often times find yourself writing something for the public platforms that your companies or clients own.
  • Ambition. Ambitious people tend to be more open in learning new skills, which aren’t part of their job profile but can actually compliment them. Exhibiting ownership and being open to learn more and more is great for professional as well as personal growth.
What is your advice for newbies, who are looking at building a career in Digital Marketing industry?

Sandeep: 

A faster way to learn digital marketing is to undertake internship. You may start with an agency where you can learn basic run of the mill stuff, and then switch to inhouse in a more competitive industry where you get to see more advanced techniques.

Remember that Google is your best friend. Before you start bugging all your contacts, do bother to search it once in Google. Most likely you will find your answer. As long as you know what you’re looking for, internet has an answer for you.

Digital marketing isn’t very hard to learn, and once you get slightly better at it, it won’t be hard for you to secure good packages. But don’t rush too soon. Spend a good two years to learn various skills (SEO, SMO etc.) under good mentors and companies, and observe various industries and how various departments work with each other. There are many marketeers who are good at one or two skills, but having a great understanding about whole ecosystem will give you an unfair advantage and make you a professional every company would love to work with.

A bonus tip would be to build great case studies that show how you were able to use your skills to increase business for the companies you worked with.

How do you stay updated on the latest trends in Digital Marketing? Which are the Digital Marketing resources (i.e. blogs/websites/apps) you visit regularly?

Sandeep: There are just too many options available lately. After Google Reader’s departure, I had been using Feedly to manage news from various different websites. I would simply scan through the titles to see if there is anything new.

Most news nowadays is just re-written stuff that we already know. It can still be useful for newcomers.

I find regular tech news outlets more useful than traditional digital marketing news websites. The latter is full of rehashed content, while former actually keeps you updated with new platforms and innovations, while giving you creative ideas about how one can use them.

Share the names of 3 people you respect when it comes to Digital Marketing.

Sandeep: 

  • Aaron wall. At one time, he was undisputedly the best SEO on the planet, definitely bigger than Rand Fishkin. He has kept a low profile since long now, but is very approachable and helpful to his SEObook.com customers.
  • Seth Godin. More than what he writes, it is amazing to see how he sells himself and manages his community, churning out one bestseller after another for more than a decade now.
  • CRO. These people publish a lot of free content, which is very useful for anyone who’s into conversion optimization. One of the best things is that one can actually hire them given that they meet the minimum requirement to do so.
How do you see Digital Media evolving in future? What are the top 3 trends do you foresee for 2016?

Sandeep: 

  • There will be “digitalization” of more verticals than ever before. It is logical next step. Hyperlocal is going to be much bigger, and while it may not become mainstream in 2016, it will definitely make big leaps from where it is today.
  • Lesser ads and more sponsored content. Also, more platforms to enable brands to prepare such sponsored content efficiently.
  • Smart watches, VR & AR headsets, etc. are some of the latest wearable platforms that introduce new possibilities of reaching your audience. Both content and ad industry will have to adapt to these.
  • More brands will participate in video ads on digital platforms, and not just TV. As a result, we will see more production studios and agencies coming up with competitive pricings.
Would you like to share few words about the work we are doing at Digital Vidya?

Sandeep: 

While there are many companies offering wide array of professional training courses, it is good to have companies like Digital Vidya who focus on just one niche and excel at it. Digital Vidya is a great option for people who want to become specialist on Digital Marketing and have deep understanding on this industry across various pillars (like social media, analytics etc.). Digital Vidya has a great faculty lineup and I’m familiar with many of them personally.

Are you inspired by the opportunity of Digital Marketing? Start your journey by attending our upcoming orientation session on Digital Marketing for Career & Business Growth. It’s online and Free :).

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  • There is 1 comment


    • 11 months ago

      Jasleen Kaur   /   Reply

      Thanks Sandeep for your contribution to our community through this interview. Really happy to know your feedback about the work we are doing in spreading digital (marketing) vidya :).

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