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An Interview With – Sidharth Shukla, Head Digital Strategy And Social Media, Cheil India

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Sidharth Shukla Sidharth Shukla is a complete end-to-end digital marketing person. He is now closing in on having spent 12 years in the industry starting 2004. During these 12 years, he has done sales, media, strategy & planning, social marketing, CRM and Direct Marketing, worked with startups doing pretty much everything. His current role is entirely digital and the mandate is clear – how do they take their clients to the next level on digital and this is something they live and breathe each and every hour that they work.

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

Sidharth: I consider myself fortunate that I got into digital from day 1 of my work life. My first job was with Macmillan India and I was working on developing one of the first e-learning products in India – this immediately introduced me to multiple facets in digital including technology and I was hooked to digital from there. Went on to have stints with Times Internet, Indian Express, Quasar (Tyroo), MRM- McCann and now Cheil. All my roles till McCann were very Start up driven scenarios resulting in a complete 360 hands on exposure with digital.

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?

Sidharth: At this point in time it’s clearly a factor of reach which will change in the coming few years. Conventional marketing is also more strongly poised to be the first movers when it comes to media dark areas in the country today. The best marketing will nevertheless come out of campaigns which are integrated but I do believe that digital can play a much deeper and larger role when it comes to an ongoing brand narrative, and this is basis the fact that there are clear strengths which digital has over traditional marketing – the degree and depth of measurement, or for that matter a certain degree of agility (real-time  marketing) which is not as strong with other mediums. I think it would  be unwise to say that traditional will not be part of marketing –  it always will be , but at this point yes digital continues to eat more and more into the pie from a budget share  perspective.

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

Sidharth: That’s the real beauty of the medium – go hunting for a case study and you will find one. I have too many favorites to be able to name any one in particular, especially when keeps in mind that there are consumer facing studies (campaigns / media etc.), but there are also the hidden ones – technology, SEO, targeting etc.

According to you, what are the top 3 mistakes committed by organizations today in leveraging Digital Marketing?

Sidharth: The first one for me actually stems out of the greatest strength for the medium – which is measurability. It’s very easy to get caught in that and have all marketing discussions come out or be bound to data, this limits creativity, there has to be an ongoing experimentation that brands need  to keep doing to be ahead of the curve  or simply to learn from.

Secondly, I respect the sanctity of brand and brand guidelines, but I think we need to loosen up a bit. Brands are not made by companies anymore, consumers today define what brands are to large degree and the perception created around them; and if this from a digital marketing perspective means letting go of a few rules once in a while then I believe that is imperative – topical or real-time marketing for example cannot always have a brand connect, but should that mean we miss out in being part of the conversation – not in my opinion.Lastly, there has to be ongoing introspection. We all look at what the future holds and how we can gear up for that but some fundamentals on engagement online are never going to change and we need to keep looking at those as well and being honest in our evaluation of them. A strong digital presence to a large degree is like a house – if the foundation is weak the entire structure is. Content marketing for example – moving forward we have something called micro moments as a concept which is emerging but it is based on content marketing, the importance of which has been clear for a while now.

Lastly, there has to be ongoing introspection. We all look at what the future holds and how we can gear up for that but some fundamentals on engagement online are never going to change and we need to keep looking at those as well and being honest in our evaluation of them. A strong digital presence to a large degree is like a house – if the foundation is weak the entire structure is. Content marketing for example – moving forward we have something called micro-moments as a concept which is emerging but it is based on content marketing, the importance of which has been clear for a while now.

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

Sidharth: If you are talking in the context of a client – agency relationship, then a balanced approach most definitely. Digital people should be present on both sides of the fence – that’s when really deep conversations can take place.

Which are your 3 favorite Digital Marketing Tools?

Sidharth: For me my favorite is Cheil Pulse, our social command center, the advantages that come with having that are numerous, be it planning insights , listening , conversation mapping , attribution and predictive modeling and of-course by saying this there is a derived relation to tools which help support this system – Sysmos , Social Bakers , Sprinklr etc.

Why do you think it’s important for entrepreneurs, marketing professionals and students to learn Digital Marketing today?

Sidharth: 

  • For Entrepreneurs: The ability to be able to build a brand or a product without having one brick on the ground. Reach and awareness is not tied to having a physical presence anymore.
  • For Professionals: Because it is here to stay, and it’s been like that for a while and people will encounter it at some point in time during their professional careers. Understanding and knowing nuances of the medium will make any professional a far more rounded person when it comes to their work which will then lend itself to advantages on many fronts.
  • For Students: Again similar to the reason above which is that most of them will encounter it when they start work. Being upto date on what is happening and possibly taking a course to understand the fundamentals involved will definitely be worth it. It’s a skill set high in demand and they are on many fronts in a far better position to understand and learn quickly than we were, they are already digital natives by behavior and that’s a great advantage to have.
What are the top 3-5 skills you look for when hiring a candidate for Digital Marketing profile?

Sidharth: Skills with respect to tools, platforms are a bit difficult to judge in an interview alone but I think there are certain characteristics which are imperative for the role:-

  • Hands-on work experience and the knowledge achieved basis that
  • Strategy is not defined in the context of ideas and campaigns; the person has a larger POV to make
  • Someone who says creative and technology in the same breath
  • Keeps him or herself updated on a regular basis and passes that down to others
What is your advice for newbies, who are looking at building a career in Digital Marketing industry?

Sidharth: 

  • Get in as early as you can, the more you wait the more difficult it might become.
  • Read a lot, it’s all a few clicks away
  • If possible attend as many industry events as you can, they are great from a knowledge sharing and networking perspective
  • Digital is quite broad so figure out what within digital really interests you and work towards that right from the beginning
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?

Sidharth: Not in any particular order of importance, but the ones I will definitely visit once a day would be Mashable, Digg, Afaqs, Social Samosa, Social Media Today, Reddit but that barely begins to cover even part of the list, there are daily updates coming in from as many as 25-30 publishers and additionally, one would also be following them on Twitter.

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

Sidharth: The three people who made a difference to me in terms of helping me understand the medium better were some of my previous bosses –  Sameer Pathak in Times Internet , Ankur Sharma at Indian Express and Aditya Khanna at Quasar.

How do you see Digital Media evolving in future? What are the top 3 trends do you foresee for 2016?

Sidharth: A truly accurate prediction on its evolution will always never be possible as we have seen from the past. But some of the things that I will hold important as we move forward are:-

  • Content most definitely. The more we can produce the better and how can we get our customers to contribute as well
  • Ad blocking and its consequences, this is small right now in India but growing –  we will need to and should start having conversations on this front and what it means for us in the context of online media , for example –  impressions recorded but not actually served and brands still end up  paying for those– how do we tackle this issue? A linked conversation to this would be using or increase the usage of formats which cannot be blocked, product seeding for example.
  • Social listening and derived intelligence will play a larger role in what we do, not only from the perspective of better communication or to see what works and what does not, but can we use such centers to get brands to play a proactive part in conversations, can we use this to personalize experiences and communication which we have with customers and consumers?
Would you like to share few words about the work we are doing at Digital Vidya?

Sidharth: 

It’s a great initiative and to have a team like yours in the given marketing and business environment gives it an even more crucial dimension. Digital has always been learned on the job till recent times for the most part and Digital Vidya provides a touchpoint to learn that in an organized manner which I am sure many will benefit from.

I also see a second side to the coin , while on one hand it is about teaching those who wish to do it, I believe a team like yours also eventually gives clarity to a lot of people who might have caught up in the ‘glamour’  of it and then consequently  realize they are actually not interested in the field.

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 :).

[Sr. Associate - Content Marketing] A content passionate, Jasleen handles the content writing and marketing activities. Additionally, she leads Digital Marketing Internship Programme. Her deep passion and enthusiasm for writing guided her towards being the Associate Editor in English for her college magazine. Only deep passion and zeal can guide a person towards a professional writing career. Apparently, Jasleen is one of those persons. She is in the content writing and marketing fraternity for 5 years now. A top-notch individual, she is proficient in writing content for multiple requirements including blogs, articles, books, brochures and social media. She embraces practical knowledge of WordPress CMS. Besides this, she is also highly engaging in Social Media Marketing activities.
  • Digital-Marketing


  • There are 2 comments


    • 2 years ago

      Star Enterprises Global   /   Reply

      Really interesting article.loved reading it.would like to read more from you.Thanks for sharing this information

    • 1 year ago

      Jasleen Kaur   /   Reply

      Thanks Sidharth 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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