CMO Chats with Bibhuti Routray, Head of Marketing for CSM Technologies

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Bibhuti Routray

Head of Marketing | CSM Technologies

Bibhuti Routray, Head of Marketing for CSM Technologies, discusses addressing AI content challenges and attention spans, leveraging niche distribution channels for marketing, and marketing as storytelling to unify teams.

To watch Bibhuti’s interview, you can subscribe to our CMO Chats interview series on YouTube. You can also listen to the interview on Spotify or pour yourself a cup of coffee and read the full interview below. Subscribe to the CMO Chats Newsletter on LinkedIn to keep up-to-date on our conversations with today’s marketing leaders.

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • Prioritising brand equity by humanising the brand and focusing on core values
  • Tackling AI-generated content issues and reducing consumer attention spans
  • Using niche distribution channels and customised experiences over traditional media
  • Storytelling in marketing to align internal teams and engage external audiences

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Can you tell us a bit about your journey and what sparked your interest in marketing?

So, I started off after a stint in investment banking. I was into banking first. I was a financial analyst with Morgan Stanley. This creative spark that I’ve always had in college prompted me to make some sort of inroads into the creative industry. I started working in advertising for a bit and then moved full-time into marketing about eight years ago.

Since then, this is what I’ve been doing at CSM Technologies. I’ve spent about eight and a half years now. When I first started with them, they were a boutique GovTech company. They primarily catered to the public sector and worked with governments, public sector agencies, multilateral bodies, and on development projects. Through this journey with both CSM Tech, which also became a personal journey for me, we grew together. Now, CSM Tech is a large, global IT consulting and services company operating across Africa, Southern Asia, South America, and the Middle East. Having grown beyond the public sector, they also cater to enterprises. Along with this change in business, my role has also developed into a more market-facing role with a more global perspective, I would say.

That’s definitely interesting. You mentioned that you’ve hopped from this to that. Coming from CSM Tech and growing into this company, I see a lot of challenges and opportunities. So I wanted to find out better, as the head of marketing in your company, what your current main marketing focus is.

The current marketing focus, I would say, is on building brand equity. I think service markets have a lot more competition than they used to, probably a decade ago. This competition, I think, has grown probably 20 to 30-fold more. That’s mainly because a lot of new-age companies, startups, and very new-age, cutting-edge products have actually levelled the playing field. Having said that, the market has also expanded. Obviously, it’s not at that kind of pace. But still, the ability to create that sphere of influence is extremely critical. And that’s what contributes to brand equity over time. Part of that exercise would actually involve, as I would say, further humanising the brand. I mean, it’s a very strange thing to say in the AI era that we’re trying to humanise the brand. But yes, that’s what we’re trying to do. And we’re focused on building upon the purpose, values, and vision. We’ve started focusing much of our market spend on building value out of these values rather than just creating fluff around the brand.

Our larger mission of Tech for Good—that’s what we’re capitalising on. Because, at the end of the day, all kinds of marketing obviously need to cultivate equity. It also needs to show society that apart from profit, we’re also very focused on the planet and profits. So that’s been more or less the marketing focus to build on brand equity, build on purpose, and build on values. Building is looking at the foundations of these things to make sure that the vision that we have is further set out forward.

Can you tell me about a particularly innovative or successful marketing campaign your team has recently executed?

Last year, we started a campaign called Lean on Us. You may have noticed that in our logo as well, there are three slanted lines. We said that these are going to become the pillars on which our customers or partners can lean on.

We started with market research on the actual issues that are faced by our customers. When I talk about the public sector, there are massive issues like lack of transparency, problems with very archaic tech being around, or tech debt being around. We said that these are big problems, and these big problems cascade into even bigger problems when they pertain to the citizen services that are delivered via these public sector agencies. We’re looking at massive problems that are affecting society on a day-to-day basis. We said, Let’s create a campaign around it. Let’s have this discussion around these problems that society at large today faces because there is a problem with the technology that is being used. We decided to make the campaign very empathetic without having to, you know, show our customers a prospect in a poor light. We said that these are problems that we understand, and we understand that we need partners, and that’s where we come in. There’s no sort of magic going to happen. It’s going to be a drawn process, but we’re going to be there with you, and that’s what Lean On Us actually meant. It resulted in about 8x more visibility on digital platforms, about a brand lift up of about 2-3%, and about 10–13% more improvement in the brand chatter on B2B platforms. So I would say that’s a fairly successful campaign for us.

Yeah, for sure, very successful indeed, and I love the title Lean On Us, which really tackles a lot of the challenges, and it’s always difficult to talk about the challenges or problems in that sense. So I wanted to ask you: What are your biggest marketing challenges at the moment?

There’s a bigger challenge in AI-generated content at this point. I think that’s a singular marketing challenge of this entire decade, and I’m glad that a lot of platforms today have begun labeling AI-generated content, and tools are getting better at checking content that’s generated by AI. See, AI being used for automation is obviously a great thing that’s been in marketing for about half a decade now. It’s already being leveraged by a lot of platforms, but in the content generation part, that’s where the lines have begun to blur. It’s become very important for us to incentivise content creators in our teams in this influence of marketing statements and also independent creators because this is an issue that cuts across marketing teams, regardless of their size or of the organisation’s market cap. One way to adapt is to use more and more AI for automation rather than, I would say, content generation and spending more time on research, integrity, and sanctity of the content. And, of course, a lot of investment also needs to come into the editorial teams inside all of the content generation teams. More challenge, I think.

You asked me for one challenge, but I’m going to add one more because I think it’s pretty close to being number one. That’s the dwindling attention span. I think, what, three, four years ago, we’re looking at 15 to 20 seconds. We’re looking at less than 10 seconds. The way that it is going down is pretty alarming, because then the window for triggering a buying decision or creating intent is also closing. Since it’s become a very, very small window now, the focus on the journey is actually going down. The new focus that I see teams today have is to zero in on targets numbers and get those leads.

I think somewhere along this line, we’re losing out on marketing. The value that we create for our customers is getting lost because we’re all very focused on numbers right now. This bull run for numbers is actually happening because customers are no longer interested in interacting with any sort of brand for a longer duration. Because I remember when I started copywriting, full-page ads used to be a thing. We used to have long copies, and you’d have at least 100 to 150 words to read about a marketing concept. Today, all you read is about six to seven words at maximum. I think seven words are also getting stretched. I think we’ll get down to three or four words by next year. So I think these are some of the challenges that we’re facing.

But then I think we’re going to see a rehash of the long formats very soon. I love this forecast. I love how you brought up how generative AI is currently what we see in the future and how they’re being used separately, whether for content, whether for automating internally, and whatnot.

That’s a very good point about being able to stay ahead or see how we can be more efficient. So we’re going to go to the next question, particularly: how does your company stay ahead of its competitors in terms of marketing?

I think the biggest differentiator here would be that we leverage very niche channels of distribution. We do not spend a lot on TV, print, and billboards at large. The idea is that we’re able to reach customers via channels that they use, which are more personal to them. We’re looking at very niche B2B platforms. We’re looking more at events. We’re looking at roundtables. We’re looking at more customised experiences rather than putting our money in places where the competition is already very high. There is no point in trying to outbid anybody at all because that means the value of the money for both you and your competitor goes down. We’re saying to let them do their thing. We’re going to do our thing.

Distribution channels have become very different, and this evolution has happened over the course of the last four to five years. I think in the next five to six years, we will carry on down the same lane, and our distribution channels will further consolidate and focus more energy on lesser channels.

It’s all about finding your own niche and really building on that, right? I want to get your opinion on this, Bibhuti. What does the future of marketing look like for you?

Somewhere between sales and advertising, we can’t risk becoming an accessory to either. On a much more serious note, the future looks very bright, but also very windy. In the next decade, I think marketing will actually drive more revenue with both existing and new prospects than any other division inside any organisation. Because businesses, especially in the tech world, have never been more brand-driven than they are today.

There will be challenges, of course. There is a challenge that brands today need to socially conform to certain notions, at least in the geographies that they’re located in, to be compliant with the values of ESG and the need to use AI. There are challenges, but I think this is what the next decade looks like for me. Also, brands that will be able to develop very proprietary ways of driving market value are going to emerge as champion brands.

“Businesses, especially in the tech world, have never been more brand-driven than they are today.”

I love this vision that you are looking at. And it’s almost as if the unseen creates a lot of suspense for you to be challenged and grow. For you, as a marketing leader, what is the role of the head of marketing in one word and why?

We’ll draw upon my own experience here at CSM Tech. I think it’s to be a storyteller because you’re supposed to tell the perfect story to your clients. You draw them in. And back home, here inside the company, you have to persuade each and everyone who’s working with you to believe in that story. Whether it is a production team, a development team, or a business finance team, everybody has to be on the same page, and they need to believe the same story. What we sell outside, we sell inside first. So storyteller is an apt word for a head of marketing.

Yeah, how you market is how you relate or how you make things more humanised, as you said earlier. I want to ask you, Bhibhuti, one last question: What career advice would you like to share with other marketing leaders?

I think that I would like to split that advice into two. For those who are older, the crown is heavy on your head, but you must not put it away for even a second because a second is an eternity in the world of marketing. So embrace the challenges and admit that you’re not the best, but you definitely can be.

For those who are younger and who are just coming up into this world via different channels, don’t get distracted. Do not forget the product. There’ll be temptations to channel your energy into avenues that really can’t do what marketing can. Stay focused on your product. Don’t get distracted. And remember that your only job is to create that sphere of influence and keep believing in the goodness of your own product. Help your business teams or enable them, and do not give in to temptations because there’s always that temptation that “Okay, I can do this, I can do that.” No. Just stick to your niche, pick up a channel that you want to work on, and continue doing that.

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