After more than 20 years in the field, spanning huge multinationals like GSK and PepsiCo in roles across Asia, Europe and the US before joining dairy giant Fonterra, it’s a fair bet that Anindya Dasgupta has a strong grasp of his subject.
“Yes, I’m excited about marketing, but what I bring to the table is more of a commercial mindset. I do bring marketing solutions, but I really deliver a full commercial solution to the market.”
And that, in a concise, business-like nutshell, is what Dasgupta believes is the essence of being a global CMO in today’s world.
Throughout his career, Dasgupta has held a variety of commercial, sales and marketing roles, a breadth of experience he tells Campaign Asia-Pacific is crucial for today’s marketers because the industry has evolved so significantly.
“I strongly believe that it’s very important for marketers to get that rounded experience early on,” he explains. “If you think you can get into a brand role without having that connection with what’s happening on the ground, without having worked in sales or with P&Ls, you’re pretty much just talking to the air. There’s no way you’re going to get the sort of credibility and respect you need from your counterparts who you’re selling to.”
Strong words, but Dasgupta is not the type to use them injudiciously. His business mindset is a constant thread throughout the conversation, as he weaves in references to “delivering solutions”, “brand proposition” and “future growth”.
It’s all part and parcel of the modern CMO, Dasgupta says, and younger marketers who want to tread the same path must break out of the marketing vacuum. He admits this is not easy, but the fact it may be difficult is no excuse.
“It’s in the hands of the company, but the individual has to take ownership,” he says. “You have to speak to your bosses to ensure you get that wider experience in some form. For people who are always dependent on companies opening doors for them, it’s tough.”
These lofty expectations feed into what Dasgupta wants to achieve as global CMO at one of the world’s largest dairy companies. Fonterra has a sizeable B2B business, but Dasgupta feels the consumer side has the most growth potential.
Despite brands such as Anchor being a US$3.5 billion brand proposition, Dasgupta feels the dairy industry is lagging behind its competitors—namely fruit and vegetables, and wholegrain—in the everyday nutrition space because it “hasn’t done a great job of keeping relevant with the times”.
“Fruits and grains have done a much better job,” he readily admits. “Dairy has stayed true to its core. While there’s a massive need for this, there’s an opportunity for us to deliver dairy goodness and products that keep the category relevant.
“There’s only one or two drinking occasions of milk in a glass, but could I create 10 other occasions where consumers can have milk in different formats. The potential routine occasions in which dairy could fit, in a branded form, are massive; we’re just kissing the tip of the iceberg.”
Key to exploiting that opportunity, says Dasgupta, is a comprehensive marketing strategy that makes Fonterra a friend rather than just another brand. “We want to take it to that level, because then you’re not communicating with your consumer through advertising, you’re having a conversation with them.”
To that end, Dasgupta is “absolutely vehement” that his team must embed themselves with consumers, because without such close understanding “we’re never going to connect”. That then feeds into another hallmark of successful marketing: desirable content.
Dasgupta says brands have the responsibility to ensure consumers are engaged, rather than complain about “all that nonsense” over ad-blocking. “If you give people irritating content, and they find something that allows them to block it, of course they will,” he says. “Give them content they really want to see, and they are going to find you. My whole point is to move towards that content, as opposed to forcing it down consumers’ throats.”
Tying all of this together is an ever-larger suite of technological tools, with which Dasgupta says marketers have to be savvy in order to do their jobs properly. Technological capability is a core focus for his team at Fonterra.
“If virtual reality becomes a really big deal, not just in how we communicate with consumers but how we sell to and interact with them, then if a marketer doesn’t understand that, there’s no way they are going to craft a strategy around it,” Dasgupta explains.
He actively encourages his staff to participate more in forums like the Consumer Electronics Show, rather than going to advertising festivals.
“Ultimately, technology is going to determine where marketing is going to be in the next two or three years,” he says. “You have to evolve regularly to keep up and deliver against consumers’ needs.”
Dasgupta talks of Fonterra having plans in the pipeline for disruptive consumer activations and multichannel engagement strategies. Naturally, to support all of this, strong agency ties are a necessity. But here, Dasgupta sees a more fundamental issue that needs addressing.
“[Agencies] are not evolving at the rate that we would like them to,” he says, although he acknowledges that Fonterra’s partners are taking steps to change their ways of working.
“It’s not good enough for me to have four TVCs in a year; I need 200 pieces of content. No way can an agency today deliver that, which is why companies are creating in-house studios and so on. So the new agency model needs to think: ‘How am I going to change the paradigm and deliver against that?’”
Fonterra works with its agencies in a “taskforce” system, Dasgupta explains, where all partners get together to devise marketing strategy and produce compelling, relevant content. But it needs to be faster, he says.
“I think the agency model will probably end up with having to create specialised units that can move really fast and deliver solutions that brands need,” Dasgupta suggests. “Creative agencies need to evolve into engagement solutions agencies. Media agencies also have to evolve; it’s not just about buying TV, which is what most of them are doing today. They are part of delivering your multi-touchpoint solution.”
Again, there’s no room for sentiment in Dasgupta’s blunt appraisal, but when you’re a multibillion-dollar multinational set on an aggressive growth strategy, that pretty much comes with the territory.
Dasgupta says there remains a “significant gap” in the analytics capabilities of media agencies, making it hard to ensure marketing dollars are being spent efficiently.
“If today you ask them ‘Should I invest my additional dollar behind a Facebook post versus a GRP or TRP?’ in most cases they won’t be able to give you a clear answer,” he says. “So they have to look at all touchpoints, and have an ROI and analytics strategy that continuously evolves to make the plan more efficient.”
It sounds like a big ask of agencies, not to mention something that is constrained by budgets. But he doesn’t buy this.
“I firmly believe that most agencies come back and use budgets as their excuse, saying: ‘You don’t have enough budget for me to do this,’” Dasgupta says. “I turn that around and say: ‘Prove to me that for every dollar I invest, you will give me more than a dollar back in return, then my budget
“The reason we don’t have this conversation is the lack of analytics. So if they invest their dollars in that as opposed to arguing with clients on budgets, they’re going to get a lot more client budgets.”
The future for Dasgupta is clearly one of greater efficiency, whether that be in marketing spend, content production or technology. It is an ambition firmly in line with his agenda for Fonterra’s consumer business, and he seems set on achieving just that.
“It’s growing well, the opportunities are big. The way I look at it, we could double or even triple the size of the business within 10 years. That’s the sort of vision we’re chasing.”