Nikita Mishra
Apr 2, 2024

The CMO's MO: Zalora's Achint Setia on the nexus of marketing, growth and profit

Marketers are duelling titans—as CMOs and CGOs—and they have an intertwined role in working towards growth and long-term brand building, according to Zalora's chief revenue and marketing officer.

The CMO's MO: Zalora's Achint Setia on the nexus of marketing, growth and profit

The CMO's MO: 9 questions with dynamic APAC marketing leaders, insights and personalities revealed. 

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Zalora burst into the ecommerce online retail space in 2012 at the same time as Shein. At the time, Shein’s origins remained shrouded—it reportedly began as SheInside—as it peddled bridal gowns from its Nanjing headquarters. Amazon had become a beast globally and it had begun to gain a foothold in China and India, while Southeast Asia was largely unchartered territory. Competition wasn’t stiff or hadn’t shape-shifted like the post-Covid era.

Cut to today, the online retail scene is peppered with giants like Alibaba, Shein and TikTok Shop. And as they ride social media trends on their smooth and nimble supply chains boasting their tech prowess, they ensure fashion’s high-speed express at a reasonable price-point.

But Zalora carved a niche for itself, sidestepping fleeting ultra-fast fashion flings for affordable and somewhat sustainable elegance. It may not wear the ecommerce crown in Southeast Asia, but it thrives. It’s profitable and tries to be transparent and purposeful. Zalora’s B2B arm fuels brand expansion across Asia, providing warehousing, logistics, and savvy digital marketing. Its B2B arm supports brand expansion across Asia, and a successful loyalty programme launched in 2023 has increased customer engagement and spending.

Campaign sat down with Southeast Asia’s chief revenue and marketing officer, Achint Setia, a Mckinsey, Microsoft and Myntra alum, to understand the platform’s ‘fashion at your fingertips’ value proposition and what present-day marketing challenges and business opportunities mean for growth.

Scroll below for the full interview.

1. What are the three biggest marketing challenges for your brand right now?

Continuously differentiating the brand to keep it relevant amid changing consumer preferences and competitive scenarios. Finding the right marketing mix and content strategy—given our business presence in different countries in varied stages of maturity—and balancing short-term impact with long-term equity building in a budget-constrained scenario.

2. What are the three biggest opportunities for your brand?

Zalora enjoys the unique position of being a one-stop shop of top global brands at good value for money for SEA customers. Given a large number of aspiring middle-class and digitally savvy upper-middle and affluent populations, we see a significant growth opportunity to drive deeper penetration among brand-loving fashionistas in our markets. We also see Zalora as a launch and growth engine for a lot of global fashion, beauty and lifestyle brands currently absent in SEA but willing to make a bet in the market with a partner who can provide not just customer access but also logistics and fulfilment solutions at scale with a playbook unmatched in the category.

3. Where are you investing your marketing budgets this year? In what areas are you increasing or cutting spend?

We take a holistic approach to marketing by connecting and engaging with our customers across touchpoints, moments and user funnel. We continue to make key investments in marketing technology to better segment, analyse and reach out to our customers through personalised experiences both on and off the platform. This is critical to drive better efficiencies and higher LTV from our CRM and performance marketing spends. We strongly focus on content and KOL-led social-media marketing across our markets. The other unique aspect of our strategy is ‘phygital’ experiences such as ‘The Terminal’, ‘Nike Train’ and ‘Adidas Superstore’ to invigorate offline to online behaviour for our customers, especially post-pandemic.

4. Marketing maestros or growth gurus: are chief marketing officers the new chief growth officers?

Yes, the CMO role is quite intertwined today. Marketers are duelling titans that play a significant role in not just customer acquisition but also retention and customer LTV growth. At the end of the day, long-term equity building is driven by aligning the perception and understanding of business values with customer values. I also see many CEOs stepping into the role of CMOs from time to time to drive the growth engine. Apple was a prime example here under Steve Jobs.

Achint Setia with family

5. Are you tapping into Gen AI’s awesomeness to future-proof your marketing efforts? Spill the C-suite strategy around Gen AI.

Like every seemingly path-breaking technology, the impact depends on adoption around certain critical use cases at scale. We have started investing in Gen AI by picking a few potential use cases around customer shopping experience. We already see AI, if not Gen AI, making a strong impact on our pricing, personalisation and customer retention efforts.

6. Give us one example to convince our readers that your brand is walking the talk on sustainability.

Zalora publishes its annual report on sustainability targets, and we map progress against our targets. In recent quarters, we’ve expanded our pre-loved offering and our Earth Edit category assortment, making it easier for shoppers to find products made through sustainable means or sustainable materials. But more importantly, we’ve streamlined a lot of our operations to reduce our carbon footprint, use energy from renewable sources in our fulfilment centres, and use recycled plastic and paper in all our packaging.

We also encourage our employees to devote part of their time to volunteering throughout the year

and for 2023, we exceeded our 700 hours per year target, benefiting communities, cleaning beaches and rivers across the markets, planting trees, and sorting out recyclable materials with partners like the Salvation Army.

If you go to the app, you can also see that we enabled a snap-and-drop programme in Singapore (and soon rolling out to our other markets) to encourage customers to donate their old clothes so it can be recycled and reused through our partnership with Life Line Clothing, diverting these unused clothes from landfill and giving it a new life through upcycling and recycling. We incentivise them by giving them a $10 Zalora voucher for every drop. It’s only been live for less than six months, but we’ve seen overwhelming customer support.

7. Complete the sentence: “Today’s CMO must be ....”.

Passionate about technology and its role in shaping customer behaviour.

At Zalora's Kuala Lumpur office with the wider team

8. Tell us one personal thing about yourself that others might not know.
Whatever the pressures at work or in life, I manage to sleep well—no sleepless nights in my dictionary! But on a serious note, my mind is constantly flooded with ideas around creating opportunities to innovate our customer experience. I love product-led growth, and using technology to create the next wow moment for our customers keeps me excited.
Playing the 'tabla' as a hobby
9. Name another brand (can’t be yours) with an amazing customer experience that you
really admire. Why is it great?
I would say brand Singapore. I love how every meaningful touchpoint has been well thought
through to provide residents with superb convenience and a seamless experience. It’s a living example of how grand imagination supported by operational rigour and deep attention to detail can make a brand distinctive.
Campaign Asia

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