Branding in Asia recently caught up for a conversation with Prashant Kumar, founder of new-age data-driven marketing consultancy, Entropia, which is part of Accenture Song.
Based in Kuala Lumpur he is also the author of “Made in Future: A Story of Marketing, Media, and Content for our Times”. The book, which was released earlier this year, was written for marketers, media owners, agencies, and content creators who “tend to struggle with the new realities of marketing.”
Over the course of our conversation, Prashant talks about the book, the need to reconceive marketing, his work building “a true consulgency”, how academia is adapting to the changing times, sustainability, and more.
What’s been keeping you busy lately?
Web3. Sustainability. Consulgency.
When I founded Entropia in 2016, the idea was to build a true consulgency – a hybrid organism that marries the best of what agencies do with all their right brain faculties – with what consultancies do in the customer-demand ecosystem with their data and tech depth. Our rapid growth was a great validation of that vision, but now as a part of Accenture, that idea is taking a whole new level of depth and breadth, That’s really exciting.
Also, we are building exciting capabilities in the Web3 space and doing a slew of path-breaking projects, which is tremendous learning for us, and the joy of discovering the day after. With each project, we nudge our boundaries.
The third one is sustainability. In Indian philosophy, they talk about three debts that we all owe. Debt to the forefathers (Pitri rinn), debt to the scholars and scientists (rishi rinn), and debt to nature (deva rinn).
The last one dials up a fundamental truth that we are all woven in an interconnected web with nature. Businesses need to price in the sustainability deficit they incur, and evolve to minimize it.
Your book talks about how the game has changed but some of the world’s largest organizations are still playing by the rules of the 1990s. Tell us more about that and where you see them failing to adapt.
There is a big chasm in the marketing world between where strategy happens and what seems to work in the marketplace. And this is because with the disruption brought about by data and tech in the last twenty years, we have been mostly band-aiding the old ways to solve problems of the future.
We need to re-conceive marketing from a white sheet. The book is an effort towards that, and actually leads people chapter by chapter through a typical marketing process. In the course, it challenges a lot of the holy cows of the traditional marketing beliefs, and offers practical yet conceptually whole alternatives.
You talk about how many are applying Band-Aids on a broken model. What are some of the “Band-Aids” you’ve seen that are problematic?
For example, CMOs and CTOs in most companies continue to work in silos. Marketing processes are not designed for a fail-fast culture, that a silicon valley disruptor would enter a category with, or are inadequate to manage the risks that rapidly evolving channel and media opportunities bring.
“There is a big chasm in the marketing world between where strategy happens and what seems to work in the marketplace. And this is because with the disruption brought about by data and tech in the last twenty years, we have been mostly band-aiding the old ways to solve problems of the future.”
In many contexts, the lines between marketing and selling needs to blur to build an end-to-end discipline of ‘Marselling’ as media and shopping are so often now just a click apart from each other.
Anticipating competitive threats in the light of Porter’s five forces model has become highly limiting, as value levers of entire industries shift overnight (there is no way the taxi industry would have imagined the threat to come from an app that way). The book is full of myriad such perspectives.
You use the example of a time when neighborhood peddlers went door to door, and how the market must once again go to the buyer and “ be where the people are in their natural context.” Talk more about that.
People want to live more life per life – longer life, multiple attention states, several pivots in the same life span. But this creates tremendous complexity of living. Technology has to aid there and make it simple. So much of digital interaction – shopping, banking, studying, availing different kinds of services are what I would call skeumorphic in their conception. They are places (apps or websites) you have to go to just as in physical world you would go to a mall or a bank. The organic structure of digital living must be reframed.
“We are looking at a new generation of conscious customers – call them the ‘Greta generation’ – who are a lot more sensitive to this heightened consciousness, and willing to switch and pay more for the sustainability gratification.”
Businesses must go where people are. For example, a bank offering a purchase loan can be a mere button (an AI-powered button ideally), where people are shopping for cars online, which in turn can be a button in the virtual spaces where people are conversing about cars. Businesses need to stop thinking about being a place to go to. Place is where people are. Superapps like WeChat are working toward that vision.
You talk about how experienced marketers must adapt to the changing landscape. How about academia? Is this change taking place in education? Are you seeing an evolution in thinking in job candidates fresh out from their studies?
As a system, not quite. As a result, say marketing students study the old way of marketing strategy along with a few band-aids of the new tactics. And then once they start work, get rather confused. And then have to unlearn and relearn. That is wholly unnecessary.
The book is designed to be a fairly comprehensive textbook that easily converts to a marketing transformation agenda, once they join work. They can be agents of change rather than add to the confusion or struggle with a schizophrenic marketing discipline.
You’ve said that companies and brands must start drawing their circle of empathy much wider than they have in the past. How do you think they are doing with this?
Of course, not enough is happening. We are looking at a new generation of conscious customers – call them the ‘Greta generation’ – who are a lot more sensitive to this heightened consciousness, and willing to switch and pay more for the sustainability gratification. Sustainability is the new premium in more and more categories.
What are some campaigns you’ve worked on over the course of your career that you are most proud of?
Well Entropia has done some wonderful campaigns in last few years such as Pepsi AR concert on a bottle, or when we pasted screens in a hundred thousand copies of the largest english daily to evoke the news from the future for Pepsi.
Book everyone in the industry should read:
They should follow Bob Hoffman’s blog. He is a highly provocative contrarian, and sets records straight on many matters, even though sometimes extreme. We need voices like him. (If I must name a book, it would be Snowcrash by Neal Stephenson)
Favorite show you’re watching lately:
Not much into OTTs really, but I loved “Billions” the last time I saw the series (like every series, the first season is great, the second is compelling, the third is repetitive, and the fourth becomes a drag – by then every character is a mess, and scriptwriters are struggling to protect character integrity – and his fat pay cheque)
Something you want to learn or wish you were better at:
I would have wanted to play the flute. But I may say the same when I am 80. Then, you never know.