Q&A: Vishnu Mohan – ‘The Industry is in an Extremely Interesting Phase’

“With more and more brands recognizing the role of the metaverse, our engagement has grown and we thus decided to establish the offering as a dedicated metaverse practice.”

In December of last year, digital agency DEPT announced the launching of operations in the Asia Pacific led by Vishnu Mohan, former Havas Group Chairman & CEO of India, South East Asia, Japan & Korea.

Founded in Amsterdam in 2015, DEPT has expanded from 150 people in The Netherlands to more than 2,000 people in seventeen countries across five continents.

We recently spoke with Mohan about DEPT’s ambitious growth goals in the Asia Pacific, the agency’s offering for the Metaverse, getting clients on board with emerging trends, his take on the marketing world post-Covid, and more.

 
 

What’s been keeping you busy lately?

We are working on getting DEPT off the ground at an accelerated pace. Multiple conversations are on with digitally native agencies with a technology and/or marketing focus, some of which are progressing well. We hope to be able to have our first few acquisitions in play in the latter half of this year. This is well augmented with our search for key talent to build our regional hub in Singapore.

In parallel, we are already looking at bringing some of the pioneering work and practices that has made DEPT well ahead of the industry to the clients in the region.

In the Asia Pacific, DEPT said that it will follow an acquisition-led growth approach to grow to 1,000 people and contribute 10% to global revenues by 2024. That’s quite ambitious. Can you sketch out your strategy to meet these goals?

The ambition is reflective of what DEPT has had since it was formed in 2015 and the four acquisitions since Jan 2022 are a testament to that ambition. APAC is an important part of the vision of being one global digital agency and we are on track to get to that potentially a lot earlier than 2024.

 
 

The growth while driven by acquisition is well supported by a plan for organic development which will see us start to work on some of our clients that we already work with elsewhere but also through new client acquisition with our unique value proposition.

Dept recently launched its Metaverse practice. Tell us more about that and how you plan to tailor the offering to appeal to APAC brands and consumers.

As a digital native pioneering agency, DEPT has been working on Web3 and Metaverse solutions for brands from over a year ago and held its first metaverse festival back in September 2021 which is being organized for the second consecutive year on June 28 as the world’s first 24-hour festival.

With more and more brands recognizing the role of the metaverse, our engagement has grown and we thus decided to establish the offering as a dedicated metaverse practice with clients across fashion, gaming, retail, and entertainment.

“It’s not the metaverse that’s exciting, it’s the “Metaverse Economy” that gives you the goosebumps. And the best part is we are all collectively imagining the future and making it happen.”

Tailoring the offering presupposes that the APAC consumer is inherently different. This is necessarily not true. With APAC having a large base of GenZ and Millennials, one of the largest gaming communities, a large business share for many brands, and a consistently proven fast adoption curve for any emerging trend, we have decided to forge ahead with an approach of a global practice center delivering the strategy with market inputs if any on cultural nuances.

We want to ensure that the brands from the region or elsewhere have access to the best and are able to leverage that to create the best brand engagement for themselves with their consumers.

What about the Metaverse are you personally most excited about and hopeful for as it starts on what looks to be a long road ahead?

Many things but most of it, it’s not the future, it’s today. The fact that so many of the companies are already investing in acquiring assets based on the potential of metaverse says it all. The most exciting thing for me is the creation of a new ecosystem that will give birth to imagination, innovation, disruption, new brands, new behaviors, new transactions and I could go on.

It’s not the metaverse that’s exciting, it’s the “Metaverse Economy” that gives you the goosebumps. And the best part is we are all collectively imagining the future and making it happen.

Part of your job is educating clients to better understand and then embrace emerging trends. Over your long career, what’s been your experience in terms of getting clients on board with shifts in how they can best engage with consumers?

The age-old wisdom of a belief in the 2Ps – patience, and perseverance – has been my guiding principle here too. Clients expect their partners to be at the forefront when it comes to understanding and adopting new technology and platforms. The challenge is the impatience and frustration displayed by us at times when we are constantly over-eulogizing and over-selling, asking clients to shed the old and adopt the new at speed and scale.

The early adopters have never created the market, it’s the ones that have taken their time, tested it in small doses, and then accelerated it exponentially on its success. No magic formula here – simple common sense.

We are – hopefully – heading towards a post-Covid world and some measure of “normal.” In terms of managing your team and keeping them motivated, what lessons have you learned during this era that you will carry forward?

I genuinely believe it starts by telling yourself “The worst is yet to come” and not “The worst is behind us”. I have learned that people have an innate resilience and oftentimes a crisis brings out the best in them. From relationships are important to relationships are everything – the organization as a large family has never been as important as during the crisis and must remain so even when there is none.

“The challenge is the impatience and frustration displayed by us at times when we are constantly over-eulogizing and over-selling, asking clients to shed the old and adopt the new at speed and scale.”

Agility cannot be a desire it needs to be hygiene and pivoting and re-pivoting to stay resilient will call for courage that needs to be shown. Finally, I have learned that cash is indeed king so leaving enough reserves in the company would together with everything above would prepare us better for any future crisis much more than we have been for the last one.

In terms of the marketing industry, what does the future look like post-Covid?

With all the buzzwords of the last two years becoming an integral part of the marketing vocabulary, I believe the industry is in an extremely interesting phase. The acceleration of the digital transformation and the rise of e-commerce, along with new opportunities like social commerce and live streaming, for instance, has increased the competitiveness of the brands and brought more parity.

We are also seeing innovation at a scale and pace not seen before. With remote working becoming a norm, the world of service industry is infinitely more global and should yield greater productivity and efficiency. Finally, I would say we should get ready for the exciting metaverse economy where our clients would need our expertise for garnering engagement and for commerce too.

What are some campaigns you’ve worked on over the course of your career that you are most proud of?

While there are many that bring a smile, I must say the one that still sits as my favorite is the Dr Inkbeer campaign for Asia Pacific Breweries (APB).

Every single aspect of this campaign including an unsolicited presentation to a client, the approval process in a bar by executives not by management, the cast which had the client themselves, the imagination, the guerilla work, and the incredible results that saw it sweeping the Effies makes this immensely memorable.

Many in the industry would not know this as it’s a 20-year-old campaign of an imaginative experiment created to get youngsters to (DR)(INK BEER) which used a common scavenger hunt and spread clues for people to solve. This eventually culminated in a massive party to declare the winner.

Bobby McGill

Bobby McGill

Bobby is the founder and publisher of Branding in Asia.

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