In Conversation With Mahesh Murthy

Interview with Mahesh Murthy Founder and CEO at Pinstorm during the #WATSummit 2012

mahesh murthy

WATSummit 2012 has been quite fruitful for me in many ways and one of them is getting a chance to interact with Mahesh Murthy. I was lucky to grab twenty minutes of his busy schedule and I must say Mahesh was quite humble in doing so. We found a comfortable place in the lounge at Hilton, Mumbai and Mahesh was an a amazing person to talk with. We spoke about exciting things in his life, business at Pinstorm, thoughts on certain facets of social media, etc. Our conversation is shared below:

1. Mahesh Murthy needs no introduction so let me start our conversation by asking you about the exciting things that eat up your time?

I spend doing three, three and half things. One thing that I do is that I have believed in new ideas, new companies, etc. and they need to be supported so I invest money and time in these companies. I have done so in 36 companies in last 10 years and I am glad that I have helped in producing some good companies such as Carwale, RedBus, AFAQs, Vaatsalya and Edusports, etc.

The second thing I do is help large brands become bigger and this I oversee via Pinstorm which I believe is the largest digital company in India for last 8 years and been working with clients such as Airtel, ICICI, etc.

The third thing I do is travel in the last three days of a week, as I believe in a four-day week. So I am off to travel somewhere or the other and generally the travel bug hits twice in a month.

The fourth thing is I do write columns and thoughts on business dailies and magazines. So these are the set of things that have surrounded me and are interesting to me.

2. Recently in a conference, you spoke about how the thories of Philip Kotler are outdated. Would you like to share some thoughts on it?

In the world I grew up in the eighties and nineties, I was  surrounded by the Kotlerian thought process but I quickly figured out that it didn’t work that way in the digital world. So I think the theory that Kotler wrote in the 90’s is little outdated when compared with today’s world.

So what makes sense in this new world when promotions is not only about spending money but more about using an existing network to push your buzz through. I do believe that the new model is the aspire model which is absorb, plan, invent which allows you to bring all your departments that the earlier forms of marketing didn’t allow you to do. Today in the digital and social media world you need to connect all your departments as one unit to focus and answer your customer. So it means that companies should rethink the way they are structured. [pullquote id=”lhipull” class=”left_center”]I think the Kotlerian theory created silos in the company saying I have a product guy, I have a distribution guy and I have a marketing guy but in the new world you can’t have silos.[/pullquote]

However I am seeing Indian MNC’s are coming out of the Kotlerian theory and I find it really interesting to work with Indian MNC’s as compared to the foreign MNC’s. The problem with foreign MNC’s is that anything that has not worked in UK or US, they are not flexible to implement somewhere else. So they follow a playbook that has been written elsewhere. Saying that Indian companies such as Airtel, Reliance, etc. are writing their own rules and they are growing fast.

So I think that we are seeing a change and the talk was also given in a sense that the old mentality doesn’t work anymore.

Image Courtesy: trinityinindia

3. 2011 was a year where we saw some great work happening in the Indian social media marketing arena. So how about sharing your favorite campaign that you guys executed at Pinstorm.

Sure we have a client called “Save the Children” on which the team of Pinstorm was working. There are many charities on children but this one focuses mainly on getting children out of child labor and put them back in school. So we thought of a campaign to get donors but then India has a long history of such campaigns and they typically have black and white pictures of children crying. So we really wanted to do it far more remarkable so that it would differentiate us and get more talked about. On the second level we figured out that the entire idea of child labor is still little foreign to us.  If you say to people then they will say oh yes we know children who work, as they don’t have money. So we figured out that the part our people are not aware or bother when they hire children as servants in their home. But then we wanted to make remarkable message that should hit people’s mindset.

The team came up with a lovely campaign debating that what would happen if there were no laws against child labor. So obviously children would be free to be employees and that will obviously lead to a employment market place for children. So it would be something like eBay where children are bought and sold. We came up with a site similar to eBay, named as children for hire and put pictures of children for sale.  And within an hour of it going live it got a wave of condemnation but the interesting thing that when you click on the pictures you get a full work data of what the children are good at and then you would come to a page where you would be told that why are you hiring children, you should be ashamed of yourself because the child needs to be back in school.

The end result for the campaign we got 35000 pledges of support on the campaign from people at zero media cost and no PR cost except the website cost.  So I think the campaign focused on showing the power of measurable objective using social media and went out impacting people. I think that’s why this campaign is pretty close to my heart.

4. You just moderated the panel ‘Clicks Vs Conversations’ in the WATSummit and you had some amazing view points. Can you share a bit more on it.

Let me say first that I wish we were given a slightly broader topic and I would love to talk about the future of Life in India with Social Media. I believe that social media will largely govern our elections in 2014; our electorates will be more social media savvy. But given the fact that I am here in this conference of #WATSummit lets talk about how can we sell more soap in India. We started eight years back in this digital industry where we were focusing on sending visitors to our website via clicks. Back then many FMCG clients didn’t have a website to say so and obviously they were not buying the philosophy of clicks.

Today we have come to a point that there are different types of digital media, earlier it was search and display now you have various other things such as SEO,ORM, SMO and so on and so forth. We have found that the medium is very large and far larger than the industry benchmarks i.e. television. Google gets 100-105 million monthlies that is four times that of Star Plus, Youtube gets 24 million monthlies that is twenty times the regular music channel and we can go on with data. The fact is  that today digital media is larger than television.

[pullquote id=”lhipull” class=”center_pull”]Saying that I would like to say in display world a combination works well - social media plus non-social media. I think the interesting thing with metrics is that there are nice ways to measure a click but the model is not going to work.[/pullquote]

I believe that we need to work on models that survive on engagement via social media such as Facebook, Google Plus, etc. Again the traditional metrics of social media is that how many fans you have on Facebook but it’s the edge rank that you have with the fans. You may have million fans but how many of them are you reaching. So measuring conversations is important and at Pinstorm we have a way in which we do that, which I had also shared at the panel discussion. So conversations are important but you will also have to measure them.

5. Where do we move ahead in social media from here?

[pullquote id=”lhipull” class=”center_pull”]Very soon I think in a few year, all medias will become digital and the next step beyond that will be all social digital[/pullquote]

From the point of view of a marketer I would say that the question would be - the community whom I know or are my fans, will they get engaged with my brand and how will I measure them. And going further every aspect of life’s decision such as finding a job, buying a home, buying a pair of jeans, etc. will have the social element.

Thanks Mahesh! I enjoyed the conversation and I am waiting for the day when every business in India turns social digital.