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BY Neeta Nair and Sunit Roy

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Utsav Malhotra, Chief Operating Officer – Noise, a Gurugram-based Indian lifestyle gadget brand known for its smart wearables and personal audio devices, explains why after profusely spending on performance marketing, the brand turned to branding 12 months ago and has since then been reaping its many benefits 

Q] Noise is a young brand, tell us about your vision & mission 
Seven years ago, we started out in the mobile accessories business. On turning three we defined our goal to become India's largest home-grown connected lifestyle brand and thereafter our launches have been testimony to that, be it smartwatches or smart ear wear. We focused on operating around the idea of consumer-centricity because when you're building a connected lifestyle brand, the focus on consumer is imperative. Over the last five quarters, agencies such as IDC Worldwide Wearable Device Tracker have validated our strength within the space where we've consistently been ranked as the number one player in the smartwatch segment with market footprints in the last quarter as high as 29%, roughly translating to the fact that one out of every four smartwatches sold in the Indian household over the last one-and-a-half years has been Noise. 

Q] It is believed that young brands are inclined more towards performance marketing, as opposed to branding. What has been your preferred choice?
Noise was built primarily to be a B2C brand. We are one of those rare brands where a lion's share of our business came from our own platform before moving to marketplaces. So, it was a reverse of what typically B2C brands do. For the first few years, there was a consistent focus on performance. A year ago, we realized that we need to focus on reach, and that is when brand marketing came into play.  Also being a consumer-focused brand, one needs to listen to what the consumer is trying to say. In our case, we realized that the mediums we pick must resonate with the audience.  Thus, we started exploring platforms which the millennials chose for content consumption. And that's how our media mix evolved. While we primarily opted for Google/Facebook and other performance tools - social media taking precedence - the consistent yet pervasive change in the media consumption habits forced us to start exploring platforms like OTT, and that’s how Disney+ Hotstar came into the media-mix.

Q] And to what extent have you explored TV as a medium for branding?
We haven’t explored the mainstream medium - TV - at all. It has always been digital. We know for a fact that almost 90% of users, who are shopping from our own website, also end up using a mobile for shopping. That’s very pertinent in terms of determining what kind of consumption patterns, devices, and mediums they are looking at. That’s what drove our overall decision-making.

Q] How much of your marketing budget is spent on branding and largely on which platform?
As far as brand spends are concerned, there are digital mediums that go beyond OTT. There are also conventional mediums like Outdoors/Print that we've explored. Some of these mediums became irrelevant during the lockdown. But for a brand like us, one can’t afford to have a ‘spray and pray approach.’  We thought of putting all our eggs in one basket for it to yield results. Hence, a large degree of spends are concentrated on OTT. 

Q] There have been occasions when brands stopped spending on media, but people continued to buy the products because of the impact of their branding campaign. Has that happened to Noise?
As marketers we all have a cognitive bias towards measurability with regards to the media spends. When you operate in a high-performance ecosystem, you're always obsessing over the ROAS (Return on Ad Spends). Gone are the days when eyeballs justified spends. Having said that, we are very clear that branding and performance are two separate engines that work on one unified flywheel. One cannot work in the absence of the other because after a point, performance spends in the absence of brand spends become irrelevant.  

Q] According to you, what is an epitome of success with respect to a branding campaign?
When Google searches start going up and you start seeing inordinate traffic volumes on your portal, it’s a clear sign that the campaign is working. I remember the first time we spent money on IPL, our phones wouldn’t stop buzzing, so people did notice it. You realize that something is triggering all this for you. We are living in an age where residual memory is very short. So, brand campaigns need to be more persistent and consistent. We've had initial success, which is why we have been a returning advertiser on Disney+ Hotstar.  

Q] How do you pick an OTT platform - is it audience-driven or content-driven?
There are two factors – first, the audience profiling needs to be done because the cardinal rule of all brand spends is to target the ‘who’. If we can get the ‘who’ right, then everything else is pretty much hygiene. When it comes to messaging and appropriation, we can keep going back and forth on design and the quality of the content. But if you know that the target audience was right, the content would eventually land in the right place. Secondly, as a brand, ‘sports’ is integral to who we are and smartwatches just fit in. Also, in terms of our brand faces - be it Rishabh Pant or Rohit Sharma - we realized that the content had resonance with the audience and the target group. The message was very clear in those campaigns and the platform was just right, and that’s why it worked. Retargeting is also important for us and that’s where Disney+ Hotstar worked well for us. We could re-target and re-market. In fact it worked for us as we know that this is a cohort that has an affinity towards the brand. 

Q] Can you tell us about some of the campaigns that have worked for you on Disney+ Hotstar
We had a campaign named ‘Quest for the Best’, where the whole ideology revolved around the fact that ‘best’ in itself is a misnomer. When you talk about sports, we all obsess over the results, and that there is only one best. But in reality, it's not true because in sports there’s always a quest for improvement. The campaign was a great success. The second campaign was largely around the idea of ‘Noise’ being the number one smartwatch brand. It was slightly more in the face and direct.  

Q] What would you like to say to other brands who are evaluating branding over performance marketing?
The power of both is quadrupled the moment you start augmenting your performance spends with branding. That’s because at the end of the day it just makes your performance spends more efficient. If you are able to get the brand message right and seed the brand right, your performance engines start firing multi-fold. Let's face it, we're all in the business of building brands, not acquiring transactions.

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Tags : interview marketing Neeta Nair performance marketing branding Utsav Malhotra Noise