Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Vartalaap - In conversation with Dr. Vijay Sethi || Professor || Nanyang Business School, Singapore || Interviewed by Akshay Seth || IIM Shillong || January 2016 edition

Dr. Vijay Sethi, Professor – Department of IT & Operations Management at Nanyang Business School, Singapore specialises in electronic commerce, IT entrepreneurship, strategic information systems planning & knowledge management. He is published in top IT journals and internationally recognized for his research while offering consultancy to many Singaporean companies. He was also voted as the Business Professor of the Year, 2013 by the London-based EIU (Economic Intelligence Unit). Under his mentorship many new Internet business ideas have gone on to win accolades in competitions such as the Asia Moot Corp, Global Moot Corp (Austin, Texas), etc. 

Markathon: Indian advertisements are said to be more creative than foreign ads. How is creative advertising different in Singapore & the U.S. vis-a-vis India? Any particular ad campaign, digital or otherwise which caught your attention and stuck with you? What was so special about it?

Singapore’s ad industry is different from India because it caters not just to Singapore, which is small, but to the region.  For example, ad agencies in Singapore will roll out a campaign across SE Asia as a whole and not just Singapore.  Thus, they need to take into account different cultures, languages, and sensitivities.  This can sometimes come across as being less creative.  But ultimately, the effectiveness of an ad depends upon its goals (branding, conversions etc) rather than how creative it is.  But Singapore and the region can learn much from India and perhaps it time for them to look East rather than only West as they have been doing traditionally.

Markathon: You have mentored many new Internet business ideas, many of which have gone on to win accolades in regional competitions such as the Asia Moot Corp, Bangkok Business Challenge and global competitions such as the Global Moot Corp (Austin, Texas) and Venture Capital Investment Competition (VCIC, North Carolina, Chapel Hill). You are also the business competitions director for Nanyang Business School. Indian B-schools are on the course of having a well-developed competitions scene. Some tips for our readers.

Startups cannot be created sitting in a closed room, amongst a group of founders.  They only happen when someone believes.  And this belief comes from feedback, talking, networking.  So go out and share your idea.  No idea which is any good can be so brittle that just by sharing it will be compromised.  Every feedback you get, you gain confidence.  Until it reaches a point where a founder knows that they have something important; that is the start of their belief.  Once this happens, the passion comes automatically.  We often say have passion.  But passion comes belief – so out and create a MVP (minimal viable product), get feedback, and a moment will come when you know that are onto something big. 

Markathon: How are trends in digital marketing different in India vs. Singapore?

Singapore being small and very different culturally and racially monitors digital media but manages with a light touch.  On the other hand, India operates very differently, with rules which often come about bottom-up.  These contexts dictate what people do with digital media and how they use it.  Social media I would think is equally popular in both countries.  But once again, what can be done and what cannot is aligned with the context of Singapore in this country while the Indian scene is more “chaotic” and representative of a bazaar, metaphorically speaking.

Markathon: India is undergoing exponential development in the e-commerce sector. These e-retailers benefit from not having to invest in establishing an offline presence (real estate, intermediaries). But what do you say about marketing? Should these retailers focus on offline as well as online marketing?

Yes, India is relative less mature in this space and traditional media plays a very role in society. Not only that, the Internet penetration rate is still not that high.  Moreover, the decision making locus is also very different, just like is China, vs. the West.  All these characteristics means traditional mean must play a large role in expanding the role of EC in India.  At some stage, just like it has happened in China, digital media can be the be-all and the end-all.  But that will only happen when there is an Indian equivalent of an Alibaba, Baidu, or Tencent. 

Markathon: Entrepreneurship in India is another area where we see a lot of activity. All startups are primarily looking to organize the unorganized Indian market and earn through disintermediation. But the focus of these startups remains on having a good IT team to develop the product. How important, do you think, is the need to have a good marketing team?

Its not about good marketing, but about having the right business model.  Far too often and too much, companies just copy what is going on in the West.  The only way to bring value is to understand the local context and then create a business model that leverages and is aligned with the local context.  So its about a business model.  That is why in classes we talk about concepts and lessons-learnt which are broader that the company that we are looking it.  Once we understand the fundamentals of EC, then we can apply then to the local context and that is what will create value.  For example, there is little point in copying e-Bay.  But the dynamics of the C2C space are important.  Once these dynamics are clear, then we apply them to the Indian or the Singapore context and a unique and value-creation model will emerge.  Far too often, many do not want to think or do the hard work of thinking conceptually.  Or we dismiss concepts as “ivory tower thinking.”  In the words or Daniel Kahneman, we need to do more System 2 rather then System 1 thinking! 

Markathon: In India, students consider an engineering education as a default option. It is only after their graduation that they start to explore other career options. How can budding marketers leverage their technical education in their Marketing career in India and elsewhere?

They are lucky because of the emergence of data analytics as a key and ongoing trend.  That is their ticket to utilizing their technical education.  I think if anything, parents do their children a disservice by continuing to push engineering.  And we all do a disservice by pushing the myth that engineering means good technical skills.  Engineering is an applied discipline.  If you really want to stand out today as a techie, then do pure science, especially Maths.  That is the deep skill which is needed today to standout in analytics and big data. 

Markathon:. What is the future for Online Marketing? Is offline marketing going to get redundant or will it experience a comeback when digital media gets on people’s nerves?

Digital media is not monolithic.  It started with simple online banner ads, moved on to Google, then social media, and so on.  Its this innovation which is keeping digital media alive and relevant.  Traditional media on the other hand has been relatively stagnant.  It must push new boundaries.  If it does, it will be a part of the marketing mix.  Thus, it’s the rate of innovation in the two media which will determine which one will survive and grow and which one will stagnate and languish.  The ball is in their court!

Markathon: Management education is increasingly getting more and more expensive in India as elsewhere. While getting increasingly restrictive to a wide section of students in monetary terms, it is also putting a lot of pressure on the quality of educators that these college have to offer. You have recently been named as the “The World’s best business educator” by the Economics Intelligence Unit after open completion from 300 plus professor around the world. What is the recourse for the students who are not getting their money’s worth in business education.

Students need to get away from an entitlement mentality.  Universities owe students an education and not a job.  Far too often, schools push their success in placements and this is what attracts students.  Jobs are the result of a process of hard work, learning, and become intellectually richer.  If students want to make the right choices, then they need to change their frame and perspective.  It’s a chicken and egg problem – students choose schools where they can get good jobs and colleges build programs to get students jobs.  Management is one of the most challenging disciplines because everything about it is an art not a science.  What people to recruit, why to customers buy, how to do branding – all these are wicked problems. We can solve them using the obvious or being creative.  That was my message in the talk that I gave at the finals of the Best Professor lecture in London.  My focus was on content and not form (or, in the terminology I used with you all – Function and not Form).  So students, to gain most value, must demand function and not form.  And very quickly the free market will react and better institutions will result.


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