MiA Asked.. Roberto Cumaraswamy, A Malaysian-Based Multi-Generational Marketer, About His 2018 Marketing Thoughts

You are extremely popular in the industry. Can you share with us more about yourself and your consulting journey?

Extremely popular or infamous?!

When I am not dreaming of being a pro-gamer YouTuber, I am a marketing consultant. I help brands and business owners get more customers and make more profit using modern marketing. I start a project by diagnosing the client’s business problems. I then devise a strategy aimed to solve those problems and produce the desired results. But a strategy is worthless without implementation, so my job really begins when I start executing the strategy with the client and their team.

I’m a multi-generational marketer. I blend the ‘test, measure, iterate’ style of digital marketing with ‘long-term brand-build’ fundamentals. I built my career in marketing management over 20 years. Prior to consulting, I held client roles at British American Tobacco, L’Oreal, Celcom, XL Axiata and IMU (International Medical University). In addition, I had short stints heading a youth marketing (Filter Group), social media agency (Vocanic) as well as my own sponsorship agency (SponsorCraft).

Large brands are taking back the control of their marketing stunts from the agencies. Do you see this development as healthy to the industry especially here in Malaysia?

Taking back control from the big full-service agencies perhaps, but not necessarily from marketing specialists. I think this is just a natural result of the fact that marketing has become much more complex over the last 10 years. The industry just needs to adapt.

The explosion of digital as a channel as well as its transformative effect on the way businesses operate and interact with customers, means that there are just too many platforms and tools for one single agency to be on top of everything. So this gave rise to a multitude of specialised  ‘best in class’ agencies.

However, the proliferation of agencies makes it absolutely vital that clients have top internal talents to manage all the various moving parts in a synergistic strategy. So, there is still a role for top class marketing strategists that have in-depth operational experience of digital and traditional while at the same time enough strategic management experience to not miss the forest for the trees!

That situation creates a war as agencies, consulting companies and even freelancers are fighting for that shrinking market. How do you plan to rise above the noise this year?

Is there a war? I plan to rise above it by not fighting it!

As an independent consultant, I don’t really see myself in competition with the agencies or specialised partners. I’m small and nimble enough to adapt to helping a company in the best way that suits them. I’m not tied to digital or traditional. I’m not tied to selling a particular solution. Typically, my clients use me as a CMO on-demand. They bring me in to help devise and implement solutions by working with their existing teams or building new ones.

If you are a client, how do you pick the right consultant or agency who can help you to reach your marketing goals?

I don’t think there is a magic formula for success. The biggest problem tends to be one of the misaligned expectations. The client may be unrealistic or unclear in terms of what they really want, while the agency may just over-promise or not really understand in the first place.

So, what I always look for in a partner is their capacity to really understand the business and what the real drivers are. Are they asking the right questions? I also appreciate a direct and honest approach. Be clear about what they can and cannot do. Be clear about what they expect from me as a client. Earn my respect by commanding respect at the start.

How do you see the local marketing industry 5 years from now?

This is like a where “do you see yourself in 5 years’ time” interview question! Who the hell knows?! The world is changing too fast to properly predict and if anyone claims they can walk the other way!

However, I am confident that the fundamentals won’t be all that different from now. There will still be clients needing great competent partners to achieve competitive success in an overcrowded market.

Some people say LinkedIn is powerful. They are spending more time on LinkedIn than any other social media channels since a few months ago. Do you think this is a good idea?

LinkedIn is a social network, albeit a business focused one. It’s becoming more and more social in nature as that is what creates stickiness amongst users. And LinkedIn wants active users.

The value of LinkedIn depends on the nature of your business and your objective. It super valuable if you are in business-to-business or B2B – as it’s a great way to discover and nurture prospects. It’s absolutely vital if you are an independent consultant or someone who wants to build a business-oriented ‘personal brand’. It allows you to show your expertise in a very effective way. But it is of limited use to B2C brands who want to reach mass audiences. Not saying that it can’t be used, but there are other platforms that would yield better results.

However, one area where all kinds of companies can benefit from effectively using LinkedIn is Employer Branding. As the number 1 recruitment and business platform, it can be super powerful in positioning a company as a great employer. Although it should be used in conjunction with a company’s own website.

Do you spend your time more on LinkedIn yourself than other channels to build your presence?

At the moment, yes – definitely. I am very actively experimenting with video on LinkedIn. It just seems to be the medium that LinkedIn’s algorithm prefers (i.e exposes to more people) as well as lending itself well to the content I want to share.

To support LinkedIn activities, which part of other marketing elements in your opinion can contribute effectively towards achieving your professional objectives, is it better content, guest blogging, more creative social media play, traditional marketing, networking events, partnerships or other specific channels?

LinkedIn is just a social network. As such, you need to view it as your distribution platform. The better and more engaging content you create and put on it (either natively or by sharing links) the more exposure you get. Having said that, the network effect is also key to ensure wide reach. So, giving people a reason to be interested in your content is key. Involve them in your content. Write guest posts, reviews, create networking events, etc. The more people you involve (in a relevant and beneficial way) in your content, the better.

Based on what I’m seeing at the moment, offline networking events to online sharing/discussions etc seems to work very well too.

Besides your LinkedIn play, pick another one out of these social channels that can help bring you closer to achieving your annual revenue this year; Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat or Instagram?

Personally for me and my B2B consulting business –  none – just LinkedIn. At least none that I am focussing on. I do have a Facebook page, but ever since Facebook changed its algorithm for pages about 2 years back, it’s not worth investing in for my needs.

So what I am and will be doing more is building up my own website, robertocumaraswamy.com as my content hub, trying to build an email list based on that and using LinkedIn to distribute and network.

Building your own permanent homebase aka website on the internet is more vital than ever. Over-reliance on a social network as your only presence is very dangerous because you never know when an algorithm change will wipe out your exposure all of a sudden. Case in point now with the whole #deletefacebook campaign – who knows what will happen!

How about PR?

PR is as great as its always been. Of course with digital and social networks you can make your own PR by consistently creating and distributing valuable content that showcases your expertise. But having a third party write about you always seems to convey more unbiased credibility.

Furthermore, we human beings still place high value on seeing something in physical print, e.g. in a newspaper or magazine. TV, even better! It’s funny because we all know consumption of these mediums is plunging, but they are still seen as very credible.

This is why traditional PR firms can still charge high fees for traditional PR exposure. I know so many companies who baulk at spending MYR5,000 for a digital marketing consultant but don’t think twice about spending MYR20,000 for a PR firm in the hope of getting a few newspaper articles. Crazy or not that’s just how people perceive things!

Your tips for marketing this year would be? Share with us your top 5.

  1. Focus on the fundamentals of marketing – they are evergreen.
  2. Most important fundamental: have measurable objectives and know why you are pursuing them.
  3. Try and measure the impact of everything you do, even if indirectly. If you can’t measure it at all think twice before spending a significant amount of budget on it.
  4. Experiment with new technologies ONLY if they serve your key objectives.
  5. Don’t fall into trap of believing that digital is all you need. Its one part of the mix.

Best way to contact you.

There are a couple of ways; my website robertocumaraswamy.com and my LinkedIn, linkedin.com/in/robertocumaraswamy