Sun. Sep 27th, 2020
Manisha Seewal, Carro Group CMO

Manisha Seewal, Carro Group CMO

Leading the future of startup marketing with Carro Group CMO Manisha Seewal Part 214 min read

“As the customers’ choices become more practical, advertising, communications, and strategy also have to follow suit to become a lot more practical. The moment we are seen as an indulgent brand that doesn’t speak the same lingo as a customer, they will immediately cut us off.”

About the episode

We continue our conversation with Manisha Seewal, Group CMO of Carro and CEO of Jualo (acquired by Carro in 2019). After tracing her journey from corporate to startup and understanding her marketing philosophy in the first episode, we now talked about the future — the future of marketing amidst changing consumer behavior, the future of marketing technology, and the future of Carro and Jualo under her leadership. We also talk about how marketing and culture are inseparable in shaping a company’s growth. Our call was recorded 21 July 2020.

Revisit the first part of our conversation with Manisha >>>

Takeaways

5 ways to keep marketing lean (in times of crisis) according to Manisha Seewal
5 ways to keep marketing lean (in times of crisis) according to Manisha Seewal

(1) As the customers’ choices become more practical, the advertising or whatever communications we’re doing and the strategy also has to follow suit, to become a lot more practical. The moment we are seen as an indulgent brand, that doesn’t speak the same lingo as a customer, I think they will immediately cut us off.

(2) Marketing leaders must tweak their marketing strategy to communicate benefits clearly. Things like SEO have never been more important right now. Blogs, EDMs are very, very key.

(3) Given the uncertain times we are in, the last thing we want is to give instructions that are not clear to our team. Now is the time to be as clear as possible when leading teams.

(4) Indonesia is a tough market because it’s huge in scale. Many factors go into the decision-making process and it really requires a lot of hard work. It’s not enough to be smart in Indonesia; it requires hard work as well.

(5) I always believe that a brand is what the brand does. And that brand is shaped by marketing, but the people who drive it first are the employees. So the employees are our best advocates and every employee, if you ask me, should be marketing savvy.

Timestamps

1:06 How brands can adjust to changing consumer behavior and stay lean;

6:10 How COVID is affecting marketing technology and the way marketing teams operate;

8:31 Manisha on her new role as CEO of Jualo and Carro’s initiatives in Indonesia;

11:48 Manisha on the importance of culture in marketing and vice-versa;

13:02 Manisha’s recommended books, TV series, music, apps, and spots in Southeast Asia;

A brief history of Carro's five year ride thus far, and where Manisha hopped on
Recap of Carro’s five year ride thus far, and where Manisha hopped on

Transcript

Paulo: Especially now during this period of COVID-19, because, all companies, not just startups are trying to do cost-cutting. And at least within startups, it’s often the marketing budget that, you know, at least like investors say, you know, cut marketing off right away.

You mentioned earlier that, you know, you’re spending very little in marketing at Carro, next to none. And so like what is the advice or tips that you have for other marketing leaders in other startups or other companies when it comes to staying lean, during this period, especially.

Manisha: Well, during this period, so what we realized is that customers have become much more rational with their decision making. So the marketing strategy has to communicate your benefits to the customers very, very clearly. I would say a pre-COVID I saw a lot of ads that were being done on the whole emotional pull to the customer, you know, try to woo them with fancy imagery and indulgent imagery. I feel that that is a thing of the past at least for the next a year or two. As the customers’ choices become more practical, the advertising or whatever communications we’re doing and the strategy also has to follow suit, to become a lot more practical.

The moment we are seen as an indulgent brand, that doesn’t speak the same lingo as a customer, I think they will immediately cut us off. It is a time to be prudent. So one of the things that we did when Singapore, let’s just say for Singapore, when Singapore went into, so we call it a circuit breaker, which means the country was in a partial closure for a good two, three months.

We saw that the volume for “used car” or “buy use car” or “buy new car” significantly dropped. And that’s a given, right? Because people don’t want to buy cars. People are actually losing jobs. But at the same time, we could tell that customers want to know how to maintain that car during this time, because while some of the workshops were open, they were fearful of visiting.

So what we did is we created a whole lot of content, be it blogs or even videos, not videos were done using stock videos because the videographer could not go out and shoot, but we created. Yeah, we created content around, “How do you maintain your car during this time? Or when the closure sort of lifts off, what are the things you need to look out for when you’re driving on the road? How do you keep your car safe when you’re not driving as much as you used to? Or tips to make sure that your battery doesn’t die off because you’re not driving as much.” 

Carro blog featuring how-to's on car subscriptions
Carro blog featuring how-to’s on car subscriptions

And also we created content around usage-based insurance. So earlier I shared briefly that we launched Singapore’s first usage-based insurance, and it was very timely because essentially when people are not driving, is it fair to ask them to pay for car insurance? If you asked me the answer is no. So it was a great time to create content around why usage-based insurance is the future for car insurance as an industry.

And we saw that as a result of that, our blog started outperforming. Actually our organic traffic was maintained during the thick of the COVID period, even though there were lockdowns everywhere. Our blog traffic more than doubled. Our EDMs had almost 75% better response. And response means actually leads that were generated, where people were thinking of selling their car, but we give them options on how they can sell contactlessly. So we were trying to address the issues that they were, thinking of, rather than asking them, “Hey, why don’t you come and buy a car from us? Hey, why don’t you come and sell a car from us?” Which was very different. It’s more to help them during this time and address whatever they’re thinking rather than pushing promos to them.

It’s just a bad time to do promos. So, yeah. So, so again, back to your question on, what is advice I would give, right, to sort of marketing leaders on staying lean during this period? So the marketing leaders, they must tweak their marketing strategy to communicate benefits clearly. Things like SEO has never been more important right now. Blogs, EDMs is very, very key. Whatever little customer that we are getting right now, we need to make them shine. So, see if we can generate positive word of mouth customer reviews. This is the time to gather good reviews. And also a time to ditch expensive influencers. I know that influencers are quite big in our part of the world, but there are expensive influencers and they come across as indulgent; I would say it’s time to ditch them.

It’s not the time to look like an indulgent brand. In fact, small things also, right Paulo, like the other day, I was looking at a website that we are revamping. And then, one of the images I saw were two people shaking hands, and I just said, “No, we cannot show two people shaking hands anymore.” Even small things like this, as marketers, we have to take notice. What more, paying somebody [an] exorbitant amount of money as an influencer who probably doesn’t come across as somebody who’s a bit more humble. So I would say these are sort of the tips from my side.

Paulo: So you talk about all these changes that marketing leaders have to adapt to and what does this mean for marketing technology moving forward, you know, after COVID?

You talked about earlier, all these services have popped up. It’s made for a more confusing space. You also mentioned people in your team are also, they, they find it alluring to use these tools, you know, and use all of these numbers, but there are sometimes simpler ways of doing things.

What does COVID mean for, you know, marketing technology moving forward? Will there be less of these services? Will there be more consolidation? What are your thoughts on that?

Manisha: I think there would be definitely more of consolidation and more than integration, right, I feel more marketers will demand a more, I would say, seamless experience because right now we don’t have the luxury of time that we had in the past where you could afford to log into multiple tech platforms to figure out what’s happening.

So for us, right, we do something very simple. We just create a data studio report that is triggered to me every day in the morning at 7:00 AM. And this is across the group. So for all four markets, it is one report that tells me exactly how the traffic is looking —  how many leads are coming in, how much money we have spent, which are the keywords that are trending.

I would say it’s just the five to ten things that I would need to know in order to do a good job in delivering the business results that I’m supposed to deliver. You don’t need to know too much. Because we may probably appreciate it as senior marketers, right, but it just confuses other people.

And given the uncertain times we are in, the last thing we want is to give instructions that are not clear to our downline, to our team. Yeah, because they are already sort of worried somewhat, even though they don’t say, they are somewhat worried about their jobs. There are somewhat worried about, security, about their own future, and the last thing you want is for them to deviate from what they are really hired to do. So it’s really a time for marketers to know, “I just need to measure these 10 things. Out of these 10 things, this person you are going to look after these three, you’re going to look after these four, you will help me look after these three. And then together as a team, we will make sure that we meet all these 10 objectives and then use the tech to really measure these 10 things as closely as possible.” Of course, over time, one or two variables may change and that’s fine, but I would say overall 80% of the game doesn’t really change too much.

And now is the time to be as clear as possible when leading teams.

Paulo: Right, right. Well said. And I’d like to shift gears a bit and talk about, earlier this year you took on the role of CEO of Indonesian C2C marketplace Jualo, which was acquired by Carro the previous year. So what has been the experience been like leading the growth of Jualo and Carro in Indonesia and without revealing too much, what can the market expect from Jualo and Carro in the next couple of coming months? 

Manisha: So, well, I will start on a lighter note. Funnily, the day that it was announced I am CEO, the following week Singapore went in a lockdown. I am your remote CEO from day one. Remote, absolutely remote. 

So, that’s on the lighter note, but otherwise, I must say Indonesia is a super exciting market for us and we remain very dedicated because it’s very important. We will focus on it in terms of growth and also it’s a huge market, especially when it comes to used car space.

It’s so exciting that I actually learned elementary Bahasa Indonesia this year. I started going there so frequently and I just loved the culture, the language, the people so much. I could just tell that this is somewhere that we really want to make a difference.

So in terms of what you can expect from us, I mean, I want you to […] at the same time. It is a tough market because it’s huge in scale. Many factors, I realize that go into the decision-making process and really requires a lot of hard work. It’s not enough to be smart in Indonesia.

You have to really — requires a little hard work as well. Jualo I think I wouldn’t reveal too much, but we are going to go after the more underserved segments of e-classifieds, and we plan to extend the reach further in the tier-two, tier-three cities simply because Jualo is not app-based. It’s a web-based e-classifieds platform. And we believe that is a very strong proposition, as far as extending its reach into the smaller towns. Without giving too much, that’s sort of the way forward for us with Jualo. I’m super excited about it. 

And for Carro, we just launched, 1st of July, so this month, Indonesia’s largest, certified used car auto mall. So we set up the shop in Harapan Indah, Bekasi Harapan Indah, and with it comes Indonesia’s first such proposition, as far as used cars are concerned. So you get a 7-day money-back guarantee, a 30-day guarantee on wear and tear, you know, one-year free insurance on your car.

We even partnered with Tokopedia. We partnered with them to provide more than 50 payment options when it comes to paying for their cars. And similar to Singapore, we also do a 150 point check on cars and there’s an inspection report available per car.

We’ve just launched this, not even a month, received an amazingly positive response, both from media and also customers. Now it’s really just about seeing how quickly the market opens up. In terms of the lockdowns, hopefully the COVID situation will improve and we will be able to serve this underserved market.

So, super excited about that actually Paulo.

Paulo: Right. And yeah, I really think it’s interesting that you’re leading all of this, remotely, right. And I think it’s a story worth telling afterwards, you know, like starting all of this, from your home in Singapore and managing all of this. 

I also wanted to talk about culture and marketing, because you know, like marketing is often perceived as a very external effort, you know, very customer-centric, but I also, you know, realized going into my work is that it’s also very critical for building a company internally. So is that something that you’ve seen in your work as well? And how does it influence, how does marketing influence company culture vice versa?

Manisha: Absolutely. I think it’s, this is a great question by the way. I loved it when I saw it. So yes, I always believe that a brand is what the brand does. Right. And that brand is shaped by marketing, but the people who drive it first are the employees. So the employees are our best advocates and every employee, if you ask me, should be marketing savvy.

And for me, even though I’m the CMO, I do get my hands dirty very often in recruiting people from INSEAD, from SMU, from NUS. We even run brand challenges to hire, be it interns, and then eventually turn into full-time opportunities that are offered to them. And I believe the more marketing is made part of the DNA of the company, it definitely has to go through — so if it’s a tech company, whatever way that marketing has positioned it, every employee must know it. It has to tell the same story because your employees are the best advocates of the brand. 

Paulo: Yeah. I think it’s something, you know, people don’t really talk about often, but I think, you know, the moment that employees within the company really embody what a brand is it actually makes things more efficient and more effective even for the marketing team.

Manisha’s Favorites:

Books on Entrepreneurship:

  • Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson
  • Blitzscaling by Reid Hoffman
  • Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

TV series: The Blacklist

Music: It’s a Hit playlist on Spotify

App or Tool: Linkedin

Place to go to in Southeast Asia: Carro office in Jakarta

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