Marketing, Sales or Innovation?

So I have always been super passionate about FMCG, and if there is one person who has helped me channel this passion and take it to the next level, full credit would go to Swapnil Kumar, who took the FMCG Branding course at MICA.

He's an IIM-L alumnus who started his career off with Unilever and now is the Global Brand Manager for Vaseline - he has spent time across Marketing and Sales and can be found here. This is a letter that he wrote for the incoming batch of MT's at Unilever a few years back.
Let me start by writing that this is not a definitive guide to what to choose and also what you shall get once u have made your mind up – given that u have to make your mind up right away.
There is also a disclaimer attached that these are all points of view of what I have heard and the writer doesn’t necessarily subscribe to the points written hereafter. Even though I have spent more than 8 years in these streams I am not too sure if I have also experienced most of the things that I am going to write.
There are 3 kinds of people in this company – Those who know what they want, those who don’t and those who don’t know and don’t care. This guide shall work very well for subset 2 and not too much for the other 2.
If you feel offended by something in this document, slap the person next to you. It shall not make you feel better but might get you bashed up thus taking your attention away from what offended you in the process.
After reading this if u are still left with an iota of confusion in your mind, quit and get yourself an MBA in finance from a firang university, join an investment bank and earn truck loads of money, which, by the way, shall come with a 24X7 work routine and well, trucks are very expensive.
The document doesn’t have an appendix as the author knows that appendix is a vestigial organ and at best can cause pain by bursting giving you appendicitis.
I must also say that these are points of view and not the commandments. The difference being that POVs are like a person’s back side - every one has one while commandments is the name of God’s back side.

One last bit ... don’t drink and drive, you might spill your beer.

Now that the serious bit is over, let the games begin.

It is not by luck but by choice that the field is called S&M. (sales and marketing words were a force fit). But you can think of a way to look at these as 3 lanes here – sales, marketing activation and marketing innovation. Some companies do define these as three separate lanes today while most of them bundle them as one marketing team

One of the biggest differences in the 3 streams actually lies in how fast you can become a platinum card holder on Jet frequent flier program (best airhostesses, even in the drab new uniforms). Sales shall give u a chance to befriend all the air hostesses and stewards on one sector or atleast all the dogs that visit the depot everyday as your car enters the same as u shall take the same flight twice every week for so long that the crew would even know the decibel levels at which you snore. (E.g. airhostesses on Chennai Hyderabad flights used to give me 5 bottles of lime water just as I boarded so that they wouldn’t need to talk to me again). Activation on the other hand takes you all around the country and Innovation takes you abroad very often. Obviously this is dependent on the fact that you don’t become ASM for Tundla and hence travel only in a radius of 3.2 miles or become a inno guy for a brand that sells only in Gummidipundi.

Let me try and put across the things that define any of the 3 stints.

Sales: The work of an Sales guy revolves around managing the krazzy 4 – People, Customers, Infrastructure and Systems. Managing categories and numbers is incidental as, when u can manage the first 4, these get done. I wrote People first because that is where they belong. Every stint as a sales guy gives you a great exposure in managing a team and in managing through people. The role shall involve a lot of operational work and the “typical” marketing creativity shall not be put to a lot of use. What you shall get to do, on the other hand, is to be creative in the market place. You shall also learn to maximize the bang from each and every offer that comes at hand. As a result it shall also give u an insight into how various categories work and interact in the market place. Basically what it means is that you shall know that every time the numbers are under pressure, sell Lifebuoy, FAL sachet and Close Up or maybe Tea, Coffee, Kissan and Salt (are there any other categories in foods business?). It shall also help you learn how to make choices as the situation is fluid and changes very fast. (Every time a truck of stock lands in wholesale market from another area, u shall have to make a choice between crying, running to your boss and breaking the nose of the colleague). Add to all this, the rush of numbers and set targets to deliver. Let me also say that there is nothing like a “plum” posting or areas that deliver and areas that don’t. There have been people who have had areas with no “metros” no “5lakh+” towns and still delivered each and every quarter and there have been people who haven’t delivered even in the “big” areas.

Marketing activation: ACTIVATION involves 3 phases – Artwork, network and no work. (You know which phase I would’ve been in while writing this one). A ACTIVATION manager is the custodian for the brand in an OpCo and is responsible for managing the performance of the brand in the country. What this jargon basically means is that the ACTIVATION manager manages the dhandha for a specific brand in the country so taking calls like should I give 25gm extra or give 5% off or write Free Free Free everywhere. The ACTIVATION manager is responsible for managing the brand and the other marketing gibberish associated (imagery, equity, brand health et al). This also involves, therefore, all activities that are needed to deliver on this. E.g. media planning, consumer promotion, tactical activities. This helps you understand what the brand means to the user/ consumer and its role in the category and at the same time also understand how to manage the same. The role therefore involves creativity from the marketing side of things but the actions are influenced more by the fact that the efforts tend to be tactical and short term plus also affect the consumer and customer. The role also involves media management and also trade activation. The role does not involve a lot of subordinate management but because of a lot of different stakeholders (read agency, mindshare, PR firm, Supply chain), each one with their own back sides, it involves good people management. The process of managing all of these happens through networks and hence the stint teaches you managing networks. The stint also teaches you how to read, understand and utilize market research, basically meaning how to thrash out the trash from the overload of data that comes in the name of MR. Let me assure you that if the MR ppt is less than 4MB and 85 slides there is something wrong with the research, result, your MR counterpart or all of them. The ACTIVATION stint also involves set targets and numbers. The stint teaches you how to therefore keep the brand relevant for both the consumers first and then also for the selling teams as they focus on overall delivery and not delivery by brand.
One very important thing about the ACTIVATION stint actually is the implementation of global plans for the local environment and then ensuring brilliant execution in the market. The other truth is that if there are brands with long innovation cycles ( meaning something that is not in skin category or hair care category where innovations and re launches take lesser time than it takes Bhajji to say maa ki…) there is a lot more scope to work on doing non-innovation led work to sustain momentum on the brand. It is also said that the best way to learn ACTIVATION is to sleep with your agency and well …..

Innovation: The beautiful world of Brand innovation. INNOVATION gives you the ability to work in unstructured, not very specifically defined situations. This basically means that there are no specific growth numbers to follow and no Field force to shout at or to pass the buck in terms of putting the blame. Here you define what the brand shall mean to the consumer over a longer period of time – ACTIVATION ensures that the consumer sees it the way they should. The other good learning in this stint is managing work with peers or peer management. Almost everything that you are supposed to do is done by someone else – MR, technical feasibility by Technical, production/ trials by Factory, Sourcing by Supply chain, product/ packaging ideas by the product/ packaging guys ( what did u think, Michael Jackson?) etc. So you shall need to get work done by people who are not necessarily reporting to you. You get to go out of the shackles of an Op co and work for a regional/ global team. Basically meaning you get to do consumer contacts in Brazil on beach Copacabana for Surf Excel (who cares about the brand if the contact happens at Copacabana). It gives you a first hand experience in product/ communication development. Basically you shall be credited with creating an “amazing” product or film. ACTIVATION does communication development only if there is something local happening. (E.g. making a film that sells a price point or a local pack size innovation). INNOVATION stint gives you a deeper understanding of MR as every breath you take, every move you make, every leg you break, every cake you bake depends on research results. Also, INNOVATION gives you an in-depth understanding of marketing and its concepts (in INNOVATION you realize that Kotler isn’t that waste). The initial stints shall also involve a lot of operational work and it is not as if you shall be launching something new everyday. The other challenge is to keep one busy all the time. E.g. if a research is commissioned and it’s a show stopper, (meaning that if the research says no then nothing happens) then what would you do in the interim? (Big tip – prepare for GMAT, remember the Investment bank job?)

That’s more or less it. The three streams are not mutually exclusive and the interaction happens often, though not a lot between Sales and INNOVATION. So now as Morpheus told Neo – the choice is with you.

Whenever there is trouble, remember this – God made work but god made beer too!! In fact there is new data that proves that first there was God. Then there was beer. God sat and had beer for 2 weeks non stop post which he wanted to go take a leak. He hit the empty bottles and fell down. At this point in time God said let there be light – you know the rest of the story.
p.s. my question is how he managed to have beer for 2 weeks without the ehem ….


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