Content creation is at the heart of marketing, feeding digital marketing strategies and driving brand awareness. When you break it down, without content, marketing is reduced to empty strategies that don’t go anywhere. Creating engaging content takes skill and experience, it also demands a strong understanding of target audiences and markets. Luckily for Dulux/AkzoNobel, Sunny Naresh is the right man for the job.
From the newsdesks of TODAY newspaper to the well-known stage of the brand that is AkzoNobel, Sunny has come a long way and built himself a strong, enviable career. With a background of sports journalism, social media, and content creation, he has the experience and the passion that all digital marketers need to truly make a difference. Join us for this issue of the Marketing Expert Series as Sunny takes us through his career and the experiences that brought him to where he is today.
Hi, Sunny, welcome to the Marketing Expert Series! Let’s start with some of the basics, can you tell us a bit about yourself? How did you get to where you are now?
I started my career in the newsroom of the TODAY newspaper and was assigned to the digital desk where I was part of the team that handled the website and social media platforms of the newspaper.
After spending four years there I felt it was time to move up the ranks and moved to Lagardere Sports, where I could combine my love for content creation with my love for sports and help our clients expand their digital footprint across Asia.
The move to AkzoNobel was a lateral one as I wanted to break out of the sports industry and gain some experience in the consumer goods sector so people could see me as a digital marketer instead of a sports marketer. I’m still doing what I love when it comes to content creation and the added challenge of being in an unfamiliar and competitive industry really drives me to improve myself and my contributions to the team.
How did you end up in this line of work? Was there something that drew you to it?
I’ve always enjoyed creating content and I’ve enjoyed writing from a very young age. My stories were published frequently in school publications and in university I worked as a freelance writer for sports websites, helped people tidy up their resumes and even wrote wedding speeches to help pay my way through school.
That love for writing helped me land a job in the newsroom and I worked with a great team who helped expand my skill set by teaching me how to shoot and edit video and photos, and how to share all sorts of content on websites and social media.
Those skills helped me evolve from a reporter to a content producer and eventually into a marketer. As I gain more experience I do less writing and editing and more presentation decks and media plans instead but that working knowledge has allowed me to be more understanding to partner agencies and also come up with more realistic production timelines for projects.
Right now you are the Digital Marketing Manager for Dulux/AkzoNobel. Can you tell us a little about your role and what it entails? What’s it like working for such a well-known brand as Digital Marketing Manager?
The focus of my role at AkzoNobel is customer engagement and my scope of work includes managing the social media platforms, overseeing the development of digital content and working with the media planning agency to ensure our campaigns are running smoothly and hitting all the KPIs.
It is a sole contributor role so I work with several agencies to carry out the operational tasks while I work on a more strategic level to chart the next phase of the company’s digital content offering and find out new partners and technologies which we can leverage on.
Working for a well-known brand has its perks and challenges. On the bright side you do have generous budgets to work with and this allows you to go that extra mile to ensure the content produced will work with the target audience. Testing digital content and data analytics are just some of the additional steps we’ve taken to quality-check our work. Bigger companies do tend to be more risk-averse when trying new content ideas but the testing and reports play a big part in the decision and approval process.
On your LinkedIn profile, you mention some of your job aspects in this position. For example, you talk about introducing YouTube optimisation, influencer marketing, centralised social media and brand-led digital media campaigns across eight markets in South East Asia. Is there a campaign or singular moment you are most proud of?
Definitely the roll-out of influencer marketing in AkzoNobel. We introduced this when the Covid-19 lockdowns were first announced around March or April last year and we wanted to maintain a brand presence online despite all our campaigns being put on hold and budgets slashed.
Thankfully it worked out brilliantly for us. We had a minimal budget to work with so we targeted micro-influencers in the home decor space and we were able to reach more people and generate more conversations than competitors despite having fewer pieces of content. The success of this trial led to other markets asking to be included in the programme, which has expanded to five markets now.
What are the biggest challenges you face when marketing to such diverse markets throughout the region?
When it comes to social media everyone has their own opinion on what works best and it can get difficult to convince them that how they use social media personally might not be the same way the rest of the world consumes media. Using data has been one of the most effective ways to get around this problem as it helps us take a more objective and results-driven view towards our social media and content strategy.
Another challenge is maintaining the balance between centralised, regional content and local content on social media. Having a standard content plan shared across several markets is efficient in maintaining brand integrity but there’s no doubt that content that’s created based on local trends is among the best performing content on social media.
We try to maintain an 80-20 ratio between the number of content pieces between regional and local content but the budget split for boosting that content is split 80-20 in favour of local content.
Before Dulux/AkzoNobel, you were the Digital Manager Lagadère Sports, and before that at MediaCorp as a digital producer/reporter. You’ve got a very prestigious CV! Was it difficult to shift gears from one industry to the other?
Not at all! The industries were very different but the skill set needed to succeed in all these roles were the same.
At MediaCorp, being in the digital team exposes you to various industries and you do need to understand the news that’s coming in from the local, business, global, entertainment and sports desks to be able to decide which one gets more prominence online. I also wrote articles on sports and technology for print and that helped me build a little niche for myself to stand out.
The transition to Lagardere was easy for me as I am a huge sports fan so I already understood what the client wanted from Day 1 and could get down to executing the social media strategies that I believed would work best for them.
The job scope at Lagardere Sports and AkzoNobel is very similar and there was an orientation programme to help new staff understand the various products the company sold.
The biggest change was understanding how different an agency operated compared to a multinational company. There were a lot more processes in place at AkzoNobel and several approvals are needed to move forward in projects but that helps ensure everything is within brand guidelines and all bases are covered.
You have many years of experience marketing to the diverse citizens of South East Asia. Have you noticed any significant changes in how we market products over the last decade?
Definitely, people are increasingly making their purchase decision based on emotion so it’s becoming more important for brands to strike up a conversation with the target audience and building the brand reputation instead of just pushing the benefits of your product.
The digital world has also changed the way we market products by providing us so many platforms and formats to use. From memes to carousels to collaborative ads to search engine marketing, there’s a format to suit every specific need a brand would need. The challenge for marketers is to pick what works best for them instead of indulging in the whole buffet laid out for them.
Now, I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on the elephant in the room, the global pandemic. Clearly, COVID-19 has impacted a lot of companies and industries all around the world in the same way. Have your own marketing strategies for Dulux had to change because of it?
When COVID-19 first struck it led to several of our dealers closing their outlets and like most companies AkzoNobel took a cautious approach and stopped all ongoing marketing campaigns.
But the pandemic resulted in digital marketing becoming the central pillar for further marketing efforts. We started using influencers, we optimised our YouTube channels with the help of 2Stallions and we even developed other services like Dulux Painter Marketplace (which is like an Uber for painters) and AI-powered Preview Service which generates colour proposals for your home in less than 24 hours.
What about for you, personally, when this pandemic is over, what’s next for you?
The first thing I would like to do is take a holiday and travel out of Singapore. My wife and I have drafted our itinerary for a trip to London which includes a flight up to Liverpool to watch my favourite football team play. The only thing that’s missing on that plan is the date when we can actually travel.
On the bright side the additional time at home brought on by Covid-19 has allowed me to finally go ahead with some personal passion projects such as a children’s book series which I hope gets picked up by a publisher.
Any advice you’d give to young and aspiring marketers in the region?
It’s never too early to start. If you’re still in school, try exploring freelance opportunities or internships to understand the industry and how to manage the relationships between agencies and companies.
The second piece of advice is to be brave. New ideas are shot down every day and the most common reason I’ve heard is “we have always done things this way”. Take that as a challenge instead of being discouraged and use that as motivation to build your case to convince your colleagues that your idea will succeed.
Thank you, Sunny! It’s been a pleasure to ‘speak’ with you and learn more about your experiences and insights. How can people connect with you if they’d like to know more about you?
The pleasure is all mine. Look me up on Instagram (@sunnynaresh) or LinkedIn if you’d like to connect or find out more about myself or other personal projects I’m working on.
The Marketing Expert Series features marketing and communications experts from across every industry. Every month, 2Stallions will showcase the stories and expertise of marketing experts from around the world, join us as we explore how marketers navigate the challenges of the regions and industries they work in. If you’d like to be featured in a next issue of the Marketing Expert Series. Please reach out to us via email.
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