Digital Transformation Future of Media Martech

Spend increases but the skills gap remains: the state of martech in India


By Shawn Lim | Reporter, Asia Pacific

April 8, 2020 | 10 min read

80% of Indian marketers expect to raise their marketing technology (martech) spends over the next few years but a lack of expertise to operate the technology may hinder growth, according to The India Martech Report 2020.

In India, there is increasing spend on technologies like blockchain, artificial intelligence and machine learning to support digital campaigns. Marketers in India are at the dawn of full-funnel thinking claims Smita Salgaonkar, the country manager for India at S4 Capital’s MightyHive. For the longest time, low-cost performance media drove easy gains and easy wins until the performance marketplace got cluttered and costs per acquisition reached a ceiling.

“That is when the need for full-funnel thinking, great creative and meaningful personalised positioning for every customer started gaining attention and favour,” Salgaonkar tells The Drum.

“Right now, regardless of the economic environment, marketers wish to fill up their arsenal with well-selected tools, each having a role in the chief marketing officer's vision of an armour-clad marketing strategy.”

Vaibhav Odhekar, managing director of India and the Middle East at AnyMind Group agrees, and points out it is very crucial for marketers to stay abreast of the latest industry trends and tools for customer acquisition and engagement.

“Effective martech innovations bring more data-driven solutions where marketers get numerous touchpoints and consequent analytics around those touchpoints,” he adds.

There's been support for such spend from the government. The Digital India initiative launched in 2015, throwing up significant widespread opportunities. Neeraj Mohan Sharma, the general manager for India at Nativex suggests marketers also have to work to improve brand affinity, awareness and sales.

“Besides improved marketing ROI and efficiency, the majority of marketers and organisations are also looking for tools that enable digital activations to be tracked more cohesively (for example, via a single platform).

“Through these tools, marketers will also find it more efficient to gather and analyse consumer and marketing insights that can better guide brand offerings.”

Lack of martech skills

Despite the increasing of martech spends in India, the report found 64% of marketers seeing a lack of internal skills as a hurdle to martech growth.

Dr Kushal Sanghvi, the India Lead at Integral Ad Science, points out there is always a challenge as to who will own the martech responsibility between the chief marketing officer, chief technology officer and chief digital officer.

He says India is no different and given the scale of organisations, layers and people in the country, it is a larger problem to deal with and must be broken down into specific roles and domains or even projects.

“The use of and adoption of various tools and technology is also an indication of how savvy the marketer is or the digital marketer is. And then the other issues could be that some of the smartest marketers have the smallest budgets, but understand how to run fully integrated programs and how to track, measure and analyze the effectiveness,” he explains to The Drum.

“There are those with massive budgets with a scarcity of knowledge and thus the need to have skilled people or training and development in those domains to be done. India Inc has seen in the last few years a lot of the teams being even sent to foreign universities and training courses with technology partners to come up to speed.”

Rahul Marwaha. vice president of media activation for India at Essence points out until the recent past, the adoption of martech has been a bottom-up decision. In the last few years, however, it is the chief marketing officer who has been increasingly getting involved and leading decisions on martech.

He says agencies may now have the mandate to upskill their clients’ internal teams, and it makes sense to do so, as many martech solutions help solve for return on investment (ROI) and effectiveness.

"For instance, at Essence, we have a culture of open collaboration, continuous improvement and experimentation with long-term value creation through shared learning - this applies to martech tools and technologies with our clients as well," he explains to The Drum.

Salgaonkar cautions that focusing on only delivering training is not sufficient as organisations that plan training with a generous incentive and measure are moving the skilled needle can cross the skill gap with more confidence. She says cross-organisation adoption is again a form of customised training and incentive.

“Each department needs to understand the utility of digital and data in their lives. They need assistance in designing their own vision of what they want and align it with the organisation’s vision. Thereafter, with the right access and guidance on action, everyone starts to participate,” she adds.

Data is another aspect that is widely spoken and implemented, says Odhekar, but organisations need to be able to decipher what data can be brought onboard leading to a higher return of investments and more targeted martech implementations.

Agreeing, Sharma adds driving growth for the business will require all business units in the organisation to understand how data informs all decisions and in turn, to understand how martech can better harness this data to create actionable insights that help market the company and its offerings better.

“As the digital marketing space in India continues to grow, the emphasis on ROI will continue to shift from flag-planting approaches, where brands own certain content pillars. In tracking the ROI of these new tools, marketers’ confidence levels will also gradually increase as they leverage them, and eventually lead to renewals,” he explains.

Wary of emerging tech

Marketers in India are wary of technologies like wearables and voice search, feeling that these techs need to show solid use cases before being considered, according to the report.

This is because wearables are expensive, have a small screen, limited interactivity and an even smaller user base, explains Salgaonkar. She notes voice promises exclusive reach at scale and applies very selectively to complex, feature-rich products and services like insurance or education. That means voice marketers, like everyone else, follow the technology adoption curve.

She says everyone cannot be an early adopter of new technology unless due to lack of measurability or affordability. However, with the right packaging and pricing, voice can be the next transformational media experience.

Odhekar does not think it is an India specific problem but has to do more with human tendencies, which are universal. For any technology or medium to be an effective marketing platform, he notes it has to cross a threshold in terms of users.

“So if my smartwatch has a number of apps, do I run ads like how I run them on mobile? No. If Alexa has reached a particular number of households, is it the most effective medium. Again No. Can this change in the future? Yes,” he says.

“Marketers need to be sure that there are sufficient users on a platform and the communication medium and means to reach them are suited to the user journey. The usage of technology in all aspects of life in India is ubiquitous and very few countries see such percolation and innovation for a variety of use cases. We have led brave tech.”

Sharma notes there was a time when marketers would jump to be the first to adopt a new martech solution. He points out the advancement of technology has made it such that martech has the ability to create even more seamless brand experiences for the consumers and also expanded the width of the martech stack.

However, these technologies have come at a higher premium price, which then necessitates careful considerations before making the choice to invest - exacerbated by bigger scrutiny by CFOs on marketing spend amid tighter budgets.

“As such, most marketers now prefer to wait for “tested and tried” examples before taking the plunge themselves as a way of managing risks of investing in newer technologies,” he adds.

As Shantanu Sirohi, chief operating officer at Interactive Avenues India puts it, pragmatism is to first focus on learning how to swim rather than focus on the latest swimming trunks that can help shave two seconds off your 100 metres timing. "So it’s good to have an eye on the future – but the biggest gains are to be got out of them now and that requires a start to be made in many a case," she adds.

Business results are driving marketers’ martech decisions

The report found ROI and efficiency are the key drivers for adopting Martech, reflected in the use of “old guard” tech such as CRM and personalization because Indian business leaders have always been outcome-focused and hold marketing accountable with the same lens, according to Salgaonkar.

What education and exposure, have changed though is the nature and timing of the outcomes, she continues, and a first, businesses expected marketing to create transactions immediately.

“Now, businesses are expecting marketing to create a variety of opportunities for the short, mid and long term, which is the right expectation to set. Continuous exposure to events, case studies and thought leadership will help support this reset to foundations,” she explains.

India also has always had a very high rate of tech adoption, along with the confluence of creativity with innovation because the country has evolved as a market for solutions that go out to other countries. The sensitizations on emerging technologies have helped and people have also understood the role of a creative technologist very well here.

That’s what has led to marketers becoming specialists, explains Odhekar, which means any business or marketer when investing anything wants to assess the outcome, whether its a new tool or a technology.

When adopting three classical lenses to look at martech - planning, execution and measurement, execution in India is never a challenge given an abundance of capable talent with demand not requiring automation as an always-on capability.

The global digital marketing landscape, including India’s, is constantly evolving. Recent developments in 2020, notably the onset of coronavirus (Covid-19) around the world, have compelled companies and organisations across the board to prioritise digital strategies - a crucial contingency, especially in the face of diminishing face-to-face business interaction such as conferences and events.

Pre-Covid-19, planning and execution were the front and centre for chief marketing officers, where budget deployment and utilisation was key to support a full-funnel.

Post Covid-19 however, the measurement will take the lead in chief marketing officers' minds to answer questions like how do they know their customers better; stay high on top of their minds and be useful to them regardless of the economic state of core markets.

Read the full report here.

Digital Transformation Future of Media Martech

More from Digital Transformation

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +