With over two decades of rich experience in the digital space, Benedict Hayes leads the digital-first teams at Ethinos Digital Marketing, as their Executive Director & Joint MD. Benedict is responsible for the building and development of the Ethinos’ world class capabilities through technology, partnerships, training and product development.
The agency provides end-to-end digital and performance marketing solutions to over 70+brands in India and abroad with a team of over 120 digital specialists across various cities in India.
Ben as he is fondly called by his friends and colleagues is passionate about anything digital, his daughter and is a die-hard fan of the Wolves.
In this Straight Talk, Benedict Hayes talks about how Ethinos has been growing strength to strength, their learnings while navigating through the Covid-19 pandemic and a lot more.
Take us through the journey of Ethinos from its inception. The mission and vision of the company?
Ethinos Digital Marketing (Ethinos) was setup around 10 years ago by my partner Siddharth Hegde. He set the business up as predominantly a Web Design, Graphic Design and Social Media business servicing mid-sized B2B companies in India.
Ethinos had a major pivot in 2016 when my other partner, Brijesh Munyal joined the team as Joint Managing Director. The business shifted from being just a Social B2B business to include in its service offering performance marketing such as SEO and Media.
I joined the team as the third partner in 2018, and brought to the business a data driven approach, bringing in Programmatic as well as more data driven based buying and creative solutions. We now service 70+ brands in India, Media East and Australia specializing in BFSI, Ecommerce, Retail, Travel and Healthcare.
Our vision today is to be Asia’s leading data driven business performance solutions provider, and our mission is to drive the future of business problem solving.
Wow! 70+ brands is not a small number. Congratulations on these great figures. Coming to the services that Ethinos provides to its clients, which of them do you personally feel, are best in the business?
I feel that when it comes to performance marketing, Brijesh has always been one of the best in the country, so our offering there is incredibly tight. Also, we are not shy in the SEO department as well where we have some very strong brands competing in some of the most competitive spaces. But where I feel our real strength lies is growing in the new zone of Data Driven Marketing, where we are deploying mar-tech solutions such as Marketing Automation Platforms, Customer Data Platforms and Lead Management Systems and linking them to automated communication and nurture programs. This is a new space which we are charging into as well and I feel it will be the future of all digital transformation and marketing endeavors.
In this space alone, we have 15+ brands where we manage a full marketing stack and handle the consumer journey end-to-end, from identifying the user to driving a lead, revenue and repeat revenue, in several cases this being online and offline sales purchases in retail and digital stores.
Data driven marketing, well isn’t that the future! Now tell us about your journey with Ethinos and how has the experience been since you joined in 2018?
It has been an enjoyable rollercoaster of a ride. We saw fantastic growth in the first year, and great receptivity to new service lines we had built, programmatic and data-driven solutions.
Unfortunately, during Covid-19 times things have become somewhat trickier as we had had to adapt our business to the new normal. A lot of clients across sectors have tightened the purse strings, the travel business especially. But with that said, I have been pleasantly surprised by the seamlessness with which our team has adapted to the new normal and the ability to still deliver working from home. We have quickly adapted to verticals that are growing during this phase and we are now seeing the market recover and budgets again starting to flow. I believe that when this period comes to an end we will be in a better and stronger position than before, as we have adapted our solutions to not only survive, but thrive in this new normal.
You come with immense experience having worked with Denstu Aegis Network and Sociomantic Labs… What were some of the learnings from there that have held you in good stead at Ethinos?
I have been working in agencies for almost 20 years, of which 10 of those years in Asia, and 8 in India alone. It has been an amazing learning experience, firstly with communicate 2 and then iProspect, with Vivek Bhargava, Brijesh Munyal, Pratap Dasgupta and team, that was a fantastic learning and growth for me, understanding the market and really being ahead of the game when it came to delivering digital solutions into the market.
Ten years ago,Indian digital adoption was quite nascent and very much a forgotten stepson to mainline media, but now it’s fully flourished to be center stage – that process rapidly advanced by the COVID-19 situation we now sit in. It has been a fantastic position to see the digital market bloom, and to be part of the growth here in India. Sociomantic and dunnhumby was a very different experience, in firstly the exposure I received to the SEA region, and markets like Hong Kong, Singapore or even Indonesia, which are massively ahead of the curve when it comes to digital mobile commerce, but secondly my exposure to retail, working with Tesco across the region helping build a media and data strategy for them.
How is the business shaping up in times of Covid-19? What has been the impact of COVID on your business?
COVID-19 has been bad, but also good for our business. The travel sector and health fitness, retail, entertainment industries have all taken a very big hit. We saw some downturn also with the spends and appetites to spend as well. The insecurity of not knowing made March a very nervy month. We saw a direct drop in business. But it was not all doom and gloom. We took on several productivity tools, equipped our people and began our work from home journey. One thing we quickly realized as a digital business was, do we need an office? We now operate across 40 towns and villages, where people are safe at home with their families, but delivering services for our brands. Our ability to remote manage and outsource have become far stronger, and we have seen some amazing campaigns be delivered, all from the comfort of our homes.
Even though we saw a downturn in travel and retail, within a few months we saw some very large opportunities emerge. Gaming, ecommerce, healthcare, EdTech, Insurance and investments have all seen a massive lift since the challenges set in, and by the grace of God, the losses from one industry have been made up by the industries that have seized the opportunities that the new normal has presented. Businesses that were purely brick and mortar retailers were forced to digitize, and through that process we have onboarded and enabled some fantastic traditional brands and help them to digitize and do business.
So you don’t have an office now. That’s the new normal these days… Tell us about how your clients and brands have changed or modified their communication strategy? And what has been your advice to all your clients?
Initially what to do was not clear, but when we investigated our business and our clients, it became clear that data was the key to success during these times. Now more than ever is it more important to know who your consumer is, where they are and how we can message to them. For our agency, this really has been the rise of data-driven solutions. Our partners that have adopted data solutions have really started to benefit, as they no longer rely on media to drive response but rather simpler solutions of outbound calls, emails, SMS or push notifications, which are done with pinpoint accuracy in terms of targeting, but also messaging.
Our data division has grown 4x in the last three months as our clients have taken this time to build more robust data solutions for their businesses. As well as data, we have seen and helped many of our partners pivot their business. Traditional brick-and-mortar retailers digitizing and deploying ecommerce overnight, hospitals launching digitized consultations, online gym and yoga classes, schools moving their entire curriculums online. The list has been endless, and the work for an agency like ours has luckily not been in short demand.
How have you helped your clients navigate through the Covid-19 crises? Is there a case study you would want to share with our readers?
I think our biggest success during this period was in the early days of a campaign with a healthcare client campaign to launch their online consultancy app. The client team developed an AI based webapp to test your susceptibility to have contracting Covid-19 and what you should do. We pushed this app out across mediums, and it went fully viral. The webpage app prompted people to download the online consultation app. At its peak we were getting 6000 downloads a minute, which was incredible to see, and people shared the Covid-19 test across India. That was a great stepping stone for us to help the brand grow and scale up massively during the last few months.
During these hard times, how are you keeping up the morale of your teams that are working remotely? How are you making sure about the mental health of employees?
We have undertaken several initiatives using MS Teams; Quizzes, online yoga, meditation and wellness sessions, competitions and even an online social. We also had a very successful poker tournament courtesy of one of our Gaming clients. I think the most receptive initiative has been the introduction of “Wellness Wednesday”. Every Wednesday 25% of the company can take a day off, each person gets one wellness Wednesday a month. It’s a rule that this person must disconnect, switch their phone/laptop off and do what they need to do to re-balance.
Being a multiple service agency how are you making sure that you’re ahead of the curve in these times of uncertainty and crisis?
As I mentioned, our business has heavily pivoted to digital transformation and data. We have become leaders at actively digitizing a business and building a data infrastructure that allows clients to keep marketing cost down, drive performance and scale judiciously. This has been invaluable to us, and I’m absolutely positive that it will put us in excellent stead when the Covid-19 situation passes.
What would you say if you were to do a SWOT analysis of the entire Covid-19 situation?
If I was to do a SWOT analysis of the COVID-19 situation, I would have originally said that it was a huge threat to our business, but in the last few months, I can happily say that it has revolutionized the way we work, collaborate and play, the way we think about our clients and their needs. It is no longer a threat to us, more so it has built innate data/performance strength in us and has opened many new opportunities. When the times change for the better, we will be in a far stronger position, not only operationally but technically and mentally as well.