Marketing Podcast

Insights from a Fintech Marketing Generalist with Malavika Sudheesh

Fintech Marketing Generalist

Season 3, Episode 8

Crisis Series: We are all experiencing major disruption, due to this global health crisis and pandemic. This time is testing every marketer’s ability to pivot, their knowledge across multiple tools and channels, as well as the test of working remotely and communicating effectivity with their team.

My guest, Malavika Sudheesh, has been working overtime as a Marketing Executive at CMC Markets in Sydney. Being a self-proclaimed Marketing Generalist, she gives some amazing insights into technology, keeping skills up-to-date and more…

We discuss:

  • How the pandemic and remote working has impacted her role
  • What the fintech industry is like
  • Future marketing trends

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Transcript

Fiona:

This is the 2020 Crisis Series of This Marketing Life, I am chatting with Malavika Sudheesh, Marketing Executive at CMC Markets, in Sydney.

Malavika is an experienced marketing professional who has been in the fintech space for the past 2 years. Originally from India, she was working as an Engineer in a leading Tech company, when she found her calling.

She started her journey in marketing, as a content writer before moving to Sydney. Since then, she has worked in marketing in the not-for-profit, education and financial services sectors.

Welcome to the show Malavika.

Malavika:

Thank you for having me Fiona. This podcast is a great initiative for the marketing community. It’s often really hard to find reliable resources on education or trends overall on what’s happening in the market.

So really happy to be a part of this.

Fiona:

You’ve got it spot on, I mean that’s exactly why I started doing this marketing podcast because at the time, a couple of years ago, there wasn’t a lot of realistic conversations about what was a happening in marketing.

And a lot of it was high level strategy, but not really what was happening on the ground. So I’m thrilled that you’re coming on the show.

Malavika:

Same here. So how are you doing with everything with the crisis? What’s happening in your side?

Fiona:

Well, yeah, well, for me, it’s been very strange, strange times. I never thought I would experience… I thought the GFC (global financial crisis) was bad.

And now we’ve got this health crisis and pandemic. So yeah, it’s like nothing I thought I would live through, but no, I’m surviving. I think most. Just hoping that we get back to some kind of new normal… How are you going, how are you finding it?

Malavika:

Oh, just the same. Usually, I’m usually a very analytical and data-driven person, but this is like a clean slate.

Like, you have nothing to draw an example from or any data… I’m like, “You’re on your own, you have to find a way to survive this”. So it’s been interesting that way but, compared to a lot of the other people, I think I can’t complain. I’m in a better sort, so I’m thankful for that.

But in the perspective of businesses again, this is quite different, because you see businesses like travel and hospitality collapsing by the minute because of all the restrictions. While you see certain areas of retail, really thriving.

It was I think March was the record month when it comes to sales for any kind of retail in the history of Australia, can you believe that?

Fiona:

Yes, no, I can, I like you said about the data… you know me, I’m data-driven too.

And there was no previous data from a similar situation for us to fall back on it, and literally we’ve been reading the data as it’s happening, as it’s coming in, looking and seeing how this pandemic is affecting business, the national economy, the global economy, how it affecting sectors…

I mean, the data comes in, we’re processing it and making decisions, almost on a day-to-day basis.

Malavika:

Exactly, I mean, GFC was bad. But again, that was an economic crisis, so you know how to, you know, toggle it or what to fix, but this is completely different from that.

So businesses even, what I’ve been working on has been… trying to find the audience what they need, how we can support and being more human ,so that you can just support each other and navigate the best way possible.

Fiona:

So yes, it has been a pivot from business as usual to really tapping into the climate, especially the emotional climate of customers at the moment.

Malavika:

Exactly.

So, speaking of emotional climate… are you working from home?

Fiona:

Of course. We have been working from home from I think, at least, late March. So, as I’m working with a global company and the moment, they were well-prepared for something like this. But we never tested it. None of us were working full-time from home, anyway, it was more of a rotation. Or whenever you need the convenience.

But this is like now… home is your office. There is no…. what would you say?

Fiona:

Commuting?

Malavika:

Yeah, that too.

Or no delineation between office and home. That’s the thing that I was going for. You get out whenever… that’s been the case for the last couple of months.

Fiona:

Yes, I think a lot of people have found that it has been… they’ve had the successes of working from home being, you know, you can get a lot more done, you don’t have time commuting, you don’t have interruptions. But then also there’s the challenges because you are working where you normally live and relax.

Malavika:

Exactly. So I think I start my day at seven, now because I wake up, there’s nothing to do, there’s no routine. Now you just go get into your laptop and that’s where you’re working.

So you start really early and you get into projects and I think everybody is really trying to support and do as much as we can for the clients. You end up working really late, and there would be multiple projects to run as well.

So you end up getting out at 10 in the night and then you think about a few more things to do, that you forgot to catch up, so…

Fiona:

That’s insane and not sustainable.

Malavika:

So we’ve been really trying to step back, we can still do it, but find some sort of a balance, but you make the best of what we can do, right?

Fiona:

Yeah, how are you guys communicating? Are you using online tools?

Malavika:

Of course. So I think we’ve been living in Skype lately. So…

Fiona:

Oh yeah.

Malavika:

That would be impromptu meetings, calls, but I think communication-wise, even though we needed to get used to the Skype weirdness and 10 to 30 seconds gap where nobody’s taking or waiting for someone to respond… I’m still getting used to that. I think it’s been okay.

Fiona:

Yeah, it is a whole new way of working. If you’re working, used to working in an office to suddenly just be communicating with everyone in the business online in Australia and overseas.

Malavika:

Yeah, exactly, so that’s the other side of it. So you have people working in UK we have the same situation or in Canada or whatever… So you have been using something like that before, like conference calls, Microsoft Teams, etcetera. This is now just full-time using that, so it’s just scaling up what we already have, but getting used to it.

You are so used to… just tapping on someone right next you and just getting the work done, but now you have to schedule a call, wait for your turn. You have to just manage it better.

But it’s just using whatever you can in the best way possible. That’s the whole situation isn’t it?

Fiona:

No, well it is, and this gets back to a premise of this conversation, because when I think about marketing today, we have to be more flexible than I’ve ever seen.

We have to be more agile. A lot of these agile marketing practices have come to the forefront, a lot have been adopted from tech, a lot of in this idea of stand-ups and scrums and having really short marketing sprints and evaluating and tweaking. Has that been your experience?

Malavika:

Yeah, of course, but to be honest, the industry that I’m in now, it’s a short space between traditional banking and financial institutions and completely new generation… fintech…. that kind of space.

So it’s a balance of both, at least for my industry, even before the whole thing started blowing up. So we had to pivot based on how the market’s reacting. What’s happening in the market. Even with a few tweets from Trump, we might be getting a lot of calls, new applications, or just differences in what clients want.

Fiona:

Yes.

Malavika:

So, that industry has always been that agile and you have to react to what markets are doing.

So we, to a limit, have been prepared to it, but this right now or what we’re doing is like a pressure test for all of it. So it’s like really testing our skills. Are you up for it?

So yeah, the last couple of months has been looking at what exactly the market needs and reacting to it as best possible way.

So what I find now is that it’s the best we can do with strategy. So, usually, when we are actually planning out for the year, you have a particular strategy of what you wanna do with the markets or what are the things that you want out of this year, etcetera, for the business.

Fiona:

But yeah, Mal I see that your strategy for 2020 has probably changed a lot since January?

Malavika:

Exactly, now that’s in the dustbin. It’s completely useless… What can you do with an out-of-home placement when nobody’s out there to see it? it’s completely redundant now.

So that’s what I’ve found. You have to really understand what exactly is happening in the market and pivot based on that…

Where your audience right now? What can you do for them? What is the support systems? What’s the spending capacity of your audience, etcetera. So you have to really be emotional about it as well as you have to plan and change your plans based on that. So yeah, it’s been a journey. So yeah, it’s really been agile, in that way.

Fiona:

So this is definitely, as it impacted your day-to-day, I’m guessing other than the extended hours I mean, how many people do you have in your team?

Malavika:

So, to be honest, marketing has been a real priority for this area or this industry, because you need to really get to that audience to bring the numbers in.

So marketing….

Fiona:

Well, it’s a very competitive industry, isn’t it?

Malavika::

Of course, it’s actually quite saturated as well, because there are a lot of competitive, even foreign or Australian ones, so you have to really be on top of what’s happening in the market and be very aggressive.

And it also comes down to what kind of brand you have… Yeah, so it is really competitive, I agree, but in our team, I think we have at least about 15 people working just in marketing, so that shows how important it is.

Fiona:

Absolutely. I know a lot of teams and companies have been cutting back on marketing since this crisis started, but I keep seeing the messaging over and over again saying, this is actually the best time to have your marketing team on the forefront, and to have your comms going out and to be prepared to ride the wave, when we get through this crisis.

Malavika:

Exactly, so it’s not just a comms team. Marketing is across the board, so we have to be able to understand what’s happening in the market right now, the data we are getting out of this, you have to understand what is happening and what can we do for the future that and what kind of channels we have to talk through.

So, is it digital against some of the traditional channels?

So it all requires different kinds of marketing and we need people based on that… the best people based on that, so yeah, we need that team together, and to work together.

Also what I’ve been realising is that a situation like this actually really emphases what it’s about synergies across things. It’s not about sales versus marketing anymore, you have to work together more than ever, to really make sure that your company, as well as your customer base is safe and get through this.

So it’s sales, commercial and client services plus marketing. It’s a huge team. They all come under the same umbrella.

Fiona:

Yeah, it’s funny that you’re talking about sales and marketing working together. Because I had a conversation the other day on my podcast with a sales leader whose sole purpose in life is to get sales and marketing to work together, and it will be strange if, one of the good things to come out of this crisis is more alignment in sales and marketing.

They stop the whole… it’s us and them or it’s you know they’re supposed to do leads and they’re opposed to convert leads. No, let’s actually change our focus, let’s look at the customer, what the customer needs, let’s see how both sales and marketing together can support that customer.

Malavika:

Exactly, it’s all about their customer journey. So you just use the writing based on that, whatever the customer needs. Reemphasising the basic principles all over again. Customer is king, you just need to give them the best service as you can, whichever team you are in.

Yeah, it’s just been a reemphasising the same things all over again.

Fiona:

Yeah, just to back up a little bit, in your Marketing Executive role, what are you delivering in the business at the moment?

Malavika:

So I’m more of a Generalist, so I kind of dabble in…

Fiona:

Hey, I love being a generalist, really… celebrate being a Generalist. It is good to be across things.

Malavika:

Exactly and I think my mind works best in that way. Well, I need to be across everything, get a holistic view of what’s happening.

I can’t really stay in one channel, and be just doing a digital or print, it gets redundant or you won’t have skills on the other stuff, you won’t understand what’s happening in the business. So it’s always at least, my personal opinion is, being a Generalist always helps being in that business and to understand it.

So yeah, with me, I dabble a little bit in CRM side, a little bit on the automation side. I do a lot of analytics for my team based on what campaigns we run out.

And I do work closely with agencies and our digital team, based on what kind of campaigns we have in the market. So, it’s pretty much everything.

Fiona:

Wow, and no two days are the same.

Malavika:

No, never, I think, no two hours are the same. You have multiple projects going out anyway, and in different points so you have to get in and out of it just like that. Yeah…

Fiona:

Yeah, so with being across so many different things from CRM to automation to data, how do you stay on top of your learning in these areas?

Malavika:

I think what I’ve been finding over the last few months has been, I’ve been trying to understand the automation and lifecycle management side a lot, but what I find is we have very limited resources in the market, or at least open-source resources to understand or learn about it.

So you know that Salesforce or Marketo are some of the biggest players in the industry, but you can’t really access it, unless you have a license for it or there’s no certification nothing like that to lean on.

So I think you have to lean on your networks, and learn as much as you can from them, also from your agencies, etcetera, so that you can get as much as you can and absorb.

And also working really closely with people who have experience from your own team. You might have a few people who came from a different background or different industries, so what they are doing in different companies, what kind of systems?

Basically, it’s just being curious to understand and absorb based on what kind of resource and channel that you’re getting. So that’s been really helpful to me.

Fiona:

Great, no I think being across and not just choosing one source, but being across all different sources and just collating information from all different sources. Are there any blogs that you’re reading or any newsletters you’re subscribed to?

Malavika:

To be honest, my iCloud email or whatever, always have about 2,000 emails, which to… Yeah, I’ve just got one ID just for subscriptions so I subscribe to anything I can find… So I’m subscribed with Marketo, I subscribed with Adobe, I’ve got IBM Watson which is Silverpop (now acoustic) with a slightly older EDM machine or whatever…

I dabble in Mailchimp, so it’s pretty much… try and get as much as you can, because marketing software, that environment is so cluttered at the moment… And yeah, that if you master at least one of them, you can probably work on most of it, at least you can work out most of it, so yeah…

Fiona:

Yes.

Malavika:

Try and learn as much as you can, stay curious, that’s all we can do.

Fiona:

No, absolutely, yeah. There’s so many marketing softwares out there and a lot of them fundamentally do the same thing. So I think once you are on top of one, you can kind of easily learn the others at least that’s how I found it.

Malavika:

Exactly.

Fiona:

Just to come back around on being in fintech in being in financial services, seeing the latest technology..  This is really one of the boom areas at the moment. I mean, how are you finding this industry compared to other industries, you’ve worked in?

Malavika:

So the past couple of months it’s been good and bad… So if you have been following the market, you could see that it has been swinging crazy, you could see ASX losing 200 points an hour and then ricocheting back up like 500 points. It has never happened in the history.

So, even analysts are finding it really difficult to gauge what exactly is happening.

And to be honest, what would happen in the next couple of months or so? So what we find from our clients is that a lot of people have come back to trading and they have been trying to understand and gauge it as much as well as they can.

If you look at major players, like Qantas, and the banks, they have all gone down in share value or whatever you wanna call it.

Fiona:

Yes, I’ve noticed the financial advice on the news seems to be changing from day-to-day and even the financial experts those who’ve been studying the markets for years they were talking about dead cat bounces and all this kind of weird stuff about whether the market was… whether it was a good time to buy or…

And basically, you and I are not investment experts but we definitely say that focusing on the long term is still the best thing to do, even though there’s a lot of short-term excitement going on.

Malavika:

Exactly, so nobody knows. It’s always… markets are really fascinating that way because you never know you are in a downturn, or you are really on a bull run until it ends.

So we have been in a bull run for about six or seven years until it ended because of Coronavirus. So now we are in a downswing, but nobody knows when this will end, so it’s never good to push clients to trade or not, but we support them the best way they can.

To be honest, it’s they’re right to buy, invest do what they want, but we are the support system.

If they want to open an account, or if they want to trade, we are there for them so we just try to alleviate whatever negatives or whatever tension that they have based on what they wanna do. So we give them research, we give them education so that they can be as prepared as they can. So that’s what we’re here for, right?

Fiona:

Of course, it creates a great content opportunity. I’m guessing fintech seems to be moving a lot faster than on other industries. I know you’ve been in a not-for-profit before, is the pace in fintech… despite this crisis, if you even look back before this crisis does it move at a different pace? Is there more innovation there?

Malavika

Of course. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but Afterpay has been across the board, one of the most popular brands that you have seen over the last couple of years.

But two to three years before this has been non-existent. Who would think about Afterpay and say, “Oh that’s a great idea”. It would sound really absurd to a user, but now that’s one of most used platforms across the board, even around the world, maybe.

So that’s the pace at which things change and perspectives change, it changes in fintech, so you have to be on top of it, and you have to really understand that market and keep up with it. So, yeah.

Fiona:

Of course, and there’s a lot of digital banks and stuff coming out now too, basically saying “You don’t need to have a branch, you can just do your banking by your phone with an app, and this that and the other”.

The technology is… Yeah, is shaking things up.

Malavika:

Exactly, I think it’s always been on the agenda for banks to get into that digital space, but to be honest, the current situation actually sped that process by 100 fold, to be honest, because now there are no retail banks or retail branches functioning.

So you pretty much have to bring everything online so that you can still support clients, because there’s a lot of mortgages. A mortgage issue at the moment all of the support systems that companies have been giving, so still people need to be… need access to their bank accounts and everything.

And now it’s like a pressure test proving that, okay, you can actually do that from your home and the bank have, I think, really on top of it and trying to bring that online, as much as they can.

Fiona:

Yeah, so I think they haven’t had much of a choice. I think it’s gonna be interesting to see actually, as we’re looking into the future, and as we’re looking into the economy returning, you know, what new innovations and what new tech is going to come out of this?

Malavika:

Exactly, I think, at least marketing-wise, we have been seeing a few clear trends. We always knew that print and out-of-home media a few of them would be redundant in a few years, but this is kind of accelerating towards that trend.

We see more people online which is boosting the digital programmatic, and such, or all of that, because I think most of our leads and most of our customers seem to be finding as online. So obviously companies would be looking at their brand presence, in an online space or a digital space more, at least after this.

We don’t know how sustainable this trend is, but this is definitely what we’re seeing right now and whoever has been giving more attention to that has been really riding the wave with this one.

So yeah, I definitely it…, trends like that.

Fiona:

Yeah, so based on those trends, what skills, what top skills, do you think marketers need to have moving into the future?

Malavika:

To be honest, if you are a Generalist, you need to understand, really everything, at least the basics of it, so that you can still roll up your sleeves and get in to it.

Fiona:

So the skill is pretty much… everything?

Malavika:

Yep, across the board. You need to take up everything. So, I usually make sure that I read a few SEO ones like SEO specialist blogs, so that at least subscribe to it. You don’t have to make the effort to go into a blog and find time to read it, but subscribe to newsletters, so that it comes to you, you can read the top line on what’s happening in that industry.

I subscribe to ad news so that what’s happening in programmatic or a digital bites and video programmatic, which is quite big at the moment, especially in TV, and even YouTube.

So video has been becoming something really big. And people have been engaging to that, so you won’t know, and unless you read about it. The other one is… the main one is…

Fiona:

Yeah, so sorry. Keep going.

Malavika:

So, the main one is analytics. You need to understand what basic analytics is and you don’t need fancy tools like Tableau or SaaS platforms, you just need to be really good at Excel. And that’s the strongest tool you could be… you could have under your sleeve.

So, yeah, a few things like that. And maybe just a basic understanding of Google Analytics and Google suite, because that’s gonna be used in every, every industry. So, yeah, a few basic stuff like that, would really help you to be a true Generalist and even if you want to specialise in an area of interest, that would help you to jump back in and understand it furthermore…

Fiona:

Yes, I think when it comes to being a Generalist, I think it’s a matter of business by business case-by-case basis, because from one business to another, or one industry to another, different channels and different mediums are going to be needed.

So I think as a Generalist, you kind of keep a broad knowledge across like you said, SEO, analytics strategy, content, social media, even marketing software, you kind of keep a broad knowledge, but then depending on the business and industry you’re in, and where the customers are, and where the direction that sales, the sales team can help, that’s where you learn to really double down.

Malavika:

Exactly. If you have a really basic knowledge across the board, you can always pivot based on what’s required from the team. And often, I think this is very unique to marketers… our skill is often transferable from one industry to the other.

So you can take your knowledge from something and change it completely based on your next job and you can jump from non-profit to education to fintech or one at, but still you’re still relevant… your skills are still relevant. So polishing is really easy to be honest.

Fiona:

No, I also like trying different industries because I think when you have experience across different industries you can learn things that are working in one industry and then apply them in another.

Malavika:

Yeah.

Fiona:

So that’s what I found. So many people just stick to the one industry, the one industry and I think… No, it’s good to have that experience, it’s good to try different industries, because not just the skills are transferable, but some of the ideas, some of the campaigns and some of the things you can do for customers are also transferable.

Malavika:

I actually agree to that point, but what I’ve been finding is that, once you… You have some sort of an experience or build an experience in a particular industry, it’s really hard to change lines because the other industry is not as open-minded. Liked because…

Fiona:

Oh my goodness, yes.

Malavika:

I had friends who had really great experience, like, she has been manager and she’s been a head of a department before. But when trying to change industries from fintech to maybe telcom or something else like tech, they would want industry experience rather than a marketing experience, which is really hard.

It even narrows down to a few people who would be just jumping from competitor to competitor, and that’s it.

So that’s something of a challenge even now. I can’t believe that we still have the challenge in 2020 despite everything that we’ve survived, but that is still the case.

But, I wish at least in the coming years, that will change and you can actually make use of great talent rather than just experience, because it’s all transferable. Like I said.

Fiona:

No, I agree. It’s gonna be interesting, like what you said, that what is happening in this crisis… what’s gonna change? What’s gonna be different? Is fintech going to move forward? Are other industries gonna pull back and pivot and try different things?

I guess being just this flexible and agile marketer and understanding when and how to pivot and when and how to try new things, and learn that something isn’t working, and read the data… process the data, and make sense of the data.

I guess this is what the future is holding for marketing professionals.

Malavika:

Exactly. I think this has been a good, good test for brands. Only the strong will survive, to be honest.

Whoever using their brand, leading on the data, really leading on the basics of marketing and sales, would actually come out on the other side. And the most important thing, thinking about your customer, being human, looking at what you can support and if you have a really great product, you would still find a market, once this is all over.

Or at least that’s what you’re hoping for. So yeah, I think that that’s where the future is heading and hopefully that it’s where we are heading.

Fiona:

Yes, I guess there is no escape. We will find out. Wow, this has been such a great chat. You’ve given so much insight into tech, and fintech, and what it’s like to be a Marketing Executive during this pandemic.

So just wanna thank you so much for coming on the podcast, today, your insights are gonna help so many.

Malavika:

Thank you so much again. I’m really, really happy to be a part of this, and it’s really great that a new marketer they can refer to something like this to start out, and really understand what to look for in the industry.

So thank you again for having me.

Fiona:

Great. No, if someone does wanna ask you any questions or get in touch with you, what’s the best way to do that? Should they just reach out to on LinkedIn?

Malavika:

Yeah, exactly, go for it. And that’s where all the networks are now.

Fiona:

They certainly are… I’ll make sure that I’ll put a link to your LinkedIn on the podcast page so thank you again, I’m glad we finally got this podcast, and I look forward to talking to you again.

Malavika:

Yeah, see you soon.

Fiona:

Thanks Mal, bye.

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