“I got into strategic planning quite by accident, a happy accident I must stress!” claimed Sajith Weerasinghe, the Chief Strategy Officer of DentsuGrant. “Prior to that, I was the Head, Marketing Department of Yellow Pages, overlooking Marketing Communications, Product Development, CRM and Logistics.
He is a seasoned Brand Strategy Consultant with expertise in Banking & Finance, Confectionery and Biscuits, Food Services, Telecom, Consumer Electronics and Durables, Media & Entertainment, Construction and Home Improvement products, Real Estate, Beauty Care products and Government and NGO projects.
Describing his hilarious first assignment as a Strategist, Sajith stated, “It was for a multinational company. They had launched a calcium fortified malt powder aimed at young children. On my first day at Grants, I wrote a report highlighting why this product will never work unless drastic changes are made and that in its current form, it should be immediately withdrawn from the market without wasting marketing money! When I shared my report the following day, everyone at the agency laughed! My report never reached the client but one year later the client did withdraw the product from the market.”
At DentsuGrant, Sajith is responsible for brand strategy and brand building for its clients, growth hacking, knowing the client’s customers’, behaviour change interventions/communications, new business initiatives, grooming a new breed of Strategists and network-wide strategy initiatives.
Among all, Sajith’s main role as the Chief Strategy Officer is strategising for outcomes. “As an advertising agency, we had two key domains of expertise; knowing people and the consumption culture and, by infusing creativity, translating this customer knowledge and insight into developing strong, cohesive and well differentiated brand and communications strategies aimed at building brands. However, this has changed significantly. Companies have become more focussed on transparency and achieving business results, not simply going through a set of organization-wide pre-programmed activities. Every action is critically evaluated, recognising its contribution to customer value addition and then in turn translating it into the bottom-line. This has resulted in removing silos, eliminating friction and fragmentation between both the internal and external stakeholders to create true customer centricity. As a result of this change, we provide strategic input into a lot of new areas besides communications.
“So, today, my main role revolves around strategising for business outcomes rather than just creating communications for our clients. Looking back at the last few projects, I have been involved right from conceptualising, assessing market potential, business modelling, product testing, channels and brand strategy to communications.”
Explaining a challenging moment Sajith had to face as the Chief Strategy Officer, he stated that it was during the lockdown in March, 2020, when companies switched gears into survival mode.
“Most of our clients cut their spending on communications related activity because even if there was demand for their products and services, there was no way to fulfil it. We had to move fast, find new ways of thinking on behalf of our clients. Together with my team, we mapped out the pain points of staying at home 24/7 as this might actually influence certain buying behavior. For example, children over a certain age were subjected to continuous parental supervision and this was painful for them. So, we realised the need for regular comfort products for them and even for the brand loyalists. If we could build e-com infrastructure for our client, CBL Foods, we realised we could really help some of these children as well as the adults. Usually, building e-com infrastructure takes quite a lot of time and commitment. Considering that companies were in survival mode, we had to think low-tech, easily deployable solutions. We managed to roll out our first site within three days. In a limited geographic area, the site generated a record number of orders over the first weekend. The customer experience on the site was remarkable. A person could buy multiple products and checkout in a minute. Then we automated the backend operations, even added card payments when we realised people were running out of physical cash. We were truly agile and practiced rapid development. We weren’t trying to get the perfect system out, but build something instead, that was workable, adding on features as we went along. Based on our initial success, we rolled out three more e-com projects over the next couple of weeks.”
Strategic planning in brand building is very important for organisations to build its brand and distinguish the product/service from its competitors in order to make it more compelling to the customers.
Speaking further, the Chief Strategy Officer mentioned that having a strong brand makes a business sustainable in the long run. Building a brand requires a lot of thought and insight into people and culture and advising our clients accordingly about changes in peoples’ lifestyles, values, challenges and priorities and how they affect client brands and business outcomes.. “A brand has to be simple enough for consumers to use it as a shortcut in their decision making. Yet it’s made up of a complex system of conscious and unconscious qualities. It’s like an iceberg. The tip of it may be visible and therefore describable while the larger part of it is buried under water. Unless you dig deep, examine and decode these unconscious aspects, you will not have the full picture of your brand. Think about it! A brand has to perform as a product or service, be competitive in its category, culturally relevant, socially desirable and aesthetically pleasing to the senses, have the right digital infrastructure and channels and so on. The entire brand ecosystem is full of these deliberate decisions and the companies have to make their choices and that’s the role of strategic brand planning.
Revealing Sajith’s future plans to further strengthen strategic planning at DentsuGrant, he stated, “Extending the portfolio of strategic services to help more clients is how we strengthen our Strategic Planning. For example, in 2020 we started conducting customer experience research considering that companies actually need help in this area. Often, we use a combination of research methodologies, such as offline and online, coupling experimental methods and so on with that. Our latest addition is the use of Neuromarketing tools and techniques in research.
“We also offer the services of Merkle, a Dentsu company that specialises in digital transformation. Companies have a lot of data fragmented in different silos and this doesn’t help them to serve and prospect customers better. That’s not good for developing your brand. With Merkle, we build CRM and other critical digital infrastructure for companies to reduce customer acquisition and retention costs, improving the customer experience significantly.
Training and development of the planning team is one of the critical factors. Fortunately for me, my team is really interested in continuous learning. There’s a daily time allocation by me for learning. The first thing we do on most days is discuss these learnings as a team, to enrich one another. We also practice something called “reflective learning, something psychologists do daily. Anyone can do it for insight into yourself and your thinking and behaviour. We have adapted reflective learning to improve the team’s soft skills. After every client interaction, as a team, we discuss what we did/didn’t do really well and the obstacles and opportunities. It’s important to know why we did what we did and how we can improve.”