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Digital, physical or phygital – experiential marketing will continue to transcend barriers of mediums: Alvin D’Souza

In an interview with Everything Experiential, Alvin shares insights about his journey as an entrepreneur, the current experiential marketing industry and more.

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Alvin D'Souza has more than 15 years of experience in designing some of the most influential brand experiences for leading brands in India. Before being an entrepreneur he used to be Head of Experiential at DDB Mudra Western Region.

121XP, co-founded by Alvin, offers holistic solutions across experiential activations and outreach – catering to more than 40 brands across diverse industries and geographies.

In an interview with Everything Experiential, Alvin shares insights about his journey as an entrepreneur, the current experiential marketing industry and more.

Excerpts:

How has 121XP’s journey been since its inception in 2016?

In my previous stint in DDB Mudramax, I managed the business for Mumbai and also headed operations across India. My team and I back then, not only won new businesses but also retained the existing set of clients. Over a period of time I had an opinion not only about the way the work should be, but also how the organization should look like. I never had a friction with the agency I worked for, but I realized that time is going to come when my point of view will be so strong that we will need to have a place where we can do things the way we want to do. That’s when I decided to launch and experiential outfit where we could imply our own thinking.

Looking back, I have to admit, jumping into the world of entrepreneurship was one of my best decisions ever! Aniket Sharma, who led Strategic planning in my team, too hopped on to the bandwagon.

Recounting the journey we embarked on, we already had 4 clients on board even before we announced the launch of 121XP. One thing we were clear about, was to not establish ourselves as a rural/urban activation or event agency. We wanted 121XP to be one-stop that delivers a client’s business and marketing solutions. Over the last 3 years, we have worked with over 40 brands across categories and have grown to over 60 members across the country.

The focus in the first two years was to give the best service to the clients, and for this we had to do certain tradeoffs. We didn’t focus on awards nor did we submit entries for awards, instead we focused on client servicing and acquiring new businesses. However, getting business has not been an issue, as many client wins came because of the equity Aniket and I enjoy in the industry.

What are the key challenges in building an experiential marketing company in India?

Talent is a huge challenge because nowhere is there a repository of learnings that have been captured. Aniket and I both are driving this specific agenda of scouting, training and mentoring resources. We do this by adopting both conventional and unconventional means. For e.g.; unlike other agencies where their HR team visits campuses and recruit interns, Aniket and I personally visit campuses and recruit candidates. In 2018, we recruited 5 summer interns, of which, after careful evaluation, offered PPOs to 2 interns. One of them is an ace planner now and the other is servicing one of our largest clients. Similarly, we hired a computer engineer who had no background on marketing. His only claim to fame was ethical hacking. We hired him in the strategic planning team, hoping we could leverage on his technical expertise on digital tech. Surprisingly, he sucked at planning but turned out to be a brilliant client service resource.

We have also partnered a talent management team who evaluates resources across level, identifies areas of improvement and recommends training accordingly.

During our periodic evaluations, we learnt that Knowledge Sharing had come to a complete standstill. We were genuinely concerned as this not only hampered the ability for talent to learn and grow, it stood in the way of the organization’s success. It had the potential to dull our competitive edge!

We launched ‘XPert Opinion’ - a platform for the teams to engage with industry experts across categories and to give them the ability to make good use of the information shared be these experts, enabling them to disseminate it accurately and wisely. This platform also aims to add a robustness to your abilities, allowing to you both create and innovate.

What growth you foresee in coming days in the area of experiential marketing?

In India, earlier experiential marketing was considered to be a subset of the marketing pie. It was usually associated with below the line activities – executed in hinterlands or places which were considered to be out of reach for traditional media. In other words, experiential marketing was considered to be on the ground activations. In time, with the influx of digital and the general constriction of the traditional media – both in terms of reach and impact – customer engagement started gaining ground. As the competition started increasing and the customers too started to get more knowledgeable and demanding; the focus for the brands started shifting from “get to know me” to “experience me”. This is the age that we are in today – where experiential marketing is going mainstream – from once on-ground to anywhere you choose to be. Digital, physical or phygital – experiential marketing is continuing to transcend barriers of mediums that once defined it and is emerging as a measurable and reliable go-to-markets strategy in the present times.

Going forward, the digital integration will further take the experience to the next level. The concept will encompass various technologies including AR, VR, personalized access as well as IoT – all aimed at offering non-intrusive, rewarding and personalized experiential strategies to the right consumer sets across wider geographical footprints.

Do you see challenges in scaling up, considering the sheer number of competitors?

There has been a huge transformation in the ecosystem in the last five years. Marketers have begun to accept independent agencies. Marketers today want result-oriented work no matter how big or small the agency is.

Scaling up will never be an emotional decision; we will always be mindful of the need for financial prudence. That’s one of my biggest learnings during my stints in various advertising networks. Having said that, we have the intent and the willingness to be adaptive and reflective of the client needs. That’s been our mantra of success so far. The way I see it, if we continue to stick to these principles scaling up will not be a challenge.

Where do you want to see 121XP in coming years?

We have been through a great journey so far and have delivered some brilliant pieces of work for our clients. We wish to push the envelope further and take our achievements ahead to create value for our brand partners and consumers with newer ideas and dynamic innovations. We would not like to be the largest but the most envied agency India. Once we achieve this, we will then set our sights to being the most envied agency in the world.


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