Banking Frontiers|October 2020
Banking Frontiers asked 10 BFSI CMOs about their definition of marketing genius. And their views are featured here, dividing them into four parts - (i) definition, (ii) importance of awards & media coverage, (iii) educational background required to be a good marketer, (iv) common marketing errors:
Ravi Lalwani

Obviously, the key skills of a marketing genius are understanding ‘how and why’ people think and act the way they do. It is difficult to create compelling content marketing, for example, if you do not know why it would be compelling to your audience in the first place. Consumer behavior is difficult to understand, especially considering that customers have different interests and opinions. Looking into the psychology behind consumer behaviour may offer useful responses on questions like ‘Which marketing tactics drive sales?’ and ‘What works on social media?’

Karthi Marshan, President & Chief Marketing Officer, Kotak Mahindra Group, gives the physiological definition of a marketing genius: “The word that interests me is genius, not marketing. It is very telling that the etymology of the word genius can be traced back to the Sanskrit word for mother, birth giver, and compassion. Because, at their best, that is what marketing practitioners do, viz listen to the consumer and engage with compassion.”

Karthi Marshan feels that the real marketing genius is about being a sponge that absorbs everything, from culture, the arts, human psychology, and then creating products and services that not only feed the body but also sustain the soul of the society.

Humanizing marketing is the key to business success. To do this, brands need to build an emotional connection and relationship with their customers and eventually earn their trust. Companies must build the customer relationship rather than just talk about customer centricity. According to Anjali Malhotra, Chief Customer, Marketing, Digital, and IT Officer at Aviva Life Insurance the term genius is often resonated with someone who solves complicated problems. “On the contrary,” she says, “in marketing parlance, genius is someone who can simplify brand communication. The most effective brands are those that communicate in simple language, use crisp communication, sound humane, relatable, empathetic and cracking the customer insights and tapping it.”

Anjali Malhotra believes that it is about sharing and respecting ethics and values, listening to what customers wants and then delivering solutions, engagements, and communications that can add value to customers lives. This authenticity makes it even more powerful because it not only helps you build relevant products and propositions but also ensures that customers stay satisfied and delighted, says she, adding: “That is why a marketing genius could be creating tomorrow’s revenue and customer stickiness while delivering today’s programs.”


Some BFSI CMOs define the term ‘marketing genius’ as about creating sustainable value for all stakeholders - customers, distributors, employees, the public, shareholders, etc. Chandramohan Mehra, Chief Marketing Officer, Bajaj Allianz General Insurance, believes that it eventually, it boils down to a deep understanding of customers and translating customer insights into value-generating actions that are both creative and strategic. Also, there has to be an appetite to continuously learn, adapt and reskill in continuously evolving business dynamics led by technology and changing consumer habits, he adds.

Rakesh Wadhwa, Chief Customer and Marketing Officer, Future Generali India Life Insurance, recounts that genius refers to exceptional natural ability or skill in a particular area. “So, a person who has exceptional ability and skill in the field of marketing should be a marketing genius. However, to me, a marketeer represents customers in the organization. Marketers who enable the organization to deliver value beyond customer expectations, repeatedly and consistently should qualify to be called a genius.”


The word ‘genius’ is described as 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. Marketing is a process where marketers need to identify the problem and work at what possible solutions could be, list out hypothesis, scenarios, test them with its customers, use consumer insights, narrow down their choices.

Anand Bhatia, CMO, Fino Payments Bank, emphasizes that’s a marketer needs to align with other stakeholders (who often may not agree) and assign chances of success. They need to think about the costs, ROI, etc, take the flak when it fails and share the credit when it succeeds, figure out what worked and what did not and repeat the process for the next campaign, he says. “A marketer who can stay with this discipline will see results/ impact compounding overtime he who realizes this and stays the arduous journey is a real genius,” says he.

Sapna Desai , Head, Marketing & Communication at ManipalCigna Health Insurance, says there is no rulebook, which a marketer can follow. “There is the old saying that ‘You can’t learn to ride a bicycle at a seminar’. It does not matter what aspect of life we are talking about, there is a huge, enormous difference between learning from theories and delving into the empirical knowledge,” she says.

She continues: “I believe, the real bottomline truth about all talented marketers is that they know how to challenge their skills, develop ideas and create a thinking process that others learn for decades to emulate.”

Abhinav Iyer, GM – Marketing & Strategy, The Muthoot Group, feels that marketing genius is a beautiful blend between two abilities – one, the ability to associate with one’s consumers and two, the ability to swiftly identify opportunities and address them. A marketer’s aptitude to think and feel like their consumers, he believes, are overly critical to be able to ascertain or predict their buying behaviour and offer meaningful solutions. “Besides having a host of data points at your disposal to do this, marketers must also have an innate ability to verily relate to their consumers,” he adds.

Abhinav Iyer also stresses that every product has a market and a smart marketer must have the ability to marry their product values and distinctions with those aspired by their audiences and consumers. “Eventually, a marketing genius emerges when a marketer can successfully wed businesses with markets,” he points out.


A true marketing genius is one who can successfully observe, innovate and execute the strategies based on the transitions, which this ever-changing world can bring to business anytime. It is significant for marketers to evolve with time, learn from crises, manage unforeseen circumstances and remain obsessed with figuring creative ways to add value to those already existing. A true genius knows that - one who creates the most value in the eyes of the customer, finally wins the race.

Part 2

Top CMO - Award or Media coverage?

CMOs winning an award for best CMO, figuring among the top 10 CMOs from reputed organizations or publications, or getting interviewed by a reputed publication or media channels… which one counts to be an excellent CMO?

Winning awards and being featured incredible journals are commendable for CMOs. Winning awards is celebrating achievements and every good work needs to be acknowledged, appreciated and celebrated. It motivates marketers to strive harder and dive deeper.


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October 2020