Balaji Vaidyanathan, Director & Head of Marketing (CEEMEA), Franklin Templeton, UAE

Balaji Vaidyanathan is an award-winning and accomplished global marketing leader with over 20 years of experience driving ground-breaking integrated marketing campaigns and strategic initiatives, leading from the front to build and inspire global cross-functional teams across complex organizations to enhance brand positioning, value, and revenues. In his current role since February 2019, Balaji is responsible for building the marketing value proposition and growing the brand’s strategic and digital footprint for the Central & Easter Europe, Middle East, and Africa region, based out of Dubai.


Digital transformation of businesses has been the most popular theme in recent years. Consequently, even the boundaries of marketing are getting pushed back, and MarTech makeover is proving to be a game-changing decision for many organizations.

I believe we are at a very nascent stage of MarTech adoption and have miles to cover before fully realizing the true power of tech-assisted marketing. Nonetheless, the initial results are pleasantly encouraging.

For example, the travel industry serves as a quintessential example of how MarTech has brought umpteen possibilities well within reach of marketers. This industry, which has been witnessing MarTech adoption at a fast clip, was one of the most negatively affected industries during the pandemic due to travel restrictions imposed by various countries. For airline companies, this meant not just the loss of business but a substantial rise in unpredictability that threatened to throw their operations and even existence in complete disarray.

Under such challenging conditions, Etihad Airways, with its usual penchant for leading from the front, deployed MarTech to its optimum. It deployed BigQuery (a fully managed, serverless data warehouse developed by Google that enables scalable analysis over petabytes of data) to automate the collection, analysis, and integration of data from various sources and opted for Programmatic Ads to attain a high level of personalization. As a result, MarTech enabled Etihad to show 45,000 variations of the most relevant creatives to 2,000 audience segments.

With efficiencies chipping in, its creative production costs went down 90%, and display ROI increased by 41%. However, the real kicker came when Etihad witnessed a massive 200% jump in bookings as the revenge travel gathered momentum in the summer of 2021.

MarTech is transforming everything big and discrete to everything interconnected and consumer centric. Companies are building first-party strategies aspiring to unlock the treasure trove of consumer data to launch more personalized products and drive innovation.

Some marketers feel pleasantly empowered for having path-breaking technologies at their service, while a few others find this trend unsettlingly intrusive.

Is MarTech threatening to dismantle the foundation of marketing, i.e., creativity, is the moot question?  

Creativity is an indispensable part of marketing something almost 90% of organizations in the US and UK think, a Shaped by Survey of 200 senior marketing professionals reveals. Yet nearly 50% of organizations rely on MarTech-dominant marketing.

What could be the reason?

Talking creativity is painless. But translating a creative idea into reality is easier said than done. The tech effort in marketing is tractable and clearly measurable; against that, the measurability of creative work is more obscure.

No wonder top bosses often discuss the most suitable MarTech strategy for future growth.

It’s perhaps the time to recall a famous quote by Peter Drucker—culture eats strategy for breakfast.

And this brings me to the most interesting part of this conversation.

Creativity is a seed of marketing, and MarTech is soil and water. If you aspire to grow your brand, you first need to sow a seed; else, soil and water will produce nothing but mud.

You see, creativity is a culture, and it often runs top-down. Tech can assist marketing in the execution of creative ideas at a scale that adds substantially to the tangible end results.

Consider P&G’s case.

The FMCG giant faced a peculiar problem due to its scale of operations and multiple partnerships with agencies for creative and technical work. As a result, it needed more agility and diminishing marketing ROI due to inconsistent UX and cost overlaps.

Instead of finding quick fixes, P&G envisaged a strategic roadmap to build a high-performance multi-channel digital presence. So, the company orchestrated its entire digital ecosystem by getting its multiple marketing teams, creative agencies, and third-party vendors on the same page and made them work as one team. It reported a 120% rise in conversions. In addition, speed and performance improvements have been even more pronounced—400% and 200% respectively.

P&G’s Google Lighthouse score of 97 on 100 has been a testimony to the success of its consumer engagement initiative. In reimagining the future, P&G didn’t brush off its biggest strength—creativity.

For instance, riding on the popularity of Pampers, Pampers Poonami got super creative to address the number one worry of parents on a family day out. This sudden and massive infant bowel movement can infiltrate any other nappy.

The limited point to draw home is: in the absence of creative fiber, a brand may suffer infrequent bowel movements even after popping a pill of MarTech.

Here is another great organization to draw inspiration from, ‘LEGO.’ Creativity is at the core of everything that LEGO does. However, the company has slowly but surely built a strong tech backend to support its creative thinking culture, creating outstanding case studies across products, community building, market outreach, etc.

For creativity and tech to go hand-in-hand, an organization must clearly identify tech-dominated functions and those that need where creativity needs to lead.

Most of you would concur with me on the prominence of customer and employee advocacy. Satisfied customers and well-informed employees of an organization are its real brand influencers. Therefore, it’s pivotal to have just one brand story (with some truth) instead of many with varying degrees of truth and tales.

Irrespective of your tech stack’s sophistication, a lack of emotions might make your marketing effort barren. Thus, intelligent marketers target emotions such as confidence, security, trust, empathy, affection, aspiration, optimism, curiosity, interest, and excitement, amongst others.

Human creativity can break the ice that rationality can’t. Emotional connection blended with facts and figures is the best marketing approach.

For example, MarTech makes it possible to gather creative insights, such as whether smiling faces lead to higher engagement or does impactful music offer more traction? This in turn helps the creative team intelligently target emotions and improve brand communications.

In a nutshell

A choice between creativity and MarTech is Hobson’s choice. In fact, an intelligent MarTech makeover unlocks the true potential of freewheeling creativity. Here is more power to all of us MarTechies as we seek to balance the best of both creativity and technology to help our businesses reach their objectives.

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