MarTech Interview With Varun Sharma, Vice President, APAC & Japan at Emplifi

Varun Sharma, Vice President, for APAC & Japan at Emplifi talks about the importance of having a strong social media presence and what brands should do better to drive societal impact with these channels:

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Welcome to this MarTech Series chat, Varun, tell us about yourself and your role at Emplifi…

I lead the Emplifi business for Asia Pacific & Japan. Based in Singapore, I’m responsible for teams across Sales, Customer Success, and Business Development & Solution Consulting functions, with a core focus on helping businesses across JAPAC provide outstanding experiences to their customers online, across marketing, commerce, and care touch points.

I have over 18 years’ experience in customer experience (CX), digital and hi-tech industries across APAC and EMEA. My previous experience includes roles at Oracle, Adobe and high-growth start-ups or scale-up organisations.

Outside of work, I enjoy family time with my wife and daughter, and the company of friends over a good barbecue. I’m passionate about fitness (especially tennis!) and travel, and love watching cricket and Formula One.

When it comes to global social media trends (for B2B): what are some top thoughts/ observations that come to mind?

We just issued our Q2 2022 social trends report, and on a global level, these were the top takeaways:

Median monthly social media ad spend was $4,261 in Q2 2022, a rebound after the holiday season and a 19% increase YoY ($3,568 in Q2 2021).

Click-Through-Rates for paid social media ads continues its steady decrease seen in previous quarters. Cost-per-click on the other hand, has only seen minor fluctuations throughout the past year.

Median Facebook post interactions (likes, comments, shares) per 1K impressions was 5.2, representing a 15% drop YoY. On the other hand, median Instagram post interactions remained relatively stable over the past year.

While brands’ average response rate to user questions on Facebook has trended downward over the past year, their median response time has improved.

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On another note, how are these channels (social media) also driving non-marketing goals: to benefit local netizens and younger generations in more ways: we’d love some thoughts from Emplifi’s recent Singapore Government Social Media H1 2022” report on this.

While social media is a great platform for brands to market to millennials and Gen Z, it also serves as an effective medium to keep them informed on important topics and encourage their participation in campaigns. From our report, we found that the public sector used social media to share vital information from the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccination programs, travel measures to floods and social initiatives – many of these topics gaining high audience engagement.

For instance, one campaign that became a hit among netizens was Ministry of Defence’s (MINDEF) NS55 campaign. The campaign video series called Every Singapore Man which was themed “Generation of Strength” to highlight generations of dedication and contributions from those in National Service (NS). MINDEF’s NS55 campaign was among the top five campaigns in H1 2022, with 15,380 interactions on YouTube and 17,674 interactions on Instagram (80.42% of total interactions for the campaign).

Social media allows the public sector to understand citizen sentiment along with an opportunity to address users directly. Content that was not positively received included the action of a group to disrupt pediatric vaccination centres, a post on booster shots and a post related to recovery at home for COVID-19 patients.

Using social sentiment analysis tools, the public sector can receive quick alerts on any issues or negative comments and prepare a proper response or strategy in a timely manner.

How in your view can brands more cohesively use social channels to drive not just business impact but more societal impact and change as well?

Social media is very much here to stay, and it’s great to see government agencies pushing boundaries. Public sector organizations compete with private sector brands and vice versa, and it’s important to keep up with the shift in information consumption and meet your audience where they want to be. As mentioned earlier, social media is an invaluable tool to build and establish trust, share important information quickly answer questions and engage at a more personal level.

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Four things you’d tell everyone to do in B2B social media marketing

The world is increasingly social first and all brands are competing for attention and awareness. Focus on your audience, using data and metrics to tailor content.

A marketing mix that includes various social media platforms remains essential for brands to connect with their audience (and discover new ones, too). For example, TikTok continues to surge as the world’s hottest app – our data shows that brands continue to post more often on Instagram than on TikTok, despite the latter seeing relatively higher engagement rates.

Social media might not be the place for all messaging so think about what is posted, is it relevant, valuable and appropriate and how will it be perceived.

Then lastly, always engage with your followers in an authentic, relatable manner.

A few thoughts / predictions on the future of martech and how you feel this space will shape up and evolve further over the years.

Here are some of my thoughts on some of the technologies that will drive the future of MarTech:

1. The rise of TikTok

TikTok has revolutionised short-form content and made humour a priority. Over the last five years, the number of monthly active users in Singapore has grown by more than eight times as of the second quarter of this year, in line with Malaysia and faster than Vietnam.

“TikTok made me buy it,” has become a common phrase as a result of countless influencers who have discussed their favourite products. Brands are increasingly looking at commerce shops on the platform. According to a study, TikTokers are 1.5 times more likely to purchase a product that they discovered on the platform compared to other platform users.

As TikTok’s popularity grows, marketers can get creative working with new voices and more importantly, reaching new audiences. Tik Tok is changing the course of marketing and commerce, and with new commerce features and releases, brands of all sizes can buy ads, track performance and scale revenue. The recipe to success lies in the mix between engaging branded content and impactful influencer relationships.

2. Intersection of social commerce and live commerce

Globally, social commerce is expected to grow three times faster than traditional commerce, reaching a massive $1.2 trillion by 2025, with 62% of this growth driven by millennials. As younger consumers gravitate towards shopping on social apps, many platforms have integrated live commerce into their strategy.

Combining live commerce with social commerce will mean shoppers won’t need to leave their favourite social media networks to view products, ask questions, add items to their cart, and make a purchase.

Chinese apps such as Taobao have led the way over the last few years. In 2021, Taobao generated over $400 billion in sales from live video shopping. However, apps like TikTok and Instagram are catching up quickly.

To achieve lasting success in social commerce, brands need to develop more customer-centric strategies and build the capabilities they currently lack. Above all, this means bolstering their ability to provide excellent care on social channels, using the right technology combined with the human touch.

3. Surge in AR and VR shopping

The augmented reality (AR) / virtual reality (VR) market is already making a splash, reaching $28 billion in 2021, and is expected to cross $450 billion by 2030. Retailers such as Sephora and Ray-Ban have adopted AR/VR into their retail strategy, with Sephora recently introducing a “Virtual Artist” feature that utilises AR to give consumers “virtual makeovers.”

AR in live commerce is arguably one step ahead of VR because it provides users with a physical, real-world environment where they can see both the real world and virtual objects. They increase consumer confidence because the consumer can visualize the product before making the purchase, reducing worry about gambling on a product only to have to return it later. Both AR and VR bridge the gap between brick-and-mortar stores and online shopping.

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Emplifi is a leading unified CX platform that brings marketing, commerce and care together to help businesses close the customer experience gap. More than 7,000 brands, including Delta Air Lines, Ford Motor Company and McDonalds, rely on Emplifi to provide their customers with outstanding experiences at every touchpoint.

Varun leads the Emplifi business for Asia Pacific & Japan. He’s responsible for driving growth and developing customer and partner relationships and is passionate about solving business challenges to help organisations deliver growth & increased customer satisfaction. Varun is focused on building highly collaborative teams and driving a customer-centric culture.

Varun has over 18 years’ experience in the CX, Digital & Hi-Tech industries across APAC & EMEA. Prior to Emplifi, he’s worked at Oracle, Adobe & high-growth start-up’s/scale-up organisations.

Varun holds a BSc degree in Computer Information Systems and a Masters in Business Management from Kingston University, London, United Kingdom. He has also completed executive management programs from University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School & University of Cambridge, Judge Business School.

Varun is based in Singapore where outside of work, he enjoys spending time with his family, is passionate about fitness & travel and loves watching sports like Cricket & Formula One.

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