For online consumers, the experience of shopping literally at their fingertips without any constraints on product, price and time, is a delight. But for retail brands, this requires solving problems at scale through groundwork and planning, based on data and trends.
Bhavana Jaiswal, our next pathbreaker, leads E-Commerce initiatives at Levi Strauss, India, ensuring customers not only have a great and seamless experience shopping on the website but also come back again to buy more.
Bhavana talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about discovering her love for web design and digital technologies, leading to a career in Digital Marketing at Ebay, Amazon and Nike !
For students, the future of shopping is online. The convergence of digital technologies such as AI, VR/AR and E-Commerce is going to be a game changer for retail. There is no better time to be in Digital Marketing !
Bhavana, tell us about your background?
I moved around a lot as a kid – I grew up in Nagpur, Vadodara, Bangalore and then finally Ahmedabad, where I studied from high school through post-graduation. I was always a very studious kid and loved books, jigsaw puzzles and other indoor activities. My mom had to resort to pushing me out of the house and locking the door for an hour everyday because I wouldn’t go out and play with other kids at all! For the first week, I stood just outside the door and cried for the entire hour everyday. Then I slowly started making friends and playing with them. I eventually ended up loving outdoor sports and picked up skating, karate, badminton and tennis at different points during my childhood. I still retained my love for indoor stuff, and when our first PC came along in Std. 7, I took to it like a fish to water. I spent hours doodling on Corel Draw, and then Adobe Photoshop. My mom recognized this and sent me to a 3-month HTML course during summer vacations after Std. X, where I first discovered my love for web design and all things digital.
What did you do for graduation/post graduation?
I did my B.E. in Electrical Engineering, and my MBA from MICA with specialization in Brand Management and Account Planning.
What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
My MBA internship guide has been one of the people who has influenced my decisions of how and where I have gone with my career.
My mom and maternal grandparents were doctors, but the idea of dissecting animals never appealed to me. My mom was quite clear that I need to have a professional degree, so I resorted to the only other option – engineering. While I took up electrical engineering and scored well too, I realized in the first couple of years that this isn’t something I could do for a living for the rest of my life.
I started exploring what I really wanted to be, and realized that I loved running the two websites I had at the time – a fan site for a band and another for my digital doodles. I enjoyed setting up websites for our department tech fests each year, so that’s when I understood I wanted to be connected to the internet in whatever I did. I also knew that I didn’t have my mom’s artistic skills, so design wasn’t an option. At the time, I learnt about MICA and its unique approach to marketing and communications. I loved how there was such a blend of creativity and business acumen in the approach to studies, and decided I wanted to do my masters from there. I was thrilled to get in at my first shot.
How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path
I got into MICA with a very clear idea of being in digital marketing. I got my internship at ZenithOptimedia, a media agency, but I didn’t really have a say in which department I would be interning. But miracles happen. Not knowing how agencies function, I reported at 9am sharp on my first day. The receptionist was the only one there at the time! A few mins later, my soon-to-be guardian angel came into work. The receptionist was more than happy to dump me on him. He came by for a casual chat and we just talked about how I love websites and Adobe Photoshop. Turns out, my reporting manager (from the Print Advertising department) had broken his hand and was on leave. Also turns out that the agency was to launch a new digital department a couple of weeks later. The department had 3 people who worked out of a single conference room, and they were severely short of resources. I was tasked to the team, and that’s how I met my first mentor, who I still reach out to from time to time. I spent my internship on the job working on real projects – I learnt how to make digital media plans, assess creatives, and even designed a few banners on the go. On the whole, I loved the experience.
During placements, I opted to step away from the big FMCG brands and even ad agencies who came for placements, because I wanted to be working on digital marketing & media from Day 1, and not do a regular Management Trainee stint in sales, advertising or brand marketing. I remember the placement cell members knocking at my door after the first 3 days of placement, concerned about why I wasn’t sitting for any interviews. MICA had a 100% placement record, and they were obviously concerned I was about to tarnish it! I finally took up a role with a KPO called eClerx Services which had an ecommerce department – they catered to travel, leisure and online retail clients in the US and Western Europe. They supplied competitive intelligence, data analytics and website support, which helped these organizations run their online businesses efficiently. I learnt a LOT during my stint here – how online businesses rely so much on data and analytics. They could track everything – how many people visited, how many purchased, most popular products, etc. real time. Decisions on how to display products, what discounts to offer, etc. were all taken on the basis of these numbers. They could show two different things to two sets of customers, see what worked better and then leverage that – all within 24-48 hours. It was a very different approach to what I learnt in MBA – using surveys and group discussions. I grew to love numbers, and how they were used to make decisions. More importantly, this job gave me the confidence to handle bulky excel sheets with thousands of rows of data without any fear.
In 2011, I moved to eBay as part of the acquisition marketing team, responsible for driving traffic to eBay.in, member registration and converting them to customers. I started with email marketing strategy to registered customers who had never made a transaction. Every week, we’d find trending, unique or rare items on the site and showcase them in the mailers while also experimenting with discount coupon plans to incentivize a purchase. I then started handling social media. This was 2011, so we had Facebook, Twitter and then Google+. I handled the content planning for each platform, drove fan acquisition campaigns and set up an online reputation management (ORM) initiative to handle customers who complained on social media. This was the first time I handled a media budget, and partnered with a marketing agency. I then took over other paid marketing initiatives – Google Search, Display Advertising and Affiliate marketing. While we worked with an agency to handle paid search, I worked very closely with the agency to define and monitor various metrics to drive customer acquisition through Google campaigns. I learnt what remarketing means and spent a lot of time in our AdWords account, understanding different strategies like CPM, CPC, dynamic ads, etc. I learnt how to plan media campaigns across different marketing channels, talk and negotiate with websites & publishers to get ad space. To cut a long story short my stint at eBay helped me build a strong foundation for a career in digital marketing.
When I moved to Amazon to lead their social media for India, Amazon.in was still a year away from its eventual launch. Along with preparing our launch strategy for Amazon.in social media, I also handled social media for Junglee.com, which was a price comparison & discovery website by Amazon. I also got to witness first hand how much work goes into launching something like Amazon in a new country – full-fledged teams working on every aspect of the website – page design, category management, supply chain, customer support, finance, and legal. When Amazon.in finally launched in June 2013, it was like a tornado landed. From day 1, we saw high number of transactions and our Facebook & Twitter accounts amassed a large number of fans & followers. People were having a lot of conversations on social media about the launch – there was excitement, first hand transaction experiences and of course, complaints. So, I worked with the Customer Support team to set up a social media support cell. We had to ensure we picked this team carefully, as unlike traditional support channels like phone or email, these conversations could be viewed by anyone. We picked people who were known to be able to handle agitated customers without losing their cool, could have engaging conversations without sounding repetitive, and communicate articulately with a good command over language and grammar. We also launched a blog which not only helped us communicate with customers on new launches and seasonal topics, but also helped immensely with SEO for the site. We also did Twitter Chats with authors, YouTube live sessions and other engagement initiatives. Then, as we launched more categories, we started advertising on Facebook to drive new member registrations and transactions on Amazon.in. We also built our social community – by the time I left, we had a community of over 10 million.
I also worked with technology & engineering teams to launch new features which involved social media in different ways, e.g,: using Facebook or Twitter to log on to Amazon, social recommendations, (Eg; If you liked Metallica on Facebook, we could recommend Metallica CDs or t-shirts to you) and Amazon Sweepstakes. This was also the first workplace where I regularly met with social media teams from around the world – we shared best practices and initiatives, which was a great way of learning new things. I made a lot of friends from different countries and till date, I am in touch with most of them.
When I moved to Nike in 2015, it was another first. I had already done digital marketing for ecommerce firms where the focus was on transactions and revenue, but at Nike, it was purely brand focused. Although I had specialized in Brand Management at MICA, I had not really done a brand role before. I led digital content creation, digital media and apps for Nike India. I planned digital brand campaigns, seasonal product-led campaigns, drove app downloads and worked extensively with influencers, athletes and even content sites like Cricinfo, ESPN and Vogue to drive conversations about Nike. I participated in agency briefings for campaigns, led photoshoots and managed video content creation. Then came Nike.com. Till then, Nike.com existed but more as a product showcase – one could not shop on the site. I worked with our global and regional teams for almost 6 moths to plan the ecommerce launch. My previous experience in ecommerce came handy – I was able to leverage this to define customer expectations in India, e.gs.: Cash on Delivery was a preferred payment mode, people expected free returns which were picked up from home. These are not standard practices outside India. I was also able to leverage my performance marketing experience to plan media campaigns to not just drive visibility, but also visits and transactions on Nike.com. The most epic experience at Nike though, was the launch of the Da Da Ding brand campaign. We didn’t go with a regular 30 second ad – we planned a 3-minute music video. I had to get really creative while planning the digital campaign around this – it was not just displaying web banners. We partnered with Shazam (music discovery app), Saavn and Gaana. We did not even have to spend too much on YouTube because the video got 3 million+ views within 24 hours and went viral worldwide. The ad was raved about by several big names in the media including– Time Magazine and The Huffington post and even Sheryl Sandberg who was COO at Facebook then, shared it on her Facebook.
How did you get your first break?
My first job taught me a lot, but it kept me away from what I loved most about digital marketing – the marketing piece. It only focused on data and analytics. So after about 2 years, I started looking out. My first break came when my boss at eBay took a chance with me and hired me, even though I had no idea about email marketing, social media, etc. I was suddenly an Assistant Digital Marketing Manager for eBay.in.
What were the challenges? How did you address them?
Challenge 1: I understood how digital marketing worked, but I had very little experience in actually executing it. So even something like sending out a weekly email to customers was very new to me. I worried about making mistakes. To overcome this, for two full weeks, I sat with my teammate and only took notes on everything she did. Then I slowly got the confidence to start doing the work myself.
Challenge 2: While I had made media plans during my internships, I hadn’t ever really spent money in doing a marketing campaign. So when my manager asked me to start advertising on Facebook to get more fans, I was terrified, even though the budget was only about INR 100,000– it was a big amount for me. My manager, though, was very supportive and encouraging and forgave the mistakes I made, as long as I learnt from them. This gave me a lot of confidence. I slowly picked up other aspects of digital marketing – paid search (Google Ads), display advertising, affiliate marketing, etc. Within a year, I was confidently running brand campaigns with budgets in the crores! That was definitely the most important year of my professional life, and also one of the most memorable.
Tell us what you do currently?
Right now, I lead ecommerce for Levi Strauss in India and am responsible for the Levi.in business. It is a business role, and I am responsible for bringing in revenue from the website.
There are numerous problems that come up on a daily basis, each different from the other. There could be a technical issue on the website which prevents customers from shopping, things that people want to buy could be sold out or a customer might be unhappy with his or her order. My biggest responsibility is to ensure that customers have a great and seamless experience while shopping on the website so that they come back again and buy more.
While this is a business role, you need to have a good understanding of technology and how the different parts of the business function as a whole – the website, the warehouse, the delivery process etc. One needs to understand how each part is dependent on the other. You also need to have a good understanding of customer behaviour and shopping patterns, so that you can predict what products will sell more, so that you can keep them in stock. You also need to have a good understanding of digital marketing, so that you get the right customers to the site – if you get people who are looking for cheaper products than you offer, or someone who is only into high end designer labels, then you’re spending money to bring this customer but they are not going to shop, so it is money wasted.
The best way to acquire these skills is to spend a lot of time understanding how things work real time. I’ve spent the last three years constantly studying the web analytics and shopping data available to understand how customers behave. I constantly experiment with small changes – change how products appear on the website, make changes to the offers & discounts, add new features to the site – and observe how customer behaviour changes each time. But more importantly, I always think about how I would behave if I were a customer and this happened to me. This has always helped me.
What’s a typical day like?
A typical day starts with reviewing data from the previous day – does everything look alright or is something off. Most of my time is spent on planning for the future – how to meet and beat the goals we have set for ourselves. For this I have to work with marketing, supply chain, operations and sometimes even finance. I spend time with our technical / engineering team regularly to understand what they are working on – how will this help us grow the business and make the customer experience better, or make suggestions on what I think we can do. I also spend some time with Customer Support daily to understand the kind of complaints they received the previous day and trying to see if there is a pattern. I also prepare for upcoming updates to the site – new products, new offers or a new feature. Every time a change is made to the site, it must be tested thoroughly to ensure everything is working fine.
What is it you love about this job?
My current job is quite different from all my previous ones, where I only handled digital marketing. Here I look after everything related to the website. It is my baby. I discovered I love understanding how things work technically, and I love spending time on making the site better – not just how it looks, but the entire experience of how a customer shops and how orders are processed and delivered. But most of all, I love that my job allows me to continuously do something new. My next goal is to connect the website to stores and make it an omnichannel experience.
How does your work benefit society?
I’m not saying that shopping online can be termed as a benefit, but it is definitely a convenience. I get to play a part in changing how customers shop. In the last few months, with most of the country being under lockdown, we have seen more and more people shopping online. For many of them, it is the first time. I love that I can influence this experience.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
I have three memorable experiences. The first is seeing Amazon.in go live in India. I worked with Amazon for a good 1.5 years before it actually launched in India, so I was able to witness and appreciate the sheer amount of work that goes behind launching such a big business, even though we only started with the books category at launch in June 2013. Funnily enough, I was travelling to Seattle at the time, and landed just in time to see the site go live. I led social media for Amazon, and it was absolutely exhilarating to see Twitter going crazy with the news and us building 100,000 fans on Facebook and another 10,000 odd on Twitter overnight. It is something I will never forget.
The second was launching a campaign called Da Da Ding at Nike India. This was a project that was there for most part of my stint at Nike. I have been part of brand campaigns before, but rarely seen something at work for over a year! This was not your regular 30-second ad slot, it was a full song. The song was written exclusively for the campaign. The goal was to get girls in India to play more sport – something I hold close to my heart. The video featured a lot of professional sports women from India, but also people we knew and worked with – regular women like me who worked for a living, but were passionate about running, working out or playing a sport. I remember getting goosebumps when I first saw the video with my team. I still get goosebumps when I play the song – it’s part of my gym playlist 😊
Finally, launching Levi.in. I practically worked with every team at Levi’s India – finance, supply chain, operations, tech – and external partners for almost 6 months before the site went live. Every little thing was scripted – how we wanted the site to look, how the products should get displayed, etc. We did so many test orders, designed the packaging, trained the customer support team, etc. Finally, when the first order came in after the site went live, it was a euphoric feeling. It is one of my proudest professional moments.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
Do not be afraid of asking questions or making mistakes. If you don’t ask questions, you will never be able to satisfy your curiosity or learn something new. And in a professional life of 35-40 years, it is almost impossible to not make mistakes. Give it your best shot but accept that there will be hiccups now and then. You need to own up, ensure you learn from it and don’t repeat again. I have found that most people, including customers, are forgiving if you are honest and they will give you the chance to fix it. Lastly, don’t be afraid of numbers and excel sheets – they can be your best friends. Embrace them 😊
I see myself leading digital and digital commerce initiatives – beyond just the website. I want to own the entire digital ecosystem – digital marketing, e-commerce website, app, and omnichannel. Who knows what new thing happens to digital commerce 5 years from now!