Hemal Thakkar, LinkedIn, Women In Marketing (Black)
Women In Marketing

Women In Marketing 2020 Edition ft. Hemal Thakkar from Burger King India

Whoever has a vision and the path to driving a brand towards the right direction deserves to take over the CMO role of that brand

Hemal Thakkar

For this segment of Women In Marketing we had the pleasure to chat with Hemal Thakkar who is the Brand Manager for Burger King India. With a strong background in commerce, her transition into a marketing role was a seamless one. We explore various themes with her, from influencer marketing all to how she actually started school at the age of 2! One of the most insightful interviews yet. Let’s dig in

LET’S GET PERSONAL

WHERE WERE YOU BORN? WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FONDEST MEMORIES?

I was born in a small town surrounded by mountains and greenery especially in an era before smartphones and the internet took over the world. My fondest memory of childhood was to visit my grandparents in Matheran – a hill station where no vehicles are allowed to date. Travel only via horses or walk.

This means you can breathe the purest of air. Spending summer helping my grandparents, playing with siblings, and admiring those scenic mountain views while walking away every time my siblings won just to get another chance.

Hemal Thakkar, Women In Marketing
Hemal Thakkar
Source: Supplied

SHOW OFF TO OUR READERS. ANY HIDDEN TALENTS YOU CAN SHARE WITH US? A CLARINET STAR IN THE MAKING PERHAPS? 

I was sent to school when I was just 2.5 years old because I was too talkative and unknowingly my mom has given me a head start.

My two biggest weapons: Speed & Planning

Any task assigned to me, I carve a path coupled with speed & decent grasping skills to finish it before time. It’s my secret weapon to champion the title of ‘Backbone of the team’ from Amazon while handling their Prime Account in Leo Burnett.

Lastly, articulating one’s observations has always been difficult but it’s a skill in making for me. All the articles that I write are an attempt towards that direction. Check out my articles on Linked In.

WE WOULD ALL LOVE TO WIN THE LOTTERY RIGHT? IF YOU WON $10 MILLION TOMORROW, WHAT WOULD YOU DO WITH YOUR FORTUNE? 

Money has never been my priority. A better world for women is. If I ever won a lottery (not that I am going to :-P), I will work towards building a more women-friendly world. 

Hemal and colleagues, Women In Marketing
Hemal and colleagues

The biggest problem in India is brutal occurrences like rape and girl child death rate. Recently a 2-day old baby girl was stabbed 100 times and dumped in a dumpster. Another 19-year-old girl was raped while cutting her tongue, breaking her spinal cord, and then burnt alive. 

A family of 4 women (2 sisters, myself & mom) and working late thrice in a week in the agency world kept my mom awake and all of us with a brow of worry. Gender equal world looks far fetched, the least any woman expects is safety. They deserve it. I would work towards that goal. 

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE MEAL? THAT ONE MEAL YOU WOULDN’T SHARE WITH ANYONE!

My mom has been my favorite chef so no matter where I travel or where I eat, I will come back home to mom’s ‘Dal Chawal’

WHAT MADE YOU FALL IN LOVE WITH THE WORLD OF MARKETING? WHAT PARTICULAR MOMENT IN TIME PUSHED YOU TO PURSUE THIS CAREER? AFTER ALL, WE ALL WANTED TO BE DOCTORS GROWING UP, RIGHT?

I had just entered college and chose Commerce because I wanted to be a Chartered Accountant. I took admission in my college ‘Somaiya’ known for its huge campus and various career options. Bachelors of Mass Media as an educational course was nascent in India and very few colleges offered the course back then. To spread awareness, there was an induction on ‘The Power of Advertising and Media’.

I had spare time so I attended the seminar which turned out to be an eye-opener on how Brands have shaped consumer behavior and vice versa. From believing that a drink can make you taller, stronger, sharper to Diamonds are a symbol of love to how Oil & Sugar are your mortal enemy. That’s the day I realized Brands have the power to alter lifestyle choices and my journey for advertising & Marketing began.

 IF YOU COULD BE ANY ANIMAL IN THE WORLD, WHAT ANIMAL WOULD YOU BE AND WHY?

Two animals come to mind depending on whether we are a sea animal or a land animal: 1. For sea animal, I would say, Bottlenose Dolphin for their ability to recognize themselves and advanced ability of communication skills 2. For land animal, I would say, Labrador for their traits of being friendly, intelligent, and energetic with a positive/joyous outlook towards life.

WHAT’S THE MOST INTERESTING THING ABOUT YOU THAT WE WOULDN’T LEARN FROM YOUR LINKEDIN PROFILE ALONE?

There are a few things that you may not learn from my LinkedIn profile (Interesting or not, why don’t you decide)

  • At a time, my life has always had too many browsers open. The juggling of taking care of family, earning a livelihood, getting a college degree, and managing work, life taught me a lot of multi-tasking.
  • Even though my career has been advertising and now marketing, I cannot even draw a flower correctly.
  • I am too massy at heart. I love travelling by train rather than in a car. I love to eat roadside than at fancy restaurants. I love to dance on the street/family occasion rather than at a club. I love camping more than a fancy hotel.

I think that’s too many secrets revealed so I will stop now 😛

ENTERING THE WORKPLACE

GIVE US A SNEAK PEEK OF HOW YOU TYPICALLY START YOUR DAY. ARE YOU #TEAMCOFFEE OR #TEAMTEA? OR BOTH? YOU BEAUTIFUL REBEL!

I would call myself, #BREAKFASTQUEEN. It’s hard to believe but more than a beverage, I need a heavy breakfast in the morning. As the saying goes, ‘One cannot think, love, sleep, work well if they have not dined well’ – Virginia Woolf. With my stomach full, I have loads of energy and positivity that last a day. Need a pep talk or a job done? Meet me after breakfast.

HOW BEST DO YOU STRIKE A WORK-LIFE BALANCE?

I follow one word – Priority and the oldest trick in the book – Joblist. Every morning, I start with the list of jobs and set them based on their priorities. Once I am done with them, I call it a day and spend the rest of my time with ‘family & friends’. 

YOU HAVE ACCUMULATED AN ENVIOUS AMOUNT OF EXPERIENCE HAVING WORKED FOR TOP-TIER COMPANIES SUCH AS LEO BURNETT, LOWE LINTAS AND PARTNERS AS WELL AS RK SWAMY BBDO. WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM THESE ROLES? HOW ARE YOU APPLYING THESE EXPERIENCES IN YOUR CURRENT ROLE AT BURGER KING?

Agency life taught me a lot, especially my last stint at Leo Burnett. The biggest one of them all is ‘Create Brands as human. Let them have an opinion, a voice, a cause, and a personality. A few of the practices that I follow in day-to-day are:

  • One-line communication brief: There is a lot that you might want to communicate but if you want your audience to remember the ad, focus on that one thing you want them to remember.
  • Set a clear objective: Every campaign needs a clear measurable objective to evaluate the success, the important part is not the change the objective mid-way.
  • Be agile and adaptable: If nothing, the pandemic has taught us this lesson well.
  • Creative is subjective: Something that may not appeal to you might appeal to an 18-year-old so always evaluate them from the lens of our TG.

YOU OBTAINED YOUR MASTER’S DEGREE IN MARKETING MANAGEMENT FROM SIMSREE (GIRL YOU FANCY!). ACCORDING TO GLASSDOOR, IT HAS BECOME SEEMINGLY EASIER TO APPLY TO WORK FOR COMPANIES LIKE GOOGLE, APPLE AND STARBUCKS AS THEY DO NOT REQUIRE APPLICANTS TO HAVE A DEGREE. HOW CAN YOUNG WOMEN UTILISE THE INTERNET TO UPSKILL THEMSELVES PARTICULARLY IF THEY CANNOT AFFORD TO OBTAIN A FORMAL EDUCATION?

The Internet has lots to offer today if you look at the right place. It’s important to stay relevant in today’s technological age. There is a 4 step approach that I follow:

1.       Pick fields or topics or areas of interest.

2.       Look for the latest advancement and news in that arena.

3.       Look for all the study links and presentations and research papers.

Keep reading and learning. Certification will be an added benefit.

JOB HOPPING IS A COMMON PHENOMENA ESPECIALLY IN THE DYNAMIC WORLD OF ADVERTISING AND MARKETING. WHAT’S YOUR OPINION ON JOB HOPPING? DOES IT HURT OR AID ONE’S CAREER? 

Let me answer this one a little differently. Ask yourself 2 questions:

1.       Are you contributing to your current job?

2.       Are you learning from your current job?

If the answer to any of the above is no, you can hop as much as you want. You will finally settle for the right one. Advertising and marketing prerequisites to put on your thinking hat at all times and unless you are happy & satisfied with your job, it’s difficult to churn good work.

So job-hopping is acceptable until you have a good reason to do so. If it questions your loyalty, then we have a problem.

FOR OUR INTERVIEW WITH YAEL TAMAR FROM SOLIDBLOCK, SHE REMARKED THAT WOMEN ARE MOST LIKELY TO OCCUPY THE CMO ROLE AS COMPARED TO THEIR MALE COUNTERPARTS. WITH WOMEN CONTROLLING OVER $20 TRILLION IN GLOBAL SPENDING, WHY HAS IT BECOME INCREASINGLY IMPORTANT TO HAVE FEMALE CMOS IN YOUR OPINION? 

I am not sure I would evaluate a role or a position basis gender. Whoever has a vision and the path to driving a brand towards the right direction deserves to take over the CMO role of that brand. E.g. Burger King is doing bold work because Fernando has a vision and he is ready to take the risk to achieve them.

Women In Marketing 2020 Edition ft. Hemal Thakkar from Burger King India 1
Women In Marketing 2020 Edition ft. Hemal Thakkar from Burger King India 2

Similarly, Leslie Bernard understands Twitter’s vision and syncs every marketing initiative/brand communication globally to make it a reality. Having said that, in the same breath, women are excelling in every field today and I do not doubt that we will achieve great results in Marketing as well.

SYSTEMS AROUND REMOTE WORK AND VIDEO CONFERENCING ARE INCREASINGLY BECOMING STAPLE IN MOST ORGANISATIONS. ACCORDING TO  VISUAL CAPITALIST, ZOOM IS NOW WORTH MORE THAN THE 7 BIGGEST AIRLINES IN THE WORLD AT A WHOPPING MARKET CAPITALIZATION OF JUST OVER $40BN. SUFFICE TO SAY, REMOTE WORKING IS AN ASPECT OF MODERN-DAY WORK THAT HAS BEEN LONG OVERDUE. IN YOUR OPINION, WHY HAVE MOST ORGANISATIONS STRUGGLED TO CONVERT TO THIS WAY OF WORK? 

The struggle started because it was a sudden shift for most organizations instead of a gradual one and neither the management nor the employees knew the codes to follow. This happened at two levels:

1.       At the technological infrastructure level

2.       At the psychological level

In a developing country like India where the internet and basic amenities are an issue, the struggle to maintain the business while ensuring that employees are equipped to remote work from their home became a challenge.

Visual Capitalist Graph, Women In Marketing
Image source: Visual Capitalist
Data source: Barchart

The deeper problem occurred at a psychological level. E.g. When we had to work late, knowing that we are all together working the night to get things done, helped us sail through. Another e.g. are those little pranks, coffee breaks together, eating lunch together with colleagues were replaced with faceless video calls or cooking while working because suddenly there is no maid or take-out option.

However, now with 6 months into the pandemic, most organizations & employees have learned the new ways of working and getting comfortable with. 

REMOTE WORK HAS COME WITH ITS OWN SET OF CHALLENGES, PARAMOUNT TO THIS IS THE FACT THAT EMPLOYEES ARE NOW ‘ALWAYS ON’ WITH WORK CARRYING OVER EVEN BEYOND WORKING HOURS. IN YOUR OPINION, HOW CAN ORGANISATIONS MANAGE THIS BETTER TO PROTECT THE WELLBEING OF THEIR EMPLOYEES?

The organization needs to build a 3-fold approach that might help their employees in the current scenario:

1.       Build policy and protocol: To safeguard the business and employees’ well-being, organizations need to build in systems and protocols including the TAT required in the current scenario. 

2.       HR Initiatives: These are relevant today more than ever. With us desperately looking for human connection, small initiatives like sending a token of appreciation to employees and their families to conducting some games/quiz/celebration amidst the pandemic can be helpful.

3.       Be empathetic: We are all facing the pandemic while working from home and hence it’s imperative now more than ever to extend our empathy and understanding to each other. 

STORYTELLING SEEMS TO BE THE NEXT RISING BUZZWORD. WHAT’S THE BURGER KING STORY? HOW ARE YOU TELLING IT IN AN INTERESTING WAY?

Ours is the story of two guys who loved great food. The year was 1954. It was a warm day in Miami, made hotter by the fire of the brand new broiler set up by Dave Egerton & Jim McLamore to infuse flame-grilled goodness in every burger. That’s how Burger King was born.

In 1957, our signature Whopper Sandwich was born and BK became known as the Home of the Whopper.

Our journey is carved with a single insight: In a culture that idealizes perfection to the point that we’re left with standardization and fakeness, we believe in the beauty of being ‘Imperfectly perfect’.

We are a place where you come and just be YOURSELF. Where you hang out with your friends and family. Where you can eat like no one’s watching, where you don’t mind getting messy, where you can live life Your Way. And that’s where our brand philosophy was born – Burger King. Your Way.

Welcome to the most Democratic Monarchy of the World.

Burger King values form the core of our personality and everything out there whether it’s our advertisement, restaurant, or crew, it’s just our way to let you enjoy BK – Your Way.

1.       We’re Authentic, honest & unpretentious – E.g. Moldy Whopper.

2.       We don’t take life too seriously – E.g. Social distancing campaign including the whopper or the 6 feet crown.

3.       We’re Welcoming, Big Hearted Extroverts – E.g. Proud Whopper or Mc Whopper.

4.       We’re Bold: E.g. All the work including the ones mentioned above.

That’s the Burger King Essence in a nutshell – Be Your Way.

COMPANY HIGHLIGHTS

AT THE TIME OF PUBLISHING, THE DIGITAL MARKETING INSTITUTE ESTIMATED THAT THE INFLUENCER MARKETING INDUSTRY WILL HIT THE $10BN MARK BY 2020. WHETHER B2B OR B2C, IT’S EVIDENT THAT BRANDS AND ORGANISATIONS HAVE HAD THEIR SUCCESS WITH THIS MODEL OF MARKETING. HOW WILL THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC AFFECT THIS INDUSTRY GOING FORWARD AND DO YOU BELIEVE THERE IS STILL A PLACE FOR INFLUENCER MARKETING?

As humans, we have always idolized people in various fields and arenas. We also believe the ones we accept/know as authentic and real. Every time we are confused, we go to someone we consider a better judge, whether they are family or friends or a mentor. And let’s not forget, the best way to escape your life is to peep into someone else’s. With emotion and connection as the center of the human world, I believe influencer marketing will always have a place in the world of Marketing.

Hemal reading a book, Women in marketing
Hemal catching a read

India has millions of fans who blindly follow their idol, SRK or Salman Khan are the biggest example. Having said that, consumers are smart so the type of influencers to choose and how we use them will always be key to the success of the campaign. 

WHAT DO YOU SEE AS SOME OF THE MAJOR TRENDS IN DIGITAL IN THE NEXT 12 TO 18 MONTHS?

The digital wave has been at its peak in India even before the pandemic. However, the lockdown/work from home scenario has sped up the Digital Use and will continue to show the upward trend in the next 12 months as well. While the wave has seen its trend shift, some of them from a marketing perspective are:

  • Living in the Moment: Moment marketing has seen to increase 3.5X engagement than a regular brand post. 
  • Responsive Listening: Brands with smart & human (non-robotic, standard, templatized) response tends to generate more positive sentiments amongst the user, According to an article in Finance Express, 45% users will post about their positive interaction with a brand
  • Influencer Marketing: As per Kantar study, 63% of consumers trust an influencer’s opinion about brands.
  • Dynamic Content on the move: GIFs, Videos etc tend to show more engagement over other formats.
  • Tone of voice: With COVID impact still lingering over the next 12 to 18 months, brands would continue to communicate with Assurance & Trust.
  • Interactive Content is becoming mainstream. Voice Interaction Continues to rise
  • Omnichannel Marketing is a must. Digital marketing is not just social media marketing. The spread goes way beyond.

Some channels that have seen major spike are Online Gaming, Online Learning, Online Buying, DIY Culture and can be explored for targeting your audience.

WHAT’S YOUR SMARTEST WORK-RELATED SHORTCUT OR PRODUCTIVITY HACK?

Oh, there are many hacks but all lead to a single goal i.e. FOCUS by building a SYSTEMATIC approach. Here are some of the hacks that help me sail through:

Set specific times to check emails (They are super distractive)

Attend only those meetings where you can either learn or contribute.

Implement the quick in quick out approach for small tasks (Preferably 5 mins rule)

Listen to music (It’s been my hack since childhood even to concentrate while studying)

Templatized/put your routine task on auto mode.

Keep a list of your task basis their importance and urgency, I color code them as red, yellow & green.

2020 AND BEYOND

WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING? (WHAT DO YOU READ, AND HOW DO YOU CONSUME INFORMATION? PAPERBACK VS EREADER?)

I am not much of a reader. I prefer audio + visual mode of consuming information so I have a list of documentaries and speeches or news channels that help me sail through.

WHAT IS ON YOUR NETFLIX WATCHLIST?

My Netflix list is a mix of a wide variety of content – From Becoming – A documentary on Michelle Obama to Friends & Big Bang Theory (Some Light Hearted Fiction) to The Haunting of the Hill House to Jane the Virgin to Suits to Sherlock to Money Heist to Stranger Things to Black Mirror to Sacred Games to Lust Stories to Delhi Crimes – The list is endless. I am a content buff and any good/interesting piece of content will be on my list.

AS WE LEARN TO LIVE WITH COVID19 IF YOU COULD REPLACE THE HANDSHAKE AS A FORM OF GREETING, WHAT INTERESTING NEW GREETING WOULD YOU INTRODUCE? 

The classic Indian greeting with a ‘Namaste’. Maybe Indians always secretly knew 😉 

WHO HAVEN’T YOU SEEN OR TALKED TO IN A LONG TIME AND HOPE THEY ARE DOING OKAY?

My school teachers. They set the foundation stone of everything that I have learned to date.

A UNIQUE MESSAGE FOR ALL YOUNG PROFESSIONALS IN THE MARKETING INDUSTRY

Few points actually:

  • Take advantage of access to endless knowledge and information; Use the information wisely. 
  • Always follow your gut while verifying all your decisions with data and logic with the addition of an emotional layer.
  • Never shy away from voicing your opinion. Either you are right and will be praised or you will be wrong and learn.
  • Things might look difficult but try to put structure to them. Everything else will fall into place.
  • Last but not least, ENJOY YOUR WORK. Find your passion. You’re going to spend half your time doing it every day.  

IF YOU COULD GO BACK IN TIME, WHAT WOULD YOU TELL YOUR YOUNGER SELF?

It’s okay to enjoy a little. The college fun, the bickering, the parties are also a part of amazing memories and growing up that should be experienced.

WHAT CHALLENGE IS ON YOUR PLATE? WHAT ARE SOME OF THE PAIN POINTS YOU ARE TRYING TO OVERCOME IN YOUR LIFE WHETHER PROFESSIONALLY, PERSONALLY OR BOTH?

Joining a new organisation while working from home comes with its own set of challenges. And if you’re taking a shift in a stream, welcome to my current life. I am still adjusting to a few things and learning as we go, e.g.

  • A paradigm shift from ad agency to Marketing.
  • Try to understand your core business/restaurants virtually. 
  • Try building a virtual relationship with your colleagues & counterparts so that workflows seamlessly.

WE ARE ALWAYS LOOKING FOR AWESOME WOMEN IN MARKETING TO PROFILE. WHO WOULD YOU LIKE US TO INTERVIEW IN FUTURE? 

One person that I really admire for her determination, warm heart and a fierce leader that’s Oindrila Roy – My mentor and Head of Strategy at Essence, India. She came to Mumbai with a pack of clothes and made on her own. She inspires me in ways that she wouldn’t even know. Whenever she sets her mind on something, she will put all her effort to achieve. 

ANY BUCKET LIST ITEMS?

My bucket list is agile to the situation. Current ones include:

1.       Live in a pandemic free era.

2.       Visit my sister in Sweden.

3.       Travel to all the hid spots across the world.

WHO ARE SOME OF YOUR FEMALE HEROES?

Sushma Swaraj, Jyotibai Phule, Congresswoman Cortez, Kiran Bedi, Michelle Obama to name a few.

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Head of Relationship Management at naughtybanana. I am a father to an awesome boy who thinks highly of me; perhaps I'm doing something right after all. When I'm not establishing new business relationships, you might catch me reading a book or of course, being an awesome dad.