By Vivien Ang firstname.lastname@example.org
WHAT do you get when the worlds of digital marketing and hypnotherapy collide? A digital marketing consulting firm aptly named Happy Marketer.
The firm's services include the use of Web analytics to increase businesses' revenues, and to engage customers using social media such as Facebook and YouTube.
Rachit Dayal, founder and managing partner at the homegrown digital marketing consulting firm, was previously a hypnotherapist certified by the National Guild of Hypnotists in the US.
"Hypnotherapy has taught me to always focus on the customer. Most businesses are caught up in budgets and campaigns and they forget who the end-user - the customer - is, reading that paper or watching that YouTube ad. They don't take the time to think about the person's challenges, and how their product connects. There were many topics that I studied which seemed totally strange back then, but is applicable now.
"I tell all the people who work here that we always have time to stop for half an hour and think about who the cutomer is and why they would even care about what we are doing here. And (the message) gets lost so often that you would be surprised."
Hypnotherapy was just a hobby Mr Rachit pursued as a sideline. The computer science graduate from the National University of Singapore had never veered from his passion for marketing and digital technology, and what better way to have the best of all three worlds than to meld them together? With that in mind, Happy Marketer was set up in 2009.
From being just a S$200 startup in Mr Rachit's Housing Board flat in Bedok Reservoir - which served as his office - the firm's revenue has grown to S$2 million in FY15 and is now situated at the former Jinriksha Station at 1 Neil Road.
"We always try to bring new stuff to Singapore. (We find out) what the industry needs are, and then what pieces we need to meet those needs."
According to Mr Rachit, Happy Marketer is Singapore's first Google-certified advertising and analytics professional, and is the only digital marketing consulting firm in Singapore with all three Google Certifications: Google AdWords Certified Partner, Google Analytics Certified Partner and Google Regional Trainer.
"Firstly, we need to understand digital marketing. We need to know all forms of advertising and the channels available. Our bet was that Google as (our customers') ad platform would be the most dominant, so we went ahead and became an AdWords Certified Partner in 2010, the same year that Google launched it.
"Secondly, clients have asked us questions about numbers and data, and we have to be able to explain to them, which then prompted us to go for the Google Analytics Certified Partner & Authorized Reseller in 2009.
"The last thing we needed was to be able to teach the staff and new people who could join the industry, including clients as they do deserve to know what is happening, what the channels are etc. For those reasons, we became Google's regional trainers in 2011."
To obtain these accreditations, Mr Rachit and the firm had to undergo a series of stringent selection processes.
For example, Mr Rachit says that Adwords Certified Partner requires the firm to manage client marketing campaigns at a high-quality level. The firm could lose the certification if campaigns that they conduct on behalf of their clients drop below a certain quality or standard.
"It is a very fast-moving, exciting game and so we took a long bet on what we think the future of marketing and digital looks like - very data-driven, very multi-channel - and it requires a lot of explanation. That is why we got these three certifications."
From just two clients initially (Spring Singapore and StarHub), Happy Marketer now has hundreds of clients, which include Nanyang Technological University, Royal Brunei Airlines, Tigerair and Standard Chartered.
Happy Marketer has also developed its own methodologies - which helped them obtain the Google certifications - to solve their clients' problems.
Mr Rachit cited Tigerair as an example and said that the challenge for Tigerair was understanding which marketing and promotional tactics were effective. Happy Marketer helped the airline with analytics based on their Kickstart methodology, which helped the airline identify which methods were working, and where the bottlenecks for customers were.
Looking back, the firm has come a long way from when it first "booted up". Mr Rachit says that in mid-2000, businesses were still trying to figure out Internet marketing.
"My initial idea was to conduct training for marketers, teach them the skills, and help prepare them for the ongoing learning journey. But as soon as we started training, we realised that there was a need for helping companies with executing and implementing digital marketing as well."
Digital media has changed the face of marketing. However, it's a change that Happy Marketer is, well, happy to embrace. Back then, digital marketing was just to send mass e-mail and SMSes to the many potential clients.
"But when I interned at an American startup, I discovered a cool way of digital marketing. Google was taking off, there wasn't Facebook then but there was Myspace." Happy Marketer was established to fill that void and the firm is now a hub for kindred spirits. "All the folk here in our different offices enjoy digital marketing. If you love marketing and technology, this is the place to be."
Although it may seem this firm needs no troubleshooting now, that wasn't always the case. One of the partners and senior consultants left the firm in 2014 and cashflow dried up to the point where the firm only had S$200 left.
Stepping up to challenge
However, Mr Rachit says that people in the company stepped up. There was an intern who offered to run certain training programmes. There was also a lot of focus on helping their existing clients. The firm paid attention to their own social media and search engine presence and inbound marketing. These strategies brought Happy Marketer back from the financial brink to a healthy cashflow.
"Right now, we have three partners. Besides Prantik Mazumdar and myself, we have a third partner, Taru Jain, who came on last year, to lead the training division which we spun off in 2015, called FutureMarketer (but the bulk of the company's revenue still comes from digital marketing). So now we have different partners looking after different businesses."
In fact, the company staff members are such a close-knit outfit that although the company has 45 staff across four offices - Singapore, Australia, India and Middle East (Dubai and Kuwait) - they communicate via Whatsapp and not e-mail.
"It has drastically cut down meetings and e-mails. When you can get a quick clarification and you don't need a scheduled time for it. Things move so much faster."
This happy group of 18 people from the Singapore office also has a twice-weekly hangout which they have coined "Happy Hangout". Besides food and drinks, an employee will teach the others a skill that he or she is proficient in, such as martial arts.
Hailing from Bangalore, Mr Rachit arrived in Singapore in 2001 for his undergraduate studies and had fallen in love with this Little Red Dot ever since. "Singapore is so easy and welcoming. The application process here is very simple and straightforward. It is clearly laid out, which saves businesses a lot of headache.
When asked about the firm's five-year plan, and targets for the future, Mr Rachit guffaws and says: "We have a five-year plan that never really pans out. We have a plan but it needs to be updated quarterly as it changes ... Anyway, we are a sunrise industry, so there is a lot of room for us to grow. One thing I know is that 10 years later, it is not going to look like this. What people want and what they need will be very different."
The founder also has ambitions to place Singapore on the global map.
"Singapore is a good stronghold for us but we want to expand. We need to start making a larger impact in some of the other countries. So we recently started investing in Australia. The Middle East is a promising area and we will have a few projects going on. We also have some training work in Europe and US."
"Whenever we meet all these business gurus, they will say India and China is awesome. South-east Asia is ignored. My partner Prantik always says that he loves Asia. So our focus is to grow in this region, and I think we can represent Singapore well."
Mr Rachit's watchword for his business philosophy is kaizen, which is Japanese for "improvement".
"Everybody has a same mission, that all their KPIs go up by 2 per cent every quarter. We just have to keep that culture of constant innovation."
Happy Marketer also achieved several milestones last year. For example, the firm was nominated for Agency of The Year in the Social Media and Search Marketing categories by Marketing Magazine. The category is "usually dominated by global companies - the large companies and their Asian branches. We were lucky to be the only independent company nominated alongside them".
On the issue of brain drain in the industry and how to attract the bright sparks back home, Mr Rachit says: "Most Singapore businesses have local ambitions ... Singapore can become attractive if more businesses and startups start having regional and global ambitions.
"Today's Singaporeans aren't really looking for jobs anymore - they're looking to add value, pursue a mission and explore more. Silicon Valley is an attractive place because they can get experience working on products/services that impact a lot of people. If we can recreate that experience, and Singapore businesses start having a global impact, attracting talent back will not be an issue."
Originally published in The Business Times: http://www.businesstimes.com.sg/sme/getting-the-net-advantage-in-marketing