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PM GO: Entering Emerging Markets. Swati Mohan, Ex-director of Marketing at Netflix


At the annual PMGO business conference, CMO Parimatch Ivan Liashenko talked with one of The Economic Times’ 40 under Forty corporate leaders, Swati Mohan, about expanding the brand, piracy, right pricing policy, and finally, which world leader is followed the most on Instagram.

Ivan Liashenko: As a great business leader and growth hacker, could you tell us more about your background and the major influences in your life? 

Swati Mohan: Firstly, I’d like to thank all of you for inviting me here. It's really great to be part of the PMGO conference. Currently, I’m working as a consultant, but ver the last two decades, I’ve spent a lot of time working in the content marketing business, and of course, I was associated with Netflix India for two and a half years. Before joining Netflix, I’d been Country Head of National Geographic and Fox Networks Group, India since April 2015.

IL: Fascinating! And talking about how a global technology company launches onto a very big and specific local market, I guess it was very challenging. Could you, please, tell us about your experience with Netflix marketing in India?

SM: In the last two decades, global brands started entering emerging markets. And I remember, maybe over 10 years ago, the first Zara store opened in India, and it was such a big deal for the population! But the difference with global brands like Netflix or Amazon was that the product category was still young—people didn't feel the need for extra content in their lives. So, we realized we had to build a category and a new way of watching, a new way of sharing, a new way of paying for a new way of accessing content, and that was different from any other global brand. The biggest telco in India introduced very cheap data prices—the cheapest in the world, in fact. And it was a real game-changer for us. We launched a cheaper deal, and a more economical mobile-only plan as well, which was another game-changer. Then, COVID came along, and obviously, you know, it’s a very sad state of affairs, but when it came to content, a lot of people were looking for something new, something that because of the lockdown they couldn’t get in theatres or even on TV. The situation compelled all of us to adopt and develop completely new habits.

IL: As a betting company, when it comes to piracy, we have the same problem with sports streams. I guess it was quite challenging to launch Netflix in India because of the pirate content as well. I compare it to Ukrainian consumer habits five years ago, when no one would pay subscriptions, but now the situation has radically changed. Netflix, a global phenomenon, has changed everything about our TV-watching habits. So how did it happen?

SM: Every year, India loses about 2.8 billion US dollars due to pirate content, and this has increased during COVID. Recent reports revealed huge revenue losses. India has a large market because of the enormous population, and I do believe many regulatory bodies are doing their best to control it. It's a big challenge, in fact, to be honest, many people think that this is the normal way you access the stuff, and the real problem is a lack of awareness.

IL: Nevertheless, when you thought the Indian market was losing like $2.8 billion a year because of the pirate content; it's just like, $2 per person per year, isn’t it?

SM: You're absolutely right. The market is very large, so, it may be even worse if you count it correctly?

IL: There are very few ways to monetize any product: donations, purchasing, or subscription. Basically, the pirates go through the advertising monetization model, whereas Netflix, as the owners of the content, prefer a subscription model. What do you think and what, from your experience, is the problem with the subscription model in emerging markets? 

Whether it's a luxury car or the latest iPhone, the pricing policy should be discussed internally by the global brands, especially for the emerging markets. I don’t think any method is particularly right or wrong, but I must admit the subscription model is quite complicated compared to other pricing methods. TV subscriptions are usually much more accessible, so why do the customers need to subscribe to Netflix? That’s always the question, but there are a lot of good levels of growth in terms of partnerships. It's extremely important to determine whether you are going to scale or increase the revenue. Lowering the price actually takes away the premium brand image from that product; it depends on how you’re positioning your brand. Setting your prices relative to the prices of your competitors is important as well, keeping in mind the other factors like consumer demand or the cost of production.

IL: Interesting! You worked for National Geographic. How do you feel the difference in marketing of those two absolutely different products? What challenges have you faced?

SM: Wow! That is not a difficult question. My parents were proud of me when I worked for the print as well as the TV version of National Geographic. The brand is more than 130 years old and it’s quite challenging to keep content still relevant when it comes to infotainment as a category that blends information and entertainment into one. One of our main goals was to involve a young audience and, believe it or not, such an old brand has over 100 million followers, and we’ve found a way how to use it.

So it was really great to be able to do purposeful work, whether it was water conservation or cleaning the air, or children's education. There was a lot that we did making changes in the market that really needs it.

IL: By the way, I subscribed to Boris Johnson's Instagram account. He had a call with the Prime Minister of India a couple of weeks ago. Compared to Johnson’s 1.88 million, Narendra Modi has more than 55 million. It's fantastic that the Indian market has a very forward-looking approach and is open to the world, compared to China. Thank you so much, Swati, for this interview!

SM: Thank you for having me, and please pray for us in India; the second wave of COVID is here, and it's been quite devastating, so we really need support these days! 

IL: Thank you! Of course, we will.

Watch the full interview with Swati Mohan on our YouTube:

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