Exclusive | Shriya Nagi, Kern Culture: Sell an idea and not just a product; develop a community not a buyer’s list

December 27, 2022

In an exclusive interaction, Shriya Nagi, Founder and Managing Director of Kern Culture, speaks about the launch and the growth of Kern Culture and its business extension for startups, Brand NEEV. 

Nagi underscores the importance of leveraging design thinking and highlights how she is working towards fostering a design thinking approach in India. 

Nagi also spotlights how brands have modified their communication strategy post-Covid and outlines Kern Culture’s roadmap for 2023.

Excerpts.

Give us an overview of Kern Culture. What was the insight behind the name of the agency?

Kern Culture was not built with the intention to only start a business; it was made to build a creed. In my professional journey, after garnering sound knowledge in my discipline, I felt that my job couldn’t utilize my capabilities, I always felt that I could do much better, I only needed a chance. Hence, I decided to start Kern Culture to explore what design could do and how I could add value to brands through design.

Kerning is a publication term that is to align each character in a word, manually, so it looks visually aligned. This meaning holds true to the core of the brand. We tell our clients, we are not here to teach them their business that is what they are already an expert in but we are here to find the gaps and align them to achieve business goals.

We transform businesses into brands, through various mediums – branding, designing, and marketing.

We emphasize that branding is nothing but the culture of a company. Ever since its launch, we have delved deep into branding and marketing 360* and worked with a number of brands to help them with Brand development, Designing, Digital Marketing, and Employer branding.

Kern Culture also operates Brand NEEV, What is the purpose and USP of Brand NEEV?

Brand NEEV became an extension of Kern Culture. Brand Neev caters only to startups, MSMEs, and local homegrown brands in the Indian market. During the pandemic, lots of businesses faced losses and they didn’t have the right foundation to transit into digital, d2c businesses.

Young start-ups and homegrown local brands that have great products but not enough marketing budgets were forced to stay in limbo and sacrifice their growth. We identified the need to support such organizations and hence Brand Neev came into being.

NEEV stands for Nurturing Empowering Entrepreneurial Ventures. NEEV, translated in Hindi, means foundation. That is precisely what Brand NEEV does, it works at a foundation level for entrepreneurs that have just started their journey and supports them with design, branding, and social media marketing at pocket-friendly prices, giving them a fighting chance to cut the clutter and compete with large brands.

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How do you create value for brands? What are the services Kern Culture offers, and how are they different from its competitors?

We create value for our clients by identifying brand gaps and filling them with the help of design thinking. Very few marketing agencies adopt design thinking. Kern Culture’s design thinking approach addresses problems and pain points at a visceral level to produce strategies offering a long-term solution.

As we like to put it, design thinking has gifted us with an eagle’s eye to offer creative solutions for our clients.

What does the current roster of Kern Culture & clients look like, and where do you see yourself in the pecking order today?

At present, Kern Culture is a creative partner for a myriad of niche industries–ranging from media outlets such as Khaleej Times and Economic Times to brands catering to children such as Kidiverse and Windmill Festival.

On the corporate side, we work with large organizations like Titan, NPCI, FBB, and Blockchain giant – DLT Labs. Kern Culture caters to clients internationally as well. We have provided creative solutions for companies across the Middle East, Canada, the USA, the UK, Australia, and South Africa.

Kern Culture has not just worked with brands but also for IP Events for global markets – the Middle East, Nigeria, Australia, Oman, and Riyadh.

Our digital vertical has provided a creative promotion strategy for an event tailored for children, Windmill Festival, which was organized during the Pandemic. Our cutting-edge solutions provided remarkable results to promote the event–with 3.4 million reach, 1,93,436 page views, and 65,479 link clicks.

Kern Culture is equipped to work with diverse industries and brands, as the goal is always the same – to provide holistic solutions that help brands find a unique and indispensable place in the market.

Today, Kern Culture is one of the very few branding/marketing/designing agencies that foster a design thinking approach in India. Our research and designing procedure is uncompromised.

With discipline and proper processes in place for what we do and how we do it, we provide design-led solutions that not only offer brands a robust foundation but also accelerate their identity and communication in the market, making them stand out.

Several digital marketing agencies tend to neglect the importance of understanding the brand and its identity. This leads to repetitive communication that makes it difficult for brands to connect with their buyers. Kern Culture differs from the very outset, branding and procedure are always at our core, which allows us to provide unique solutions.

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How have brands changed or modified their communication strategy post-Covid?

Post-Covid, brands have had a much-needed epiphany. That is, you must offer value to your customers not just through products and services but even in your communication.

Consumers seek to acquire value from as many streams, and as much as possible. Hence, if brands only speak and sell, they may fail to grasp their audience’s attention as well as fail to earn their loyalty. Consumers might rather steer away from brands that seem too pushy without forging a strong connect.

This is why, post-Covid, the communication styles, and strategies have evolved such that there are stories being told, the feedback being heard, empathy shared and a connection built between brands and their consumers through better-planned, well-informed and studied communication.

Brands now understand what their audience wants to listen to and learn. They get on the same page as them to identify where they are coming from, and to address their pain points not just through the product or solutions they sell, but also through their communication.

In what direction is the advertising and marketing industry moving? What are the opportunities here?

Recently, we came across certain AI features that have raised questions about whether tech would replace marketers, advertisers, and copywriters. Our company sat with this question and tested out one of the AI platforms that helped form emails, content calendars, and content pieces.

We noticed how AI was rather a ‘time-saver’ than a ‘replacer.’ Creativity never goes out of work, we concluded.

With the new AI wave in the advertising and marketing space, I believe, this is the direction the industry is heading. It saves cost. It is efficient and reduces repetitive and time-consuming tasks.

It drafts emails, brews content calendars, and whatnot. It is an assistant that we never thought we needed. It provides an opportunity to divide our tasks and provide better services and results to our clients.

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What are some growth marketing strategies that can help startups and MSMEs unlock their digital future?

Startups and MSMEs must focus on developing their personalities or identities before they set foot into the competitive market to sell, or market their products or services. This is why, I feel, branding must become the first activity. Do not compromise on the foundation of the brand.

Next, while communicating or marketing, ensure to be consistent. Make sure the tone of voice stays the same, the social media posts, the value additions, each and every personality trait of your brand must exude what you are and what you wish to do for your customers. However, without consistency, your customers may fail to recognize your startup in a saturated market.

To attain a balanced marketing campaign that gains attention and unlocks growth, strive to find a fine balance between sales and storytelling. Lastly, be relevant to the times and the market. Be very aware of what the times demand from your brand. What needs to be addressed/spoken about.

What do you perceive are the knowledge gaps about digital marketing amongst younger professionals?

Young digital marketers tend to run after trends and want to be a part of them. While I understand it is essential to be with the crowd, it is also about standing apart sometimes. To include the brand’s core identity and its essence is what gets missed out while chasing trends.

If you follow every trend or just try to sell a product, your communication may get hindered, and hindered communication would make your brand voice inconsistent. If at every point the brand acts like a stranger (inconsistent) why will you go back to it?

Familiarity brings comfort because customers have set expectations from a brand and it gets fulfilled with consistency. This is where trust lies.

The other knowledge gap lies in failing to conduct customer profiling. Creating a customer avatar is not to identify the age and demographics. It is to create an identity such that you have a complete understanding of your customers with a comprehensive personality trait.

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What is your one piece of advice to youngsters following a career in the marketing industry?

My piece of advice is to not lose patience when the marketing and sales milestones are set too high. Choose long-term results over quick results, and sell an idea and not just a product. Develop a community not a buyer’s list. To help with this, you need to understand the brand story and take it forward in your communication.

You should study brands before you talk about them. Know how they speak, what values they possess, and what goals they wish to achieve. Similarly, you must also understand the brand’s target audience to communicate with them effectively.

With this approach, you will save a lot of your time and effort, market strategies will be brewed efficiently, and you wouldn’t have to think twice about how the market perceives you.

Brands hold the power over how the world perceives them. How powerful is that? This is why branding is an integral part of forming game-changing marketing strategies. Humanize your brand, and then chart a communication strategy.

What are your plans going forward? Kern Culture’s top priorities and roadmap for 2023?

Expansion. 2023 holds a company-wide expansion goal, in terms of the clients we onboard, and the new employees/teams that would collaborate to work on new projects.

Our top priorities include finding clients that have interesting business models but need a team to help realize their business goals through branding.

In 2023, we also wish to take up more Employer branding projects as post-Covid, a lot of employers have also realized the value of branding. Hence, we wish to delve deeper into not just corporate branding but also employer branding.

Anything else you would like to add?

As a designer who leads a design company, I believe that I have a great chance to bring forward ideas to see the world just as it is, and with the potential of transforming it with the power of Design Thinking.

Now when you Google design thinking, all you will find is how it has stages, types, and much more. But all of it is incorrect as there is no type or form to a design thinking approach, only a core, or an idea.

Design thinking is an approach to making things easier or better, and practical. Designers are naturally good at observing and deriving inspiration from nature to put into the typography, colors, or key graphic. However, design thinking is not only for designers, it is for anyone who has a problem at hand, and is looking for a solution.

Anyone who is a problem solver naturally becomes a design thinker. It is as simple as that. The key is to ask the right questions at every stage and find answers to real brand problems.

Several biggies like Starbucks, Nike, and Apple have incorporated Design thinking into their brand and the results speak for themselves.

With this idea, I wish to educate the masses on design thinking. I believe that every school should include this approach in its curriculum. Every individual should be equipped with this powerful tool called design thinking to make a positive change in the world and in their lives.

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