Nikhil Vaish is a brand builder and marketing consultant who grew up at agencies in India, UK, and USA, working on B2B and B2C brands like Unilever, Citigroup, IBM, J&J and Kodak.
After leaving the agency world, he co-founded a tech consulting company that launched a successful web and mobile streaming app. He has served on startup advisory boards, regularly mentors entrepreneurs and consults with nonprofits.
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Table of Contents
We are thrilled to have you join us today, welcome to ValiantCEO Magazine’s exclusive interview! Let’s start off with a little introduction. Tell our readers a bit about yourself and your company.
Nikhil Vaish: Thank you for having me here. I am CEO of Vaish Consulting, a brand strategy and marketing consultancy.
I grew up in Delhi, Prague, Hong Kong, Bombay, London, Boston and New York. Living in these countries afforded me a window into and appreciation of different cultures and people in a way that few get to experience. As a result, I am able to translate my diverse experiences into building inclusive and differentiated brands.
My upbringing, along with my entrepreneurial, corporate and nonprofit journeys allow me to bring a unique perspective to every business problem, and has equipped me with an innate understanding of the intersection of data, technology and storytelling.
We work with companies large and small to help them craft more engaging and impactful brand stories and differentiated product messaging.
2021 and 2022 threw a lot of curve balls into business on a global scale. Based on the experience gleaned in the past couple years, how can businesses thrive in 2023? What lessons have you learned?
Nikhil Vaish: Well, to begin with we experienced a once in hundred year pandemic, so I think we should all cut ourselves a little slack. In terms of thinking ahead, I see three key lessons for business.
First, the easy access to cheap capital is over. Investors will be more cautious and no longer willing to write blank cheques and interest rates will continue to rise. So, growth will have to come from effective marketing strategies based on building brand loyalty and delivering value, and businesses will need to learn how to do more with less $’s.
This brings me to my second point. The cost of customer acquisition though digital used to be cheap, but this is no longer true. In the past companies could throw money at social channels using a kitchen sink mentality, but they can no longer do that. Also, customers are tightening their wallets, so companies will need to differentiate their products to standout, and ensure they have a deep understand of their core audience’s behaviours and motivations, to ensure their messages cut through and resonate with them.
Third, I think it prudent to realise that consumer behaviors and needs are constantly evolving, and while it makes sense to take some risks and try new things, don’t bet the farm on the next big trend. For example, everyone assumed that people were all in on digital life; from online shopping to virtual concerts to food delivery, yet exactly the opposite happened, and now we see every DTC brand scrambling to open a physical storefront!
Be smart, dip your toe in new technologies like the metaverse but remember that human beings will never want all virtual or all IRL; they will always want a healthy range of options.
The pandemic seems to keep on disrupting the economy, what should businesses focus on in 2023? What advice would you share?
Nikhil Vaish: I think the keywords are “adaptive resilience”.
We cannot control external events but if your business is not built to edit, change and adapt to changing environments, you are more likely to fail or falter.
Let’s take one example. The pandemic has forever changed the workplace, in that after getting a taste of life without the dreaded commute, people no longer want to waste precious hours traveling to and from work. Yet, it is hard to build that intangible social glue that underpins company culture with a fully remote workforce. Solving this problem will require a willingness to try new things, fail, be flexible to try again.
Nobody has figured out the right answer yet, but companies that are open to experimenting with various shapes and sizes of solution across their organisation, rather than trying to implement a one-size-fits-all policy, will be more successful at hiring and retaining the best talent.
I think this is one area that will require bottom-up solutions versus the top down ones most companies seems to be employing.
How has the pandemic changed your industry and how have you adapted?
Nikhil Vaish: As the old adage goes, the first thing to be cut during bad times is the ad budget. Ad spending rose dramatically during the pandemic but it was a false bubble because people were forced to stay home, and so they naturally spent more time in front of a digital screen.
Now they want real experiences.
I think that is the big change moving forward, brands will need to think about how they create meaningful interactions and engagement in the physical world. Personally, I believe that coming out of this pandemic most people are craving more human and direct contact, and not less.
So, I think we will start to see less time being spent on screens, and more time doing real life things with friends and family.
What advice do you wish you received when the pandemic started and what do you intend on improving in 2023?
Nikhil Vaish: I wish someone had told me to pivot my business model. One trend I noticed is that more and more people want to work for themselves.
More than 50% of Gen Zers says they want to be their own boss, and at the other end we see ageism pushing people out of the workforce before they are ready to retire.
Vaish Consulting is working on launching a platform aimed at helping solopreneurs. More on that in our next interview, if you decide to have me back!
Online business surged higher than ever, B2B, B2C, online shopping, virtual meetings, remote work, Zoom medical consultations, what are your expectations for 2023?
Nikhil Vaish: What goes up must come down!
Every DTC brand is struggling. Zoom and other online collaboration tools have lost their luster as people are suffering from virtual fatigue. More people report feeling disengaged from their work and young people report feeling more isolated than ever before.
I believe (and hope) we will see a shift away from screens and a surge in real-world activities.
How many hours a day do you spend in front of a screen?
Nikhil Vaish: Too many! I have made it a habit to put down my phone when I get home from work, and not pick it up again (unless it rings, not dings) until after my morning workout.
Staring at a screen for work is unavoidable, but doing it in my free time is a choice.
The majority of executives use stories to persuade and communicate in the workplace. Can you share with our readers examples of how you implement that in your business to communicate effectively with your team?
Nikhil Vaish: While I have managed large teams in the past, with my consulting firm I am a one man show. However, I routinely have to embed within companies, when I take on a consulting project, and need to gain trust and build relationships in a very brief period of time.
Storytelling is a great tool, and there are three other tenets that underpin it for me.
Transparency: being honest with your team, partners and clients, and objectively laying out the ‘reality’ of every situation is critical, and in challenging times it is important to do this without adding to fear or panic that people are naturally going to be feeling.
Communication: in every organisation there are whispers and rumors that spread, so I strive to ensure that every channel of communication is always open – up, down and across.
Don’t try to please everyone (you cannot): while it is important to seek council, work collaboratively and give everyone a voice, don’t shy away from making tough decisions and understand that you will inevitably disappoint or upset someone.
Lastly, and most importantly – integrity. Be true to your own principles and values. This is not about getting it right or wrong, nobody makes the right decision every time, in fact most times leaders have to make decisions with half the facts and zero control over external forces.
This is about being honest with yourself and holding yourself to the highest standards. That is the only thing we can control.
Business is all about overcoming obstacles and creating opportunities for growth. What do you see as the real challenge right now?
Nikhil Vaish: Change is happening faster than ever before in history. I saw a presentation by a professor recently who talked about how we are in the age of exponential growth, where we are making the kind of advances that used to take 100 years, now in 2 to 5 years.
Which leads me to two challenges:
First, I wonder if our traditional economic indicators are outdated and need to be updated. For example, should CPI include smartphones and NFT purchases? I am not an economist (and not nearly as smart) but one has to wonder if this is in part the reason why recent economic predictions around employment, recession, inflation, etc. have all been so out of whack?
The other challenge is what I refer to as the “business butterfly effect”. Just a decade or two ago a lockdown in a small Chinese city would have meant nothing to Americans but given our global interconnectedness and co-dependencies today, a small event halfway around the world can have repercussions for businesses everywhere.
I don’t have the answer but I do think we need to be prepared for greater uncertainty.
In 2023, what are you most interested in learning about? Crypto, NFTs, online marketing, or any other skill sets? Please share your motivations.
Nikhil Vaish: Of course for my business I need to stay abreast of new and emerging technologies and I spend a good amount of time delving into crypto, blockchain, NFTs, the metaverse, etc. but from a personal standpoint I am more interested in learning about spirituality and wellness.
We are surrounded by 24×7 technology and constant stimulation, but yet when you look at the numbers across generations, people have never been unhappier, lonelier and more anxious.
A record 4.4 million Americans left their jobs in September in 2021, accelerating a trend that has become known as the Great Resignation. 47% of people plan to leave their job during 2022. Most are leaving because of their boss or their company culture. 82% of people feel unheard, undervalued and misunderstood in the workplace. Do you think leaders see the data and think “that’s not me – I’m not that boss they don’t want to work for? What changes do you think need to happen?
Nikhil Vaish: I think there are two issues at play here. First, and I wrote a piece on this “If You Want Magic, Hire People with the Wrong Experience” (http://bit.ly/3ui5k6v). I think companies have stopped hiring with courage.
What I mean is that they have become focussed on a very specific and narrow skill set, and as a result they miss the forest for the trees. They only want to hire people who have done the exact same job for somewhere else, rather than hire someone smart who will learn but also take risks by trying news things. This leads to the employer feeling frustrated with the results, and the employee feeling disengaged with the lack of challenge, learning and fulfillment.
The other issue to me is a growing over-reliance on AI (artificial intelligence) in the hiring process. EQ to me is a vital component of hiring and that is not something AI will be able to gauge or deliver in my lifetime (thankfully). This shortage of EQ manifests in people feeling “unheard, undervalued and misunderstood across the company,” as you referenced above.
On a lighter note, if you had the ability to pick any business superpower, what would it be and how would you put it into practice?
Nikhil Vaish: I would declare a four day work week.
I think companies will find that employees are FAR more productive and efficient with less time. The brain is a muscle and it too needs a break. Giving it more time to recover will help it to operate at a higher level.
What does “success” in 2023 mean to you? It could be on a personal or business level, please share your vision.
Nikhil Vaish: In 2023, I want to help secure world peace. Just kidding!
Success will be working with smart, talented people that I enjoy working with, and having secure cash flow, so I don’t need to hustle and scramble every month.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Nikhil Vaish for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Nikhil Vaish or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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