Interview with Gee Ranasinha - CEO at KEXINO
Gee Ranasinha is the founder and CEO of KEXINO - a top Marketing agency based in Chicago, IL. Gee started as a professional advertising studio photographer, back in the 90's and later in 2008 founded KEXINO - the top marketing agency focused on helping startups and SMBs in pursuing and achieving their marketing goals. Now, in 2022 Gee and his team of 19 professionals at KEXINO delivers marketing solutions to up to 50 businesses across the globe. We invite you to learn more about Gee's success story, marketing strategies and tactics, and, processes inside KEXINO in this exclusive interview for TechBehemoths.
Hello Gee, thank you for accepting our invitation. Please tell us about yourself. Your childhood, education, up to professional development and how did you come to the current stage?
Today my background would probably be termed “content creation.” I was a professional advertising studio photographer for five years. Our clients were primarily advertising agencies, with clients such as Ford Motor Company, BAT, Nestlé, and Proctor & Gamble. It was in the days when photographers used film. For me, that meant shooting with Sinar 10x8 and 5x4 view cameras; though we also did fashion and editorial magazine work where I’d be using Hasselblads.
In 1992 I was one of the world’s first photographers to move into digital photography, working with companies such as Leaf Systems, Dicomed, and Phase One. Soon after, I joined a software company specializing in the integration of digital image capture with the printed output. Our clients were firms such as IKEA, Airbus, Office Depot, and Christie’s.
I was fascinated with the many levers that influence customer buying drivers, positioning, messaging, communications, and so on. I read and studied anything and everything I could find on the subject. I spent time talking with the best sales and marketing people I could find. Within a few years I became Marketing Manager there, and designed a number of award-winning campaigns.
It was a fantastic opportunity that allowed me to meet many fascinating people, including Steve Jobs on two separate occasions. However after seven years there I felt I wasn’t moving forward in terms of career path, or self-fulfillment.
KEXINO was founded in 2008 on the basis of providing next-generation marketing strategy and communications to startups and small businesses.
Think back to 2008. The iPhone had just launched and fast broadband internet connections for consumers was just becoming affordable. I could see how the internet was beginning to shape our buying habits. However, the early-adopters using the internet for marketing were large companies with huge budgets and resources to push themselves front-of-mind.
There were numerous startups and small-to-medium sized businesses who had a great story to tell, but didn’t seem to be getting a look in.
Smaller companies needed to have access to the same expertise, tools, and services that big companies take for granted, because of how increasingly important the customer relationship was becoming before, during, and after the sale. Soon this basic idea was all I could think about. So in January 2008 I resigned my comfortable corporate job and we launched KEXINO.
As well as running KEXINO, I’m also Visiting Professor of Marketing at a prominent European business school, teaching Marketing and Behavioral Economics to final-year MBA students. It’s hard work, but I absolutely love it.
As the CEO of KEXINO, please tell us more about the agency, the team, and the work processes.
From our modest beginnings, today KEXINO has grown into a 19 person organization that spans 9 countries. Since day one, our working model has been in a distributed environment. I like to say we’ve been ‘working from home’ since before it became fashionable!
The team comprises designers, art directors, developers, copywriters, animators, and business development specialists. We even have our own anthropological and cultural behavior scientist! All of this, we believe, allows us to create effective programs that move the needle for startups and small businesses from any industry vertical.
Our process is, I guess, similar to other reputable agencies in this space.
It’s a 4-stage process: DIAGNOSIS, DISCOVERY, STRATEGY, and TACTICS (in that order).
DIAGNOSIS: we'll take a look at the business - how it is presenting itself, its lead generation process, sales tactics, acquisition rates, etc. This is to understand the underlying problem to be addressed. Oftentimes a business owner will come to us thinking what needs to be fixed is X, when the real problem is Y. If the business is brand new, the Diagnosis stage forms part of the Discovery stage outlined below.
DISCOVERY: We analyze the market space the business occupies. The size of the market, growth projections, practices, product/market fit, and how strong the competition. What the ideal client looks like (behavioral drivers, expectations, motivations), how the business is seen from the outside, how much clients are willing to pay vs. how much they actually pay, and so on. Based on these results we formulate a strategy.
STRATEGY: The overarching marketing result on which we need to deliver, with defined and measurable targets, based on the business plan.
TACTICS: This is where we create and disseminate information to pre-defined audience groups, across the appropriate channels, based on the insights obtained from the above stages. Since this depends on the results from the 3 stages above, it is different from one client to another. It may be updating the website, design, copywriting, SEO, conversion optimization, advertising, content marketing, social media, video, podcasts, email, SMS, PR, and so on.
Too many agencies who think they know what they’re doing skip the first three stages and move straight into tactics. This is probably the single biggest reason why the resulting marketing output fails to deliver on the business goals that were outlined at the beginning. Too many people with ‘marketing’ in their job title haven’t got a clue what actual marketing is.
10 years ago we became software developers ourselves when we launched QARTO (https://qarto.com), a solution to better manage and control brand language assets while optimizing and delivering content to any digital channel. Some of our clients have included AMI, Jaguar Land Rover, Johnson & Johnson, Hasbro, Google, Intel, and Timberland.
We’ve worked with clients around the world, but today around 90% of our clients are located in the USA. Our ideal client profile is either a venture-based startup, or a small business selling into B2B markets.
Marketing strategies change, evolve, and fall. What are the marketing highlights for 2023 (events, trends, strategies) in your opinion?
I must correct you: marketing “strategies” rarely change. What changes are the TACTICS for implementing the strategy.
Many people conflate “strategy” with “tactics” and use them interchangeably, when they refer to two VERY different things. For more information on the difference see here.
Marketing hasn’t changed much because the psychological and emotional drivers that form the basic mental structures of how and why human beings buy things hasn’t changed.
What HAS changed, are the tactics.
I totally appreciate that the TACTICS we’re using today are completely different from what we were doing 20 years, 10 years, even 3 years ago. But ultimately, the challenge of understanding buyers, the strategic questions of target, position, and objective remain pretty much the same as they’ve always been.
The EXECUTION has altered - and will continue to evolve, of course it will. But the fundamental challenges and the lessons we can learn from the recent and not-so-recent past remain the same.
For me, the most important changes in marketing in 2023 and beyond are not going to be TECHNOLOGICAL. They are going to be PSYCHOLOGICAL.
As businesses realign their marketing efforts within a post-COVID and post-cookie-tracking customer environment, we are going to see an increasing recognition of the importance of creative execution in both brand building and sales activation efforts.
With the introduction of cookie and tracking script blocking by Apple and others, businesses will be forced to rethink their online and email campaigns to focus more on generating more resonant and emotional-driven messaging.
Creative execution will play a greater role in audience targeting, as tricks such as remarketing tags and scripts become less effective as people continue to push back on the concept. 2023 and beyond will see the growth in more creative, human-centric marketing as a way to charm, captivate, enthrall, and engage. I find this prospect really encouraging, exciting - and long overdue!
The reality is growth is our job. Marketing isn't just marketing anymore. Marketing is sales. Marketing is operations. Marketing is customer support. Marketing is finance. As an industry, we need to reform Marketing by getting people to accept that value is subjective and context-dependent, and meaning-dependent. That value is formed in the mind of the customer.
There again, perhaps instead of asking ourselves what the future of marketing may look like, we should focus on building organizations that can more readily accommodate whatever kind of future comes along. Modeling objectives on the ways we believe culture and consumer behavior will most likely adapt.
Case study: A potential client from the tourism industry considers KEXINO among other 5 other companies to take care of their marketing activities. What makes KEXINO stand out from its competitors? Why the client should choose you?
From a capabilities or services perspective, we’re just as good - or bad - as any other agency you’ll find anywhere in the world. Tactical execution is the easy bit. If we’re honest, every agency has similar tactical capabilities. That’s the last thing you should be basing your decision on when choosing a marketing agency.
What’s far more important is the work that comes beforehand - sitting down and taking the time to understand the client business, growth plans, customer buying behavior, segmentation, messaging, all the stuff that, unfortunately, very few marketing agencies bother with.
Why do people located halfway around the world choose us to be their marketing agency?
1>Our people: I’m very lucky to be able to work with a group of people with whom I have total and unconditional trust. In return, we’re nothing less than totally (and sometimes brutally!) honest with our clients. We have to feel a similar level of passion for whatever the product or service being offered. If we don’t believe in what the client is doing, then we don’t accept their business. We also firmly believe in the McKinsey tenet that states “Engagements should only be taken when the value to the client exceeds the fee to the firm.”
2> Our philosophy: We’re one of the very few marketing agencies that structure everything we do for our clients around the business result they’re looking to achieve. Marketing isn’t about posting on social media or making funny TikTok videos. It’s about crafting a program that results in sales!
Unfortunately most marketing agencies are too busy setting-up custom audiences for their Facebook ads, or looking for royalty-free images to throw into their Instagram updates. Very few have an understanding of business. They know all about ML, AI, SEO, or CRO. However none of them know about EBITDA!
Everything we do, especially at the start of any engagement, is specifically designed to effect a tangible business result for the client. As a marketing agency we’re not selling services. We’re not selling branding, or websites, or social, or advertising, or whatever. These things are nothing more than tools to get us to the end goal.
What’s the end goal? SALES, of course! Our clients are in business. Businesses don’t care about marketing. They care about sales. They’re focused on the destination, not the journey.
If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t marketing - it’s fluff!
What is the ideal environment” for a marketing agency, such as KEXINO?
Our ideal environment is working with open, respectful business owners and senior managers who have the wisdom and foresight to check their ego at the door.
We have 3 RULES that govern our client acceptance process. If any client - regardless of their budget, doesn’t meet these 3 rules of engagement, we don’t accept their business. We turn down maybe 10 enquiries a month because of the business failing to satisfy these rules.
The reason a prospective client comes to us is because the current ways of attracting customers to their business isn’t working. That mandates new ways of thinking, or problem solving, and of approaching their ideal customer profile.
It means that many business owners will push back on approving the execution of tangible examples of this new thinking. This is only to be expected. We are all creatures of habit who prefer the safe and familiar to the new and unknown.
But the fact is ‘what got you here won’t get you there’. Buyer behavior and expectations have changed immeasurably over recent years. Competitors are defining the ways customers and brands engage - where, how, and why.
This inevitably requires a business to rethink their value proposition, customer acquisition channels, and understand key precepts such as mental availability, dark social, attribution, and the difference between lead generation and demand generation.
It’s vital for a business looking to grow in this new environment to work with a partner who can guide, advise, and recommend on the best and most effective path forward.
Favorite movie and what car do you drive?
“Raging Bull” for direction, cinematography, and production values.
“The Big Lebowski” for everything else!
I currently drive a Tesla Model S, but will be changing to a BMW iX in the next few months.
If you had the opportunity to go back in time, what advice would you give to Gee Ranasinha from 2012?
Sweat the small stuff! Details matter - sometimes even more than the bigger things
Thank you for his honest and insightful interview, Gee. I think other marketing companies, and clients have a lot to learn from what you shared. Wish you best of luck with your projects!
KEXINO is one of the leading companies on TechBehemoths. If you like this interview and think that Gee and his team can help your business don't hesitate to contact them via TechBehemoths or get in touch with Gee on LinkedIn