Retail in Asia


EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Rohit Bhargava X Marketing Pulse

Rohit Bhargava

The key element in all businesses and sectors is INNOVATION. Now more than ever, all businesses and sectors need to provide ‘new’ trends, ‘new’ products, ‘new’ everything in all their operations.

Fashion now lives by the must “innovate or fade” ideology, advertising goes beyond creative messages and innovates through entertaining features, and retail focuses on extravagant store experiences to engage the demanding consumers. It does not matter which role you play in the business game, if you do not bring something new, you are out.

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In the fast-pace society we live in, there is no choice, businesses need to innovate and do it fast.

Marketing Pulse, a regional premium conference for marketers and brands to be held 21 March 2018 in Hong Kong, aims to provide a platform to discuss innovation in marketing practices.  Creative minds from all over the world will converge into a creative hub to understand the latest trends in marketing strategies and share best practices, but also engaging in interesting debated about current issues in the industry.


Among the speakers, Rohit Bhargava, trend curator, storyteller, marketing expert, and the founder of the Non-Obvious Company. He is the Wall Street Journal best selling author of five business books, and a definitely ‘non-boring’ keynote speaker and Professor of marketing and storytelling at Georgetown University.

His books promote a single big idea of creating a brand with personality, or being a leader that people love. While writing about  business trends, Rohit’s aim is to provide professionals with an overview of disrupting factors that may affect businesses. His books have become a year’s appointment for professionals to stay up-to-date on what’s next in the business industry.

Retail in Asia met him to discover what to expect from his participation at the Marketing Pulse. “Rohit Bhargava helps brands and leaders win by learning to see what others miss”, it is said on the Non-Obvious Company website, and we wanted to understand what it is that professionals often miss.

Rohit was very straightforward: “The biggest thing that most leaders miss is what is happening outside of their industry”. Leaders are so focused on their vertical that do not see what happens outside the box. Innovation is not something that can be taught, Rohit focuses on inspiring a genuine open-minded attitude that enables leaders to look for new ideas in the most unexpected places.

His experiences varies from projects with the World Bank, NASA, Intel, to LinkedIn, MetLife; from Under Armour, Univision, to Disney, and many more.  All come from different sectors, however, there is a common denominator which brings those businesses together, people.


This is something people often forget.  Business is made by people. Therefore, it is important to understand motivations and inspirations behind people, and also what makes  people happy. “Purpose is a big word that is now being used in the business context to describe the idea that we all want to feel that we live a mark in the world while doing our job,” Rohit explains. “The more we can link what we do in marketing to this desire, the more we can inspire our people to create greater products”.

Also brands, there are corporate brands, but also personal brands, and they usually follow the way corporate brands are built. A corporate brand is built on reputation, consistency, contribution to the community, and engagement with consumers. Personal brands reflect those features at an individual level. The biggest difference is that a personal brand consists of an individual and his actions, and as consequence easier to control.

When it comes to creative innovation in marketing, many trends cross people’s mind for either corporate or personal brands. Rohit shared with us something that seems to swim against the tide. In a consumer-oriented, almost obsessed, marketing direction, Rohit devotes the newest edition of Non-Obvious to “over targeting”. “While many marketing teams try to personalize and segment their audiences, they accidentally end up leaving out large groups of potentially valuable customers,” Rohit briefly summarized. He will provide more insights about it during the conference, and we will have the chance to discuss with him how to avoid “overexposure” on the other hand, as it becomes an issue in sectors like luxury for instance.

Some sectors sometimes seem to be more reluctant in generating, but also embracing innovation. We asked Rohit if he sees any patters in that, but according to his strong belief proofed with years of experience, it is not about the sectors. The change needs to follow a top-down implementation, that eventually stats from people within the business or organization.

That said, companies that are in particularly fast moving industries such as technology can sometimes have an easier time reacting to the pace of innovation and become more flexible and agile. In slow moving industries, or highly regulated industries, or even government it can be difficult to change leaders’ mindset. Change is a long process and it does require a change of culture and leadership priorities.

Students at the Georgetown University have access to Rohit’s knowledge and learn the most cutting-edge marketing and storytelling strategies; however, Rohit remarked how teaching experience is also an exchange. Students learn from the teacher, but teachers also learn from students, and again people’s attitude can always make a difference.

Students can help teachers challenging their own assumptions. Learning is part of life, and people should never forget to be curious and think that there is always something unknown to discover. This changes the way we see the world and we can adopt new mindset.


“This is very important when it comes to thinking in more innovative ways, but it can be more difficult when we see ourselves as experts sometimes,” Rohit said. “When I interact with my students, it helps me to get out side of the expert mindset and enter into more of a learning mode where I am ready to think differently about the world,” he added.

Rohit remembered when he started his career,  he comes from advertising agencies such as Leo Burnett and Ogilvy and his years in the agency world were very impotant for his formation. “The benefits of living in such a world”, he explains, “is that you have the opportunity to work with many different companies at the same time. It teaches you how to move back-and-forth between different groups and understand various business challenges at the same time”. Rohit loved the energy of working in a creative group with people who are coming up with ideas quickly, and working fast to implement them. The speed of the work is a very big reason why people either thrive in that environment or struggle.

We could have spent hours and hours talking with Rohit. Thanks to Marketing Pulse we will have the chance to continue our conversation on 21 March 2018.

People join events to look for inspiration and connect with people. At Marketing Pulse in Hong Kong, Rohit is expecting to learn from his fellow speakers as well as from the participants at the event about the marketing challenges they are facing, how they are meeting them, and what is working. “Being in Hong Kong, creative hub and also gate to China, country leading technological development faster there than anywhere else, is a great opportunity,” he said.


In a fast-pace world, speed is key, but creativity is what solves problems. The intersection of innovation and creativity can be summarized into science fiction, Rohit says and leaves us with a takeaway we share. “SCI-FI helps us to imagine the future in new and different ways. Without that imagination, we would not know what to innovate for or even how to decide what new advances to pursue.  So, science and innovation progress are inspired by art, and it reminds us how important it is to look for unique and non-obvious ideas in unexpected places beyond just the business world as well”.

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