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Interview with eLearning Industry’s A (m)AD woman at heart – Pranjalee Lahri

Upside Learning, an award-winning pure play Learning Technology organization from India, has made a global mark in Learning Industry.

Founded by Amit Garg & Amit Gautam, Upside Learning is very vocal about Learning Technology through its blog, social media platforms, webinars and worldwide events. While the success of the organization depends on the entire team, the marketing team has a crucial contribution to the brand visibility, awareness and the customer’s confidence in the company.

We had a chance to talk to Pranjalee Thanekar Lahri, AVP – Marketing at UpsideLMS and A (m)AD woman at heart. An Engineering Graduate and MBA Marketing, Pranjalee has spent around eight years with Upside Learning and played multiple roles at Upside.

Gireesh: We would like to know a little about your career journey at Upside and how you have emerged as a marketing professional & leader?

Pranjalee: A quick back story. While I nursed a dream to make a career in media since my teenage years, it was only in the year 2006 (after graduating) that I did a small stint at an Ad Agency as a Copywriter. And if anything, this whetted my appetite for more. So after majoring in Marketing (MBA), I worked with another Advertising Agency, this time in the Client Servicing function. Two years into this, I felt a strong need to focus my passion and energy into one brand. And that’s when Upside Learning (UL) happened in 2010.
With experience in traditional Advertising and little to no knowledge of ‘Digital’ Marketing, I started my career at UL as Marketing Manager – Communications. I will be honest, the first couple of months here, I felt like a fish out of water. But Amit Garg, my manager, was patient, encouraging, and gave me ample room for learning. From content generation and copywriting, I moved up (the ladder) to include IMC planning and execution, and had my first promotion (Sr. Marketing Manager – Communications) in 2013.

This, for me, was the turning point.

From working as a part of a 8-people Marketing team, I went on to “managing” the team along with handling my (aforementioned) key KRAs. And soon after, I learnt the very first lesson in human behavior. Not all team members will be happy with the idea of reporting to you, especially when you have been a late entrant to the team. In my case, it was this plus the fact that I was younger than most of the “veteran” team members. Needless to say, I had teething troubles adjusting to my new role. But as with every challenge, there is a solution. You just need to dig deep. I found ingenious ways to handle individual reservations, and was soon working in complete harmony with “my” team.

I believe, it was my perseverance and positive attitude, along with my hunger to grow and hustle that earned me the Marketing Manager role in 2015. From here until about mid 2016, most things stayed the same – the market continued to go through its ups and downs, business happened as normal, and we, the Marketing team, sailed through smoothly.

It was September 2016, when the company decided to separate the Tech and the Content operations. For us, it meant two separate, dedicated Marketing teams. And I was now responsible for the Tech (LMS) Marketing function. As exciting as this was, it was not without its set of challenges.

UpsideLMS Team

The key task for me was to re-brand and re-establish UpsideLMS as a brand – without piggybacking on Upside Learning’s 12 years of earned brand equity. From then until this day, I, along with my trusty team of Graphic Designers, Programmers, Content Writers, SEO and SMM specialists, and Coordinators, have laid, brick-by-brick, the very foundation of brand UpsideLMS, achieved brand visibility, generated leads, won clients and awards (38 to be precise), and have put UpsideLMS on the global eLearning map. And me, in the AVP league. 🙂

Looking back, it’s been rewarding, enriching and fulfilling 8+ year journey. And one that’s abundant in successes as in failures. What began as a mere Marcomm position for me, has grown to encompass a diverse range of roles – that of a Salesman, a Client Relationship Leader, an Ops person, a sounding-board, a critic, a photographer, a choreographer (yes, that too!), and more!

Gireesh: What are your thoughts on the Global e-Learning Markets and where are they heading to in next couple of years?

Pranjalee: I won’t quote any stats here. They are already out there and most of us as well aware of the staggering growth numbers. I will, however, share my interpretation of the same.

The global eLearning market is on a solid growth trajectory. And fueling this growth is the emergence of new technologies, the multi-device world, the changing user (and learner) behavior, the penetration and adoption of mobile devices, the wide acceptance of Internet (in its 3G, 4G, and even 5G avatars), amongst other things.

On the learning platform front, traditional Learning Management Systems will give way to new-age LMSs and Learner Engagement Platforms that go beyond mere learning/ training delivery and management. Integration with 3rd-party apps and systems (including but not limited to HRIS, HRMS, employee databases, CRMs, etc), support for Online Content Marketplaces and ready-to-use Off-the-Shelf eLearning, Gamification, Informal Learning (through Social Learning and Knowledge Collaboration Tools), Performance Support, Micro-learning, Deep Learning, etc. will be some of the must-haves.

On the content front, demand for Mobile-Ready/ Optimized Content, Interactive Videos, Game-Based eLearning, AR- and VR-based eLearning, device-agnostic Off-the-Shelf eLearning, etc. will be the ones to look out for.

Gireesh: How do you cope up with the rapidly growing competition in eLearning Industry?

Pranjalee: For us, it’s about being self-aware and aware of our surroundings. But more than this, it’s our desire to “do more” (critical analysis and self-evaluation) and “do better” (self-betterment) that helps us to stay on the top of our game.

Gireesh: How do marketing fuels innovation and creativity at Upside Learning?

Pranjalee: As marketers, we have an ear to the ground – constantly picking up the latest market trends, trending features and functionalities, changing user behavior, design styles, and so forth. This information is then fed to the respective teams, so that our LMS product roadmap (and finally, the product itself) reflects these innovations.

Besides this, the workplace culture at UpsideLMS encourages creativity and open thinking. We have our thinking caps on at all times. 🙂

Gireesh: What is the secret behind Upside’s immense success at Awards?

Pranjalee: It wouldn’t be a secret anymore if I revealed it, would it? 🙂

Upside LMS Celebrating 2017 Brandon Hall Award – With Gulf Oil team

Jokes apart, the secret sauce to our success (at awards or otherwise too) has been the LMS itself, the people behind it, and the perfect synergy between these two. UpsideLMS (our proprietary Learning Management System) was developed, about 14 years back, with a view to enabling easy management of learning/ training for SMBs, Enterprises and Training Companies. While the objective continues to remain the same till this day, what has changed (in line with the times and technology) is our approach to designing and development (we follow AGILE methodology), our increased focus on UI and UX, our ability to work with one eye on the market and one on our customers, our innovation and future-readiness, and our desire to give our customers the best LMS experience. 38 awards and recognition (and counting) is no surprise then, is it?

Gireesh: How will Artificial Intelligence impact the existing marketing strategies and tactics?

Pranjalee: AI (and even Machine Learning (ML)) is already starting to make an impact on marketing strategies and tactics. The (further) integration of technology into the physical world would create new consumer interactions that are simpler and instantaneous. At large, AI will change how people interact with information, technology, brands, and services.

While this may seem challenging, there are opportunities too.

A big part of the opportunity for marketers is how AI will help us fully realize “personalization”, and “relevance at scale”. With Digital Marketing forming a major part of the Marketing pie, leveraging a prospect’s historical data to make the ads/ content contextually relevant – all of which will be optimized on the fly in real-time will be a game-changer.

Gireesh: Do you think Augmented Reality & Virtual Reality are scalable for Learning Technologies or will they also just remain niche like “Learning Games”?

Pranjalee: I definitely see AR and VR making their mark in learn-tech in the future. It’s no longer a question of “If”, but “How soon?”.

That said, interactive VR is still expensive to develop, and most corporate L&D may look at it only for specific types of training needs. AR, on the other hand, is far more affordable and aligned to performance support.

Gireesh: How do you ensure integration between Sales, Marketing & Operations?

Pranjalee: Let me say this out loud first. While we have separate functions (Sales, Marketing, Ops, Programming, QA, BA, etc.) at UpsideLMS, these are separate only on paper. If you were to drop in at our office, chances are you would see us huddling together discussing the next big idea, or finding a solution, or just sharing a good laugh. I am blessed to have a bunch of talented and matured colleagues who understand and appreciate the other’s efforts and are willing to lend a hand (or an ear).

UpsideLMS - Internal Marketing Activity
UpsideLMS – Internal Marketing Activity

As far as integration between Sales, Marketing & Operations is concerned, we work hand in glove with each other. While we employ a lot of Inbound Marketing tactics, which ensure a steady supply of “qualified” leads to the Sales team, we understand that, oftentimes, we need to look beyond our documented KRAs and step into a Salesperson’s role or an Ops’ role. And this is a two-way street. Sales and Ops too handle Marketing tasks depending on the need. At the end of the day, it’s about presenting a unified, seamless experience to the client/ prospect – and that’s exactly what we strive to do at every touch point.

Gireesh: What is your message to fellow B2B marketers?

Pranjalee: I actually have a couple of ‘Don’ts’, simply because I have been there and erred once.

  • Don’t be a ‘Me-too’ of someone/ something. It’s nice to be inspired, but originality is valued.
  • Don’t fall prey to vanity metrics. Some data looks good on paper (or your laptop screen), but that’s about it.
  • Don’t lap up anything and everything that’s new and buzzing in Marketing. Your industry, your product/ service, your TG should define what you need to do, and how.
  • Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo (and do the new). Experiment with new approaches/ channels. But if they don’t work, don’t hesitate to kill them, put them down as learning, and move on.

Gireesh: As an employee of Upside Learning, what keeps you motivated to come to the office every morning?

Pranjalee: Multiple things. But at the heart of it, it is the freedom I am given here – to do, experiment, speak my mind, fail (and learn). I owe this to Amit Gautam, who has put his complete faith in me and my abilities.

Women’s day celebration with my marketing team

Plus, it also helps that we work together as a close-knit family of like-minded people that have each other’s backs.

Gireesh: Why do you define yourself as A (m)AD woman at heart

Pranjalee:  🙂 Two reasons:

1. Advertising is my first love. So ‘Ad’ is an integral part of me.
2. I believe that in this insanely sane world, a little bit of madness is the key to a whole lot of greatness (and fun).

Contact Pranjalee Thanekar Lahri

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