Why Vijay Solanki is joining this martech as inaugural CMO

Former IAB chief and experienced marketer shares the personal experiences that led him to become the first marketing chief at Australian owned, China focused martech vendor, Sinorbis

Vijay Solanki
Vijay Solanki

Digital marketing might be hard but building a digital presence in places such as China is even harder for brands, Vijay Solanki says. Which is why the former IAB chief, digital and marketing leader and entrepreneur has joined martech player, Sinorbis, as its first CMO.

The marketing leadership appointment comes as Sinorbis looks to crank up international expansion after posting record revenue growth over the last two years of the pandemic. Sinorbis was founded in 2017 and provides a platform for businesses to manage their own China digital assets. The company claims more than 100 clients in higher education and B2B services across Australia and New Zealand.

Solanki spent more than two years as CEO of Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) Australia after building his resume with brands including Unilever, BP/Castrol, Philips, BlackBerry, Premier Foods and Shazam, where he was founding marketing director.

Solanki said he was drawn to Sinorbis after experiencing the challenges of building a digital presence in China firsthand.

 “The great firewall has nurtured a unique collection of digital platforms, ecosystems and tools that companies need to master to effectively communicate with Chinese audiences, both domestically and in China,” he commented. “I’ve experienced these challenges leading marketing efforts into China, so I’m excited to be joining the team that has mastered this challenge and provided a one-stop-shop for companies to set up their Chinese digital presence.”

Sinorbis CEO and founder, Nicolas Chu, said that despite the challenges facing Australia-China trade in the past five years, the platform has posted year-on-year growth since launch and expanded internationally into the US, Canada and UK off the back of strong client demand.

“As the world shifted online during the pandemic, the need to connect digitally with Chinese consumers and audiences grew and I’m proud of how the team has responded to this demand,” he said. “Bringing a CMO with Solanki’s experience on-board builds out our capability significantly, bringing experience scaling products, companies and sectors internationally.”

A personal tale of digital marketing localisation

To put the new role and Sinorbis’ approach in context, Solanki shared with CMO his personal experiences trying to build a digital presence in Asia while working for both Blackberry and Philips.

“Twelve years ago, my team and I at BlackBerry were rebuilding the websites and social channels for the brand across Europe and The Middle East.  We’d worked across Europe by this point and this experience meant we were confident in deploying a consistent navigation, assets and approach, with the help of a translation agency to help us localise copy,” Solanki explained.

“We ran into some unexpected challenges in the Middle East. What we didn't consider were the fundamental differences in language, culture and navigation that would create a unique set of challenges.”    

For one, Cyrillic languages run right to left so different navigation is required. For another, many Middle Eastern cultures also have strict codes when it comes to showing any naked flesh, such as a bare shoulder, arm or leg. Fortunately in this instance, there was enough time in the project plan to reshoot assets and make adjustments in the CMS, requiring tweaks to existing infrastructure rather than a complete rebuild. But it’s a cautionary tale of just how tricky digital marketing when crossing cultures can be, Solanki said.

An even bigger challenge emerged during Solanki’s time at Philips as the team rebuilt the China website.  

“China presented not only a completely different language, but also a different culture with completely different technologies, systems and policies.  To start with, to build a Chinese website back in 2012, you needed a team in China,” he continued. “Over the last 10 years, building an effective digital presence has simply got harder. You can't run a website outside of China's digital 'firewall'.  Google and Facebook don't work in China and it’s hard to draw direct comparisons of Chinese platforms to their Western counterparts – after all, China is where the ‘super-app’ concept was born. Bluntly, digital marketing in China is hard.”  

It was off the back of these experiences that in 2018, Solanki came across Chu and the Sinorbis business, launched with a simple promise of making China digital marketing easy.

“Fast forward another four years and Sinorbis now has the product market fit, as well as the battle scars of spending the last two years helping Australian universities with their digital marketing in China through Covid,” Solanki said.    

“Despite the headwinds of the pandemic, the company has grown 105 per cent since the pandemic closed borders globally. Why? Because marketing isn't transactional. Universities, for example, need to stay engaged with prospective students and parents throughout a two-year purchase cycle.”    Solanki initially started working with Sinorbis earlier this year and flagged its steps to grow globally and beyond China by building out a presence in New Zealand, Canada, UK and US.

“As an Aussie-British-Asian born in Africa, I have empathy for the cultural connections built in a global world. I love Australia but want to help companies better connect with Asia, digitally,” he said.

A CMO’s priority list

Solanki is now working through a hefty list of priorities at Sinorbis. The overarching one is building a global brand in martech, focusing on enabling higher education providers and organisations to effortlessly do business in China.

He’s also keen to build a modern, future-ready marketing operation for companies that need to market into China.  

“This will see me combine all of my knowledge of corporates, scale ups, media and startups [last 2 plus years of building ParentalEQ],” Solanki said.

As Sinorbis scales, Solanki reiterated the team’s commitment to a customer-facing culture, ensuring it’s able to use customer insights to inform and shape every aspect of the business. 

“There’s a lot on my plate, and I'm enjoying the challenge of building a modern, relevant and digitally connected brand that will only grow from strength to strength,” Solanki added.  

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You can also follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page 


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