"The Shahid campaign took our monthly active users to upwards of 150k and daily activities to 20K and it would be huge for us if we chose the ad model but we chose not to take that path to keep the user experience intact," says Varun Ganjoo, co-founder and CMO - Baazi Games. Courtesy PokerBaaziP
okerBaazi that already has actor Shahid Kapoor as brand ambassador has now roped in two game ambassadors. Muskan Sethi, India's first female poker player and recipient of the President's First Ladies award, and Abhishek Goindi, who is a popular poker coach and player, are the new faces of the brand who will help users understand the sport.
Varun Ganjoo, co-founder and chief marketing officer, Baazi Games, says PokerBaazi has also grown to become the primary driver of Baazi Games’ growth contributing to over 75 percent of Baazi Games’ revenue. According to him, choosing the right partnerships at this stage is very crucial for the brand. The partnerships include everything from brand ambassadors to advertising platforms to curating IPs.
Ganjoo talks to Storyboard18 about the company's marketing playbook, the importance of digital, content and a robust tech stack.
Edited excerpts.Q. You already have Shahid Kapoor on board and now you have two popular faces in poker as ambassadors too. How did getting Kapoor on board help the brand and what will Sethi and Goindi bring to the table?
Our strategy is to take poker to the masses as a skill sport and form a category of its own. A game will not do that, right? If it's just a game, there will not be a category of its own. But if it's a sport, it's big enough, and it has all those things that a sport has. This includes the viewership, the players and the game itself. In order to make that happen we thought of getting a face that people relate to. Somebody who has struggled his way up the ladder and has a mass following. That’s how Shahid Kapoor was roped in. With him we did our first 360 campaign and we saw phenomenal response.
In a span of a month of the campaign launch our impressions rose 20X, clicks on the websites rose by somewhere between 12X and 15X.
Then comes the next step. We also wanted our players to get to know people who are ambassadors of the game. Muskan and Abhishek are not our brand ambassadors. We are calling them our Team Pro. They are professionals of the sport who’ve built their careers around the sport so why not put them in the front and let people interact with them.Q. Gaming is a comparatively new category hence there’s no tried and tested marketing formula that offers guaranteed ROI. So what are the elements that you incorporate in your marketing strategy that brings people to play poker on your platform?
Marketing in general has evolved a lot. The game is big globally, it’s a big sport but then the learning curve is longer. It is not just a click thing where we can just call the customer and ask them to come and give it a shot. It’s a quick fix and wouldn’t not last long. So you have to add different elements and include that in your marketing strategy. For instance, a very critical piece of our marketing strategy is the product and product experience. A very strong database supports that. For real money games and also for gaming in general, the biggest source of discovery is recommendation. So for us, it becomes all the more important to make the experience as good as it can be. We built a very solid technology team which is about 50% of our workforce. We build all our products in house and that has given us an edge throughout. We recently revamped our app and since then, we have not looked back.Also read: Ad spends on gaming apps grow as brands find more value
Secondly, we believe in promoting the skill. We have to choose your elements and marketing pieces carefully. We have associated with cricket and that was a big piece of our marketing plan and in the next phase we will be seen associating with Shark Tank India season two. We are sponsoring them this time, and we feel that it is a perfect stage for us. We want to take the skill to the people through these big platforms and not just talk about the winning aspect of the sport.
The third part of the strategy includes putting together IPS, events and championships. We are taking the game places in the form of these events. We have been to a lot of educational institutions like most of the IITs and IIMs and interacted with the students, helping them understand the game, making them play and overall just working on improving awareness and engagements.Q. Besides on-ground activities and events, What are the other platforms that you use for your marketing communications? How much have you spent on marketing communications this year?
Properties we associate with are more important for us than the platforms. It is a dynamic environment. Today it might be OTT, tomorrow it might be TV. So if there's something coming up, which would relate most to my TG, I'll probably jump to the properties and not just the platform. However, predominantly 80-85 percent of the mix remains digital.Also read: India's gaming sector is spawning unicorns. But the future is uncertain
For this financial year, for PokerBaazi we will be spending somewhere in the tune of $15 million and this has probably increased by 2.5X to 3x from the previous year.Q. Monetization is an important piece in this space at the moment. Real money gaming is leading the show when it comes to monetization. Tell us about the models you function in?
That answer is simpler for us because we only have one source of revenue which is taking commission out of the prize pool. People deposit money, they play the game so whatever that prize pool is, the best hand would take that money and we'll take a percentage out of that as commissioner.
As the other part, which is a decent chunk in the overall gaming business otherwise is app purchases, and, and the ad model but we poker is a serious game. While there is a lot of fun and thrill attached to it, it has a lot of intensity attached to it and requires focus.Also read: There will be a complete change in how people perceive real money gaming: Deepak Gullapalli
The Shahid campaign took our monthly active users to upwards of 150k and daily activities to 20K and it would be huge for us if we chose the ad model but we chose not to take that path to keep the user experience intact.Q. Tell us about your revenues and the scope for growth in the numbers?
In the last financial year, we clocked in around Rs249 crore in gross revenues, which was around a 64 percent year-on-year growth from the previous financial year. This year, we are targeting a 100 percent year-on-year growth. It's a very fast growing aggressive market and with all our initiatives in place we think we're on the track to achieve this target.Q. There are already two companies in the space which are listed and some others too are taking the IPO route. Do you see your company following suit?
From a finance point of view, we have a very clear understanding of this. We don't want to chase just the valuations. We don't want to be a unicorn by valuation. We want to be a unicorn by value. So yes, in two or three years if we arrive at where we are targeting to arrive we might think of that route.Q. Alongside growing the revenue and use base of course, what are the primary focus areas for PokerBaazi?
Product growth and experience is the key so we will continue to focus on that. Then choosing the right partnerships is something we will be very seriously working on. Then there is content that is going to be a key aspect for us. We want to create a variety of content ranging from lifestyle to education to others. We will use this aggressively to raise awareness and generate interest.