Raja Rajamannar speaks to ecommerce startup Meesho’s founder and CEO Vidit Aatrey
The pandemic and the chaos it has unleashed is certainly not the last global crisis we’ll see. Given the increasingly complex and uncertain times, our greatest test will be endurance. Businesses and brands face the same challenge today. Storyboard18’s special series—Build To Last—featuring Raja Rajamannar, global chief marketing and communications officer and president-health care business, MasterCard, helps us decode the power of brand in building lasting and legendary companies. In the first episode, Rajamannar speaks to ecommerce startup Meesho’s founder and CEO Vidit Aatrey. Edited excerpts:
Q. Raja Rajamannar: Vidit, you have succeeded extraordinarily in terms of the growth of the business and I will not be surprised if you go to an IPO pretty soon and come up with whatever number you fancy. But brand building and business building are two different things, and one impacts the other significantly. Can you share your perspective on brand building?
Vidit Aatrey: A lot of our growth and momentum comes from the brand. The brand is building that strong relationship with our customers and that trust that people come back to us for all the needs they have. We want to become the single ecommerce destination for the next billion consumers in the country. There are a lot of products where people don’t have to put in any money, for example, a social media platform. But, in a business like ours, people trust us with their money. The expectation of that trust is much higher. So we think of it holistically rather than just doing marketing or doing ads. That’s how we think about the brand in our business. And we keep expanding from that.
Q. But even large companies struggle to embrace it fully. Marketing investment is always sort of a last-resort investment. How do you balance your investments between marketing and the rest of the company?
Earlier, branding was considered something that you have to do, but if you ask people can you attribute what are the benefits to the business from doing these brand investments, most people won’t have a good answer. Because of technology,
a lot of these problems are now solved with attribution. Once you are able to create some kind of return on investment (RoI) model around branding, some of these conversations go away.
We have tried to put as much science as we can behind this. You can check every single investment that you do, how does that translate into RoI and because of that we are able to have a conversation inside the company, saying branding is an investment rather than a cost of business.
Q. Do you think of investing specifically for brand building because it is good for your company in the years to come?
To be frank, for the first few years when you have limited money, you invest only in performance marketing because the attribution is almost 100 percent correct. But now we don’t think of performance and branding as two different channels. We have evolved to a point where we say that all of them combined together become more powerful. Sometimes we just keep doing performance marketing, and a customer who does not know about the brand looks at that ad 10 times a day, but does not trust that brand because we haven’t spent enough around building the narrative. People just won’t click on the ad.
But if you start to invest towards brand building, you start to see a performance campaign start to become better. That’s why we are such strong believers in brand building and sometimes people who haven’t seen that are not.
Q. You cannot have 40 percent new users or first-time users of ecommerce unless your experience is seamless, smooth and simple. I don’t know what it entails for a company to give that kind of a simple interface, given the complexity and the sophistication that has to go behind it.
A lot of work that we have done is around virality. That’s what we call it internally. And the reason I’m talking about this is the kind of customers we serve. A lot of these people come from lower-income segments, and whatever you do, the LTV (lifetime value) sometimes could be limited in the kind of categories you’re operating in. So you have to figure out a way to basically access them without spending a lot of money. We invested in increasing the virality of the product. How do we make sure the product goes from one customer to the other at different points in time? We invested around technology on our app and leveraged WhatsApp. We created these beautiful nudges at different points in the app so that people refer to their friends, family, and everyone. It became very natural.
Everything that we do is customer-first rather than what we have. The kind of customer we serve wants simple things because they’re new to online, new to ecommerce, and they’re overwhelmed. They want a simple path to getting to what they want. Now how do you kind of build that out? It happens when you start to understand your customer better than anyone else.
Q. We all say people are at the centre of making a company successful and technology and all are just enablers. For a startup like yours, to introduce policies like gender-neutral leave for new parents and vacation time for employees is incredibly powerful.
The core of everything that we have done around people comes from a strong belief that we are where we are today because of all the people we have in the company. And I think we will get to where we want to be also because of the kind of people we have. Our goal is to build a people-centric workplace. A brand is not just in your business, a brand is built around how you treat your people. Do you think of them as resources to get some work done or do you think of them as people who are essentially going to grow the organisation. They evolve and the organisation evolves with them. That core belief about how important people are to the company drives a lot of this and we will keep reinventing a lot of these policies. We will keep marching towards building the most people-centric workplace, not just in India but also in the world.
Q. What does it take to build brands that are endearing and enduring?
To me, building an enduring brand is every single time you interact with your customers feeling that you have to earn that trust again. And never take your customer for granted. A lot of legacy products (companies) that we see… you just start to feel that someone takes you for granted and that’s when disruption happens. We have to keep working towards earning the customer’s trust in every single interaction every single time and if you do that for years, then you have a chance of building an enduring brand.
The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.
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