Making marketing frugal

Making marketing frugal

27 Jul, 2007, 0504 hrs IST,Jacob Cherian,

On April 20, Aishwarya Rai and
Abhishek Bachchan got married. It was also the day a company called
was launched. The company decided to ride on the masses’ need for a peep
into the celebrity wedding to get the word of their brand out.

hired Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif look-alikes to attempt
gate-crashing the closely-guarded wedding. They were stopped at the gates of
Prateeksha and turned away — much to the delight of the media. This became
news, gossip, advertising, product-placement and viral videos all at once.
“The news crews were there for hours and getting nothing. They were hungry
for something,” says’s founder and managing director
Alankar Jain. And the look-alikes gave them the content
Crowds scrambled to shake hands with the superstar
look-alikes and ‘news’ was broadcast over six news channels in slots
ranging from 30 to 90 seconds. Meanwhile, people with t-shirts and
banners were circulating in the crowd for the cameras. The start-up company also
had their own ‘news crew’ for their video site.

links to these videos were posted on various sites and Jain claims the news
spread like wild fire. On some channels, the news looped till the next morning.
It gave them airtime that the average start-up cannot afford. They had spent
around Rs 80,000 for the whole gag. On the third day from their launch their
site got 3,50,000 hits and 400,000 the next day. “To generate such huge
interest levels with an offline campaign something in the range of Rs 20 lakh
may be required, depending upon the stimuli,” says V Ramani,
vice-chairman, Connecturf, a digital marketing company.

Marketing is
expensive. More so, for start-ups who have more aspirations in their hearts than
money in their bank accounts. So the big question for them is: how to build a
brand without going bankrupt in the process.

PRP Nair of Media
Direction, the media buying arm of RK Swamy BBDO, points out that a single
10-second television slot can cost anywhere between Rs 10,000 for non-primetime
on a channel with low reach, and Rs 2,50,000 for primetime on a major

To advertise in the country’s largest papers it can
cost almost Rs 5 lakh for 10 sq cm across all editions. Radio costs Rs 1,200 and
Rs 1,500 for a 10 second slot. Mainstream media is out of reach for most
start-ups; even if they are VC-funded. So if such tools are out of the question,
how does the entrepreneur get the word of his company, product, service, and
brand out? Employing cheaper sections of mainstream media can be an option.

However, there are even less expensive ways to take a brand to
market. This can range from internet strategies to piggy-backing on events where
media coverage is assured. However, the optimal route will always be to have a
good enough product that markets itself.

Samsika Marketing
Consultants chairman and managing director Jagdeep Kapoor says: “To build
a brand the least you need to do is to spend is money. Instead you need to spend
more time and dhyaan (thought).” Dippankar Halder, the CEO of Spinach, a
25-store retail chain adds that, “

It is important for the
entrepreneur to optimise his ad-spend as whatever is saved can get transferred
to the customer… when we opened a store our teams would go to all households
in a one kilometre radius of our store and give them a handful of spinach. In
turn, the people of the household would ask our guys “what is this?”
They got their answers pretty soon. Now, they get to know about us. There are
modes of communication that are more personal than advertising, especially for a
community store like ours.” When Spinach launched in March 2006, they were
four stores.

“If an entrepreneur needs to spend on marketing
then he does not deserve to exist,” says Mahesh Murthy, a managing partner
with Seedfund. He says, “If you need to spend on advertising your product
it means you have not been able to differentiate your product from what is
already in the market. We discourage the entrepreneur to spend on advertising;
instead we tell them to focus on spending the amount on differentiating the
product. We (Seedfund, as VCs) look at how we can tweak the product to cause
insane consumer delight.”

The key, he says, is to
make the product so interesting and useful that people recommend it to others;
therefore stimulating word-of-mouth — the most effective form of
marketing. “After 16 years in advertising, I say that advertising is a
highly over-rated tool,” he adds. However, Mr Murthy does point out that
if the company wishes to market their product abroad they would have to spend on

This is what Makemytrip had to do when they launched in
2000. Sachin Bhatia, the CMO was a one man marketing team with a marketing
budget of Rs 5 lakh. Today, their marketing budget runs into crores through a
team of six. Makemytrip’s initial target segment was Indian students in
American universities. To penetrate the college crowd, Mr Bhatia got in touch
with the heads of the Indian students organisations in over 50 universities and
got them to propagate the airline booking service. In return, the organisational
heads were given a free air ticket a year. This way, the company got people to
recommend the site to others.

“The best means to start off with
is through referrals,” says MG Parameswaran, executive director and CEO,
FCB Ulka, Mumbai. A referral list, he says, can keep the start-up going till it
is in a healthy position. Seventymm, the DVD-delivery service, took this idea of
a referral system and added an incentive to it.

Here, if one person
got six other people to sign on as members, their own fee would be waived.
“We thought that the only way to spread our brand is to get people to
spread the word themselves… The referral program is based on the assumption
that a service will be good enough to recommend it. And it is not meant to feel
like the sale of an insurance program, where someone gets a commission. Instead
it is meant to feel like sharing,” says Seventymm COO Shubhanker

“Once you (the entrepreneur) exhaust the referral list
you may want to go in for a bigger blast. Then the entrepreneur should look at
advertising in industry-specific journals and the internet,” says Mr
Parameswaran. He refers to the placement of a brand where it is sure that
relevant people see it. Though he is referring to advertisements, this can also
be in the form of a discussion on a topic related to the product, where the
product can be brought up in conversation. Talking about his own online
campaign, Rohit Agarwal, the founder of online techy-community, techTribe said:

“We spent time in the viral world of blogging, social
networks, and discussion groups — not shamelessly promoting techTribe, but
participating as a member and gaining respect. People like writing about,
talking about and promoting others they like or agree

BrewHaha Entertainment, a coffee shop in Bangalore,
reaps the benefit of this sort of online discussions, hands-free. All they
focused on was their service. “Our customers found us compelling enough to
blog about us,” says BrewHaHa managing partner Sreeram Vaidyanathan.

They have positioned themselves as a place of entertainment and not
as a coffee shop, he says. They conduct quiz competitions and other literary
events that appeal to the techie-crowd of Bangalore. This way they have
developed a stable customer base that serves them around 100 customers a day.
They opened six months ago and are gunning for three more outlets by the year

To make a start-up’s presence felt in the real world, is
similar to the having a presence on a relevant online community. Offline a
company must aim to be present at industry-relevant gatherings. “It is
critical for engineering companies to participate in trade shows. Once they (the
start-up) reach a certain stature they may want to look at hosting events
themselves,” Mr Parameswaran.

These events are great places to
interact with the media as well. In fact, many VCs advise their start-up teams
to smartly target the media. Manak Singh, the executive director of The Indus
Entrepreneurs (TiE)— Mumbai, talks about playing it smart with the media.
He says, “

With so much media opening up, there is a lot of
content needed. Entrepreneurs can leverage this. But if you were to do it as a
PR stunt, it would not appeal to me. Instead of advocating just their product, I
would strongly advise the entrepreneur to evangelise the space.” For the
media to highlight a product, the space as well as the product needs to be
exciting. This again comes around to the importance of differentiating the
product within the space it operates. “When you are small it is imperative
to have a differentiated product. Only when your company is big and fat can you
spend on marketing a ‘me-too’ product,” says Mr

Once the start-up has gone through the initials steps of
referrals, presence in journals and on the internet, attending industry-specific
events and hosting industry events, Mr Parameswaran of FCCB Ulka believes that,
“By now they should have reached a comfortable size to start looking at
mass media. Depending on the amount of money the entrepreneur has in his pocket,
the more steps he can go in for.”

R Subramaniam, the founder of
Subiksha, a retail chain with 780 stores, advises, “The idea is to get the
best bang for your buck, it is important not to overdo it (marketing). Plan how
much input you are going to put in for the result you want. You don’t want
to put too much input, which will create more demand than you can supply.”

Jagdeep Kapoor of Samsika Marketing Consultants warns, “Use
advertising like you are using salt. To make a serving of dal, use a fist of dal
and a pinch of salt.”


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