Storyboard18 | This is the time when people start thinking about what to do next: upGrad's Arjun Mohan

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The CEO of upGrad, Arjun Mohan, sheds light on the precise timing of the edtech brand's campaigns coincide with appraisal time, moving to the next phase with vertical based marketing and more, in this exclusive interview with Storyboard18.

Storyboard18 | This is the time when people start thinking about what to do next: upGrad's Arjun Mohan
After having spent the past year and half building awareness about the brand, upGrad is now entering a new phase of marketing and focusing on verticals.
Arjun Mohan, CEO, upGrad tells Storyboard18 that rather than trying to communicate everything to everyone they will now have a sharper way of segmenting and targeting their audience. “For each audience we are targeting, we'll have a sub brand that we will use to talk to them,” he says.
Some of its latest campaigns like Khud Ke Liye, upGrad Abroad starring Amitabh Bachchan and the upcoming campaign on Doctorate of Business Administration are steps taken in the direction of vertical based management.
Mohan tells us they are looking at coming up with at least two to three campaigns every quarter and the bump up in marketing spends is planned accordingly. 2022 for the edtech startup saw a 130 percent increase in marketing spends compared to the previous year and the scenario is similar in FY23 Mohan says.
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Mohan also talks about getting Bachchan on board, timing campaigns in sync with appraisal seasons, the growing focus on upskilling post the pandemic and much more.
Edited excerpts.
Tell us more about the whole vertical based marketing? What is it that you are doing as a part of this new phase?
We embarked on building brand upGrad very seriously from a business perspective two years ago, that's when we really started the repositioning exercise and started doing brand campaigns. So the objective in the first one and a half years was to create awareness about the brand and talk about what it was and what it wasn’t. We have reached a stage where our TG knows what upGrad is. It is now time to tell them what is in it for them? And that's where phase two of the upGrad’s branding started.
We decided that rather than going about saying upGrad does this and that and confusing the customer we should look at the sub brands and that's been phase two of our marketing playbook. It started last year with our MBA campaigns and then we continued with our study abroad vertical and created a campaign with Mr Bachhan.
So when we go to the customer, it's always good to have a credible figure to explain what we are offering. That is where Mr Bachchan came in. The campaign is still running, it's reaching out to its audience and the ROI looks good. Now in the same lines, we are coming out with a doctorate program campaign and a technology-based campaign targeted at coders about basically talking to them with the product, which they will immediately connect with and in that way they will know what upGrad has to offer them. This is what our second phase is all about.
Can you help us understand how getting Mr Bachchan on board helped exactly in terms of ROI?
The impact has been massive. upGrad Abroad became a brand in itself with Mr Bachchan coming in. We started seeing organic growth in queries and organic growth in traffic. We saw a 773 percent spike in overall traffic on the upGrad Abroad homepage during the week of 23rd March, when we launched the campaign as compared to the same period during February 2022.
Moving on to innovation in campaign content, sometimes even in a bid to be funny ads show a lot of violence and vandalism. What are your views on that?
You only just get some seconds to get the attention of the customer. So when you shock the customer, you always get their attention for that five seconds. I guess that is the objective of doing it. However, you can only have such shocking elements in the beginning of the ad to get the attention because if you don't bring the ad to an end where it leaves a smile on the face of your customer I don't think you're being effective.
Coming back to the campaigns - help us understand about the timing of these new campaigns. You have been releasing one new campaign after the other since mid-March.
We just completed the appraisal cycle. This is the time a lot of people who are not very happy with their appraisals, start thinking about what to do next. What we have observed in our segment is that a lot of times people don't take up education very proactively. For a working professional who is busy all the time, higher education or upskilling is maybe their fifth priority in life.
Typically, this guy or girl starts thinking about it and starts signing up for upskilling when a shock hits them. Now this shock could be a hike they expected that did not come their way or a promotion they wanted which did not finally happen and sometimes even a girl they wanted to marry who said no because they were not successful.
So this is typically how people start thinking about upskilling. Hence the post appraisal season is a great time for us to start talking to our customers because they immediately connect to it and hence these campaigns.
People have utilized their stay at home time in the first two years of the pandemic to take up education and upskilling but with offices opening up and people being back on the road, do you think upskilling will take a back seat?
The demand is not coming down. What happened during the pandemic is that more than the shutting down and opening up it was all about the multiple times in which the life of our consumer changed. Once initially their offices shut down then there were some that started opening up. Then the second wave stuck and we reconsidered everything we knew. No one was sure whether they would have jobs. But things started becoming better again which is when the third wave started.
So we have all gone through three cycles of going online and offline. Meanwhile, technology has changed and expectations of an employee have also changed by leaps and bounds. The salary packages of people who have been able to successfully navigate has gone through the roof. So basically people have seen a lot. Most importantly, they have seen that the only thing constant is change. And the only way you can survive is upskill. So I agree that coming back to the office and traveling has added more complications in their life but they do understand that this is essential today.
So we have ensured that our entire product works on a mobile phone and on slow internet connection. What we tell the customer is that you're spending one and a half hours on the road traveling anyway so why not finish your daily MBA studies in that time.
We understand you are focused on vertical based marketing at the moment but what are the other key areas you are looking at to drive growth this year?
The focus is on customer acquisition. We always focus on customer acquisition, retention and absolutely delighting our customers. If you delight the customer they will take care of the new customers coming in. If you want to acquire customers, you need to be telling your story all the time.
The new product innovations are nothing but gaps in the market which you realize when you start reaching out and trying to acquire more and more customers. So I would say the focus is always the customer. Everything else is innovation designed to get to that customer.
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