EP #36: How Medlife Cures the Customer Retention Challenge Through the Antidote of Personalization

EP #36: How Medlife Cures the Customer Retention Challenge Through the Antidote of Personalization

About this Podcast

The e-health industry in India is likely to be worth $16 billion by 2025, with over 850 million digital customers. The online pharmacy segment has emerged as a strong growth driver, especially in the COVID-19 era. To learn how an industry pioneer like Medlife is re-calibrating their growth strategies to cater to surging demand, we caught up with Meera IyerChief Marketing Officer at Medlife. Medlife is India’s largest e-health and online pharmacy platform that aims to make healthcare accessible and affordable in India. To make this happen, they bring doctors, pharmacists, and consumers under one digital ambit. Meera highlights the following:

  • Medlife’s growth story in the rapidly evolving e-health industry in India
  • The key short-term vs. long-term consumer behavior trends in the COVID-19 era
  •  The importance of building a unified customer view to help understand digital customers better
  • The use of AI to personalize product recommendations and customer journeys
  •  The future application of ML/AI, predictive analytics, etc. in the e-health industry

Listen on to learn how Medlife is adopting 1:1 personalization and marketing automation as the “vaccine” against low conversions, customer engagement, and retention.

Episode Transcripts

Mudit Shukla(Host): Hello listeners. Welcome to a very special podcast about mastering Martech. A very special curated series powered by Netcore Smartech where we speak to leading market practitioners who are working at the cutting edge of marketing technology. I am your host Mudit, leading product solutions at Netcore for India. Today, I have with me a very special guest whose immense contribution to the marketing ecosystem spans over a decade. Having contributed to the growth of Unilever, big basket, and currently the chief marketing officer of Medlife. Please welcome Meera Iyer. Thank you so much for being a part of the podcast Meera.

Meera: My pleasure.

Mudit: So without further ado and to set up the context, Meera, would you share light on your journey in the consumer Tech or the B2C space, and how has the adoption of Martech Community involved during your inspirational Journey? 

Meera: So I began my career after finishing MBA from Jamuna Lal Bajaj in Bombay and started off as a management trainee at the Hindustan Livers and this is something that is a dream job and dream growth for any and every marketer are in the country and indeed this venerated institution has been called as a CEO Factory to little the University of marketing and I owe all my basics and fundamentals and marketing to build even more than any other organization. And it was indeed very pleasant and very exciting nine years that I spent over there across various roles starting with sales and moving on to prime building and then prime development and learned a lot over there finally handling brands like Darwin pairs for skincare and then the exact other end of it in terms of experience where I joined Big Basket as their head of marketing. This is where honestly it was a time where digital was exploding. It was a time when the market was at the beginning of its entire hockey stick curve. I would say it was a fantastic time to have changed the basis from Unilever, a large organization talking traditional marketing terms, to a start-up and to e-commerce and on to fill or digital kind of marketing, right? So, yeah, so it was an interesting transformation and I credit Big Basket for having educated me on the entire digital side of both Marketing and Commerce in the three years that I was there and it was a fantastic journey to go from somewhere around forty crores per month kind of Revenue to fell over to 220 – 225 kind of number in that three years very exciting. And yeah, and now currently the Medlife, which is a completely different sector, Healthcare and I have gotten to know so much about the sector, continue to be in the entire e-commerce start-up kind of space but really exciting and very different as compared to what it was with groceries and FMCG, particularly my previous experiences. So yeah, it’s been phenomenal Journey came from being a complete traditional offline marketer to an online class of line kind of a mixed modeling or mixed model marketer with the best content and the journey continues with Medlife.

Mudit: Sure. In fact, that’s that we know super transition, you know, probably from offline space to the online space and you know as you rightly said coming to your you know current genre, e-pharmacy market, we know that currently that you are driving the great for Medlife, the pharmacy marketing India’s basically expected to reach around sixteen billion dollars by 2025. Set in this backdrop, you know your journey at Medlife, could you share some insights regarding, you know, Med life itself, Genesis, and growth story?

Meera: So, the e-health market actually with it is going to be about 16 billion dollars as per the reported step is released earlier this year. Of course, the largest part of e-health is going to be epharma and if you look at Medlife, it started well over five years back and was started by the second generation of Alkem Laboratories and tulip respectively, both of which are fairly large companies in the overall Healthcare space. The second-generation getting onto new age technology and leveraging it to plug in healthcare caps I think was a brilliantly scripted story and they could do so because they really understood the entire Healthcare ecosystem very intricately right and that obviously helps in terms of knowing that there are characters to give you a simple statistic in our country where we have about a 1.3 billion population, we have about 13 million grocery Outlets. So, number of groceries is exactly what happened, but in terms of pharmacies, that number shrinks to just 8 lakhs or .8 million. So, the ratio is terrible in terms of access to basic healthcare, which is your medicines. Of course, even the doctor-patient ratio condition the country’s tea bag and especially when it comes to Specialists and Specialties. So knowing very well that these are the kind of gaps that exist in the ecosystem and with terrible filtrates and with former Supply chains not quite reaching maturity of FMCG kind of a setup. I think founders pretty much saw this is a huge opportunity as well as a great way to serve people. So indeed Metlife’s vision is to basically book Health outcomes for Indians by leveraging technology and making Healthcare both accessible and affordable. What is happening is I think five years back the founders have given their background in health care, found this to be a tremendous opportunity to put have success with both businesses as well as serve the country and that’s how it started and it’s been a great journey in terms of as I have been here acting for a year and a half now more than a year and a half but it’s been a fantastic and truly phenomenal Journey their midlife is rosen to be the market leader and a market leader by par and that’s something that even the HCR report acknowledges and that goes across revenue that goes across the kind of mix we have, that goes across salience and been a consideration and it’s been terrific to teach the skill. September last year, we reached 300 crore mark in terms of monthly revenue, and then it’s been a steady clucking growth over here because there was disruption through April because of the entire lockdown and a series of challenges that suddenly came about, thanks to this pandemic that it’s been a fantastic Journey from Medlife where it’s grown to become the largest e-health platform in the country.

Mudit: Wow. In fact Meera, this connects me to one of you know, the points that we are seated, you know a few months back when you actually mentioned that how Medlife would not only focus on you know, selling across medical supplements for let’s say, for example, you know, diagnostic practitioners if you focus only overall well-being of every, you know, single user or a consumer and looking at the growth numbers, it’s really staggering to see that come into the point hat you rightly mentioned at the end of each statement that pre covid, the e-pharmacy market was supposed to do and you know the compound annual growth rate of 60% till 2022 and considering as you rightly said covid-19 has caused customers to migrate towards digital consumption. What are some of the key short-term and long-term consumer behavioral trends that you think will continue to stay with us or improve?

Meera: Good question actually. So I think one of the things that all marketers should you have immediately perk up their ears and loosen the is to the kind of changes that are happening in the market due to this entire lockdown and this lockdown was going to get changes which are temporary, which are kind of permanent to and what it has particularly accelerated I think is a shift to Digital Life and in a maybe more concentrated form. So each group like the older Janta who were never quite comfortable with technology or wanting to go there for the first time are actually adopting it in large numbers or you see that suddenly the number of touchpoints that are there in the entire customer life cycle as well as the customer journey in terms of buying a product suddenly has far more digital touchpoints as compared to the offline months and indeed e-commerce, especially the essential services that were allowed to operate through this entire lockdown period have witnessed a surge and a peak that has never been seen before in that to organically not even initiated by pumping in marketing dollars without that. For example, Medlife witnessed 2x growth in orders and demand through the entire April-May months and that to buy completely shrinking the overall outline in terms of marketing and marketing money. So in terms of the entire pandemic, I see three broad changes coming on to Consumers and the way they are going to function in terms of Commerce. One, I definitely see increased adoption of online and online ways of transacting for various products and services that you want. This is obviously because it is safer right and it will be until the time that there is a cure and even after there is a cure and there is a fairly 2-3% mortality rate is not small. People will continue to adapt and increase your overall buying online, which is why any analytic company which today is not equipped to sell digitally should look at immediately creating a branch that enables it to sell digitally so they even if it is a 0 to 1 percent of their revenues shifting to digital it would have been a great achievement for them. I think the second big change that is going to be here to stay is an emphasis on hygiene and the health and safety of various products and services. Right now I think all companies which are operating are going that extra mile to assure customers and consumers of the various practices that they are taking in order to ensure hygiene and safety. That is something that will continue to say and I think part of it that you’re going to see possibly in future is there must and must become pretty much for people. Hand sanitizers will again become a very large category over here. Overall the hygiene quotient, that’s coined by someone else, not me through this entire period has become a very important thing and indeed all products and services that have an angle of hygiene and or immunity which is the other thing that is really critical to improving your overall standing against various germs and diseases that are going to explode in coming future is going to become like a hot area and therefore all marketers will do well to take heed of the whole HQ.

Mudit: Very true. 

Meera: As well as the other part of it, which is immunity building. That’s the second change that I am particularly seeing and that is going to continue to stay and any brand that does not address these concerns is going to have difficulty in terms of being able to build transaction going for it and the third thing is I definitely see, you know the opportunity for a range of products and services that are going to really hover around the acceleration to Digital Life. So digital life and work from home would mean that there are going to be categories like home exercising equipment, categories like laptops, categories like services which include the kind of Zoom meeting and conferences that we are currently recording one to really go up and shoot up. And this is what is going to be the norm even going forward. So every marketer has to keep a keen eye out on the kind of categories that are going to explode and see the amount of growth and therefore manage these applied effectively. Things as marketers that we should at least see a marketer should always keep a keen eye out on are not just marketing which is going to lead to an improvement in terms of mine measures and other metrics at marketing usually measure but it is ultimately Revenue that is our goal and therefore marketing which does not come with the kind of revenues that justifies the kind of investment that you’ve made is pretty much useless. So, therefore, managing the supply chain applies to something that is equally important for a marketer to look out for and particularly for those categories that are right now witnessing a hockey stick kind of growth and are now going to continue to be high growth areas even in the future.

Mudit: Sure, absolutely rightly said. In fact, you know the three pieces that I also take out of this is one like you mentioned because it’s safer. That’s why you know consumers would opt for digital, you know purchases not only that, you know, you also likely you said that digital as space is exploding right? There are multiple purchases coming amidst because of the covid situation of making purchases online and the third most preferred, most essential point that you stated was how categories exploded. In categories we never thought of right home fitness, Home Essentials, you know are right now really booming, you know and has another different Market altogether itself. So when it comes to delivering these exceptional customer experiences right at quantity and quality, you know to these customers, the customer data becomes actually very critical to deriving meaningful insights, you know users purchasing from you know, an x source or y sources like a web or an app. Segmentation, power segmentation, and meaningful insights need to be derived. This Medlife is truly approaching today and how has the entire unified view of individual customers been built?

Meera: See, what a customer buys from us gives us a lot to understand about that patient profile because at the end of the day Medlife is being used by patients. The first and the foremost grouping that we do is to really understand what, who is the patient and what is the patient getting treatment for? So if a person is buying an incident, you know that the person is diabetic similarly. The person is basically buying some statants, you know that a person has a cardiac condition or is definitely you’re looking at the hut so the base level segmentation for us really starts from the patient segmentation that we do which is on the basis of the different conditions that we have but lying is more into chronic and chronic patients because they tend to buy medicines but you must like groceries every month and because you need to have it completely lifelong. Acute is not a segment that we are very high on as for acute you need medicines very quickly. We have express delivery in Bangalore. But again chronic dominates in terms of the overall share of sales we have so that is the first and the foremost segmentation that we do and of course within each condition and actually, first of all, knowing the condition itself allows for such a wide area of personalization as well as scope for being very relevant to people so to show diabetics, only things that are relevant to diabetics in terms of their other health aspects which includes diet, exercise, and even spirit and it goes to some extent because spirituality is common, but to some extent managing stress Etc. becomes a very potent kind of a way to engage your audiences and make them really feel that you are someone that they can trust and of course even in diabetics you have various segments that you have people who are and this is where you know, you have your traditional ways of still segmenting people basis demographics which would be their age groups are gender Etc. given that we get a description of the patient that is pretty much equal to zero in on these kinds of demographic factors. Equally, geographies are important again from a personalization scope wherein you want to be giving Tamil videos are coming content to people staying in Tamil Nadu whereas giving them Bengali ones if they are staying in Bengal, right and then the regular ones, of course, called in terms of looking at the LTVs, looking at kind of basket sizes and tenures on Medlife as a platform.

Mudit: Sure. Absolutely Meera that in fact, one of the key statements and one of the key thoughts that you also have always believed in, and please correct me if I’m wrong is that India has multiple India with there are multiple languages and multiple genres of people.

Meera: Yes, India is not one country.

Mudit: Absolutely. In fact, you know the kind of segmentation, you know, and basically, one of the key points also that You mentioned was you know, there are users who purchase medicines every month just so crucial and essential as well. Hence, you know, this customer journey is the one-to-one product recommendation for multiple users, you know across multiple such conditions and you know buying or purchasing medicines from Medlife, you know retention becomes a very key metric for us. So how would life really leverage on you know, unlocking repeat purchases improving gross sales of products? Effectively with the core metric of really dwelling down into retention.

Meera: See, I’ll tell you. Retention is a function of two things, one I think is customer experience itself, which is how big was your first experience with the company and the even subsequent purchases and transactions that you do with the company. How you did is so the customer experience is one of the largest in the possibly the most important lever for driving retention, but outside of that it is really up to the different marketing parameters that we’d love to basically obsess over as marketers like which is about one thing top of my to being a brand new the highest amount of consideration to purchase come and transaction. Three, really having a lot of brand engagement and love for the brand because of the kind of marketing activities that you undertake for the customers. So I will leave out the customer experience, but because that has a lot of moving parts to it and has multiple departments that really make for a fantastic customer experience on the customer end but the other part is the second part, which is one how well do you manage to engage with the customer? How well you manage to use your marketing dollars to stay top of Mind are the kind of things that can make a huge difference in terms of how customers perceive you and therefore want to keep coming back to transact with you. So for example, just to tell you one of the things that we have started and we started at the beginning of the year is a whole set of properties that are particularly looking at one building Medlife as a trusted source of information because and again it comes from customer Insight. Even during covid, for example, 74 % of customers that TNS has interviewed have said that they are really worried about the fact that the internet is flooded with a lot of fake news and they don’t know what to trust and what not to trust. 85% of the people said that they would like to hear it directly from the horse’s mouth and in this case particularly from doctors and from scientists working on this particular problem. Knowing this is a customer inside and the fact that it let’s say there’s a diabetic patient and the patient is basically flooded with all kinds of messages across social media and otherwise, Google saying, you know one side will say that bitter melon juice is great for you and another will say that it can actually be bad for you or something else, you know along similar lines in one side. One will say going and doing this particular exciting day for you another will say should never do this. So given this be quickly realized that what we could do as a great customer add and how we could actually build their entire brand in association with Medlife is by actually helping patients and becoming a very trusted source of information for which we started a series of properties, one we started medex stocks and this is was inspired and completely copy with prior kind of from TEDx. So Medex is all about various experts which include doctors, nutritionists which includes a physiotherapists, yoga instructors, and so on. Other people coming and hitting talks to various patient groups and getting talks of patient groups that really deal with a lot of relevant questions that they really have in their mind and thanks to digital in Google. Particularly what are the most searched kind of questions when it comes to a particular health condition, right and having experts really decode that film having experts tell you not just in English, but in various particular languages as well, and make you feel that you know much more about your condition and are able to handle it much better. It’s something that we undertook very pretty much early and set that this is the way actually to engage our customers and make a difference to their lives. Similarly. We started medmoves and medmoves was really about you know moves that make you better in every condition irrespective of what it requires to up your fitness levels. So how do you do that and particularly to the condition that you’re suffering from, what can possibly make a difference and therefore dealing extensively with a wide network of Fitness practitioners both the physiotherapists kind as well as yoga instructors or fitness trainers in gyms etc. So medmoves was a move towards that and then the other thing that we realized very quickly was also the fact that a lot of people said that allopathy was going to make them live and live healthily and longer. Everyone wanted to augment it with something which was natural and that’s why the whole better your series where people who particularly buy ideas and petitioners of you know food and food nutrition to talk to people about what they do, which was natural and not allopathic in nature that could complement whatever treatment they were receiving. So it essentially is about you know, the other part of marketing in terms of retention is about deeply understanding your customers empathizing with them, especially given that we are in the healthcare space and finding ways to meaningfully make a difference in their lives and improve their health outcomes. So it was a long way and as a marketer, it is not just about flashing your message out there and especially if you’re an online company, it is also about how we are going to get them to come back to you. What would it be that will really make them think of you in a very different way rather than just showing them an ad, saying that you have this particular service and what would make them think of you respect you trust you and keep coming back to you and you know that’s a great way of actually ensuring that you have very high retentions because people then don’t just look at you as one transaction platform that’s giving them medicines at a great price. They also look at you as something beyond that and going beyond that is the market’s job to make customers think of you as not just one transacting platform or a product that they’re buying but actually to think of you as beyond that and what you mean to them in their lives. So I think that’s a very key part of retention and I think you asked me another question which was about upsales and increasing the LTVC and then that really is linked to the previous question that you asked me in terms of how well are you able to segment your audiences? And the other equal the other side of the coin is how well are you able to Define? What would be meaningful upsells for them? So for example, if there is a heart patient and the most important thing for them would come in OTC angle would be possibly practitioners monitors. It would be nutritional supplements that are particularly linked to heart and heart health. For example, on the urban side, you have herbal products containing up to them, on the allopathic side you have products containing the enzyme which is supposed to be very good for your heart or it could be just your, you know, those fish oil capsules that you have. So to be able to map the kind of recommended options that you can do to customers or indeed. If it is a leftist then a lipid profile or any kind of package that contains a lipid profile would be the most hype for these people. So one side of the coin is really about segmenting and the other side is about knowing what you can possibly do to upsell to these particular segments with a relevant set of products and services that you have. I think that that is what actually goes into the entire planning of increasing LTVs and cross-selling. 

Mudit: Sure Meera, in fact, those are really great points that even have noted down and considering, you know, the dream that had been set out by you when you actually stated that you know, the code for Medlife is to focus on the overall well-being of a person, how Medex and medmoves are really contributing to it and how today as a marketer one should really be sensitive considering the space that they’re operating in, basically understand what products to cross-sell or upsell what will be the best fit, you know for the consumer at the other end. Also, one of it brings me and connects me, you know, the other statement also said that that you likely had You know mention and it sticks to my head saying that technology has really changed the way consumers operate and you know, it’s Market years that have had to alter themselves or alter they are you know thought species because the consumers have changed due to technology.   Considering all of this and considering, you know, your massive and magnum opus experience over a decade. Now, what is that, you know inspirational good hack that will want to share a cause to our listeners, marketers, product mannea listening to this right now amplify growth in their respective market.

Meera: I think you actually captured part of it. When you talked about the fact that technology has changed consumer behavior and marketers are having to change. So I think the most fundamental thing in this is what I try to come into every person that I’ve worked with so far and continue to do so is please be very interested in your customer and consumer. Be super interested, you need to. You want to know about them much more, you need to be obsessed with them and you need to really think about all possible things that go on in their heads. If you do that as a marketer, you will never go wrong. I tend to find this to be something that is grossly missing in the whole crop of Digital marketers that we have. They are, you know, they’re so used to digital and virtual that they don’t take time to actually go meet people, talk to them and really get to understand them very well. If I have one Mantra and one Mantra only then this would be it saying he is deeply passionate about your customers and consumers. Understand them and really, you know, spend a lot of time wondering about what is the exact right fit that you see your brand playing in their lives and how to make a difference and you will just never go wrong. 

Mudit: Surely I think that’s where it all starts from and that’s where I think a lot of us would line of thought to if not on that particular beam of Junction yet on how we can focus on consumer first and consumer centricity and actually understand consumers.

Meera: And obviously the plethora of the data that you have today and I do not have to do a customer research today to find out saying what are the most pressing questions that thyroid patients have. I can just use the tools that are already there in terms of keyword search and keyword planning tools and find out by saying what are people really searching for? That’s the beauty of technology and data that it is because suddenly exposed us to so qualitatively be as close as possible to your customers and always listen to their voice and quantitatively always keep validating what you think you have understood about then from the public from the ton of data that is out there today digitally.

Mudit: True. Understanding customers, you know deciphering the data that is available. You know at your end, building and engaging with users in a more personalized than and with a more slight sensitivity, you know to definitely see impact and fruit in your conversions and sales that doesn’t take care of itself. I think I think that’s great for Meera. So Meera that brings me to the end of the podcast. It’s been a truly insightful session powered by your knowledge and experiences. I am hundred and ten percent sure that anybody listening to this podcast will agree with me. On behalf of netcore, and on behalf of all of our national heartfelt. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and insights. Here’s wishing you and the entire team at medlife a very safe and strong time. Thank you so much.

Meera: Thank you, and you’re welcome.

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