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EP #45: D2C customer engagement & retention lessons from Priya Foods

About this Podcast

Customers have been forced to buy online due to lockdown and social distancing measures enforced due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This scenario has worked in the favor of D2C brands that have shifted their focus to selling online.

Priya Foods is a food products company that is a part of the multi-billion dollar Indian conglomerate Ramoji Group. They have an array of food products from pickles to snacks to instant mixes tailor-made to Indian tastes and cuisines.

To understand how D2C brands are adopting a customer-focused approach to uplift customer engagement and retention, we caught up with Janaki Raman, Head of Marketing Strategy & Branding at Priya Foods. 

Janaki highlights the following:

  • How D2C brands have expedited their move to the online space during the pandemic – challenges & opportunities this brings
  • The change in consumer behavior during the past few months and how D2C brands are aligning to the new normal
  • The use of AI-led product recommendation engines to drive customer engagement and loyalty

Tune in to learn how D2C brands are leveraging the opportunities presented by directly engaging with customers through personalization to accelerate growth!

Episode Transcripts

Mayuri(Host): Hi guys, welcome to another insightful episode of MarTechno beat, a specially curated podcast powered by Netcore Martech. Here’s where we talked to Leading product Champions and growth practitioners in marketing technology and gain some really interesting insights through their thoughts and their stories around all things in the market. I’m your host Mayuri and joining me today is a super special guest, Janaki Ramani. He leads the marketing strategy at Priya Foods. Janaki has extensive experience in delivering results through digital and conventional marketing strategies and translating organizations’ business Visions into actionable initiatives. Warm welcome Janaki. Thank you so much for being a part of this podcast, really happy to have you join me today.

Janaki(Guest): Thank you so much Mayuri. I enjoy actually talking to you. Thank you so much. Thanks for the invite.

Mayuri: Surely, just to set the context for our listeners, it would be great. If you could,  shed light on your journey and how it’s been for you in the entire digital marketing space. 

Janaki: Well, honestly, this is something, not a bland carrier Journey as I would say, my entry into marketing was accidental. So I was actually preparing for civils and when I exhausted all my attempts, I was looking for a career option. That’s when one of my family friends who is from IIM Lucknow introduced me to marketing way back with digital marketing a and very few handful people were practicing digital marketing as a profession then. So I got the opportunity to get into this and then I liked and I really enjoyed being a digital marketing professional also my carrier. So the way it was accidental, I think It’s one of the best things that happened to me, I would say.

Mayuri: That’s great. Thanks for that introduction Janaki and now,  quickly getting on addressing the elephant in the room, the pandemic, its effect on brands worldwide.  I went through research through e-marketer that said,  that they forecast continued growth in B2C Brands by more than twenty-four percent this year in the US market now, do you also foresee a similar trajectory for growth in the Indian B2C Brands and, what are some of the challenges that you see in actually boosting customer engagement and driving loyalty in these tough times?

Janaki: I’m actually quite optimistic with the continued growth in the B2C brands in the Indian context too. Well instead of challenges, let us talk about a few opportunities first Mayuri.

Mayuri: Sure.

Janaki: According to a report by the global web index in April, we had 45 percent of global consumers are devoting more time to social media and 10 percent to creating and uploading videos and such. I think that it was the peak time of the pandemic but still, the trend is continuing. So creating nurturing online communities using video platforms and UTC would actually boost consumer engagement and loyalty. That’s one of the clearly visible trends that’s come out of this whole thing. And the second thing is we also have seen Seeing that transparency is becoming a more, key element in the messaging strategy in the corporate world. It might sound theoretical but maybe a small instance like maybe informing the customers that our production capacities are running low or Sorry for any product that will be an issue you might face and that’s simple, but they are straight addressing the consumer honestly. I’m sure such kinds of things are coming out very well and then there are several instances in the media also. Their brands are respected and appreciated for their honesty and transparency. So transparency should become a key element in messaging strategy henceforward. It is also proven, a tactic or strategy this is proving,  as a straight connect with the consumer genuinely. And of course, as we all know transparency breeds trust among the consumers. We also observe that trust has become a key element in this pandemic. So people are consuming or trying to buy only those busted products or Brands, which they knew for a long time. They have seen huge traction in terms of revenues as well as engagement. Be the personal hygiene segment or FMCG or any other thing, people will have always preferred to pick up the one they know they know is the best thing and they are being used for a long time. So in such a scenario, I think transparency is a key element to keep them hooked and gain the trust in the consumer mindset. So that’s how like you need to play along with endings. I would say brands should be willing to be open and honest with the consumers. He’s in the two observations have made in the pandemic positive on the positive side, but now coming to the challenges, we all agree that this pandemic had actually accelerated the digital adoption rates all over the world. Okay, a large number of new consumers taste the convenience of e-commerce for the first time in our urban areas as well as rural areas also. Now in the name of this has become the main challenge for Brands, especially the Legacy Brands is the rising set of expectations from the consumer point of view and meet these expectations in a set by the e-comm aggregators, global aggregators that are playing that whether dueling the e-commerce in India. They actually said the raise the bar, I would say, believe the last mile delivery integration between online and offline or even creating of the firm you direct consumer options or direct to Consumer options. All these are going to be in new priorities for their B2C brands and of course closely aligned with this thinking is the decision to invest in new technology and infrastructure, is going to be again a major challenge for the Brands like what type of infrastructure should be there up to or what type of Technologies they should invest. Okay, all this I think for some of the plants all this has been happening lately in the last two years now then all these big players have started aggressively,  pushing daily come in India throughout India, D2Calready had actually started this exercise. But as I said, the entire pandemic actually has accelerated the whole thing. So then the decisions have to move into the action mode. So considering the right strategy and right platform, all these are going to be as I say now.

Mayuri: Very true, some very interesting insights. In fact the whole point on trust and transparency is such a refreshing point of view Janaki because you barely hear, such insights from even the market leaders out there but like you correctly said, if we have to look at the upside of thing’s for sure the pandemic had created that opportunity to accelerate like you said, right? So a lot of B2C bands completely shifting their focus to the online presence. So in context to that just wanted to get your perspective on how you see Brands aligning to this new normal in terms of consumer demand and also this rapidly changing consumer Behaviour now?

Janaki: Yeah, certainly this pandemic as I said, has forced people to come up to the board rooms and take action in a river. There are no disciplinary discussions happen, they started talking digital now. It’s become more or less imperative. However, Brands, especially the Legacy brands have a few inherent challenges Mayuri. Some of them could be like get another last-mile delivery, lack of understanding about the end consumer or over-reliance on traditional distribution networks, even the resistance to experimentation and change from the organization essential for cultural perspective. They have become almost like serious challenges in the roadmap of digitization of any brand because of last-mile delivery if you see It’s not a joke. We all know that the players out there who are actually the number one number two kind of players, they are basically logistic accompanies, they are experts in the supply chain, so to at least match to that level of service levels to gain trust at that level at the branch should really invest in New technologies and then collaborate with new start-ups who are actually trying to fill up that Gap. I know a start-up where the business team is helping out to reach them consumer-like, for example, they have a small set up near every apartment complex. Okay. So all these e-comm players, drop their Consignments there, and then from there they pick up and deliver to Consumers. I said wow, this is something I will never know that there is a huge gap over there.

Mayuri: So interesting. Yeah.

Janaki: So there are certainly micro players, but the way they are filling the Gap is amazing. So I think brands have to really leave research kind of at least you don’t have to build or develop from scratch,  their collaboration Will help them catch of crazy things with minimum effort and in the big the least resistance, but unfortunately, the main challenge as you see in Legacy Brands is the structure of the organization where there’s a lot of resistance to experimentation and change. So it will take time maybe it has to come from  Top management, so when it becomes really imperative, I think people have to open up and then think in a very Progressive Way, so and also I think the most important challenge again is the understanding of the end consumer. A lot of B2C brands in India are typical FMCG Brands which are in the Traditional and distribution landscape. They don’t know who is purchasing the product. They don’t know who is the person of the end consumer, right? So it all ends with the distributor. There’s a huge gap between the secondary and primary markets. So that has to be addressed. So to align with consumer behavior, brands should primarily focus on the expansion of these function networks, not in the traditional way but in virtual distribution. There is a lot happening in this start-up space where there are amazing start-ups who are working in this area also virtual Distribution Systems. So I think it’s your time now for the Brands to actually talk to these people and then use those apps or systems there. It’s not like in a traditionally you go and I lost somebody and somebody reaches out to you in a distribution Channel and all I think it has to be a very Swift they virtual distribution there your you don’t pay anything with minimal effort with minimal KPIs. You start working with the brand, so that’s how it has to be and as I said that we also have to have established the systems that don’t understand the end consumer the customer journey and are applicable to understand the aspirations. What makes them happy. What are they? What are the jobs they are trying to do, so understanding all these will put the brands in better perspectives?

Mayuri: Absolutely. That makes a lot of sense Janaki and talking about that and, trying to align to what the new user behavior is,  going to be in these times observing some changes in Behaviour built things amongst the users that you interact with and do you think some of these changes in the way they shop and the way they interact will proceed the pandemic in and completely change the way that users shop online? Just wanted your views on that.

Janaki: I mean maybe not completely changed the way of the user shop, right but a couple of Behavioural Trends can be observed during the pandemic base like the consumers being brand neutral. Brand neutrality has become a key factor in the poor even at the peak of the pandemic and the Readiness to experiment with new brands is also seen vividly across the categories and of course, there was no change in the quantities they purchase like change in pack sizes, the preferences but even the Panic buying in categories like spices and masalas have come down and normalized actually. But in general, we saw more sales and we are still seeing actually more sales in the health supplements, pick foods and snacks made from good for health kind of ingredients and all. Whatever you put that organic cells. I mean, I’m not trying to, it’s generally whatever you’re trying to make organically or sell something in a pure form is more preferred these days and people are also that they’re trying and exploring new brands. Maybe because one factor would be the non-availability of certain branded items in the pandemic and even now we are not able to readily pick up from the Shelf some of the things we are used to. Maybe that is also Forcing us to experiment with new brands, new products, and then this might actually continue, this trend will continue. The brand neutrality and then willingness to connect with new brands will continue. So whoever is able to address that availability Factor will win the race.  One more interesting factor from the B2B perspective is like retail Brands, have actually pumped a lot of good money into the pipe labeling aspect, right? I have seen a couple of brands weekly working out on the groceries at least in the clouded groceries segment. They scaled up very quickly. So we are seeing a lot of white labeling in the model trade actually in the retail Branch. They have come up with a huge stock of their own brand. So I think the one daily drastic difference in the way people will shop, but they are more or less are evolving I would say. Thanks to this convenience factor and also loyalty programs that are run by a lot of hyperlocal platforms. It is very hard for anyone to go back to normal behavior.

Mayuri: Absolutely, and also the fact that all of us have suddenly Become very proactive about our health. So, I’m sure that would have observed patterns and that’s is probably the point of health.

Janaki: Oh, yeah, that’s absolutely right and we are consumers in a way. Whatever we are seeing at least maybe is only two or three brands in the category honestly but now I see more than 12-13 brands which you won’t believe.  The choice is something and sometimes difficult actually.

Mayuri: Exactly and as you mentioned about, once you enter into a loyalty program and you get that experience from a brand it’s very difficult to go back to your normal purchasing. So,  all of us today in an age where AI and ML seem to be everybody’s backbone will agree that personalizing a user’s experience when they are online and aligning with their expectations becomes really important to drive now. How do you see, the whole AI piece playing out and recommendation engines playing out to drive,  stickiness and revenue,  for such brands in the long term?

Janaki: Very investing. Actually, I’m a huge fan of Netflix, for one reason their recommendation engine runs behind. So I love that part when you open their clicks and it says for you, for you and it gives the percentage match like 86% and 96%. There is something that is really, it’s so curious and exciting absolutely interestingly. 99% of the time it is correct. So I don’t have to really put my brain and pick up the movie or I want to watch her show and it’s already there on the top, it is giving me the recommendation. So I think my effort is reduced and I am more relaxed. So I think recommendation engines can really create such exciting experiences for customers or other consumers in FMCG also and I’ll give you an instance there,  if you open any of the grocery apps today, big players grocery app. Just type tur dal and you will get at least 15 to 17 varieties of tur dal. So for a family of four or five who is trying to make an online purchase, grocery purchase for the whole month, it will not take less than 40 minutes to complete the list. It is so annoying sometimes, and there’s hardly any difference between branded product A and product B, either in terms of quality or perceived quality or the price. So I think this is where the recommendation engine will play a good role. Okay. So when I log in to my account on such an app or branded website Marketplace my time is safe when I get the product from my recommendations based on my ugly and purchase and every time it is the same list. Maybe for the past 20 years, we have been using the same list, here say in my knows our needs remain the same. So why should I spend so much time when it says, ok, now two or three? Yes, that’s it. Okay. After that, okay, they want three, so these are the new ones. Do you want to try? That’s it. It will not take more than five to seven minutes to repeat my list and then check out. So this entire thing can happen only with this style of algorithm based on a recommendation engine. So I think that is that’s that should be the way the marketplaces should work to retain customers.  In all the hyper-local Eco space has actually become very hot. I think that the entrance of jio, it’s going to be a real workplace. So in this kind of scenario the hyperlocal or the grocery area for whatever we have currently should put effort to retain the customer. They have a huge loyal base, I agree but providing such exciting or convenient features because Flowers will make them come back to the platform in a very high frequency will increase and also in a very loyal way people will purchase repeat and then that’s how the revenues also will grow.

Mayuri: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Janaki: So my thoughts, for AI, I can’t say that they are the future or something. But yeah, they might actually make again our lives of consumers more easy with applications. We are already seeing applications in retail fashion eyewear and maybe we also should be seeing something similar in the Footwear and jewelry spaced also. So AI I think will certainly go a long way in the retail space where in order to actually do address that touch and feel Factor. So this pandemic actually is now an opportunity for brands to experiment with such a thing, at least In the areas like a high touch, with areas like is there be preferred to try them. Okay, so probably more and more brands should adopt this technology, maybe in a small way to test and then skin it up. That’s how I think this is an opportunity and a good time for anybody to experiment with such a thing. And I think any way any technology that simplifies the journey, the time and effort involved of the customer or the consumer to decide to drives the stickiness.

Mayuri: Absolutely. Totally agree here.

Janaki: Yeah, so that should be the business objective. How can the technology XYZ, how can it reduce the time? How can it reduce the effort of thinking, the effort of making a choice of the end consumer and then go to that drive him to that decision point? So whatever technology if it is able to do that. I think that the That’s the that is it. It’s not a straight hit like you say, Okay, this will work. This will work. I mean maybe we have to experiment in a very incremental way and then decide probably that that’s how it should be.

Mayuri: Yes, probably fail fast, learn fast should be the motto then.

Janaki: Absolutely that should be the agenda and the biggest of the big Brands.

Mayuri: Yes. Great, so many interesting insights Janaki. It’s bringing me to my last question, we’ve heard so much about, your thoughts and views on the whole to a user’s Behaviour probably is adapting and how organizations should as well. But, you’ve spent more than a decade now, you’re interesting journey in the digital marketing space. What is it about this field, that still keeps you going keeps you curious,  gets you excited every single day to go out there and accomplish something new?

Janaki: Well, I like this job because it’s about us, it’s about you, me, it’s all about humans out there. It’s not about an inanimate thing like coding, a piece of code, or whatever. I mean, like in my opinion I’m always working for somebody who thinks like me, who acts like me and It’s interesting. We are not the same every day. We began to evolve, being so that evolving that the perspective whenever that actually interests me a lot. We are not what we were ten years back. We are not what we are two years back. Yeah, so it’s always changing rapidly, changing human behavior and thinking and Technologies and everything that we are adapted to. Adapted to Kind of everything. I think that really excites me. Simply put, he’s aspirations Behaviour. What impacts him in a good way bad day? Everything is about another person like me Morales, maybe not exactly but more or less. So and also were a lot of times people say that saying that I possess the curiosity of like that. I’m actually a curious person, so then also actually adds this element. Okay, what it was yesterday what it could be tomorrow really interesting, and would always love to explore the way things connect with this human. Why we do, what we do, what makes us do all this. Every job we take, the assignment we work is a unique challenge. It drives us to think about what was in the past, what we can do predict know what we could do in the future how we’re a person the end consumer will react, all this really excites me Mayuri.

Mayuri: Wow! That’s really wonderful way to bring an end to this podcast Janaki. It’s been a really truly and insightful session, with all your insights, stories, and your experiences. It’s been great. I’m sure our listeners would be looking forward to more such tips and tricks from you in the near future.

Janaki: Thank you so much for making me part of this exciting Journey with NetCore Series and you too have been kind enough to bear with me. So, thank you so much.

Mayuri: Thank you so much on behalf of netcore, on behalf of all our listeners again a heartfelt thank you for sharing your thoughts. We wish you and your entire team and all our listeners are very safe healthy and strong 2020. Thank you so much. Thank you again.

Janaki: Thank you Mayuri.

 

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