Gourav Rakshit, President and COO of Shaadi.com has over 13 years of experience in developing and implementing marketing strategies for consumer-oriented businesses.
In a conversation with exchange4media he elaborated on the digital journey of the popular matrimony portal and the road ahead in an increasingly digital and mobile world.
What have been the changes in the Indian internet scenario and how has that affected Shaadi.com?
I think in the last five years, the Indian internet space has matured. Businesses like ours have sponsored primarily because we are a network business and not an e-commerce business. Biggest drivers have been services like Facebook, which have led to more people coming online and being comfortable with having a public persona. Mobile too has been one of the biggest growth drivers in the last two years.
From a social point of view, a transformation we are seeing is that people are looking for compatibility rather than conform to orthodox views about whom they should marry. This seems to be where the country is headed. The other big change in the match-making process is that traditionally it was initiated and carried out by the parents. It is still a family affair, but the change we are seeing is that it is now driven by the individual.
You spoke about mobile being a growth driver. Can you expand on that?
Mobile allows interactions at a much more personal level between individuals. That has changed the way we go to the market. A decent segment of our consumer base is mobile-only these days.
On a very basic level, increasing the size of the network for a network-oriented business like ours is invaluable. From a desktop user who might just have been a Sunday user, we have moved to an era where, with the mobile, people are continuously connected. So, even the way we provide our service has changed; from an infrequently used, high volume business to an ‘always on’ consumer. This is the shift that even we have to make because the consumers now expect a continuous service.
Being a niche segment, do restrictions come in when it comes to social media conversations and communications?
Our social media is in-house. We like to have dialogues. Our user base on Facebook is pretty large and many of them are not match-seekers but we still have a very high engagement rate on the platform, which means they must like what we talk about. There is also a very vibrant Twitter community as well. One thing to realise is that, while there are two people getting connected, it is also their families’ networks, whether it is siblings, friends, relatives… who are also coming together. So we are relevant to everyone.
So, how does your communication reflect this philosophy of being relevant to everyone?
We have 10,000 people signing up daily; so, at some level, we represent the social consciousness of the country because we have to be engaged with this audience beyond matchmaking, understand the pulse. We take up themes around relationship and companionship of course, but we also talk about other topics. Recently, we built a game called ‘Angry Brides’, which was well received. People also started talking about it because it was an interesting approach towards a relevant issue (dowry).
Maybe five-seven years ago, there was a lot of scepticism about whether the concept of Shaadi.com could work, but we are now well beyond that point. What we have to focus on now is creating engagement with the audience in a manner they appreciate.
You mentioned Facebook and Twitter. Are there other platforms you have explored?
Yes, but these are the dominant ones. We have used FourSquare, Pinterest and others but somehow we have not seen the same level of dialogue on these platforms. Facebook and Twitter and, also, Google+ are the ones that have worked for us.
Not a lot of brands use Google+. What has been your experience with it?
Our ideology is that if there is an audience that wants to engage with us on any platform we will explore it, even if it very small. Our expectations when we launched our community on Google+ have also been revised. It became a destination but not a social network like Facebook, which had people on an ongoing basis. So we also had to change our strategy of how we engaged with the audience. It has not been a very steady cycle. About six months ago we started seeing a lot of traction that we had not expected. So I feel it is still a community that is being built so it is important that we stay relevant there and see what happens.
Being an internet company, what drives your marketing mix selection?
We like to have a little bit of confidence before taking it large and the internet allows you to experiment. Earlier we used to use digital a lot more since there was a huge media spill over because people who could not access your service could still your ads on TV. We use YouTube to amplify our messaging, especially in other geographies. Our media choices are driven by the idea that we need to be available whenever a person decides to search for matches, whether it is at 21 or 35. It is a bit more difficult but it is also rewarding. We are extremely media-agnostic. Being a digital company, the advantage we have is there is so much data available with us.
Going forward, what can we expect from Shaadi.com?
I think you can expect us to do something disruptive in the mobile space, since that is where most of our consumers are. The mobile just overtook the web. Mobile and especially apps have a huge potential and no one has really unlocked the potential of these two. The companies that will be disruptive in these two areas will succeed. There is a massive opportunity here for people to explore.