Our core marketing strategy is accessibility, affordability: Anand Pathak, Netmeds.com

Pathak, CMO, Netmeds.com, on providing quality healthcare across India and the challenges of operating in the e-pharma space

e4m by Simran Sabherwal
Published: Jul 26, 2019 8:48 AM  | 8 min read

Positioned as ‘India Ki Pharmacy’, the Indian online pharmacy Netmeds.com, started in June 2015, draws its legacy from its parent company, the over 100-year old Dadha Pharmaceuticals. In its very first campaign’, the company’s intent was clear: To announce that the company was ready to service the medical needs of the entire nation.

Today, Netmeds.com serves more than 3.7 million customers in over 610 cities and 19,000 pin codes across the country. Anand Pathak, Chief Marketing Officer, Netmeds.com says, “We understand the importance and seriousness of the business, that we are taking care of people’s lives. As we deal with medicine, it has to be dealt with the utmost accountability and responsibility.”

Online pharmacy is still at a nascent stage in India, and a big challenge for online pharmacies is the lack of online pharmacy laws in India. Conflicting court judgements – The Delhi High Court ordering the closure of all online pharmacies in December and the Madras High Court then suspending the ban after e-pharmacy companies filed an appeal – and the regulatory grey areas have not helped the sector. However, the government has come out with a draft proposing that only government registered e-portals can sell medicines, and they must retain prescriptions and verify details of patients and doctors. This puts a stop to online marketplace/aggregators from selling medicines.

This new policy is expected to be rolled out in the next two to three months. Commenting on this, Pathak says, “We expect some clarity in terms of policy and guidelines for operation of licensed e-pharmacies as prescribed under the Drugs and Cosmetic Act of 1940 in the coming months.

The Madras High Court’s order suspending the ban on online sale of medicines recently, validates our commitment to provide affordable and accessible medicines to customers across the country.

As a fully licensed pharmacy, Netmeds.com is committed to adhere to all the guidelines and standards as prescribed under the Drugs and Cosmetic Act of 1940.” Pathak adds that Netmeds.com does not process any order without a prescription, and each order passes through a stringent verification process by a certified pharmacist.

Another challenge is delivery and serviceability, particularly to remote areas.

‘India Ka Khayal Rakhe, India Ki Pharmacy’

Netmeds.com rolled out its first pan India campaign within two months of its launch, in August 2015. Speaking on the company marketing philosophy, Pathak says, “Our philosophy is ‘India Ka Khayal Rakhe, India Ki Pharmacy’. Our core marketing strategy is accessibility, affordability and providing quality healthcare across India. Accessibility means being accessible across the nation. By affordability, we mean that we are not charging extra, and even rewarding customers with some percentage of discounts. Quality health care means we are providing consumers in non-metros the same quality of medicine and healthcare that people in metro cities enjoy.”

A marketing challenge for online pharmacies is the restrictions on digital marketing placed by Google and Facebook. Pathak explains that not all the properties on Google or Facebook are available to online pharmacy players. “Due to policy clearance issues, Google or Facebook properties are available in a very restricted manner. These have to be compliant with their legal team.”

Leveraging Dhoni & Cricket

What has become a hallmark of Netmeds.com’s advertising is its brand ambassador, Indian cricketer Mahendra Singh Dhoni (MSD) and cricket. Commenting on what makes Dhoni a perfect fit, Pathak says, “The synergy and connection between Dhoni and Netmeds.com is strong. Dhoni is one of India’s most successful captains and a trustworthy face. The Dadha Pharmaceuticals business footprint goes back to 1914. Since he has come on board, we have utilized this connection to connect with his fan base across India. This partnership has worked phenomenally, as we saw a very high up-tick in brand recall, and in some surveys the brand recall was as high as 300%-400%.”

Taking the association with cricket forward, the company has spent heavily on cricket. Last year, Netmeds.com was the title sponsor for India’s Tour of Ireland, and also a sponsor for the 2018 Asia Cup. In January this year, the company was the title sponsor for the One Day International (ODI) and T20 series held in New Zealand. In fact, Netmeds.com launched its latest campaign ‘Har Ghar Mein Mahi’ during this period.

Commenting on being cricket focussed, Pathak says, “We had Captain Cool as our brand ambassador, and therefore we had an immediate connection with cricket. For a start-up like ours, we need a celebrity like Dhoni to spur growth. Though spends on cricket are higher, it also deliver the numbers. Compared to cricket, the numbers from other sports is not that big. Having said that, if we find there is a synergy, we will be happy to associate with other sporting properties too.”

As for Netmeds.com’s preferred media platforms, the company has four main verticals that it focusses its monies on – Television, Digital, Print and Sports – this does not include on-air sponsorships but only on-ground sponsorship and activations.

An important marketing initiative for the company is engagement and educating the consumer. A challenge that the company faced was getting consumers to upload valid prescriptions, as many Indians continue using old prescriptions or even buy medicines without one.

“There are rules about what makes a prescription valid, and we have made videos to showcase and educate consumers about it. We are changing the consumer mind-set and behaviour, as purchasing medicine offline and online is different,” says Pathak. To educate consumers about this, short videos were made, and since then content marketing has become an important part of the company’s marketing plans.

Netmeds.com’s content is divided into three verticals. The first vertical is information about medicines, where the company posts informative short videos about various medicines such as their side-effects etc. Pathak forcefully says that these videos are not advisory in nature, as the company cannot advise consumers on what the medicine is for.

The second vertical is curated content for general health and chronic conditions. Depending on the customer’s condition, curated content is sent to them, so a consumer with diabetes is sent curated content on diabetes while one who suffers with hypertension, gets the relevant content.

“In each vertical we curate the content and this content is meant for our consumer base, to educate them and take care of them in terms of their health and wellness.” The third vertical is social media, where an in-house social media team is focussed on engaging with consumers.

When asked about the monies that the company is looking at spending this year, he said, “In terms of spending, the company’s growth trajectory is focussed on the top line, and our goal is to take it higher. Therefore, our marketing spends are going to be definitely higher, we would be spending somewhere around 15%- 25% more than last year.”

He continues, “Percentage wise, the spends will remain similar in terms of media verticals, and we may reduce the spends on sports. Last year was cricket heavy, and the reach and brand recall that the focus on cricket has given us is amazing. However, cricket is not cheap.”

Recently, Netmeds.com acquired health tech start-up KiVi Health, a clinic management platform providing cloud based, AI powered tools for effective doctor-patient interaction. KiVi Health is a practice/clinic management platform, and its USP is built around its unique “digital prescription pad” tool, which allows doctors to generate digital prescriptions. This acquisition is part of Netmeds.com’s goal to transform into a complete healthcare product and service company.

Future Plans: Meds & More

The online pharmacy’s association with medicines has also been strengthened partly because of its name, and the brand also has not done much to dispel the notion that there’s more to Netmeds.com. In addition to medicines, the online pharmacy also sells homeopathic and ayurvedic products and even non-prescription health, wellness and personal care products.

In short, Pathak says the company is a one-stop “health and wellness” platform. Recently, the company also launched its service for online consultation with doctors’ and is in the process of launching online lab testing soon, where customers can book appointments for lab facilities online. Currently, Netmeds has 14 Fulfillment Centers (FCs) across the country in 12 cities spanning over 3 lac sq. ft, and will set up 12 more FCs by 2020, in an effort to reach rural as well as urban areas and facilitate quick and efficient last-mile delivery of medicines.

Looking at the growth, Pathak says that the company has grown by 3.5-4 X over the last two years with, non-metros accounting for 60% of the revenues. He attributes this to the pan India Television advertising, which helped the brand reach across the country and establish brand Netmeds.com in small town India.

Looking ahead, he says, “We would like to continue to grow at the same speed, i.e. 4X.”

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