Our customers are our celebrities: Subramanya Sharma, Cleartrip

Subramanya Sharma, CMO and Head of Products, Cleartrip, talks about the company’s expansion strategy, how its last campaign fared and why it doesn’t believe in celebrity engagement

e4m by Madhuwanti Saha
Updated: Sep 18, 2017 7:56 AM

Unlike its competitors, Cleartrip has steered clear of celebrity engagement as it believes its service and product will speak for themselves. When it comes to marketing spends, the company has given priority to performance marketing. Cleartrip has earned 70% market share in the UAE and is also looking to establish an offline presence with its local gift cards available at Café Coffee Day outlets. Subramanya Sharma, Chief Marketing Officer and Head of Products, talks about the company’s expansion strategy, how its last campaign ‘Local’ fared, prioritising on performance marketing and the need to create an offline presence.

Edited excerpts:

How has your campaign ‘Local’ fared?

‘Local’ helped us establish a key differentiator and gave customers a strong reason to continuously engage with the brand. The adoption for ‘Local’ shot up post the campaign and the trajectory continues with the right push that the campaign gave in the initial stages to this product. Today, 75% of ‘Local’ customers are new and also a good 20% cross sell to travel in a six-month period. ‘Local’ is still in its early days and there is a lot to do there. We will invest more in ‘Local’ and our experiences platform which we see as a natural extension of travel. Today, it is in its nascent stages and an integral part of our differentiation.

Why hasn’t Cleartrip taken the route of celebrity endorsement like its competitors? What’s your biggest competitive advantage?

We believe that product is our biggest competitive advantage and our customers our celebrities. Today’s value-oriented customers look for deeper involvement with the brands than get swayed by mere celebrity associations. When the core focus of the company is to deliver the best travel experience for its customers, your customers themselves spread the good word about the company.

How do you choose your markets for expansion strategy?

Following Cleartrip’s success in India, expansion into the Middle East was a natural course of action, since 10% of our online traffic comes from the Dubai region. To enter any market we should see a movement towards online adoption and the conduciveness for the India model to be replicated with some local customisation.

Why not prioritise on ATL marketing when it comes to marketing spends?

We use media with a lot of discretion and map the plan based on the need and outcome than ape the trends in the market. Last year, we had two large TV campaigns – one for ‘Local’ and our events and activities platform and second in October showcasing two interesting new product features for our target audience (Price Lock and Pay@hotel).

This year, we have used television to communicate a tactical but promising travel offer. This has given us the desired impact on our business and has proved highly efficient in terms of ROI.

The call also depends on the stage of the product and the market. In Dubai, we placed the second highest hoarding in the world which gave us a mention in the Guinness Book of World records

Do you make up for it with your spends on performance marketing which helps you calculate the ROI?

The majority of our marketing spends is on performance marketing. We believe that over time we have perfected the art and have driven tremendous cost efficiency and built scale. Our team uses and optimises the media vehicle, data and precision targeting to deliver the best results.

Why the need to create an offline presence? How are the offline markets profitable to the online travel space?

‘Local’ and travel as a gifting solution is shaping up well for us. We wanted to expand our landscape to reach new customers and hence we worked out a win-win strategic alliance with two large retail partners to showcase ‘Local’ as an interesting gift product for our younger set of audience. The offline rollout was seamless and the activity helped us get the desired brand awareness and sales. This partnership was unique and a first of its kind even for our retail partners.  

The main difference between the online and offline markets is the short-term acquisition cost, which when apportioned to the lifetime of the customer creates a huge value for the future.

How do you leverage your social media presence?

In general, social media has become a window of direct brand interaction with our customers. Today, it has dramatically reduced the time of response in a brand and customer interaction. Our Twitter account functions as an important channel for being in constant touch with customers and respond to their queries in real time. It has also helped us in getting valuable information about consumer behaviour and fine-tune our products and services to their needs. LinkedIn works as a window to the life at Cleartrip for the outside world as well as potential candidates.

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