“Over 70% of our spend are digital”: Rathin Lahiri

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In an exclusive chat with Nilotpal Chakravarti, Rathin Lahiri, CMO of Meru Cabs, talks about Meru’s transformation into a digital business and how the Meru App will be critical to its business in the future.

TA. How are you ensuring that you have an integrated marketing effort?
RL: Consumers use multiple channels although each consumer segment has a preferred channel of choice. At Meru, we use this insight to leverage any campaign across all our touch points: the cabs, the web te, the call centre, the app, our airport counters, social network, customer base etc. We run digital only campaigns tactically, but all major campaigns are integrated campaigns as they deliver the highest impact.

TA. How are you leveraging the digital medium to acquire customers or create an amazing customer experiences?
RL: In the last one year we have transformed Meru into a digital business with the app only moving from a 12 percent contribution to a 65 percent plus contribution to our business. All Digital including web is over 75 percent contribution to our business. Last year, we have focused on mobile acquisition campaigns using both CRM to migrate the existing Meru user base and paid media including with mobile networks, social networks, youtube advertising, alliances etc. There is a base of 10 million to 20 million consumers who are doing transactions on the mobile and the opportunity for brands is to reach out to them and get them as early adopters.

TA. Social Media Marketing and ROI are often discussed and dissected. What are your views on Social Media marketing and how do you gauge the ROI?
RL: Social Media Marketing is about engaging with consumers as a real person would – with a point of view, with opinions, having real conversations etc. Earlier brands would broadcast their messages but now consumers are telling their stories of their experiences with brands. And the voice of the consumer resonates more than the voice of the brand. That’s the shift Social has brought about. We have taken baby steps in Social Media Marketing and honestly speaking we have a long way to go. But this is something I am personally very excited about.

TA. As a marketer, what according to you are the key challenges for any CMO, especially for digital marketing?
RL: The 3 key challenges for a CMO especially for non-digital organizations are:
1. Be the Digital champion in the organization. It’s not about Digital Marketing anymore but it is about transforming your business into a Digital Business. Organizations which are not ‘Digital First’ have to make significant changes in culture, processes, and relook at their business model itself to stay competitive. The CMOs challenge is to champion this within the organization.
2. Most Marketers are engaged in Acquisition Marketing. The Digital Marketer’s job is to drive ROI, but the true test for a CMO is to use digital to drive organic growth using digital in addition to other media available to him. He has to use his overall consumer and marketing understanding to ensure that overall the brand shows growth and not just a few digital metrics.
3. The digital space is constantly evolving so it is really important for him to work with the best of specialist agencies and develop an internal team who understand tech, analytics and consumer all in the same team. It’s about creating the right culture, an attitude of constantly doing test and learn and attracting and retaining the right talent.

TA. What can be done to address the challenges?
RL: The CMO is the voice of the consumer within the organization and the consumer today across categories is in the driver’s seat. He has a shorter attention span, more choices, is more empowered and can shift to another competitor at a swipe of a phone. The only solution to this is to ensure that the value proposition to the consumer is constantly enhanced and brands do enough to keep the consumer engaged. Digital Marketing is overtly focused on acquisition marketing and the focus needs to shift to Engagement Marketing.

TA. Most marketers believe that harnessing data analytics is one of the most important challenges they face. Are you also one of them and if yes, how are you dealing with the problem? Do you have in-house skills to harness data?
RL: We are a data led business as to book a Meru, you need to give a phone number and the number becomes the unique consumer identifier. Our analytics team is in-house as both on the supply side to ensure that our network is constantly getting optimized and on the demand side, so that we are able to match demand and supply together, we are constantly using data. We use this data to study consumer behavior patterns and via targeted marketing influence these behavior patterns with customized communications, targeted offers etc. For example we have immediately post downloading an app given a trial voucher to enable him to take a trip using the app, done targeted promotions called ‘Happy hours’ to promote off peak hour cab usage, done promotions on current bookings to ensure that more and more consumers book on a Meru whenever they need a cab thus increasing frequency etc.
Anything that is strategic

TA. Has big data completely altered the landscape for marketers?
RL: It is still early days yet and most brands are just beginning to do data mining and using the insights for personalized/ segmented campaigns. It is important to engage with the best in the business to get learnings across categories, do test and learns and build a playbook which works best for your brand.

TA. Is it true that the emergence of the digital medium has put enormous pressure on CMOs to realign their strategy? How critical it is to be on the same page with your CEO and CTO?
RL: The consumer is already Digital. The Digital medium is an opportunity to make Marketing a growth and a revenue centre with clear deliverables. It is a time bound opportunity because if you don’t digitize now, in 2-3 years it will be impossible to catch up. The CMOs job is to be the digital champion in the organization and work closely with the CTO, COO etc to help transform it.

TA. What are your marketing plans going forward?
RL: We are in a very exciting category and the category in the last 12 months has become a digital business. We already find that people are substituting their personal cars one or two days a week. In the next 2-3 years we believe that the category will get totally transformed so that a second car will definitely not be required and even a first car will be seen as unnecessary. The market is still not fully organized so there is huge opportunity in getting new consumers to try out Meru, make the Meru app the first choice to book a cab and launch our services in new markets.

TA. What is your digital advertising spends? Can you give a number to it? Has it risen over the past year and if so, by how much?
RL: Over 70% of our spend are digital, as we have focused on making the business into an app based one. With the market exploding, we have increased our spend and have grown largely to get consumers to try out our app. It’s a really dynamic category so we can’t give a number but we will continue investing in growing our consumer base and driving growth on the app.

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