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Anupam Mittal, Founder & CEO, Shaadi.comShaadi.com
How brands are dealing with the new normal
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Marketing in the times of Covid-19: Shaadi.com

How brands are dealing with the new normal
  • In our latest interview series, we talk to brands to understand how they are coping with the new normal and their strategies towards navigating these difficult times.
  • While the wedding industry has come to a standstill due to the lockdown, Anupam Mittal, Founder & CEO, Shaadi.com tells us how they are ensuring the matchmaking industry doesn't impact too much for the lockdown.
  • Mittal talks about all the things the organization is doing to ensure its seamless functioning while also innovating to bring people together in the midst of a lockdown.
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It's been over a month since we have been locked up inside our homes, venturing out only if absolutely essential. It has changed the way we lived our lives, went about our professional lives and it is bound to have a far-reaching impact on how we live in the future too, in the post-Covid world.

Despite the obvious cons that the pandemic brought with it, there has been a silver lining to the entire situation. Most organizations have been thrown into the middle of a crisis and it is proving to be a trial by fire. Businesses have had to put their thinking caps on and innovate, to be relevant in a world where consumers are stuck at home and a lot of them are doing a good job, testing their own agility and adaptability.

While there are some segments that haven’t been impacted as badly as a few others, there are some segments, like the live events space, cinema, retail etc, that thrive on human presence and have been majorly impacted.

Another segment that has been obviously impacted is matrimonial sites. For a business that thrives on bringing people together so that they can meet up, get to know each other and eventually decide if they want to live their lives together, making all this happen while under a lockdown has been a challenge. However, Shaadi.com took up this challenge head-on and has been coming up with innovative solutions to make sure that people on the lookout for love and a life partner aren’t left stranded.

We recently caught up with Anupam Mittal, Founder & CEO, Shaadi.com to understand how they are sticking to their idea of togetherness in times of social distancing. He also tells us about their marketing campaigns and the steps they are taking to ensure that the consumer experience on their platform remains seamless.

Edited excerpts:

Q) The past few weeks have been very difficult for the world in general and businesses have had to rethink how they do business. For an organization like yours, what have been the functional challenges?

The impact of this pandemic has truly been unprecedented and some of our biggest challenges revolve around the radical changes we are seeing in human behaviour. For one, consumer habits have changed overnight, and we’ve had to reorient towards the new consumer in a very short period of time. What was once a smart business decision, could now be seen as one lacking empathy.

Relevance, empathy and compassion have taken centerstage in this large-scale humanitarian crisis. We are working extensively on employee wellbeing and have a dedicated team driving this. We have made 3 services available to employees for free – counselling, medical services and fitness training. We have also put an empathy fund in place that employees facing economic hardship, can draw down upon. For our users, we have added the lockdown days as free days to their subscription.

Working from home also comes with its own set of challenges. While it might be comfortable for a lot of us, there are several people who live in small homes and don’t have access to the most reliable internet connections. Providing them all the necessary tools to perform their duties seamlessly has been fairly challenging.

Q) 'Weddings from Home' is an interesting and innovative concept. What was the thought behind it? What kind of reception has it seen so far?

This initiative finds its roots in our promise of togetherness, and in times of social distancing this is our way of delivering on the promise. We wanted to do something contextual and we felt WFH hit all the right notes –
  1. In India, weddings are a major production that are planned way ahead of time. So, there was the practical consideration for people having to reschedule their wedding.
  2. It also demonstrated a victory of the human spirit of sorts by cocking a snook at the Corona Virus. Saying, in a way, come do your best but I will not succumb.
  3. Finally, it sent a strong social message that if some can get married from home, the least others can do is stay at home and save human lives.
Based on above, we decided that it was time for the Big Fat Indian Lockdown Wedding.

The interest amid users has been overwhelming. We’ve got a bunch of people reaching out to us, thanking us for what we’re doing. We have already done two weddings, one on the 14th & 19th April and we have another one finalized for 8th May. We are receiving about 4 -5 requests every day.

Q) The wedding industry has now come to a complete standstill and it might affect you as an organization too. Even if the lockdown is lifted, it might still take a long time for things to get back to normal. What plans do you have in place to minimize business impact on your organization?

We are in the matchmaking business, so not directly or as significantly impacted. Our registration and platform engagement metrics continue to hold well and we expect them to do so in the time to come. Having said that, we expect some parts of the business to stay muted and in anticipation of this we’ve taken some important steps as an organization.

  1. Avoid predicting the future – Stay agile and operate with short term cadence
  2. Move to a Zero Based Budgeting approach – Trim out all the unnecessary fat in expenses and invest in aspects that drive growth
  3. Keep your ears to the ground. Stay connected with the consumer and keep pace with their changing habits.
  4. Act with empathy and compassion across the board, be it employees, partners or consumers.
Q) How is the 'Wedding from Home' benefiting small-scale wedding industry vendors?

April and May is the wedding season and is one of busiest times for all wedding vendors. However, due to the lockdown and by virtue of weddings getting postponed indefinitely, a lot of small vendors are at risk of going out of jobs. Initiatives such as Weddings From Home can prove to be instrumental in giving them a livelihood despite the lockdown. For instance- Prius Sharan Tripathi, the priest conducted the wedding via video calling, while Mumbai-based makeup artist Chriselle Baptista has been roped in to help with makeup through tutorials and Faridabad-based singer and performer Vanita Sharma was hired to play the dhol during the sangeet. While the scale of impact is limited at this point in time, every little bit of support counts.

Q) Are there any innovations that you introduced during the lockdown period to help matchmaking from home a seamless experience?

Yes, we introduced some and a few are in the pipeline. In fact, one of the first things we did was to actually waive off membership fees during the lockdown period for premium members. This has played a pivotal role in improving the matchmaking experience for many since it ensures lesser friction in the process. Our tech team is also working round the clock to deliver some tech interventions that can materially improve the matchmaking experience of our members. We expect these to play out in a week or two.

Q) What have your key learnings from this experience been so far?

  1. Agility over Experience: Your years of experience are largely nullified in such exceptional times and staying agile drives a lot more value for the business
  2. Togetherness is a sentiment that is timeless and all the more relevant in a crisis
  3. Communicate constantly and clearly – Be transparent with your team, with your members and with the people at large. And talk to them at regular intervals, it alleviates some of their anxiety.
Q) When it comes to communicating with consumers during a period of crisis, it is extremely important to make sure your brand communications don't come across as opportunistic or insensitive. How have you ensured that during these past few weeks?

We’ve always had our ears to the ground and our orientation towards compassion and empathy have held us in good stead. One of the first thing we did was to ready a document that would reflect our Brand Purpose in the times of Covid-19. Every single employee was asked to imbibe these values and it had to reflect in their approach, regardless of their function. We’ve also taken the route of staying optimistic and communicating positive human stories in an otherwise morbid world. Powerful human stories are proving to be invaluable in driving positive sentiment and if your brand can be the creator of positive human stories and drive genuine community impact, it will be remembered by the people long after this is behind us. Some of our campaigns such as Weddings From Home or Dil Toh Mil Hi Sakte Hai are a reflection of these amazing human stories.

Q) How large will the impact of the lockdown be on the overall wedding industry? Do you see things picking up in the later half of the year, if things slowly start getting back to normal?

If Covid-19 is entirely behind us, then yes, I expect there to be a strong resurgence in the wedding industry. The question that looms large is, will this be entirely behind us? Will we be allowed large scale gatherings once again? No one really knows.

On an average, a wedding in India employs 200 people, many of which are small-time businesses. It’s going to be incredibly challenging for them to survive this downturn though. I’ve been reading reports about how several people in this industry are moving out of the business and are opening kirana stores or other such businesses which aren’t as badly impacted by the pandemic. While the big wedding planners might survive this, it is going to be incredibly hard for the small-time decorator or mehendi artist to make ends meet, solely on this business for the next few months. Post 6 months, we expect the business to revive.