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Kashyap Vadapalli, Chief Marketing Officer, Pepperfry
Pepperfry's Kashyap Vadapalli a few marketing lessons he has picked up from today’s challenging environment.
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Marketing in times of COVID: Pepperfry

Pepperfry's Kashyap Vadapalli a few marketing lessons he has picked up from today’s challenging environment.
  • 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.
  • Kashyap Vadapalli, Chief Marketing Officer, Pepperfry shares with us how the brand is preparing to open up its stores and why communicating with your audience in times of distress is extremely important.
Pepperfry, which started as a pure online portal, felt the need to launch a studio only after two years of its existence. Its success story is a testimonial to the booming sector of virtual trading, which helped the brand to thrive even in today’s volatile market.

However, since furniture wasn’t listed under essentials, the first two months of lockdown was a challenging period for Pepperfry and its employees. Now that markets are opening up, the brand is gearing to deliver furniture in key cities and non-containment zones.

Pepperfry also saw its social media engagement rising up because all employees are working from home and there was a need for office infrastructure -- work desks, chairs, etc. While the brand couldn’t deliver its products, it kept in touch with its consumers by solving their queries online and offered tips for furniture maintenance, DIY interior décor, safe ways to rearrange your furniture and so on.

Kashyap Vadapalli, Chief Marketing Officer, Pepperfry, has seen the brand growing from scratch. He shared with us some marketing lessons he has picked up from today’s challenging environment, what kind of precautions the brand has taken to open up its stores, future of retail industry and changing consumer behaviour.

Excerpts:

Q. How challenging has the last month been for you as a brand?

This period has been challenging for most organisations, but the situation has also given us the opportunity to re-analyse our business, innovate to adapt and explore newer ways to connect with our consumers.

Pepperfry is a unique omni-channel marketplace and our offline presence through Studio Pepperfry has been a key consumer touchpoint. However, given the nation-wide lockdown, we suspended operations at all our Studios towards the end of March. With the recent relaxations, we are adopting an extremely cautious approach to reopen the studios gradually after ensuring complete sanitization and putting in place other preventive measures.

Another challenge that we faced was the disruption in logistics. Since furniture was not listed under the essentials category, our warehouses were not functional and deliveries were halted. However, markets are now opening up for ecommerce and non-essentials, albeit with restrictions. We have received permission to start delivery services in key cities and have also resumed operations at most of our warehouses.

As a brand, we invested our efforts behind enhancing our consumer connect by engaging with them on topical subjects and relevant content. In line with the current situation and consumer behaviour, we aimed to address their existing needs. For instance, given that several people are working from home, there was a need for good home office infrastructure - a proper chair, desk, storage options for work-ware and units to keep their printers, etc. In these last few weeks, our focus has been to help them achieve this set-up, educate them in simple ways to maintain their homes and even tips on using interior design to strengthen mental health, in these stressful times. We, therefore, witnessed an uptick in the engagement level across our platforms and channels.

Q. What has your marketing strategy been during the lockdown? Have you changed your media mix, investing more on platforms like Digital since a few other mediums like OOH/Print have been suffering due to the lockdown?

Now more than ever, consumers are using digital platforms not only for recreation but also from an awareness and knowledge-building standpoint. Therefore, we opted to emphasize our owned platforms, like our website, email marketing, push notifications and social media platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.

We used this opportunity to drive a shift in our messaging to make it more relevant, interesting and engaging. We continued with our consumer-focused conversations, aimed at addressing their challenges and interests like tips for furniture maintenance, DIY interior décor, safe ways to rearrange your furniture and so on. We have seen an increase in consumer engagement, through these themes. Additionally, in line with our brand personality of being pioneering, intelligent and conscious we looked at content that helped the audience get up to date with the latest in lifestyle choices with a focus on home through a series of expert interactions, we use interesting formats such as quizzes, trivia to keep the curiosity alive and to achieve high engagement levels.

Q. A lot of brands have started doing webinars, have you joined the bandwagon? What kind of response have you seen around it?

Being a B2C brand that enjoys a strong consumer connect, we have actually focused on hosting fun live masterclasses on our social media platforms with our design experts, as opposed to webinars that are better suited for B2B brands. These masterclasses have been curated around consumer-facing content like interior design, making the right furniture choices, selecting the right mattress, creating home-office set-ups suitable to one’s profession, etc. and have seen a very healthy engagement rate.

Q. Have you seen any changes in consumer behaviour?

With work from home now emerging as the new normal, we have certainly witnessed a rising interest and disproportionate growth in some categories. Home-office related items – desks, chairs etc., items that address ergonomic needs as well as products like beds and mattresses (as several people end up working on their beds) have seen a lot of traction.

There has also been an increase in engagement on our website. We have seen an upsurge of 40-50 per cent in the time spent by consumers on the site and page depth. This indicates that visitors are now far more indulgent – they are not just browsing but are taking the time to do their research well, which can result in conversions post the lockdown.

Q. How are you utilising this time to upskill your employees? Have you introduced any mental health awareness and/or health care programs?

We have used this time to expand our training and knowledge-building measures, not just vertically within teams but also cross-functionally between departments. Our in-house subject matter experts have been hosting sessions for employees across categories like marketing, logistics, category management, supply chain and others. This cross-functional training has helped everyone within the company gain a much stronger understanding of our product propositions, customer profiles and marketing strategy to give our consumers the best possible experience.

Our leadership team has also been hands-on throughout this insight process. Our CEO, Ambareesh Murty, has been brainstorming with our marketing team to understand how we can improve our social media strategy in particular and overall marketing approach in general.

Q. How are you preparing yourself for when things come back to normal? Because we think it will not be the same.


Being an agile and flexible organization, we have introduced several changes in our way of working in order to adapt to the evolving situation. Working remotely has shown benefits - increase in productivity and reduction in travel time. Members have quickly adopted technology and applications like Slack and Zoom, among others, which have enabled us to conduct effective meetings, share documents and maintain a steady workflow. We have developed and strengthened our ability to operate in a distributed fashion in the last few weeks, making this new approach a great choice.

From a consumer perspective, we see a definite shift in behaviour and inclination towards digital consumption. We believe they will come to rely heavily on e-commerce, especially given the apprehensions around safety in entering physical markets. We have always been a digital-first brand and we plan to fortify our online strategies further to cater to this change.

Q. What are some of the key learnings you have picked up in this unusual period?

We have learnt that we can function with great efficiency, even remotely – our teams have been just as productive as they were while working together in office. Furthermore, while we have always been well-prepared with a knack of planning for the week, the month and the quarter, the teams have now translated this into effective planning for the day.

We’ve spent more time in analyzing and understanding consumer behavior on our platforms. We plan to accelerate the usage of this learning and data to approach customers with more targeted offerings. In an evolving consumer and business environment, we aim to leverage sharper and automated targeting to drive both engagement and conversions.

Q. How do you think the retail industry will shape up after this period?

The change in consumption patterns and behaviours will lead to considerable changes in the industry. The way we view a customer journey is going to evolve from singular funnels of online or offline to a truly omni-channel funnel and added to it will be newer channels such as telephone and video consultation with collaborative tools.

For instance, for a complex need like modular furniture, consumers would typically visit the store, try out different designs and items. Today, they may still continue to do so but in a reduced capacity. Consumers would rather opt to use collaborative tools for virtual sessions to view features on their laptops or other devices.

These newer channels are likely to become much more relevant and important. This is where the new wave of disruption will arise.

COVID-19IndiaCases: 793kDeaths: 21.6kRecovered: 495k
COVID-19WorldCases: 11.87MDeaths: 545kRecovered: 6.71M
COVID-19USACases: 2.97MDeaths: 130kRecovered: 969k