Ashwini Gangal
Interviews

"We're talking to people who transact on e-commerce but aren't on online travel sites yet": Saujanya Shrivastava, MakeMyTrip

Online travel agent MakeMyTrip recently launched a new tagline, 'Dil Toh Roaming Hai'. On the occasion, we spoke to Saujanya Shrivastava, chief marketing officer of MakeMyTrip.com, who came on board earlier this year. Previously, he worked as CMO at Bharti Axa Life Insurance.

For MakeMyTrip, Shrivastava has found an addressable TG in two distinct sets of people - those who transact on e-commerce sites but are yet to do so on online travel sites like his, and those who travel a lot, but still book their tickets offline. The brand's ad spends for this year are upwards of Rs 80 crore.

Recently, MakeMyTrip launched a digital campaign to promote its new 'Uncancel' feature, that enables one to re-book a cancelled trip, at a later date, without incurring any additional cost.

"We're talking to people who transact on e-commerce but aren't on online travel sites yet": Saujanya Shrivastava, MakeMyTrip
"The numbers for Uncancel have been interesting, not just from a standpoint of people who have used the feature... Uncancel has become a trigger for people to opt for MakeMyTrip. It's like a quasi-insurance against possible cancellation," says Shrivastava, who has worked at companies like Future Group, Pepsi, Citibank and Mondelez, in the past.

The total ticket money that has been saved since the Uncancel feature was first launched (around 45 days back) is approximately Rs 25 lakh.

Edited Excerpts.

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Your new tagline 'Dil Toh Roaming Hai' sounds like something a telecom company would have...

(laughs) I wouldn't see it like that. We want to weave a larger emotional fabric around people's wandering hearts....

On a serious note, how did you zero in on it? What insight did you draw on?

The starting point was - the positioning must reflect the changing cultural code. The objective is to strengthen the brand's connect among existing travellers and to recruit new customers into the online travel category. The onus of growing the online travel category is on us.

The insight that led to this new positioning and tagline is - travel is really no longer an 'annual event'. Today, leisure travel is a part of 'lifestyle discourse'. When people talk to family and friends, there's a strong cultural need to come across as more interesting and well-travelled. So travel has become a 'via media' to increase one's 'interesting quotient', if you will.

Just like people have financial or career ambitions, they also have travel ambitions. Our new brand positioning is reflective of this growing travel ambition. We are seeking to partner the emergent customer in this space and are looking at owning the entire consumer travel cycle. We want to move from being a 'travel provider' to a travel partner'... almost a co-conspirator of sorts, who inspires people to go ahead and travel. We've come into very fertile territory.

Society is breaking out of the 'socialist syndrome'; indulgence is no longer seen as a bad thing. Experience is the new currency, the new parameter of success... you're remembered more for the stories you've lived than the badges you wear.

From 'Memories Unlimited' to 'Hotels Unlimited' to 'Dil Toh Roaming Hai', your stance has moved from emotional to functional, and now back to emotional...

The Indian online travel category is evolving and there are slivers of differentiation between brands. We want to make a very distinctive space for ourselves.

Category communication is focused on deals, offers... while these functional aspects are important, we're now talking about the emotional pay off.

Doesn't it worry you that a move away from a tagline like 'Hotels Unlimited' might affect the way your site is regarded as far as hotel bookings go?

Not at all.

In fact, hotels and packages will continue to be our growth engine and focus area. You'll see that coming through in the next set of communication.

As our campaign rolls out, you'll see a confluence of the functional and emotional aspects.

Are you targeting a specific demographic through this campaign?

We're hoping to create a huge shift from offline to online travel booking. We want to broaden our consumer base.

We're talking to people focused on leisure travel. The TG comprises 25 to 40 year olds, from SEC AB, living in metros and urban centres (population upwards of five lakh). We're targeting the new age traveller who is seeking choice through multiplicity of options.

Doesn't a large part of this segment already book airline tickets online?

Currently, around 50-60 million people in India transact on e-commerce but only 15 million or so transact on online travel sites. So there's a potential base of 35 million, comprising people who are on e-commerce, but have not yet tried online travel booking. So that's one set of customers we want to talk to straight away.

Then there's the larger set that has still not come onto the e-commerce bandwagon, but they do undertake travel. They book tickets over the phone or through their own small network of travel agents. They have not yet transacted online. We're also talking to that set.

You've spent over five years marketing Bharti Axa Life Insurance. What was the biggest challenge then and what is it now?

The life insurance industry has many regulatory pressures. So being able to really innovate on the product front used to be a big challenge. Most products in the insurance segment are standardised... it's a commoditised segment. It is easier to come up with service and value propositions in the travel sector.

The biggest challenge - opportunity, rather - in the online travel segment is that we've just scratched the surface so far. At just 15 million in a country of 1.2 billion, this is just the tip of the iceberg.