"South is our strongest market; North, West is a challenge": Pallavi Chopra, CMO, redBus"

By Aishwarya Ramesh, afaqs!, Mumbai | May 10, 2019
redBus is out with a new campaign that features MS Dhoni. An interview with the brand's marketing head on her TG, challenges, segment and role of media...

Pallavi Chopra

Pallavi Chopra

CMO, redBus

In an attempt to capture and appeal to the national market, bus ticket booking app redBus has launched a 360-degree integrated marketing campaign. The campaign stars MS Dhoni as Balbir Singh, the captain of a hockey team and Gajraj Rao as Raja Babu, a politician. Previously, the brand ran campaigns featuring South-Indian actor Allu Arjun and we were told that they helped redBus gain a strong foothold in the south market. redBus as an app, has a record of engaging well with users - they boast of nearly 20 million active users every month of which about 50 per cent are from Tier I markets and the remaining from Tier II and III combined.

We had a conversation with Pallavi Chopra, senior brand director - marketing head, redBus about the new campaign, the challenges of marketing her product and more.

Edited Excerpts


When it comes to redBus, who is your main TG? Can you tell us the profile of a typical redBus user?

We target 2-3 kinds of people who travel for different purposes. They're mostly first-jobbers or students who are going back home. A lot of our travel is homebound travel by youngsters.

The second category of travellers is businessmen or salesmen who travel for work.

The last category is low-budget leisure travellers.

Who is the TG you're hoping to tap into with your ad campaign with MS Dhoni?

The redBus brand has been very dominant in the south - especially in Tier II markets and, to some extent, in the west. The main part of our TG - homebound travellers - are spread across the country. For a national footprint and to target the same users in other parts of the country, we conceptualised the national campaign.

What is the biggest challenge of marketing an app like redBus?

Our biggest challenge is when we're talking to an audience across the country - designing communication that resonates equally well with people all over. The reason we signed Dhoni as a brand ambassador is because he cuts across geography. We did extensive surveys to find out who the face of the brand should be and Dhoni resonated the best with different regions across the country.

ALSO READ: MS Dhoni arrives as a Hockey player in the latest brand campaign launched by redBus

What was your insight when it came to creating the videos for this campaign?

When you want to penetrate markets outside of your core market, you have to focus on category building efforts. If you look at one of the strongest drivers of the category, it is seat selection. The ability to be able to select the seat of your choice on the redBus app has been one of the strongest category drivers for us - that's how the first film happened.

The other big driver which lowers the barrier to entry is price. As a platform, because of the scale that we have, we are able to offer good pricing. We wanted to talk about that as well - that's how the second film happened.

What are the other big performance/growth drivers for redBus?

Long-term performance and growth drivers are category creation. As a category leader, if we invest in category creation, we benefit the most, which is why the brand-building efforts are centred around that.

The second thing is going after under-penetrated markets. The south has been our strongest hold so far so the challenge really has been to build the brand in the west and north. That's where we feel our growth is going to come from, penetrating Tier II markets in the South.

The third is going after under-penetrated categories. If you look at the private bus market, it has about 45 per cent online penetration while state-run buses have only 10 per cent online penetration. The headroom for growth is immense.

If you look at it from a short-term tactical perspective, our performance and growth drivers come from how we leverage our brand during key consumption periods - during festivals, holidays, school and college vacations, long weekends and so on.

Category creation - what exactly does this mean?

It refers to how you build a category of online bus ticketing. Traditionally, bus tickets are booked over the counter, through bus operator outlets or through agents who are usually present at boarding points.

When I say category creation, I mean moving folks from doing things the traditional way to doing things a new way - booking bus tickets on the app. It's convenient and offers a whole breadth of options for bus operators, routes, services etc. at your fingertips. There are also ratings and reviews, so it is that category creation that enables a shift in behaviour from doing things the old way to doing things the new way.

In your space, who would you say are your competitors? Would you say it's a service like Paytm that also offers an option of bus ticket booking or is it the offline ticket counters?

The way I look at it, since we are dominant in this market with a 70 per cent online market share, we compete with the old way of doing things; with what happens offline. Beating the competition, to us, means enabling behaviour change - getting users to book tickets online when earlier they were doing it offline/over the counter.

How do you retain new users and convert them into returning customers?

After we acquire a new user, our retention marketing efforts kick in. The minute he becomes a new user, he enters a segment called a 'first to repeat communication program', designed to build loyalty. We communicate regularly to him about the benefits of using redBus, reinforcing various features that we have which we believe will draw loyalty for us. We also have features like live bus tracking and a wake-up alarm - one that goes off on the user's phone just before he has to get off at his stop.

Our app is very specific to bus booking so we try and build features that will help the customer throughout his journey. We believe that all we do that makes the bus journey predictable is how we retain consumers.

Biggest challenges of marketing your product?

First is connecting with audiences from different parts of the country. The consumers are similar but also very different.

The second is how we accelerate offline to online movement. Behaviour change is not easy and requires a lot of investment.

Essentially, our marketing activities are focussed on acquiring new users. Apart from staying top of mind with users we've already acquired, the challenge is about how to keep acquiring new users continuously.

What is the lead medium of communication you work with? What does the media mix spending look like in percentages?

Lead media is television and digital. Television because it gives us mass reach and digital because we are a digital native brand - our audience is right there. We also do a lot of ambient media outdoors and partnerships with bus operators, using some of their media at boarding points or inside buses. Apart from that, we've also been doing a bit of advertising on cinema (during breaks). Seventy per cent of our spends are on television, 20-25 per cent are on digital and the remaining are on OOH and cinema.

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