Shreyas Kulkarni

“The outdoor campaign was a logistical nightmare”: PagarBook’s Siva Prasad

The app’s senior VP, marketing and sales, speaks about its outdoor campaign, the definition of SMEs, and brand ambassador Akshay Kumar.

It’s not every day that you see a random business owner on a billboard doling out soothing phrases like “No Jhanjhat!”, “No Jhikjhik!”, and “Katkat naahi!” If you do come across one in the coming two weeks, please give credit to PagarBook.

Spread across 12 cities, the outdoor campaign features its users whose business is within a kilometre radius from the billboard.

“The outdoor campaign was a logistical nightmare”: PagarBook’s Siva Prasad

On paper, PagarBook can be described as a mobile and desktop app that assists a business owner with staff attendance and payroll management. “It is a complete staff management solutions and more,” says Siva Prasad, PagarBook’s senior VP, marketing and sales.

Prasad told afaqs! that from an SME perspective, business people used to maintain things like cash registers and attendance books. “The word complete staff management and nuances of that are a big problem otherwise, and that is what we are trying to solve.”

Prasad says that his organisation has been around for over a year, while the active number of months is seven to eight, “June was when we started to scale. And within this span, we’ve got five million-plus users who’ve downloaded the app and are using it.”

In November, the app, which is available in 13 languages, signed on Bollywood star Akshay Kumar as its brand ambassador. It then went on to release a heart-warming ad made by BBDO India, featuring Kumar and Kulbhushan Kharbanda illustrating the app’s utility.

Siva Prasad
Siva Prasad

In a brief chat with afaqs!, Prasad talks about PagarBook’s outdoor campaign, SMEs, the possible pitfall of having Kumar as the brand ambassador, among other things.

Edited excerpts:

What were your thoughts and discussions about the outdoor campaign, where you modelled the app’s users?

Initially, we thought we won’t do outdoor because we have a pan-India audience so it will be expensive. Also, it wasn’t a key media vehicle for us. But when it came as an idea, we were like, why can’t we feature our users?

Now, our users are our ambassadors, our ‘PagarBook champions’ as we call them… But will they be willing to talk about our app, especially on mass media? We really thought it would be a nightmare to convince so many people at 54 sites in 12 cities... The first question people ask is, how are you (the business owner) on the hoarding? Nobody will ask why Akshay Kumar is on the hoarding.

It’s an assumption we made: If I am a businessman, 50-60 per cent of my friends will be business people. The moment people see the hoarding, it triggers a lot of conversations and the question is “How come?”, and the person featured on the hoarding will have to speak about PagarBook. That was the objective of the campaign.

While getting users on board for the outdoor campaign was easy, it was a logistical nightmare – to align the right user with the right site spread across so many cities. We had help from an outdoor agency called Outdoor Advertising Professionals...

Are SMEs and MSMEs your main users?

SMEs and MSMEs are loosely defined words in India because there are a lot of definitions. There is a way financial institutions define SMEs, the government may have another definition… our definition of them is a businessman who employs over three people and he/she is a potential PagarBook user.

It can be a small manufacturing unit, someone who’s running a salon with 10 beauticians, a restaurant owner… there are hundred use cases we can come up with.

Where do your users come from?

They come from all over India. There are different kinds of business owners in the same geography. You will know this mom and pop store run by a couple and their kid, where PagarBook may not be relevant. But the next store might be a hypermarket, which employs 10-15 people and needs PagarBook.

There could be some amount of concentration in certain areas and that’s not because these areas have more business people. It’s because of our marketing and acquisition efforts.

Small businesses, even roadside eateries, have embraced digital. Payment apps being the best example. What barriers have they come across in their digital journey?

Payment apps have been there for more than three years… Demonetisation and COVID may have pushed its adoption. But if you look closely, the push came from UPI; a business owner sees money from a transaction go to his bank account and not a wallet.

We saw two challenges when we approached people. One is inertia. People who’ve run a successful business for years, or even two generations, know digital. They use WhatsApp, social media and payment apps. But there is inertia when it comes to change and the outcome is that we take a long time to on-board them. It’s actually when we meet them for the fifth time that they realise PagarBook makes sense.

The second biggest challenge is trust. A business owner uploads all employee data, including how much each one earns, on the app. Last, PagarBook tells the employer to pay employee salary through the app. These are important data so, as marketers, we need to build their trust.

Akshay Kumar is your brand ambassador. Are you worried that his urban/elite personality will erode your messaging/communication to your existing and potential users? This despite his hard-working, ‘desh ki mitti image…

In India, we’ve trained consumers to not think that way. Although, a percentage may think in that direction. If that’s the case, how can Amitabh Bachchan endorse a TVS Jupiter motorcycle?

We wanted to reach out to the masses and Kumar seemed to be a better fit, as compared to the others, because he’s generally controversy-free, a self-made man, and so are the users of PagarBook.

How’s your media plan looking, going forward?

There’s no shift in our media plan. Yes, TV was the latest edition last month (December 2020), and will go on till the end of January 2021. The plan is to return with TV campaigns periodically.

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