Aishwarya Ramesh
Advertising

“Given the lack of innovation in the two-wheeler category, electric bikes have potential”: Nilay Chandra, Ather Energy

A chat with the marketing director of Ather Energy on the sidelines of its new ‘smart electric bike’ campaign.

Soaring fuel prices, difficulty in pulling a bike out in reverse or starting it after stopping at traffic signals. These are some of the issues that people face when they use a two-wheeler (vehicle) to get around. These are the real insights that Ather Energy, an Indian electric vehicles manufacturer, focused on in its latest ad campaign.

Conceptualised by the company’s in-house team and produced by Nirvana Films, each digital ad is roughly 20 seconds long.

The ads specifically refer to the features that Ather’s bikes have that conventional two-wheelers don’t. These include a reverse button, being able to access maps and destinations on its home screen and a promise that a fully charged bike will give the commuters the mileage they need to get through the day.

Last year, the company had released an ad campaign with the agency Brave New World, which also emphasised on how Ather electric bikes were more advanced than conventional vehicles. Other players in the electric bike segment in India include Ola Electric, Hero, Bajaj's Chetak electric variant and TVS.

Over a call, we caught up with Nilay Chandra, director of marketing and charging infrastructure at Ather Energy. He tells us that the company has been consistently communicating with the consumers and electric vehicle enthusiasts for over three years now. He says he tries to understand what the customer is thinking.

Nilay Chandra, VP - marketing and charging infrastructure, Ather Energy
Nilay Chandra, VP - marketing and charging infrastructure, Ather Energy

“We try to stay aware of what the consumers are going through when they are in different stages of the purchase funnel. We gauge feedback at every touch point and qualitatively evaluate it in order to gain insights. We’re running the campaign on digital platforms right now for maximum visibility. But we might consider running it on mainstream platforms like TV in future,” says Chandra.

He informs us that petrol bike owners are the ads’ main target audience. The aim is to highlight the benefits of owning an electric bike.

“I want petrol bike owners to consider electric bikes more actively, and this was our brief’s starting point. We worked with our in-house agency in order to bring this campaign to life,” adds Chandra.

Courtesy Ather Energy's Twitter handle
Courtesy Ather Energy's Twitter handle

He explains that the company’s market research is more of a continuous process. “Other companies will normally host a dipstick survey (which analyses market response in different areas of research) or conduct one at a particular point. But we aim to get feedback from the consumers at every touch point.”

“We can also qualitatively evaluate the data because we have a pretty large sample size of people who are participating in the dipstick survey (a method of analysing the market response in different areas of research). This is how we understand the real problems of the consumers. Our qualitative research allows us to understand how they feel or react to the category or a new ad campaign that we’ve put out,” explains Chandra.

He recalls that at the time of the company’s inception, the overall impression that people had about electric vehicles was that they are low performance vehicles. Also, they are low in power and purchased only by environmentally conscious consumers.

The electric bike's display helps keep track of speed, distance travelled, etc.
The electric bike's display helps keep track of speed, distance travelled, etc.

“That’s how the category developed in the last 5-7 years. The products were imported from China. The maximum speed they went up to was 25-45 km/hour and the price point was Rs 25,000-35,000. We understood that if a consumer is thinking of buying an electric vehicle, we have to take care of these parameters too. They are not going to opt for our product just because it is an electric vehicle. Consumers want sustainable options. They want to own a better product these days.”

Ather's electric bike display at a glance
Ather's electric bike display at a glance

Chandra explains that this was the company's objective as well – to provide a good experience as well as a quality product. Experience centres, where the company can demonstrate the bikes, influencer marketing programs, etc., have helped the consumers view electric vehicles in a new light.

Ather's experience center in Chennai
Ather's experience center in Chennai

He mentions that customers spend up to 45 minutes per visit at the experience centres and that they get to learn and understand's the electric bike's features. The walls of the store contain hints about the scooter, its intelligence, charging, range and many other features.

Ather Energy's offline experience center
Ather Energy's offline experience center

“The consumers these days have higher awareness levels. Given the lack of innovation in the two-wheeler category these days, we feel that our products have potential. At the same time, familiarity is something that the consumer is looking for in this category. They have to understand the products to understand its benefits.”

Chandra says that the experience centres play an important role, when it comes to bridging the gap between the company’s claims and the consumers' understanding of the product. Ather Energy has experience centres in Pune, Mumbai, Kochi, Chennai, Coimbatore, Hyderabad and Bangalore.

Chandra adds that one of the biggest challenges as far as electric vehicles go, is travel infrastructure. “The typical range that the scooters have these days is 80-100 km/hr on full charge. The average distance that a person travels in an urban landscape is 25-30 km. It’s like a phone, you can charge it and go. However, we understand that it’s important to give the consumers that assurance so they can believe our claim.”

“That’s the difference between buying a petrol two-wheeler and an electric bike. For a petrol two-wheeler, the consumers have probably already seen and tested the product, and know its range, price and power. They will visit a showroom to get an idea of the various colours available and gauge the best price that they can get the product at.”

“In the electric vehicle space, the consumers don't necessarily have prior knowledge of the products. There may not be enough products out there to prompt consumer awareness. Our experience centres are optimised to facilitate consumer understanding of a product and segment. The average time the consumer spends in an awareness centre, is about 45 minutes. We want them to understand how smart vehicles can change the way they commute.”

Chandra expects Delhi to grow as a market for electric vehicles, thanks to the government's efforts to incentivise their usage to curb pollution. According to him, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Bihar are popular states for electric three-wheeled vehicles. Electric bikes are becoming quite popular in the West, especially in states like Maharashtra, and South India.

Chandra adds that one of the biggest challenges he faces, as a marketer, is that the company has to create the same product experience for an electric bike as a conventional two-wheeler.

“The consumers have this fear that in order to own and use an electric bike, a lot of factors have to come together. However, the biggest challenge we face is their apartment complex allowing them to install charging points within the premises,” he signs off.