Shweta Mulki

Brand Owners' Summit: On how to build a brand in the start-up world

The session had a fairly diverse line-up, with topics ranging from promoters' personas and virtual window-shopping, to burning up money.

At a panel discussion at the afaqs! Brand Owners' Summit held at the Westin Hotel, Mumbai, on December 9, business and marketing heads of start-ups like Faasos, Ziffi, and Policy Bazaar shared their insights on handling the challenges and opportunities of building a brand in the world of start-ups.

The panel was moderated by Nimesh Shah, head maven and co-founder, Windchimes Communications. The panel consisted of Revant Bhate, head of marketing, Faasos, Shantanu Jha, chief executive officer, Ziffi, Nikhil Rungta, chief marketing officer,, Naveen Kukreja, Group chief marketing officer, PolicyBazaar, and managing director, PaisaBazaar.

Brand Owners' Summit: On how to build a brand in the start-up world
The discussion started with Shah talking about the challenging times we lived in and one that offered us multiple choices of products and services, as well as technology. He said that over the years, media consumption had increased manifold, with attention spans being reduced dramatically. In the course of this introduction, when Shah asked Jha to explain the idea behind the brand name 'Ziffi' (an online discovery and booking space for salons, doctors and diagnostic centres across the beauty, health and wellness space), Jha replied that the brand name was taken from the word 'jiffy', and implied being 'lovable yet functional'. It was meant to appeal to all kinds of takers, across the contrasting services that were listed on the site.

Shah next touched upon a theme which was common to many start-ups, that of the promoter or founder's persona leveraged back to the company's brand. Rungta of, took the discussion forward while he said, "Any one individual is never bigger than a company or a brand. When you start a business, you aren't looking for personal value, but trying to solve a real problem. In Housing, there were these energetic folks from IIT-Bombay who saw certain inefficiencies and consumer problems in the real-estate. It is a great product and as a consumer it doesn't matter what the promoter's persona is."

Kukreja of PolicyBazaar reasoned that in the earlier stages, the founder's persona dominates because of his inherent passion for the business, but once you cross that initial milestone, the brand starts taking over, and it's important for this to happen at the right time.

Shah quizzed Kukreja about the insurance category's complex and boring perception. Kukreja, on his part, explained that in the field of financial services, consumers wanted direct simplified communication, and brand positioning needed to follow that. He further discussed about the challenge of 'virtual window-shopping' where consumers researched online, but purchased offline. "We like those consumers too, as they've had good experience with the brand, and we are confident of their return," he said. "We focus on giving them confidence that it's the same product, and that we're more transparent compared to our physical counterparts," Kukreja added.

The discussion then moved on to the subject of experience in the relevant business. Faasos' Bhate spoke on the challenges that arose due to not having a marketing background or experience in the relevant business. He said that was what Faasos had done, to challenge what was done traditionally, and enabled them to come up with innovations such as a fridge magnet device where you can order food at the press of a button.

Bhate further spoke on customer experience management in a tough category. "Very few people pre-plan food. We have a lot of checks and balances in place. We also calculate delivery time as function of preparation time and distance, and that's where the loop ends," said Bhate. He also said that what one builds in terms of technology should minimise customer anxiety. "Customer experience is what the brand is about, not the hoarding," he said.

Rungta carried the discussion forward and talked about the issue of a customer's preference for brands. "There may be different service brand apps on the customer's phone for instance, but there will always be a preferred brand, and the rest will be plan b and c. Customer experience will make all the difference. In Housing, for instance, a big advantage is the photographs taken by our own team of the various houses listed," he said.

One part of the discussion also centred on the 'burning of money' that start-ups resort to -- the 'quickly buy' loyalty factor. Jha commented that different phases had different sentiments, but today, there is a lot more consolidation and focus on real business. Kukreja cited's example of managing costs and emerging as a steady sustainable business over the years. Rungta also spoke about focussing on the product and said that marketing a product was essential. "But, great marketing will kill a bad product faster," he said.

The ninth edition of the afaqs! Brand Owners' Summit in Mumbai was powered by Amagi, with Wall Street as the outdoor partner, Kairali as the wellness partner, Furlenco as the furniture rental partner, and GainBuzz as its reach partner.

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