The co-founder and CMO opens up on how the explosively growing boAt Lifestyle intends to expand offline. Obsessive about reading the market he says that "If you don't listen to your consumer, you will die."
In a country teeming with successful startups, what makes boAt Lifestyle special? Nearly all the big Indian hits are in the services sector. But you'd struggle to identify brands that have achieved scale in consumer goods, especially electronics. boAt stands out.
Launched in 2016, in a market crowded with international brands like JBL, Bose, Sony, its earphones, headphones and speakers have become ubiquitous. The pandemic has been an especially high-growth phase for the company as consumers, trapped at home, invested in personal entertainment options.
According to RoC (Registrar of Companies) data compiled by Entracker, boAt's turnover grew by an astounding 2.2x in 2020-21 over the year before: from Rs 700 crore to over Rs 1,500 crore. Nearly 75 per cent of that revenue came from earphones and headphones, almost all of them wireless. Wireless speakers were the other big product line. The six-year-old startup is also set to float a Rs 2,000-crore IPO this year, as per an Economic Times report.
That's the story so far but going ahead, it seems to be taking a new turn. “We were known as an audio company," Aman Gupta, co-founder and CMO, boAt Lifestyle, told afaqs!, but "we currently get the maximum growth from wearables."
Recent data from the International Data Corporations (IDC) India's Monthly Wearable Device Tracker reveals that Imagine Marketing, the marketing arm of consumer electronics brand boAt, led in wearable devices with a market share of 22.9 per cent in Q1 CY22. The report states that “its broad portfolio of earwear devices and aggressive push in the wearable watch category as value-for-money devices helped the company’s growth in the quarter.”
The brand sells smartwatches in the price range of Rs 2,000 to Rs 5,000. Its earwear category includes true wireless Airdopes, wireless Rockerz and wired bassheads. Gupta says that this year the brand wants to focus its efforts on further growing its wearables category.
As part of this push, the brand has roped in actress Rashmika Mandanna as its brand ambassador. “We have signed her up for the wearables category. Moreover she brings in a different demographic and helps with the regional factor,” he says.
This focussed effort on the wearable category can also be seen during the Indian Premier League (IPL). The campaign was earlier called “Sound of Champions”, but now it is called “Move of Champions” and it promotes the brand’s wearables range.
The brand’s study showed that its products are being largely purchased by men. So now it is consciously trying to cater to more women. This is not only through its marketing efforts but also through changes in product design and colour.
“It is time now that women no longer ask their partners’ opinion on which headphones they should buy. They can choose themselves. Generally men prefer black and women try different colours. So we are launching some unique colours and different style segments. We've also partnered with designer Masaba to launch co-branded products. We are making our wearables more accessible for women. Women’s ear canals are a little smaller, so we’ve changed it to fit better. I don’t think any other brand has done that before,” he says.
"It is time now that women no longer ask their partners’ opinion on which headphones they should buy. They can choose themselves."
In tune with this strategy, it is also choosing the medium where it can reach more women. “We choose the influencer set that has more female followers. We target the black products to the men and the new range towards the women. It's all scientific and ROI-driven. It has to be done effectively and efficiently to use the resources judiciously,” he says.
The brand also ventured into the personal grooming segment and offers trimmers for men under its sub-brand Misfit. But it is in the audio segment where boAt truly established itself. An IDC report in February declared boAt as the market leader in the Truly Wireless Segment (TWS) with 39.3 per cent market share and 187.9% YoY growth in 2021. Gupta attributes this growth to a combination of right product and right pricing.
“We've always been able to get the right products for the Indian market. We understand the consumers very well. Our pricing is perfect. Our marketing is good. We remain consumer-centric - our boatheads are at the center of what we do. We are in a market where people are very flirtatious with brands. So we have to keep upping our game to stay relevant to the audience,” he says.
The report also points out an interesting shift in consumer preferences. In 2021, over 65 per cent shipments in the TWS category were from India-based vendors, compared to about half of the market last year. Increasingly more Indians are preferring Indian brands in the audio category.
“When we were starting off people wanted only global brands. But we proved that Indian brands can also market themselves as premium brands. We made the market realise that if you have the right products at the right value and keep it aspirational, Indians don't mind buying Indian brands. There is a very big shift happening in terms of the mindset change. Earlier, there was a perception across products that you don’t get good stuff in India. But now it's time for Indian brands to start going global,” he adds.
"We made the market realise that if you have the right products at the right value and keep it aspirational, Indians don't mind buying Indian brands."
Being a brand born in the online ecosystem it has largely remained online-centric. Offline currently contributes about 15 per cent, but Gupta says this can rise to 25 per cent in the next two to three years. Currently, outside the digital world it only sells in multi-brand electronic stores like Croma. But it intends to soon provide experience centers to customers. It has already opened one in Kerala and it is looking to open smaller gondolas in stores like Croma and Reliance Digital.
“During the lockdown online did phenomenally well. But after the country opened up, offline has started selling very well because people are bored of shopping online. We now have a team to manage offline sales. It's not going to be a full offline retail strategy for us. We'll slowly increase our presence,” he says.
The brand, which has largely shied away from traditional media, is now considering it as it ventures into the offline world. It was advertised on television for the IPL last year. And recently it did its first OOH activation in Mumbai, advertising on the ‘Broadcoaster’ at the Bandra Worli Sea Link that allowed boAt to be seen on a boat.
In the digital realm, the brand effectively uses influencer marketing on social media to reach its TG.
“It does not help us with sales. But helps to create awareness of the brand and build credibility. It helps us bring a vibe and cool factor to the brand,” Gupta says.
"Influencer Marketing does not help us with sales. But helps to create awareness of the brand and build credibility."
A unique aspect of boAt’s marketing efforts is its community of users, called boAtheads. The brand takes conscious efforts to nurture this community, including making them a part of their celebrations to experience the brand in person.
“We invite our boAtheads to join us at our celebrations in our partnerships with Sunburn, the Lakme Fashion Week, IPL to experience the brand in person. We have boathead relationship officers who regularly interact with the people reaching out to them. This community has built us and now we are empowering the community to do what floats their boat,” he says.
The boAtheads offer feedback on the products and the brand attentively pays heed to it. It is one of the ways through which it is able to design products keeping Indian customer's needs in mind. Gupta attributes its good product ratings on ecommerce sites to this feedback mechanism. “If you don't listen to your consumer, you will die. That's how a lot of companies have died. I don't want to die. I need to keep chasing,” he quips.
In line with the government’s ‘Make in India’ vision, the brand, which currently manufactures its products in China, will soon be producing locally. As part of this it has entered into a 50 per cent JV with Dixon Technologies to design and manufacture wireless audio products.
“Make in India will be one of our key drivers for growth this year. We will begin manufacturing here soon,” he says.