Yash Bhatia

How D2C Brands are navigating marketing maze amid funding winter

Industry stalwarts explain challenges and cost-effective marketing methods.

After the pandemic, startup brands served as catalysts for the country’s growth story. Every brand dreamt to become a ‘unicorn’, and raise dollars of money from investors. But in the current scenario, with Funding Winter ongoing, brands from the ecosystem are apprehensive. 

A PWC report reveals that funding in the first half of 2023 to the Indian startup ecosystem witnessed a decline of 36%, reaching a total of just USD 3.8 billion across 298 deals. 

As a result, brands are now trimming their marketing budgets. On a landscape of startup brands, this year observes a drop in their engagement with major events like the IPL 2023, Cricket World Cup and the Asian Games. Instead, the industry is exploring cost-effective methods to disseminate its brand narratives to a wider audience.  

In the panel discussion held at afaqs! Startup Brands, the session was conducted on ‘Marketing In Times of Funding Winter’. The panel was moderated by Venkata Susmita Biswas, executive editor, afaqs! and included speakers: Harini Sivakumar, who is the founder and CEO of Earth Rhythm, Shrenik Gandhi, who is co-founder and CEO at White Rivers Media, Shouvik Roy, who is chief of brand marketing at GOAT Brands Labs, and Vikas D Nahar, founder and CEO at Happilo.

Sivakumar explained for a startup founder profitability should be inherited from the start of the business. The brand which had a first-mover advantage relied on the digital route for advertising when the competition wasn’t high. 

“Nowadays, brands irrespective of categories have the same TG to target. Across different categories, brands look to hit a sweet spot which as a result becomes competitive”, she explained. 

She said that Earth Rhytmm didn’t spend on brand marketing initially and relied on word-of-mouth marketing. 

“We spent our time on products, that became a talking point for us.” 

Gynovedaa, an Ayurveda-backed women’s healthcare brand raised $10 Million in March 2023. The brand has roped in actor Taapsee Pannu as a brand ambassador in 2022. 

Vishal Gupta said that for any brand, if the unit economics is right, then the marketing budget can be endless. “Initially, founders start spending too much on customer acquisition, which in the long run isn’t sustainable.”

He explained what had worked for Gynovedaa is the products that they’re catering to don’t have natural demand in the market. “Like in the case of PCOS, customers look for a treatment, not medicine. In the market, there’s a need but no demand. In our case, we had to create need into demand, which followed revenue.” 

“Content to commerce has worked for us well. We always questioned who is the TG, what’s the message, the choice of messenger, the medium of the message and then pushed the message multiple times in all of our campaigns.”

Shouvik Roy, from GOAT Brands Labs, which holds a brand portfolio of Chumbak, The Label Life, Pepe Inner Fashion, trueBrowns, Abhishti, Neemli Naturals, Breakbounce, NutriGlow, Voylla and Imara told the challenges that they were facing, “We couldn’t execute too many ideas, rather be sure with one idea that can become big for us. We were spending on brands that can bring us good results like trueBrowns which has grown fivefold in just one year.” 

He said, this year they’re looking to spend thoroughly in terms of marketing. Adding to this, he highlighted that brands shouldn’t associate themselves with celebrities as endorses, but rather make them a business partner. 

“As a brand, sign celebrities as investors by not just signing them with a profit share, but rather with some commitments. A brand should sign with commitments like some deliverables on a monthly basis, through this content can be cracked easily,” Roy highlighted.

Shrenik Gandhi from WRM, which provides online and digital solutions to brands, spoke on the ways for effective marketing, “A brand shouldn’t use influencer marketing for a single deal. As a brand, the idea should be to stand out by churning out the maximum from the influencer.”

He stated one recent example, in which their agency partnered with Viraj Gehlani for a promotion of a particular show. Rather than signing him for a single posting, they signed a 20-deal package with the influencer. 

“Nowadays people understand that brand deals can be posted once or twice, but if it’s done multiple times then the influencer is the fan of it. Therefore, people started watching the show due to this collaboration,” he highlights.

Gandhi said that for a brand which is Amazon-friendly, the agency can look to sign a deal with influencers for reels as well as for a photoshoot. As a result, customers will be able to see the influencer on e-commerce sites which will look more authentic.

Amid funding winter, Happilo spent heavily on marketing by associating with IPL 2023 as a snacking partner for RCB. The online dry fruits brand also signed ‘Sid-Kiara’ as brand ambassadors in 2022, and got mileage after their wedding. 

Nahar told the strategy behind this, “Our brand wanted to create noise, IPL is one of them. Bollywood and cricket can reach masses across regions, and languages.”

They believe that while other brands were spending on digital, it made sense for them to reach a wider audience by associating with IPL. He said, “While no other brand was doing marketing at the time, we as a brand did it. As it became a value for money and resulted in great visibility.” 

The brand is not doing an ad campaign in the festive season, due to the crowd in the space. During this time, the brand is looking to go deeper into the distribution channel. 

Watch the full session here: 

Image credit: Midjourney 5.2

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