Shreyas Kulkarni

Navneet Education on leading with TV advertising, the challenges of expansion, and the need for brand building

Brand head Devish Gala explains how the education giant goes about its way.

Unlike the pantheon of brands showing up on every possible media channel to hold consumer attention in today’s cluttered times and failing, some brands stand out because of their distinct lack of presence.

One such name is Navneet Education, makers of the popular ‘Digest’ and ‘21 Most Likely Questions’ books that have served students, most taking their class 10 and 12 board examinations, like a wise sage offering sound counsel to an agitated ruler.

A major reason for this lack of media visibility lies in the limited market region this company primarily serves – Maharashtra and Gujarat, and that the 21 MLQ sets – one of its bestselling products – has a mere cycle of two months; right before the examinations.

It does not mean the company will continue to lie low and peek upwards only when needed. “We are starting these things small and going large when there is enough traction. 15-20 years ago, a student knew in class 10 he had the 21 MLQ. Today's students do not know what 21 MLQ is,” comments Devish Gala, head of branding, Navneet Education.

One of its small things, albeit with an ambitious goal, won a Cannes Lions in 2022. Tr for Teacher – a campaign to dedicate a designation to teachers like many other professions – saw a second campaign, exactly a year later, on September 5, 2023 (Teacher’s Day). 

FCB Interface made the campaign and Gala says the agency has been very good. “FCB has that strategic bent, planning is really good.”

Sequels always have the misfortune of not delivering on their promise, and many wonder why do it in the first place. When asked about the latter, Gala says the campaign aimed to dispel any notion that the first Tr for Teacher campaign was a one-time activity.

“Public companies have to allocate 2% of their revenue to CSR activities. We do more than 6%,” he states. Navneet Education’s total revenue in FY23 stood at Rs 1,644.83 crore.

The company considers teachers as its biggest priority because “they are our biggest influencers. They advocate the samples we give them to their students.”

Devish Gala
Devish Gala

Television remains a major driver for the company when it comes to targeting teachers. It spends around Rs 2 crore annually on television advertising, and it is not only ads but product integrations in shows too.

Navneet Education is the knowledge partner of Zee Marathi's Chala Hawa Yeu Dya. “The show gives us more visibility than Facebook that gives us reach, but reach is not the final word, there has to be engagement,” remarks Gala.

The company is doubling down on television because it has to factor in the adoption rate of technology among teachers.

When the company executes anything on Facebook or social media and solicits responses from teachers, there is hardly any. However, when it publishes something in a newspaper or runs a TV ad, the teachers take screenshots and share them with Navneet.

The company prefers television to dole out product-centric communication.

Despite its prevalence among the teaching community, newspapers are not too high on Gala’s list of media channels because they offer a tiny window to register a brand’s message before the page is turned.

All the doubling down on television does not mean social media is a strict no for Gala. “Social has to be the best way forward, we have to understand and figure out how can we make it more engaging. It just cannot be one-way communication.”

Brand messaging to the right person at the right time is the secret sauce to success. But, does a company like Navneet Education which has operated for nearly six decades need to do it these days? “Brand building for Navneet is very important,” quips Gala.

It is embarking on an expansion drive in terms of geography, is looking to grow its portfolio of products, and wants to be there during this change in the consumption patterns of education among the newer generations.

“At Navneet, we can't just be book publishers, we've to provide much more than content for education.”

Navneet interestingly makes books based on a state’s education curriculum only for Maharashtra and Gujarat despite being present in other states.

The reasons are that it will have set up 500-people-strong teams in those states, take on established players, and spend years understanding consumption and behaviour patterns. “We've tried it in Goa, Madhya Pradesh, and are about to try it in Rajasthan.”

One of its major forays has been into making books for the CBSE curriculum. In December 2016, it acquired Encyclopedia Britannica (India) for publishing CBSE textbooks.

Adding to this, there is BeMasterly, an offering solely for coaching classes where as Gala explains, the reputation of the tutor is more important than the classes themselves, it’s the other way around in a school.

Going forward, Gala wants to see if they can use WhatsApp to develop a direct communication line with all the teachers rather than having to depend on others.

And he is also keen to see the National Educational Policy implemented soon. Whenever the syllabus changes, the entire second-hand market, all the stock lying in the market is null and void, it's a fresh start. It is also a profitable start for Navneet Education.

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