We spoke to the matchmaking portal’s director of brand marketing, Adhish Zaveri…
The Coronavirus pandemic has been a big setback for the ‘big fat Indian weddings’. The exhaustive list of relatives, friends and well-wishers, shrunk to just 50 of the near and dear ones. While many weddings have been postponed indefinitely, a few were, reportedly, held over video calls.
In such unprecedented times when meetings and gatherings were restricted, the purpose of matchmaking apps seems a little obsolete. Or so we thought until we, at afaqs!, got on a call with the matchmaking platform Shaadi.com’s director of brand marketing Adhish Zaveri. In fact, he confirms that more `singles’ have signed up on the platform during the lockdown period, than before.
“During the initial phase, we saw a 35-40 per cent surge in our customer base.” Zaveri credits this hike in users to the extra time at hand, given the work-from-home (WFH) routine and loneliness (those who are staying away from their family). “… the career halt for some might have added to this number,” he mentions.
The marketer joined the matrimonial portal in September 2018 as associate director – brand and marketing, and went on to become director of brand marketing a year later. In the past, he has worked as a brand manager at Cipla Health, and at Dr Reddy’s Laboratories as a senior brand manager. He has also been associated with Aditya Birla Group and HDFC Life, both as a brand manager. Starting his career in 2007 as a senior brand representative at JWT, he currently has over 13 years of industry experience.
Zaveri says he has never been married to any ‘A’ industry, and ‘that’s the beauty of it.’ At Shaadi.com, he heads ‘people interactive’ and sees each geographical location as a new market. He tells us, the brand has a strong market in north and west India, whereas the south is a little on the downside.
The platform has users from all classes of the society. “Usually we see a lot of seasonal traffic. Sunday and Monday are good days for us. However, there has been a boost in the active users during the pandemic, given weekends and weekdays are not that different now,” Zaveri mentions. He also adds that the Tier-III market is growing the fastest, with the penetration of Internet.
The site sees most number of active users during early morning hours and late evening – post 7 p.m. This, Zaveri says, hasn’t changed pre, or post, pandemic.
At the very onset of the pandemic, the matchmaking service started offering a special free membership to all new users until the end of the lockdown period. “We said that if the users are not going to be able to meet their matches in person, there wasn’t a point in them paying for it,” Zaveri states. The free membership ended as unlock period was rolled out by the government.
Around this time, his biggest worry was the natural thought of the platform’s users, i.e., “When you can’t meet, or get married, what’s the point of getting a match.” This was in April, when Shaadi.com launched ‘Weddings from Home’ (WFH) - an online wedding to help couples get married and celebrate their big day with as much fanfare.
Zaveri calls it the ‘DIY wedding idea’. Shaadi.com arranges for a ‘pandit’ to officiate the wedding, a makeup artist to give online tutorial to the bride, and a ‘sangeet’ singer to entertain the guests. All functions from ‘mehendi’ to ‘sangeet’, and the ‘puja’ to ‘pheras’ are held over Zoom calls.
“We termed it as ‘The Big Fat Indian Lockdown Wedding’. It’s almost like a DIY virtual wedding. As opposed to a week-long (mostly) wedding festivities, people prefer to finish the function within a day virtually,” Zaveri says. Shaadi.com partnered with Wedding Wire, a marketplace founded in 2007 that connects engaged couples with local wedding professionals, for the service.
So far, the platform has organised five virtual weddings, two of which were done on Facebook Live and were attended by over 250,000 people virtually.
Later, in June, Shaadi.com introduced ‘Shaadi Meet’ - a video calling feature for premium members. With its introduction, a blue-coloured video thumbnail was added to the Shaadi Chat, next to the name of the match, indicating which matche(s) are available for a video call.
Zaveri says the brand had plans to launch the video calling feature, but it only got fast-tracked due to the lockdown. “While there, of course, are certain number of video calling apps, the amount of security Shaadi Meet allows makes people feel comfortable.” Matches do not need to share their personal contact details (email ID, phone number, etc.) to place a video call when using the service.
“If users wish to receive video calls only from matches, they can customise this according to their needs. Calls can be made only by premium members, but can be received by free users as well,” adds Zaveri.
As per the brand, 100,000 calls were made in the first two days of the launch of Shaadi Meet. 500,000 calls were made in the first week.
Speaking about the user base, Zaveri says that the brand’s core target audience is between 25 and 35 years. “About 70 per cent of the people registering on the platform are single, i.e., 70 per cent profiles are self created while 30 per cent are made by families. As opposed to the common perception that more families in India are involved in the matchmaking process, we see `singles’ in the driver seat, while, of course, taking their families along. Parents are important decision-makers and influencers in the process, but there is more ownership of the ‘would-bes’,” Zaveri says.
So, what was the major challenge that he faced during lockdown? “Taking a call to invest in marketing, or not,” he quips.
“Nobody was sure how long the situation was going to prevail for, or how much was it going to cost for us in terms of demand. We were in a dilemma to ‘save now’, or invest. The decision was fairly complex,” Zaveri says.
“In the early days of the pandemic, we decided to move away from all long-term plans and focus only on short-term ones. Imagine briefing your media agencies every 15 days and releasing ROS (Run of Site) every week! It was an operational nightmare. But we soon realised we were operating with extremely short-term viewpoint.”
Additionally, Zaveri says, the brand realised that ad rates had fallen significantly across mediums, while viewership was still the same. “We were able to take good advantage of the situation,” he says. The brand also placed ads during the retelecast of 'Ramayan' and 'Mahabharat'.
If anything, the pandemic has taught Zaveri to not forget the core job of the brand. “What you, as a marketer, do, also protects other people’s jobs and salaries, and that should never be forgotten,” he signs off.