Nisha Qureshi

The genesis of Paytm’s brand name and other startup lessons from Vijay Shekhar Sharma

Sharma dwells on building the Paytm brand, marketing challenges faced by startups, and why startups should sometimes defy brand experts' opinions.

Paytm is considered a pioneer in accelerating India’s fintech revolution, and “Paytm karo" is probably one of the most memorable brand identities that has come out in the past decade. A lot of thought and risks have been taken into account for withholding this now iconic brand name reveals Vijay Shekhar Sharma, the founder and CEO of Paytm.

The genesis of the brand name

As per Sharma, the company started as a B2B Value-added-service firm. However, having realised that most of this business lies in the hands of telecom operators, they moved away from that. By 2012, Sharma’s vision was to revolutionise the digital payment systems in India and to give people a way to make payments using cell phones.

Sharma revealed that one of the most important branding actions taken by the company was its brand name. He says the crux of the brand name is actually ‘Pay-Through-Mobile’. 

"I went against the wishes of many brand advisors.”

“I was contemplating the right name for the business and consulted several people in the industry. Some of them told me that your brand name has ‘Pay’, which can actually drive people away from the brand. It was also contemplated that since there was another company called ‘Freecharge’ which was an online recharge company, people would move away from anything that told them to ‘Pay’. 

Sharma revealed that he was also suggested the name ‘PlayTM’. However, he trusted his instincts and stayed determined to name the brand ‘Paytm’. “Play doesn’t land as softly on the tongue as ‘Pay’. I went against the wishes of many brand advisors,” he says. 

While the company was investing in establishing itself, the demonetisation hit the country. That’s when a lot of people picked on the brand name.

“Eventually in 2016, when the demonetisation happened, a lot of people were actually picking on the brand and realised it’s a great name because it rhymes with ‘ATM’, which honestly we had also never picked up on.” 

“I personally believe that as a startup, a set of words that bring your story and your purpose can be your brand name."

Unusual marketing techniques 

Sharma adds that Paytm has not only revolutionised India’s QR and mobile payments but has managed to build a distinct identity in this now cluttered market. Another remarkable branding activity taken up by the brand has been their soundboxes. 

"People associate the sound of 'Paytm karo' with digital payments.”

The Paytm soundbox is a compact user-friendly device that instantly announces payment confirmations through a voice alert. This is widely being used by merchants to verify transactions without having to check their smartphones every time, making the payment process more seamless for both their consumers and themselves. 

“Most of us have repeatedly heard ‘Paytm karo’ and that also acts like an instant identity for our brand. So much so that many people associate the sound with digital payments,” he says. 

Further talking about how important the brand name has been in their marketing identity he reveals that they tried to come up with an alternative for the South India market however they realised they don’t need to do that.

“We soon realised that nothing works like ‘Paytm’ karo. I feel India is getting increasingly homogenised when it comes to national brands while obviously paying attention to regional nuances,” states Sharma. 

Startup brands should be mindful of their marketing investments

Sharma believes that while building a brand requires huge investments, one must be extremely mindful of its utilisation. 

"IPL may be the most visible property but we are unable to leverage it. It is very expensive but the number of seconds you get there are very limited."

“Media segmentation has continued to be a problem in India. The creation of young brands or a young company today is all the more challenging today because the traditionally learned education about branding and marketing needs to be unlearned,” he says. 

According to him, investing in big-ticket tournaments and expensive mediums may not be right for every brand.

“For example, the attention and engagement span on print is much less. It has lost a lot of relevance. Similarly, IPL may be the most visible property but we are unable to leverage it. It is very expensive but the number of seconds you get there are very limited,” he explains. 

Sharma was speaking at the 2023 edition of the Startup Brand Summit powered by Times Network. 

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