While Aakash's equity in the offline test-prep space was built over three decades, its new owner Byju’s is championing the online learning category in India.
Two opposing poles of the Indian education space came together last month. Edtech platform Byju’s announced that it had acquired offline tutorial and entrance coaching chain Aakash Educational Services. Byju’s reportedly bought Aakash for close to a billion dollars, making it the largest acquisition in the Indian startup space.
We mentioned ‘opposing poles’ because, though both sell similar wares, there are also many differences between the two. The most prominent distinction is probably their differing online and offline approach.
While Byju’s integrated tech and expanded itself online as an edtech brand over its decade-long journey, Aakash focused on its offline presence. The latter laid down a network of more than 200 coaching centres across the country, and has been prepping students for medical and engineering entrances for three decades now.
Aakash centres have touched lives all across the country, as the students migrate from their homes to live closer to the centres.
So, these are very distinct identities built over time, and they cater to different target audiences. Over that, the delivery of their products differs too.
Earlier this week, Aakash unveiled its new logo. The new identity just adds a simple ‘+BYJU’S’ without making any changes to the original Aakash logo. In a way, it also introduces the acquisition to the consumers.
Aakash launched its ‘Aakash App’ for the students preparing for JEE and NEET examinations last month. The app also helps the students search for the nearest Aakash classroom centre and allows them to apply for the classroom’s course admissions-cum-scholarship programs.
As per Byju Raveendran’s recent interview with The Economic Times, his company plans to continue Aakash’s offline expansion, keeping it at the helm of its test preparation courses.
Aakash Chaudhry, MD of Aakash Educational Services, was quoted as saying that the brand will operate as a separate entity and focus on building an ‘omnichannel learning offering’ in test prep.
However, from the branding point of view, should Byju’s bring the Aakash identity under its own umbrella, or let it continue as it is? Here's what experts had to say.
Amar Wadhwa, founder and executive director of CrystalEyes, a marketing service organisation
There is a lot that Byjus and Aakash can learn and leverage from each other. Aakash is a formidable brand in the test-prep space that has honed it's equity on the back of the consistent results of its students for over three decades. However, it's business model is still based on the way teaching was imparted in the pre edtech era. Byjus, on the other hand needs to learn on how to build a strong result oriented equity.
However, as brands the two are as distinct as chalk and cheese and therefore one does not see the two brands integrating at a brand level. Byjus would continue to build Aakash as an independent brand but build more technology in the delivery of its prep material. At best, Byjus would endorse Aakash as a Byjus venture/brand. Anything more than that and Byjus may risk a negative impact on the carefully cultivated brand equity of Aakash. We had done the single brand strategy of two fairly diverse brands - Tech Mahindra and Mahindra Satyam in 2013. Though there were many points of distinction between the two brands (Tech Mahindra’s focussed on telecom and Mahindra Satyam had experience across verticals), there were many similarities as well.
We built the single brand strategy by leveraging the similarities and creating a proposition that was in tandem in the emerging technology consulting business. However, in the case of Byjus and Aakash, prima-facie it seems that while both brands can learn from each other at a business proposition level, they can't integrate very strongly at a brand level.
Venu Gopal Nair, CEO, Ideascape Communications (formerly with Fountainhead Communications, Mudra, and Saatchi and Saatchi)
Byju’s paid nearly a billion for Aakash. So, it’s clear that Byju’s wants its name to be linked with Aakash. We’ve seen this happen before as well. Sometime last year, Facebook decided to put its logo whenever you launched WhatsApp or Instagram. Brands that have paid large amounts of money for acquisitions, want to ensure the equity of the parent brand is not lost somewhere in the transition.
One thing we ought to notice in the logo is that Aakash has not reduced the size, but Byju’s is smaller. Byju’s has replaced the ‘Medical + IIT Jee’ that we would spot in the previous logo. That, to an extent, gives us a very clear idea of what the equation is at this point.
What will be interesting to see is what happens a few years down the line. It took Aakash 30 years to build 200 centres. Byju’s wants to capitalise on this.
The other point to look at is proctoring of exams. People are looking for centres where exams can be held with all the security protocols in place. Since Aakash has 200 physical centres, proctoring of exams must have been one of the considerations.
K Vaitheeswaran, consultant and founder, Again Drinks and Indiaplaza (India's first e-commerce website)
Both the brands have different positioning in the consumer’s mind. They also have different TGs. Because the characteristics of both the brands are completely different, the best way to do this would be to continue the Aakash brand for a while, and then introduce the Byju’s brand slowly.
There can be gradual mentions, like ‘Aakash, a Byju’s company, etc. That way, the Aakash name stays and the Byju’s association starts appearing. It can be moved completely under Byju’s umbrella over time. Doing it suddenly can give a sudden jerk to the existing target audience.
The slow introduction works if the long-term strategy is to have a common brand. They’re less likely to continue as independent brands over the long-term.
Sanjeev Agarwal, founder, SkinInTheGame Growth Partners (held leadership roles at BIBA, HomeShop18 and Skechers)
The question to be looked at is if Aakash is a pan-India (or a national) brand, or not. Byju’s has spent thousands of crores on advertising and celebrity endorsements to build its brand name. Today, which one is a more recognisable name? If it is the Byju’s identity, then it should leverage its brand name.
(With inputs from Shreyas Kulkarni.)