CMO SpeakDialogue

About 50-60% of our investments actually go into digital medium

Pratik Seal, CMO at Housing, joined the popular start-up from Star TV, where he was the Channel Business Head for Star Utsav. With over 16 years of experience in marketing, brand building and business leadership, his passion lies in creating start-up brands, and furthering challenger brands.

Pratik Seal, CMO at Housing, joined the popular start-up from Star TV, where he was the Channel Business Head for Star Utsav. With over 16 years of experience in marketing, brand building and business leadership, his passion lies in creating start-up brands, and furthering challenger brands.

His prior assignments have included creating the Micromax brand from scratch and propelling it to the leader board in the global telecom space; and Life OK – the Hindi GEC channel. He has also worked on the Samsung and Vodafone brands as well. Prior to that, he had stints in established advertising and media agencies – Lowe and FCB Ulka. During this time, the most notable clients he worked for were Compaq, Whirlpool, LG and Maruti, among several others.

In this exclusive interview with Ratnika Swami for India Digital Review, Pratik talks about Housing’s online strategies to engage with its target audience, the changing face of the online real-estate sector in India and how digital plays a key role in the company’s journey. Excerpts:  

Q. How does the digital medium – Internet as well as mobile – figure in’s plans to reach out to the Indian consumers?

Since we are an e-commerce and an m-commerce company, digital forms a very important part of our marketing process. About 50-60% of our investments actually go into digital medium and more so now. Why its gaining importance is that more and more traffic is moving on to mobile site. 

Being a product on the digital space it’s important to take each and every aspect of digital into consideration, including SEO, SEM, re-targeting, brand marketing, and then there are social initiatives like Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, PinInterest etc. Everything actually comes into the picture and of course at the end of the day the entire mobile marketing piece of the bit. App marketing also plays a huge role. 

Q. What marketing initiatives are you undertaking online to stay ahead of the competition?

There are two initiatives that we have basically taken in marketing. One of them is that we’ve invested in creating a marketing analytics team, which works on the complete analytics for online, offline, keeping an eye on traffic, orientation, what do the consumers do online, how do they search etc. We monitor this closely and then fine tune our communication far better, both in the online and offline medium. So that is one thing we have invested a lot of manpower in.

Typically in technology firm, what tends to happen is dependence tends to arise on the product team to basically bail you out or help you out. But unfortunately what happens is that they are busy with their own timelines that they need to manage. So what we have created is a strong marketing team to basically augment all the marketing initiatives in the technology space and especially in the online space. These are two things we have worked pretty heavily on and that is how we stand apart from our customers. 

Q. How do you integrate your online and offline marketing efforts?

Well firstly, of course, the brand that ties it all together. There is strict brand guideline that we work in terms of that we demarcate exactly what is the tone and manner that we communicate, what should be the language, what should be the colour usage, what should be the kind of illustrations, what kind of visuals etc. The entire brand world is very finely defined so that a consumer is completely platform agnostic. Whenever the consumer is basically exposed to a piece of communication made online or offline, he should be able to understand that it’s the brand Housing, even if the logo is masked. Secondly, we do integrated marketing communication for every initiative that we take and we also work on how to then tweak it to adjust it to the media as a vehicle, medium as the message and media as a platform. 

We don’t differentiate as such between offline and online. They are both vehicles to reach out to consumers and both have their own objectives and agendas. We being an online platform, online becomes our bread ‘n’ butter to reach the existing consumers and get them to come back again and again. Our offline initiatives work in terms of getting more and more consumers to adopt this new age platform.

Q. As a CMO, what are the main challenges you face, especially in being able to optimally tap into the digital medium? 

Well, with us being a digital platform, the challenge is exactly the opposite. Since more than half of my marketing investment goes into digital, I don’t think digital is too much of a challenge for us. 

The biggest challenge is to get the offline users to come online. It is also a challenge to push a lot of internal and intermediary stakeholders to actually agree to what should be the right optimal marketing mix. The first natural instinct is to only depend on digital. 

One of the things that one needs to understand is that the business has a very strong supply-demand cycle, and one of the biggest challenges that happen is that on the supply side you have the audience who don’t have such strong affinity towards digital as a medium. Online listing or an online marketplace is not the first thing they consider when they have to sell off their house. So that becomes a huge challenge for us on a daily basis. 

Q. Is social media having any significant impact on how you market your products or services? What is your viewpoint on the growing consumption of social media and its place in the digital mix?

First of all, social is yet another online platform which works because of the engagement factor of the consumer. Social is not just about Facebook, even though it matters. Our recent revelation has been LinkedIn, which has worked fantastically well for us in terms of completing the entire top of the funnel to the conversion bit of it, including getting leads, getting inquires, to actually top of the funnel as well as when they convert into a consumer. In that sense, LinkedIn has been a fantastic and a fascinating social platform to work on. Facebook is a known story and I am not going to repeat what everyone else has to say.

Apart from that Instagram has been another brilliant revelation for us. We use Instagram to not just basically engage but also a lot of idea crowdsourcing in terms of what should be the visual cues. Our brand is incidentally a very strong visually-led brand. Visuals play a key role and this is where Instagram has worked wonderfully well for us. At present, we are only flirting around with PinInterest as a medium and I strongly believe it’s a great engagement tool as well, especially with consumers with high intellectual capabilities. We talk to them, engage with them and recruit more and more consumers from them.  

Q. What kind of analytics or social media tools do you use?

We have created our own in-house analytics tool. We have created an entire in-house matrix, which is being shared between the marketing analytics, the business analytics, and the product analytics. So everyone shares a different aspect of this module and it’s a product developed in-house. 

We played with some others as well, but on the whole we are pretty happy with the internal information that we generate using our own software. We have found out that the information we generate is far better adapted to our business, our environment and our questions. So all verticals then speak the same language. 

Q.  You recently unveiled your new brand identity. What was the thought process behind this?

We are founded by a bunch of IITians, a dozen of them actually, who were searching for a house in the Powai area and they basically realised that the entire real estate online and offline was quite a pain. So they decided to make a product which is actually going to facilitate this further. And that is how the entire journey started off with them thinking that let’s just have a product online that will get rid of all the pain that they faced. So they developed this portal, 100% verified, all photographs taken etc. That is how the journey began.

When they were talking to the other people in this category, to the consumers, to the fraternity etc there was a huge amount of pessimism that was involved with this category. And if you were to talk to the consumers about their homes, then they will talk about such nice things, which bring in beautiful images in your mind. But the moment you talk about the journey to get into making a beautiful home, it’s a complete dichotomy. While the end result is suppose to be beautiful, but the journey not so much and that is where we decided that the reason for this brand to exist should be to make this journey as beautiful as the end result. So that is how we positioned our brand.

We wanted to fill the pessimistic consumers’ life with a bit of optimism and that is where our vision also comes from. We say that innovation and optimism in anything to do with housing is something that our vision is all about, so that is where the brand got established and defined. It is optimism that we promise to the consumer and that is the manifestation where ‘Look Up’ came into the picture. ‘Look Up’ is basically a verbal pun i.e. when you look up for a house and of course it is a statement of optimism. So when we worked on the logo, we wanted it to have a nice visual pun in it, so it is an upward facing arrow which manifests Look Up and the entire scroll thing. And that is how the journey began. In all our communication we have made it clear that we never look at the glass half empty, we highlight the good things in life.

Q. launched the first phase of its mega marketing campaign in the beginning of the year. What was the ROI on it?

ROI measurement is of course cost per impression, cost per contact etc., which is the standard ROI measurement. But we also consider other things. We said that fine here is this category, where there is going to be at any given point of time delta amount of people, actively or passively looking for a house, so we have to consider that. This is not a category that is going to be used every day. So what we need to do, in terms of the category we need to reach is, we need to get a quick jump in awareness, but we at least need to convert into a 50% unaided. So whatever your awareness score is at least 50% needs to be unaided, which is a very tough task.

We look at it as a very high OTS (Opportunity To See) based campaign. There are two factors to communication marketing – reach (absolute number of people that you reach) and how many times a person sees it. Typically if you were to look at a campaign people say that a 3+ reach or a 5+ reach is average, i.e. on an average, a consumer must have seen the communication 3 times or 5 times. And to convert to a high unaided we said that we should be at 10+ reach that is where we basically picked up one offline medium and one online medium and decided to dominate it. We wanted to ensure a reach with a very high OTS so that whosoever coverts into awareness, at least 50% should convert into unaided awareness. 

Q. How much traffic do you see on your site on key campaign days? And what can we expect from the soon-to-be-launched second phase of this campaign?

After our first launch we have seen traffic surges from 5X to 15X on campaign days. Overall the figure has come to around 10 million plus in traffic, which is about an 8X-9X increase. So we have become an undisputed number 1 in this category if you were to look at the traffic etc. Even in the app downloads with one million plus downloads we are leagues ahead of the other guys in the category. So in that way we have taken the leadership position and the next step would be to look at how we get into the consumers life in a relevant manner. We are working on our second phase and once I get the go ahead then we will go into production.  

Q. As a CMO, what advice would you like to share with your peers in the industry? 

One of the things I have realised is that if you have to work in a startup and you have to work with millennials on a daily basis then you have to unlearn a lot of do’s and don’ts’ and relearn a lot of stuff all over again because the generation is different, their point of view is different and rightly so.  

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