The 65-year-old eyecare chain has been on an acquisition spree. The third generation of promoters is also expanding organically. Demand for eyecare in India is significantly higher than supply, explains Ayushman Chiranewala, CMO, Dr. Agarwals Group of Eye Hospitals. Edited excerpts from an interview with MediaNews4u.com.
A spate of acquisitions in Pune, Haryana, Punjab. 135 hospitals, 11 countries. Target of 200 hospitals in two to three years. Tell us about the expansion plans.
Both Africa as well as India are of great strategic importance. We are focusing on further strengthening down south, where Kerala is one of our focus markets. West is a clear focus; Maharashtra, and Gujarat are the two large areas of focus. Maharashtra doesn’t limit to Mumbai, the interiors like Satara, Nashik, Pune etc. are also important.
We are very confident of hitting the 200 number in the next two years, both national and international put together. We don’t see it as a challenge at all.
How is your marketing keeping pace with retail expansion? Have the efforts and spending increased?
Healthcare marketing is a tricky thing; in many ways, more is less, or rather, less is more. Primarily because you don’t want your brand to spend too much, it is the experience that your patients have that needs to drive the word-of-mouth and walk-ins. Hence, the focus has always been on world class experience.
We have 400-plus ophthalmologists and the best the world has to offer. I think the key part in the eye care industry is whether you are staying with the times and evolving technology. We are very happy to say that we are really ahead of the curve when it comes to that. We have the latest equipment, have a very robust system of choosing what we want in our hospitals, a clinical board which is headed by digital board chairman Dr.Ashwin Agarwal. It’s a complete system in place to choose every equipment, every treatment that we onboard as a chain. There are thorough checks happening on these fronts before we inculcate them as a practice. I think medically, we are up there.
When it comes to marketing, we do a lot of television. Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, AP, Telangana have been some markets where we have been doing television now almost close to a year. TV has been our go-to medium for our already strong markets because it typically gives the best RoI. We do 360-degree marketing, we touch upon all the mediums.
A campaign featuring Ratna Pathak Shah and SV Sekar took the humour route targeting an elder audience. Is that the largest audience for the category?
As it stands the audience cuts across age groups. Look at the lifestyles of younger audiences, the amount of screen time that has entered their lives. Post Covid too screen time has gone up for students. That tends to have an impact on your eyes.
The abovementioned campaign was focused on the silver generation and what great eyesight means to them. Healthcare is a serious category and we have chosen to break the monotony by keeping it lighthearted.
Someone suffering from poor eyesight has been facing issues in day to day life. Once they visited Dr. Agarwals and got the eyesight corrected, we showed what possibilities opened up for them. So it is a post-surgery kind of film that’s been working phenomenally well for us.
If you look at our digital, radio or outdoor strategy, it is not necessarily only talking to elders.
You mentioned recently that your digital spends have grown 6x in the last one year. Can you elaborate?
This again goes back to consumer behaviour. Discovery of what consumers want to consume even offline tends to happen on digital. This insight is what has led us to focus and have a significant share of voice on this medium. Hence we have increased our spends gradually; while it stands at 6x of where we started, we came to the number over a period of one year. The gradual increase taught us that every time we were choosing to spend a little more, we saw that the entire digital funnel was holding strong and possibly giving us even better results than it was when we were doing lower spends. That gave us the confidence to say we can continue to invest in the medium because it is helping our consumers find us when they are in need.
The consumer behaviour of using digital as an act of discovery is well ingrained today. What many other industries have seen is that during Covid a lot of commerce was happening through digital which would have come down because people have now started venturing out. That omni-experience is what people are used to today. It’s the fluidity of consumer behaviour which marketers will need to prepare for. They need to understand their niche of the consumer and which one they want to focus on at what point of time, but both need to exist for sure. I don’t think it’s a choice between the two for any industry today.
What are the efforts as an employer brand? Is attracting and retaining talent a challenge? Is that a contributor to taking the acquisition route to expand?
I don’t think we have faced any significant challenge when it comes to retaining or attracting new talent. A lot of senior leadership including myself have really chosen to move cities and have been attracted by the culture that this company has. After spending 14 years at Titan, a Tata company, I chose to come here and it’s been a fabulous ramp. We are doing things right, the culture that the company sets is actually clicking with people. Personally, over a year I have not seen too many people wanting to leave or anything like that and we have only seen good and very capable talent coming in wherever we are wanting to hire.
In terms of expansion strategy, why it is a brownfield and not greenfield, I don’t think it is more to do with talent. What it is about is that a greenfield takes time to set up. A hospital takes time to build. Of course you are acquiring known practices where the doctors are very famous and we already have a lot of goodwill in the market. But you are also doing faster growth versus trying to open every hospital on the go. Doing something from scratch takes longer.
What is the loyalty one sees for the brand? If this number is high, would it help to target the young? Have you?
Loyalty wise, the number is indeed very high. We do see a lot of people continue to come to us for all the treatments, for any other need after years as well. The other barometer for loyalty in healthcare is whether they are bringing family and friends. That’s really the backbone. Loyalty has been very high.
Given that you have good high loyalty should you be targeting the young as well? It is an absolutely bang-on point, and hence we do that. Across our other mediums it is not like we are not targeting the young, right from school to college going kids to early job-ers to middle managers, everybody across these age groups are our audiences and we use various methods to target them.
When it comes to schools and colleges a very potent method we actually use is completely offline which is through camps. We conduct free camps at many schools and colleges so that we are able to go to them rather than them coming to us, to talk about the issues they must be facing. Lot of doctors have talks in schools and colleges with teachers, faculty members as a practice to train them to spot people who are facing difficulty in viewing the board or viewing anything.
We have seen your efforts to create awareness on eye donation, working with NGOs like Inali (van donation). How have these created affinity / respect for the brand?
Inali foundation was a CSR effort by us. Inali foundation has a complete limb fitting facility in the van, they come to the doorstep and give the equipment as per the need, fit it and train how to use it. They are experts in it. The van has been donated, Inali foundation with support of Dr. Anand Agarwal runs that van throughout the year. There is a complete route map, where all will they go, who all they will serve, all that is in place and we support them.
The eye donation fortnight just got over, it was from 25 August to 8 September. It was celebrated across the country across the places we are present in, through various walkathons, human chains to create awareness around eye donation and the need for it.
In Chennai, on a beach we had over 200 students blindfolding themselves and making a human chain, to make them realise the feeling of a blind person.
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