VIPUL OBEROI, Chief Marketing Officer, IIFL Finance, talks of the brand’s 51% growth in FY 2020-21, riding on the transparency peg highlighted by the #SeedhiBaat campaign, even as he weighs in on the ‘tech versus touch’ debate
Tell us about a few real-life experiences that have become marketing lessons over your career in the BFSI sector, spanning two prominent banks and now a financial services brand, IIFL.
As a marketer, every day teaches something new, but there are always some incidents that stick. My first marketing lesson probably came during my MBA internship days when, after a long and hard day, I visited the McDonald’s store in Connaught Place at 11 pm. I placed my order, but the guy at the counter refused to bill me. He said that while it is past closing time, they served me because they never say no to a customer. That incident taught me that empathy is at the core of the service industry. My next marketing lesson should be titled ‘N for Kasara’. In 2006, I was new to Mumbai and the local train system. At a railway station, I was having a hard time figuring out the codes on the electronic signboard and asked someone for advice. To my surprise, he admonished me for not knowing that the code ‘N’ mentioned on the signboard stands for Kasara. I learnt that communication should be designed for the receiver, and not for the convenience of the speaker (brand). Another big lesson has been that consumers don’t buy financial products. Neither do they buy into a dream. They buy into the person who is assuring them that they will achieve their goal. Therefore, in BFSI, the person interacting with the consumer can make or break the whole brand.
How did IIFL Finance fare during the lockdown, and how did your own approach to marketing change over the last one year? What has been the response to your #SeedhiBaat campaign?
The click-and-mortar business model is now a thing of the past; businesses will now have to be digital-first. At IIFL Finance, we were already a phygital business even before COVID-19 and lockdown started. From loans for personal use to credit for businesses, IIFL Finance has invested significantly in developing 100% online product life-cycles and promoting digital payments. Amidst the lockdown, we also launched our brand campaign ‘Seedhi Baat’ featuring cricketer Rohit Sharma. The campaign highlighted the fact that our dealings and communication are clear, transparent and completely honest.
This has reflected in our financial results for the year 2020-21, with 51% growth in full year profit on the back of 18% growth in loan assets. However, I think our biggest success has been in how we have been able to support our customers in these difficult times, and the community in general. We consider doing what we believe in as success.
With people’s finances impacted with salary cuts and job loss, etc., what are some consumer insights that you have gleaned over the pandemic period? How do you expect consumers to behave in the near future?
With people having more time to spare and fewer distractions in the lockdown necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the appetite for consuming content has increased. Content is not just getting created and served; people are actively searching for content. Lockdown in 2020-21 has also accelerated digital consumption and digital conversation. It has made businesses and even consumers rethink – do we need personal interaction? While the brick-and-mortar businesses, our branches, will not go anywhere, walk-ins will reduce because people will prefer interacting online first, that is, through website, e-mail, chat app, or even a phone call.
Going forward, what will be your priorities to chart the brand’s growth?
The consumer is at the heart of marketing and the basic principles of marketing remain the same – research your customer (target group), identify how to best reach your TG, craft solid communication, optimise campaigns and measure the results. In these difficult times, our priority is to connect with our customers and build more trust by doing Seedhi Baat. Our aim is to support our customers for every financial need, by providing an entire suite of financial products for all life-cycle stages. I cannot stress more on the importance of digital products and digital marketing. Hyperlocal targeting on digital platforms is yielding results. We have also increased our marketing spends on OTT, given the rise in consumption of OTT content.
What challenges do you foresee for Brand IIFL as well as the BFSI category?
The lockdown itself is the biggest challenge to the BFSI category. Retail and business clients have postponed non-critical purchases and even their goals. But every challenge comes with an opportunity, and this challenge has provided impetus to digital lending. At the same time, there should not be an obsession with tech, which is obscuring the relevance of touch. Ultimately, the real problems need to be solved and human capital is the best bet.
Personally, how has the lockdown treated you? What has been your lockdown learning?
I must admit that I had never been a fan of working from home, but the past year has made me realise that productivity has nothing to do with whether one is in office or at home.