Arjun Mohan, CEO of upGrad, discusses timing the edtech brand’s campaigns to coincide with evaluation time, moving to the next phase with vertical-based marketing, and more.

After spending the previous year and a half raising brand awareness, upGrad is now entering a new phase of marketing and focusing on verticals. Arjun Mohan, CEO of upGrad, tells Storyboard18 that instead of trying to communicate everything to everyone, upGrad will now be able to segment and target its audience more precisely.

“For each audience, we’re targeting, we’ll have a subbrand that we’ll use to communicate with them,” he says.

Some of its most recent campaigns, such as Khud Ke Liye, upGrad Abroad starring Amitabh Bachchan, and an upcoming campaign for a doctorate of business administration, are steps toward vertical management.

Mohan tells us that the company intends to launch at least two campaigns per quarter and that an increase in marketing spending is planned accordingly. According to Mohan, the edtech startup saw a 130 percent increase in marketing spending in 2022 compared to the previous year, and the situation will be similar in FY23.

Mohan also discusses bringing Bachchan on board, aligning campaigns with appraisal seasons, the increased emphasis on upskilling following the pandemic, and much more. Excerpts have been edited:

Tell us about your vertical marketing strategy. What are you doing as a part of this new phase?

We began taking brand upGrad very seriously from a business standpoint two years ago when we really began the repositioning exercise and began doing brand campaigns. So the goal for the first year and a half was to raise awareness about the brand and discuss what it was and wasn’t. We’ve gotten to the point where our TG understands what upGrad is. It’s now up to you to tell them what’s in it for them. That is where phase two of upGrad’s branding began.

We decided that instead of saying upGrad does this and that and confusing the customer, we should look at the sub-brands, which have been phase two of our marketing playbook. We started with our MBA campaigns last year, then moved on to our study abroad vertical and created a campaign with Mr Bachhan. So, when we go to the customer, it’s always a good idea to bring along a credible figure to explain what we’re offering. That’s when Mr Bachchan stepped in. The campaign is still active, reaching out to its target audience, and the ROI appears to be favourable.

In the same vein, we are launching a doctorate program campaign and a technology-based campaign aimed at coders, in which we will basically talk to them about the product, which they will immediately connect with, and they will learn about what upGrad has to offer them. This is the focus of our second phase.

Can you explain how bringing Mr. Bachchan on board aided in terms of ROI?

The impact has been enormous. With Mr Bachchan’s arrival, upGrad Abroad became a brand in its own right. We began to see organic growth in queries as well as organic growth in traffic. In comparison to the same period in February 2022, we saw a 773 percent increase in overall traffic on the upGrad Abroad homepage during the week of March 23rd, when we launched the campaign.

Moving on to campaign content innovation, ads depict a lot of violence and vandalism, sometimes even in an attempt to be funny. What are your thoughts on this?

You only have a few seconds to catch the customer’s attention. So, when you startle the customer, you always have their attention for five seconds. That, I suppose, is the goal of doing it. However, you can only have such shocking elements at the beginning of the ad to get people’s attention because I don’t think you’re being effective if you don’t bring the ad to an end where it leaves your customer with a smile on their face.

Returning to the campaigns, please assist us in understanding the timing of these new campaigns. Since mid-March, you’ve been releasing one new campaign after the other.

We just finished the appraisal process. This is the time when many people who are dissatisfied with their appraisals begin to consider their next steps. What we’ve noticed in our segment is that people don’t always take education seriously. Higher education or upskilling may be the fifth priority in life for a working professional who is always on the go. When a shock hits them, this guy or girl usually starts thinking about it and signing up for upskilling.

This shock could be a hike they expected that did not materialize, a promotion they desired that did not materialize, or even a girl they wanted to marry who said no because they were not successful. As a result, this is typically how people begin to consider upskilling. As a result, the post-awards season is an excellent time for us to begin talking to our customers because they immediately connect to it and thus these campaigns.

People used their time at home during the first two years of the pandemic to pursue education and upskilling, but now that offices are reopening and people are back on the road, do you think upskilling will take a back seat?

The demand is not decreasing. What happened during the pandemic was that our consumer’s life changed multiple times, rather than just shutting down and opening up. After their offices were initially closed, some of them began to reopen. Then the second wave hit, and we had to rethink everything we knew. Nobody knew if they’d have jobs or not. However, things began to improve again, and this is when the third wave arrived.

Meanwhile, technology has advanced and employee expectations have shifted dramatically. Salary packages for those who have successfully navigated the system have skyrocketed. So, in general, people have seen a lot. Most importantly, they have discovered that the only constant in life is changes. And the only way to survive is to learn new skills. So, while I agree that returning to the office and travelling has added more complications to their lives, they recognize the importance of this today. As a result, we made certain that our entire product works on a mobile phone and a slow internet connection. What we tell the customer is that you’ll be on the road for an hour and a half anyway.

We understand that you are currently focused on vertical marketing, but what are the other key areas you are looking at to drive growth this year?

The emphasis is on acquiring new customers. We are constantly focused on customer acquisition, retention, and delighting our customers. If you delight the customer, they will look after the new customers who come in. If you want to acquire customers, you must constantly tell your story. The new product innovations are nothing more than market gaps that you discover when you begin reaching out and attempting to acquire more and more customers. As a result, I would say that the customer is always the centre of attention. Everything else is an innovation aimed at reaching that customer.