upGrad fires on all cylinders; targets explosive growth

High velocity marketing campaigns across regions will fuel that ambition.

NEW DELHI: The pandemic has proven to be a boon for the edtech brands helping them clock more downloads and bag new subscribers. Students, across age groups, have adapted to online learning as schools and learning institutions were forcibly shuttered and and moved online.

Both professional and school-level courses witnessed a spurt in takers. While professional courses are expected to make job search easy in this competitive market, the school courses prevented students from compromising on their learning during this time.

Experts say that the edtech space has accomplished more in the last 100 days than it did in the past five years. A white paper released by Ficci indicated that 92 per cent of learning leaders have confirmed the adoption of online learning journeys from 68 per cent in the pre-Covid2019 period.

A testimony to the growth of this sector is that investors are now keenly doling out hundreds of millions of dollars to startups with even edtech as part of their business plans. Media reports quoting Venture Intelligence data state that $998 million from just January 2020 to July 2020 as compared to $310 million a year ago has found its way into edtech startups.

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A large part of that cash is going into category building and customer acquisition -  through both digital marketing and promotion and expensive TV air time.  With reason: they are trying to change old habits of physical face to face learning.  And with that out of the question for a while now, it definitely would not harm anyone if they went in for an upskilling course which would give them a shot at getting a better job or designation or fancier increments.

The Ronnie Screwvala funded edtech venture upGrad has over the past month or so running a print, TV and digital campaign, Sirfnaamkinahin, kaamki degree’ to spread awareness on the importance of getting a degree which will help execs  get kicked upstairs into a better position and role.

Based in an office, the TVC features a donkey - or an ass in common parlance - whom employees come and lick in the hope of pleasing him.. The donkey symbolises the boss who gives higher priority to smoothness over talent. Towards the end, the protagonist appears who refuses to lick the donkey and ends the film by saying that he needs specialisation, not ass licking to get ahead in his career.

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upGrad is clearly pushing its specialised courses and positions them as a tool that can help executives to rise.  The media plan for the campaign includes 50 plus TV channels.

upGrad CEO Arjun Mohan says, “At upGrad, we have reiterated our age-old principle of ‘life-long learning’ across all our marketing efforts and brand campaigns, making it a new norm for individuals who are looking to upskill and re-skill.  Especially during the current pandemic-induced lockdown period, where concerns like job loss, insolvency, and career ambiguity are looming, this mantra helped us resonate and connect with our audience better.”

Currently, it is running the TVC across Disney+hotstar and on TV during the Indian Premier League and hopes to grow by 300 per cent by this fiscal year-end.

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The edtech brand had previously launched a campaign in February 2020 ‘Raho Ambitious.’ The previous campaigns from the online learning brand were mirroring the sentiments of working professionals. “With the changing times, we realised that what they lack is a means to achieve and materialize the ambition. Hence, a brand only claiming to fuel ambition will not serve a definite purpose in their lives, because it isn’t providing a solution that they urgently need now. Hence, we let go of the previous brand propositions and moved to ‘Sirfnaamkinahin, kaamki degree’, with which we promise to provide outcome-oriented specialisations, to help learners achieve the ROI on education; job/profile switch, increment or promotion, thereby supporting employability,” adds Mohan.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, upGrad has registered a massive upsurge in the traffic. Around 1,00,000 learners are logged in to the platform and over 8500 hours of live sessions have been conducted in the past three months (May – July). Media reports suggest that upGrad has a 500,000 -strong learner base, of which 32,000 are paid users. The company expects to close the current fiscal year with revenues of around Rs 1,200 crore. Small towns and non-metros are playing a key role in fueling the growth of the brand.

The brand is now ready to scale the number of learners to one million. Mohan says: “Moreover, given the Covid2019 scenario, we are now looking to double our quarterly revenue numbers. (We are considering Q4 - Jan, Feb, March is the pre-COVID-19 quarter and Q1 - April, May, June is post-COVID-19 for the data). While all verticals have grown in Q4 vs Q1, the MBA vertical has grown by 63 per cent in terms of revenue and 82 per cent in terms of learner base, making it the biggest winner.”

Other programs such as an MSc in data science witnessed a 60 per cent growth and PG certification in digital marketing and communication with Mica witnessed a 70 per cent growth in terms of revenue and learner base.

He further shares that the brand had to move from quarterly to monthly cohort launches, in order to cope with the increased demand for the online programs that it is experiencing.

upGrad has gone the whole hog on social media marketing as well, with the #DontBeAChaatuin August to synchronise with the release of the TVC. The campaign connected with the youth as did its funny short film ‘How to impress your boss’ with YoutuberBeYouNick (BYN), shortly thereafter. The sequence of activities triggered pop - culture influencers across platforms, who then contributed to the buzz and shared their personal experiences. Abhiand Niyu, Barkha Singh, AnkushBahuguna, Saloni Gaur, and AyushMehra amongst others joined the bandwagon to promote the idea of upskilling. Twitter heavyweights like Gabbbar, Sagarcasm, Trendulkar, also shared their views on corporate world culture to support the drive.

Mohan says, “At the beginning of the year, we announced a budget of Rs 175 crore for marketing. We will be largely present on TV and digital. We are strong on social media as well.”

He further explains that the brand is now expecting an overall surge in the television viewership. “This will increase the co-viewing window. Therefore, keeping the current situation in mind, the idea is to look at more mass media such as TV and accordingly shift our spending towards the same, supplementing it with digital. While we will continue to advertise targeting the metros due to new launches that we have in the pipeline. The consumers and prospective learners will now see upGrad more active in the smaller towns,” adds Mohan.

upGrad has recently announced a corpus of Rs 500 crore to expand internationally, especially in APAC, Europe and west Asia. Mohan is optimistic about the shift in the education space.  He believes online learning is here to stay and the sector will continue to boom going forward.

The company has also introduced a wide range of free online programs across the areas of tech, management, and data to encourage users to utilise the extra time at hand, meaningfully. It has introduced ‘upGrad higher’, which is a free platform for all job portals for Covid2019 impacted professionals.

Screwvala and his teams have honed a special skill which can hopefully be imparted to other execs wanting to turn entrepreneur through upGrad: how to scale up companies from scratch, and in the process build high valuations. 

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