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Q] upGrad has possibly been at the right place at the right time. Your new TVC ‘raho ambitious’ came out just before the COVID-19 lockdown in India. You followed it up with social media anthems. How has this period worked for the brand?

We had not anticipated the lockdown when we did the campaign RahoAmbitious. But lockdown or not, the campaign objective and the whole messaging works really well. Historically, upGrad has been serious about its messaging, talking about courses, universities, etc. We saw that the customer over a period of time has been evolving. A person who wants to upskill himself may not always be studious and serious. He may be the one who binge watches OTT content but is still doing his job and looking at climbing the ladder too. We realized that the brand needed a fresh approach. Also, our medium for messaging has changed. Earlier we were just a TV brand. So, we started going to a lot of OTTs and doing branded content on TVF, Arre, etc. We recently did a tie-up with motivators on YouTube. So we moved to places where our new age customers visit and found it to be very effective. With RahoAmbitious going out on TV, we saw almost 34% growth in the traffic to most of our assets. During this lockdown, we realized that the feeling of being aspirational, ambitious and skilled had only grown. So, with our ‘AagekiSoch’ anthem on social media, we reached around 31 million people and 15 million views in a week’s time.



Founded in early 2015, upGrad offers online programs for working professionals. The company has got on board 53,000 paid learners and impacted more than 500,000 individuals globally. It is the largest online higher education company in India, based on gross revenues generated from the Indian market in FY18-19.

Media Agency: Starcom
Creative & Social media agency: In-house
Digital Agency: Tatvic
PR Agency: Adfactors PR

Q] How did you change your product offerings during this period? And which of the courses have seen more uptake?

Immediately after COVID-19 outbreak, we noticed a humongous increase in traffic across ed-tech platforms. But there was a lot of uncertainty among people. From the feedback from learners, we figured that we needed to give them more confidence and reassurance. So we came out with courses of Rs 10,000 – ‘start a Masters’ Degree with 10k’. These were regular products, which range between the price range of Rs 2.5 and 5 lakh but instead of paying the full amount, the learners could take up the course up to June and could opt out later if they wished. upGrad would give certificate for undergoing the course for that short period of time. We saw a lot of uptake for these courses organically. Confident about the quality of our product, I believe that once people try our products we can increase our customers and upsell other products too.

Q] How does the online reach and views through influencers translate into numbers eventually? What are the key points to make it effective?

In any influencer based marketing campaign the key thing to look at is the brand fit and the TG fit. Secondly, you need to re-orient you message to the type that the influencer is used to spreading. For instance, actor Radhika Apte is one of the influencers we have got on board. She is an intelligent actress and generally shares peppy videos with certain level of brain power involved and hence a good fit for us. But at the same time I cannot ask her to do a video on data science, as none of her followers would like it. I need to re-orient it and bring the message in a different format with affinity towards our message. It is the whole concept of virality. If you can plug into something that people are already talking about, half of your work will be done by the context.

Q] Which stage has brand upGrad reached now and what is the way forward from here?

upGrad as a brand is in its early stages. The professional and higher learning market in India has around 100 million consumers. We are dominantly present in metros and large cities right now and are very popular for IT and professional education. I want to take the brand to newer markets of ambitious people. The aspiration levels and the desire to upskill is way higher in smaller towns, especially tier II and III cities. Also, the biggest advantage of online education is its reach and the fact that the quality of product is superior, wherever it goes. I want the brand to become more mainstream.

Q] Your experience with Byju’s must be a great help here…

My beliefs and ideas have come from that experience only. If you look at the way K-12 online education has spread, it started with the focus in metros and key cities. We took the brand to smaller towns and now 70% of the Byju’s sales or the subscribers come from tier II and III cities. That is the direction we plan to move ahead.

Q] What is your learning from Byju’s that you are implementing here to take your brand forward?

All through my career, I have worked with brands at very early stages of their lifecycle, focusing on kids and youth, and taken them to mainstream. I am trying to do a similar thing here at upGrad. I spent a lot of my initial time understanding my core TG and the peripheral customer and how we make our products and services attractive to this target base.

Q] Post COVID-19 and the lockdown, we are presuming that some consumer patterns will change. Being a marketer, how do you pre-empt this change in your sector?

I believe this is a watershed moment for online education, and a lot more people will understand that online education is as good as or perhaps even better than offline education. One of the reasons why online education did not get that hockey stick moment is because people were not trying it. COVID-19 has forced them to do that. The idea is to counter the inherent bias people had against online education. Also, I don’t think that this is a one off thing. We have been seeing these things like SARS, Ebola, Swine Flu, etc. And people will become more adept and will start accepting online as a mainstream opportunity now. I see this happening in e-commerce and
food too. Honestly, companies will also consider WFH as a serious option.

Q] What is one thing that brand managers should avoid doing right now? And what is one thing that they should do in this situation?

We should respect the fact that customers are in a very uncertain and worried state right now. So when we can provide products or services that can make their life easier or enjoyable, we will be accepted. At the same time, we should respect their feelings and not try too hard to sell things. We should try giving promos but as a brand if we try to oversell now, it may go into a bad exercise. We should talk in such a way that our message is clear to them from their perspective so that they will consider us in the future.

Q] The lockdown has probably worked for ed tech brands the way demonetisation worked for a Paytm. Being there at the right time. What are your thoughts on this?

You are right, but I will just add a caveat to it. Demonetiation did work for Paytm and it made it viral but they destroyed it all, because they failed to see the UPI coming in and taking away that money. So I would say that this is an opportunity for us to get to a large number of people, but we can’t be complacent. I would rather try to do an Alibaba when the SARS epidemic struck China and how they used that opportunity to grow.


Arjun Mohan, CEO- India, upGrad started his career with Think & Learn Pvt Ltd, commonly known as Byju’s, as a teacher and moved up the ranks into a leadership role. Prior to Byju’s, Mohan drove sales and operations at Titan Industries and did stints with Tata Motors, Tata Realty and Infrastructure Ltd. (TRIL) and Sir Dorabji Tata and Allied Trusts.

Take this opportunity to ensure that your message goes across to the customer but at the same time, don’t oversell you product

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Tags : interview CMO marketing Dipali Banka upGrad Arjun Mohan