Plum – India’s first vegan beauty and personal care brand, recently announced that it signed actor Mithila Palkar as its brand ambassador. Shankar Prasad, CEO and founder of the brand tells us how they have upped their marketing budgets and how Plum grew 2.5X in the past couple
Q] When you started off a few years ago, did you feel that in a cost-driven market like India, people would actually care for vegan products, and that there was real scope for Plum?
The trend towards clean beauty and more specifically towards veganism (cruelty-free and organic) started off in the first decade of the millennium in the West. It was then predicted that about a decade later it would come to India. And that prediction was true. So when we started in 2013-14, the clean beauty movement was at a nascent stage. But over the past few years people are getting conscious about what they consume in terms of both food and fashion. The number of such people is growing very fast. So, I always had a belief that this would work out, and it has.
Q] There are many players in the market selling organic skin care products. What separates Plum from brands like Mamaearth or Moms Co?
I think, we stand for authentic and efficacy-driven skin care. Our products actually work on skin for a long term, and they have no side effects. And that’s what we are best known for. Over the past few years we’ve managed to build a reputation for Plum based on this honesty, authenticity and efficacy. Secondly, we believe that if we take a light-hearted approach to the world of beauty, it will be delightful along with being delivery-focused. So this sweet spot that we occupy between delight and delivery, also sets us apart.
Q] As of now, what kind of challenges are you facing in this booming beauty space?
We are fortunate to be in an industry which has different sets of consumers in terms of age groups, propensity and desire to upgrade and explore. As far as the demand is concerned, it is very strong. We are facing challenges mainly in strategizing and executing internally. But the challenges are not static. The challenges that we are facing now is quite different from the challenges we faced a year ago.
At present, we are focusing on enhancing our team’s skill-sets in digital marketing, and on strengthening the supply chains. Second, we are trying to ensure that we get the right talent. For me, talent is not just what the resume says; it’s more about the faith that the candidates have in our work and their excitement to be with us on this journey. Third, we need to ensure a better handle on the digital funnel. The digital funnel is continuously evolving, because channels are getting added, subtracted or edited inside it. Our own products have varying impacts on various stages of the funnel. So to leverage this funnel for the right output at the bottom, is a mammoth task. Thankfully, we have a team now, which is focused on making sure that the digital funnel is rocking as much as possible.
Q] As far as advertising is concerned, you are present majorly on digital. Tell us a little about the strategy, and also why are you not moving to mass media yet?
We have specific focus on top of the funnel and it further breaks down into various media. Influencer marketing is one of the big things. The others are YouTube, Facebook, OTT platforms, Sampling, among others. The bottom of the funnel is split into two big areas. One is what we do with the e-commerce marketplaces. The other is what we do with respect to D2C. D2C for us is like 25% to 30% of our entire digital revenue streams and hence it gets a proportional allocation in terms of media. So, it is like a jigsaw puzzle that needs to add up to something without any gap or without any overlap.
Q] How much do you spend on marketing, as in what percentage of your revenue?
It depends on the month. In the months when we have big launches or when a celebrity gets on board, we spend around 50% of our revenue on marketing. In the BAU (business as usual) months we spend 30-35%. We spend the right amount of money on the right marketing media, and hence our overall spends are always above 35% of revenue.
Q] The pandemic is said to be a good period for skin care brands. Tell us what kind of revenue growth did you see in the past year, in 2020?
We’ve been growing between 2.3x and 2.5x over the last couple of years consistently. In fact, our revenue growth rates in the last quarter were upwards of 2.5x, over the previous year. The plan for the upcoming financial year is along similar lines. Of course, as the base increases, the task gets tougher. But considering the brand’s demand and potential, we are quite confident of continuing to grow at this pace in the coming year as well.
Q] What is your target age group and why did you get on board Mithila Palkar? Do you feel that it’s important to have a pretty face or a celebrity attached to skin care brands?
Our target age group is above 23 years of age. Typically, the peak of interest is early 30s. But if you look at our customer profile, it includes people who are above 35, all the way up to women who are in their 60s and 70s.
Now coming to the choice of brand ambassador, we prioritized three big Rs when we set out on a search. The first is Real. It means right and not fake - the celebrity had to have the realness about her. The second is Recognizable - the celebrity should be sufficiently recognizable. The third is Relatability - if the person is relatable, you have a lot of positive real associations. So we’ve been very careful in deciding who we are associated with. And of course, being in the beauty and personal care business, a celebrity association has worked very well for brands of all shapes and sizes in the past.
Q] You are a direct to consumer beauty and personal care brand with a strong online presence. But what percentage of your sales are happening offline?
We are present in over 250 towns and cities with over 900 points of manned counters with beauty advisors and product advisors. And then we have 10,000 odd unassisted outlets. The exclusive outlets is the newest addition to the offline presence. The first such store was opened in Mumbai about four months ago. We currently have over 150 SKUs, and it’s not possible to have them in every store. The exclusive stores are the way for us to actually showcase the brand in its best form. Retail today accounts for around 35 to 40% of our total sales.
Q] Who would you say is bigger competition for you, L’Oreal or the organic skin care brands?
Both. I don’t think that the fundamental nature of the consumer behavior is going to change. They will not suddenly fall in love with a brand and say ‘my entire shelf will be filled with this.’ The psychological need of the consumers is yet another aspect. And that is more about the fragrance, the texture, the color, the after-feel among others. All these things are a part of the experience of consuming beauty and personal care. I think the brands that are able to take care of this part more consistently and authentically, are the ones that are going to have larger share of richer space.