#Interview Vahdam’s Bala Sarda on creating global footprint for a brand endorsed by Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres

Vahdam India

Marketing a blend of ‘real tea’ to the world, Vahdam India has found itself real fans in the international markets. Bala Sarda divulges details into how the homegrown brand has managed to create a niche and the communication blueprint.

For a young Indian brand like Vahdam India, becoming the first Indian tea brand getting featured on the popular Ellen DeGeneres Show was one the most important milestones in the company’s journey. Moreover, it’s “Chai Teas Private Reserve Trio” has been included in Oprah Winfrey’s Favourite Things holiday gift 2018. Icons like Mariah Carey and Martha Stewart add up to the list of the tea brand’s international endorsers.

In a tete-a-tete with Social Samosa, Bala Sarda, Founder, Vahdam India speaks about the brand’s strategy to woo the global consumers, leveraging social channels for awareness, going ‘vocal for local’, and more.

Edited Excerpts

Vahdam Tea, founded in 2015, has been pegged as a 100% online tea brand. What exactly does it imply and how do you ensure that the imagery goes with the narrative put in place?

VAHDAM is a digitally native, direct-to-consumer, vertically integrated brand, shipping teas, and superfoods to consumers across the globe. 90% of its revenue comes from online sales. In terms of geographical markets, more than 50% of our revenue comes from the USA.

In the Indian market where consumers are extremely aware of the tea they consume – how does Vahdam plan to create a footing?

India is a chai drinking nation. The tea that Indians consume every day is CTC Tea. Crush-Tear-Curl as it is known. CTC actually refers to a method of processing black tea where tea leaves are ruthlessly shredded, torn, and broken to create a quick-brew tea.

There is no subtle flavor or mellowness that can only come from traditional whole-leaf teas. CTC is considered one of the lowest grades of tea.

This tea is primarily consumed in India in every household. It is simmered along with milk, sugar and blended with spices like Cardamom, Ginger, Tulsi, Cinnamon etc. This has been consumed in Indian households for the last fifty years and that is how the term ‘Chai’ was introduced to the world. It is very native to India. However, outside India, (in the US, Europe) people aren’t too well versed in what CTC is. For them, real tea always means leaf tea that is manufactured using the ‘orthodox’ process, of which whole leaf tea is the top premium grade. That is exactly what VAHDAM offers. It offers a range of garden-fresh, high quality, premium, loose-leaf teas sourced directly from India’s choicest tea gardens within days and weeks of harvest devoid of any middlemen.

There has been a huge shift to wellness and immunity boosting products and VAHDAM has been constantly innovating and trying to cater to the demand.

It has been ‘vocal for local’ since the day it started, 5 years back and has also been propagating that Immunity is not an overnight journey, but a process.

VAHDAM has now started to get prominence in India since they officially launched here at the beginning of the year. The initial trials of the new products have proved to be very fulfilling with the customers.

It has been reported that 95 percent of its sales for Vahdam came from abroad, including the biggest market, the US. How do you reach out to this audience with your marketing & communications strategy? Do you have a different media mix for this audience?

Yes, 50% of VAHDAM’s revenue comes from the US followed by 30% Europe and 20% from the rest of the world including India. Most definitely there is a different marketing and communication strategy from each geography. What might work in the US might not work in the UK because of different cultures, tastes and preferences. VAHDAM currently offers over 150-175 SKUs and over 100 signature blends and targets differently at different markets.

Also Read: Inside: Samaara Tea #KadakSoch – a Gujarat based brand’s attempt to capture a bigger market pie

The brand has been endorsed by global icons like Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, Mariah Carey, among others. Please share a few behind the scene anecdotes and insight behind the association? How did this help the brand score a few points on the marketing board?

Oprah is an inspiration for millions around the globe, is a tea connoisseur and a huge chai lover. She has been extremely vocal about her love for Chai. She had once said “The first time I had real chai was in India”. Even though it seemed far-fetched then, we were very confident and had full faith in our product. Being a tea company from India we were thrilled and honoured to know that she has found her favorite chai tea blends in the VAHDAM Teas collection.

It was super exciting to work with Mariah Carey to launch a custom assortment of Vahdam Teas to mark the 25th anniversary of Carey’s 1994 holiday album Merry

Christmas and its record-breaking single, All I Want for Christmas is You, which has been the most-streamed holiday track for two years running.

With organic endorsements from Oprah Winfrey, Ellen Degeneres & Mariah Carey – it has told us that a good product finds its audience. And this is just a validation to quality obsession with our range of teas & superfoods.

Talking about Vahdam’s content strategy, what does the communication bouquet look like? What elements drive the conversations online – content and post formats, et al?

Our communication has a 360 degree approach where we try and cover all the aspects of the brand. From product launches to educating our customers about the ingredients being used and its benefits, from the founder’s letter that goes inside every single product which talks about the journey and story of the brand to the tea gardens from where our teas our sourced, from upcoming and ongoing sales to any new development, VAHDAM tries to stay in touch with its customers as much as possible.

What role has influencer marketing played in the overall scheme of things?

Influencer Marketing has played a very important role. It has helped us in strengthening our online presence and increasing engagement. With VAHDAM being a 90% digitally native brand and with the rapid increase in penetration of social media in our lives, it has made it all the more important.

It helps customers trust a brand more when it comes from an influencer they trust and connect with. It helps us in reaching out to the right target audience. We have a community of them known as the #vahdamtribe.