Interview: Marketing plans for the current quarter are centered around OLX Autos says, Sapna Arora, OLX India

Sapna Arora

In an exclusive conversation with Social Samosa, Sapna Arora of OLX India highlights the company’s key markets and explains why digital innovation is the key for business growth.

The online classifieds platform served as an option to satisfy the changing consumer needs during the pandemic which led to a surge in traffic on OLX during this period. Sapna Arora, Regional Head- OLX Autos Brand, CMO (India) talks at length about the shift in consumer behavioral pattern, OLX India’s marketing and communication strategy during and post COVID-19 havoc, digital advertising, trends, and more


Ecommerce became a way of life during the lockdown – how did this trend impact OLX India? Please take us through your marketing strategy for the period.

The lockdown has changed lives for all of us, including our consumption and spending patterns. With the economic slowdown, consumer spending and budgets declined and consumers veered towards cautionary spending. People were confined to their homes and restricted in their movements. This gave rise to new needs such as creating an office space, need for laptops & mobiles for online classes, adoption of new hobbies, need for a car for the emergency commute (a pre-owned car vs a new one), listing homes as people migrated from urban areas to smaller towns, etc. 

People also had more time at hand & hence they utilized the same to sell their pre-owned products on OLX for a good deal. As the world adjusts to the new normal and is moving from offline to online, we started focusing more towards the digital front and on innovations in order to engage and cater to the consumers’ expectations. 

We recently announced the launch of a car buying/ selling model with a strong online plus offline component. OLX Autos brings the company’s online platform and it’s well known offline brand, CashMyCar(which will be rebranded as OLX Autos stores) under its umbrella. OLX’s strategy reinforces its commitment to customer-centricity by offering a slew of services, product innovation, and an integrated experience across the value chain.

How did you leverage the presence of local communities on the platform to make the best deals out for the consumers?

OLX as a marketplace has pockets of communities across its platform across different verticals such as automobiles, goods, smartphones, etc. A key component of these communities is our business sellers most of whom are small entrepreneurs. 

On OLX Autos for example we have over 15,000+ dealer partners across the country who rely on OLX to drive their business. During the lockdown, we extended support to our business partners, which include many small entrepreneurs by extending the duration of existing paid ads on the platform until the lockdown is over. This allowed them to tide over the challenges of the lockdown and continue serving their customers across the country.

For consumers, this translated to an increase in supply and demand for used cars by 120% and 133% respectively thereby allowing them to get the best deals. 

How did the recovery phase perform and please shed some light on the user retention process?

Post the unlock, our recovery was strong owing to the fact that consumer sentiments were favorable and OLX became a prime destination for many of the consumers’ needs. Our numbers are a testament to the same across categories. Supply and demand for used cars grew by 120% and 133% respectively & there was an increase of nearly 150 percent in the demand for computers and laptops, while the demand for computer accessories grew nearly 100 percent. Overall our recovery is back to pre COVID-19 levels now and business is back to normalcy. 

Our user retention was good because consumers were being able to fulfill their buying/ selling needs through the platform. For the cars category specifically, OLX Autos rolled out a slew of new customer-centric initiatives which helped to spearhead this recovery. We launched home inspections which allowed users to sell their cars in the comfort and hygiene of their homes. We sanitized our stores frequently and trained our staff in the latest COVID protocols. Additionally, we also unveiled a slew of products related to the pre-owned car market including financing, insurance, roadside assistance, and more to become the definitive destination for consumers. 

What were the campaigns initiated during the challenging times and how did they perform? The results.

In the month of November 2020, we roped one of the most celebrated Indian cricketers, Yuvraj Singh, for our new digital campaign for OLX Autos during Diwali. The marketing campaign was live across the digital, social, and in-store. 

The aim of the campaign was to create resonance with the brand and position OLX as the preferred one-stop-shop for buying and selling pre-owned cars. 

In terms of results, we saw a significant increase of double-digit growth in terms of walkins to our OLX Autos retail stories while consumer inquiries on digital platforms also went up significantly. 

Also Read: #Interview During the pandemic we slashed AdSpends substantially to rethink our approach: Shrey Aggarwal, The Belgian Waffle Co.

How do you create your marketing budget? Please share the insights behind your plan

While there is no definite playbook when dealing with uncertainties spawned by COVID, we continuously worked towards creating a marketing budget that adapts quickly to the changing world around us. We noticed that as consumers remained in their homes for an extended period of time, the demand and access for digital platforms shot up significantly. 

We reduced our marketing budgets for traditional platforms and focused our energies on digital platforms.

Our digital campaigns during the period were focused on targeting and retargeting consumers who were coming online for the first time or hadn’t used OLX earlier. This formed the lynchpin for us to grow our consumer base significantly and our marketing budget reflected the same. 

How do you see consumer behavior changing in the pre and post-Covid world? How do you plan to implement the learnings in the current year’s marketing stints? 

Owing to pandemic, consumers reduced discretionary spending and opted for affordable or alternative solutions. Whenever there is an economic downturn the demand for pre-owned goods increases. We have observed this trend not only in India but globally as well. 

Due to reduced budgets, we noticed that demand for pre-owned cars on OLX went up by 133% as more consumers opted for personal transportation owing to hygiene concerns.

We also witnessed an uptick in demand for a wide range of pre-owned consumer goods across our marketplace, especially from non-metros.

Demand for pre-owned consumer durable products such as ACs, TVs, washing machines, and furniture is nearly 2X in the non-metros for Q3, 2020 compared to Q1, 2020. The trend on OLX also indicates the growing comfort of using online services in non-metros, catalyzed by the pandemic. 

The roll-out of the vaccine program has uplifted the sentiments of consumers as life slowly steers back towards normalcy instead of volatility.

I believe that certain consumer behavioral trends such as cautious spending habits, increased sensitivity to hygiene, and a hybrid WFH/office working model will stay. 

The key takeaway from the pandemic is that digital is the new focus. As an example, most automobile industry dealerships have been integrated onto digital platforms. Consumers can take virtual tours of cars and also schedule test-drives using these platforms. These and other such changes in business models are what we always look out for, and we try to anticipate customer needs ahead of the consumers themselves verbalizing them to us. 

Please take us through your media mix. How much of the total pie does digital occupy?

Historically, OLX has very effectively leveraged traditional media such as television, print, OOH, and radio. However, as digital usage has shot through the roof, there is no gainsaying that digital is an integral part of our media mix. Currently, our focus is primarily on digital but we are not bound to the same. Prior to any campaign, we evaluate our objective and the best possible medium to reach out to the consumers and take a call on the same. 

What are your views on influencer marketing? Does OLX work with influencers often? How has the experience been? 

With the democratization of content production, there has been a visible shift and influencers can be an effective channel for communication dissemination. In 2020, as people remained at home and brands were hugely dependent on social media platforms for engaging with the consumers, this further resulted in a boost towards the adoption of influencer marketing. 

OLX has collaborated with widely known influencers like Sanjeev Khanna, Aparshakti Khurana, Sharmaji Technical, Saloni Sehra as well as with micro-influencers. 

Influencer marketing approach needs to be carefully evaluated and the objective of the campaign should be clear. Some of the criteria to be kept in mind include the reach/appeal of the influencers amongst the targeted consumers, fitment of message with the influencers and fitment of the message with the platform being used.

What are the templates, content formats, communication hooks being used to educate the consumers about the company’s policies and services through social media?

When the pandemic first emerged, we used digital channels extensively for all major communication amid the crisis. We started with the first set of communication around safety and basic dos and don’ts where we spoke to people about their general well-being while creating a channel for consumers to join OLX India in its relief efforts for migrant labor.

We continued our dialogue with the consumer, through communication around how OLX could help them organize their homes, work-spaces, and their lives during and post the lockdown.

No one was prepared enough for the kind of volatility that COVID-19 brought. We had to stay flexible and nimble while keeping the dialogue with stakeholders on, amid the crisis. OLX stayed focused on long-term strategy and was consumer-centric in its communication.

A crisis can make or break a brand and I believe that brands should continue their dialogues even during a crisis. 

We used a variety of content formats including short videos, infographics and GIFs to stay in touch with our consumers.  

What do the marketing plan and advertising budgets look like for the quarter?

Our marketing plans for the current quarter are centered around OLX Autos with a focus on its car buying & selling and affiliated services around it as well as it’s the omnichannel approach.

For our horizontal platform, we will continue to strengthen our relationship with the consumers via the touch points we have nurtured in the last few years.

What are the key markets for OLX and why? 

Currently, our online classifieds platform caters to consumers across 5000+ cities while our OLX Autos stores are present across 20+ cities across leading metros and nonmetros. Our key markets are two-fold. In terms of metros Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Bengaluru, and Chennai are important for us while in terms of non-metros the cities of Jaipur, Lucknow, Ahmedabad to name a few are crucial.

On OLX about 60% of our demand and supply is driven by non-metros. 

What digital advertising trends do you foresee?

Experimentation by marketers: Digital advertising platforms are an evolving medium. Advertisers, as well as publishers, will continue to experiment and evolve on formats, messaging, etc.

Nimbleness along with discretion While digital medium renders itself to real-time customization and targeting of communication, it is also a very effervescent and reactive medium. Hence marketers need to be watchful of what is being put out.

Truth in advertising will trump everything else: Consumers today are bombarded with information all around & they seek to verify the information before they act on it. The more brands stick to their core competencies with genuine honest advertising, the more consumers will resonate with the same.