Anuj Rustagi of ITC on the role of Metaverse in the Fabelle marketing strategy

Akanksha Nagar
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From relying solely on physical boutiques to now online channels contributing 40% to its overall revenues amid the pandemic, Anuj Rustagi, ITC talks about Fabelle's role in the Metaverse weddings and how they plan to leverage Web 3.0.

The brand recently made its debut in the metaverse and has become India’s first luxury chocolate brand to be present within Metaverse Weddings and has been an integral part of two weddings hosted on the Yug Metaverse and the TardiVerse. 

With the advances to become the preferred gifting partner in both the physical world and the metaverse alike, the 100% digital marketing brand is now actively exploring opportunities in the metaverse along with the NFTs.

In conversation with Social Samosa, Anuj Rustagi, Chief Operating Officer - Chocolates, Confectionary, Coffee and New Categories - Food Division, ITC, talks more about its growing spends in digital and how influencer and social media marketing is reaping the benefits for the brand.

Hit hard by the pandemic, it is not only leveraging ITC Hotel’s expertise in crafting bespoke culinary experiences but also working with various digital agencies including some start-ups to design digital experiences to supplement the physical experiences.


Fabelle has recently made its debut in Metaverse and has become India’s first luxury chocolate brand to be present within Metaverse Weddings. How does the brand plan to benefit from this initiative?

We are a lot about creating a chocolate experience for consumers. We just don't sell a simple bar or a product, everything we sell is quite exquisite, and we aim to produce products that are first in the world. The Metaverse Wedding actually serves three of our key objectives: firstly, it is in line with the brand being the pioneer. Secondly, we are trying to create an immersive chocolate experience online, and metaverse provides the key opportunity for us to enable us to do that. Thirdly, weddings, in general, have been an important business factor for us. Therefore, this opportunity was in line with our overall strategy and clearly, we have been quite happy with the responses from some of our customers.

Was there any sort of challenges involved while exploring the Metaverse Wedding? What are your future plans on this front?

There definitely have been some practical challenges since weddings are a time-bound activity. Also, it's (metaverse) quite an underdeveloped world, we are still learning and developing. For us also it's a very new concept, so there's a lot of learnings we have to take forward as the design of the future in the metaverse.

One of our key pillars is to create an immersive chocolate experience that one can physically experience in our boutiques only and our objective essentially is to virtualize the boutique experience.

Therefore, metaverse has the potential to increase our reach and give a more immersive experience to consumers. As this space is evolving, we will keep on our eyes open.

Did it also benefit you in terms of sales?

The Metaverse Wedding took place in February, which is typically a good month for us in terms of sales. So we did see an uptick in sales. However, any specific attribution is quite difficult since our key objective was not the sales, but we were actually trying to experiment with this technology to create a significantly superior experience down the line.


What is your take on metaverse as the future of marketing? How do you see brands benefitting from this?  

It is quite an exciting channel in the larger scheme of things to engage with the consumer and also it helps consumers experience the product.

I think brands that are able to think of themselves as serving an experience rather than just a product placement through metaverse will actually benefit tremendously with this opportunity opening up.  It's an exciting world for marketers, at a practical level it is one more channel of engagement for some brands that can work to their advantage, for others it will be like any other digital marketing channel.

Also read: Time to enter the Metaverse: Here’s how brands are deep-diving into Web 3.0

What is your strategy for the brand to stay ahead in the game of Web 3.0?

Our experiment in this arena currently is based on experiences, but we are more than willing to invest in exploring this opportunity because it gives us a competitive advantage. Web 3.0 is decentralized and is more of a semantic web. However, the metaverse is an area where we will be looking at exploring what we can do more and also with NFTs.

How do you differentiate Fabelle in the premium confectionery industry through marketing initiatives?

We, as a brand, are extremely product-centric and are really really proud of our products. They are our best brand ambassadors and this is followed by the experience we can create in our boutiques along with that master chocolatiers. We are very heavy on innovation to bring in new bespoke products and they provide us good returns not only on consumers wanting new chocolate experiences but also the multiplier we get in India in terms of our marketing effort and again differentiates from the other confectionery in the market. We also actually invite consumers to come and experience our products and this whole is supported by a lot of digital marketing efforts because we primarily are a 100% digital marketing brand.

What other mediums do you utilize other than digital? 

Although we are quite media-agnostic, we will always be over-indexed on digital. We do not do TV advertising or any other traditional medium for now. 

How has your investments in the digital medium has increased for this particular year?

We are a growing brand, so our marketing investments are actually ahead of our growth. We have been heavily but judiciously investing in digital media and it gives us the right results. Our spending this year would have more than doubled. We spend on different aspects of digital, whether it is influencer marketing, e-commerce, or even conventional advertising on digital.

How would you define your social media marketing strategy within digital?

Our strategy for social media is still evolving. Under the same, influencer marketing is a big part but we don't do paid influencers much, a lot of it is organic. We usually send them our products and a lot of influencers then post about it including the mini-celebrities. This includes influencers, food bloggers, social media bloggers, etc. We also do conventional advertising on social media, when we run some performance campaigns and there Instagram and Facebook become good. Lastly, we are looking to use the brand as creators.

Other than Instagram, we use other platforms also.

In our experience, YouTube as a platform is very good for building brand memorability or brand awareness, but not so efficient on performance.

Facebook and Instagram while we can do brand building, it is far more efficient for performance campaigns. We are not very active on Twitter and it is slightly a backseat channel for us.

What are the tools and criteria you have put in place to gauge the ROI from digital marketing?

In performance campaigns, ROI for us is basically in terms of RWAs and the submatrix on click-through rates, Add to Cart, etc. On the brand-building side, we have views, time spent, etc. We also do pre and post-dipstick with a control panel for specific campaigns.

How much do you invest in influencer marketing?

While influencer marketing is a big part of us, today it does not cost us much for anything. It just cost us to send influencers the product, who later post about it organically. So the value we generate is quite decent for us. This is where our differentiated approach to the product comes. It gives us a very good ROI since the investments are negligible. We will continue to do that as the brand scales.

Also read: Coca Cola- The journey of nation’s official ‘Thanda’

What is your regional marketing strategy? From a hyperlocal perspective, what will be the role of vernacular to drive business objectives?

Neither of them is relevant at this stage for us from a regional or vernacular point of view, because Fabelle is a premium indulgent experience product and we are not looking for a very wide reach.

What impact did the Covid-19 pandemic have on the brand?

We took a lot of hit in the first place because a lot of our channels were physical and chocolates, per se, is extremely under-indexed on e-commerce. While the physical bit really collapsed, for us, what opened up was hyper-local. We had put our boutique on Swiggy and it soon started contributing to 20% of our overall sales. We also have been experimenting with Cloud kitchens. Also, the traditional e-com players like Amazon, Flipkart, Big Basket really started picking up amid the pandemic because of the consumer habits, and they have been a big growth channel for us.

Apart from this, we are really excited about hyperlocal delivery or quick commerce because chocolate being an impulse product can now be delivered within 10 minutes, bypassing all the need for physical infrastructure. So, from a Covid-19 point of view, the shape of business has changed dramatically. We did take a hit, our boutique footfall, etc went down quite a bit, where we used to have a 95% conversion. We will continue to build experiences for our customers while complimenting them with things like metaverse.

The online channels overall today contribute 40 odd percent to our overall revenue and we certainly have exceeded our pre-Covid levels.

What kind of advertising and marketing trends do you foresee in the chocolate and confectionary industry this year?

It's a heavily advertised industry and it is quite a lucrative industry too. We see advertising spends continuing and growing ahead of the normal FMCG industry. Essentially, the chocolate confectionery is about INR 10,000 cr kind of a market but still, our per capita consumption of chocolates is really low. So, the potential of this segment over the next decade will be anywhere between five to 10x the current size, which is why all players are keen to grab the opportunity since a lot of people are coming into the fold and their consumption is increasing.

Also, conscious consumption as a trend has been increasing in the industry along with the sustainable packaging and gifting offers.

marketing ITC Foods ITC Hotels Fabelle Exquisite Chocolates metaverse