It was during the late 1940s in Mysuru when N. Ranga Rao decided to start an incense stick business. It was tough for a new business to break in as established businesses had strongholds in the market. It was at this time that Ranga Rao would come up with a unique marketing strategy that would redefine the incense stick business for the coming future. Employing his entrepreneurial acumen, he started visiting stores during rush hours and lit his incense sticks. Going from shop to shop, he would light the incense sticks and walk away. As customers started demanding Cycle incense sticks, shopkeepers had no choice but to ask Ranga Rao for a stock of his sticks.
Fast forward to the present, 75 years later, Cycle is run by his grandchildren and is one of the largest manufacturers of incense sticks in India, exporting its products to more than 65 countries.
Its marketing approach, which is rooted in a strong retail strategy – a precedent set by the late Rao, has also evolved with the changing media landscape and consumer mindset. Cycle’s social media marketing strategy relies on a mix of several platforms. The brand is fairly active on X (formerly Twitter) and posts regularly about trending topics. It has 88K subscribers on YouTube.
Instagram plays a prominent role in Cycle’s digital strategy, where the brand has a following of 72K. Its Instagram page looks like a palate of Indian culture displaying traditions and deities in their authentic form. It cleverly mixes tradition with a modern touch. It also features recipes for popular South Indian delicacies created in collaboration with influencers.
Cycle’s marketing theme today revolves around being the go-to prayer brand, which is also reflected on its social media platforms. The marketing efforts emphasize on it being a home-grown brand deeply rooted in India’s culture. The brand positions itself as the conduit connecting people’s aspirations with the divine.
The Managing Director of Cycle Pure Agarbathi, Arjun Ranga spoke to us about the company’s shifting marketing strategy, its demographics, and how it stays relevant.
On how the brand has managed to evolve with changing times with its marketing efforts, Ranga explains, “From the early days of celebrity endorsements and television commercials (TVCs) to our present focus on embracing new-age media, we've consistently adapted to the ever-changing landscape. The core of our strategy has always been staying relevant and ingraining our brand in consumers' consciousness. While mastery in one area is commendable, it's imperative not to remain static.”
He mentions that the brand tries to merge tradition with contemporary marketing techniques to ensure it doesn’t just remain a product but an enduring experience for the customers.
Ranga said that the brand’s standout feature lies in its digital media marketing strategy, which involves focusing on maximizing audience engagement through social media platforms.
With its iconic bicycle symbol etched into the cultural consciousness, Cycle has become synonymous with prayer. Anchored by the straightforward yet compelling tagline, 'Everyone has a reason to pray,' the brand's connection with consumers is the fulcrum of its approach.
Its packaging also reflects India’s vibrant culture and heritage.
Following the Media Cycle
Over the years, the brand has strategically maintained its presence in both traditional and digital marketing channels. “Tailoring our approaches to align with the diverse players in the market, such as Amazon and Flipkart, has been a key focus,” Ranga shares.
The incense brand actively engages in both online and offline channels, with ongoing efforts to enhance its D2C e-commerce platform cycle.in. Notably, traditional mediums get the brand’s lion’s share, owing to the nature of its target audience.
Sharing the reason behind this, Ranga said, “A significant portion of our consumer base resides in rural India, where traditional methods like word of mouth, television commercials (TVCs), especially the regional language advertising, and to some extent, social media advertising have proven to be highly impactful. Recognizing the distinct dynamics of these markets, we continue to leverage these time-tested methods to ensure our brand resonates with our diverse and widespread consumer demographic.”
The brand has come up with several memorable TVCs over the years. One such remarkable ad is the one featuring a child asking his mother what would have happened if God had not existed. The ad depicts Southern India and its culture.
From featuring Amitabh Bachchan to Sourav Ganguly to Mithali Raj, Cycle has made sure that the traditional media is especially leveraged when it comes to marketing considering its significant Tier II and Tier III audience. To enable better recall and consolidate its presence, the brand relies on catchphrases such as “Bhagwan Hai” and “Everyone has a reason to pray,” and imagery that are propelled through traditional media.
As far as social media is concerned, one noteworthy pattern on Cycle’s Instagram is frequent collaboration with a variety of influencers. The brand does not restrict itself by sticking to a particular type of influencer. From Shubham Gaur to Rukmini Vijayakumar to Dhanashree Verma, Cycle collaborates with influencers from diverse genres including fashion, lifestyle, comedy, vlogging, and dance. This ensures the brand’s reach to audiences that are left untapped by traditional media.
“Our primary target audience comprises women, the nurturing pillars of their families while our strongest market foothold lies in South India, particularly Tamil Nadu, where a larger population correlates with increased consumption,” the third-generation entrepreneur explains.
To tap its primary customer base in Southern India, Cycle routinely posts about the regional festivals and the customs that involve lighting incense sticks and its products. Promoting the culture of the Dravidian states, the brand collaborates with local influencers to establish a connection with the audience.
Interestingly, the brand has witnessed a growing trend among younger generations, who now use agarbathi while engaging in activities like meditation and yoga.
Further sharing insights on the brand’s demographics and how content is tailored as per their diverse nature, he said, “We adopt a content mix strategy, incorporating various hashtags to enhance its online presence. We have strategically targeted the middle-class demographic, particularly those who use incense sticks. All audio-visual advertisements are tailored to resonate with this audience.”
To further connect with this TG, recently, during the Men’s Cricket World Cup the brand introduced an Instagram filter called “PrayforIndia” with the slogan "Pray for India, Win Win India." For the same, it collaborated with influencers such as Dhanashree Verma, Shubham Gaur, Vividh Ashok, and band The Nineteen.
Ranga shares that the brand is exploring the potential of influencer marketing. Cycle recently collaborated with VickyPedia, who created a reel using a character named ‘Nandini’ which went viral and ‘Nandini’ quickly found ‘her’ way into the hearts and on the lips of Bengalureans.
Emphasis on festive marketing
The festive season is a critical juncture every year for Cycle as the brand tries to amp up its marketing efforts and drive sales. It becomes especially important because the brand sells products that are specifically designed and suited for such occasions.
Dassara is one of the most joyously celebrated festivals in Southern India, specifically Mysore. As a homegrown brand Cycle tries to capitalize on this occasion. Recently, it collaborated with a number of influencers on social media and placed emphasis on its specifically curated products for the festival.
“Our festive marketing plans are comprehensive, utilizing various channels to reach our diverse customer base. We allocate a substantial budget specifically for this purpose, ensuring a robust presence during festivities. Television plays a pivotal role in our strategy, with targeted TV commercials (TVCs) broadcasted across popular channels; additionally, cinema advertising amplifies our reach, capitalizing on the festive spirit in theaters during the release of major blockbuster movies,” Cycle’s MD shares.
What started as a small local player, Cycle Agarbathi has proven that one can change tracks with shifting media landscape without letting go of their cultural ethos.