When a humble street-side snack becomes a national brand, turning burgers and pizzas of the world on their head with its popularity, the story is worth sharing.
For Mumbai-based, fastest growing QSR chain, Goli Vada Pav, the context is particularly true as the company not only did this in record time, but also spent almost ‘nothing’ on marketing and advertising throughout its initial years. How did they do it? It’s all about some ‘jugaad’!
From speaking in Mumbai’s Bollywood lingo to being present almost everywhere and anywhere, the brand did everything to reach their current milestone of 350 stores in 90 Indian cities and is all set to achieve their next target- achieving operational excellence through some of the best industry practices.
Team MarkUp catches up with the man behind the magic, Venkatesh S Iyer, who recently turned into an author with his new book, ‘My Journey With Vadapav’, to understand how a popular street snack from Mumbai become a marketing phenomenon, gaining national popularity and international repute.
Take us through Goli’s journey. What all marketing hacks did you apply to make it a national brand?
Our first store opened in 2004 outside a busy Kalyan station, a distant suburb of Mumbai, which also marked the beginning of our frugal marketing and branding efforts to get attention for both vada pav and Goli.
So, the first thing was to establish our store at a place which had natural traction and was surrounded by most of the local vendors selling mithai (sweets), or local cuisine on their handcarts. We were not only the first player selling hygienic vada pavs at pretty much the same price as the street vendor, but also painted our vehicles prominently with Goli’s Vada Pav No 1’s logo (a man with a cap and mustache), which grabbed attention and registered naturally in our consumer’s mind.
Right from the name we chose, to the logo we selected, there was a natural connect with Mumbai and things that make Mumbai famous- movies, railway stations, slums, and it’s own lingo- and this helped us resonate well with our consumers in no time.
Goli is known for using innovative yet frugal marketing gimmicks. Share some anecdotes.
We used multiple co-branding jugaads wherever we could as we didn’t have huge funds to spend on marketing and advertising during the initial days.
It all started at Kalyan when one of our franchisees asked us to do some marketing or advertising activity to generate awareness. Funds were an issue then so we went to the railway announcer and convinced him to use Goli’s name whenever he is announcing any missing report. It went on like this- “Tunu ki mummy jahan pe bhi hon vo Goli Vada Pav ke pass ajayen, tunu wahan hi milega.”
On a normal day, our products would have sold by 9 pm, but that day by 7.30 pm we exhausted all our raw material and products, thanks to that announcement. It happened for the next one- two months, but then we were asked to stop by the railway authorities and we stopped. But this incident gave us a very clear picture that there could be innovative ways of marketing, without spending a penny, and we keep on coming with innovative ways to play our way around it.
After railway announcements, there was this unpainted board of Mumbai General Kamgar Union at a very prime location, right outside the Kalyan station. We told them that we will paint the board for you, but we will put Goli Vada Pav No 1’s logo on the board. They agreed, and there we were on a board, placed at one of the prime locations at Mumbai.
We even created a music CD, which was based on all the Bollywood songs, where we name-changed Goli at few places. For instance, Choli ke pechey kya hai, Goli ke andar kya hai.
We were everywhere, from sponsoring Ganpathi Mandals during Ganesh festival to carving Ganpati from vada pavs or playing Goli music CD on a rickshaw, we did everything to make us a household name.
In addition to jugaad marketing, barter marketing was the second most important thing that we did. There was a movie shooting happening in Nasik and I and my team happened to be there at that time. We met the Producer and Director of the movie and offered them to promote it, using banner, posters, pamphlets and every butter paper the consumer is eating, throughout the 75 odd stores of Goli in interior Maharashtra. In return, we asked them to shoot a scene at Goli’s store with the lead pair. This was a zero marketing cost again and we did this with 8-10 Marathi movies.
We also did something with Sachin Tendulkar’s look-alike to create craze and buzz wherever we opened a new Goli store.
You are quite popular on social media too. How and when did digital marketing happen?
2008-2009 saw a very challenging economic environment (World markets crashed, Lehman brothers filed for bankruptcy, et all) and we were forced to either cut down or find a solution. Whilst others were cutting down, we took the risky road discovering markets outside Mumbai and innovating our product range.
When all this was happening, I was introduced to the world of social media during a small interaction with my daughter. I saw her doing something on Facebook and I asked her what it is. She explained it is for free and I thought of using it for Goli Vada. And that was when we discovered blogging for the first time. I wrote more than 15 stories on Vada Pav memories from my personal experience and even started giving few talks in the industry events like TIE, and put those videos on the social media. This resulted in high brand recall where a person who ate their vada pav in Bangalore, connected with the brand through blogs and the brand message across the country was the same.
We even created our own Facebook page, when people were not using Facebook that much. Surprisingly enough, after some time, a few people came to us and told us that you have won the first Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Award. My first reaction was: What is SEO? And they said whatever we did on FB and YouTube end up becoming SEO. And we started appearing very high on Google search.
But today digital marketing has become an essence of any marketing campaign. How much, according to you, is too much?
Today, consumers have moved online and both consumers, marketers cannot escape it. They have to be there; under the consumer’s scrutiny. The era of narrow marketing has started and you can track your consumer, their desire, geography and what not.
Therefore, in order to succeed today, companies should first build good products, deliver good service and be transparent to their consumers. Also, it’s imperative to hire skilled professionals for exploring and experimenting with the digital platform. There are ample of tools available- use them effectively and build a robust digital marketing plan.
What are your top three marketing tips for budding marketing managers?
- There’s already a lot of clutter out there; so be fearlessly innovative.
- Digital media is changing the way we communicate with consumer’s today- so exploit and employee it to reach you TG.
- Understand your core consumer- who is he/she, what he wants and how to reach them effectively.