Unacademy’s Karan Shroff on honesty and consistency as the best marketing policy

In this week’s 100X Entrepreneur Podcast, Karan Shroff, Partner and CMO of Unacademy, speaks about consistently moving with the consumer to build a brand and keeping it real.
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Gone are the days of making tall and unreal promises to advertise and sell products. For budding startups and brands trying to win the audience, Karan Shroff, Partner and CMO at Unacademy, believes honesty is the best marketing policy. 

In a conversation with Siddhartha Ahluwalia, Founder and host of 100x Entrepreneur, Karan says, “If your product doesn’t do something that you are claiming in an advertisement or communication, don’t talk about it. Be honest…consumers are not fools, they see through everything.” 

With this approach, “a lot of things get difficult and a lot of things get easier eventually.” After all, he says, an iconic brand is one that has garnered the consumers’ belief. 

Unacademy’s own journey, from a YouTube channel to becoming a leading edtech startup valued at  $3.44 billion, is also a lesson in brand building and marketing – one that Karan was a part of for the past two years. 

However, Karan had initially declined to work at Unacademy when he was approached in 2019. It was only after he sat down for an hour-long meeting with Unacademy founder Gaurav Munjal, which went on for several hours, that Karan walked off with a job offer. 

“By that time, I had asked around and a lot of people knew about Unacademy. Everybody said it is the next best thing. That drove a lot of intrigue for me, and then, when I met Gaurav, we hit it off from a brand’s perspective and vision…and he was always thinking larger than life,” Karan recalls.

Consumer at the heart of everything

In the last two years, sports megastars like MS Dhoni and Sachin Tendulkar have endorsed the brand with the former picking up a strategic stake in the edtech startup. 

However, the secret sauce, Karan reveals, is to tailor everything around the sentiments of the users. 

“If you look at our film The Greatest Lesson featuring Sachin and his decades of career – such a glorious career and the greatest cricketer to walk the earth – but nobody spoke about his failure and the number of times he fell,” he narrates, adding that the idea was to relate to a learner’s journey and the rejections and roadblocks one is bound to face. 

Out of all the marketing initiatives Karan has carried out in his career, he says, Let’s Crack It remains the closest to his heart that shone light on how online learning infrastructure is democratising education in the country.

The pandemic has significantly accelerated digital learning and Karan says brands must suit themselves to the dynamic needs of a learner. 

While social media is the most common tool, he says most students and learners use it to destress and take a break and so contents must be designed to relate in a way that suits their need to unwind. 

“Be a brand of heart, do not be pushy…the pandemic has also stressed everybody out. Understand them and have empathy,” he says.

Karan’s mantra is to have the answers to why, what, and how to kickstart a campaign and see through it with consistency.

For Karan, it is imperative to aim high for any campaign. “To build a legacy brand, it is important to aim and dream big. We never say we're going to build a campaign that should have just one billion views but always set out tasks and ambitions that are beyond the normal parameters...so even if you fall short, you still cover the significant ground.”

To know more, listen to the entire podcast here:

03:19 – Early career journey

04:39 – Story behind joining Unacademy

07:32 – Marketing campaigns close to his heart

10:30 – Learnings from Gaurav and Unacademy’s culture

14:45 – Finding creativity, ideas and tapping into it

18:17 – Audacity of ambitions and goals

20:38 – Secret Sauce: Keeping the sentiments of the users at the core of the campaign

23:24 – How to build an iconic brand?

27:24 – What has Karan unlearnt?

31:24 – Changes in marketing strategy as per the dynamic needs of the customers 

Edited by Megha Reddy

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