Whether people are preparing for school, higher education, or a new career, the sudden shift away from the classroom in the era of Covid-19 has caused a significant surge in the adoption of learning and education apps. But it’s not just app usage that is on the rise. Research shows students retain information longer. The outcome is a positive growth loop of higher use and higher education, fueled by a deep understanding of where app users are in their learning journey. In this episode of our bi-weekly series Reimagine Growth sponsored by CleverTap, our host Peggy Anne Salz talks with Ankit Gautam, Associate Vice President of Marketing at Gradeup,India’s largest exam preparation platform. In a show chock-full of advice for app marketers in every country and every vertical, Ankit shares the approaches that have allowed Gradeup to rocket app use and the messaging practices that keep users paying and coming back for more.
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To do that, you have to build and master capabilities to drive meaningful connection, deliver valuable messaging and that’s why we bring you Reimagine Growth, a special mini-series focused on retention marketing brought to you here by CleverTap. And in this series, we learn from the experts and in a way we’re going to take that quite literally today because we look at how Gradeup, a top-ranking education app in India has become a massive success – and full disclosure, such a massive success that I’m writing a story about it on Forbes right now as we speak. They have learned how to engage and encourage users every step of the journey and, hey, in these times, education is also very important, you know, it is a different time right now and you have to approach it differently.
We’re going to learn about this – my guest today, he leads branding and marketing for Gradeup and Go-Prep – those are two education apps, he develops brand strategies, managing marketing campaigns, specializing in increasing top of the funnel from mediums like YouTube – he’s had close to a decade of experience in digital advertising, worked for start-ups as well as large scale media houses such as Times Internet. So, Ankit Gautam, Associate Vice President Marketing at Gradeup, it’s great to have you here on Mobile Presence, thanks for being with me.
AG Thank you, Peggy, it’s great to be here on the platform.
PAS It’s excellent to have you, I love it when I find sort of gems, you know, the companies we don’t know much about but have done things that we can learn a lot from, quite literally. Now, I talked about your app, you know, it is an education app but maybe you just give us a little bit more of an idea of it because it’s not about homeschooling, it’s more like getting ready for your career.
AG Right, right, Peggy. So, like you rightfully mentioned, education is really one of the biggest things around and Gradeup, our app helps you prepare for really competitive exams that help you get into your dream jobs or helps you build a career that you want, they also help you getting your dream college and universities. So Gradeup essentially is the platform where a student comes and prepares with a lot of live classes, interactive study material and everything essentially that you need to know to crack an exam. So all of that information is available on Gradeup. So that is what we do essentially.
PAS And what are you seeing because I hinted at it at the start of the show, I mean, we are in the era of COVID-19 marketing, I don’t like to dwell on it because I want to see a positive and I will see a positive in saying that because we are also, you know, at least digital or mobile-first, there is a way to access education, there is a way to continue preparing for your career and that’s through apps. So that’s what you have, that’s the positive but what have you seen – have you been like many other app verticals seeing an explosion an interest in downloads or has it been pretty much as always?
AG So, education in India, I mean, in generally it digitally has picked up really, really well. We have been into the traditional education system and really deep into it for a very long time. It’s just with COVID, we’ve seen a major rise in terms of digital pick-up of education. We started producing a lot of video content which we never used to in the past, I mean, before COVID, we used to but not at the scale at which we are doing it right now.
So, a lot of people, a lot of users are coming to our platform and they are consuming a lot of material that we are providing to them. A lot of it is actually for free or for a free trial version for the users, so definitely we are seeing a great amount of traction for people who are preparing for various competitive exams, they’re coming up on our platform and definitely consuming a lot of material.
PAS And let’s talk about some numbers because it’s always astounding when you think about numbers and I talk to companies in India – I remember talking to Hot Stars, like, oh well, we had people watching cricket, we were delivering 220 million messages simultaneously or something, as if it was nothing, right, because of the size there. You have a significant audience but also I would imagine, you know, a significant volume of conversations going on because you are educating people, you are preparing them, so it’s a one to many but it’s also very much trying to be a one to one. So how many users or how much of a conversation volume?
AG So, in terms of our registered users, we’ve been active for a couple of years now and we have a total of about 20 million registered users but Gradeup, that is spread across desktop and our mobile app, and currently we have around 3.5 million monthly active users on our app but the interesting part over here when you talk about numbers is that ever since we’ve started doing video content, if you look at the last month’s performance, about 350 million minutes of video content was consumed across Gradeup on websites and our app put together. So it’s a lot of, like, video people are watching in terms of educational content right now.
And this is just only on our platform, we do have around 13 channels at the moment, so that’s a different story altogether, a lot goes over there and a lot of consumption happens on that platform but this is exclusively on Gradeup platform numbers.
PAS And talking about exclusivity, it’s also about the instructors, these are people who don’t just say, hey, I’d like to make a video, I’d like to be out there – there is very much a system to is, that it’s, you know, real education in the sense that I can really use this to prepare for engineering exams, really heavy-duty stuff, this is not interior design.
AG Absolutely. So the thing is that a lot of people do not get quality education in India because the country is such graphically widespread and also there different economic structures in the country, so we have a very, very strict screening process for each of the faculty members that we onboard because on a larger level, these are responsible for teaching around 2,000, 3,000 students at least per faculty and we kind of split it across multiple batches but the idea over here is that to find the best of the best faculty members who have a great track record of producing great results who also understand how does online education work and can still form that personal connection with the students, so it’s a very strict process and we do not operate on volume – one of the biggest USPs for us is that we might offer five things out of the ten possible things which are then in the market, but out of those five things, all five would be at around 9 and 9.5 on a scale of 10 in terms of quality.
PAS And just curious because this is one of those, you know, we will talk about the nuts and bolts of acquisition and retention but there’s also a beautiful inclusion story here I’d like to hear more about because I have you on as an app which means I don’t need to live in certain areas – can you give me an idea of perhaps how your app is changing the landscape of your country, maybe there are villages or areas, regions that couldn’t do this before, couldn’t have that access to education but this is what you’re enabling.
AG Yes, absolutely. So, Peggy, this is really interesting and this is also one of the reasons why we are there in the education market because if you look at India, it’s economically very, very diverse and there are certain states of India, like Bihar or Uttar Pradesh, which are one of the poorest states in the country, so Bihar if we talk about has a population of around 90 million people overall and a lot of competitive exams aspirants come from the state, one of the most interesting numbers that we also came across recently is that out of these 90 million people, around 3 million people registered for our courses last year and have done the free sampling course have enrolled into our courses or have watched our free videos on our platform.
And in Uttar Pradesh which is a state where roughly around 3% of the population is below poverty line, over 3.5 million people in the last twelve months have registered or signed up for our free classes or are right now consuming our course material that we are providing them.
PAS That’s one of the reasons why I have you on the show is because there’s also a lot to learn from this. I mean, obviously I’m from America but I’m thinking of rural areas, I’ve got relatives out near the Appalachians where, you know, it’s not that everything is accessible and we have a lot to learn from companies like yours – we’re going to learn a lot also about your marketing. We do have to go to a break right now, Ankit, but listeners, don’t go away, we’ll be right back with some lessons that you will find valuable and can apply to your business as well.
And we’re back to Mobile Presence. I’m your host, Peggy Anne Salz, we have Ankit Gautam, Gradeup. Ankit, before the break we were talking about overall what your app offers and the impact that it’s had but of course we have to understand that impact by understanding the audience and the audience for you, first of all I’d just like to understand – you’re more focused on acquisition or retention or both? What’s the sort of split there and how are you getting your users into the funnel?
AG So, Peggy, it would be both for us. We focus really heavily on user acquisition. A lot of it actually happens through organic channels but we also do make sure that we are present when people want to find us and retention definitely plays a huge part in terms of our overall daily strategy because we want to make sure that people stay with us for a much longer time and engage much deeper with our product.
PAS And you mentioned paid – I’d just like to understand is that different now because, again, we’re in a different era and I would imagine there’s a very strong organic – is this literally, you know, the positive impact is that people are flocking to learning skills and learnings apps – that’s what I’m seeing everywhere – similar here?
AG Yes, absolutely. So one of the things about Gradeup which has worked really, really well for us is the word of mouth because education communities, students like to talk and they would always reach out to their seniors in order to understand where do they prepare from? It’s just that we have had a good amount of capture, a good amount of hold in the market and we kind of always make sure that we listen to our consumers and our students, we provide them what they need essentially in terms of our product.
So, with that sort of organic growth that we’ve seen in our product, the way our product has shaped, a lot of users have organically also flocked onto our product. Along with that, we also do a lot of paid advertising in terms of regular marketing which is through Facebook or Google. We’re very, very heavily invested on social media as well where we get a great amount of traction from students as well as their parents who understand the importance of education and something which has worked really brilliantly for us is the referral system that we are using internally to promote our app.
So, yes, our own users are own brand managers and ambassadors. That works really well for us.
PAS So, that’s how you fill the funnel and that’s working, let’s talk about keeping them in there, right, it’s about retention here on Reimagine Growth. They love conversation, they love word of mouth – how does that impact how you engage with your users? Maybe the tone, frequency or even the channel that you use – maybe it’s like the WhatsApp type of messaging rather than in-app messaging or maybe email even works, I don’t know – tell me a little bit about that tone and that mix.
AG Absolutely. So, I mean, user acquisition, we always count it as the easier part, it’s much more difficult to retain that user and hold onto them for a much longer time. So we use CleverTap for most of our activities and CleverTap has very beautifully integrated with our entire product which gives us the access of reaching out to that student or that user via email, in-app notification, auto-push notification or through SMS, all these channels that we currently use.
So, one of the most important things when working on user retention is to understand what aspects of your product the users are interacting with and also try and find out if there are different products, different verticals inside your product that can resonate with the same users – do not be afraid to do a lot of experiments and it’s absolutely alright if, you know, 40, 50 or 60% of those experiments fail.
And the reason why I say this is because a lot of our users come not only to consume the live videos or the videos that we produce, we also do a lot of live interactive quizzes with the students and we started realizing that around 65% of the users that come and interact with our live quizzes are also looking for a full-length mock test which is roughly around a 3-hour mock test in the product.
So, it was very simple for us to just navigate that user through push, through emails, through SMS to, you know, from the quiz to push them through the live mock test which essentially is something that people are looking for – maybe that wasn’t very easily discoverable in the product but that gave us an insight that, you know, hey, this is the journey that we would want our users to follow.
So in terms of retention, something very important that matters is to understand what your users want as step A, and then step B, and create those personalized journeys - the more number of journeys that you have for your users, the better it works. And by journeys I mean essentially the drip campaigns – you’ll have to experiment a lot, each product would work very differently, so, yes, it’s genuinely a game of multiple experiments that can be run…
PAS I love the gamification, like the quizzes as a way to get me to interact, see how I'm interacting, it also gives you a lot of good feedback about the product itself, you know, i.e. where am I going, am I having difficulty in onboarding, am I dropping off, am I sticking around? Seeing how I act in the app is a great way to figure that out and also to experiment. What about some numbers here, Ankit, I don’t know what you can share but I’ll just ask – can you tell me something about the uplift in retention or what I can aim for because, you know, marketers love benchmarks. We have so few retention benchmarks, you know, day one, day thirty, day seventy – that doesn’t really tell us how to build a business.
AG Sure, sure, absolutely, Peggy. So, one of the things that I kind of like should have mentioned also earlier, it’s very important when working with a user to understand how recent the user was onboarded onto your platform and with what frequency is the user interacting with your product? So everyone should ideally select the user bucket into their recency and frequency. So we have like six buckets where we’ve split users on the basis of how recently where they required and how frequent they are, and we kind of try and push each user on a bucket on top of the other one which is like A is the most recent and the most frequent one. So we kind of try and bring everyone from B to A and C to B. This is the way that we work and this has worked brilliantly well for us in terms of our retention numbers.
Like if we talk about India education market, the retention numbers for a lot of products are not that great but looking at the Play store number, we know that our medium number for 7-day retention is around 8% higher than anyone else in the industry.
So, it’s very important to have that personal connect with your user and we’re quite happy with the way CleverTap has worked out for us for the last two years in order to build this personalized user journey for us.
PAS And that’s a tremendous number, you know you say 8% but, you know, I’m reading so much and hearing so much from other guests on our show or just marketers I'm speaking with – if they can move it 1 or 2%, that’s huge, right, because it’s not just the savings you’re getting, it’s the quality of the acquisition because you’re not having to worry about, you know, do I keep these users because they can be very expensive – you have to really know when to give up and when to say, I don’t want these users I have or I don’t retarget them because it’s going to be more expensive to keep them than to keep the ones I have already loyal, so that’s a tremendous number.
So much that we can learn from you, in fact, what I’d like to do next, Ankit, after the break, is get an idea of what all the marketers can learn from you, you know, some best practice and just curious – I mean, do you have the feeling when you’re looking at your business that these are sort of universal truths and universal lessons that you’re learning?
AG Absolutely, I’ll be happy to talk about them.
PAS Well, we’ll do that right after the break, so don’t go away, we’ll be right back.
And we’re back to Mobile Presence. I’m Peggy Anne Salz, we have Ankit Gautam, Associate Vice President Marketing at Gradeup. And Ankit, we’ve been talking about your app, we’ve been talking about your experimentation with campaigns, some great results on retention, really remarkable. I’d like to understand now a bit more about what marketers everywhere can learn from this because if you take a step back, you say, hey, we’re heading into June, we are in June, rather, and we’re heading into that season where, okay, school’s out, it’s going to stay out, even universities, Harvard I last read, no in-person classes in the Fall – education mobile app, that is the way it is. But there are ways to create a journey or to create messaging that is really effective. I’d like to start with one of your biggest mistakes, you know, one of your biggest failures because I think we learn a lot from those.
AG Right, I mean, that’s an interesting point to bring up, Peggy, because we’ve done a lot of experiments and we’ve failed miserably at some of them. I think one of the biggest ones would be the experiment that we’ve run around email campaigns because that was something really, really hard to come out of. So, essentially emails are a huge thing for us and in order to get back a lot of dormant users or users who are no longer there on our platform or have uninstalled our app, haven’t visited us in a very long time, we kind of did try to shoot out a couple of really informative, important emails to those people and that like shot up our spam score incredibly to another level and before this, we had our emails open rate were around 20 to 25%, I think even higher than that, our click rates were around 8% which is genuinely like, you know, really good.
And just, you know, this whole experiment with the email where we tried to get the old users back did not essentially work out very well for us and it took us really a couple of weeks to recover from that because all of our emails were being sent into promotions or junk.
But, this was like I think one of the biggest failures that we actually ended up seeing at our end, hey, we did recover from it, there are easier ways to recover from it, there are a little bit of non-legitimate ways also to recover from it but if you go with the legitimate route, I mean, you could be out of this trouble in a span of like a week.
PAS So I’m just curious, I’m going to look into that now with you, I can’t let that one go – dormant users, that’s a huge problem and that’s again, as I was alluding to, you have to decide what is dormant, what is worth retargeting, reigniting, reconnecting and what isn’t. What did that teach you about reigniting and reconnecting with dormant users – when is dormant, dormant for you?
AG So essentially one of the biggest reasons why we think the campaign did not work was we kind of targeted almost everyone which is like people who have not visited our platform in the last two months to people who haven’t visited our platform in the last two years. We did not even distinguish between whether that user had just logged in and then become dormant or whether that user was a potentially very, very active user for us and now he is no longer active.
So, not having that sort of a segregation essentially cost us a lot and every time we now run a campaign in order to get people back onto our platform, we try and understand from the same – recency and frequency. We try and understand how recently did the user drop off our platform and was it a user which was very frequent and very deeply integrated into our product consuming a lot of our content.
So having that sort of an understanding helps you get the right messaging out for that user, get him back on board, on platform.
PAS And just a real quick note on how to keep students engaged because this is not something – well, for you it would be because having an education is extremely important and people are motivated from the very start, but I’m thinking Stateside, some people particularly if it’s not so overwhelmingly important – it’s part of the routine, you have to sort of keep people coming back, they may have failed a test or failed something, keep them motivated. Any quick tips to keep people motivated to use an
AG It’s very, very important, Peggy, at the end of the day to listen to what people want actually and also to help them improve on their performances. Essentially, if someone like you rightfully mentioned has failed the exam, there is a reason why they have failed – if you look into the deeper understanding of that user on your platform, you will understand that there are certain aspects of your product or there are certain topics that user is interacting with more and not exploring few other features or topics which would help him increase his score or his presentation.
So, to get that comprehensive report card for a user at the end of any important event he’s undergone onto your platform, that is very important because education should lead to improvement and we have the access to a lot of users’ data so why not share that in a more comprehensive and easier to digest and understand format with the user so that they can learn from it and improve on the things. That has worked out very well for us.
PAS I love that, I love the cycle of learning from the user, the users learning from you, great sort of flow about user journeys. We’ve learned so much from you today, Ankit, I can’t thank you enough for being here, and our listeners, you know, they may want to stay in touch with you, they may want to find out more about what you’re doing or maybe if you’re blogging or writing or sharing out there in social – what’s the best way?
AG LinkedIn would be the best way to reach out to me. I do kind of keep on writing things which is more on an annual basis, I’m sorry I’ve not been very active over there, but I’ll genuinely keep on posting more things, interesting things for everyone to read over there.
PAS Excellent, excellent, well, thank you again for being on Mobile Presence Reimagine Growth, Ankit.
AG Thank you, Peggy, it was great to speak to you.
PAS And of course, listeners, if you want to keep up with me throughout the week, find out how you can be a guest or sponsor on Mobile Presence, then you can email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, mobilegroove.com is where you can find my portfolio of content marketing and app marketing services.
As always, you can check out this and all earlier episodes of our show by going to wmr.fm or you can find our shows on iTunes, Stitcher, Spreaker, Spotify and iheartRadio simply by searching Mobile Presence. So until next time – remember - every minute is mobile, so make every minute count. Keep well, stay safe and we’ll see you soon.