India has 10 of the 14 cities with the worst air pollution in the world, with vehicular emission contributing 30-50% to it. The daily sale of diesel and petrol vehicles in India crossed 70000 units in 2018. Government has tried to push electric vehicles through direct incentives and mandates to mitigate the financial burden of adopting a new technology, but the adoption hasn't been as expected.
Was India not ready for Electric Technology to enter the market? Why were people not embracing the Electric Vehicles (EVs)? Our client, Hero Electric, had the same question for us.
To get to the core of the problem we had to understand how the mindset towards EVs has evolved over a decade. Specifically, we needed to get deeper into understanding the pre-sale cycle - the kind of nudges that have facilitated the purchases so far, and what have been the biggest deterrents.
To address this, we spread our exploratory investigation far and wide - to believers of the technology, non-believers, users, non users, to media and the government representatives, their subsidiaries who were pushing for EV adoption and those against, along with Hero Electric's ecosystem of salespersons, dealers, strategic and operational teams.
We uncovered behavioural attributes led by the impressions of the past and associations with vehicles of everyday use. We also uncovered a decade of misinformation & a large population of fence-sitters that felt the technology was too niche for today and were waiting for it to evolve. We understood the peripheral nudges that antagonised the likely user, and the time it took for people to make a decision to purchase.
We built strategies and frameworks with the Hero Electric team, on who to target as potential buyers among the fence-sitters, and the kind of nudges that would enable purchase by them.
We understood, validated and reinforced our client's belief thatthe space of Electric Vehicles needed stability and steady growth. A spurt of increase in sales could, counter intuitively, lead to a sudden pattern of decline. The company needed to manage sales along with people's associations with the technology.We needed to devise marketing strategies that would enable this balance and help forge a bond between Hero Electric and their existing and prospective customers along with a narrative to position the electric bikes as special yet normal for the everyday-rigorous use.
The engagement touch-points involved the brand managers, dealers, salespersons, existing and prospective customers through interpersonal and digital interactions at multiple points in the purchase journey. One such engagement panned out as the Green Helmet Campaign, a multimedia communication campaign celebrating the early believers and being a call-to-action for others to join the clan.
Our year long effort with Hero Electric has led to a steady increase in their consumer base by 10-15% month on month. Hero Electric is investing in a new manufacturing setup to address this growth.
The Green Helmets CampaignAn effort to mobilise the early adopters of technology through the Green Helmets campaign. The idea, that in a sea of black helmets a green warrior takes a stand.
Mapping Impressions of the PurchaseTodays purchase motivations become tomorrow's information - A framework developed for understanding and plotting purchase cycles for Hero ElectricAarushi Bapna, Iti Seth
Mapping Impressions of the ImpactTodays actions become tomorrow's impressions - A framework developed for understanding and plotting strategic interventions for Hero ElectricAarushi Bapna, Iti Seth
Buyer Persona | The Eco Minds
Buyer Persona | The Money Minds
Buyer Persona | The Flexi Minds
Everyone a HeroA story-board executed for the Green Helmets campaign.Madhu Priyanka
The Green Helmets CampaignAn effort to mobilise the early adopters through the idea that in a sea of black helmets, a green helmet takes a stand.
The Green Helmets CampaignStory concept developed for social media, referring to the green helmet in a sea of black.
Come rain! Come shine! Your electric will do just fine!A common misconception in the users' mind was to not take the bike out in extreme weather conditions like harsh sunlight, rain or peak winters. This was attributed to the user's perception towards 'battery' in everyday scenarios. To encourage users towards using the bike for everyday mobility, social media campaigns were promoted that portrayed user stories of the bike being used in conditions of extreme weather.Hero Electric Team
Meri Pehli ElectricMeri Pehli Electric (My First Electric) a term coined by us to communicate the deep emotional value due to the efforts that go into making the purchase and is seen as a marker of having stepped up the socio-economic ladder. The term is now used in a wide range of collaterals.
Product WebsiteWe designed and developed the product website. The vocabulary used was meant to reinforce the ease of use of the technology everyday. The website also hosted sections on DIY maintenance and provided easy access to service requests, eventually driving a large volume of sales through affiliate portals.
India's pollution problem has been getting progressively hazardous over the last few years. The central and state governments have tried to address this by initiating measures like controlling the number of vehicles on the road and promoting alternative fuel vehicles. Part of these measures is the strategy to increase mass adoption of electric mobility. The Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric and hybrid vehicles (FAME) initiative places electric vehicles (EV) in the spotlight for growth supported by subsidies, awareness campaigns, policies and incentivising research in Lithium Ion.
As the sector matures, several investment-backed players have tried to enter the market but soon shut shop due to lack of sales. However, Hero Electric managed to stay afloat with a consistent growth in sales to become the market leader. Gradually, even their growth slowed down and sales plateaued. We were called in to understand why their efforts on the field and digital campaigns were not bringing the expected results. Was the market even ready for the shift to electric mobility?
Our exploratory research approach was immersive and extensive. Immersive, to unravel the layered relationships between a person, the electric vehicle and the people influencing its purchase and use. Extensive, to understand not just the various consumer segments, dealer networks, internal sales and marketing stakeholders but also to understand the role of mainstream media, journalists, policy makers, lobbyists and associations like the SMEV (Small Medium Electric Vehicles) in influencing people's mindset towards purchase. We knew we needed to devise a strategy that would work at a national scale in India's context of diversity.
The investigation led us to understand the role of EV in the family and/or business, beyond its obvious utility. Visiting existing customers in their homes, engaging with them and their family members, and observing nuanced behaviours around the vehicle—parking, charging, cleaning routines among other details, became pertinent to the study. Our interviews with lobbyists, policy makers and journalists allowed us to understand the strategic push towards the move to electric mobility. Interlaced with the business direction and Hero Electric's long term vision, our study gave us a good understanding of the current disparities and lapses in their vision, communication of the vision and its translation or reception by the consumer.
The network of Impression, Information and Expectations
Impressions from the past: There is mistrust in the EV technology, in part due to the half-baked offerings in the market over the past decade. Ventures by small/foreign companies that set shop, sold technology which wasn't refined enough, eventually shut shop because of unprofitable business. Customers don't want to be left with a vehicle backed by a company that might not exist in the near future. Owners of such bikes still believe in the technology but do not glorify its use, convincing others around them that the technology is far from becoming mainstream.
The misplaced expectations: There is mass awareness about Tesla and how the west is embracing electric technology. However, this places the technology as futuristic. The glorification of the technology, its obvious limitations in the present and its association with the future are not compelling enough for people to 'change' to electric.
The skeptical user: Even owners of current bikes are unsure of how much the bike can withstand. During our research we met users who weren't sure if the bike could be taken out in the sun or rain - after all it runs on a battery! some going to the extent of parking the bikes inside their rooms, away from environmental elements.
The product positioning: E-bike has been positioned as a low cost vehicle for everyday use. It is therefore measured against other fuel powered vehicles in the same range. A low cost bike is usually a family bike, used and over-used by the owners, dictated by a sense of neglect and 'jugaad' for repairs. EVs, however, seemed 'sophisticated', therefore not relatable to the same notions of a low cost vehicle.
Underdeveloped ecosystem: Lack of public infrastructure, charging points and service mechanics unlinked to a corporate, are a deterrent to purchase. This places mistrust in the government schemes and policies, revealing the lack of clarity in the government's agenda towards electric mobility.
The buyers and their motivations
Our interactions with fence-sitters and existing bike users brought out the apparent behavioural and mindset differences between them which led us to identify three personas & the last-mile nudges that enable purchase.
Buying the bike for long term savings, they expect it to be a limited-range utility vehicle for themselves or for an employee like a delivery boy or house help. Its association with no fuel charges, low speed (hence low risk and a sense of diminished responsibility) are the nudges that fuel purchase for this category.
These have made the purchase for a dependant family member– elderly parents, housewives, 16-18 year old children, etc. Underlying features like speed-safety, light weighted-ness and avoiding queues at fuel pumps anchors them to an e-bike.
They usually buy the high-end, expensive bikes and see the purchase as part of a larger green-lifestyle orientation. These buyers need the nudge towards exciting new features in a product. They also want to be associated with the green lifestyle.
Hero Electric understood that a sudden jump in sales would build an imbalance that may not be sustainable in the long run. We reinforced this by placing customer engagement in the centre. Managing and co-building the customer's expectations post purchase was as important as clocking the initial sale.
Moreover, any intervention needed to show stability, that the company and its products are here to stay and support the consumer in all possible ways. These directions allowed us to channel-in conversations on building frameworks towards customer centricity - how to 'hear' the customer voice and respond to it at structural and ops level to ensure gratification.
Our implementation efforts were three fold - Strategically balancing the communication around EVs and the technology at a mass awareness level, the kind of nudges to provide to fence-sitters and where to provide them and building a relationship with the consumer post-purchase.
A significant effort was made to enhance the vocabulary around electric technology. Earlier, marketing efforts coincided with an increase in AQI (Air Quality Index). However, instead of it positively influencing sales, it was causing discontent and frustration towards the lack of clean environment. We proposed a shift to positive messaging, calling out the benefits of electric technology and its sustainability in the long run.
Workshops were conducted for dealers and salespersons to equip them with the right vocabulary to converse with prospective buyers - the fence sitters - about electric bikes and technology without relying on comparisons with fossil fuel vehicles. This reiterated a positive narrative around what the e-bike 'can do' and addressed customers' concerns regarding range anxiety, maintenance, speed, etc.
The fence sitters also needed a reinforcement of the company's commitment to the technology beyond focussing on attributes of the product. We coined the term, Meri Pehli Electric - a take on 'my first car'(meri pehli gaari), a popular way of referring to the first car bought by middle-class Indians. It communicates a deep emotional value due to the efforts that go into making the purchase and is seen as a marker of having stepped up the socio-economic ladder. Correlating the tagline with Electric communicates that the relationship with electric vehicles has started and will only prosper with time. The tagline is now part of Hero Electric's product line and extensively used in all dissemination efforts.
Word-of mouth is an important source of information for most fence-sitters and nudges them to visit a dealer. This reiterated the need for Hero Electric to sustain the trust and enthusiasm of early adopters who overcome social reservations to make a purchase and enable them to become patrons of the brand. We strategised and proposed campaigns like the Green Helmets that story-tell the life of the patrons by showcasing everyday scenarios through social media.
This instilled a sense of pride, encouraging community efforts towards disseminating the advantages of electric technology.
In addition to all of the above, the social media was populated with direct and indirect references to how the bikes can be dismantled, repaired and made a part of everyday use to instil a sense of bond and familiarity with the technology.
With all of these efforts in place Hero Electric has successfully been increasing their sales by 10-15% month on month. This year they are planning to launch a plant in Bangalore to address this steady growth.
"We're in this for the long run, to make a meaningful impact to the society while the sector gradually picks up pace. Treemouse understood this depth to give us not just a distinctive approach to enhance market share, but also a well rounded strategy honed in to the customers' perceptions and values, as much as to our business and ethics" —Sohinder Singh Gill, CEO Hero Electric.