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BRAND, Design

On a date with the Happily Unmarried of Indian Quirk

I have a little clock in my house that doesn’t accurately tell time. That’s not rare. What is a bit strange though is that in spite of being extremely inaccurate (reads Paune Naun or quarter to nine) it vies for its space in the living room as a peculiar little conversation item. This one’s a gift from another Happily Unmarried and incidentally it is also designed and retailed by the quirky, independent and hugely successful brand Happily Unmarried.

We are in a time now when you see a number of such quirkyoutfits mushrooming all around, most just a summer project or a snapping professional who was perhaps the most creative amongst her cousins. We wonder what it takes to be the real deal though?

A brand that does not spend too much time at the salon and is happy being unmarried to conventional Kotler wisdom.

We did not go from paune naun (quarter to nine) to naun (nine) searching for answers, since a learned baba of quirk agreed to apportion some of his wisdom. All we had to do was, ask Rajat (from Happily Unmarried) the right questions and we were in business. Here’s how it went:

How and why did you come up with the idea of “Happily Unmarried”? Did you start out thinking to be a niche quirky brand?

 We started Happily Unmarried based out of own experiences when we were young and reckless. Fresh out of B-School in unfamiliar cities we had a really tough time trying to find apartment on rental and other things one requires to make a house functional. Everything in India is targeted towards a family audience including landlords, so we said to ourselves why is no one targeting the young, when clearly there are so many of them. That is how the idea of HU was born.

We did not want to be a niche quirky brand when we started , we do not want to be a niche quirky brand now we see ourselves as a brand which is work in progress to become a mass quirky brand,

Would you still want to seem niche? I mean, if everybody has the same HU product then it kind of loses its charm, no?

I don’t think that is a problem, you want to be exclusive if you are a fashion brand. We want to make products which are fun and  can be used by many.Are people not buying an iPhone because the other guy has it? You will probably not buy a Vertu which sells on exclusivity.

The other analogy that i think of is a movie like Jab We Met it is mass yet it sticks to sensibilities which one can relate to.

Who is your primary target? Was it intended to be that way? Are you thinking of other groups?

Primary will be youngsters in the 23 to 45 age group residing in metros. People tend to think a lot of college goers will be our TG, they are not our core audience. One important part of being happily unmarried is to be eligible to get married ha ha

Does being Quirkcentric, limit the horizon for your brand? Does niche mean never being able to grow beyond a certain size?

Niche is a state of mind, a Hero motocorp will call Harley Davidson a niche brand, Ikea may think Fab India a niche brand. Brands to become sustainable and profitable need to appeal to a set of people who they define as core customers. As time passes this set of customers needs to increase. I don’t think any business wants to remain in a niche position for long, You either have to grow within your own market or try to be a niche brand in as many countries as possible. A lot of brands stay niche due to factors beyond their control like financial resources or manpower constraints.

Everyday life seems to be your inspiration. Would you confess to have any specific ones? Perhaps, a process to create?

Our greatest inspiration is our customer, we want to be able to give them products which are functional but also a lot of fun. In the space that we operate in a lot of ideas are inspired from western sensibilities, we try to make products as relevant to India and Indians. Also, we want to be in categories which are used every day. Objects of mass consumption is what we call them. The idea is to identify objects of mass consumption  and make them fun.

 What is your check list while approving a design/creative? When do you know it is Happily Unmarried?

 It should be functional.

It should be fun.

It should be marketable.

What does “marketable” mean?

It should be sell able in India, we sometimes come up with crazy ideas for products like door stoppers or umbrella stand or hat stands but these won’t sell in India. You need to be able to sell stuff that you make.

You rely heavily on word play in your creative, also the usage is largely north Indian Colloquial expression. How do you intend to cover diverse markets with in India and abroad?

The usage is Hinglish which has become the language of the young, we have done shot glasses in Bhojpuri, Tamil and Kannad. So we are getting as local as we can.This is the beauty and the challenge, we need to come up with products which are fun yet such that the humour is understood across regions.In a way India is more diverse then Europe but if our movies can cut regional barriers so can the products.

What’s your broad marketing strategy? Has Social media helped your brand awareness? Does Social media work better for niche brands compared to mass brands?

We still have almost no marketing budgets so our strategy is to do good work which gets written about, is talked about and gets sold. Social media helps you connect to your audience but most of it is notional. We have over 50k fans on facebook which feels good but you need to view everything on social media with a pinch of salt.

Social media makes it easier for new brands to spread awareness however now it seems social media is also becoming a  playing field of the big boys. Specialist agencies have stepped in and can promise you 50,000  fans in a week if you have enough cash to burn. Unfortunately, the corporates have cracked the social media and it will soon be expensive to advertise there as well.

When you say “Unfortunately” do you see corporate as a threat? Or is there another reason? You seem to be doing fine on Social Media.

I say unfortunate because till a few months ago you could be smart and get noticed on facebook, now unless you have media agencies with automated software bidding for you, you will never be able to make an impact( meaning you require funds to get noticed now). Because, everyone got into it. I say unfortunate, because the  early days of the social media are over, the stakes are higher. We are happy with our social media because we got in early and did not have to pay to get any kind of money for people to like us.

E-com as an avenue .You don’t seem to be available on sites like fnu, 99labels,flipkart , is it a deliberate strategy? Does it make you uncomfortable or do you look at it as an opportunity? What is your approach?

We are extremely optimistic about online sales and have huge plans for it. The reason why we are not on fnu or 99 labels or flipkart is also the same reason why we are not on Big Bazaar or Vishal mega mart.

These are all discount stores and we do not understand the logic of discounting when products can sell as is.This is an extremely short term view of doing business and in the next 2-3 years is see a lot of these discount sites closing shop.

We are in a lot of other mass sites which don’t discount and sales are good.

Right now about 10% of our sales are from online but we see that figure doubling every year.HU brand stores contribute the maximum revenue say about 60%. The rest comes from shop in shop and multi brand outlets.

What about your own online retail channel? We noticed a portal but at this stage it seems a bit experimental? Thoughts.

Our online sales are growing  at over 100%, we are optimistic and want to push the online efforts more. We have been selling online since 2006 but it has never been a focus, we are making it now.

How do you plan to retain freshness to the brand and avoid brand fatigue?

We try to insure that the turnover from our new products is at least 30% of overall sales, this  drives up to keep looking at newer categories and more fun stuff.

What does New mean? More fun? Is evolution design lead, quality lead, or scope lead?

New means new products, new categories, new thought, new services everything turned around.

What Part of your sales is from repeat buyers? How do you ensure that a buyer keeps coming back to you for different products?

A lot of it comes from repeat buyers, don’t have any data but judging by some of the fan mails that we get from customers we can safely assume people love gifting our products to friends. We still need to come up with a comprehensive customer relationship programme like a lot of other things.

First words that come to your mind when we say Tantra/People Tree/Quirkbox/Chumbak?

Tantra: The pioneer when it came to T shirts, unfortunately they got branded as a Tee shirt company which is why they have not been able to do anything else.

People Tree: An institution, i have the highest regard for them as they have introduced a lot of Indianness to western styled clothes particularly T shirts and  shirts. They really are one of a kind.

Quirk box: I find their work very similar to play clan, keen to see what else do they come up with in the years to follow.

Chumbak: Interesting but hard core stereotyping of characters, they again will start appearing very repetitive in a few years.

We’ve noticed you’re also offering design services now + you have Music in the Hills as property? Is there some sort of convergence or should one look at all these as separate ventures? Has MIH served as an alternate media for propagating the cult of Happily Unmarried? Can you quantify the impact it has had on ground sales?

We always considered HU to be in the business of selling fun not products not service but fun. MiH is a fun music festival which has no agenda, it helps us in meeting like minded people and is perhaps the only marketing initiative that we have. It leads to a lot of intangible gains. It has now become one of India’s longest running music fest.

We are picking up selective design assignments in areas where we think we can do a good job. We have done the interiors of a bowling alley, designed bakeries and done a lot of other fun stuff with corporate gifting.

Yes, there is a big picture where all this will merge but it is too early to talk about it.

How do you plan to retain freshness to the brand and avoid brand fatigue?

We try to insure that the turnover from our new products is at least 30% of overall sales, this  drives up to keep looking at newer categories and more fun stuff.

Any marketing advice to young entrepreneurs launching products with a distinct identity (want to stay clear of the words quirky and niche post your first responses)?

Follow your instincts and keep the faith.

Massive Cheers with Daaku Shot Glasses for Team HU, Rajat & Rahul for sharing insights about building  youth centric quirky brands . 

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