PokerBaazi focuses on product development, partnerships and content generation as the three pillars of brand growth.
PokerBaazi, which already has actor Shahid Kapoor as its brand ambassador, has now recruited two game ambassadors. Muskan Sethi, India’s first female poker player and recipient of the President’s First Ladies Award, and Abhishek Goindi, who is a coach and popular poker player, are the new faces of the brand that will help users understand the sport.
Varun Ganjoo, co-founder and CMO of Baazi Games, says PokerBaazi has also become the main driver of Baazi Games’ growth, contributing more than 75% of Baazi Games’ revenue. According to him, choosing the right partnerships at this stage is very crucial for the brand. Partnerships include everything from brand ambassadors to advertising platforms to IP curation.
Ganjoo talks to Storyboard18 about the company’s marketing playbook, the importance of digital, content, and a robust tech stack.
You already have Shahid Kapoor on board and now you also have two popular poker faces as ambassadors. How has Kapoor’s integration helped the brand and what will Sethi and Goindi bring to the table?
Our strategy is to make poker known to as many people as a sport of skill and to form a category in its own right. A game won’t do that, right? If it is only a game, there will be no specific category. But if it’s a sport, it’s pretty big, and it has all those things that a sport has. This includes audience, players and the game itself. To make that happen, we thought about creating a face that people identify with. Someone who has struggled to rise through the ranks and has a massive following. This is how Shahid Kapoor got involved. We did our first 360 campaign with him and saw a phenomenal response.
Within a month of launching the campaign, our impressions were up 20X, website clicks were up somewhere between 12X and 15X.
Then comes the next step. We also wanted our players to know people who are ambassadors for the game. Muskan and Abhishek are not our brand ambassadors. We call them our Team Pro. They are sports professionals who have built their careers around sports, so why not showcase them and let people interact with them.
Gaming is a relatively new category, so there is no proven marketing formula that provides a guaranteed return on investment. So what elements do you incorporate into your marketing strategy that get people to play poker on your platform?
Marketing in general has evolved a lot. The game is big globally, it’s a big sport but the learning curve is longer. It’s not just one click where we can just call the customer and ask them to come and try. It’s a quick fix and won’t last long. So you need to add different elements and include them in your marketing strategy. For example, an essential element of our marketing strategy is the product and the product experience. A very strong database supports this. For real money games and also for games in general, the biggest source of discovery is the recommendation. So for us, it becomes all the more important to make the experience as good as possible. We have built a very strong technology team that represents about 50% of our workforce. We manufacture all of our products in-house and this has given us an advantage everywhere. We recently revamped our app and since then we haven’t looked back.
Second, we believe in promoting competence. We need to choose your marketing materials and pieces carefully. We partnered up with cricket and that was a big part of our marketing plan and in the next phase we will see partnering up with the second season of Shark Tank India. We’re sponsoring them this time, and we think it’s a perfect step for us. We want to bring the skills to people through these big platforms and not just talk about the winning side of the sport.
The third part of the strategy includes setting up IPS, events and championships. We take the places of play in the form of these events. We have visited many educational institutions like most IITs and IIMs and interacted with students, helping them understand the game, getting them to play and overall just working to improve awareness and engagement .
Besides field activities and events, what other platforms do you use for your marketing communications? How much have you spent on marketing communications this year?
The properties we partner with are more important to us than the platforms. It is a dynamic environment. Today it might be OTT, tomorrow it might be TV. So if there’s anything coming that’s most relevant to my TG, I’ll probably move on to properties and not just the platform. However, 80-85% of the mix remains primarily digital.
For this financial year, for PokerBaazi, we will spend around 15 million dollars and this has probably increased by 2.5 to 3 times compared to the previous year.
Monetization is a big thing in this space right now. Real money gambling leads the pack when it comes to monetization. Tell us about the models in which you work?
This answer is simpler for us because we only have one source of income which is to take commissions from the pool. People deposit money, they play the game, so whatever the pot, the best hand would take that money and we’ll take a percentage of that as commissioner.
Like the other part, which is a decent part of the overall gaming business, it’s in-app purchases, and, and the advertising model, but to us, poker is a serious game. While there is a lot of fun and thrills attached to it, there is a lot of intensity attached to it and requires focus.
The Shahid campaign has taken our monthly active users to over 150,000 and our daily activities to 20,000 and it would be huge for us if we went the ad model but we chose not to go that route to keep the user experience intact.
Tell us about your income and the possibility of growth in the figures?
In the last fiscal year, we recorded approximately Rs 249 million in gross revenue, representing a year-on-year growth of approximately 64% from the prior fiscal year. This year, we are aiming for 100% year-over-year growth. This is an aggressive, very fast growing market and with all of our initiatives in place, we believe we are on the right track to achieve this goal.
There are already two companies in the space that are listed and a few others are also going the IPO route. Do you see your business following suit?
From a financial point of view, we have a very clear understanding of that. We don’t just want to chase valuations. We don’t want to be a unicorn by rating. We want to be a unicorn by value. So yeah, in two or three years, if we get to where we’re aiming to get, we might be thinking about this route.
Along with growing revenue and usage base, what are PokerBaazi’s main areas of focus?
Product growth and experience is key, so we will continue to focus on that. Then, choosing the right partnerships is something we will work on very seriously. Then there is the content which is going to be a key aspect for us. We want to create a variety of content ranging from lifestyle to education and more. We will use this aggressively to raise awareness and generate interest.