From disruptor to defender, Zomato looks to redefine the brand narrative

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Once the poster boy for young entrepreneurial talent and feted for his sharp putdowns of fellow start-ups on social media, Zomato founder Deepinder Goyal has cast himself in a new role; that of a new-age employer. Having announced a 26-week paternity leave for all his employees, Goyal has been flooded with congratulatory messages and laudatory references for his sensitive leadership, with some flak too, for turning a best practice into a marketing gimmick. But leave the chatter aside and Goyal’s latest move reveals an astute brand meister. 

Thanks to Goyal, Zomato is in the news, not for the efficiency of its delivery platform or discovery features that its rivals are being judged on, but as an ideal employer. Some months ago, it was about its sustainability initiatives and special subscription offers. In a cluttered market, Zomato is building a wider and more differentiated space for itself; stepping away from its positioning as a challenger brand into one defending its turf, said experts.

Gaurav Gupta, COO and co-founder, Zomato says that they are a “technology company that solves user problems around the discovery of good food.” The product has evolved, as its database has been enriched with more use-cases (table booking and dining out) serving every possible user context. The company recently released an annual report that outlined the brand’s values, while shining a light on the way customers in different parts of the country, engage with the brand. Gupta says the challenge is to offer a homogenous but customised experience to all.  “Zomato must consistently mean the same to all its constituencies, even if we use different tech stacks or services, he adds.”

“Its start as the restaurant discovery service rated by customers automatically gave it street-cred. Its graduation into a food delivery app was a logical carry forward of the equity. And then Zomato Gold and its freebies dove-tailed into taking the deal expectations (from all things online) into the offline world,” says Snehasis Bose, executive director, planning, L&K Saatchi & Saatchi. K V Sridhar, founder and CEO, HyperCollective regards Zomato’s ability to go into greater detail and being hyperlocal as its big successes. 

Having worked on the brand promise, the aim now is to craft a relevant positioning platform. Gupta says that what has changed most for Zomato in the last two years, is the view towards sustainability. “We need to be aware of the impact we make, about the way we operate with our delivery fleet (e-bikes) or our restaurants or in serving every last user,” he adds.

Zomato is currently the leading food delivery platform across 250 cities, but the brand’s calling card is no longer just deeper penetration. “We are the only one working towards improving the quality of food by disintermediating the supply chain, providing restaurateurs access to fresh, clean, fully-traceable food ingredients with Hyperpure. We launched biodegradable and tamperproof packaging to ensure food hygiene,” says Gupta. He also points to the association with an NGO, Feeding India that recycles excess food from restaurants. These initiatives, over the last three to four years, have helped empower the brand on all fronts. 

Bose sees a tough turf fight for Zomato, but challengers such as Swiggy are still me-too brands. Still, Zomato has to be nimble and different, keeping a step ahead of the challenger brigade by leveraging its knowledge of the customer. The online food delivery in India is growing at 16 per cent CAGR and expected to touch $17.2 billion by 2023, and as the habit of eating out gets more pervasive, customer dependence on food delivery-discovery brands is only going to go up, making the sector a magnet for new brands. 

Gupta believes the brand needs ‘authenticity’ and ‘simplicity’ to ensure relevance. “We have become more transparent in the way we communicate with users as a service provider and with other stakeholders as a brand,” he says, adding they use blogs more frequently to engage with users. 

While social media is the sharpest tool in the armoury of digital brands, it must be wielded with care. “They will have to be swift and agile when it comes to social media and have a robust listening team. The customer prefers human interaction over a chatbot response,” feels Sridhar. An empathetic ear, at the end of the day, may turn out to be the best brand differentiator of all.

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