When it was rare for brands to market themselves digitally, there was one company in conservative Chennai that was getting huge traction on social media. The company was TI Cycles of the Murugappa Group and its brand manager was Vikas Chawla who unleashed the power of internet marketing.
The London School of Economics graduate took a leap of faith by launching Social Beat, an end-to-end digital marketing agency, with his brother Sunil Chawla (an entrepreneur who started his own social commerce platform after leaving a cushy consulting job) Decided to put out of Chennai in 2012
Venture building came naturally to the brothers from a business family, and they had seen the power of digital marketing in Western markets. “We saw the Internet as a platform for businesses to expand and wanted to help businesses here build and grow their brands online,” says Vikas.
Getting started was the easy part. The real challenge was to convince enterprises about digital marketing at a time when Google and Facebook were still solidifying their advertising models. “The first two years were very slow. We had a handful of clients from our private network, and we were doing everything for them from designing their website to helping them acquire clients,” says Vikas.
The moment of reckoning came when they acquired real estate major Casagrande as a client. His campaigns turned heads in the real estate sector. “It was ahead of its time, and thanks to customers who pushed the envelope, we also got noticed and supported by Google and Facebook,” says Sunil.
At a time when traditional agencies were churning out creative marketing material, Social Beat was experimenting with various digital platforms and getting it right. The team also practiced what they preached – leveraging social media to market themselves. “We were one of the first in the industry to have a strong and engaging blog and YouTube channel,” says Vikas.
The next turning point came with the startup boom, which brought in an influx of customers. From BlackBuck to BoAt to Swiggy, UpGrad and more, Social Beat has worked with most new-age tech companies. Taking things to the next level, the company unveiled Influencer.in, a platform with over 70,000 verified influencers to connect with customers. Then came D2Scale, an e-commerce center of excellence for D2C brands.
Today, the bootstrapped company is also profitable, with revenues of around Rs 40 crore for FY 2021-22, and a share of about 3% in India’s digital media spend. “We have grown at a CAGR of around 60% over the years, which is almost double the industry average. We are working to grow the topline 3x over the next three years, and the market is also at an exciting point,” said Sunil it is said.
The rise of Social Beat as a Chennai-based digital marketing firm is no less than a story of Dalits. “While earlier it was difficult for national brands to notice us, our contextual knowledge about the South worked in our favour,” says Vikas.
He adds, “We continuously learn and relearn as we operate in the dynamic social media space. While the platforms themselves support us, our clients have helped us keep us on our toes and push the boundaries.”