Aruna Chawla Explains How Word Of Mouth Helped Scale Brand Awareness For Her FemTech, Salad

Editorial Team
September 30, 2022
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In 2021, 26-years-old Aruna Chawla forayed into sexual wellness with her D2C Femtech product - Salad. The journey hasn't been easy for her as a millennial entrepreneur in a  predominantly male-dominated field. Chawla's entrepreneurial journey has been quite unique, starting with concerns for her personal safety after she introduced vegan condoms to her current effort to raise awareness about women having an equal role to play in sexual wellness.

Chawla, a consumer psychologist and law graduate curious to learn how people think and behave, in a candid conversation with, tells us how India offers a sizable market for Femtech. And it is because of this that she has started a conversation to help women overcome sexual prejudices. Chawla describes how she has used word of mouth and influencer marketing as a critical channel for promoting her brand and how crucial it is to partner with the right influencers at the right time.

Q1. You started with law, studied consumer psychology, and worked as a conversion strategist. You currently own a company in the sexual wellness industry. In the world of digital or marketing, we do not encounter it very often. Tell us about the events that led to this dramatic switch.

I studied law back at the university and worked with a US-based company. Moving from that to consumer behavior wasn't a brainer, as I've been interested in people since my law school days. What has always intrigued me the most is how people think and behave. Even practicing law is all about storytelling and strategy to make your client win. 

I came across consumer psychology and its role in defining thinking, behavior, and decision-making. I didn't know before that it would be an actual study space or that I would work in that. But when I found it, it took me no time to get into it. If you could understand how people make decisions and rationalize them, you can convince them to do anything. It is about knowing what their triggers are. 

I started working as a conversion strategist to make a career out of this. Much of my work focused on research and strategy building, which included how we get as many people to purchase our product or tailor certain actions to create stimuli for the trigger. I am always looking at why they cannot use the product. Where are they on their journey? What other things impact their life or ability to use the product?

Q2. Essentially, you are drawn to strategies for influencing consumer behavior. Today, a lot of businesses are focusing on the same thing while attempting something completely different. How do you try to instill that behavior change?

Knowing the user's lifestyle, where the behavior interventions need to come in, and the right time for the intervention. I think those are the things that we're looking at. I'll give you an example of Casper, the e-commerce mattress maker.

They started with a low ad budget. So, Casper began to target people who had trouble sleeping and were looking for sleep solutions online in the middle of the night. That's where Casper started building trust by creating awareness with content about ten things to do for a good sleep: one being the mattress. Through this approach, they got more people to consider their products. 

That's the kind of deep understanding a brand needs to acquire. Before a user starts looking for solutions, you provide that solution. It is how we fit into their life. The qualitative understanding of users and their behavior is a beautiful way of advertising or product placement. Currently, Femtech is a huge business opportunity. There exists a wide space where India can do so much. I care about it. It is not just business for me but to drive an impact. 

Q3. Being in the Femtech business, where you discuss topics that are still taboo in India, you might have encountered societal challenges. Is there anything you experienced that was jarringly challenging for you?

I don't think there was anything that I didn't imagine. During my law school days, I worked for two years with an international human rights law firm where a lot of my focus was on cyber abuse that women face, or gender-based violence and cyber abuse. So, I was mentally prepared when starting the Salad. 

When a woman talks about sexual wellness openly, random people call her and begin reaching out on mobile or residential addresses. Many safety concerns have come up for me, and I have to be very careful about them. But I take this as a push to do more and believe in what I'm working on. 

Q4. Along with society, you may have encountered difficulties in your entrepreneurial endeavors. You began as a vegan condom company and are now expanding into a more comprehensive Femtech vision. Where do you see it going from here?

Last year, we started as a condom brand. But now, we've paused that side of the business as we're pivoting to a tech product to enable behavioral learning pathways for women. We are trying to solve the search problem when it comes to getting the correct information and resources about personal health.

We want to give women of India the opportunity to take their health, wellness, growth, in their own hands. Therefore, we are starting with awareness around sexual wellness, for it is the most intimate part of our life. It begins with strengthening the roots and giving women the right resources and information in a way that makes sense for them. 

Because what's missing is that when you search for intimacy related problems or how you want to communicate something to your partner or the changes in body shape, all these concepts are so westernized that it doesn't find relatability in India. When addressing these questions, we cannot ignore that we live in a different society.

I am trying to build something more hyper-localized, more on context, and relevant for India's women, especially in starting conversations. Starting with behavioral learning pathways, eventually moving on access to experts, products, marketplaces, etc. So, I'm just going step by step. 

Q5. Will it be accurate to say that you are able to develop into a community of sorts for your brand, given that your approach is largely centered on bringing about behavioral change?

Building a community is not the best way forward in a space like this. The big challenge is that these communities don't exist. We don't have a community-driven approach because we don't think women will be able to talk about these things openly in a community. For they have a fear of being seen by somebody they might know. Also, we have found that most brands in this space don't get a lot of engagement on social media publicly. Because of these behavioral reasons that we have observed, we are not community-focused right now.

Q6. Since the Femtech market is quite distinct, it is evident that conventional consumer marketing tactics cannot work. Is there anything you have been doing differently to promote your brand?

I think three things thoroughly worked for us. One is that condoms have not seen any innovation in the last many years, and this is not a product that sees innovation as it has a small market. It is considered a men's product. Also, because it's a medical product regulated by the government or international bodies like WHO, there isn't enough research in this space. 

So we worked with existing manufacturers on existing technology and repackaged it. But we were clear about the problems we wanted to solve. Such as one of the problems that women face is a lot of rashes and allergies. We provide an ingredient list used in manufacturing a condom, which you might not have heard of. So women need to know what a condom is made of, why is it working or not working for them? Raising that awareness requires building upon transparency and innovation to solve problems. 

The second thing that worked for us was that after studying the existing condom brands in India, we realized all brands focused on pleasure. There was no concept of health. Even government policies address family planning. But not on the prevention of STDs. So, we completely flipped the narrative and focused on a health-first approach, such as different ways to prevent an unplanned pregnancy and how to be safe when being intimate. 

Basically, all the right things to do for yourself. This is also why the name "Salad" came in - a part of life from a behavior perspective that should be with you anywhere and everywhere. What resonated with many folks is how the same product with a different perspective can be an integral part of people's lives. 

Third, a woman leading a women's wellness brand. 

Q7. These brand promotion-related facts are fascinating. Do you have any particular channel or route to promote these unique selling points?

For a brand like ours, trust is critical. So for social proof, there are two main things - expertise and people's experiences using it. These are the two things we have pushed forward through testimonials. We pushed a lot of expertise forward regarding how the female condom is made, its ingredients, and other topics that we assume people will know but nobody's thought of. 

To circulate the knowledge, we focused mainly on Instagram. The channel has many users who post about us and share it with their friends. I remember the first large order we'd got was for a customer's bachelorette or birthday party. These were sent out as return favors to her girlfriends. I think that was cool. 

Camaraderie is built when folks share it with others, saying that it is a cool thing to do. And that was what we intended as well. Word of mouth and social proof worked for us, while PR through publications was equally strong. 

Q8. The power of word-of-mouth marketing has worked well for you. How do you consider scaling this up when there are numerous brand advocates on social media promoting sexual wellness or feminism? What's your take on it?

What's great about influencer marketing is that if it's done right with the right people, it builds trust. That's critical for social proof of a new product entirely. Because there's so much, you can have reviews, especially if somebody you trust and whose advice you listen to is vouching for a product. 

At least I'll consider the product and think about buying it. This approach worked well for us. So many influencers talk in different languages for different segments of society as they are tuned to what society needs. And if brands can only focus on what they're talking about, they can solve many problems. 

We didn't run any paid campaigns with influencers. Many people appreciated the work we were doing and continued to promote by themselves because they were the users. So these users became our influencers eventually because of the trust.  

Q9. What, according to you, is the future of influencer marketing? 

Influencer marketing has gone far beyond a product placement where an influencer would just take a picture of something. Content creation is critical for an influencer to always stay relevant. Just having a huge following does not mean you can influence people. But I don't think it is a crowded market yet. Still, there's a lot of opportunity for creators to come in and get to the point of influence by doing something relevant. 

What's beyond just content creation is how are you getting people to think, how are you getting people to change? That's what influence essentially means. How are you persuading your followers to look at something they may not have considered? I think having that kind of clarity is very important. In marketing, the past, present, and future has always been about social proof and influencer marketing, considering how the internet has blown up. 

Letting influence lead to action is the biggest social proof. If I follow someone for their fashion sense and styling, I can purchase the products they are recommending directly with a click. I think that's cool because they can make my life easier, and that's real influencer marketing. 

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