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NEW DELHI : Siddharth Banerjee, managing director, India & Asia at Pearson, joined the education company nine months ago with a mandate to drive a digital-first strategy. A marketer who has earlier worked for Facebook, Vodafone, and Unilever, Banerjee spoke of the vision to make Pearson a direct-to-consumer (D2C) brand and the use of celebrities to reach out to the target audience. Edited excerpts from an interview:

 

What kind of presence does Pearson have in India? 

In India, we have been around for the last 25 years. We are present in schools, colleges and universities. 

We had diversified interests, including in publishing and news (Pearson sold Financial Times newspaper to Japan’s Nikkei). And now, we are what is called the world’s leading learning company. India is one of the focus markets that we want to aggressively grow. And that is because we have articulated a direct-to-consumer (D2C) strategy, with Andy Bird coming in from Disney International about two years ago as our global chief executive. The D2C strategy reinvents us into the 21st century, being closer to learners. 

You have been present in India through books; will that change? 

The change is a very sharp articulation by Andy Bird in terms of the overall global strategy for Pearson. 

In all major industries in the last decade, consumer behaviour has been redefined by digital transformation. In accommodation, it used to be hotels, and then there is Airbnb equivalent. I’m not too sure whether we still listen to music on CDs; we are mostly listening to music on streaming. 

What’s happened is that, courtesy technology advancement, accelerated by the pandemic, the education and learning sector, overall, has kind of got into like a time capsule and accelerated in the last two years. Now, the larger education ecosystem is more comfortable with consuming education online, harnessing technology, remote presence and remote evaluation. The education sector has got redefined in the last two years, more than perhaps it would have been in the last two decades. At Pearson, we had publishing, we had solutions for educators, we had library management solutions…We continue to have that, but we will also have, as we go forward, more and more direct to consumer applications for learners. That’s the essence of the D2C strategy.

Will you continue to focus on English or have a play in regional languages?

The sheer diversity and operating complexity of India is amazing. While historically we have always had our products in the English language, there are parallel work streams that we are running in the company at Pearson India to evaluate opportunities in local languages and vernacular as well. And specifically, in some segments where we believe that education and preparation will be more powerful if we offered it in a language which is more relevant to the consumer.

What are the focus areas for education in India? 

In India, Pearson would like to contribute at the intersection of education and employability. What that means is that we will focus on anything that increases the education which is relevant, or skills that are relevant to the 21st century and jobs and careers which are relevant in today’s world.

But there is stiff competition from edtech firms.

Our strengths come from quality content built over many decades, from our relationships with education institutions. Now, have we offered this on, let’s say, a mobile phone? We haven’t thus far. And the attempt is to serve our learners in the way that they possibly feel it’s the most convenient to them. 

So, are you launching an app? 

There are multiple MVPs, or minimum viable products, that we are thinking about. One of the things that we have launched in the US is an app called Pearson Plus. It has a target audience college and university students. 

Will you adapt it for India? 

Any product that we will build or launch in India will be based on Indian consumer needs. And that’s what we are working towards. 

We’re also connecting with educators across the Indian ecosystem, and taking inputs from them so that we become the responsible voice in the room, when it comes to education and learning. 

Will you launch online classes? 

There is nothing that right now we are ruling out in terms of the possibilities. For 2022, I think we are firmly focused on building the business blocks that we have. We need to raise our brand awareness levels and build partnerships with like-minded people. 

How do you plan to do that? 

We will use a mix of influencers, celebrities, eminent people in the education ecosystem. We’ve got social media stars, young sporting icons, and a Bollywood celebrity, like Vicky Kaushal, who will talk about the importance of preparation in their craft. But then, given who we are as Pearson, we would also like to get our stories out through educators.

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