Content marketing continues to have a very impactful influence on the decision to purchase a company’s product or services. Marketers are increasingly using content marketing tactics, along with technology, to better engage with their buyers to educate, update, and guide them. To understand the buzz around the growing popularity of Content Marketing we at Research NXT will be conducting in-depth market research to compile key data points to learn the current state of Content marketing in India. Also, the study will focus on understanding the top content marketing tools in the market and where are the marketers investing for the desired revenue growth.
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Ravi Santhanam, CMO at HDFC Bank, shares their approach to personalizing the customer experience. He explains what it means for HDFC bank to be contextual and relevant in their customer interactions, and why the use of analytics and machine learning is critical for marketers...
In this Research NXT Interview, Sanjay Gupta, Marketing Director, India SA & APAC Rides Brand Marketing, Uber, talks about his journey as a marketing leader across consumer-facing brands, the intersection of the physical and the digital world, and how marketers should leverage AI to ensure its ability to self-correct predictions over time.
Key takeaways from this Research NXT interview:
Here are some extracts from the insightful conversation we had with Sanjay.
Research NXT: You have led marketing in B2B and B2C segment in India and are now are leading marketing for Uber in APAC. Let us start this discussion with your journey as a marketer and your observations on how the marketing technology landscape changed?
Sanjay: First of all, thank you for having me on your AI-led personalization series. About my career, if I were to use the Uber lingo, I would say I have had a 5-star trip. I have been incredibly lucky to be able to do what I love. Over the years, following my passion has led me to opportunities that have worked out well.
I started my career with Marico, a well run, innovative consumer goods company in India. Marico gave me a very strong foundation on both the functional aspect of marketing and the core principles of general management. I have had the privilege of working on strong brands like Parachute and Saffola as well. Post that, I went into the eCom sector and moved to Urban Ladder, which revolutionized the way we bought furniture in a very customer-centric manner. It was my first startup experience, and the energy level and passion were infectious. It was also my first exposure to data-driven marketing, where we focused a lot more on insights and how information was synthesized. As you come into the data-driven world, you start looking at personalization, personal storytelling, and how technology enables us to share it with the world.
So I think that was my first experience with data and it was very enriching.
I then moved to Uber, which has been my most exciting and fulfilling role so far. Like most others at Uber, I am very passionate about our mission, and truly believe that we can reimagine how the world moves for the better. Every day, I get to work on complex problems with the brightest minds, which is very energizing.
So, it is not only skills, but a majority of it has to do with just being there at the right place at the right time.
Uber is a Phygital business, as we play at the intersection of the physical and the digital world. And in this world, experience trumps advertising.
Research NXT: In your earlier interviews, you had mentioned you want the ride in Uber to be an experience for every rider. With such a large global rider base, are you able to provide that experience consistently? How are you leveraging technology to personalize every rider’s experience on Uber?
Sanjay: Uber is a Phygital business, as we play at the intersection of the physical and the digital world. And in this world, experience trumps advertising. Your own personal experience on the platform has a far greater impact on your perception about the brand and your propensity to use it in the future. So right from the start, we have strived to deliver a magical experience for both our riders and drivers as we see ourselves as an intersection of the two.
To bring to life the concept in terms of how it impacts and how technology plays a role, let me take safety as an example. Safety has been the number one priority for us right from the start. At the very core, we believe that technology should enable safer travel. To this effect, we have continuously updated our app to prioritize safety and make the safety features more accessible and easier to use. I would like to mention in particular four different features, two of which are more contextual to the COVID world, and two are our evergreen features:
Mask Verification: We had our existing feature of drivers having to take a selfie and upload in the system to ensure an information match before starting any trip. Now we have modified the feature to ask the drivers to take a selfie with a mask on before initiating any trips. Uber’s new technology will verify if the driver is wearing a mask on all trips.
Go Online Checklists: Before a driver can go online, they will be asked to confirm, via a new Go Online Checklist, that they’ve taken certain safety measures and are wearing a face mask. A similar checklist has been built for riders where, before every trip, they must confirm that they’ve taken precautions such as wearing a face mask and washing or sanitizing their hands. By doing this over multiple trips, we try and keep the platform safe in the current COVID context.
Apart from these COVID related features, there are two more features that I like a lot:
GPS-tracked rides from start to finish: This feature, though not very technologically sophisticated, makes the rider feel safe. Through this feature, riders can see their route clearly marked, and view the real-time dynamic location of their car, on the app throughout their journey. So they know exactly whether they are on course, making safety come alive on every trip.
Share your trip feature: This feature allows a user to share their trip with a loved one, and they will know where you are at all times in real-time.
So, those are just some of the ways we leverage technology to ensure a better, safer, and in-the-moment customer experience for our riders in a very personalized manner, and this has been very critical at Uber.
As a marketer, I define AI as something which can be used more efficiently to make predictions about future outcomes based on past behavior in a way where we are self-correcting or improving all the time, so that we can compound the advantage.
Research NXT: I see that Uber is testing out the driverless car and many other things from an AI standpoint and an innovation standpoint. What is the progress on that front? I think our audience would be keen to know what’s going on next at Uber?
Sanjay: Uber has been at the forefront in the use of AI with driverless cars. However, it’s safe to say that both as individuals and as professionals, we are in uncharted waters now with the COVID crisis. What we knew about customers and some of the things that we took for granted have changed dramatically. And as custodians of the brand experience of the business, we need to adapt and relearn quickly. As a marketing community for the next three or four months, we need to understand the new normal to win our customer’s minds and hearts. I have three things that we should introduce. They are:
Start with the consumer, and seek to understand what’s changing – What we knew about our consumers’ behavior, their lifestyle and their priorities have changed. The insights and knowledge we gained in the past will need to be reexamined. For us, as marketers, we need to identify our new early adopters and understand from them the new category codes, the new use cases, and new benefits. And reimagine our product portfolios to cater to the evolving new normal.
Win on the new category driver, i.e., Hygiene Safety. Our consumers have added a new attribute to all categories, its call hygiene safety. For any business with physical interaction with the consumer, hygiene has assumed a new meaning and moved up in the attribute hierarchy. What’s interesting about this new paradigm is that in the absence of clear hygiene markers, consumers are evaluating hygiene based on their own safety standards. The lockdown has made us cognizant that our actions, both responsible and irresponsible, have a material impact on others. This has, in most cases, made us more responsible and thankfully so. As brands, it is imperative for us to assume greater responsibility, to ensure that our standards are high, and we deliver on them consistently. However, the key is to distill what’s really important and not get lost in the myriad of signals that we are receiving.
And the last and most important is to “Lead with actions and not ads.” There will be a premium on #ActsNotAds. It’s time for marketing to be more meaningful. They say leaders are judged in times of crisis, and our consumers will judge us based on what we did and not what we said. It is the time to be meaningful in your actions and thoughtful in your communication.
What we knew about customers, and some of the things that we took for granted, have changed dramatically after the onset of COVID. And as custodians of the brand experience of the business, we need to adapt and relearn quickly. As a marketing community for the next three or four months, we need to understand the new normal for us to win our customer’s minds and hearts.
Research NXT: What’s your observation of marketing in the current scenario, and how would it evolve in a post-COVID world?
Sanjay: I think a couple of things that won’t change, like:
– Companies and brands that are customer-centric will still do it. And I think companies that promise what they deliver and deliver what they promise will do well.
– However, what will change is that we will have more opportunities for leveraging tech and insights to create meaningful personal experiences. We have changed markers, in the category, or at the very least the priorities of what’s important to our customers have changed. So if originally, ‘a’ and ‘b’ were more important in a category, today, there’s an attribute ‘c’ that is more important and allows players to win, share or do better. Whoever is more customer-centric and can leverage data and insights in a better manner, has the chance to win that particular category.
– Thirdly, we will need to be very thoughtful in how we communicate. It’s not time to rush for business by leading with discounts and trying to drive usage. People are having a difficult time, and we, as brands, need to be very thoughtful, very empathetic towards what our customers need. Instead of getting the maximum out of customers as brands, we should try and give our customers the maximum. I think of this as a time to invest in that relationship and enable each other to just move forward from this crisis.
Ravi Santhanam, CMO at HDFC Bank, shares their approach to personalizing the customer experience. He explains what it means for HDFC bank to be contextual and relevant in their customer interactions, and why the use of analytics and machine learning is critical for marketers...
In this discussion, Ravi Santhanam, Chief Marketing Officer at HDFC Bank shared their approach to personalizing the customer experience, what it means for HDFC bank to be contextual and relevant in their customer interactions, and why the use of analytics and machine learning is critical for marketers today. Ravi also shared important insights into the consumer banking experience and the impact and response to the pandemic.
Revenue marketing is what I look at. I don’t look at marketing for the sake of branding or communication, or the sake of anything else is not acceptable to me.
Research NXT: You have been a senior marketing leader for over two decades. I wanted to start this discussion with your journey as a marketer – what impact have you observed of the changing marketing landscape in the industry?
Ravi Santhanam: I’m an accidental marketer. I was almost seven years in hardcore finance – working for ICICI bank on the tech side and then a UK based Energy Company on the equity side. So, I’m a business guy, and then I moved into telecom to handle multiple business roles, and then moved into marketing pretty late in the day.
Revenue marketing is what I look at. I don’t look at marketing for the sake of branding or communication, or the sake of anything else is not acceptable to me. I have defined marketing in my own language as understanding consumers, creating demand, and generating revenue.
So from that perspective, it’s more about bringing revenue on the table for the company. Obviously, we talk to the consumers, and it’s about how you solve the consumer’s problems. It has to be a win for the customer, it has to be a win for the company, and it has to be a win against the competition, and if you can do that, you’re going to be always on top.
I strongly believe that while we all have a role to play in the function we work, one needs to consider how it impacts the end delivery of a product or a service for the customer? If you understand that and can improve on that, the company does well.
Now the “talking to” had to change to “talking with” the customer – the marketer had control over the brand and could have the narrative in control.
Research NXT: You have worked in two of the most significant consumer-facing industries – telecom and banking. What are your observations when it comes to technology in marketing? What are the best practices and challenges that you have observed?
Ravi Santhanam: When we look at it from a consumer perspective, things have fundamentally changed over time. From an organization’s perspective, you want to reach the consumer. You want to communicate with the customer saying – this is what I have, and this is the problem of yours that I can solve. When television came, everybody said it has all changed, and there were big changes in terms of the one to many communication, and that’s how it was for a long period.
As a brand, I talk to my customers – the operating word is talking to my customers. I will say – this is the product I have, and this is the benefit that you may have. There is always this consumer benefits ladder as marketers where we keep on pushing ourselves in terms of – what is the rational need that we can take care of and the emotional need at the top level that we can fulfill based on what we serve the consumer with. We keep pushing ourselves in that direction.
A brand was invariably built by the company having a thought in its mind and communicating that to the customer and there was an intermediary standing in between. It could be the agency, could be the distributor through which we were communicating with the customer. That was how marketing has happened for a long, long time.
But then something which changed this way of looking at things was the advent of digital technology because it gave the power back to the consumer to talk to us. Now the “talking to” had to change to “talking with” the customer – the marketer had control over the brand and could have the narrative in control.
Now with digital technologies in place, and social media coming together and devices in the hands of the consumers, what is suddenly happening is the consumer can talk back, and over a period of time the trust factor, which used to be with only the brand, slowly started to shift.
People now say – “okay, I’m going to trust the bank as much as I’m going to trust my neighbors and friends, as much as I’m going to trust this person who I don’t even know because they are going and rating the product I want to buy.” Why would they give a poor rating or why would thousands of people give a good rating? So suddenly, the consumer’s ability to connect in this internetworked world has moved who we trust to unknown people.
Unknown people’s ability to review and rate a product that you want to buy influences your choices. So the narrative of who talks about the brand is influencing what a brand can do and cannot do. This is a very different sphere in which we are operating now. COVID or not, nothing changes this perspective.
The second thing which also comes out of this is data proliferation – there’s so much information that we all leave behind at various places. While everybody talks about privacy and other things, in the banking industry, which I’m now part of, I see various changes.
What is trust? Some decades back, trust used to be about – keep my money safe. Bank as trustworthy means – whenever I want my money, I’ll get it back. That’s the only condition on which trust was defined in the banking industry. Now, when we looked at what is trust definition, and it has changed.
The safety and the trust that we talked about in banking keeps coming back to money when there is an issue of a financial crisis. Maybe once in a decade, that happens. If it doesn’t happen, what is trust? The definition of trust needs to be – if you know so much about me, why can’t you be relevant?
Customers voluntarily give us information, because we do KYC, so obviously, we know who the customer is. We also know where the money is coming from, where the money of the customer is going. Today, they’re experiencing an Amazon, a Facebook, and the Ubers of the world as the same consumer. Data is being used to create more and more new and richer experiences.
That data is also something that people don’t understand how companies are getting it. That’s the real core technology that many people will not understand how it all works – cookies, identification, triangulation, and humongous amount of data being consolidated to get some insights into the personas of the customer.
Customers voluntarily give us data in the case of HDFC Bank or any other bank in the industry. Because of the laws of the land and the regulation, you need to give me a lot more information to start the account, and then when you actually put in the money. We know when you swipe your credit card, and we know where you stay, what is your electricity bill, what is it that you’re purchasing on your credit card – if you go to say a Vijay Sales and swipe, I can easily figure out that you actually bought a TV.
We have a tremendous obligation to keep this data secure. That’s fine, and it’s all within the firewall for the bank. Now the question is, now that you know so much about me, why are you telling me something which I am not interested in and irrelevant? So what should I talk about? Technology forces me to “talk with them” and not “talk to them.”
There is an interaction possibility now, so as a brand, are we talking with our customers now or talking to them? I can’t come and suddenly have a conversation with you, and it is unrelated. If I have to increase the relevancy quotient, I need to understand more. Are you using the data you already have?
For example, if you think I’m a 45-year-old male already owning a car, do you think I would want to buy a two-wheeler? Why are you sending me a two-wheeler loan offer? Can you not see that an insurance premium payment is made in the name of some insurance company every year at a certain point in time? It has to be vehicle insurance because I’m paying a general insurance company, can you not see that I own a car? Anyway, every month I’m using a credit card to buy fuel.
So the customer is going to be very unhappy if you are irrelevant. The relevancy question keeps increasing in order of magnitude when we have this kind of data. If you do not use this data to increase the relevance when you’re talking with customers, then what is marketing doing?
In my view, it is no longer a choice for marketers – the use of new-age data science and AI/ML technology. This is what customers are looking for. How to use it and what technology is your choice, but if you are not going to use it, I think you are going to be irrelevant.
Research NXT: Given that there is this massive amount of data and analytics going on, Is there any use AI-led personalization wherein you’re trying to be contextual and relevant, and could you share some use cases which are AI-driven at your end?
Ravi Santhanam: We believe this is the directional wave, and the second aspect of being relevant is about presence. As marketers, we have always chased customers, and the choice of the media that we have always used to communicate with our customers has been the medium that the customer is actually using. As mediums continue to change – from press to a magazine to television, to social media to the internet – I need to be present in every media where the customer is present.
Presence is also about a soft presence. When you as a customer are thinking about a need, I need to be present wherever you are. So one is an aspect of relevance that I need to be relevant for you. I also need to be wherever you are, and whenever you think you need something.
How do I know where you are and what do you need from our brand?
As a bank, you have a tremendous amount of user-generated data. The first thing is to put it all together and when you put it together, you are in a position to do a lot more effective 1-1 communication – about what is the right thing for the customer to do at any point in time, and what needs to be done next.
When you have to crunch this kind of data, you need to have phenomenal computing power. We need to have human intelligence which is supported by machine language and learning algorithms. How good are you in terms of looking at a certain trend and then predicting that somebody else does it? There is a set of people who might end up doing it and when it comes to natural life, we can very easily segment and predict.
For example, if we look at a typical corporate employee in India – they will first join a company somewhere between the ages of 23-25. They will open a bank account for cash, maybe they want to buy a bike, and then they will go ahead and take a credit card. After marriage only can they even think of a life insurance policy. If a child is born, you suddenly start thinking that there is somebody who’s dependent on me, and life insurance can be talked about at that point.
When they start earning a little bit extra, we’ll come in to talk about tax saving instruments. Initially, the tax-saving instrument will be a simple NPS or it could be a mutual fund. From there, you will start building your portfolio, and until the time you’re 32-33, we are not talking about home loans.
In between, there will be a car loan, and after that a home loan, maybe I’ll talk about a second home, or I’ll start talking to you about investments, then I’ll start to talk to you about personal loans for a holiday, or a revamp of the house or something of that sort. Then I’ll talk to you about increasing your investment or insurance cover. Over a period of time, I’ll start talking about regular investments and then finally a retirement solution. Very natural, right?
Now you have to prove it day in day out and not only on that level but also at a moment marketing level. How are you going to structure the data, so how are you going to get this natural intelligence shifted to the machine? Maybe once in two to three years, people take these kinds of decisions, but on a day to day basis we make a lot of financial decisions. What should I spend and what money do I have in balance? If I swipe my credit card, what will happen? This is all day to day stuff.
Between the mix of today’s financial decisions and tomorrow’s financial decisions, unless you have a huge amount of data crunching capability and ability to do it on the fly, it’s not going to happen.
What we have done is invest in a lot of technology which predicts what is going to be the next best action for any one of our customers. On each of these dimensions, where is the better customer signaling what they may do next? Then we can correspondingly go and talk with them and say – “if you’re interested in this area, this is what we do.”
For example, somebody is going and breaking a fixed deposit. If there is no cash in your account and I’m breaking the fixed deposit, it’s a very different meaning. If a customer would break a fixed deposit of fifty lakh, when cash in the bank says only 1 lakh, it is probably an emergency. But if you have one crore in the bank, it is a very conscious decision. There’s something more that is happening there, and I need a little more data to figure it out. One has to understand the personal history of the last two-three years.
I know there are these triggers, and I have signals available for people who are breaking a deposit of fifty lakh with one crore in the bank. They have gone ahead and taken a conscious decision to go ahead and buy a house or some serious investment. If the investment is made through me, then I need not bother talking with the customer.
If your intelligence can figure out the customer has an emergency, you can go back and say, “Hey, here’s an opportunity. Don’t break the fixed deposit. I’ll give you a loan on this deposit.” That loan can be taken out by just pressing two buttons so that we can continue to earn interest. This understanding is easy to do for one person when I give you an example. But how do I do it for a five crore customer base? It is not possible without the involvement of technology, without the ability to personalize based upon context. By understanding the full data, I can understand the first context, and then I can personalize, and then I can hyper-personalize. Just looking at the basic customer record, you can’t generally be very good in your dealings with customers.
In my view, it is no longer a choice for marketers – the use of new-age data science and AI/ML technology. This is what customers are looking for. How to use it and what technology is your choice, but if you are not going to use it, I think you are going to be irrelevant.
From a brand perspective, and from a hardcore digital technology perspective, we have effectively used this time to get our models sharpened.
Research NXT: How have you ensured your consumer base was served well during the lockdown phase? As a marketer, what changes have you observed?
Ravi Santhanam: First off, it is the first in our lifetime that you’re seeing a health crisis like this. A health crisis leads to a public policy change. There are the social dynamics which change – social distancing is something that is happening. There are a lot of consumer behavior changes. Some of them are here to say, some of them will increase, some of them will vanish. These things are extremely difficult to predict as we speak. We will learn over a period of time.
One of the things we are very sure is digital will continue to increase its space. The space was anyway growing, and social distancing has pushed people to digital. That is not going to change; I think that we will get pushed further and further. The second thing is that experience is key. If the experience is not being delivered even today, people are not going to like it. They are sitting at home, they have a lot of time, and everybody is looking at the experience which brands are providing.
Now, if you look at those who are actually the winners, they are always the people who have been investing in customer experience. They’re the people who leverage technology to solve the consumer experience problem.
Today, people are very worried about personal safety and family safety. That has also slowly translated into income uncertainty, and this income uncertainty has two angles. People are thinking – first, whether I have the money, and second, how long will it last? People growing their salary or were looking forward to growth in the next three years, and this has put paid to those hopes – it may now happen in five years or ten years. This is creating a lot of worries in the minds of people.
The first thing we decided is there is no rule book. Whenever we encounter any kind of problem, we have always looked back in history. Whether it is your personal experience or the wider industry experiences or even cross-industry experiences, you will not find examples of people who have come out of this situation. So, the first thing we decided amongst ourselves is there is no rule. We told ourselves that we would break conventions and be ready for the new. Anything and everything that we need to do as the marketing organization, we will look at it. I read an interesting thing which somebody said – “Don’t Restart, Start.” Interesting coinage of words, but it is a very powerful coinage of words in our understanding. Restart assumes that I stopped something for a reason, and everything is back to normal. Whereas start means I’m going to look at what is available today, and I want to see if it will work for me or not.
We want to start with the current context. So, primarily, we start looking at reimagining the customer interactions because people are suddenly not coming into your branches thanks to social distancing and virus fear. We’re a bank, and we have a lot of physical sales capability where people came and met with you. If you want to take insurance, you want somebody to come and sit in front of you and explain. People who are used to having that physical sale need to be converted into a tele-sale or video-sale customer. Now, we get a lot of clues from your body language when speaking to you in person. On the telephone, people are not as qualified to understand how you are reacting. So I need to learn a lot of new skills because body language is not going to be a key influencer anymore. In which case voice empathy is key to looking at things like: Are you allowing the customer to speak? Are you countering the customer?
Looking at this kind of stuff, we started thinking, how can we reimagine our customer interactions? How do I embrace digital and also look at the fact that there are a lot of senior citizens? Many people are not comfortable using the mobile or the desktop to fund transfers or to take cash out. We have to help them. So how do I help people move from offline to online?
We also see that there is a lot more ‘Do it Yourself’ possible in India. We are a country where we expect service, like washing your car, driving your car and so on. Whereas “Do it Yourself” in western economies is very famous. Mainly because of this virus, in India, we have started doing a lot of things at home. That might continue after this period if people can manage it. Who knows what is going to be possible, so we need to be more digital. This digital transformation is very different from the digital we have always followed. It has to be as agile and as digital as can be. It’s not going to be one of those small micro-changes that we do. Suddenly within this one and a half months, the organization has come up with a new car loan; they have come up with instant Demat account opening, also starting our normal savings account.
Within these 45 days, we have converted many of our journeys into digital. Earlier, we were very clear that the journey for a bank account should be made in a physical branch because we never are interested in a zero balance. At the end of the day, people are going to downgrade because of income uncertainty. As a financial service provider, how are you going to have some of these products introduced? For example, we always had long term loans, but we might have to go into short term loan products for people who don’t want to borrow for a longer period. It is a very different set of people who will borrow now, and borrowing for a European holiday, for example, is almost out, even if you might have the money.
We have lots of uncertainty from these areas, but there are enough people to talk to about our products. Because they might have to tide over a three month or six-month cash crunch. Also, what we always wanted to do is to engage with our employees. They have been working in the days of lockdown – there’s a lot of people in our team who are brave souls too, going to the branches on a day to day basis, so they fundamentally kept the economy moving, whatever economy was there. The bad stuff would have happened there on the ground, so we wanted to convey a lot of attention to our people, that you can start.
So as a brand, we did two campaigns that were mind-blowingly different. Normally we would never actually put our brand logo on the ground. We called it a “Safety Grid” with our brand logo as a beautiful center spread that has four arrows. From an outside perspective, it will look like this nice rectangle or a square. We printed it and put it on the ground with a distance of one and a half meters away so that people can stand on it, and they can practice social distancing across 5000 shops, primarily pharmacies and groceries.
There were a huge hue and cry, with people saying, how can you put your brand on the ground? We told very simply – put it. We are no bigger than the society that we operate in, and society is undergoing a crisis. We are known for safety and security. If my safety and security can be taken to the ground to help society, then I will do it. When I put the brand on the ground and ask people to stand on it to practice social distancing, the entire company suddenly looks at it and says, Wow, here is the company coming and telling everybody to stand on my brand logo. I feel that the brand affinity for the employees increased dramatically wherever I have done this. Obviously, at 5000 outlets I will not be able to cover the entire audience, but the employee’s ability to perceive things is very different.
To follow up on that campaign, we also wanted to create engagement, and we wanted to create hope. People are very worried, and we want to overcome it, and we will overcome it. So we wanted to inspire people. We tied up with AR Rahman, and we came up with a music video called “Hum Haar Nahin Maanenge.” You might say that everybody has done a music video in this kind of situation. But you must understand HDFC Bank has never advertised in this way, and we have never done this kind of brand investment. We got AR Rahman and Prasoon Joshi to come and compose during the lockdown period, and hundreds of big names are all singing for us together in a song, and we spent a lot of money on that.
What happened is suddenly the entire organization looks at it and says, Wow, we are different. Suddenly the employees’ energy levels are very different – they get that energy and inspiration – that I can do a lot more and nothing is going to stop me. You have to follow that up with actions on the ground, and you need to break conventions. So when you get a message back into the system, they understand these are not empty words. My consumers understand these are not empty words. HDFC bank will break the rules, and we will be bold. We will break the mold and be ready for the new – my consumers know for a fact that never has HDFC bank done anything like this before. My consumers would see the brand logo on the ground and remember that. My consumer will say, yes, I saw that video by HDFC Bank. We had two and a half crore views on that video. People would have seen it and said, yes, there is this energy, which I’m getting. This is what is going to stand me in good stead.
From a brand perspective, and from a hardcore digital technology perspective, we have effectively used this time to get our models sharpened. We’re having a lot of discussion about whether our models will work in these kinds of situations. Ultimately, you will not know until the time the event passes by.
Rahul Mishra, Head of Marketing & Communications at Shemaroo Entertainment, speaks to Research NXT about marketing in the OTT streaming media space. We discussed the shift in terms of customer experience and personalization and the impact of technology on...
Rahul Mishra, Head of Marketing & Communications at ShemarooME part of Shemaroo Entertainment, speaks to Research NXT about marketing in the OTT streaming media space. We discussed the shift in terms of customer experience and personalization and the impact of technology on marketers. Rahul explains Shemaroo’s go to market strategy for its OTT platform ShemarooMe. He discusses the importance of using technology to make customers experience better and talks about the need to develop a brand association in a battle for customer attention. He also shares how Shemaroo has tried to develop deeper relationships and be empathetic to customer needs amid a surge in usage, due to the lockdown.
With the advent of OTT, we have seen, for the first time, marketers in the media industry moving away from the term ‘audience’, to now using the term ‘customers’.
Research NXT: You’ve been in the media and entertainment broadcast industry, and now in the OTT space. What are your observations of how marketing has evolved in this industry and the direction it’s taking?
Rahul Mishra: I have spent over a decade in the marketing function for media and entertainment companies. I spent a lot of time on the news side of it, where I have seen early success stories on the digital front as well. One of the early movers on digital content was news and I learned the power of digital as a publisher. Then I worked with mainstream broadcast brands to eventually now working with Shemaroo, where we operate both broadcast and OTT as well. The kind of shift as marketers in media we have seen in the last five to six years has been mind-boggling.
With the advent of OTT, we have seen, for the first time, marketers in the media industry moving away from the term ‘audience’, to now using the term ‘customers’. That is a big shift that we are seeing right now. If you are to define an audience, it is an assembled spread of spectators or listeners at a public event or watching something together. However, the customer is somebody who buys something from you directly. That has happened very rapidly in entertainment. From a broadcast mindset where you will be sending out one piece of content to watch together, now you are trying to personalize your offering, and talk to a customer so that the customer comes onto your platform and pays for it or spends time. That shift is also taking place in the way traditional media has been operating. Even the broadcast business is starting to refer to them as customers because customers are now paying for those television channels as well. This shift is very interesting to see.
Earlier I would look at basic audience demographics before I plan a marketing campaign or work with content teams on a content idea. Now we are moving more towards buyer personas. So, it’s different from typically how we would target audiences. When you target audiences, you will define a crowd or a set of customers. But when you create buyer personas, you create archetypes of individual customers – go deep into what their thought process or buying process is. Then you can determine how to market to each of them effectively.
Earlier in a broadcast set up, you would have, say, four to five consumer cohorts for audiences I want to talk to – young, urban, rural, etc. But now the number of consumer cohorts we are creating, thanks to the data and technology available to us, and specifically marketing to those audiences, and this customized approach is very interesting.
Overall that’s the major shift I’m seeing right now – how we are moving away from mass dissemination to personalization, in the media industry.
Data comes to us in various formats, including content data on how does a piece of content performs. We capture all of that and use it for better buying decisions of content.
Research NXT: Shemaroo has been around for a very long time with such a large content library. What kind of distribution and partnerships are you focused on – what is the go-to-market strategy for the OTT platform in different markets? What type of data are you using to determine things like pricing, content promotion?
Rahul Mishra: To give you a quick background, Shemaroo has been in the business for over 57 years now, and we have been pioneers in getting Bollywood to people’s homes. VHS is what took Bollywood to people’s homes for the first time, and we were pioneers in that. Then we evolved as technology changed and as content preferences changed in India, from VHS to new formats like DVDs, Blu-ray, going to digital, and finally, the OTT avatar we are in right now.
In the last decade, Shemaroo was operating as a business to business brand. Because it was working with multiple partners, be it broadcast, OTT players, digital platforms, and telecom providers – we were enabling their content requirements very well. So when we entered OTT, we knew we had to ensure that business is secure.
We were the 34th player to enter the OTT space in India, so the question is why did we launch our OTT? Because we have a great understanding of the Indian audience, as one of the oldest media organizations which continues to thrive and entertain Indians. True to our tagline which is “India Khush Hua.” We knew that when we enter the OTT space, we have great content to offer – content from Bollywood and curated regional content to niches like devotional, which are emerging as popular content buckets.
But at the same time, we also must ensure that while we build a consumer journey, we also secure our b2b business. To do that, when we launched, our initial focus was to ensure that we still work with all the partners in the ecosystem. It is a journey we have started, and we did some amazing partnership and built a strong model.
Within a year of launching ShemarooME, we had partnerships with most telecom players in the country, and with OEMs. We did partnerships with large audience websites like Ixigo, where consumers are coming to do a transaction and to increase engagement Shemaroo could provide video content there.
There are many such unique partnerships we have forged over the last year, including international partnerships and taking Shemaroo to different countries through alliance.
For the last 12-14 months, the product also was also evolving. As you know, these products take time for machine learning to set in – you need large sets of data to come in and make it work. We used this time to understand our end consumers, partners, and partner’s consumers. That was the go-to-market strategy initially, and as we are securing that, all times as we keep evaluating the consumer business.
How does data help us in all of this? For Shemaroo, the term big data may not apply to us as much at this stage, because we are not playing with the volume of data, like an Amazon or Netflix. But we have a great sense of understanding the data and making it useful for ourselves. That is something we are doing very well.
Data comes to us in various formats, including content data on how a piece of content performs. As an example, – how does a piece of content perform in a theater? What was the revenue, the outcome, and how content was performed on a TV channel vs. an OTT platform? We capture all of that and use it for better buying decisions of content. So a combination of all that is what we use data for, and it’s still fairly early days for me to comment on how much does data helps us in all aspects of an OTT – which is pricing, content, and advertising.
As marketers, we should use technology to make consumers’ lives better, I think that is something that every organization, including OTT platforms, should adopt.
Research NXT: OTT leaders like Netflix pioneered using AI-driven personalization to boost user engagement and retention on their platforms. What’s your approach towards personalizing the experience, and what tools are you using?
Rahul Mishra: Investment in technology and AI-driven personalization is the buzzword right now, companies are making sizable investments in it. The reason why we do it is to make it convenient for customers. Not only Netflix, but many organizations are using AI very well. Large organizations like Uber and Ola do a high level of personalization to ensure that the customer journey is as smooth as possible.
You also notice that the overdoing of personalization can cause a bit of retaliation from the customer. It could be around privacy or around not getting to see other parts of what the brand has to offer. Even Netflix has started to offer the top 10 in every region, and the reason they have done it is that customers want to know about things beyond their interests and requirements. A good balance is what we need to have, keeping the customer in mind always.
As marketers, we should use technology to make consumers’ lives better, I think that is something that every organization, including OTT platforms, should adopt.
Most of our tech stack at present is around marketing automation. We have built some of our stacks through the app developer, and apart from that, we work closely with Netcore. Though we also use attribution and programmatic tools.
Research NXT: How are we seeing OTT platforms enabling marketers or brands with video-based content?
Rahul Mishra: With the lockdown, people essentially had two screens at hand – a TV screen and a mobile screen. These became the two most important outlets for any brand to reach consumers. In the absence of outdoor and reduced print or other options, these became the only options available, and I would say many brands have used it very well. For brands to create segmentation, geographic, and psychographic, OTT is great. Brands that are looking at impact and reach have benefited greatly by partnering with OTT platforms for advertising.
The second part is that OTT platforms can incorporate the brand story very well because they are in the business of storytelling. It is somewhat in the range of content marketing, and that’s another opportunity which OTT players offer many brands, as against broadcast or more mass dissemination media outlets with limited personalization. So that is the real benefit of OTT platforms.
During the lockdown we wanted our OTT platform to have a connection with the customers as well, more than just be a content platform.
Research NXT: The Indian OTT space is booming, and there are many different types of OTT platforms, producing different kinds of content. There is this battle of gaining consumer attention, so how are marketers leveraging technology to do that?
Rahul Mishra: I think every marketer is using technology to get customer attention. Technology is here to stay, and the sooner we adopt it, the more benefit we can extract for our brands. For OTT players, technology needs to identify the overlap between good content and the consumer set that will appreciate it.
At Shemaroo, we run multiple consumer-facing businesses, so let me share an example of how we use technology even for what is considered a traditional business. We recently launched our Hindi GEC TV channel – ShemarooTV, on May 1st, 2020 in the lockdown. We did a very interesting partnership with Facebook, where we were simulcasting our TV channel on Facebook to build higher loyalty with our Facebook fans, and it gave us a bit about 1.6 million views! So we’ve taken a traditional medium onto a technology platform, and that is boosting both platforms at the same time.
We have data that many people watched the channel on Facebook, but I’m sure many people from Facebook probably went on to ShemarooTV and watched content there. So these fans sampled our content, followed us, and saw our simulcast on Facebook, and we engaged with them and got them to watch us on television as well.
Research NXT: During the current lockdown, OTT apps have witnessed a surge in terms of usage, as you’ve already mentioned. How have you been able to respond and calibrate your marketing communications for the current pandemic and be still empathetic to users who are on your platform?
Rahul Mishra: Streaming services, not only in India but around the world, have been capitalizing on the increase of subscribers they have seen due to lockdown. What we discuss right now within Shemaroo is that we hope this passes off soon and things return to normalcy. However, at the same time, it is bound to happen that our viewership and subscriber numbers will fall as people start to resume their day to day activities, including socializing and going out for work. How can we still play an important role in a consumer’s life is a question we keep asking ourselves? How can we ensure that subscriptions are renewed, and we are still having good engagement with the platform?
To stand out, we are looking at various ways to retain our customers. It could be on the back of differential content offerings, differential models of subscriptions, etc. It is also critical for us as an organization to have a deep understanding of the content preferences each of our consumer cohorts have. Understanding the product requirements well, changing the product requirements as required, and adapting to changes for consumers like payments, subscription plans, etc.
During the lockdown we wanted our OTT platform to have a connection with the customers as well, more than just be a content platform. We are confident about our content, and if we can couple that brand love, we are sure audiences will continue to renew and come back to us, and also bring new customers to us.
So we did a series of exercises for that, like with a partnership with India’s leading medical services app- DocApps, which offers online medical doctor services. Now our customers don’t have to step out of your house – through their phones, one can have a video chat with doctors. So we did a partnership with DocApps, where we were offering ShemarooME customers a DocApps subscription worth 999 for free. To ensure that our audiences are also worried about what is happening, apart from being entertained, they know what is happening on the outside in terms of any COVID related information. They could actually use the DocApps subscription; they’re getting almost free with our subscription.
We also realized because of the lockdown of temples; people’s devotional needs were getting disrupted. So, we tied up with over more than 15 major temples and offered live streaming of those temples to our customers on ShemarooME so that they can continue their daily routine of visiting a temple, only this time virtually but live.
A lot of small initiatives as well – like when you click on ShemarooME, the first pop up will ask you to ensure you wipe your screen and be safe and healthy, just as a reminder for people, as they continue to engage more with ShemarooME.
So at a brand level, we’ve played a couple of roles, and on the content side, we have tried to make more content for our audiences. We have created interesting comedy movie buckets for family viewing. We also did a campaign – “Ab rumor nahi, humor phailega.” Essentially we tried to educate consumers that don’t go around spreading rumors, rather watch some interesting comedy films and stay calm during the lockdown on ShemarooME.
We did a series of such activities to ensure that our audiences engage, and new audiences that come to us are also engaged.
Akshay discusses the merger of Candere with Kalyan Jewelers and how AI-driven personalization is a heavy focus for their online strategy. He discusses the importance of replicating the family jeweler personalized customer experience online and also talks about the responses and implications of the COVID-19 on marketers in this space....
Akshay Matkar, Head of Marketing at Candere, takes us through his journey as a marketer and explains the growth strategy behind the growth of Candere as an online jewelry shopping destination. He shares the brand strategy and insights into the mindset of jewelry shoppers and establishing Candere as an omnichannel brand. Akshay discusses the merger of Candere with Kalyan Jewelers and how AI-driven personalization is a heavy focus for their online strategy. He discusses the importance of replicating the family jeweler personalized customer experience online and also talks about the responses and implications of the COVID-19 on marketers in this space.
Research NXT: Let’s start with your journey as a marketer to the senior leader in marketing and your role at Candere.
Akshay Matkar: I come from a background in computers. I joined engineering because those were the days when everyone was doing engineering, and I followed the flow. While I was studying, I and some friends experimented with selling firecrackers online, trying to utilize our newly learned programming skills. That was in 2009 when digital was gaining popularity, witnessing the evolution of eCommerce and digital devices. During this venture, I researched deeply into digital marketing and was fascinated.
I decided to switch my career after college. I joined a digital agency, working for close to two years in a digital account manager role, handling a portfolio of clients into real estate. Then I wanted to get into the eCommerce side of the business – to explore more towards data, user journeys, and getting to witness the completion of funnels from top to bottom. I joined Candere in 2015 as a part of the marketing team, where we were expanding and got funded. A few years later, I was promoted to manage the marketing duties. Here, I would say, I learned the art and science of marketing, along with growth and innovation for business expansion.
I took on the role of heading marketing in 2019; I was in a managerial role earlier. The entire infrastructure of marketing – building systems, setting processes, and getting agencies – I was able to witness all. The foundation of marketing as the whole we had to build, and I closely worked with the internal stakeholders to build up the marketing to where we are right now.
We were nowhere in the picture when I joined. Now we are in the top three. The second and third position is very competitive. We got associated with Kalyan Jewelers in 2017, and it expanded our horizons.
How to tightly integrate offline and online and provide an omnichannel experience, is the next big journey we at Candere are working on.
Research NXT: You are selling a very traditional product online. Are there any specific challenges you have faced that you think usual brands wouldn’t face when selling a product online?
Akshay Matkar: Jewelry is a higher ticket size product. If you see the buying pattern, I would say that maximum jewelry purchases happen via family jewelers. So the experimentation is less, and there is a lot of emotion attached to the jewelry. It’s not just another product like buying a mobile phone, which I’m not very emotionally attached to because I’m changing it frequently. But there are pieces of jewelry which I’m keeping for a considerable amount of time in my life, say 25 years or more. So there are a lot more emotions attached, hence convincing users to come to digital is a challenge.
But with respect to the entire development of technology, there are modern age shoppers who do not hesitate to experiment as long as they are getting services because that’s their usual buying pattern. They are the ones who like to shop online not only for their essential needs but also for non-essentials, and they like experimenting with different apparel, beauty, and electronics brands. These are the set of audiences we are also catering to.
Research NXT: Candere merged with Kalyan Jewelers, one of the largest conventional retail chains in India. Did this result in any challenges w.r.t technology implementation, customer management, and whats the journey ahead?
Akshay Matkar: When we merged with Kalyan Jewelers, the entire question was, how do we capitalize on the audience of Kalyan Jewelers? They have a huge audience base, and they are also at the same time looking for purchasing online. So how do we make the entire omnichannel experience for their customers?
We also witnessed that many jewelry purchases that are happening in Kalyan stores, but decision making is done online. Some users like to browse the products, select what they want, and then walk into a store and purchase. Second, some users would like to purchase online but take delivery at stores.
So this is the audience we are catering to, and the entire agenda is how we capitalize on this. How to tightly integrate offline and online and provide an omnichannel experience, is the next big journey we at Candere are working on.
Personalization is not a trend – it is a marketing volcano which has erupted! So every marketer needs to adjust their strategy towards personalization now – that’s the new mantra.
Research NXT: Extending further on the omnichannel experience, is there any use of personalization to make smarter decisions around pricing and promotions across these channels?
Akshay Matkar: I think every new age buyer likes personalization. That’s done and dusted. All our offers are personalized according to activity and behavior. We don’t have a single offer for all users. Once the user enters the website, we collect a lot of data signals. Through that, we have constructed our very personalized offers based on the behavior on the website.
With regards to inventory, we don’t hold any large stock; our products are made to order. We have a very interesting product called double gold protection, which is designed for buyers who can purchase and safeguard their gold value. So you can book the product at 10% of the total cost and pay monthly installments for the rest. We do have some ready inventory
, which are among our fast-moving products – mainly our best sellers.
Here we use the power of AI for prediction of sales and how we pre-manufacture and keep ready inventory, depending on seasonality. So prediction modeling comes into the picture, and the power of AI helps, so that’s one advantage we get.
Looking at our customer demands, we have created a complete bundle of offerings for different customers.
Research NXT: Since you have an omnichannel brand, Is there any AI in use for this personalization and experience you are creating for your customers, please share some use cases that you have been working on.
Akshay Matkar: While our one hand is selling gold, the other hand is busy collecting gold, which is none other than data. Our current roadmap is to have a tighter handshake between all the systems and tools we are using. There is no bigger threat than data sitting in silos; that’s what we believe. We are focusing on investing our resources toward building customer experience.
We’re also working on a chatbot project for a shopping assistant, so that’s one use case I would like to expand upon. Currently, when you are purchasing jewelry, it’s not like a very usual eCommerce purchase. We have observed that 50% of shoppers require shopping assistance. Currently, we have our customer relations team, which is helping them during the purchase cycle.
Now we have started the process of getting a chatbot – which via its AI algorithm handles many queries from customers, and at a certain point, if required, it passes on to our customer relations team. We are also planning to automate our call center by the end of this year – wherein the entire call centers could also work using AI and not necessarily have to reach out for agents. Wherein automation as the whole can come into the picture and help us resolve the maximum number of queries.
We have been using AI-led personalization for the past two years – right from our listing page, to offers, to communications. Everything is personalized based on signals collected from user’s activity. We have witnessed about 2X growth year on year on our personalization based campaigns.
Personalization is not a trend – it is a marketing volcano that has erupted. So every marketer needs to adjust their strategy towards personalization now – that’s the new mantra.
The war on customer experience has started. Brands not paying attention to this are going to shut their shop in the next five years. We strongly believe customers are our best teacher, and we try listening to them as honestly as possible.
Research NXT: Are there any specific trends in the jewelry space you have observed when users are buying online versus offline?
Akshay Matkar: There are two interesting data points. We have seen that although many purchases are coming from the metro regions, our primary market, we have also witnessed purchases coming from tier 2 cities, and the ticket size is very high. This is mainly because they don’t have the facilities available in their locations or to get the new design trends. Even if they have a store in their location, it might not be carrying trendy collections as in the metro cities. So I think there is a desire of customers to buy how people in metros are purchasing.
The second is about the digital journey. We have witnessed that the first purchase is not significant in terms of ticket size. They will experiment small, and if the right service is provided, then the journey follows. So those are the trends we have observed.
Research NXT: Is there any specific segmentation that you see in your target market, and are there any personalization strategies around that?
Akshay Matkar: The war on customer experience has started. Brands not paying attention to this are going to shut their shop in the next five years. We strongly believe customers are our best teacher, and we try listening to them as honestly as possible.
All our development at Candere revolves around customer needs at the center. We hustle to fulfill those demands day in and day out. We also continue reaching out to customers for taking opinions via various mediums.
The jewelry funnel is very different – unlike other industries, it is more of a planned purchase and less impulsive buying. So there are purchase decision influencers – it’s not necessarily the buyer always making a decision. Decision-makers can be a spouse, parents, or children helping parents by doing the research and getting validation on social media. So we are targeting not only buyers but also decision-makers segments.
On the personalization of jewelry, a good point to mention is that personalizing your jewelry is an age-old practice followed by local jewelers for ages. That’s why local players manage 90 % of the industry, and most customers purchase from their family jewelers. We are trying to provide the same experience provided by local jewelers – by understanding the buying pattern. On the digital front, this is very fresh and new, but in the offline world, it is the main buying pattern – where my family’s jeweler knows my mind and will recommend the product based on my budget, taste, etc.
We are just trying to make the same experience on the website.
Research NXT: eCommerce is one space that has picked up during the COVID-19 pandemic. So what are your thoughts on how marketers can react and optimize their operations in the current scenario?
Akshay Matkar: Innovation is going to play a key role in driving the business for the next six months, right from the marketing campaigns to business offerings.
Users are slightly hesitant to make purchases offline, and this trend is going to follow for a few months until we return to normal. There is a lot of research data coming in about a lot of different reactions happening amongst buyers. The purchasing pattern between different age group audiences has shifted.
What we had planned and what we are currently experiencing – it is a complete reset scenario. Reworking on the strategy or planning the media buying, the brand campaigns we had decided – much alteration needs to be done.
For us, it has reacted well – we don’t see a huge dip in our numbers during COVID-19.
Also, businesses need to alter their offerings and do modifications to suit the existing situation and address the COVID-19 situation.
Like I mentioned, we have a product known as double gold rate protection. So we made slight changes, and now it is suiting the requirements of our consumers. Users who have a wedding or many bigger occasions planned towards the end of the year, have started to invest in gold rate protection and are safeguarding themselves from the rising gold rates.
So these are things every marketer should understand. It is a difficult situation, but we don’t have to panic. As a marketer, there is always a race for numbers, but the one who plays smartly wins the race.
Ayush talks about the insights that led to the launch of Seniority and the challenge of getting senior people to shop online and discover new products. Agarwal describes how Seniority makes use of advanced AI-driven tools to target specific ads to different buyers, and why personalization of the customer experience is...
In this interview, Ayush Agarwal talks about the insights that led to the launch of Seniority.in and the challenge of getting senior people to shop online and discover new products. Agarwal describes how Seniority makes use of advanced AI-driven tools to target specific ads to different buyers, and why personalization of the customer experience is key. We discuss how advanced analytics helps Seniority launch private label products as a key revenue strategy, and Agarwal also talks about their response to the COVID-19 disruption and its impact on the business.
Research NXT: To start with, we would love to know about your journey – how you started Seniority, what led to the venture, and what’s the business model?
Ayush: We started Seniority over four years ago now. To give you a little background, before that I was actually part of the RPG group. I was hired as part of the General Management Programme. A lot of large corporates in India have these programs, where they hire folks straight from B-school and give them these various combined challenges to solve across the Group in various companies in marketing and strategy roles trying to solve specific problems.
One of the things that I did was a part of the team handling the go-live of CEAT Specialty Tyres – to ensure a smooth launch of the new subsidiary focused only on off-road tires, with a specific focus on the US and the Europe markets. As part of the team that runs that company, we did a lot of extensive and exciting work in Europe and the US, trying to figure out where the demand pattern was going. So that was a very exciting time for me to be part of launching a new product and company.
In 2015, RPG announced the launch of RPG Ventures, wherein they were looking to invest in early-stage startups and also looking at incubating startup ideas. I was very intrigued, and that startup bug had bitten me during the launch of CSTL, so I really wanted to do something of my own, starting an idea from scratch. So we started trying to figure out what can be done, and what are the broad overarching trends in India.
One of the things that really stood out to me was how, while India is a young country, people keep forgetting that India is also a rapidly aging country. Like in the US, and Europe, where the population demographics shifted, even in India right now, seniors are growing at 4% year on year, whereas the overall population is only growing at 2%. These kinds of trends stood out – senior’s population going up, pensions going up, the nuclearization of families going up, combined with our own personal experiences.
At the time, I lived alone, and my parents were in Ghaziabad, and my colleagues as well had the same experience. All of our experiences were around how we want to do well for our parents, but there’s no way for us to do so. On Flipkart or Amazon, there are only so many smartphones or shawls that you could buy. If you wanted to discover something to buy for seniors, there was no platform.
At that time, FirstCry was doing well in the younger age group for toddlers and infants. Expecting mothers and families could go to a FirstCry to discover products, but I realized if I want to buy something for my mother’s birthday or my parent’s anniversary, there’s no place I could go and discover products. So that was the crux of the idea.
Over time, we defined it, and we figured out what good markets would be and what channels would be good, but the crux of the idea has been sort of a combination of the overarching trends that we saw in the country, combined with some very personal experiences of our own. The two things combined gave rise to Seniority in early 2016.
We were able to convert these tech-savvy seniors into eCommerce savvy seniors as well. It made a huge impact in the way we targeted our various audiences.
Research NXT: How do you define your target market, and what kind of segmentation do you work on from a marketing standpoint?
Ayush: When we looked at the senior market at that time, a few players were in the market with different slices towards capturing this market. Be it travel, for example, where a Thomas Cook would target seniors as the largest segment, or real estate developers might launch new properties that are seniors specific, but there was nothing in the eCommerce space.
We also realized that we would have an omnichannel strategy since we assumed youngsters would buy online for their parents, and seniors would want to buy offline. Because they want the relationship aspect of shopping – for them, shopping is not just a transaction. People talk about the relationship aspect and going beyond the transaction, so on the website, we added a lot of other features that went beyond the transaction. For example, we added a feature that lets people call or WhatsApp us, so there is an in-person interaction before making the purchase.
So to answer your question on targeting and segmentation with this context, what this led to was that our initial assumption that youngsters will buy online and seniors would buy offline actually got flipped. So through these innovative interventions, what we were able to do was convert tech-savvy seniors, seniors, who are on smartphones and Facebook or WhatsApp, but weren’t comfortable making eCommerce transactions.
We were able to convert these tech-savvy seniors into e-commerce savvy seniors as well. It made a huge impact in the way we targeted our various audiences. We realized that even in our online business, it’s not just youngsters who are buying.
More than 30% of our revenues come from seniors making the transactions themselves. Even amongst the youngsters, a good chunk of them could be where seniors were actually just sitting next to them, sharing links to them, and saying buy this product for me. So with this knowledge, the way we have always done our marketing is focused on where our target audience is present, as far as discovery-based products are concerned.
Because Seniority has a lot of extremely innovative products that you wouldn’t even know existed, let alone search for them or find them. One feedback that we keep on getting from people is: “This is such a good product, it solves this very specific problem that my household has, and I didn’t even know that such a solution existed.”
Products get discovered by people on Facebook and Instagram. Typically Instagram is a younger audience profile while Facebook has a very strong senior citizen base. More than 10 million monthly active users in India are over the age of 55 on Facebook. Because of how the advertising rules are structured, we are targeting very specific copy and imagery to particular audiences.
When we target seniors, the imagery would be involving sort of seniors and, you know if it’s about a gardening product and the imagery would be about some seniors going gardening, and the copy would be about how it’s time to relive your old hobbies. Whereas targeting youngsters, we talk about how this is a product that can make the life of your parents easier. So relatable imagery and relatable copy for the two distinct buyer sets that we have.
The tools that we use on Facebook, Instagram – the ads management tools make it very easy for us to segment our marketing communication to the exact audience we’re speaking to. Google is a completely different beast altogether because it’s more search led. It is more demand or pull led, but thankfully it’s not as complicated.
If someone is searching for a product, they already know about the product itself in all probability. At that point, you have to compete with other eCommerce portals to be seen as the most relevant one. On Google, our advertising strategy is based on just proving Seniority’s credentials i.e., we are the right place to buy, for example, wheelchairs, or walkers or walking sticks or adult diapers, or whatever it is.
So that’s how our different targeting and segmentation works across different audiences.
Over time, the aim is to make the website module by module completely personalized for any given product you are searching for.
Research NXT: Social media is one of the primary channels through where you are doing targeted messaging, and you have a very large pool of prospects that you’re targeting there. What kind of technology stack are you utilizing at your end to ensure that you can manage personalization at this scale?
Ayush: So far, we’ve been using Unboxd, which was for our search and recommendation engine. We are now experimenting with a tool called boxx.ai, which coincidentally Netcore has recently acquired. As we speak it’s being implemented on our website, and we can do an apples to apple comparison between the two tools so we can make a decision
We have realized that because our audience personas of people landing on the website are so different, we can’t show the same plain vanilla website to everyone. Of course, it will take time. We are not at a stage where the entire website is personalized for every single user. It will happen in phases.
Right now, we’re implementing this on certain product showcases, but the banners and so on are still common across audiences. But over time, the aim is to make the website module by module completely personalized for any given product you are searching for.
Research NXT: Since you’re using tools that enable you to utilize AI, please share AI use cases for personalization that you are working on.
Ayush: At our size and scale, we are using the tools that are already out there in the market, we are not creating any new AI-based tools. But from a customer experience perspective, there are two places where we use AI quite extensively. One is on our advertising platform itself. Earlier on Facebook advertising, we used a tool called Nanigans, which could enable you to do a very quick multivariate testing across different copies and captions and creative ideas.
Now incidentally, Facebook itself has been able to implement those capabilities onto its base advertising tool. So we can leverage the power of AI quite extensively on Facebook itself. The way we can assign certain interest groups or look alike audiences for Facebook to be able to showcase that ad to very relevant people is quite phenomenal. That is one place where we see AI as a great enabler of Seniority’s business.
The other is on the website itself through the customized search implementation and the customized recommendation implementation. Again, a very strong use case of AI and ML wherein as a user keeps on coming back to the website, the tool keeps on learning more and more about that particular user. To be able to showcase relevant products to them is also something that’s been pretty interesting for us in terms of being able to drive incremental revenues.
So both on Facebook to drive down costs, and on our website to drive up revenues – on both of those key pillars, we’re seeing a great use case of AI and ML.
Our product sourcing engine as well as the product analytics engine are both working very well in sync – to get the right kind of products on to our private label. So much so that within a year almost 20% of our revenues are being driven by private label products.
Research NXT: You’ve come up with your own branded products. What was the thought behind coming up with your products, and was this decision based on the data and pattern that you’re observing?
Ayush: Absolutely. There is extensive analytics that goes into the choice of products that we choose to launch on our private label. I won’t call it AI because that term gets thrown around quite a lot. In our case, when we decide on which products would work well as part of our private label strategy and then analyze whether our initial hypotheses of this product will do well post-launch.
Both pre-launch and post-launch, we do quite a lot of analysis to ensure that we are getting the right products. And then our initial hypotheses of the product selection is validated by the market, in actually seeing an uptick in sales or a downward trend in marketing costs for those set of products.
We use both Adobe analytics as well as Google Analytics to track these numbers. There have been quite a few examples of us being able to show that our product sourcing engine and the product analytics engine are both working very well in sync – to get the right kind of products on to our private label. So much, so that private label products are driving almost 20% of our revenues within a year.
Right now, we are at around 15%, but the trends show that over the next couple of months, we’ll be seeing almost 20% of our revenues being driven by private label products. So that’s quite phenomenal for us – to be able to go from zero to 20% within such a short span of time.
Research NXT: Well, that’s, phenomenal in terms of the growth you have realized, please share some success stories where these data-driven decisions worked for you.
Ayush: I would say that any product that you see on our private label portfolio would fall under that. For example, for a product like a Zero Block Syrup, A very interesting product that is great for cardiac health. We launched that product under the third party brand around 12 months ago, and then about eight months ago, we launched it under the private label brand name. For that product – pre private label and post private label – purchases went up by nearly 30%.
The fact that we were able to identify that product as a potential candidate for the private label strategy and then able to private label it in a manner where we showcase the benefit to the end-user. By being able to analyze the data as to what people are using it for and what kind of things people are looking for in a product. Combining the knowledge of these two things and showcasing it as our private label product – conversion rates went up by almost 30% for this product.
Across the board, across our private label products, we are seeing this sort of improvement in the add-to-cart rates as well as conversion rates – because of the way we’re able to get the right products into our private label product mix, as well as on the communication and the messaging side.
We were able to incorporate masks and PPE kits onto the product portfolio and showcase sanitizers, adult diapers etc., as hero products – that we are someone still selling these products while your local shops may not be.
Research NXT: Every industry has got impacted by the COVID-19. There is a surge in online purchases, but on the other side, in terms of fulfillment, eCommerce companies have faced challenges. What’s been your experience during this time, and how do you see things changing post-COVID?
Ayush: As a matter of fact, we see far greater demand post-COVID than pre-COVID. Since the government announced the restriction of curbs starting mid-May, wherein eCommerce products could be delivered all over the country, what we’ve been seeing is almost a doubling of our daily run rates.
Compared to the pre-COVID era, you could put it as a doubling of run rate or the reduction of marketing spend by almost 40% to drive similar revenue numbers.
Because of third party logistics providers that we work with being able to deliver it to the end-user, our delivery rates have also been as good as they used to be pre-COVID.
Users are now much more willing to experiment on eCommerce than they used to be, maybe six months ago. People are forced to move out of the reticence to shop online, because their local shops haven’t opened, or the local supply chains are still disrupted. So they’re forced to experiment with eCommerce. The other thing is that people are a lot more flexible now, because they recognize that supply chains are disrupted. So if a product delivery is delayed by two days, while earlier we could maybe get punished by the user, in terms of a refund or a cancellation. Now I think people are taking it in their stride.
The impact is that our standard delivery rates have gone up by maybe two or three days. Whereas, earlier, we used to be able to deliver products in four to five working days now it may be taking a sort of seven to eight working days across the country. But people recognize that yes, it is a challenging time for everyone – and it’s not like this product is available elsewhere anyway, so I might as well wait for a couple of days.
So in that sense, it’s actually not been too shabby a time for us, purely from a business perspective.
What we were also able to do immediately as the lockdown was announced, is we were able to pivot our product portfolio. Because we’ve always had essentials and non-essentials on the platform. Essentials like sanitizers, ayurvedic products, and immunity-boosting products – we’ve had those products forever on our website. These products are something that people do consume, but it wasn’t as much in the common person’s top of mind as it has become now.
Because the consumer demand shifted in a certain direction, we were able to showcase certain flexibility in pivoting our product portfolio to showcase those products front and center.
We were able to incorporate masks and PPE kits onto the product portfolio and showcase sanitizers, adult diapers, etc., as hero products – that we are still selling these products while your local shops may not be. Also, be there first, before even any of the other larger eCommerce players, to get our supply chains, both in terms of first-mile sourcing and last-mile delivery to the end-user.
We were able to reselect our supply chain ASAP and deliver it to the end-user, very quickly. So that’s something that’s worked out very well for us.
Iti Mehrotra, the Head of Marketing and Strategic Alliances at 5paisa Capital Ltd (5paisa.com), discusses how they used AI and ML to become a 100% digital platform with no branch or RM network, and achieved a massive scale in such a short period.
In this Research NXT Interview, Iti Mehrotra, the Head of Marketing and Strategic Alliances at 5paisa Capital Ltd (5paisa.com), discusses how they used AI and ML to become a 100% digital platform with no branch or RM network, and achieved a massive scale in such a short period.
The consumer is more open or rather expecting different offerings, relevant communication, and a proactive approach.
Research NXT: How has been your experience as a marketing leader in the financial services space, and what’s your observation w.r.t the use of technology by marketers in the financial sector, which is known to be a digital pioneer?
Iti Mehrotra: I have been associated with the BFSI sector for my entire career span of 11 years, and I agree that I have always seen the Financial Services sector at the forefront of using technology. Fortunately, I have been part of the teams that were leading these changes and got the opportunity to closely see the shifts from welcome call to onboarding journeys; from SMS banking to app-based banking; from win-back campaigns to predictive modeling; from one fits all to n=1 approach; from Sales team excels to Sales Tabs and now from centralized call centers to decentralized set-up at every employee’s home with better productivity and tighter security.
Of course, a decade back, a handful of organizations used to lead the change on the marketing side as making the user adopt or accept change used to be a challenge too. When SMS Banking was launched, it was difficult to convince people to check balances on mobile and not call customer care. At ICICI Bank, I think in 2014 or 2015, we had personalized the website’s homepage with the customer’s name, among other things. However, this was a real concern for a set of customers as to how they were identified without logging in. At that time, we had to stop showing names and opt for subtle personalization.
This has now changed post JAM and the wallet wave. The consumer is more open or rather expecting different offerings, relevant communication, and a proactive approach. And I feel that the sector is very much aligned or rather ahead of these expectations.
The use of Martech does not limit itself to engagement only; we are also using it to identify the right moments to take user response, thereby generating continuous feedback for future enhancements.
Research NXT: 5paisa.com is now amongst the Top 3 Investment apps in the country. Additionally, your app is currently available in 4 different languages. How do you manage visitor engagement on the platform with relevant content/products across the customer’s journey?
Iti Mehrotra: 5paisa Capital Ltd is one of the fastest-growing Discount Brokers in India. Since its inception in 2016, our focus has been to enable a seamless DIY investing experience for the customers. We have a ‘look beyond Tier 1’ approach, and mobile is the key to scale. Initially, the focus was on building a unified and better investment experience. Today 5paisa is a Finance Super App with a wide range of products- equity, currency, commodity, mutual funds, digital gold, insurance, loans. Then as you said, we recently launched our app in Hindi, Gujarati, and Marathi, helping us connect with the customer better, especially beginners in the investment space.
Of course, with a rapidly growing base, there is a need to educate, engage, and cross-sell to ensure ROI on the acquisition costs and to get optimum CLTV. We are utilizing the power of ML and AI to personalize the customer experience using real-time behavioral data. We are able to make use of timely, relevant engagement opportunities based on each user’s exact needs.
From the time user installs the apps, our campaigns kick-off and then keep on modifying based on customer behavior or life stage. Whether it’s the account opening journey or whether drop out during purchase, there are journeys build in to help him continue the course. Touchpoints and behavior patterns are identified to decide whether the user needs to be engaged with a notification or whether he needs a hand holding via call.
As we all understand, engaging with the customer cannot entirely be the play of AI/ML. To set up campaigns, marketers need to understand the customer and the underlying enablers for the demonstrated behavior. A team of data scientists helps us see the trends and behavior patterns to develop our own insights into the user behavior, a UI/UX team helps us redesign a simple screen removing the need to do a campaign in the first place, product manager plugs in a solution that reduces a five-step process to two. The communication specialist speaks the customer language to improve response rates.
The use of Martech does not limit itself to engagement only; we are also using it to identify the right moments to take user response, thereby generating continuous feedback for future enhancements.
Research NXT: 5paisa.com has an extensive subscriber base of 6 lakh retail investors and high volume traders, and all of that on the online platform. How do you segment your customers, and how are you ensuring personalization at this scale?
Iti Mehrotra: We are a 100% digital platform with no branch or RM network, and this has been truly instrumental in achieving this scale in such a short span of time. More than 90% of customers prefer trading on the app.
For us, personalization begins at the lead stage itself, where we identify the user’s state, and the prospect is mapped to the agent who is likely to speak his language in case of a drop-out.
Using a combination of factors like life stage, product stage, vintage, networth, and so on, the personalization happens in various forms:
We are not limiting the use of AI/ML to just customer acquisition or engagement. Customer service is another aspect that we feel can be a game-changer in the long run.
Research NXT: What kind of AI enablement are you leveraging in your overall marketing strategy?
Iti Mehrotra: We use ML, and AI capabilities across our legs of performance marketing, be it search or display campaigns or for fraud detection or lead assignments. On the search side, ML had resulted in 2.7X growth in leads at 42% lower cost. This, coupled with the investments on the LMS side, led to 3X improvement in acquisitions.
On the customer engagement side, as I mentioned earlier, we have a stack of automated affinity and inaction campaigns set up. So we are able to retain a customer if he drops out from a purchase or propose to him Product A as we know that other customers like him prefer this same product. A combination of such campaigns has helped us improve client engagement leading to ~40% contribution to overall cross-sell revenue and an 8% improvement in client retention.
However, we are not limiting the use of AI/ML to just customer acquisition or engagement. Customer service is another aspect that we feel can be a game-changer in the long run.
Understanding the queries: Sentiment analysis is something that most of the brands have been doing. However, we feel that it is essential to have a real-time understanding of customer queries and complaints, especially from play store and app stores, with an index to indicate severity. Such real-time analysis can help us flag issues in time, understand customer exact pain points, and quantify them. We are doing a POC in this area to have actionable insights for the product and customer service teams.
Solving the queries: As a discount broker, the focus is to enhance the DIY eco-system. While self-help channels are available, there can be a lot of queries that do not require human intervention and be responded to immediately. We have partnered with Haptik and launched a chatbot for our clients with a vision that users can access support instantly while on our platforms.
Research NXT: What kind of themes have you observed w.r.t the change in customer behavior in this volatile market, and how are you supporting your customers to make the best decisions?
Iti Mehrotra: Traditionally, retail investors tend to buy at highs and panic and sell at low levels. However, in the last few months, retail investors have not lost their appetite for buying stocks at lower levels. This behavior is a combination of many factors like more awareness and access to information, millennials having higher risk appetite, and the fact that the customers are at home with slightly more time at hand to research the right stocks and opportunities.
When the investor is showing drive and passion for investing, the onus is also on the brokers to provide a favorable eco-system. At 5paisa there is a range of features available to support the customers:
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