Thursday, March 31, 2011

New brand engagement platform BrandandMe to launch soon was covered by exchange4media yesterday:

To avoid the pain of visiting exchange4media site I am copying the interview here.

Next week, Brand and Me will be launching their brand engagement platform, which can be accessed from The company has created an engagement model, which brings together quizzing, social connect and brand engagement to create a platform, which the founders feel will offer a strong value proposition for brands.

The two founders are both IIT and IIM alumnus who have worked in the digital media field for many years now, and Surjendu Kuila, one of the founders, spoke to exchange4media about how the new platform will work.

He said, “Brand and Me is a brand engagement platform which will provide brands an incomparable engagement with users. A type of engagement with which, neither the traditional media nor the online media can match up. On the other hand, the platform rewards users handsomely for engaging with the brands.”

The idea is to present a platform which will display only one brand a day at this point, with a full microsite experience, including video and brand information. Users are incentivised to visit and consume this information by building a quiz around the information provided by the brand – one winner is selected from those people who give the correct answer, who will win Rs 2,000 in prizes, while everyone else who gives the right answer will be given “points”, to redeem against online stores. Kuila said that the company was in talks with Rediff and Infibeam, and that this feature would go live within a month of the website’s launch.

On the brand front, Brand and Me has tied up with Networkplay for an exclusive six-month contract. Kuila said, “Networkplay will act as our sales arm, because they have a strong presence on the ground and our goals and their vision fit well together. Our focus will be on the product, on getting people to the website and interacting with the brands there.”

To do this, Kuila is hoping that the viral effect through sharing on social networks will be a strong growth driver, while he also said that the site was seeding this through paid traffic. He said, “We are working on Facebook and doing below the line activities, and getting paid traffic as well, which is going to start the userbase, but based on what we’ve seen of the sector, we believe that we’ll be able to add users at a steady pace. We’re already adding 100 to 150 users each day, before the site has even launched.”

Kuila also said, “We are appealing to the user through incentives, because that is a reason for them to visit even when there isn’t a strong community. But what we believe is that we will be able to reduce this incentivastion in time, as users start to become a part of the process. Until then, unless the brand is related to Bollywood or cricket, we have to incentivise the visits.”

What’s different here?
Stage one of Brand and Me is very similar to, in fact, Contests2Win, 15 years ago. However, Kuila feels the comparison is not very accurate. He maintained, “We are not going to be just about the quizzing, that is just our starting point. We also have a layer of brand engagement on top of the quiz, with users able to provide feedback to the brand in a neutral manner, and with other interactions also built into the system. Besides that, we will also be innovating and adding a lot of new products.”

He added, “When we signed with Networkplay, one of the things that we promised is that we will be able to bring a new product to the public every quarter to maximise engagement.”

While this offering is still limited at this point, it is the new products, which Brand and Me promises to roll out every quarter, that could be very interesting potentially. The company had been talking to a number of ad networks, Kuila informed, to fine tune their future offerings to better suit the requirements of clients, and one early change would be the addition of channels on the site.

Kuila further said, “Some other quiz and contest sites that are popular are also very cluttered. We have focused on one brand at a time because we want to present a clean interface. But at the same time, if a user is not interested in books and we’re doing a promotion with Penguin, then they wouldn’t be interested in a prize, which is a collection of Harry Potter books. So, we’re going to create channels, for automotive, for Bollywood and other areas of interest.”

The company will also be creating more advergames, and will, for example, be looking at creating full movies, booking and merchandising experience by partnering with companies in those areas as well. These future innovations could provide enough value to users to truly bring about a viral growth phase for the company, and drive future growth for them.

My TV appearances

All the videos are from the time when I was working with Panini Keypad.

Panini Keypad is a new technology that offers people to type in all languages of India on the mobile phone extremely fast, comfortably and easily without the need of printed characters on the keypad. And nor is the user expected to write in English characters (Roman). The Panini Keypad allows you to write natively in any Indian script without any familiarity with English characters and is therefore ideal for the vast majority of India.

India has 600 million mobile phone users, however, only 90 million know English. The balance 510 million cannot type on the phone because they do not know the English language. As a result, they cannot store their address book, cannot send a text message, and are off course oblivious to the Value Added Services - including the 3G content - offered by the operators. The whole opportunity of digital enablement that could be addressable today through the ubiquitous mobile phone meets the stumbling block of regional language support on phone for easy typing. There have been myriad approaches in the past to support Indian languages on digital devices but these have failed due to their shortcomings to the peculiar nature of the Indian languages. That is the inspiration behind the creation of Panini Keypad – a clever virtual multilingual keypad which is user friendly and lightning fast.

The Panini Keypad uses statistical predictive texting (CleverTexting) – a patent pending path breaking invention by Luna Ergonomics - which allows one to type in all languages of the world on the existing phone without the need of printed characters on the keypad. Also, it is touted as the world's first ergonomic keypad because characters are automatically and accurately predicted and placed at positions most comfortable to the texting finger and the user only types through single keypresses (no multitap).

Wait for the pre-roll ad to get over. Click Part 3 - From 1:00 minute till the end.

My current venture - is a brand engagement platform which provides brands an incomparable engagement with users. A type of engagement with which, neither the traditional media nor the online media can match up. On the other hand, the platform rewards users handsomely for engaging with the brands.

The USP of our concept is 'one brand per day' - Engagement exemplified. website would be available only 12 hours a day. Every day a new brand would promote itself and the participants would answer questions based on the information the brand provides. Brand would then reward one user every day with a tangible gift worth minimum Rs 1500. Remaining users would accrue points at every stage of engagement with the brand which they can redeem against many e-commerce platforms.

Through this platform brands would get undivided user attention, a superlative engagement, an entire clutter free real estate for such an inexpensive price. We provide explicit CPC with a very high CTR, implicit CPM and permissive advertising. Over and above we provide CPE. This platform is gold for advertisers.

The evolution of online medium has transmogrified into various delivery modes. The industry started with CPM – Cost per mille. CPM is just like an inventory sell which provides absolutely no engagement. For CPM, click through rate is .1% which created problems such as banner blindness and intrusiveness. The industry realized that it has to give more value to the advertisers. Just eyeballs wouldn’t matter and hence the industry moved towards CPC – Cost per click. However, the problems still persisted. Bounce rate became too high and the average time spent on the website became lesser. As a consequence industry then moved on to CPL - Cost per Lead. Lead is defined differently in different context. For some it is as lowly as someone downloading the brochure, for some it is filling up form and for some it is online transaction.

Today the industry is moving toward actual engagement and advertisers are asking ad-networks and media buying agencies to come up with innovative platforms and various other engagement models. Our platform is a disruptive way of bringing users and brands together in the form a tight engagement unlike any of its predecessors - CPC, CPM or CPA. Digital engagement in India is provided through videos, quizzes, games- advergaming, social quizzing, Bollywood etc. As Jivox and Vdopia are already present in the Video segment we took up the rest of the engagement models.

Our pricing is also innovative and cost effective. We follow CPE – Cost per engagement. Currently engagement is defined by us as someone who logs on to, engages with the brand in the form of interactive quiz. We are in the process of building innovative games, social quizzing and Bollywood as other forms of engagement.

The users really like the concept of engaging with a brand. A month before the actual launch we have 5,000 users and more than 3000 facebook fans. We are adding close to 150 users per day. We expect to have at least 10,000 users when we launch on April 15th, and intend to clock 1 lac users in the next 3 months.

All the ad-networks, advertisers and media buying agencies we approached so far have loved this concept because they could appreciate our value proposition. Recently, we have had an exclusive tie-up with which would act as our sales arm. We chose as our sales partner because our goals gelled well with their vision.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Interview Snippets - Strategic Nuggets from Thought Leaders

George is a thought leader on eCommerce and is the CEO of Rimm-Kaufman Group whereas Linda Bustos needs no introduction.

George : Do you see anything new that could change the world of eCommerce?

Linda: Mobile. Mobile commerce is not a new channel, rather a new screen that consumers are going to become more and more comfortable with. No longer do you need to be at your desk or at home to transact online. More people own a mobile phone than a personal computer, and people have their mobile devices wherever they are at all hours of the day. And new devices like Kindle and iPad make the user experiences on mobile devices much better than tiny smart-phone screens. So ebusinesses will need to understand mobile design and usability for their websites and also consider what applications will be most helpful to their customers. We’re not at critical mass yet, but we will be very soon.

George: How important is having a mobile strategy in 2010?

Linda: The last 3 years have been dubbed the “Year of the Mobile” it seems – and mobile commerce has certainly grabbed the attention of the largest retailers. Every month we hear of Internet Retailer 500 companies launching new mobile sites, redesigns or mobile applications.

While I still don’t think customers are ready to purchase online through mobile sites (biggest reasons are fear of data security and usability issues), I think it’s important for retailers to get their feet wet now to get over the learning curve. Having a mobile presence is also helpful for customer research on-the-go, and can be very helpful for customer service (think of order-tracking, back-in-stock and in-store pickup notifications, etc). Even if you don’t drive sales through the smaller screen, it can add value to your business, especially if you’re a multichannel retailer with brick-and-mortar stores.

My thoughts:

It is high time, big online retailers take the deep dive and traditional retailers use this channel seriously.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Will standardization in Retail help ecommerce in India?

Though extrinsically different, fundamentally brick & mortar retail and online retail have many things in common. Starting from distribution concepts such as supply chain and network distribution to inventory management and efficient warehousing capabilities; both channels of retail delivery feature these important value chain components. In India, unorganized retail scores over organized retail in terms of volume and value of purchase. On the other hand, the adoption of ecommerce in India is darn slow because of many tangible and intangible reasons. Proponents of online retail in India, including me, feel that standardization of brick and mortar industry would abet the growth of online retail in India.

With the standardization and consolidation of retail industry, the supply chain infrastructure would be streamlined. Barring a few big etailers, most of the other online retailers use drop shipping as one of the most common fulfillment strategies. As a result late delivery, out of stock situations, sour online customer experiences are largely prevalent. I strongly feel that once standardization of retail industry takes place, we would witness three significant changes – more effective ways of managing inventory, efficient techniques of replenishing inventory and use of optimized network distribution to reduce logistics costs. These in turn would alleviate the uncertainties related to online retail.

E-tailing in India can be a success if the eTailers change their business models and understand the “Determinants of Shopper Behavior in E-tailing”- E-tailers should create economic value for the Indian customers rather than a curiosity value. Since shopping is still a ‘touch-feel-try experience’, standardization across manufacturers and fulfillment partners would make customers confident about purchasing products online. The consumer purchasing the product has a fair idea about the offering - she can actually visualize that her blackberry is more or less as the same size as her iPod or credit card. In the United States, one prefers to purchase electronic items from the “World Wide Web” because customers know exactly (quality, size, volume) what would be delivered at their doorsteps.

Standardization of Retail in India would entail predictability of fulfillment as far as online retail is concerned. Shrinking gross margin and EBIT have made the national retailers realize the importance of technology automation across the value chain. All the players in the entire value chain - in the process of cutting costs – have adopted sophisticated technology integration in order to effectively manage the flow of merchandise and goods. This technology sophistication would in turn help the online retailers; as most of the fulfillment partners, vendors and suppliers are common for both delivery channels – online and offline.

More often than not we have seen ineffective inventory management, because of over-forecasting, leads to excess inventory conditions. In order to make way for fresh season merchandise, retailers need additional delivery and sales channel to free up the excess inventory. In his blog, Darpan Munjal aptly pointed out that “Web is a great channel for the clearance strategy, and retailers will be able to offer deep discounts online to clear up the inventory before they get ready for the next buying season”. As standardization of Retail happens in India, this would become a regular feature with the online channel becoming an important delivery channel for all brick and mortar retailers.