Since launching its permission-based marketing service with Indian mobile operator Aircel in November 2010, mobile messaging media company Blyk reports over one million opted-in users. But the milestone doesn’t only confirm the attraction of a model that delivers advertising to people with their permission and in tune with their preferences. Blyk country manager Shubhodip (Shubho) Pal reveals the company has also tested (and proven) brand new approaches to raise awareness and acceptance of Aircel’s service among Indian youth.
Aircel gets high marks for understanding and responding to the requirements of its user base. With some 54 million customers — 34 percent of them in the 16-29 age bracket — a permission-based, youth-centric service focused on delivering relevant advertising about trendy brands makes business sense.
To make the most of this opportunity Aircel’s service (branded ‘Blyk on Aircel’) focuses on the 16-29 age bracket. Advertising categories include: entertainment, sports, lifestyle, travel, fashion, wellness and tech gadgets, as well as local events, dating & relationships tips, comics and careers advice.
I caught up with Blyk Country Manager Shubhodip (Shubho) Pal to discuss Blyk (which describes itself as a “mobile media that works with operators to link young people with brands and other stuff they like”) and key learnings from the Indian market.
40+ mobile campaigns
To date over 40 mobile marketing campaigns have been delivered via Blyk on Aircel by major brands including: Bausch & Lomb, Apple, Perfetti, Levis, Make my Trip, Samsung, Bajaj Pulsar, Coca Cola, Smirnoff, Red Bull, Bacardi, Fastrack, Diesel and Nokia — to name a few.
The average response rate for campaigns is 27 percent. But there are notable exceptions such as Perfetti, which reported response rates of 41 percent to the first SMS followed by MMS reply for its campaign. The campaign was aimed at creating awareness and excitement around its new brand “Center Fresh”. In India Perfetti is one of the few brands harnessing cross-media, combining traditional media (TV, radio, outdoor) and mobile to reach out to their audience. Another top response rate comes from Apple, which reported response rates of 55 percent to the first SMS for its campaign advertising the Nano Touch iPod.
According to Shubho, the high response rates are the norm because the opt-in service leverages texting — the “most dominant and everyday behavior of youth”- to enable people to “communicate with brands in the same way they do with everyone else.”
What brands inspire this close interaction? Overall, users favor popular brands and consumer-focused products, Shubho says. But there is also a significant audience eager to receive advertising related to local content and happenings. Interestingly, MMS (picture messaging) is also proving more effective than SMS at generating response and brand interaction from end-users.
India, like most developing markets, is country where spam is a concern. How does Blyk handle the issue? Shubho says the “Blyk ecosystem” nips the problem in the bud. “When a member [user] is enrolled into the Blyk ecosystem, the member is automatically placed on a DND [Do Not Call/Disturb Directory of India] list on Aircel. They therefore only receive messages from Blyk or from Aircel. So far, we have not received complaints about unwanted messages being delivered to members’ handsets.”
Content partnerships & stickiness
Where there is youth, Shubho says, “there must be Blyk.” With this in mind the company has purposely refined its strategy to deliver content (not just the advertising) youth will likely appreciate. A smart move since surveys show that exclusive content (allowing users to be part of an ‘in-group’ that gets the newest news first) is an effective incentive to encourage youth to opt-in (and stay opted-in).
An example of this is the Wills India Fashion week, the must-attend fashion event for the country. Seeing a connection between the content and the audience demographics, Blyk entered into a strategic partnership with organizers and became the exclusive content partner for delivery over mobile and Internet. (Live streaming was available via the Facebook pages belonging to both Blyk and Aircel.)
The partnership provided Blyk access to a repository of pictures, videos and sound bytes, content it delivered to users as a perk to encourage loyalty (among existing customers) and sign-ups (to recruit new customers).
According to Shubho, the effort was a success, allowing Blyk (a company that relies heavily on peer-to-peer recommendations and member-get -member schemes to grow its user base) to build on its social media properties. Among the results: a 500-percent increase in the number of fans on the Blyk India Facebook page, and almost 20,000 hits on the streamed fashion coverage sponsored by Blyk.
Interestingly, it is this “stickiness” that has convinced Aircel to use the service to do more than just monetize the mobile operator’s opted-in inventory. Blyk on Aircel is also increasingly viewed as a means to combat churn, a strategic goal that Aircel COO Gurdeep Singh outlined in a recent interview with Telecoms.com.
As Singh put it in the interview: “What’s most interesting for us is that, in a hyper-competitive market like India, this can really act as a differentiation and retention tool.” He adds: “There are 14 operators in this market and churn is very high; 90 days after acquisition we retain just a little over 60 percent of new customers. But with Blyk our retention level moves up to 89 percent.”
In India youth want — even demand — interactivity with brands they like. But there is a catch. To be effective “the emphasis need to be on context over content.” It’s not who they are or where they are that matters, Shubho explains. “What matters is the context: what they are up to.”
What do advertisers need to understand about youth and how can they avoid premature segmentation and generalization? Blyk India learned some lessons since its launch in 2010 that apply to mobile marketing (and particularly permission-marketing) strategies across all markets.
“Youth around the world are similar,” Shubho notes. Effective marketing messages are delivered in tune with what really moves mobile youth. “When brands talk with youth the first thing they do is try to define them. However, the attempt to pigeon-hole youth is patently wrong. “You have to undefine youth to reach them.”
(Editor’s note: How can/should marketers undefine this demographic? Why should brands engage in “open marketing” and harness a permission-marketing approach to explore what youth really wants and thinks. Blyk co-founder Antti Öhrling will address these and other key questions in a guest column next month.)
Four Qs with Blyk India’s Shubhodip Pal
Shubho: At Blyk, we believe in relevance in advertising. Our technology detects patterns within messages, rather than looking directly at the text itself. Thus we can detect patterns within messages and users’ response to it, an analysis of responses that is highly useful and helps us send only relevant content to our members. This way the messages are welcomed by youth, not dismissed as spam. We count campaigns with over 40 brands so far, and many repeat spends. We understand that the most important principle of mobile advertising in India — and everywhere — is about respecting the wishes of individuals and providing them services that provide value.
MG: Blyk on Aircel has attracted interest (and users) by employing a variety of strategies. At one end, Blyk itself has been active building a brand and providing exclusive content around India’s top fashion show, for example. At the other end, you have run over 40 mobile ad campaigns. Based on your experience in India, what incentives really work with youth?
Shubho: Our experience in India has been similar to our experience in other countries. One exception: MMS – or multimedia content – works better in India. That’s contrary to the trend in the West, and mainly due the SMS spam backlash in India. Overall, Indian youth are hungry for content and their appetite for rich, vibrant content is insatiable. The demand for multimedia content – video, audio, images – is huge, which is one reason why India is also among the top 10 countries in YouTube usage. On our platform we see that video-based campaigns score the highest. Nearly two-thirds of the campaigns we do are around TV commercials, great engaging and entertaining content to send out to the users. At the same time, our emphasis on profiling has been paying off, with niche, targeted campaigns delivering phenomenal results. Our MMS capability also allows us to create great experiences and send videos about how to mix a cocktail in the case of the Bacardi campaign, for example. Finally, Indian youth want to be heard and express themselves. Hence, our user-generated content campaigns — where the incentive is a chance to get featured on the [Aircel] network and be seen as a youth idol — have also been drawing in responses by the thousands.
MG: Overall, what is the current state of the mobile advertising opportunity in India and where do you see the growth?
Shubho: The Indian mobile advertising market experienced an annual growth of 217 percent in 2010. This is compared to 93 percent growth in global mobile advertising traffic and is expected to reach $4 billion in 2015. This clearly suggests a huge potential for mobile advertising in India, but mobile marketing has not yet started to yield maximum results. Part of the hold-up is linked to the serious SMS spam issue. The need of the hour in mobile advertising in Indian market is for focused technology and innovation that can deliver relevant advertising according to customers’ explicit segmentation – through opt-in — and usage pattern analytics. This is where permission-marketing can undo the damage spam has done. It has been six months since we introduced Blyk in India and see a growing trend among youth mobile users. They want more features and more useful information at their fingertips and on-the-go. I expect this appetite for information — and useful information from brands in particular — to continue as smartphone penetration in India — and everywhere — climbs. Global smartphone penetration is forecast to reach 22 percent, with the number of users in India growing doubling to 4 million, up from 2 million in 2009.
MG: Blyk describes itself as a “messaging media that links young people with brands and stuff they like.” This is a rather unique way of seeing your role in the mobile advertising space. What makes Blyk a media and what is driving your company in that direction?
Shubho: Blyk takes a different view. We know from our experience in the field that the most profitable form of mobile advertising is one that encourages a dialog and enables an engaging media experience. This has helped us build a long-term relationship based on mutual trust with our members. We don’t believe in just sending advertising, but rather on creating a conversation with our members based around the topics and brands they find interesting. The Blyk Media experience is personal and valuable based on content that is more informative and insightful for our audiences, which is why response rates are so high. In fact, our members look forward to receiving messages from Blyk.
India is a perfect market for permission-marketing and a youth-centric service like Blyk. It has the demographics (in India over half of the population, which is approaching 1.2 billion in total, is under 40 years of age). And it has the attitude. The backlash against over-spamming plays in favor of approaches that harness opt-in to deliver people advertising they will likely appreciate. Blyk on Aircel counts one million opted-in users and reports impressive campaign response rates — data points that prove the effectiveness of its approach to permission marketing. But it’s not only the concept that delivers. The anti-advertising and anti-segmentation mindset (part of Blyk’s overall strategy to undefine youth) is intriguing — and fits with the requirement — even the demand — of people to get more involved in the products, services, content (everything) they use/enjoy. It is inspiring to see that the ideas put forth by one of my favorite thinkers and interview partners (Eric von Hippel, author of Democratizing Innovation, head of the Technological Innovation and Entrepreneurship Group at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and THE authority on how and why brands must empower their lead users) are finding their way into mobile marketing strategy.
Disclaimer: Blyk is a MobileGroove supporter.