Rishi Khanna is the Founder and CEO of ISHIR and is responsible for the strategic direction and growth of the company. Rishi's responsibilities include setting short-term/long-term goals, working with senior team to help define business and marketing strategies and the execution and monitoring of such strategies. Before founding ISHIR, Rishi worked for Deloitte & Touche in Texas as a Management Consultant assisting Maquiladora's in Mexico and defending cross-border transaction. In an exclusive interview with India Digital Review, Rishi Khanna speaks about Ishir’s India plans and the country’s digital marketing scenario.
Before founding ISHIR, you have worked for Deloitte &Touché in Texas. What was your idea behind launching a digital agency?
In late 1990’s, the Dot Com revolution was almost beginning to hit India. Despite the initial wave, there were only a handful of web marketing companies that provided 360 degree online marketing solutions to the customers internationally. We felt that there was a noticeable gap here and decided to bridge it by launching ISHIR, a one-stop shop for all digital needs. Plus, there is an amazing pool of talent here. People here are pretty passionate about the web. This further propelled us to set-up a full-fledged digital marketing production HQ in India in 1999.
With an available base in Dallas, Texas, US, we have been able to spread our wings far and wide to reach out to clients in the US, Canada, UK and other parts of the world.
Speaking about ISHIR Inc., of which ISHIR Digital is a part, what percentage of your revenues does come from your digital marketing agency?
How strong is your presence in India?
We are largely focused internationally, and have a small footprint here, in India. However, over the years, we have had opportunity to serve big brands like the Spice Group, Tetra Pak,Cheetos/Frito Lay, GE, Samsung, GlaxoSmithKline, etc., and helped them with their digital marketing needs.
As the penetration of internet users is growing, digital marketing is no longer just an option for brands but an indispensable part of their marketing mix. We want to maintain our presence in India to support these services, in the hope that as the market grows, we will be seen in the forefront. And with our wide international and much more advanced exposure in this arena, we can help Indian brands maximize their visibility through the digital medium.
ISHIR had also launched TonicTag as an ad network in India. What is the status of Tonic Tag now?
We launched TonicTag as a subsidiary of our company. In the subsequent years, we sold the company to the management that was running the operations for Tonic Tag.
How have you seen the growth in usage of digital media by brands, especially in India?
Digital media space is blazing hot right now. I recently read a report, which stated that we've over 121 million online users in India and the share of Internet usersis only growing. This number makes us the third biggest country in terms of Internet users in the world. Within this number, we have a large and highly engaged social and mobile audience, primarily young men and women from Urban India.
Two principle drivers of this growth has been the Indian youth’s love for Social Networking and participation in social networks through Mobile.
To capitalize on this, brands are increasing their online marketing budgets and spends, targeting their products promotions primarily to this segment of users. Brands like Nokia have been the foremost in the game to fully embrace digital media. Airtel and LG continue to increase their digital spends, year on year, to drive more engagement. In the last few years, we have witnessed the rise of online shopping, with players like Yatra.com, Snapdeal, FlipKart, Myntra and newbie like Jabong, changing the complete e-commerce landscape of how Indians shop online. As per research, the total e-commerce market in India is touted at $10 billion and is growing at 70 per cent, year on year. Consumer base in tier-II and III cities, are the biggest drivers of this growth. Seeing this growth trend, more players are entering into this market, in the hope of becoming the next ‘big’ thing on the web.
We have been hearing a lot about Amazon’s entry in the Indian e-commerce market. That’s going to impact our eco-system substantially.
So, let’s just say Digital Marketing is here to stay and will only intensify in the coming years.
What are your key priorities at ISHIR Digital now?
At ISHIR Digital, our main focus is to scale our business multi-fold and for that we are consistently innovating. We are constantly adding new tactics and strategies to help our clients evangelize future possibilities in the digital space. The bottom line is to provide integrated marketing solutions to our clients that help maximize their ROI and reap the benefits of a well-rounded digital marketing campaign.
How marketers' demands have changed from online as a medium in the recent years?
Brands want more than just visibility in the online space. Everyone wants RESULTS. The good thing about digital industry is that it is instant, highly measurable and is purely driven by numbers, as opposed to its less quantifiable cousin ‘traditional marketing’.
Goal of any marketer is to enhance awareness and generate quantifiable and measurable ROI from online campaigns. The ROI could be measured in the form of, enquiries for more information, more customer calls, leads, conversions, feedback, interaction and subsequently sales.
Therefore, businesses and brands are using this medium to engage with their target audience, have real-time conversations/interactions, and build deeper relationships with their customers. Furthermore, feedback collected from online channels is collected and leveraged for product/service improvement and enhancement. In nutshell, it is far too easy to gauge whether your product/service is loved or loathed by users, through digital media marketing, as opposed to traditional marketing methods.
Plus, we see that today’s marketers are more knowledgeable about their craft than ever and are looking to be in the forefront of Digital madness that is overtaking our world.
With new engagement forms such as videos and apps coming up on internet, what are your thoughts on visual brand building exercises on internet in India?
Videos play an important role in visual branding. The legacy is driven by television and there is absolutely no doubt that digital media has opened up innovative and exciting ways for brands to communicate and engage with their target audience. In fact, going by reports, video marketing, will only become a stronger force in the digital media space.
In India, the best way to grow is through ‘Word of Mouth’, which in the online world, we call ‘viral’. Viral videos give brands visibility popularity and if done correctly, it helps to build trust as well. Plus, videos are given further boost through social channels, which helps to create a buzz in the market. Today, even an ordinary person, can find him or herself trending on social channels, by simply uploading a funny video. A quirky song can become can become an overnight rage.
Basically, marketers should focus on creating content that is ‘share-able’, whether it is through video or apps. Brands need to keep in mind that it is important to have a great concept, than force a great concept, regardless of whether or not it fits the brand.
Mobile is being held as a great medium for brand communication, but a very small amount is spent on this particular medium. What is your take on this?
It is apt to say that Mobile is an under-utilized medium and is still struggling to get its due.
In India, it occupies only 0.5% in the marketer’s share and globally it accounts for 3.8% of the total ad spend for all media. This is mainly because the number of smart phone users in India is still on the lower side. Therefore, marketers have a huge challenge in reaching out to the masses.
However, as the smart phone user base grows, there will be a larger basket of services around mobile websites, mobile app, mobile search services, etc. which will allow brands to use Mobile as an effective medium of marketing. Today, mobile is challenging TV in its reach numbers; therefore, one cannot ignore the power of this medium.
Social Media is a phenomenon now a days. How do you see brands utilizing this platform for your clients?
Social Media has changed the face of marketing. Brands are experimenting in big ways with how they can leverage this platform. There is no doubt that Social Media has enormous potential in maximizing consumer engagement coupled with web site traffic generation. India has the second largest Facebook users in the world; this is a testimony of how powerful this medium is and its reach in India. Moreover, the time spent on social media is a clear indicator thathow engaging is the medium.
What, according to you, should the Indian digital media industry adopt from the western markets?
Most Indian client companies are still complacent about the change. Their business has not been impacted by the internet as yet. They are reaping benefits of traditional marketing, their sales numbers are improving, and they have had no visible, in-your-face reason to embrace the web. It is a bitter reality that people in India are still apprehensive about purchases on the web with credit cards as they think it might lead to a fraud or identity theft and prefer Cash on Delivery facilities.
The west was of the same mindset 10-12 years ago. But they woke up pretty fast and how. India is in the same place but I see the youth changing that for all of us. They have been the first to embrace digital tools and have shifted the mind-set.
What needs to be understood by us is that customers no longer have simply offline and online experiences in silos; they have integrated brand experiences. Brands can expect that their billboard will lead prospects to a destination website, Facebook page or any type of content that users can engage with and share. Therefore, marketers/Brand managers who do not combine the Traditional (TV/ATL/BTL/Radio) with the new-age (digital media), will find themselves disadvantaged against their competitors and eventually find themselves losing ground.
India is on the edge of becoming the leading digital marketing country and all marketers must be willing to arm themselves with knowledge and tools that will help them to beprepared for a much stronger digital wave.
Do you see the digital media spends growing in India?
Apparently, Digital marketing market size in India is estimated to touch close to Rs 2,000 crore in the next two years from an Rs 1,400 crore. From a brand perspective, Airtel’s spends have gone up from being 2% of the total spends to almost 10% in 2011-12. LG’s digital spends have gone up from being less than 1crore about 5 years ago to excess of Rs 40 crore in 2011-12. The numbers are getting bigger and bigger.
With the emergence of big players in ecommerce segment (consumables and life style), spends have seen a big uptick in past one year and this trend is likely to continue and boom.