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Unfortunately, brands in India have no visible, in-your-face reason to embrace the web

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

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

Speaking about ISHIR Inc., of which ISHIR
Digital is a part, what percentage of your revenues does come from your digital
marketing agency?

Around 50%.

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?

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

principle drivers of this growth has been the Indian youth’s love for Social
Networking and participation in social networks through Mobile.

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, 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?

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.

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

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.

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

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

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?

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

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