Shifting Spaces

Published Date
01 - Dec - 2005
| Last Updated
01 - Dec - 2005
 
Shifting Spaces
In a cutthroat market, it's essential for businesses to think of different ways to hold their own. As the Web space sees increasingly ruthless competition, businesses that were hitherto exclusively online, are now establishing an offline presence to ensure their survival and growth. In fact, Web sites such as Monster.com, Timesjobs.com and Shaadi.com among others are now vigorously supplementing their business with offline activities.

Shaadi.com attributes as much as 60 per cent of its growth to its offline initiatives. Timesjobs.com attributes its tagline-"fastest growing jobsite"-to its offline activities as well. The media plans of most large online businesses now include offline advertising and promotions as an integral part. However, this is not limited to advertising-offline events, too, play an important part.

In what follows, we have tried to analyse why companies that were once entirely dotcoms are focussing on offline areas of work as well? And why do they feel the need to look at offline methods at all.

The Need For Change
Over the past couple of decades, methods have been developed to precisely rate the effectiveness of various marketing platforms. And marketing on the Internet is not the same as marketing offline.

JuxtConsult, a research firm based in New Delhi, conducted a survey in April 2005 of Internet usage in India. They found that Internet penetration in India stands at a mere 2 per cent. The Internet in India is, for the most part, limited to the metros, with the percentage of rural Internet users being practically negligible. Also, over 50 per cent of Web users in Indian metros are between the ages of 19 and 30, and another 22 per cent between the ages of 31 and 40. "Young and urban", therefore, is quite accurately the demographic of the Internet user in India.

If, as an online business, you limit your marketing to the Web, you restrict yourself from reaching prospective customers who are mostly patrons of traditional media-those who are not young and do not live in urban areas. Offline advertising helps reach out to people who may not be Internet-savvy. While, newspapers have been the preferred medium to advertise, exhibitions and TV advertisements are also being used.

Methods Of Promotion
Dhruvkanth Shenoy, VP, marketing, Monster.com, says, "Offline activities, especially TV and newspapers, help us build a stronger brand salience over a long period. Actual results in terms of visits to the site are faster through Internet advertising, though, as we are an Online brand. Apart from newspapers, we have exclusive alliances with some popular magazines."

Timesjobs.com, too, uses a blend of offline mediums. R Sundar, director corporate and head, Internet initiatives of Bennett Coleman and Company Ltd, says, "Each medium, offline or online, has its own strengths, and any media plan is incomplete if both are not taken into account. We aim to reach the audience in every medium. There are millions of highly-skilled unemployed or underemployed youth across India. Like any FMCG marketing company, we'd like to reach our target audience through an effective combination of various media."

It's clear that ignoring offline media is no longer an option. Even a dot com has to think like any other brick-and-mortar company for effective market.

Apart from job portals, matrimonial sites such as Shaadi.com and Timesmatri.com are also increasingly concentrating on offline promotions and events. The former holds Shaadi Point, which has been a great success. While, Timesmatri organises the Timesmatri.com Swayamvar. In these events, prospective brides and grooms can meet each other along with their parents.
Our presence in the newspapers is a result of relationships built over the last few years, which provides offline readers as well as online users more choice in job search"
Dhruvkanth Shenoy, Vice President, Marketing, Monster.com

However, the primary objective of these Swayamvars, according to Sundar is, "to build the Timesmatri.com brand and increase usage of the site." While these events were not designed to be purely offline undertakings; the need to cement the presence of the site is an important factor.

For instance, Shaadi Point is a network of centres-retail outlets-across India. Every Shaadi Point is connected to a central database of prospective brides and grooms through a specific proprietary technology. This creates a pool of all prospective brides and grooms all over India, and is available to Shaadi Point members from any Shaadi Point Centre.

Shaadi Point Centres offer people the facility to add their bio-data to the central database, search for a suitable match, and communicate with them, regardless of their location.

Omprakash Hassanandani, business head of Shaadi Point, says, "In India, even today, parents are the decision makers, and they tend not to use the Internet. So apart from the Web site, we had to come up with an idea to reach this segment. Shaadi Point enables us to do that. We also conduct three to four Swayamvars monthly in different cities. This gives a platform to people to see, meet and talk with each other in person."

Fropper.com, a People Interactive (I) Pvt Ltd initiative, is a friendship, dating and networking site all in one. Started in 2003, Fropper.com has a one million-strong member base, and it also has a gamut of offline activities to supplement its online presence.

Navin Mittal, business head, Fropper.com, says, "Conducting offline, live events is challenging. Apart from online promos, we hold public events such as shows, concerts, and exhibitions that are open to the public, and advertised in other media. We also promote Fropper.com by sponsoring college festivals, as the youth are the main target audience."

Sign Of The Times
Offline media events encourage customers to go online, become members and then avail of more benefits. As with Timesmatri.com, the idea is not to branch out into some kind of offline enterprise. However, in the case of Fropper.com, people who attend their offline event need to eventually go to its site-which helps to cement the online brand.

Shaadi.com plans to increase the number of franchises for Shaadi Point to 500 across the globe. International expansion, prospect grooming programs, pre-marital workshops, wedding planning and lots more is on the cards. Fropper.com wants to enable people to connect to each other in every possible way. Brand building in the form of promotions on mobile phones, hiking trips, singles-night-out programs etc. is what Fropper.com has planned for.

Offline Is Essential In India
Only when the majority starts looking at the Internet as an alternative to newspaper classifieds, will there be a real breakthrough for online businesses in India.

Internet use is mainly limited to the metros-so while Monster.com, Shaadi.com, Timesjobs.com, Fropper.com are primarily online businesses, they need to ensure that people also see them elsewhere-at least for the coming decade. Offline activities act as value-additions for online businesses by building brand awareness, and encouraging people to go online.

Physical presence, for these businesses, helps them gain the credibility and trust of the masses. By and large, Indians still prefer a touch-and-feel approach when it comes to buying, investing or match-making! So, for online businesses, offline activities-be it setting up shop in remote areas to organising glitzy events-are here to stay.


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