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ibibo, the anti-thesis of social media marketing - Pranav Bhasin's Product Lens

ibibo, the anti-thesis of social media marketing

They have been all over TV for the last 2 months, but if you missed them for some reason, watch them here before you read on: ibibo ad #1, ibibo ad #2


Notice something strange – its an internet company, that too a social network using a mass media platform to advertise, huh. I wonder who is running their marketing, but whatever they are doing goes completely counter to the concept ( of social networking ) that they are selling.

So whats wrong here – a couple of things:

1) Mass Media = Old Media. This is the age of sending specific, targeted messages to people who are interested in listening to them, not blasting people with messages they don’t want to hear. Imagine a joint family watching a movie and one of these ads shows up in the interval – how many of them are the real target audience?

2) Mass Media is for branding. Mass Media is used by companies that want to build brands, like HUL or P & G, who want you to remember the name of their soap so that you pick it over others in the shopping mall. Using a Mass Media approach for intent driven advertising has all signs of failure.

3) Mass Media is costly. Every time your ad runs on TV, it sets you back by a few lacs at least. For a company that is offering a free service, that can be a huge setback in the balance sheet and will make it extremely hard for them to become profitable. Yes, they may get some users, but how long can they sustain by pooling in money from their other businesses.

4) To top it all, the concept of social gaming has been copied from facebook, which is not only going strong globally, but also making inroads into the Indian market. Plus, they have an extremely viral strategy going for them which means that everyone that is on ibibo is probably also on facebook. Which of them is going to stick – the answer seems obvious.

5) Finally, you need to scream when your product doesn’t speak for itself. I haven’t used ibibo games, but my guess is that they don’t have a good product out there which is why they need to burn so much money in marketing to get noticed. Good products, especially the ones that are social, spread quickly through word of mouth ( or mouse ).

What they should do? Here is my advice:

1) Come up with a unique product concept, think about something that has a local zing to it, something that facebook is not going to do. So when you copy farmville, you have direct competition from facebook, but if you choose to do something around IPL for instance, that is something that the nation is already crazy about and can ensure visibility for the product from the word go.

2) Stop burning money in Mass Media for God’s sake. That is for companies that sell soap, not for internet social networks. Instead, spend more time planning an internet strategy that would spread the word – a bit of adwords, a bit of SEO and lots of social media could be the perfect mix.

3) Most importantly, focus on building virality inside the service itself. This is an intensive process and requires depth in product management to pull off. But if you have the money, why not get some good guys who can figure it out and turn the service into one where every new user brings in 10 of his/her friends rather than wasting that money in Mass Media.

4) Specifically regarding social gaming, a neat thing to do would be to have a strategy that lets other sites embed games inside them. That opens up avenues for partnership and several distribution channels which will spread the word far and wide with very little cost.

What is your opinion about their strategy? Any solutions you would like to propose?

9 thoughts on “ibibo, the anti-thesis of social media marketing”

  1. Pranav – I am not very sure if I agree with all the points you mentioned here… Mass Media is kind of an easier way to reach the wider audience. There are lot of people who are Internet/ Technology literates but not follow lot of blogs etc to get introduced to such services and might actually be looking for good services and only use after recommendation from others or ads via Mass Media.

    But you are right – people attracted via other social media etc. have a higher tendency of sticking to the services rather than people visiting after ads (who might just visit the site – sign-up and never return back…)

    But the survival of lot of new services are highly dependent on visibility, initial response and feedback and the wave it creates.

  2. Varalu – I think you have answered your question in your comment itself.

    What are the chances that someone, who is not using some kind of a social network today, is going to sign up and play social games at ibibo? Yes, lots of people do not follow blogs, but you don’t need to read a blog for this kind of news to trickle down to you. A lot of people get their news on facebook today!

    Plus, my biggest issue is that it doesn’t make sense to spend so much money to get visibility for your product, when your product is free in the first place. How do you ever recover your investment?

  3. Social Media games are big, I am not sure how is the market in India and what’s the share of Facebook, but if Facebook has not set it’s strong foothold in India, using Mass Media might be good idea to get instant awareness among the crowd and may be convert few of them as ibibo users – Chances are that you might get those people who are on social graph but who have never tried social games and subsequent network that would follow with them, plus a segment of new users. Urgency is to get in the market and capture it before facebook/Orkut takes over, plus if my understanding is correct Orkut has a bigger market share then facebook when it comes to Indian market, So even if ibibo is looking at becoming the third largest player in the Indian market, it’s big big thing as we have more users online then the whole population of US, Plus how well they can manipulate the market ( In the sense of partnering with Mobile operators/ ISP’s and other stuff will also determine where they go after the initial peak created by Ads).
    Another important factor is that ibibo is backed by a China’s Tencent, with inherent rivalry with American cops they look more or less aggressive in there marketing strategy and rush is to win the market.

  4. Orkut is still bigger in India in terms of absolute accounts, but facebook has overtaken it in terms of activity: http://www.pluggd.in/in-india-facebook-beats-orkut-traffic-search-trends-297/

    I think the reasons you cite for the mass media strategy of ibibo are perhaps correct. With a huge investment from Tenecent ( and the fact that they own QQ, the largest social network in China ), ibibo may be under tremendous pressure to grow fast. The fact that they have a lot of money to burn allows them the luxury of decisions like these as well.

    The thing to note is that QQ makes a lot of money in China ( from virtual gifting and several other modes ) and has a 6 Bn market cap. So if the intent of the investors is to build a similar company in India, that may not be possible because the online behavior and the culture in India are dramatically different. Given this situation, I’m just wondering how prudent this strategy is.

  5. I think unless the situation is exceptional – just because you have cash in the bank does not justify one strategy over the other. I don’t have the statistics but from a combination of things (hunch+word of mouth+perception) I can conclude that their investment in Mass Media so far has shown very repeating trends of spikes and then amortization to low volumes of users. If that is truly the case then I think they already have reasons to rethink their strategy. While there is rationale behind many of the positives of using mass media, if the experimental truth does is biased against the theory – some realignment is surely required –

    Thanks Pranav for a thought provoking write up!

  6. Totally agree – cash in the bank does not justify splurging it.

    To your point of whether there is a trend of repeated spikes, it is anybody’s guess. I think there would have been a spike around the time they started the campaign, just because people would become curious about what ibibo is. Thereafter, the graph would go down over the next couple of days and then stay flat. I don’t think that today, anyone sees an ibibo ad and then switches off their TV to go and play social games.

  7. When you have lots of money, you find ways to spend it. From what we understand from our startup experience, mass media is a highly inefficient way of getting internet traffic.

    However, we should also not forget that ibibo is already the largest indian social network competing with global brands facebook and orkut. At the stage it is in, I doubt if strategies like SEO, SEM or similar internet marketing can work for them.

    What can work for them?
    – A world class product with local niche advantage – Like doing for IPL as Pranav mentioned. It would need real innovation and execution to build a product as good as facebook AND to provide India specific stuff on it.
    – Viral strategies. No one knows which strategy would work for them. All this mass media approach is also their attempt on getting viral.
    – One of the amazing things facebook is pulling off in India is all these facebook mobiles coming up. Ibibo should try to get into this and get mobile manufacturers have ibibo on these mobiles as well.

  8. Very well said.

    Regardless of the fact that they are competing with the likes of facebook or orkut, I am yet to see a social network that has been successful because of mass media advertising.

    And if they have money, there are still better ways or running campaigns online or a mix of online + offline that would produce better results. Reason – because when you hit a user online, you have a chance of getting them to your site within the next few seconds. I agree that SEO / SEM may not be the best bet if they want to grow fast.

    I think your idea of hooking up with mobile manufacturers or mobile networks is a great one, especially given the reach of mobiles.

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