Simon & Garfunkel may have been the founders' inspiration, but naming the company after one of their more popular albums has turned out to be ironically true. The troubled waters of online advertising haven't been kind to either of the two sets of people who have tried navigating them - the pure plays, or the digital wings of bricks-and-mortar agencies. So it is for BridgeOverTW, a one-and-a-half-year-old pure play based in Chennai that defines itself as an online marketing consultancy. Having received its first round of funding of Rs 4.5 crore from ICICI Ventures last year, BridgeOverTW has twice tinkered with its business strategy, forged two alliances, and is working on more to stay alive and kicking. The first alliance, with BharatPlanet, has borne fruit now, in the form of Trigger, a software for personalised mailing.
Trigger is a software developed by Bharat Planet, a Chennai-based Internet technology company, to create, deliver, personalise, track and report e-mail campaigns. The solution is rich-media enabled, allowing deployment of e-mails containing sound, animation, graphics and video. This falls under BridgeOverTW's second big focus after online media buying and planning - direct marketing. Trigger can be better understood in the context of the two other crucial components of an online marketing cycle - data analysis and mining, and marketing and creative strategy. The first leads to the development of a strategy which is executed through Trigger, which, again, feeds back into the first, thus, enriching the database with valuable customer insights on the online front. Additionally, it can help marketers personalise messages on about 15 parameters.
This follows the alliance with BharatPlanet struck four months back, on a base development cost, to be adjusted against future earnings from deployment of this service. Revenues will henceforth be shared between the two parties. The alliance itself was a consequence of the rethinking on the use of the Net beyond advertising. "Looking then at the dot-com bust and the falling click-through rates, we figured out that the way of looking at the Net was wrong," recounts K D Badrinath, COO, BridgeOverTW, of late 2000, soon after he joined the company. "Instead of applying ad principles to the Net, it could be used as the best medium for direct marketing. That is what opened for us a second strategic use of the Net." It led to a third too - community-building, but as Badrinath says, it is early days to even talk of it in India.
The interest in BharatPlanet arose from the work that BridgeOverTW had done with it earlier. BharatPlanet runs an online shopping mall and a mail-system that combines offline mail with e-mail. BridgeOverTW had effectively used it for is customer Citibank when it decided to work with BharatPlanet to develop an indigenous e-mailing software. Of course, it was also cheaper than equivalents developed abroad, a key concern in times of cost-management.
Having executed Trigger, BridgeOverTW is now looking at plugging its other gaps - technology and creative (both in the realm of online advertising). At the same time, it is scouting for a foreign alliance in its bid to become what Badrinath calls a "knowledge company". If there's one thing it is not craving for now, it's funding. A reasonably clear roadmap for the medium-term, an unfavourable market, and a conservative attitude of the management are the reasons why.
What it is working at in the meantime is to beef up its direct marketing act. BridgeOverTW was incorporated in December 1999 by parent Third Agenda, a Chennai-based company that hosted Citibank's web site in India. Citibank asked Third Agenda for help in driving traffic to the site. Citing its lack of skills in media planning and buying, Third Agenda brought in Achuthan Kutty, a former ad guy, for the same. Realising a bigger potential in online marketing, Kutty and Third Agenda formed a new company in late 1999. From one client, its roster today includes names like IBM, Monster India, Sify (portal), Dishnet DSL, Samsung E-mart and Home Trade.
It has also shed thoughts of joining the ranks of Intercept and the like in the race for ad-server networks. "We had these thoughts earlier but ditched them soon after funding," recalls Badrinath. What it did add instead was a grip on offline marketing activity to synergise its online initiatives. This happened four months back in the form of an alliance with Dishnet Hubs across the country. It is looking at Net kiosks now.
With a clearer focus, and a bigger arena, it is aiming big. BridgeOverTW ended 2000-01 with capitalised billings (claimed) of Rs 8 crore. It has set its eyes at Rs 40 crore for this year.
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