Anirban Roy Choudhury
Interviews

"Priority is to get more people to try Amazon as their first e-commerce platform": Ravi Desai

By the end of this calendar year, the Indian online fashion market is estimated to reach USD14 billion. This has intensified the battle between two e-commerce giants in India - Amazon and Walmart owned Flipkart and its subsidiaries, Myntra and Jabong. At this stage, Myntra holds the edge but Amazon is fast catching up. Its ‘Wardrobe Refresh’ sale has gained popularity and is now a stiff competitor to Myntra’s ‘End Of Reason Sale’.

Known for its deeper pockets and marketing blitzkrieg, Amazon is now gearing up to anoint itself as the online fashion destination for Indian shoppers. The Seattle headquartered e-commerce giant established its Indian avatar with ‘Desi’ campaigns like ‘Aur Dikhao’, ‘Apni Dukaan’, 'Kitne Mein Mila' and many more. Next year, it is going to proclaim, ‘Har Pal Fashionable’ and the goal is to make Indians believe that.

“As we looked at our year ahead for the fashion and beauty side of the portfolio, we had a new thought that we want to share with our customers. If you look at Amazon, we offer a selection from one end of the spectrum all the way to designer boutique collections. When you think of a range which is this wide, you are able to offer customers a solution to their fashion and beauty needs and hence, the promise we make through our campaign - Har Pal Fashionable,” says Ravi Desai, director - Mass and Brand Management, Amazon India

Amazon has chosen the Filmfare Awards as the first medium to communicate this to the masses. The Indian film Industry holds in high regard the Filmfare 'black lady', that's given away to artistes for their film performances during the annual Filmfare awards. Organised by the Filmfare magazine - a part of The Times Of India group - the 'Filmfare Awards' has established itself as a formidable Intellectual Property that drives both gate revenue and television viewership. Viacom18’s general entertainment channel Colors will broadcast the awards night, while Facebook is the event’s streaming partner. Amazon has associated with the 65th edition of the awards as its title sponsor. In an exclusive interaction with afaqs!, Desai talks about the partnership, the opportunity it provides and the challenges in marketing and advertising.

Edited Excerpts:

Why did you decide to associate with the Filmfare awards as the title sponsor?

Filmfare gives you access to content. Certain moments in our lives are those bracketed moments - the equivalent of a red carpet, the equivalent of an awards night, the equivalent of a special evening out. We take inspiration from them and that is one end of the spectrum. We thought of Filmfare as the way in which we could actually associate with a property that carries a fair amount of credibility in this space. It is the 65th Filmfare awards and that is some stature that the brand life and the awards will bring to the table. Couple it with our own marketing intervention and we will be able to work together as an association of two brands that will help solve the customer’s needs. She looks for inspiration, she gets it from the content that Filmfare Awards give and then she looks at ways through which she can fulfill that inspiration. This is where Amazon fashion and beauty come in.

Also Read: "Products don't compete with products anymore": Ravi Desai, Amazon

Can you shed some light on the evaluation process that you follow before finalising on an intellectual property that you would like to associate with?

Firstly, we check if it can give us the right association and awareness. Is it the right thing to be partnering with and will it come with the right level of media exposure that will give us the kind of awareness about what we have associated with? There is no point in doing something if nobody in the world comes to know that we have associated with it. The second layer checks whether the property comes with the right kind of pedigree in the space in which it is. Will the property give us the right kind of target audience, will it give us the right kind of environment within which our brand story can be told? Is it something which will add, will remain neutral or will it detract? We want to stay away from things that might detract at times; properties that might get widely viewed but may detract from what our brand is trying to do. Those properties may give you a lot of eyeballs, but they don’t give you the right kind of credibility. The third is - partnerships like these go beyond just getting media presence and exposure. We are now looking at co-creating and curating content that you can actually use as part of your engagement drive across platforms.

This whole compartmentalisation of what is performance and what is imagery is actually a bit of artificial bracketing in our heads.
Ravi Desai

Is this a brand-building exercise or is the aim to drive performance for the fashion and beauty portfolio?

This whole compartmentalisation of what is performance and what is imagery is actually a bit of artificial bracketing in our heads. Imagery is never imagery by itself, and performance by itself won’t get you too far unless you have the right imagery in the customer’s mind. So, we don’t think of it as 'imagery' or 'performance' or 'brand building', it is actually a seamless mix of both. We want to give customers the right kind of content - our site has something called the magazine where influencers write articles. That is like being in a store and being able to read something about a product that you are about to browse. Add Filmfare content to that and you get a very nice blend and then, you can shop right there too.

(L to R) Deepak Lamba, Jitesh Pillai, Vidya Balan,  Ravi Desai
(L to R) Deepak Lamba, Jitesh Pillai, Vidya Balan, Ravi Desai

How do you measure the Return on Investment?

There are the usual media evaluation metrics - how much media exposure do you get, what kind of association are you likely to get? For example, in this case, there is content that is also a part of the partnership. Had we done this content? Firstly, would we have been able to do the content and if we would have, then what kind of effort and investment would it have taken? Then there is the ‘X’ factor to which you can’t really put a value to. It is the coming together of two brands where you create something, where one plus one becomes more than two. That two becoming three is the ‘X’ - factor. As Amazon, we believe that we are one of the most measurability effective marketing teams out there and we believe in measurement in the deepest possible way. Often times, despite the best efforts, you get the association wrong and not all properties give you the kind of returns you seek. But that's fine too, you learn and fine-tune as you go along.

At this stage, are you focussing on reaching the hinterland to drive in your next 100 million?

300 million urban Indians are on the Internet, roughly about 100 million Indians have bought products online. Within urban India, that is the kind of penetration that product e-commerce has managed to reach. The first priority is to get more and more people to try Amazon as their first e-commerce platform on which to buy physical products. At the other end of the spectrum, with Prime, we have probably the most successful, large - retailer led programmes running in the country. Prime has actually grown among the fastest in India, across the entire set of countries where Prime is present. Across the globe, Amazon has 150 million Prime members and we have seen our share of growth in India.

The biggest constraint that we work with is the customer’s attention and her ability to retain so many different messages from a single entity, Amazon.
Ravi Desai

When you have so many verticals within Amazon.in and then other services like Amazon Pay and Prime Video... how do you decide what to dedicate a hoarding to?

That is one of the challenges that the team and I keep grappling with. Because we are connected at the hip as Amazon, we do not necessarily need to advertise every single thing we do. We sell a lot of home and kitchen products but we don’t advertise them much. We sell a lot of books but we don’t advertise those much. There is a need for a certain part of services to get dedicated amplification and dedicated marketing interventions because there may be either opportunities that we are excited about or things that we would like to tell our customers. It is a bit of a challenge from a portfolio planning point of view when you have so many exciting things to say and not enough consumer attention. The biggest constraint that we work with is the customer’s attention and her ability to retain so many different messages from a single entity, Amazon.

How much of your decision making is driven by what your competition in the space is doing and how much weightage do you give to data?

A lot of it is not competition driven. We advertise Echo devices in India, that is a category creation opportunity because we believe that the future is through voice. We believe that voice will actually become the interface that customers will use for a lot of other things. Today, it is a smart speaker and you speak to it and it responds, plays you music, calls out news, reads out information, lets your kids learn… tomorrow, the voice will become the interface of a whole lot of interactions. Point one - our investment decisions are not competition focussed. Point two - there is a lot of data that goes behind the decisions we make, but not every decision is backed 100 per cent with data. You need to use some amount of judgment to make that final call. For example, let’s say two products or services are at 90 rupees each and you believe (through whatever customer insights you have) that backing business 'A' is better for Amazon than backing business 'B'

If you are an 18-year-old you don’t even know what a soap opera is but you are very familiar with what your style icon has messaged on Instagram this morning. If I want to speak to that 18-year-old with a fashion message I better be on Instagram.
Ravi Desai

How much of your decision making is driven by what your competition in the space is doing and how much weightage do you give to data?

Yes and no. Each medium play a certain role. Cricket, cinema still give you the kind of reach that you cannot get through most other properties. If you think of the middle of the year, cricketing property, it will give you the kind of widespread reach that no other six-week property (IPL) could give. Similarly, Bollywood has its own reach. But now with the kind of multi-screen lives that we lead, gone are the days when you came home at 8 o’clock and watched television between 8:30 to 10:30 and that was the median habit of an Indian household, today that is no longer the case. If you are an 18-year-old you don’t even know what a soap opera is but you are very familiar with what your style icon has messaged on Instagram this morning. If I want to speak to that 18-year-old with a fashion message I better be on Instagram. If I am advertising on the soap opera at 9 O’clock she is not going to be engaged with me. The multi-screen lives of today’s Indians pose challenges as well as opens up opportunities to speak to specific sets of customers with specific messages that are relevant to them. I wouldn’t say one is above the other it is rather horses for courses.