Akshit Pushkarna

Decoding ONDC's brand outreach strategy

With prominent names like Google and PepsiCo joining the ONDC bandwagon, Shireesh Joshi, CBO, ONDC, delves into the evolution of brand outreach within the network.

After announcing its partnership with Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC) in June, tech giant Google revealed new collaborations with the network during the recent 'Google for India' event.

Through the Google-ONDC collaboration, Google Maps users in India will soon be able to book metro tickets directly via the mapping app. Bikram Singh Bedi, managing director, Google Cloud India, unveiled the initiative, stating that this new feature would be rolled out across major metro cities in India over the next few months.

Interestingly, this integration is only made possible through buyer apps integrated with the ONDC network. In a conversation with afaqs!, Shireesh Joshi, CBO, ONDC, says, "It's important to note that ONDC operates as a protocol, not a consumer-facing application. Businesses build the consumer interfaces, and they are the ones communicating with users. Take UPI, for example; the UPI applications themselves are responsible for advertising. Similarly, existing applications like Paytm serve various payment needs. ONDC seamlessly integrates into these platforms."

ONDC operates as a non-profit organisation, focused on creating a unified platform where products and services from various e-commerce platforms are displayed in search results across all ONDC network apps. The essence of ONDC lies in its ability to enable seamless transactions between buyers and sellers, irrespective of the platforms they are registered on.

For businesses that have integrated the network, there's a button that leads users to the ONDC section. This area functions just like any other shopping platform: a search bar, highlighted products, and popular categories, among others.

Traditionally, if the buyer is registered on one e-commerce platform, they would be limited to the selection available on that specific website. However, with ONDC's integration, this limitation dissolves. If platforms like Amazon and Flipkart are both integrated into ONDC, a user searching for a smartphone case on Amazon could also see options available on Flipkart directly within the Amazon app.

Joshi opines that once users understand that shopping is available within this familiar environment, it clicks for them.

The government-backed non-profit organisation has seen partnerships with prominent businesses like Delhivery, Meesho, PayTM, Pepsico, Ferns N Petals, Razorpay, Ola, and Dunzo, among others, in the past few months.

Describing the network's onboarding process, Joshi emphasises their focus on two key areas: direct communication and practical implementation. "Right from the beginning, we've placed significant emphasis on direct outreach efforts. We've collaborated closely with specific companies, thus forming partnerships with them. We've also engaged in partner outreach programs through startup incubation centers. These centers serve as hubs for startups, and we've actively participated by presenting our offerings to their members."

"Additionally, we engage with industry associations to foster relationships and spread awareness about ONDC's transformative capabilities within the business community. State governments have also played a crucial role in our outreach efforts. They've deployed their resources and extended invitations to participants from various regions, encouraging their attendance and participation."

ONDC was founded on December 31, 2022. At the outset, the outreach efforts involved approaching a diverse range of organisations to help spread the word. Joshi remarks that then the focus was to explain the fundamental concept behind ONDC. As knowledge of the offerings of the network grew, the company shifted its focus.

"Today, as many people have a basic understanding of ONDC, our communication has evolved. We're no longer explaining the fundamental idea, instead, we're now clarifying how businesses can participate and gain from ONDC. We gauge our impact through the growth of our network, particularly in terms of companies joining us," he adds. 

The first formal step for companies interested in ONDC involves filling out what they term a 'profile sheet.' In this document, companies detail who they are, their business specifics, geographic reach, and category coverage. This process enables the ONDC team to discern which businesses have joined and which ones are in progress. Through tracking, they monitor their progress over time, thus ensuring seamless integration into the ONDC network.

While the network has an extensive strategy for brand outreach, their marketing initiatives for users are limited as it is not a consumer-facing network. Joshi informs that the consumer-facing interfaces are only built by partner entities. Hence, if there's any communication meant for consumers regarding the opportunity to engage with the ONDC Network, it is the businesses that handle it, as they are the ones directly interacting with the end-users.

The network's own promotional efforts are exclusively focused on organic media, and they do not invest in paid advertising. For them, press releases and social media have played a crucial role in disseminating information.

"This strategic choice is pivotal for us. We also recognise the importance of our social media channels. We understand that if the content we provide is valuable, people will naturally follow us. Consequently, our primary focus has been to curate news and information that hold intrinsic value for our audience. By consistently delivering meaningful content, we aim to establish our social media presence as a valuable resource," Joshi adds.

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