Abid Hussain BarlaskarPublished: 19 Sep 2019, 12:00 AM
Marketing

"Moment of anxiety is when we open the doors to our sale": Amazon's Ravi Desai

Amazon, the e-commerce giant, just announced its festive season sale, ’Great Indian Festival’, set to start from midnight on September 29. The sale event starts as India braces for the festive season — from October till late November. It includes Durga Puja, Navaratri, Diwali and Dussehra among prime occasions.

Over the years, 'Great Indian Festival' has turned almost into an Amazon product, something like a sub-brand or maybe an IP. Just like the pre-summer ad bash for soft drink brands, Amazon goes all guns blazing for the festive season. It's like selling a sale. However, Amazon shares the 'sale' space with rivals such as Flipkart's Big Billion Days.

As part of its overall brand communications, Amazon flagged off its #AmazonFestiveYatra – a 'house-on-wheels' from Delhi.
As part of its overall brand communications, Amazon flagged off its #AmazonFestiveYatra – a 'house-on-wheels' from Delhi.

We caught up with Ravi Desai - director, mass and brand marketing, Amazon India to get a glimpse of the grind that goes on backstage at Amazon India as the team readies to roll out its annual mega sale.

Desai reveals that the preparation for Diwali at Amazon, starts several months in advance. For all Amazon teams - the product team, the category teams, the payments team, the marketing team both on the performance and mass branding side, the preparations for Diwali has already started by then. "It's almost like we complete the previous Diwali around November and next by January, the following Diwali seems like it's upon us. Preparation for Diwali starts as early as that," he says.

Ravi Desai - director, Mass and Brand Marketing, Amazon India.
Ravi Desai - director, Mass and Brand Marketing, Amazon India.

"In the digital world, we have access to real-time data. Thus, once the sale actually kicks off, we're able to do things literally by the hour and by the day and performance trends are clearly visible. We can make a lot of changes, whether to the message or the media deployment in certain mediums on a real-time basis.”

Allowing a peek into the sale time ‘war room’ Desai says, "We organise ourselves so that we can first read the data we are picking up real-time, and keep some contingency plans ready. Say, if something is doing really well in a certain part of the country we just message that more and we probably have picked up on a trend that might be coming alive. We'd probably need some creatives to change at that time, or if you need deeper reach in certain parts of the country you activate a certain media deployment for the next day so that we can reach out to more customers.”

So, where do agency partners fit in, in the 'war room’?

"In case of a creative agency, a lot of the work has already been done and that work cannot be re-done real-time. In case of a media agency, we may at times have folks from the agency sitting in the Amazon offices working with us hand in hand so that there is no lapse of time or there is no loss in transmission situation. In such cases, you need to make decisions by the hour. We are very finicky about the measurement, which is a large part of what we do. We would like to measure everything that is happening in real-time so that we are able to pick up the right trends and accordingly deploy inputs.”

Speaking of sales, almost all the e-commerce platforms would be announcing some sale or the other around the same time and many sales at the same time would be as good as no sale.

Desai responds, "We don't keep our rivals in mind at all. We want to be customer backwards. Over the course of seven Diwalis, we have seen that the purchase cycle of Diwali starts literally a month in advance and hence we use that as a signal and time our sale so that we are able to tap into our customers' demand when they are looking for products.”

The brand team set up a 1000 sqft apartment on three trucks (like those awesome shipping-container homes) and filled it with household items - from a chopping board to automated security cameras.
The brand team set up a 1000 sqft apartment on three trucks (like those awesome shipping-container homes) and filled it with household items - from a chopping board to automated security cameras.

He mentions that Amazon tracks the purchase cycle from a customer lifecycle standpoint and builds the campaign accordingly. "If you look at high ASP (average selling price) items like televisions, the customer might have decided to buy it months in advance. As they get nearer to Diwali, the relevant people in the home will start researching on what TV they should buy. They are picking up messages from other family members about their experiences. Someone might have had a good experience and you want that to come through. This is the phase right now. A month or so before the actual sale starts is when the country is literally making up its mind on what products to buy and from which retail outlet or online platform.”

Amazon has introduced a set of new features including scheduled delivery, unboxing prior to delivery (in 10 cities), instant installation (in 6 metros) i.e., products are installed and ready to use immediately. "The installation part matters. You don't want a box lying around instead of setting it up and enjoying the TV. That was a large delighter for us," Desai says.

The brand's ongoing campaigns build up on the conflicts that exist in the Indian family between the Diwali wishlist and the budget. Thus the campaign, 'India ke khushiyon ke beech budget nahi aayega.' “Amazon's 'Great Indian Festival' will almost be like a product that will play a role in resolving the conflict that the family is going through,” Desai says.

And how does the campaign delivery change across geography and consumer pockets? "We are choosing the media mix based on the target audience as well as the messages. A metro customer will probably see us across the following touch points –- digital, TV, print on the day of the sale, a few articles coming out before the sale through print tie ups, that would talk about some of the new features, OOH and radio. When it goes to tier 2/3 India, we are looking at relevant media such as TV, radio, free-to-air Doordarshan, vernacular print in a much bigger role, whereas, digital would play a sightly different role,” divulges Desai.

But in the space of regular discounting and multiple simultaneous sales, isn't it another regular day at Amazon. Desai explains that the sale plays more of a dual role — that of a sale and also of attracting new users. "We don't think of it just as discounting. A lot of times, new customers sample the marketplace. And it is the new customers that help us grow stronger when we move into the next year. It's not just about selling products to existing customers but also about inviting and getting to the next 100 million customers who will try Amazon for the first time.”

Amazon has also enabled the entire site in Hindi and is betting on deeper reach in the Hindi speaking market segments.

The house-on-wheels 'Yatra' will visit 13 cities starting with Delhi and covering over 6,000 kms before reaching Amazon's home in India, Bengaluru.
The house-on-wheels 'Yatra' will visit 13 cities starting with Delhi and covering over 6,000 kms before reaching Amazon's home in India, Bengaluru.

A digital-first and tech-driven company, Amazon is a big digital advertiser. But despite its pros, the digital space is notorious for its cons such as viewability, fraud and brand safety. While Desai maintains that he has his bases covered with the experience of past campaigns and the company's data driven decision making processes, he accepts that once in a while, the team does get caught off guard.

Speaking on the key expectations from agency partners, Desai says, "Thinking customer-first and taking one idea and seeing how it can travel across media so that it doesn't just remain in an independent TV spot, and digital ad has nothing to do with the TV spot, and the print ad is like some other person's art coming alive. The idea needs to be large, thought through and backed with customer insights. It should be able to give space to all the business objectives and ideally travel across media such that, at the relevant time and the relevant touch point the customer gets to interact with it.”

The marketer's moment of truth.

"After months of planning when it actually comes alive and we see customers coming to the site as we open the doors, that would be my biggest anxiety moment,” he shares candidly.