Interview: Nikhil Rungta, country manager, Verizon Media

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January 22, 2021 7:11 AM

‘Live streaming coming of age is a key outcome of the pandemic’

From online retailers trying to create virtual trial rooms, product demos and test drives, to making offline experiences like real estate site visits virtual, brands of all categories experiment with immersive technologiesFrom online retailers trying to create virtual trial rooms, product demos and test drives, to making offline experiences like real estate site visits virtual, brands of all categories experiment with immersive technologies

Verizon Media in India has been aiding brands in their digital transformation, especially in fast-tracking commerce and content requirements that have risen in the past one year. Nikhil Rungta talks to Venkata Susmita Biswas about the definitive changes in consumer behaviour that brands need to take cognisance of, the trends in social commerce, and Yahoo!’s India focus.

What are some of the actionable learnings for brands in view of how the pandemic has shaped consumer behaviour?

A big event like this brings about big changes in consumer behaviour — some reversible and some irreversible. Before the pandemic, several traditional brands wondered if they truly needed to go digital and if there was a large audience that could be addressed via digital platforms. Some were sitting on the fence; some were not yet ready to invest in digital; but now, brands are asking how soon they can go digital.

We have almost short-circuited to 2030 in terms of some business practices. For instance, omnichannel is a concept that people have been talking about for five years, however it was unclear how many were implementing it. Now it is clear as day that omnichannel has finally taken off. Anything that was offline has started implementing the best practices of online and vice-versa.

What are some key online commerce touchpoints that gained relevance?

The coming of age of live streaming is a key outcome of the pandemic. Until 2020, live streaming was possibly about watching a show live on an OTT platform. Now, live streaming has transcended entertainment and become relevant across education, events, health and wellness, and commerce. This change in behaviour is going to stay, especially in commerce.

It is imperative to be Instagram-worthy now, whether you are selling a product or offering a service. Every brand needs to create content that is shareable and meme-able as the new consumer mantra is ‘share and show-off’. Even online reviews of brands are becoming more important. For instance, now waiters at restaurants and staff at retail outlets ask for reviews and ratings on platforms.

You said Verizon Media doubled down on building and improving products for brands in 2020. What were some of these?

We have seen immense growth in shoppable content and shopping through live streaming. India has a large number of social media users. For the longest time, desire was created on one platform and the fulfilment of that desire happened elsewhere. Since social media platforms are now equipped with commerce tools, they are destinations not just for creating desires, but also for fulfiling them. The other focus area has been immersive formats. AR, VR and XR, which have been buzzwords for some time now, became a reality, as marketers had to make shopping immersive for consumers browsing from home. From online retailers trying to create virtual trial rooms, product demos and test drives, to making offline experiences like real estate site visits virtual, we are seeing brands of all categories experiment with immersive technologies.

How are you making Yahoo! relevant to Indian users, given that Google is the most preferred search engine and email service?

Yahoo!’s brand recall is 98%. Today, brand recognition is the hardest thing to build, and we have that. Our goal for Yahoo! in India is not reinvention, but reinvigorating our core strengths and showing people the role we play in their lives. Yahoo! Mail is the cornerstone of our business. Our overhauled Yahoo! Mail app offers a more personalised experience for users. One feature users in India love is that it offers 1 TB free storage. We have also introduced a feature with which users can scan documents directly from their Yahoo! Mail app. Yahoo! News is our bread and butter in India. For this market, we are investing across four verticals — Yahoo! Cricket, Yahoo! News, Yahoo! Finance and Yahoo! Entertainment/ Lifestyle.

Publishers are losing trust in platforms that prioritise news. How do you tackle this?

We follow three models: the first is offering a fee to license content, the second is sharing of ad revenues, and the third being a mutually beneficial ‘content for traffic’ model, in which, as aggregators, we get the content, while publishers benefit from traffic to their sites. Amidst widespread news fatigue and the all-pervasive threat of fake news online, we offer a broader synergy where our publisher partners can benefit from a premium environment as they drive traffic and engagement, and tap into new audiences with their content featured on our trusted platform.

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