Face off: Baidu takes a localised approach in each market, says Baidu’s Josh Fenn

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Updated: Aug 16, 2016 7:53 AM

Chinese search engine Baidu, which opened its India office in Delhi last year, wants to expand its services in India through an ad platform and a localised marketplace.

Baidu has so far launched only niche utility applications in India, while in other markets it is also present in online to offline (O2O) and search spaces. (Source: Reuters)Baidu has so far launched only niche utility applications in India, while in other markets it is also present in online to offline (O2O) and search spaces. (Source: Reuters)

Chinese search engine Baidu, which opened its India office in Delhi last year, wants to expand its services in India through an ad platform and a localised marketplace.

Josh Fenn of Baidu Inc’s Global Business Unit speaks to BrandWagon’s Ankita Rai on the company’s India strategy, its focus on app developers and building a digital ecosystem.

Baidu has so far launched only niche utility applications in India, while in other markets it is also present in online to offline (O2O) and search spaces. What is the India strategy?

In India, the focus is on mobile and mobile-related products because there is a global shift towards mobile. It was in 2008 that we started bringing our products outside China. India is our newest market.

Between 2008 and 2013, we launched some of our popular products here such as DU Battery Saver, DU Speed Booster, Baidu Browser, MoboMarket, ES File Explorer and input app Simeji.

The marketplace MoboMarket was first launched in Indonesia and shortly afterwards in India. MoboMarket has 4.5 million active monthly users each in India and Indonesia. In India, MoboMarket is available in Hindi, Tamil, Marathi, Bangla, Marathi and Urdu, with Telugu launching soon. Developers can launch their apps on this platform and get more eyeballs in the domestic market and monetise through our DU Ad Platform. There are eight million monthly active users for DU Battery Saver and Du Speed Booster in India, while ES File Explorer has 10 million monthly active users.

In India, we are focussed on building a strong foundation of internet services that will help to build the ecosystem.

The first phase of the India strategy was launched in 2013-2014 aimed at building a user base for our products here.

The second phase was to introduce more developer facing platforms and grow the ecosystem. That’s where MoboMarket comes into play. The marketplace aims to enable local developers find the right audience for their apps and get more downloads. The third phase is aimed at enabling developers make more money out of it. That’s where the DU Ad Platform comes into play.

As Baidu looks to capitalise on opportunities outside China, what kind of markets are you targeting?

If you look at all the countries that we have offices in apart from the US — Brazil, Egypt, India, Thailand, Indonesia and Japan — Japan stands out, being the most developed market. The rest are emerging countries and have similar characteristics such as lower smartphone and internet penetration, but are fast growing. We
observed a similar trend in China a few years ago.

Now China has 52 per cent internet penetration. It has over 700 million internet subscribers across PC and mobile. So yes, we are looking for countries similar to China that are in the early phases of mobile internet. Second, we have a localised strategy for each market instead of rolling out generic products.

We have been operating in China for 16 years. We have developed unique ways to bridge the technology gap. For example, we have made our search more humanised and help people who don’t know how to interact with technology.

For instance in hinterlands, people write long queries when searching something online. We understand how to bridge this gap between rural and urban population and we are planning to bring this expertise in India and other countries too.

A majority of Baidu’s revenues comes from search advertising. But the whole idea of search is changing. Users can now get news, weather updates or even search for flights on platforms like Facebook or even in the Chinese context, on WeChat. Is the market for search saturating with competition coming from non-traditional players?

The search market has evolved quite a bit since 2014. There are different entry ways for people to find information they are looking for, such as Facebook, WeChat, e-commerce portals or through O2O services. In China, we have a very strong position in search due to integration of machine learning technology.

In mobile search, our market share is over 75 per cent. We have 660 million monthly active users on our mobile search platform in China. The search market is not narrowing down but our focus is building foundational services for the internet ecosystem here in India.

Baidu launched a search engine in Brazil in 2014. As you expand globally, do you plan to launch search in other countries? Given Baidu’s experience in the O2O business model in China, do you plan to replicate similar offerings in other markets?

Baidu is present in information, search, app platforms, AI and machine learning technologies. We previously launched search in Brazil, Thailand, Egypt and Japan. But we are now more focussed on mobile products and services. Search is just one way of looking at things. We are integrating machine learning in O2O services. We are diversifying into other entry ways of search.

For example, you can integrate machine learning into group buying platforms. We have 1.6 billion users outside China. In terms of user numbers, the biggest markets are Indonesia, India and the US. In 2014, we acquired Brazil’s biggest deal platform, Peixe Urbano. The company has 70 per cent of the domestic market share. We take a localised approach in each market. In India, we don’t have any plans right now in the O2O space, but it is a possibility.

Baidu launched its ad platform for advertisers and publishers in India this year. How will it help small app developers?

In case of an app ecosystem, it is important to support the small developers. This is what we learnt in China and aim to implement it in other countries such as India.

The DU Ad Platform, launched in March, helps small app developers in monetisation. It provides advertisers with intelligent targeted ads and publishers with efficient monetisation solutions. We have 1.6 billion users for all of our apps outside China.

Ankita.Rai@expressindia.com
@rankita

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