1. Rise of the challenger brands: From Uber, Paytm to Zomato, here is a look at 7 disruptors

Rise of the challenger brands: From Uber, Paytm to Zomato, here is a look at 7 disruptors

They’re usually lean, smart and agile, with a high risk appetite that only challenger brands can afford. Disruptors — brands that defy convention — are meant to shock the system out of a lethargic mindset, all the while bearing the risk of a fall being as steep as the rise. BrandWagon’s Shinmin Bali takes a look at the making of some of these disruptors

By: | Updated: December 13, 2016 2:57 PM
bw-l The thing that disruptors do best is expose opportunities that lie unattended in a market or create those opportunities. Uber has managed to sit comfortably between these two positions.

Let’s Uber it”

The thing that disruptors do best is expose opportunities that lie unattended in a market or create those opportunities. Uber has managed to sit comfortably between these two positions. Often considered the Bad Boy disruptor, it has offered to consumers a personalised, convenient, fast and clean experience of cab booking. An overwhelming number of digitally-savvy, app-familiar consumers were its biggest early supporters. Another way in which Uber disrupted the taxi business is by creating two sets of consumers: cab drivers and riders.

It was about more than selling a bottle of shampoo to somebody who was looking to buy a shampoo or an easier way to buy it. The continuous and far too frequent challenges faced by the company often raise questions about business ethics, be it the business legality of its drivers or issues about surge pricing. For most of the criticism that Uber faces, the company has gone to its consumers to speak on their behalf by displaying how deeply the brand has settled in people’s daily lives. This has never been on page one of marketing or crisis management books and journals.

In India, Uber started operations in Bengaluru in 2013 and is currently present in 29 cities with four lakh driver partners on its platform. To cater to the Indian consumer base, the brand has rolled out services such as Sign Up Lite, UberDost, Dial an Uber, UberGo and SOS features. The brand’s carpool feature, UberPool, is present in Delhi, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Chennai.

Tapped out of cash?”

Smartphones caught on in India really fast. Essentially almost everything began happening through mobile. The useful aspect for consumers would be if payments start happening online. The market in 2010 was not developed enough for such a service to be widely adopted. At the time, for Paytm, mobile recharges and bill payments seemed like the simplest offering consumers might be willing to try out.

A lot of it was about working out the best UI to roll out for making early adopters stick with the brand. The first rounds of communication happened via Facebook and Google. In 2016, Paytm marked aside R500-600 crore for communication. When online recharges and mobile bill payment had gained good traction, the brand started adding other services. This was in line to counter uninstallation of the app by supplying users with more chances to use the app.

In 2014, Paytm realised that it had still not become a ‘big, reliable, offline’ brand. This is when investments in offline media began for the brand which put it on an upward trajectory. This was done to build trust among the populace, a trait highly valued by the Indian market.

The next phase saw the company put efforts behind acclimatising offline setups like a mom-and-pop store, to start using Paytm, in turn spreading the word to more consumers. Paytm’s roots may be in the online payments space but offline payments is where it sees potential given that 5-10% of transactions happen offline.

Piping hot disruption”

One of the challenges when a brand such as Paytm decides to expand on its facilities is keeping the back-end tech spot on. At its peak in a day, Paytm claims to be handling 60-70 lakh transactions. Incentivisation added a layer to the brand’s offering to widen the user base beyond early adopters. Though, over a period of time, the company has eased the pedal on incentives.

Born out of a need to optimally utilise the duration of a lunch break, Zomato (earlier FoodieBay) plays in a space where it is currently leading. Since Zomato’s inception, for almost one-and-a-half years, Deepinder Goyal and Pankaj Chaddah (founders) were with Bain & Co collecting, scanning and uploading menu cards during the weekends. Soon they went live with menus for 1,200 restaurants in Delhi/NCR in July 2008, which expanded to 2,000 restaurants by the end of the year.

Thereafter, they expanded to Kolkata, Bengaluru, Mumbai and Pune. The focus was to become the go-to restaurant search mechanism in India. Zomato was one of the first few local search players in the country to have a smartphone app across all platforms — a first-mover advantage on the mobile platform so to speak. For about six to eight months, the brand also experimented with moving into events and ticketing around 2011-12 before bringing its full focus back to search.

Currently in India, advertising sales contribute 70% to its revenues whereas 30% is from online ordering. Table reservation, a concept yet novel at a mass scale for the Indian consumer, is something that the brand has started very recently. Upon securing its place in the consumer’s consideration set as a search destination, the brand kept building and expanding beyond India and added more offerings.

Zomato is currently present in 23 countries with offices in 13 of these markets. Zomato has been more than just a disruptor when it enters other markets around the world — where it may not necessarily have the first-mover advantage. The focus then turns to thoroughly researched and regularly updated content, product localisation (different filters and attributes depending on location), engaging and building the Zomato community and on-ground marketing in the cities that it is present in.

For the wanderers

Airbnb can be said to have added another layer of excitement to planning vacations. Its ‘products’ go from booking sprawling luxurious condos to a one-room flat 10 minutes from the Tube. Airbnb apart from providing consumers with a host of never-before accommodations and hence experiences, opened up access for visitors to places that were perhaps not that well serviced by the hotel industry.

Airbnb’s success lies, at its core, not in handling the properties that are let out, but the people — both guests and hosts — and the commission that comes from it.

The brand currently operates in 191 countries. Having launched in 2008, the brand rolled out its global communication in 2014. What gets the established hotel and travel industry worried is that it has a bouquet of offerings to cater to everyone from vacationers, business travellers, transiters and even events. Of late, the company is evolving from its fairly simple model. It is now looking to curate and provide unique experiences to travellers with two varied products: Airbnb Trips and Airbnb Places.

Airbnb coming in did not just mean that the bi-anually vacationing family was attracted towards the disruptor but that it was able to service a host of requests without technically owning the inventory at all. All the while promising quality options for stay and value for money.

The Chinese warriors”

OnePlus, a three year-old company, saw an opportunity gap in the premium smartphone segment. Premium product consumers were with Apple at the time and OnePlus looked to provide a good Android smartphone to compete with that with most of the bells and whistles minus the extra cash. The company chose to co-develop the product with users by interacting with them via forums. OnePlus One, the first product from the company’s stable, sold over a million units in the global market. And well begun is half done.

The invite-only system comprising owner invites and online contests created a scenario that helped the company manage its inventory better. It also ensured that almost all of the interest being shown towards the product translated into sales. And given that this was online, the company could shave off costs otherwise incurred for distribution and retail, and loop it back to product development.

Confident of the consumer base it has attracted, the company suspended the invite system with the launch of OnePlus 3 earlier this year. OnePlus is currently present in 33 countries and prefers to keep it simple by selling only via Amazon. The brand has set up six service centres across India which double up as experience zones with purchasing directed back to Amazon.

Xiaomi, founded by Lei Jun and headquartered in Beijing, entered India in 2014 with the flash sales model. The strategy established a sense of exclusivity and gave consumers a sense of belonging to a group of select few. An online-only distribution focus, to start off with, helped the brand economise its cost of doing business — a benefit that passes on to the consumer in terms of product pricing. It is to be noted that the brand consciously steers clear from marketing and advertising activities. As per recent data from IDC, Xiaomi is one of the top five mobile vendors in India.

Its focus on user communities has also contributed to the brand’s success in India. Consistent engagement with users for feedback and grievance redressal (essentially, offline after sales services that Indian consumers value highly) have helped. The brand says that currently more than 75% of its phones sold here are being manufactured in India with over 70 exclusive service centres and a presence in over 160 multi-brand stores. It also supplements its sales with a host of accessories and products, as close to cutting edge as pricing allows. In addition to Mi.com, the brand is currently present on Flipkart, Amazon, Snapdeal, Paytm and Tata CliQ.

Now streaming”

Netflix entered India earlier this year. This is a brand that has lived its story in its domestic market (the US) for a very long time giving other markets an idea of what to expect. The answer to whether it finds takers in other markets lies in whether consumers there say a quick “Yes” to subscription. That is where its disruption capabilities kick in, especially in a market like India where ‘…but will people subscribe?’ has been the big looming question.

By the end of 2016, the brand aims to have added over 600 hours of Netflix original programming — apart from several licensed TV shows and movies — to its service. Netflix banks on the exclusivity of its content, simulcasting, collection of films and documentaries, and the quality of the content delivery environment. To cater to markets similar to India where the consumer is conscious of the amount of data being utilised, the company built its own content delivery network called Open Connect, which has adaptive streaming.

For the Indian populace that was familiar with Netflix, the library when it entered the market was a bit of a letdown. The brand is not only focussing on international content but making domestic content available too. The jury is still out on whether its first year in India in terms of revenue can be labelled a success but it has definitely made a case for the subscription model.

With inputs from Pramod Rao, SVP Growth — Zomato; Shankar Nath, senior VP, Paytm and Vikas Agarwal, GM, OnePlus



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