The Missed Call Opportunity

Dated: June 01, 2014

At a time when agencies and advertisers were smitten by QR codes and augmented reality apps to engage with those joining the smart-phone bandwagon, Valerie R. Wagoner, Sanjay Swamy, and Amiya Pathak were thinking differently. ‘How can brands engage with the average Indian consumer who probably doesn’t even know how to store contact numbers on his phone, let alone download an app?’, was the question on their minds. The answer lay in their company’s name — ZipDial… Headquartered in Bangalore, the company has over 40 employees and has offices in Delhi, Mumbai, and Singapore.


Valerie R Wagoner who has been in India for the last six years. She spent the first two years working for mChek, a mobile payments company, as Head, Strategic Initiatives. Along with her co-founders, she launched ZipDial in 2010. Ask her for her visiting card and she asks you to dial a number instead, the ZipDial way, to get all her contact details on your phone.

In a conversation with Sapna Nair-Purohit, Valerie R. Wagoner talks about how ZipDial was born, the patterns of mobile consumption in India, the idea of building and maintaining a prolonged state of engagement with consumers on the mobile platform, and much more.

CB: What prompted you to launch ZipDial? What are were some of the insights you gathered from the Indian market?

There were two big insights — emerging-market consumers behave differently, especially around marketing and technology. In these markets, consumer-oriented technology primarily came from the West who have no clue how users in India behave.

The second insight was that there was essentially no data in the Indian market on consumers at a personalised level, unlike in the UK, Singapore or the United States — where everybody swipes credit cards for everything and are constantly plugged in. There is a massive amount of data on consumers, their preferences, and the purchases they make. In markets such as India’s unorganised retail stands at 90 percent, without a point of sale, 97 percent purchases happen in cash and, increasingly, people have phones, but mobile data is still used by less than 15 percent. There’s a dearth of data about these consumers and there’s inability to do any targeting or personalisation of consumer experience.

We decided to combine those two things. The foundation of ZipDial is to turn any media touch point into an interactive one. It could be print, TV, radio, point of sale, or even a product package and having a call to action (CTA), to make it interactive. That then turns into an ongoing mobile experience. So, it’s not just about responding to a brand once, but becoming a fan of that brand. The idea is to give emerging-market consumers a better user interface and experience and learn a lot about their preferences, and give them better targeting and personalisation. This also drives better ROI for marketers.

When we come back to the unique behaviours of the emerging-market consumer, the missed call is a perfect example of that. It’s a simple dialling experience that people do all the time between each other.

Tell us about the ‘missed call’ phenomenon.

People here use their phones differently, and not just in India. The missed call behaviour is pervasive in Africa, East Europe, and the Philippines... Over 90 percent of retail shops are unorganised mom-n-pop shops who only accept cash. If you offer a mobile (discount) coupon in small shops, there’s a chance that the distributors themselves will keep the coupon and sell it at a high price. So how do we give the consumer a mobile coupon experience? You offer them something like a mobile recharge, which is as good as cash. So instead of forcing people to remember a code or manage a code in stores that do not have a proper point of sale system, get the value directly to the consumer. For instance, instead of giving me a shampoo worth Rs. 100 for Rs. 90, I pay the full amount and get a mobile recharge worth Rs. 10 instantly.

We have a wallet concept, where the consumer can access any coupons he has, anytime and present it to the retailer. All that the consumer has to do is give a missed call to the wallet number and get their coupon code instantly. It’s like checking your bank balance.

Our user interface varies holistically. It’s a combination of voice, text and data, and integrating them. We can detect if a user has Twitter or WhatsApp downloaded, we can continue the engagement through that interface. So, it’s not just about missed calls per se.

How did agencies and marketers react to this proposition?

Year one was all about, ‘oh, what about QR codes?’ and ‘I want to build a WAP site’; it was more focused on ‘what the next flashy thing is’. A QR code is totally irrelevant in India and so many other markets. People in the U.S. don’t use it. Only about a quarter in Japan use it. We have always been rooted in the results. Once we got our first three clients — Gillette, Oreo, and Kingfisher — the results showed that it really works. The value of the data that comes out helps them make informed marketing plans. There’s now a lot of demand. Until we started this company, everyone was ignoring the 95 percent. We embrace a 100 percent approach. ZipDial user can be engaged through WhatsApp, Twitter, SMS, or its own app.

How many clients do you have on board now?

We have more than 500 customers, including small businesses who come to us to sign up for self service for basic solutions and pay online, despite the fact that we don’t market to them at all. We have 80 big brands — P&G, Unilever, Pepsi, Coke, Nestle, Cadbury, L’Oreal, and Johnson and Johnson, to name a few.

What are the services you offer these clients?

Depends on what the need of the brand is, in its lifecycle. If it’s say, driving product trials, we do automated sampling. So, instead of having to send agents out to give away samples, who get paid on the basis of how many they give away and that can be inaccurate, we can create a simple mobile experience for the consumer to verify that they’ve collected a sample. This means real-time reporting. You could be sitting in your office in Mumbai and know what’s happening in Guwahati. The consumer-connect that happens when he/she tries the product is a fantastic starting point to have an ongoing conversation with them over mobile.

How do you ensure that consumers react to the CTA, which is to call a random number?

It depends on what the brand campaign is. If it’s a terrible brand and a terrible campaign, of course nobody’s going to call. If it’s a Pepsi saying you can win IPL tickets, then there’ll be many calls. Gratification matters; it helps, but it’s not necessarily the only driver. Friend referrals are important too. How we do friend referrals and implement social and viral campaigns is, by allowing people to get a dynamic referral number after participating in a campaign. Similar to sending a link to click on, but I tell you to dial a number. That number is uniquely assigned to you so that the platform knows that you and I are friends and that I invited you. The objective is to drive an increase in reach.

Messaging matters as well. The best performing campaign we did for Gillette had no gratification. It asked people to pledge their support to respect women and get their friends to pledge too. Normally, they would get around 35-40 percent increase in reach through referrals, but in this they got a 200 percent increase.

What objectives does ZipDial help brands achieve?

The user interface is a mix of voice, text, and data. The easiest thing to do for anyone from any phone is dialling. So, that’s the most common starting point. We do use SMS sometimes. After that, we get a targeted user interface. The ZipDial platform knows that A has downloaded WhatsApp and is on a smartphone, so responses can be gathered through WhatsApp links to click on or download an app. We can track all that behaviour through the data-based interface. Reach, awareness, and product trials are some of the objectives that can be achieved.

The ongoing conversation on mobile with a consumer could border on intrusion…

We are 100 percent permission driven. The control at all times is in the user’s hand. Unlike the 0.1 percent conversion rate achieved through SMS-blast marketing which resorts to spamming consumer’s inboxes, ZipDial has been consistently delivering 22 percent conversion.




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