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Telibrahma’s blufi and Intaract help brands and advertisers engage better with their customers

In June 2011, Coca Cola partnered with MTV India to present Coke Studio, a television seriesfeaturing live music performances by popular artists, folk legends and some promising new talent across genres of music. As part of its promos, you could not only catch the videos on YouTube, you could also download them to your mobile by just turning on your Bluetooth device across locations like malls, airports, Domino’s Pizza outlets and Inox cinemas.

Through the campaign, which lasted around two months, Coke Studio videos were downloaded almost 10 million times. It was a priceless opportunity for any advertiser to interact with so many consumers in such a short timespan. And Coca Cola had Telibrahma to thank. The Bengaluru-based company’s bluetooth and wifi (Blufi) network is helping advertisers like Coca Cola engage more directly with their customers.  

Suresh Narasimha and B Ravi, who founded Telibrahma in 2004, met when they were working in eVector, a mobile software company that built products for the stock market in 2000. eVector didn’t really take off but their partnership did. Telibrahma represents the creation (Brahma being the Hindu god of creation) of solutions in the space where telecom and internet converge. When it first started, the company made mobile-based solutions.

For instance, it developed a Blackberry solution for the Bengaluru traffic police to catch traffic violations and issue challans on the spot, which was also used by the Chennai Corporation for tax collection. Narasimha and Ravi realised that this business was not scalable in the time frame they had in mind but they also figured there was an opportunity in building a network outside the GPRS. 

“Mobile application companies didn’t have any alternative route to promote their applications other than tying up with operators,” says B Ravi, COO and co-founder, Telibrahma. “Also, GPRS penetration is low in India, so how do you reach the consumer? Thus we developed a network using Bluetooth and Wi-fi that was independent of the telecom operator networks.” 

In 2008, Telibrahma launched its Blufi network away from the operators to deliver multimedia content and location-based services.  So, if you switched on the Bluetooth on your mobile while you were in a mall or an airport, Telibrahma would deliver multi-media content to your phone. The company’s network has been deployed at over 1,500 locations, including Café Coffee Day and Barista outlets, and at leading retail chains including Shoppers Stop, Lifestyle and malls — now users get information on ongoing deals as they shop.

The company has tied up with a few third-party content providers to provide relevant information depending on the location of the consumer; the costs are shared with the brands. The brands are charged on a per download basis and, if they want to, they can engage with the same set of customers on new campaigns. Narasimha and Ravi say nearly 3 million consumers engage multiple times with brands and stores on their Blufi network every month. “We are the world’s largest network outside the telecom operators,” says Suresh Narasimha, CEO and founder of Telibrahma. “We help brands deliver relevant information to consumers based on their location, which creates a greater impact.” By 2012-13, the company plans to have more than 10 million customers accessing information on its network every month — the best part is, there is no need to share revenue with telecom operators. 

“What we like about the Telibrahma business is that it does not depend on the telecom operator to deliver content on the mobile,” says Samir Kumar, managing director, Inventus Capital, which, along with Ojas Partners, invested $2 million in the company in 2008. “So, unlike any mobile VAS company where the operators take the chunk of the revenue, leaving only 20-30% to the company, here the entire revenue stays with Telibrahma.” Intel Capital was among the latest to join the list of investors when it put money into the company in 2011. 

The Next Level

In 2008, Telibrahma was also repositioned from being a technology company to a company that helped advertisers integrate across their traditional and digital media spend with its mobile solutions. “While digital media budgets have been increasing, traditional media still gets the major chunk of the ad budgets given its reach, so we wanted to come up a solution that could help brands integrate across their media spends. And that’s how  Intaract happened,” says Ravi. 

After launching its Blufi network, Telibrahma took customer interaction to the next level in 2010 with the launch of its mobile application, Intaract, which is based on augmented reality. Augmented reality is about improving the real-world environment with virtual information such as graphics, video or audio through a mobile or a computer screen, which allows consumers to interact more with a brand or product before or during a purchase. “TV has the ability to make an emotional connect with viewers and provide more information than print,” says Ravi. “So what we did was to replicate the television experience on the mobile by augmenting a print ad.”

 How the company gives customers an edge

Using augmented reality, Intaract allows people to get information about a product or a brand by just clicking a picture of the brand or the product. For instance, if you are browsing through a newspaper or a magazine and want to know more about Toyota’s Liva, all you have to do is focus the mobile camera on the logo and click and you will get all the product reviews, the closest Toyota dealership near you, customer video testimonials, all YouTube videos on Liva, and its Facebook page and Twitter feeds as well. The app also allows you to change the colour of the car, check out its features in 3D and book a test drive. In short, a print ad becomes an interactive live experience for the customer.

Unlike some apps that work on quick response (QR) codes, Telibrahma’s Intaract works on the visual recognition capabilities of the mobile. “One of our global mandates is replacing QR codes. We are telling companies that your brand and logos are your codes. You don’t need anything more,” says Narasimha.  

For Nike, one click on the swoosh and the celebrity featured in the ad gives the reader at-home tips on the product. Nike has now augmented the swoosh logo to present the complete line of products wherever consumers are, by simply scanning the product logo. “It’s valuable to both the consumers and advertisers,” says Narasimha. “Customers get relevant information and advertisers also have a lot of interest because they are augmenting a print ad by opting for our solution.”

The app also works on movie posters — at the click of a button, you can get information on the cast, reviews, theatres at which it’s playing and book tickets too. Intaract, which can be downloaded free, works on a variety of mobile phone operating systems so its utility is not restricted to smart phone users. The app has already managed to get 500,000 users and many of India’s top brands, including Nike, Ford, Toyota, IFB and Hindustan Unilever, are on board. 

All of this comes at a nominal incremental cost to advertisers. “Advertisers pay just 5% of their traditional media budgets [to Telibrahma] in the interest of achieving direct interaction with prospective customers,” says Narasimha. Given that the market for traditional adspend is around ₹20,000 crore in India, the potential market for Intaract is around ₹1,000 crore. Globally, the market for traditional adspend is much larger, at $300 billion, giving a Telibrahma a $15 billion market to play in. No wonder then, after its initial success in India, the company is taking its products overseas, particularly the US and Asia-Pacific. Intaract contributes 60% to Telibrahma’s revenue while Blufi contributes the balance. The company is targeting revenue of around $10 million in 2012-13. Once revenue from overseas gains momentum, Telibrahma hopes to clock around $30 million in revenue by 2013-14. 

And Then Some

Coming up next is a product called IntaractTV where an interactive screen can be installed in a brick-and-mortar store to let customers see how they look in different outfits without actually trying them on. They can also change the colours and designs and use the interactive screen in other ways. For instance, in a campaign for an anti-ageing cream from Pond’s, IntaractTV captures the image of a user’s face, which is then shown as ‘made younger’ by the product by eliminating wrinkles and dark spots.

Right now, IntaractTV is being used as part of retail activation campaigns in chains such as Shoppers Stop and Lifestyle, and in malls, on a per campaign basis — brands are charged according to the duration of the campaign. Telibrahma is in talks with leading retail chains and brands to make the product a permanent part of their stores. The company is also working with online retail companies to use IntaractTV. Online companies lack direct customer interaction and IntaractTV will allow customers to try on clothes and shoes virtually.  

The company is also partnering with some major media houses to deliver more value to consumers and better return on investment (RoI) to advertisers. “We are building a good ecosystem between consumers, advertisers and media houses,” says Narasimha. “Advertisers are constantly looking to increase the RoI on their adspend and our products help them to do that. As the world moves to the web, there is an opportunity to bridge the gap between the traditional and digital world, and to deliver data that’s a lot more relevant to consumers. We use the real-world context of the user based on his location, and what he is looking at, to deliver information.”

While the possibilities of augmented reality are exciting, the technology is still new and slowly finding acceptance among advertisers. The biggest challenge for the company is to get brand managers to adopt the technology since it’s still very nascent in India. But sensing the growth potential of digital media, foreign firms such as New Zealand-based Digital Labs have entered the market. “The market is becoming competitive and international firms tend to have an edge at times. But the good thing about Telibrahma is that it has a good understanding of the market and knows what works with clients and the challenges in the ecosystem. So, that will work to its advantage,” says Biraja Swain, vice-president, digital and emerging media, Omnicom Media. 

The company, too, believes the fight cannot be won on technology alone. “Technology is not the only way in which you can create a strong entry barrier,” points out Narasimha. “The kind of network we have built with media houses and advertisers, and the kind of consumer analytics and ownership we have, will help us differentiate from our competition.” 

The growth potential does seem promising. “Customers will now be more keen to spend on this medium because it is now much more trusted. And so the market will increase rapidly in the next couple of years,” says Omicom’s Swain. Besides, mobile phones are now becoming the primary choice of most people to communicate, interact and transact with others. “Mobile advertising, we think, is the next big thing,” points out Inventus Capital’s Kumar. “A lot of companies are now looking at digital advertising because the mobile phone  is always with the user. It is interactive so it can engage the user more than static or television advertising, so it’s a more effective medium for the future. By using Intaract, every print publication can be made interactive. And that is a limitless market.”