Frontier marketing: creating touchpoints

Slow growth if not stasis in the economies of the first world has western companies looking again in emerging markets including new frontiers within those markets. Starwood's announcement earlier this year of situating hotels in poorly served temple in India is a case in point even if the current crop of tourist traffic there is by most accounts loath to part with discretionary income.  It is unclear what if any feasability analysis Starwood undertook before the launch but given their intent to place almost all development risk on a local partner it is hard to fault the initiative. 

Marketing risks abound in emerging markets with a classic if likely mythical tale of an international shoe firm seeking to penetrate one following which the first salesperson returns home frustrated on finding that no one wears shoes while another returns with unbridled optimism at the prospect of selling shoes to shoeless customers. One way American hospitality firms and their local partners can gauge consumer intent and future growth in these frontier markets is to partake of a uniquely (thus far) Indian form of permission marketing. Few if any have revolutionized and capitalized on the consumer consent aspect of it than India based Zipdial founded and run by an American woman and a graduate of Stanford University. 

The concept underpinning the phenomenal growth of Zipdial is elaborated upon in The Economist magazine in a blogpost. It involves the use of a somewhat quirky but costless (to consumers) "missed call" made by millions of India's mobile customers whereby subscribers make a call and hang up before the respondent answers. The "callee" could be a friend or business with the caller expecting a return call. While it shifts the cost of the call on to the callee most businesses are happy to oblige as it almost always guarantees a business lead if not actual business.

The biggest benefit to missed call marketing is the vast trove of big data gleaned by Zipdial from the missed calls. The Economist notes that it "offers a new way to reach customers" with their full consent. As Zipdial's CEO explains "we are selling consumer engagement through a simple interfaceā€¯. Analysis
of data that are collected from these campaigns is what Zipdial is paid
for." As a new and permissible touchpoint for customers, unlikely to be available in mature western markets, Zipdial  not only gauges intent and provides feedback for truly targeted marketing campaigns but also is able to distinguish between a repeat customer and a first-time caller.

Expectedly, Zipdial is looking to expand beyond India to other emerging markets but whether transportation, hospitality or social/political campaigns the medium appears to offer tremendous potential for maximizing advertising dollars for all participants.

Published by

Vijay Dandapani

Co-founder and president of a New York based hotel company for 24 years. Grew the firm to five hotels in Manhattan and also developed a greenfield project at MacArthur airport, New York. Speaker at numerous prestigious forums including Economy Hotels World Asia, Lodging Conference, NYU, Columbia University Real Estate Roundtable, Baruch College's Zicklin School and ALIS. President and ceo of New York City Hotel Association since January 2017.