‘Aqilliz & Zirca want to drive the wave of digitisation with blockchain’

Aqilliz CEO Gowthaman Ragothaman and Zirca Digital Solutions CEO & Director Neena Dasgupta share more on the recently forged partnership and their plans for the Indian market

e4m by Javed Farooqui
Updated: Nov 18, 2020 9:13 AM
Zirca

Singapore-based blockchain solutions provider Aqilliz and Zirca Digital Solutions, a 360-degree digital solutions provider, recently entered into a partnership to offer audience-targeting with greater personalisation and privacy compliance to brands in India.

The two organisations are bullish about the prospects of blockchain technology in the Indian market. Over the next few months, they plan to roll out blockchain-led technology and solutions that they claim will enable marketers to make their communication more effective and efficient.

exchange4media caught up with Aqilliz CEO Gowthaman Ragothaman and Zirca Digital Solutions CEO and Director Neena Dasgupta to talk about the benefits of blockchain technology for brands and their plans for the Indian market.

What was the idea behind the partnership between Aqilliz and Zirca? What is it that the industry can expect from this partnership?

Gowthaman Ragothaman: Aqilliz is a blockchain company for the marketing industry. Typically, when you think of blockchain you talk about cryptocurrency and bitcoin. We are the first of its kind company that is leveraging this entire distributor ledger for the marketing industry. In our industry, there have been quite a few challenges that have been there for quite some time and we are now trying to fix the gaps in the system.

And I see it as broad three or four buckets. The entire supply chain transparency and visibility in the marketplace and as digitisation increases the amount of money that goes towards programmatic advertising increases and therefore the attention towards how visible the campaign is for marketers to see how their money is being spent. Equally important is personal data protection at a time when the consumers are concerned about their data being used and abused. When the personal data protection bill becomes an act, the companies will need to become compliant with using first party data. Therefore, how do we use audience data in a secure manner for audience activation?

These are two hardcore technology-led solutions that are required for the industry and blockchain brings those capabilities.

Particularly, when it comes to Zirca we believe Aqilliz to Zirca is A to Z. We could literally cover the entire spectrum of what we can do together. Entire space which is contextual and which is content-led. Space where consumers are not just watching ads but also concerned about the context in which their ads appear. This, we believe is going to be the future particularly when the internet cookies go away.

Our collaboration is at the heart of this wherein a band safe and brand secure environment whatever engagement the customer makes is safe, secure, and compliant. This is where our partnership will play a critical role.

Neena Dasgupta: We identified that the industry needed this kind of technology. Blockchain-based technology allows a marketer to not only get better value for the money but a far more meaningful engagement with their own customers. That journey is also very important.

The reason why we saw immense value in partnering with Aqilliz is that on one side we are seeking solutions that bring efficiency and effectiveness to our campaigns. The other side is that the marketers want to use every opportunity to engage in a way that adds value to the brand and doesn’t erode value for the brand.

With blockchain, there are two things that are going to happen. First, the option of offering transparency, visibility, or offering a tool that allows you to experience transparency. It’s not like people are saying there is transparency but it is experiencing transparency. Secondly, it is also ensuring that wherever media allocation has happened the entire journey is validated and reconciled and done in a way that not only are we seeing efficiency but the communication also becomes that much more effective.

We are also able to improve the value of the media itself and the value of the contact itself. So blockchain will be adding those values to the entire ecosystem. So, for us, it is our ability to offer this solution to a marketer and add significant value to their communication. That’s where we saw tremendous value in bringing together the blockchain technology that Aqilliz has created and our own technology that we have created in media in the content space. Together, we aim to offer a complete solution.

To what extent are marketers in India using blockchain technology for their marketing campaigns?

RG: I would like to be proved wrong but it is very little to nothing. There is a perception that blockchain-based technology is expensive or how do I fit this into my existing technology. What we are trying to say is that it is not expensive. It is an affordable technology and it can co-exist along with existing technology. There is a view that ‘it will come and replace my existing technology’. What we are saying is that this is not the case.

We are now trying to educate clients about the benefits of blockchain technology. One of our key responsibility is to clear some of the misconceptions behind this technology. Blockchain is not just about cryptocurrency and bitcoin. We want to take the baggage away from this. I would rather call it a distributed ledger technology where your existing technologies can talk to each other in a safe and secure manner.

Most organisations have their own customer relationship management (CRM) and customer data platform (CDP). But if enterprise A has to speak to enterprise B that is where the challenge comes in. That is where you need a distributor ledger for a safe and secure engagement between two companies. So, it is not replacing existing technology, but it is going to make your existing technology work harder and optimise it a lot better. So, it is more of an awareness issue.

ND: There are very few marketers who are willing to listen and hear about it. But they are unclear about how to deploy it or use it. Also, the amount of time that needs to be spent they are possibly just delaying it because of the ambiguity rather than the entire concept of blockchain.

Our role is to create a series of communications that will simplify the concept of blockchain and communicate its utility and adoption rather than the theory and definition of it. That is where people get caught. Blockchain is just an extra layer that is getting deployed at no extra effort and it is making your money work harder, data work harder, and is making your outcome that much more superior. It is a matter of six months to one year when the tipping point will come.

A lot of marketers will be open to integrating this technology with their existing technology and with their existing activities. It can also be integrated with regular media activities.

How cost-effective is blockchain technology for a marketer?

GR: If you go strictly by what this technology is going to do vis-à-vis other technologies, it will be a wild goose chase. Whatever trials we have done so far across many markets there are two numbers that I can put across.

Using this technology helps a marketer improve their current technology cost by 10% minimum and because they are integrating two enterprises’ technology for better communication purposes their outcome improved by 25%. If you look at it from the perspective of how much does it cost to do this? 10% control on technology and 25% improvement on outcomes. This is just a shade of it. Marketers will more than offset the investment that they make in this technology.

ND: These are experiences and tests that Aqilliz has done across various markets and suppose if you take these as benchmarks and India won’t be far away from this because markets, consumers and technologies behave in a similar fashion across the world. If we keep that as a benchmark, India would be at the same place.

More than cost-effective, it is hugely value-effective. A marketer should not look at this technology from the objective of cost but from the lens of value that it adds to their communication. At the end of the year, when you are looking at your EBITDA you will probably say ‘I added significant value at insignificant cost’. That’s the lens we want to create.

Can you cite examples of successful adoption of blockchain technology by marketers?

GR: I am going to share 2-3 examples and two of which are being trialed in India so those are Indian examples. I am constrained to give their names, but I can talk from the category perspective. One of the trials we are doing today is with a consumer-packaged-goods (CPG) client in Middle East where we are using this technology to provide a full visible programmatic execution where at log level the data is being ingested from DSP and an SSP and a verification partner and you add any other brand safety partners into it and you reconcile the campaign at the log level. That gives the brand full visibility of who is watching this ad in full with audio.

Typically, what happens today is you get these reports after the campaign is over as nice to know information ‘Hey you ran a campaign and you wanted 100 impressions but only 80% of the impressions have been fully viewed and half of it was audio’. But if a campaign is built on an audio-led call to action and the call to action is towards the end of the commercial and nobody watched the full commercial then it is ineffective.

By giving the visibility in time, the brand is able to say ‘I am only going to count these impressions as valid impressions’ and optimise the campaign during the campaign itself that makes the campaign well spent. That is a very good example of what we have done, and indications are that it is more than a 15% improvement on their campaign ROI. We want to bring it to India soon and we are in talks with quite a few clients as well.

The second one is closer home. We were trialing with one of the Indian Premier League (IPL) franchises where we said how do we reward a fan for his love and affection in a situation where matches are being played in front of empty stadiums. We created a blockchain-enabled technology where fan engagement is aggregated and rewarded as points and the points can be redeemed within the franchises’ assets. We are thinking of extending this to other franchise partners. They can go and buy some other franchises’ merchandise. So, we are going to create a sports fan engagement mechanism and why we need blockchain is because it aggregates these many activities from different enterprises in real-time. You can extend it to any kind of consumer reward. That is something we want to bring to India very soon.

You can extend it to TV or OTT wherein you can reward the person for watching content and the reward can be from the same client who is advertising on the platform. Let’s say if Swiggy is advertising on an OTT platform. Because the user is watching the content on the OTT platform, they can be offered delivery first at a discount or whatever it is. We are getting into a different world altogether where it is about addressable, individual, personalised engagement and since we are dealing with multiple enterprises, we are able to bring them on the distributed ledger. That is the beauty of this.

ND: One of the things we are working on is that you can integrate mediums like TV, digital, and on-ground basically the entire idea of a media integration and then bring blockchain technology to make sure that communication is at the right time. It is not limited to digital. It can be used across mediums especially with things like a topical campaign, reward-led campaigns, competition-led campaigns, engagement-led campaigns or content.

What are challenges being faced by marketers and how can blockchain tech help in addressing those challenges?

GR: We want to drive the wave of digitisation with blockchain. There was a time when every data that a marketer wanted to analyse was with them. They had their own datasets. Now with digital more than 2/3rd of the data is outside the marketer’s enterprise. They constantly have to buy data from outside or use external data more than ever before. What blockchain does is that it helps them to get this data in a safe and secure manner where the data is correct, accurate, legal, and consented to. The problem is that sometimes if the data is not given in a compliant manner you might be erroneous or not legally compliant in using them. Blockchain will enable the safe procurement of data from outside for activation purposes. That will help the client to do digital more because today they are limited by whatever they have. This gives them a chance to team up with another complementary partner for a campaign. Today there are a lot of categories that complementarily exist with each other but do not share data with each other. The future is all about the collaboration of datasets.

ND: The biggest issue that a marketer is facing from the demand side is getting consumer attention in a crowded environment. Consumer attention span is reducing. The consumer sets have increased significantly. Media reach has increased significantly. The marketers’ problem is how do I ensure that my message reaches the consumer and is getting noticed. Also, we are so used to the traditional way of media that there is no easy answer to the scale of reach that TV is providing against the scale of reach that digital is providing. They are getting limited by the scale of reach. The marketers' challenge is how do I do something that continues to give me reach but also gives me the depth of engagement and therefore the visibility to the consumer. I think blockchain solves the latter. While your regular traditional medium is giving you reach, the other plan is giving you reach, the depth of engagement actually increases the attention span of the consumer and the relation between the brand and the consumer. The application of blockchain technology will enable greater depth. That’s the problem that blockchain can solve for a marketer. That depth can be achieved by either by inter-brand relation or inter-brand collaboration or inter-category collaboration. Collaborations will enable sharper results. Marketers face far bigger challenges and we are going to solve a part of it. It addresses one of the problems that they have.

What is the roll-out plan for India?

ND: We will deploy Aqilliz blockchain technology and integrate it with our solutions. We are also open to explore greater solutions together. Our integration is much beyond implementation it is about the continued effort to provide excellence irrespective of whether the market is buying our solution or not.

There are many client conversations. We will consciously get into the market in full-scope by January. Right now, the market is listening to us.

How was the year for Aqilliz and Zirca and what are the plans going forward?

GR: Aqilliz is a one-year old start-up and the pandemic came alongside when we launched the company but the advantage is, we are a tech company and we are building the resources. We have built the tech irrespective of the constraints. We are continuing to build different solutions so we used this time to ensure that our product is up and running. Our real job begins now since we are going to the market with this solution.

We have identified six markets as our go-to-market plan. US, UK, Germany, India, Indonesia, and the Middle East are the six countries where we are running our trials and partnerships. It is now all about getting into the market with market-led solutions and roll it out. There are lots to do in India in these times.

ND: We are going full-force on our content products which will be re-christened very soon. In the next two to three weeks, you will hear about our new brand positioning. We are steadfast in holding on to our purpose to facilitate meaningful conversations and to enable that we are bringing new technology and options for our brand and agency partners. In the next two years, we are getting into Southeast Asia and the UK. Bangladesh is already active. Our teams are already working in these markets with top-line research. We are finalising the partnerships in these markets. We are taking our products far beyond the boundaries of India but we remain rooted in India in our understanding of the market.

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