Experts View – Ritesh Bhatnagar, CMO, U2opia Mobile, on Building a Strong Online community With AI & ML



A lot has been said about how AI and ML have changed the conventional marketing approach. Goes without saying that brands can now laser-focus their target audience with AI-powered omni-channel marketing and engage with customers for better conversions and revenues. But with great power comes great responsibility. Although Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning has made it possible to send relevant content to the right people at the right time to sustain fruitful customer relationships and engagement, it’s your responsibility as a marketer to live up to the trust your customers have shown in your brand and build a secure online community for them with the power of AI and ML.

And this is what our conversation with Ritesh Bhatnagar, the CMO of U2opia Mobile – a Singapore-India based mobile technology company, revolves around. We are glad to present his practical insights from the latest interview from our ‘AI-Led Personalization Interview Series’, which is an exclusive interview series with top marketing leaders, conducted in collaboration with ResearchNxt, a leading marketing research company which does in-depth research on trending enterprise technologies.

In this series, the who’s-who of the marketing from across industries share their take on AI’s impact on digital and mobile marketing, how AI is enabling hyper-personalization and hence exceptional customer experiences.

In this interview, Ritesh shares his experience in traditional and new-age marketing and how to keep with the expectation of your customers with personalized solutions, innovations, and relevance, even during the tough scenarios like COVID-19.

Here are some extracts from our insightful conversation with him.

Question: Could you tell us a little about your background and how you came to be the CMO at U2opia Mobile and its Apps?

Ritesh: I have been a brand and marketing strategist for more than two decades now. I started with advertising, moved to a conventional marketing role, and even was in sales for almost two years. So, it’s an advantage and also an accomplishment that I have a great combination of traditional and new-age marketing and business experience.

U2opia Mobile is a Singapore-India based mobile technology company. The company has a diversified portfolio of consumer and enterprise products in more than 70 countries.

  • Dating: Woo is a leading dating app in India and for Indian diaspora globally, with over ten million-plus subscribers.
  • Gaming: Hypr Games is India’s first indigenous high-quality social gaming portfolio, along with a distribution and publishing platform. Exclusive partners to One animation and Go Games to bring Oddbods Turbo Run Game to India.
  • Content: Mr. Phone is a video content platform on Technology.
  • Telco-Tech:  Our B2B leg, A Digital Lifestyle platform, has operations in 70 countries, with 120 telecom operators. Our products like Chatezee, SportsMoby, FanMoby, Bid & Win, Gaming Players’ league, Reycreo, and Spin N Win reach billions across the globe.
  • Fantasy Sports: Fanmojo is the fastest growing fantasy sports platform, with over 5 Million users in India. Fanmojo covers Cricket, Football, and Kabbadi and available in multiple countries.
  • Ad-Tech: SupremeDM is a global digital marketing platform with deep expertise in reward marketing, affiliate marketing, offering an exclusive and unique inventory with products like Cashbuddy. Cashbuddy is a shopping and offer platform with a presence in India and Indonesia.

Currently, as Chief Marketing Officer – U2opia Mobile/Woo, I am responsible for marketing, brand management, and growth strategies internationally. I am also the business and P&L owner for the entire AdTech and the content platform.

At Utopia Mobile, our personalization strategy is derived from the fact that every platform has its specific need, its own messaging, and unique consumer categories. 

Question: Since U2opia Mobile on its B2C side of the business has multiple apps right from dating to gaming, it is evident that the end-users are vastly different in each case. How do you ensure your brand delivers personalized experience across channels and user categories?

Ritesh: As a CMO, this is precisely where my job becomes enjoyable. As you would agree, marketing has shaped up to be more performance-based and ROI driven. And to ensure this, our aim has always been to understand the customer segments and position our platforms based on insights. At WOO, for example, we are building the largest platform for young Indians to connect socially and romantically. At present, we have a base of around 10 Million subscribers and growing. We believe that technology, layered with the right human insight, has immense power to remove barriers and help connect people and create the magic.

In terms of categorization, at WOO, we have identified that most of our users are the migrant population moving to different metro cities in search of jobs or education. A dating app like WOO becomes a catalyst for them to form new connections and socialize in a completely new environment. However, with this change comes more unique challenges of culture, privacy, and the need for security and reliability, particularly in the Indian context. Being a country where the male to female ratio is not equal (Indian Dating industry figures suggests that it is 80% males to 20% females), and hence, females often feel overwhelmed compared to a western world where online dating is commonplace.

-WOO caters to a much-matured audience in the age group of 24 to 35 years and positioned as the app for more meaningful relationships that helps you meet like-minded people. WOO was never created for casual or frivolous dating

– Secondly, Woo is driven by a woman-first approach, and the idea is to provide an excellent platform for them to meet their respective matches in a safe environment. We categorically made sure that the app was customized for the female audience specifically. This strategy was enforced after much primary research on the Indian user base where we identified that for a dating app and more for a female user, privacy and security is the primary differentiating factor.

– Thirdly, we also ensure that the female users could comfortably rely on the conversations they were exchanging. Thus, we have developed many female-centric features in the WOO app like WOO phone, Woo hide, Woo secure, Woo globe, etc.

E.g., The WOO Phone feature enables women to call their matched profiles from within the app without revealing their phone numbers, and inversely, the male counterpart cannot call them back, giving the female users tremendous security and empowerment till they authenticate the conversation and wishes to share their details.

– We also have another feature, i.e., Woo Hide, through which female-users can browse profiles in ‘incognito’ mode until they are ready to match with a potential profile and connect personally.

These are some of the things that we have been able to achieve over the years which compliments to our positioning because at the end of the day the user community needs to trust the platform for continuity.

However, when we look at the fantasy or the gaming app, we cater to a separate set of audience. These are users who are predominantly the much younger generation, like the college-going teenagers. They are in the app to indulge in online games and earn quick money to satisfy their instant desires of socializing. Out here, the messaging and content are much different as compared to the WOO app, which is predominantly English. The fantasy gaming app has a user base across the regional geographies in addition to the metros. So, our primary mode of communication is Hinglish here.

Looking at the demand for regional content, we have launched a Hindi YouTube channel for our content platform- Mr. Phone, that already has close to 80K subscribers. We plan to launch other regional language content in the coming months.

Hence, our personalization strategy is derived from the fact that every platform has its specific need, its own messaging, and unique consumer categories.

AI is more of a strategy and not a solution that needs to have measurable goals, and accordingly, the marketing tech stack systems need to be created.

Question: What’s your take on the use of AI and ML by Indian marketers, and how it is done at Utopia? Please share some use cases.

Ritesh: In my opinion, though Indian marketers are using multiple facets of digital marketing and leveraging customer data, they still are not well onboarded with AI on an extensive scale. AI is already disrupting the core functions like Ad targeting, media buying, content creation, propensity modeling, and so on. However, I feel AI is more of a strategy and not a solution. AI is a strategy that needs to have measurable goals, and accordingly, the marketing tech stack systems need to be created. However, to achieve success with AI, all organizational departments will need to work in tandem. AI cannot work in silos.

One AI use case with WOO is that we use technology to vet user inclusion on the app since the community itself is built on trust. At WOO, we use the Amazon Recognition engine for face detection for ensuring the users on the app are genuine people. This resulted in our user onboarding drop-off rate to reduce by 30%.

Additionally, we also have a user quality scoring mechanism based on interaction feedback from other users. Hence, with AI, we now have a quality platform that is based on data and authentication metrics. We plan to work with Amazon Lex through its proprietary NLP functions to ensure that the communication across the WOO app is healthy.

Predictive analytics, anomaly detection, ML for cybersecurity, and app experience are the few trends that every marketer should work towards.

Question: How do you see the Indian market shaping up with the use of AI-led personalization, what are the emerging trends?

Ritesh: In my opinion, there are a few trends that every marketer should be aware of. They are:

  1. Predictive Analytics: Marketers in any segment should follow and imbibe the possibilities of using past and present data to anticipate the oncoming roadmap.
  2. Anomaly Detection: Very linked to predictive analytics is this possibility of anomaly detection based on the analysis of all the existing data. This will help them prepare and counter unforeseen market changes and probably create stickiness campaigns around the anomalies.
  3. Machine Learning for Security: This is one significant trend. ML is driving cybersecurity big time, and marketers should leverage it for the privacy aspects of their users across platforms.
  4. More User-Friendly AI platforms: The ability to instinctively use the platform without any prior knowledge is the way towards ensuring maximum adoption of any app.
  5. AI for productivity and work balance.

Question: Now that the coronavirus outbreak disrupted normalcy, do you see that signups on platforms like WOO are increasing? If so, how are you dealing with it in terms of retaining them even after?

Ritesh: For us, in the COVID-19 lockdown scenario, the two platforms that have seen a surge in usage are the dating app WOO and the gaming app Hypr. Both these platforms have grown at a rate of 20% to 30% organically. However, we, as an organization, will need to maintain the growth even after the lockdown ends. We have some customized features like the Woo calling, Woo Hide, and Woo Globe. Woo calling allows women to call from the app without revealing their phone number. In this lockdown period, this feature usage has gone up by 30%. We need to ensure that we keep engaging our customers with customized solutions and keep innovating and be relevant to the times.

Keeping in mind the current scenario, we have integrated games to our shopping and offer platform – Cashbuddy to entice, engage, and retain users. We have changed our entire strategy on our technology content platform. YouTube videos have become more innovative and relevant as per the current trends. We hope to keep our business growing in these testing times by being consistent, creative, and opportunistic.

We hope this conversation lights some idea bulbs for you and help you understand your customers’ ever-changing needs better. And most importantly, how to use Machine Learning Algorithm to secure the privacy of your users across all platforms. To know about the AI/ML based solutions offered by Smartech, get in touch with us.

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