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Today, content discovery is driven through social channels: Nitin Mathur

Interview with senior director & head of marketing, Yahoo! India & South East Asia

Abhilasha Ojha 

Nitin Mathur
Nitin Mathur

Companies need to be intelligent enough to find the right kind of users in the first place. Quick action is important to stay relevant because users are responding quite vocally to products and offerings online, Nitin Mathur tells Abhilasha Ojha

How can corporations determine that it is time to change? What was the reason for Yahoo!'s recent revamp?

For us, it was important to offer the mobile-first experience. Yahoo! was clear that the product offerings needed to work across devices. Whether customers are on the iPad, the PC or the mobile, the experience has to be the same. From our point of view, our design change (of the home page) is fresh and inclusive and modern.

Companies have to understand user habits, have deeper insights about consumers and 'read' the shifts in the business, especially as the online space has gone through changes. Earlier it was about aggregating the web; then content curation became important; later, with too much information, search became relevant. Now the social wave has become strong and discovery of content is driven through social channels. However, the biggest, most tectonic platform shift is the mobile. How quickly you reorient your company based on that platform shift in a focused fashion is the differentiator.

We have grown our mobile teams tremendously. For a $5-billion company with 800 million users, we need 500 engineers to start with. We will stay focused on human talent, product talent, acquisitions of mobile-focused companies, so everything doesn't necessarily need to be built organically.

How can a company stay at the cutting edge of technology and innovation without compromising on image, quality, safety... Is there a secret sauce?

I think sometimes it works to go back to the basics. Yahoo!'s renaissance really came when Marissa Mayer joined as the CEO. We began looking at the core business and started understanding just how customers were consuming content on mobile. We also realised that since we were already strong in terms of content (weather, news, business, finance, sport), we needed to map it to daily habits of users of mobile. What can we do better to become a place where we become the first preference for users? We understood that internet is all about daily usage. It is not about being relevant on a monthly basis, it is about being relevant on a daily basis.

Another principle at work at Yahoo!, which is actually a big cultural change for us now, is that the focus and the speed of execution is important.

Our strategies have worked well for us. We have regained our number one position in the US, we have the largest number of users on Yahoo! in the US compared to any other internet company. We are constantly bringing new things to the market. On a daily basis, Yahoo! makes changes based on the customer feedback.

With internet companies so upbeat about smartphone devices changing the grammar of online content consumption, do you think the format of mobile advertising too will change?

There's no straight answer to this but given that there will be more users on mobile than on PCs by the end of 2014, internet companies obviously need to relook at advertising formats. What works on the PC cannot work for the mobile. Yahoo! is relevant because instead of an infinite stream of content and advertisements, we insert relevant ads purely based on the user surfing habits.

Marketers want to optimise their advertising campaigns across devices. Internet companies are like the marketplace, if the demand and ad quality is not good, the experience is not going to be good. If you just keep pushing travel deals, which may not be - at the point - relevant to the consumer, you won't be able to reach out. At Yahoo!, we apply behavioural- and location-based targeting. For instance, if you want a car, you search the net and read articles about car models, finance schemes, showrooms, interest rates etc. Now, if an internet company could use cross screen optimisation using behaviour and targeting capabilities, one could suddenly make advertising relevant.

How can internet companies gauge if they're even reaching out to the relevant audiences in the first place?

I would agree that this is a challenge particularly for a company like ours with multiple product lines. What makes the space trickier is the fact that unlike any other media, here the user has no issues of payment or subscription and it is a free space largely. So even as the user downloads particular content, or spends enough time on the website, you don't know whether she will come back the next morning to your site at all. Are we driving the repeat purchase? Are we doing product education to enhance the experience for the user? Once the acquisition and retention [of consumers] is in place, it is critical to have a sophisticated framework to know and understand just what incremental impact one is building. Companies need to be intelligent enough to find the right kind of users in the first place.

On the internet, we have to look at offering products with two important attributes - high utility and talkability. Given that Yahoo! is focused on younger audiences, we particularly look at the 'cool' factor in our products. User feedback is very critical in our space as every second is relevant and sometimes your efforts can be hated too. Yahoo! looks at user feedback very strongly. We have made changes based on what our users have said and commented in the past. Quick realisation and quick action is important to stay relevant because users are responding so vocally to products and offerings online.

In my view, companies sometimes need stronger mechanisms to listen as they tend to shut the doors of conversation and of reaching out to their audiences, something that should not be done. At Yahoo!, the marketing, customer service, and product marketing teams are working in a seamless loop and we have grown teams, particularly on the customer service side as well. We have scaled our teams, especially the mobile teams. Think about it, people's lives depend on the internet today.

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First Published: Mon, April 14 2014. 00:13 IST