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In the midst of ‘me-too’ marketing, brands need to be authentic in times of crisis: Derek Pando of Zoom Video Communications

Mainly focusing on digital and social media, Pando, Head of International and Partner Marketing, Zoom Video Communications, tells in an exclusive conversation how they plan to focus on traditional mediums after the pandemic. He speaks on security issues, increased investment in localisation, marketing and more

Derek Pando

The work-from-home culture triggered by the Covid-19 crisis and the subsequent lockdown has driven a never-seen-before demand for video-conferencing applications. And among the many players that have emerged in this space, Zoom Video Communications is rapidly racing ahead as millions of people are flocking to use its conferencing service.

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Derek Pando, Head of International and Partner Marketing at Zoom Video Communications, told how the sudden 300X increase from December 2019 till April this year in the number of participants forced the brand to ramp up its budgets on multiple fronts. He talked about its increased usage in India, its expansion plans and security concerns.

A lot of Zoom’s marketing efforts are still focused on the education side for which it majorly uses the digital medium and social media platforms and doesn’t focus much on traditional mediums, globally. It, however, plans to adopt some of these soon as the Covid-19 situation calms down.

In India, Pando said, its growth has majorly been fuelled by word-of-mouth marketing.

He said, “We do a lot of social media and digital. And people are still getting to know us. Covid-19 took our brand to a new place. It took a life of its own and as we go forward, we are going to keep reminding people of what we're trying to represent as a brand, which I think will require us to focus on more traditional tactics as we hopefully start to come out of the pandemic at some point. However, a lot of our growth in India has really been fuelled by word of mouth.”

He explained how the company had actually paused its marketing when the pandemic first hit.

A lot of its traditional demand-generation drives were shifted to education-driving activities with an increase in demand.

“With the onset of pandemic, our physical events teams under B2B activities, who educated people about the application in person, were now responsible for creating quick YouTube videos in many different languages. We shifted more of our resources into educating and really making sure customers have a positive experience in this difficult time. On the B2C side, our marketing efforts focused on highlighting and showing examples of how people are adapting our services to encourage and inspire others,” he explained.

Sharing his learning as a marketer during these challenging times, he advised people to be really authentic.

“In times of crisis, in great change, you have to focus on authenticity. There's a lot of me-too marketing that happens in difficult times. People try to jump on to the bandwagon. Participating in broader trends is totally okay, but you need to do your way, which is true to yourself, relevant and provide something different and unique. Otherwise, it's going to fall flat and be boring,” he said.

More focus on localisation

Talking about how after the onset of Covid-19, the marketing budget immediately changed for the company, Pando said there were a few areas where it had increased or decreased its budget.

“We started to invest more on localisation. There are a lot of markets around the world where we became much more popular than we ever were before. So for us to make sure that we have the content, the marketing materials, the product in those languages has been an area where we've had to ramp up extremely quickly,” he said.

On the language front, it has added more languages, including Italian and Vietnamese, but no Indian languages yet. In India, it has just launched INR as a currency to support.

India is one of the markets where the company saw explosive growth when Covid-19 hit.

And that is why, he said, “When we think about the future, it's about really helping to introduce and explain who we are to the Indian market and what we stand for.”

“Zoom’s view of a market like India is that we are going to continue to invest and adapt our business to local needs,” he added.

More focus on Indian local needs and competition with home-grown apps

In India the application’s free user signup growth has been 67X from January 2020 versus April 2020 and the number of paid customers with 10 (or more) employees has been 4X in the same period.

Zoom as a company has a very deep bench of Indian executives in its team who have had a lot of experience working with the Indian market and tapping into the immense talent of this market.

Asked about the company’s plans to deal with the rising anti-China sentiments and inclination towards home-grown companies, Pando said, “We always want to earn people's business. Addressing these trends, we are just going to do our best to work very closely with the market to be adapted for the market, so that people get what they need. We want the customers to know that we're respecting their customs, cultures, laws and the government. We're very committed to Indian market because it is a huge focus of our company and we're making aggressive steps in that direction.”

The company is engaging with the Indian government to get their feedback to resolve security concerns. It has co-located data centres in India while announcing a new technology centre.

Zoom has been in news for its security and privacy issues. In March, an inquiry was launched into Zoom's privacy and security practices with the company not admitting wrongdoing, but agreeing to take added security measures.

Security concerns and Covid-19 challenges

Refuting such issues at present, Pando said, “Zoom is absolutely secured. Prior to Covid-19, majority of our users were businesses that had IT teams, which taught people how to put the right settings for the employees and then you fast forward to Covid-19 pandemic, it's just a massive influx of all sorts of users of all different industries, individuals. And as part of that, we realised that we had to adapt our security for that new environment and how we educate people. So immediately when we had some of the concerns that were brought up, we paused everything and for 90 days we focused on all of our resources on improving and making it better and easier.”

So apart from the security button at the bottom of every meeting which enables the host to lock the meeting, it has acquired a key base that has deep encryption experts that helped with internet encryption.

From 10 million daily meeting participants in December 2019 to 300 million in April 2020, Pando said this 300X growth has been seen across all the different ways people use the services, including OnZoom, which basically lets the user to monetise the service but has only been rolled out in US.

Apart from this, Pando believes that the past six months have really been interesting for the company.  

“Because the outbreak first started in Asia where we saw how that was impacting user behaviour, we saw explosive growth for users. Therefore, we immediately started shifting resources infrastructure people to address it in Asia. As it had spread more, the entire company was mobilised which was a huge challenge,” he shared.

But luckily, the company had built the product to scale.

As the outbreak much of the world to adopt work-from-home policies, Zoom has become almost synonymous with its function in these times.

And to compete with it in the same race, in the past six months, multiple new players launched similar services, including WhatsApp and Google, while only a few adopted similar features.

Addressing how this particular space of video-calling applications is crowded, Pando said this market still has space for newer players.

“It's always been a very crowded market with lots of players. However, there's room for a lot of people in this market. Also, Zoom would not have been successful if we weren't doing something different. It wouldn't exist even before the pandemic if we weren't doing something that was unique,” he added.  

Pointing out the USPs of the app, he said it is reliable and innovative at the same time.

From changing the virtual background to being able to see 49 people on a screen at once, it plans to continue to focus on what people have chosen it for.

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