Three ex-Amazonians rewrite rules of digital advertising with Sokrati

If online advertising is all about effectiveness, then how do you measure it? There are click through rates, time spent on the page, shares and ‘likes’ — methods that are already in practice. So when we heard of Sokrati we thought it was just another digital advertising agency. But some of the tools that Sokrati has developed make its value proposition interesting and different from the rest. It puts the online user customer at the centre rather than the product.

Innovative products

Ashish Mehta

Ashish Mehta

One of the products that Sokrati has to offer is called Persona ads. Persona ads puts the user at the centre of everything – be it search, social media or display ads. The tool analyses the user behavior pattern online and uses that information to decide the target ad to be served. This user information is collected from what the user is browsing on social networking sites and what he searches online. This information is then collated to draw a profile of the user and enable psychographic targeting.

By using these profiles, different advertising messaging is created for different groups. “So if you are trying to sell a kurti to a very brand conscious person, you will have to mention a brand name in your ad. Whereas for someone who likes floral kurtis, brand names may not be enticing, but floral patterns would be,” explains Rahul Kulkarni, chief product officer at Sokarti. Rahul worked with Google earlier, where he was a key product manager involved with Google Maps, navigation, Google Local, cloud computing, Orkut and Google Finance.

Sokrati creates different types of ads for all the products that a client has with different kind of messaging and by using different templates. The ‘ad factory’ that Sokrati has, makes it possible to churn out large number of ads. “The ad factory helps reduce the client’s experimentation cost by 80 per cent. So if it’s a change of headline, colour, font, visual – we can do it with a single ad rather than spend $10 to $ 20 per creative. We use statistically designed experiments to change elements in the ad,” claims Rahul.

Sokrati offers its clients a mix of services and products. It has also started to offer products to individual agencies which can use the Sokrati tool for a fee.

Another tool developed by the startup is a tracking system that can track user behavior, clicks, transactions and leads. All this information can then be integrated with the brand’s offline lead management system.

Suppose Citibank is conducting a credit card campaign. Once an online form is filled by an interested party, Citibank’s call centre follows the lead. Sokrati’s tracking system can connect the dots from the time a prospect clicked on the online ad, to the time it was closed by the call-centre. “This is proper offline-online bridging. At the end of the month, if you look at all the applications you can further figure out who the applicants are – which company they work for, age group, income bracket and such. Then in the next couple of months we can give the client good amount of CPRs and conversion rates,” explains Rahul.

What Sokrati is trying to do is humanize big data and while they appreciate the need for creativity in their business, Rahul says their hiring focus will continue to be on the ability of the new hire to understand data well. “Most of the team at Sokrati are engineers. We also have people from mass communication and management backgrounds. We will always be focused on ad tech, as we are keen to add a human touch to what we do. So it is quite possible that we may hire a psychologist rather than a film maker in the future,” explains Rahul.

Who and when

Santosh Gannavarapu

Santosh Gannavarapu

Sokrati was co-founded by three friends and former colleagues from Amazon.com. Ashish Mehta is co-founder and CEO oversees product strategy and business development at Sokrati.  He was earlier part of the paid search marketing team at Amazon.com where he managed channels like comparison shopping, search and affiliate networks. He was also involved in product strategy, P&L for traffic acquired for various Amazon product categories, and partnership / negotiations with affiliates like Google, Yahoo, Shopping.com.

Santosh Gannavarapu, co-founder and CTO, looks after tech. He was involved with powering Amazon’s affiliate marketing system and built high-end tracking servers and ad servers that enable a billion transactions a day.

Anubhav Sonthalia, co-founder and COO, is responsible for formulating digital marketing strategy, managing ad spends and driving transactions for Sokrati’s clients in India and the US. At Amazon, Anubhav was product and program manager, driving efficiency at scale for Amazon’s comparison shopping program.

Sokrati, derived from Greek philosopher Socrates, started operations in 2009 and has since worked with over 100 enterprise clients. It claims to have grown revenues by 2006% over the last three years. Today Sokrati is an 80-member team, all based in Pune.

Future focus

Anubhav Sonthalia

Anubhav Sonthalia

Sokrati has worked with brands across different verticals and sectors, including DTH, telecom, FMCG and banks – 100 in all. YouTube is the next interesting platform that Sokrati is mining intelligently. Rahul says YouTube is now starting to behave a lot like TV when it comes to advertising rates. “They are saying as a brand you can impact every Indian who comes to YouTube on that particular day, which is interesting,” he says.

If a person who comes to YouTube in search of a Mohammad Rafi  song and sees an FMCG ad it will tell the brand about the customer’s preferences. Someone who is watching Giant Robot is a different kind of customer from someone who watches I dream of Jeannie video. This is the kind of data that Sokrati is mining to make online advertising more intelligent for its clients.

MySimon,, a CBS interactive property, was the first client Sokrati worked with and the ROI driven model they used for MySimon set the tone for Sokrati’s performance oriented approach in all its subsequent campaigns. While Sokrati has worked with a number of companies, Rahul says Letsbuy has been the most satisfactory work they have done so far. They have seen Letsbuy grow as a company through their marketing efforts until it got acquired by Flipkart.

A recent study by Adobe pointed to an increased awareness and adoption of digital advertising by Indian marketers. As awareness grows, so will the demand and having a differentiated offering will be the key for agencies offering digital services. Sokrati seems to have an edge in round one.

preethi@yourstory.in

Preethi Chamikutty

Preethi Chamikutty

Preethi Chamikutty is a left-brain thinker, with a very intrusive right-brain. She enjoys many things typically girly. But mostly keeps her right-brain under wraps to focus on the strengths of her left brain. Preethi likes writing on a variety of subjects. Branding, marketing , advertising and personal technology are her forte. Follow her on Twitter @PCtalks