Over the past two years, the pandemic has brought with it a unique set of challenges along with several learning opportunities. Starting in April 2019, Public was just a year old platform when the pandemic struck us in full force. The pandemic-induced lockdowns pushed users to consume content digitally, and this trend will continue going forward. Months of lockdown resulted in isolation and disconnect among people. This substantiated a greater need for a credible source of information and a one-stop platform to stay connected to the communities and authorities. That is where Public stepped in to mend the gap.
In an exclusive interview with MI, Harshil Dhingra, Chief Business Officer, Public app puts light on the working strategy and future growth plans of the brand.
Q) What was your lesson learned for survival during the pandemic?
Harshil: The Public app provided people with a location-based vernacular platform that provided them with real-time verified updates. These updates are from different communities and authorities. Owing to our vast reach across the country, our user base doubled from 15 million to 30 million in just one month during the pandemic, and the average time spent by users jumped by 50%.
As a team, we were at a very nascent stage of building the platform and getting it across to people across the country. With a sudden shift to remote working at our foundation stage, we realized how communication is an inherent part of building a team. It was consistent communication coupled with resilience that helped us bring back the synergy and bind the team together. Moreover, in the adverse times of the pandemic, it was not only essential to work efficiently but also to build empathy in the workplace. Each of us has been through tough times over the past couple of years and to emerge as a stronger team from this, it became pertinent to build that empathy among teammates. Because of all of this, we were together able to build a strong work culture at Public and we emerged strong and victorious.
Q) As you are celebrating your three-year anniversary, what are the key achievements till now?
Harshil: In April 2019, Public app was launched as a beta version in 5 districts of Rajasthan. After receiving a phenomenal response from across the board, the app was launched across the state, and then there was no stopping. Within six months of launch, it became one of the fastest-growing Indian social apps and ranked #1 on the Play store for local updates. Public app was also recently recognized at the India Digital Awards 2022 by IAMAI as the winner of the Most Innovative Startup App.
Public App soon became India’s largest location-based social network and is home to 50,000+ content creators where over one million videos are created on a monthly basis. Currently, the app has over 60 million active users and is available in almost all Indian languages. Our platform impeccably fulfills the prerequisites of a valuable social media platform as it not only helps brands reach the masses but also allows them to target their audience through regional and relatable content.
One major milestone we achieved was in October 2020 when we started monetization through advertisements. We offer our partner brands an ideal platform to advertise in all major Indian languages in a video format. Additionally, we have also invested heavily in ad tech solutions to ensure creative and novel solutions for brands to leverage. On Public, brands can provide regionalized content to the users through geotargeting. Moreover, since last year, small businesses can also advertise on our platform and inform local users in their region about the offerings. Given Public’s strong audience base across India, any brand that aims to have a larger outreach can benefit from the platform.
Q) How does vernacular advertising pave the way toward a wider audience for a brand?
Harshil: Regional content delivers the real essence of the messaging and creates a deeper impact. Through vernacular advertising, brands can connect with a larger audience and make their content more conversational. As per Google India’s report, 88% of Indian language internet users are more likely to respond to a digital advertisement in their local language. Thus, the scope of vernacular advertising is huge, and it is just going to increase. Brands need to be agile and create marketing strategies keeping the regional markets of India in mind.
With the Public’s presence in all Indian states and availability in almost all regional languages, Public is the right fit for brands who want to reach its customers in even the remotest of places in India. Through geo-targeted vernacular ads, they can create a personal connection that leads to a greater ROI. International and regional brands have already associated with Public and achieved more than they expected. Recently, we conducted a geo-targeted ad campaign with Vedantu in seven major Indian languages – Marathi, Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, English, and Hindi. This one-day-long campaign received a great response and generated over 40 lakh views, with an industry-best engagement rate of 4.8% and CTR (Click through rate) of 1.32%.
Q) Tell us about your geo-targeted hyper-localized ads?
Harshil: Through hyper localization and geo-targeting, Public is enabling small businesses to reach their desired target audience on a district, city, and state level. For a stronger impact, the ads are delivered either in video or display format. Public allows small businesses to advertise digitally and cater to an expansive digital world. Currently, these small businesses come from varied sectors such as healthcare, daily utilities, education, and others. For example, local coaching centers (below or above K12) use the platform to promote online classes with the surge of digital learning throughout the pandemic.
Politicians, too, are utilizing the opportunity of reaching out to the community by advertising on Public App. This is because Public app not only helps them in sharply targeting users that live within the radius but also handholds them at every step so that those who do not have knowledge of digital platforms can easily communicate their message to the desired target audience in their local language through innovative and engaging video ads.
At present, we have actively associated with over 30,000 local promoters across India. We aim to have over 2 lakhs by the end of this year. We started this service on Public in February 2021 to bridge the digital gap in the country. Our major focus remains on delivering value to both users and promoters, by offering innovative and non-intrusive ad formats. Public is a platform where digital promoters can ensure brand safety, quality, and brand affinity uplift metrics as it provides verified updates to its users.
Q) Is there a growth in the consumption of content?
Harshil: Over the past few years, India has witnessed a tremendous shift in content consumption patterns. Internet penetration, affordable data, and the pandemic have pushed people to use digital avenues that have further seen a spike of internet users from tier 2 and 3 Indian cities. With so many options and individuals having a fleeting attention span, short video platforms are prospering. Content consumption has seen meteoric growth over the past couple of years. Brands have gradually realized this and have increasingly shifted their digital campaigns towards short video advertising.
Leading this shift, we at Public provide brands with innovative ad formats supported by cutting-edge technology that enables them to geo-target users through hyper-localized regional content. On our platform, brands can advertise in all major Indian languages. As our platform lets brands advertise vernacularly in a short video format, it helps brands build impactful campaigns and establish a stronger connection with their audience.
Q) What are your growth strategies?
Harshil: As of 2021, India had 1.2 billion mobile subscribers, of which about 750 million are smartphone users. As per a Deloitte study, India will have 1 billion smartphone users by 2026 with rural areas driving the sale of internet-enabled phones. We believe that our application is relevant for anyone and everyone across the country; irrespective of the language they speak or the region they belong to. We aim to reach the remotest areas of the country and help the brand connect with localities through our geo-targeted regional offerings.
We also aim to collaborate with more content creators and local communities to strengthen our offerings. The marketing team has devised a few initiatives to penetrate further into the regional markets and raise more awareness about the app. Our tech team is working tirelessly to upgrade the features of the application and make it more user-friendly.
With our vision to keep people informed, we’ll continue our efforts to make content consumption easier and mobile-friendly for all segments of our society. We’ll be keen to explore further opportunities in the content space and would be happy to acquire products that fit the criteria.