In this Research NXT Interview, Meera Iyer, the CMO of Medlife.com, talks about her journey and use case with AI in marketing over the last 15 years. She also shares how Medlife has been enabling the senior citizens in their buying journey and the various initiatives she and her team at Medlife have initiated to approach the healthcare scene holistically.
Key takeaways from this Research NXT interview:
Here are some extracts from the insightful conversation we had with Meera Iyer.
What’s your journey like when it comes to the use of Marketing technology, AI, and ML over the last 15 years across multiple businesses? How have things changed?
Meera: I was part of the 2006 Unilever team that embarked on salesforce automation. Back then, AI was just starting and was restricted to only some prediction algorithms and forecasting. My first use case with AI in Unilever was with sales data of SKUs sold to retail outlets. Using this data and certain statistical principles we were able to arrive at the best SKUs to sell to each outlet and cover opportunity gaps. I think AI has evolved, and now pretty much covers the entire customer journey. In e-Com AI is now being used to understand user behaviour, to segment and power personalization with recommendations. So, AI is everywhere, from improving efficiency of AdTech platforms in performance marketing to ordering to delivery routing and so on. Even the sales automation and the lead generation part in Medlife has a reasonably decent set AI embedded with algorithms for better conversion and ROI. Chatbots for customer service and communication has been there for some time now, and with the advent of social media, the need for reaching and connecting with millions of customers across these channels becomes only possible through AI.
Now, with the widespread use of voice assistance systems, most of the e-Com industry, including Medlife, is looking forward to adopting the voice-based ordering systems. This will need a significant amount of AI built into it. Another area where AI is being used nowadays in eCom is predicting churn and introducing dynamic pricing to various customer cohorts. So, to sum it up, AI has evolved from doing a handful of things to being part of the entire customer journey across departments, functions, activities.
In one of your recent article, you mentioned that at Medlife, customers are segmented on the basis of their behaviours on the platform. How do you feed performance measurement and analytics back into building customer experiences in real-time and personalizing it at scale?
Meera: It begins with the ability to segment your customers properly because with the scale that we are at where there are over a quarter-million people coming into our platform every day, it is not possible to do it manually. We need to depend on the machines to throw out meaningful segments to us. These segments could be in the form of product clusters they are looking at, or the time they are spending on the platform, and can also be based on the demographic data. So, as I said, the genesis of personalization is the ability to create meaningful user segments and an apparent strategy which the machines will act upon to find the best in the moment option and the apt experience.
This is a continually evolving process where AI plays a role in every step of it wherein; first, it starts with the marketer creatively segmenting the users, secondly, personalizing the experiences at scale for the defined user segments and, thirdly, refining the personalization itself to give out the best output that triggers ROI and conversions.
Great, any campaign that you have used these kinds of personalization where the results helped in business growth?
Meera: We have three business units, the entire home delivery of medicines and OTC products, lab diagnostics with home sample collection and Econsultation services. So, precisely where we have been successful is in cross-selling bit of it. For example, when someone goes for lab diagnostic for a particular ailment, like say diabetes or heart problem, they are mostly users of the related medicines and periodic consultation. This is something that we notably implemented well in Medlife, where we can cross-sell to our customers of OTC or a lab diagnostic product, and this is helping us get ROI. Thus, AI helps us segment customers and cross-sell the right way.
In one of your recent interviews, you were discussing the millennial segments. Are you also segmenting your customers based on age, and if so, do you have specific cross-sells based on it?
Meera: In Medlife, we realized that customers could be segmented into two sets, one who are buying for themselves versus the ones who are ordering for their parents. So, the people ordering on behalf of their parents tend to be more from the millennial category. However, the broader audience category that we have at Medlife is fundamentally the older generation as compared to other eCom platforms/players in the market in general.
With most of the country’s pharmacies, hospitals and doctors currently located in urban areas, how is Medlife solving this accessibility problem in Indian Healthcare?
Meera: The access of healthcare only in the metros is evening out with the massive revolution of the internet in the country, and with 525 million users. More than 40% of our business comes outside of the 15 large cities that we have our warehouses in. Also, when it comes to other eCommerce players, no doubt metros form a large chunk of the customer base with disproportionate revenue as compared to the population size they represent, but in my opinion, the rest of India is where the action is happening. In fact, companies like ours are making a massive difference in the life of customers by providing them primary access. To give you a comparative stat, the number of grocers in India is 13 mn, and chemists are at just 0.8 mn and that too they are predominantly in larger cities. So, Medlife has found a massive amount of adoption and success outside of metros as much as the metros also.
Another innovative way we have enabled and made it easier for the older audience is by providing them with a voice ordering facility through calls to a large pool of 900+ pharmacists to make purchases. We have done this because we realized that for the older generation, irrespective of location or the availability of the internet, it is the direct phone calls that they are far more comfortable with. And since this is what works and it’s not using any technology, so we are trying to see if we can develop and implement any voice-enabled tech that can substitute the 900+ pharmacists
Amid such a crisis i.e., COVID-19, do you think brands like Medlife are the answer for such situations and also India moving to the next level of digital?
Meera: Yes, Medlife is an excellent option for consumers in these hard times as it is reducing physical contact, which is possibly not the best to do now, even for procuring medical essentials. We are also ensuring that our operational staff is well protected with access to all the precautionary measures and types of equipment. So Medlife, being the largest player in this segment, is the go-to destination to ensure that there is the minimal spread of this virus.
We understand that Medlife is striving to create a holistic brand? So, what’s beyond medicines and diagnostic tests? What are you currently working on?
Meera: We are currently working on a broad set of content that is verified and factual, which is directed towards ensuring that the customers are well equipped to tackle their health holistically. The journey and struggles of patients revolve around lifestyle changes and mental health as much as the diagnostics and the medicines. Thus, these kinds of content allow them to be in sync with the overall wellness and allows them to stay updated with the advancement of the medical world.
We have launched some initiatives this year itself, one of them being #MediScene, which covers the latest updates from the world of medicines whether it is a vaccine, a drug molecule, or a cure every week. Similarly, we also have #MedX Talks, where every week, we talk to some very senior and well-renowned physicians and medical practitioners across the country and get them to demystify and debunk some of the most common issues and ailments that we have. Again we also have #MedMoves, which are moves that make us better like yoga, physiotherapy and several other exercises that help manage many chronic ailments well. And finally, we are just about to launch #MedVeda, which is going to focus on the natural healing part of medicine.
What is your favourite channel to run marketing campaigns? And why?
Meera: From all the empirical evidence that we have from the campaigns that we run; television gives the most significant boost that marketers can have. I also wouldn’t agree to the saying that digital level of measurements are way ahead of television as for me in the past in Bigbasket or currently in Medlife, whenever television campaigns were run, we have experienced very high success rate starting from awareness to consideration to conversions including revenue and business outcome. It is also about the reach with television having around 840 Million compared to the internet at 525 Million. So, for me, if the investments permit, television will be the lead channel along with complimentary digital channels for our marketing campaigns.
Also, with the emergence of OTT platforms, the consumers now have the power to consume content on demand. So, have you been able to leverage these channels as with it brands can render targeted advertising?
Meera: Sure, OTT is being leveraged by eCom businesses with a variation of spends. However, as mentioned earlier, at Medlife, we have a slightly older audience, and hence, OTT is not the primary medium. We prefer television and other digital mediums instead.
Lastly, since we are conducting a series of interviews with top Marketing Professionals on the topic of AI in Marketing, what are some of the questions that you as an individual would like to see answered?
Meera: Very specifically, I would like to know the usage and availability of various tech options for marketers. Something like a ready reckoner that would assist in MarTech selection and evaluation for us.