With the restriction on all professional and social gatherings, virtual platforms have been a savior for companies seeking to connect and communicate with its TGs. To know about how this onset of virtual events has been reinventing the events industry, and more, we caught up with Piyush Gupta, President at Kestone, the experiential virtual platform.
In this exclusive interview, Piyush, who in 2012 took over as President of Kestone, speaks about about Kestone, its innovations and what sets it apart, how COVID has impacted the events industry, and more.
Tell us about the services that Kestone offers, and what differentiates it from other market players?
Founded in 1997, Kestone is among India’s leading integrated marketing solutions provider with a portfolio of specialized services like digital marketing, event management, manpower services, training, Marcom, and CEP.
Ever since its inception, it has been pioneering concepts, market solutions through its comprehensive integrated, much ahead of its competition. It is one of the few early players in this space to have expanded and evolved per market demands, much faster than its counterparts.
Personalized and engaging experience creation has been core to Kestone’s offerings. When Indian businesses across sectors thriving on in-person meetings and physical events started to lose its stability due to the lockdown, Kestone observed the market. It realized that the few available alternatives to stay connected were mostly modified versions of various video conferencing and e-meeting platforms, with the global ones being too expensive.
Sensing that there was a prominent market gap that needed fixing, the Kestone team made the conscious effort to build from scratch India’s first-ever virtual platform. Entirely home-grown, the platform is complete with end-to-end capabilities to attend to any emerging business aiming to connect, communicate, and engage locally or globally in the new normal.
The biggest differentiator that sets this platform apart from others (which are mostly designed by technology-focused ventures) is how the team has incorporated into its user functionality their insights drawn from over two decades of delivering thousands of successful flagship events in India and beyond. The platform offers limitless possibilities considering the features packed into it.
It can become the launch-pad for aspiring businesses, host a new-age education institution, or can even be a new shared workspace that connects people with the right job opportunities. Kestone virtual platform has exclusive features that can help virtual communication transcend geographical and demographical boundaries for any brand.
What are the kinds of events that Kestone has undertaken?
Kestone delivered successful virtual connects for Google, Redington, in partnership with Dell Technologies, Strategink, in partnership with IBM and, CNBC-TV18, engaging 40,000+ CXO level visitors, 75,000 students, with 60,000+ social media interactions and 50,000+ exhibitor booth & product demo zone visits in just 3 months of initial foundation of its experiential virtual events platform.
Kestone hosted Jashn-e-rekhta, the world’s largest Urdu language literary festival weaving magic with UK edition where it streamed 30 hours of immersive experience virtually to a global audience. 110 artists including Javed Akhtar, Nooran Sister, Harshdeep Kaur, Rafaqat Ali Khan, Hans Raj Hans, Vishal Bhardwaj staged their virtual confidence on Kestone’s platform. It was an attempt to help empower Indian regional cultural festivals to continue its connectivity and existence.
Kestone also partnered with Give India and hosted Imagine, the largest 24-hour virtual global fundraiser connect on its platform to celebrate the human spirit and demonstrate the power of technology to bridge physical boundaries and barriers to provide a platform for people to come together from across the globe.
Through the platform, Kestone, in the coming days aspires to set benchmarks for delivering exceptional customer experiences in the virtual world which are as good as physical events across businesses and causes.
What were the user concerns existing video conferencing solutions and e-meeting platforms failed to address, and how do Kestone’s services fill in that gap?
Webinar-based video conferencing has its limitations and is more suited for limited participants and small meetings. This posed a challenge to users as they were looking for inclusivity and extensiveness when everyone was grappling with the idea of remote functioning.
We studied the market and observed that virtual versions of the actual physical event can be made more flexible and customizable. Hence, we created a virtual platform that is more experiential – with exclusive features that is user-friendly and easy for brands to engage with irrespective of audience size, with seamless social media integrations, multilingual functionality, and performance measurement features, and attendee management tools.
We are among the first few integrated marketing organizations to have built this platform in-house. We have full control over our product in terms of customizing is based on a client requirement and with the legacy of 23 years of doing event management and offering a successfully integrated solution, we know how experientialism is critical for virtual event platforms to help the customer understand its real advantage.
A holistic platform that takes care of critical aspects like Design, Engagement, and Data in-house, is what brands are looking for today, and we are glad to have realized this and incorporate it into our offering. It is not an event platform, but what we are building is a virtual universe. We want to be the bridge that connects to the future anytime anywhere.
As an organization that deals in virtual events, what have the past five-six months looked like for you and Kestone?
Exciting to say the least. Some key focus areas for us which kept us busy were:
- Sales approach: As the concept was new and forced, the entire sales cycle of educating the potential customers to handholding them in execution was important.
- GTM strategy and execution: For a new product a strong marketing approach is always important. I am very happy that we have done an excellent job of the same. We have managed to position us in the right way, be present across the globe when someone is looking at this space, and maintain a first-mover advantage continuously.
- Continuous product development: while we had launched the product, we have made sure that in these five to six months, we kept it evolving basis the customer feedback. New features are being introduced at a regular interval which is also continuously enhancing the experience.
- Strong team and execution: One key success factor for us has been a strong team and the quality of execution that helped our clients execute some of the most memorable experiences digitally.
Do you think the COVID-19 pandemic has made the world realize the importance of virtual events?
Since the onset of the Covid crisis, the journey for the event and experiential industry has been like a roller coaster ride. The initial days were tough as the stringent lockdown and distancing rules forced companies to cancel their events and engagements.
This not only proved to be detrimental to the industry as a whole but also slowed down major marketing efforts of almost all the big & small brands & businesses. But thankfully we live in a world where technology is a great leveler. Especially in India, digital transformation has been gaining momentum for quite some time and this has led the industry to re-establish its hold firmly with innovative solutions and cost-effective digital imperatives.
The concept of virtual events and engagements is a big step in that direction. A lot of players in the event and experiential industry were quick on their toes to launch their virtual platforms and strategize programs that are as good as their physical counterparts. As the concept of virtual marketing got popular and brands got a taste of its effectiveness, it has now become mainstream and an integral part of the new normal.
As a result of this development, the event and experiential marketing industry has not only carved a niche for itself but opened new doors of possibilities for various business verticals. A brand-new concept of ‘virtual universe’ is becoming popular as a lot of businesses are now keen to develop their products and solutions based on virtual platforms. From education to healthcare, almost every industry is trying to cash on this ‘virtual quotient’ and this is positive news for the events and experiential marketing industry.
What is your vision for the future in terms of bringing about Kestone’s services to scores of Indian companies?
Our vision is to be able to solve sales & marketing problems for our clients digitally. Keeping this in mind, we are working towards making it reachable and affordable for clients across. India is still not ready for a DIY version of virtual events and hence we want to have a hybrid approach of DIY and strong project management support.
Along with this, our platform offers regional language capabilities and now we can do events in most of the Indian languages. This is aimed to attract all kinds of organizations and localize it to a great extent. The other aspect is the channel management approach. We have created a channel partner model to spread the word and reach a larger audience.
What are the industry challenges you have observed and tackled in this industry that had kept Kestone in the market as a prominent player?
Across the industry, people have not been ready for this change. Learning and adapting this from a customer point of view has been one of the greatest challenges. We have made sure that we have taken the approach of educating the industry and our strong project management approach has helped clients cross over the line.
Overall I think the industry is adapting to it well and we are making sure that all our effort is in the direction of helping organizations move online form on the ground.
What are your predictions for the virtual event industry going forward?
A brand-new concept of ‘virtual universe’ is becoming popular as a lot of businesses are now keen to develop their products and solutions bedrock on virtual platforms. From education to healthcare, almost every industry is trying to cash on this ‘virtual quotient’ and this is positive news for the events and experiential marketing industry.
The journey for the events and experiential marketing industry looks even more promising with the rising demand for hybrid events. Though it is just the start, in the coming day’s hybrid events will be a key element of virtual event engagement.
As things become more relaxed in the coming days, brands will explore engagement strategies that are not physical but will some elements of it. This is mainly due to the lessons learned by the event industry that while virtual events certainly have their advantages, live events will always be a key part of any event program.
There are situations like the current one where a virtual event is the only option. But there are scenarios where an in-person event will be the most effective way of generating leads and engaging with the audience. Hybrid events, or events that combine both in-person and virtual experiences, will be an integral part of the new normal in the events and experiential industry.
Is there anything else that you would want to add? Something I haven’t asked you?
Ithink that media houses can play a very important role in helping to adapt to this change faster. I still think that the conversation on online events and virtual business is not enough in this space and media can help educate organizations on what kind of opportunity lies in the digital world and help them gain confidence in the overall change management.