How they live(stream)ed and learned.
By Aiden Jewelle Gonzales
I’ve always felt that the advent of livestreaming has been the great equaliser in mass media – anyone with a working internet connection can tune in to a livestream half a world away, free of geographical or social constraints, and interact with everyday people like you or me, who make the seemingly mundane interesting through their passion and charisma.
Over the last few years of exponential digital transformation, many in the Thai-Indian community have embraced this technological trend, leveraging it to boost their businesses to even greater heights. Ever since its introduction in 2015, Facebook Live, in particular, has been an effective and powerful tool for digital marketing, and is in fact the leading live video platform today for marketing products. According to Vimeo, 82 percent of customers prefer brands to post a live video over written social posts, while Socialinsider claims that live video use on Facebook increased by 50 percent in 2021 alone.
We’ve spoken to three Thai-Indian merchants who’ve effectively harnessed this powerful tool for their respective businesses, and their unique insights into, and advice on, this growing trend.
NOPPAVIT ‘RAJA’ PRATHAMPITAK
Founder, Hanji Group
Known as Raja or, to his fond fans, ‘Uncle Hanji,’ Noppavit ‘Raja’ Prathampitak is the head of the Hanji Group, an enterprise that focuses on providing the full range of Indian groceries, to both wholesale and retail customers all over Thailand.
“For over 20 years, I’ve ran numerous businesses, be it restaurants, real estate, or manufacturing fabrics,” Raja recalls. “When the fabric market died down and we hit rock bottom, we needed a fresh start. I looked at my own household to find inspiration and I thought, why not sell Indian groceries, since the Indian community in Thailand is growing rapidly? I took the risk, and built Hanji Group from scratch.”
On top of “a product range and quality like no one else’s,” the Hanji Group has been dedicated to continuously improving their platform for their customers, led by Raja’s son, Phuvanarth Prathampitak, and niece, Natcha Satchathammanit.
“We’ve expanded from just storefront marketing to Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, and now online marketplaces like Shopee, Lazada, and LINE MAN,” Raja says with pride, and indeed their Facebook page (@hanji.grocery) alone boasts 22,000 followers. He chronicles their journey to where they are now:
What prompted you to start using Facebook Live, and what content do you provide on it?
I started using Facebook as a marketing platform around five years ago when my son Phuvanarth stepped in to help expand the business by going digital. Our Facebook videos and livestreams have a variety of content, ranging from store tours, product reviews, tutorials, and lucky draw events.
How do you make sure people will tune in, and how do you keep your audience happy and engaged throughout the livestream?
To maximise our audience reach, we set a date and time at least a week before the livestream so we have time to announce and promote it. Ensuring our audience attends the livestream is not difficult, since they will get notified when we share the event, and the videos usually involve prizes, from ‘mixer-grinders,’ to cash vouchers, and even a weekend stay in Hua Hin.
However, making people happy and engaged is a bit more challenging, so we make sure to have new products and promotions that we introduce during the livestream.
What do you believe makes Facebook Live a powerful tool in getting out your message?
Facebook Live and video is very engaging and easy to access, as almost everyone has Facebook, from teenagers to seniors. Using it wisely, you can expand your business and reach a customer group that no other platform can bring you. In fact, most of our current wholesale customers come from Facebook.
Tell us about these customer groups that Facebook Live has helped you reach – is it mostly members from the Thai-Indian community, and how have you expanded your loyal customer base?
Our target audience ranges from the Thai-Indian community, to NRIs, the Thai-Muslim community, Indian restaurants, and people who are interested in and love our Indian food and culture. Our livestreams have definitely brought in a lot of loyal customers from all over Thailand who now order our groceries monthly. Whenever a new product range is introduced, we always receive great support from them.
Facebook has been a great outlet in reaching different customer groups outside the Indian communities – we have even reached Thai and expat customers who are interested in Indian food and consumer goods. Especially during COVID, our livestreams have helped us to provide our service to customers who were in lockdown and didn’t have easy access to groceries.
Any advice for others in the community who are looking to promote their businesses online?
Learning doesn’t have an age limit; just open your mind and there will be endless opportunities. Look at me – I started with a small corner shop, and now we have expanded to a larger store, a warehouse, and numerous online platforms.
CAPTAIN SUKIT SINGH KHURANA
Owner,ร้านผ้า นายห้างสุกิจ Well Known Textile Company by Khurana
With nearly 43,000 followers on the company’s Facebook page, Well Known Textile Company by Khurana, also colloquially called Well Known Fabric, is aptly named. Founded in 1986 by Captain Sukit Singh Khurana’s grandfather, Sardar Waryam Singh Khurana, the company is under Khurana Store Co., Ltd, and is a wholesaler and retailer of apparel fabrics. “Our fabric stores, both online and offline, offer the best fabric for any project,” Sukit tells me.
“We take advantage of different online platforms’ strengths to teach our customers about our quality fabrics: on YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook (@Wellknownfabric) and even TikTok (@fabricbysukit) and Twitter (@bySukit).
“Back in 2017, when I’d first broadcasted a Facebook Live video, it appeared on my friends’ pages, groups, and the feeds of my friends of friends,” Sukit recalls. “Back then, the number of Facebook users in Thailand was around 40 million people, and it was one of the first livestreaming platforms, so each of my videos managed to reach up to 100,000 people per video.” Since then, he’s extended his reach even further on Facebook and beyond, including TikTok and Shopee Live, and he gives us his insights.
You’ve mentioned that you reach hundreds of thousands of people per video. What are your tips for getting such a wide reach?
To get the maximum reach, my five simple tips are:
- Add an interesting/catchy caption to each video so people know what it’s about;
- Focus on 4-5 key points that you want to share to customers;
- Always greet the customers who tune in live by name. It will help them feel important, and more comfortable asking questions;
- Include promotions and games: customers will want to tune into your livestream as it’s not just about e.g. selling fabric, it’s also about getting something more;
- Keep the duration between 30-45 minutes maximum. In my experience, that’s the amount of time customers are comfortablewatching you, and you can give enough information for them to remember per day.
What do you believe is the unique value of Facebook Live compared to other platforms?
It’s a great way to broadcast events and connect with your customers, and allows customers to get to know you better. It can lead to higher engagement which in turn will lead to higher sales, and the best thing about it is that it helps you to test new ideas and get immediate feedback from customers. It’s helped me create a very loyal customer base, as most of my customers have repeat orders, based on the service and quality of fabric we offer.
How do you engage such a wide audience of different ages, all of whom consume social media differently?
We usually have a mixed audience, and they tune in for different reasons: the first group is customers aged 45-55, who are not very good online, but they love watching videos. The second group is customers aged 25-35, who are developing their own businesses, and love exploring all the platforms to gain information on how to improve their business. Either way, both groups find what they want in our videos!
Not that many people will buy textiles on impulse. How do you convince them to buy your product when livestreaming?
I consider fabric a part of our daily human lives. You can see fabric everywhere, and this can be broken down into many usages, such as: fashion, uniforms, decoration, sports, paintings, furniture, bags, etc. When I livestream, I make sure the audience gets to know the fabrics and what they can become, and that way the audience benefits when watching my livestream.
What tips do you have for those looking to promote their businesses online?
- Market your business on at least three social media platforms, whichever ones appeal to you;
- Make your website content shareable so you can get people to engage with your website;
- Start a blog to promote your business, such as teaching on YouTube, and give tips about your business.
Owner, D.M. Fabric
In October 2016, husband-and-wife team Sukhin and Jilly Madan opened D.M. Fabric “to do something different from the other fabric stores, something unique and colourful,” Sukhin says. “So we decorated and filled our store with a range of quality, colourful fabrics.” However, as fate would have it, they had to learn to adapt on the fly: “Exactly two days after opening our shop, our beloved King Rama IX, Bhumibol Adulyadej, passed away and the country went into a whole year of mourning. As we carried vibrant and colourful fabrics, we had a hard time selling our products. We knew we had to change our strategy and acted promptly by adding plain black and white fabrics to our stock.”
Since then, the dynamic duo have been keen to try new strategies and directions, opening an online store that now has over 28,000 followers on its Facebook page alone (@DMfabricbySM). Sukhin speaks further about the ways that Facebook Live has helped transform their business.
What led you to opening your store online and choosing to livestream to your customers, and what do you talk about that has made it so successful?
One fine day, my friend and I were discussing business over a sauna session, and we thought of once again trying something different, but through online channels. The next day I started researching this opportunity, and that led to creating our fabric store online. There has been no looking back since.
During our live sessions, I present our new designs, and talk about our fabrics’ quality, the fall of the material, what can be made out of it, etc. I believe that success is yet to come; I am working hard and enjoying the journey towards it.
Operating a business on both physical and online platforms isn’t easy – tell us about how you’ve ensured that people will tune in to your videos and remain engaged throughout.
As you know, nothing comes for free, so I invest a lot into my online store. Firstly, when customers visit our physical store in China World Phahurat, I always request that they follow our Facebook or Instagram page (@dmfabric_bohemianstyle) for the latest updates.
We also set aside a small monthly budget for Facebook marketing to increase our exposure. We give our followers a heads-up before our livestream sessions so they know exactly when to tune in. Keeping our audience engaged is not easy but I try my best to add in humour during my livestream sessions, and I keep them short and crisp. I’ve been told I should have been a TV anchor, so I guess I’m doing something right! [Laughs]
Why do you believe it’s so important for businesses to have an online presence these days, and what do you believe makes Facebook Live so effective as a platform to interact with your customers?
I believe that it’s the future of doing business. Since the pandemic, we’ve seen a drastic change in the way consumers shop – with a few clicks, everything can now be delivered to your door step. Consumers these days believe in purchasing online, so that’s half our job done – their willingness.
Facebook has been around for over two decades, and is used by people of all ages. Facebook Live, in particular, is very interactive, allowing consumers to ask questions and receive replies right away, which allows them to make purchasing decisions quickly.
Do you feel that you’ve gained more loyalty because of your livestreams, both from within and outside the Thai-Indian community? How has it helped you reach a wider audience?
Our target audience are those who like something beautiful, colourful, and different – the word ‘bohemian’ best characterises our products. While the majority of our customers are Thais, we also have quite a large number foreigners and Thai-Indian customers, and we receive great support from our fellow community members, which we are grateful for.
Since we created our Facebook page, we’ve been able to reach out to people around Thailand. Our interactive sessions have helped us connect with our customers; they know the face behind the brand, which we feel is very important. It’s helped us gain a lot of loyal customers who keep buying from us because of the quality of product and services that we provide. I am always grateful for the things that we’ve achieved, and always thank God for everything.
Fabric can be considered a bit of a niche product – how do you market it to so wide an audience?
I don’t think fabric is a niche market. You actually need it for so many things, from clothes, to home décor, handbags, and shoes. I believe our fabric is of good quality and reasonably priced, plus it can be used in so many different ways to add value to a product. With so many new start-ups now, people are more willing to experiment and introduce unique products, and that’s where our fabric comes in.
What’s your best piece of advice for others who are looking to move their business into the online space?
Online or offline, just do your business with honesty and integrity. Try to do something unique; you might not get the results you expect today, but with total dedication and hard work you will achieve what you wish for. Having said that, do follow us on our Facebook and Instagram pages!