03 October 2015 11:40:58 IST

When the wind chimes just right

Windchimes Communications aims to change the social marketing space in India

A lot of successful businesses attribute their success to one key occurrence: being at the right place at the right time to cater to the right need.

For example, Levi's startred making jeans during the gold rush, with the idea that miners required tougher work clothes that can endure harsh conditions. Fast forward to the modern age and we see that social media agencies are trying to emulate what Levi's and others did in the past.

As India is witnessing a boom in Internet usage, currently estimated at 350 million, fuelled largely by smartphones, marketers are starting to embrace this medium. Windchimes Communications is one such company that aims to ride on the social communications space, which is in the early stages of experimenting with social marketing.


Founded in September 2008 by Sandhya Sadananda and Nimesh Shah, who worked with FMCG majors such as Britannia and Marico, the start-up plays in the space of social community management, creating digital and mobile applications, website designing, augmented reality and mobile advertising for corporations. For example, in 2012, ITC's brand Classmate was looking at targeting children and teenagers, teachers and young parents through a mix of digital and social media platforms for its campaign ‘Because You Are One of a Kind’.

Shah’s start-up provides two kinds of social media services. Firstly, there is social media marketing which works primarily on the principles of word of mouth, where people have conversations about brands and their experience.

“Brands must also participate in these conversations and create value and should not be a passive onlooker. That is how they can build influence amongst consumers,” says Shah.

Impact of the global financial crisis

The birth of the start-up coincided with the crash of Lehman Brothers and the subsequent recession. While the impact was not that bad in India, businesses were shaken up. Most Indian businesses suffered because of it as well, and there was a severe cut in advertising and promotional expenses. People were being asked to leave, and the entire scenario had turned gloomy.

“And there we were starting out to sell a new and untested concept when companies unilaterally had cut outdoor, radio and TV spends,” reminisces Shah, who did his MBA from Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies, Mumbai.

However, he did not waver in his focus. “When we started Windchimes we knew right at the outset that we had to focus on this. We did not venture into traditional marketing, PR, website development and digital media buying, because there were already players in that space. Even though it was tempting, our forte was in communications and we knew that by specialising in this space, we would be able to carve out a niche for ourselves,” says Shah.

So how did the idea come about? “We got the idea when we were still in Marico. At that time Orkut was a popular social networking site and scrapping on the site was the ‘in thing’,” explains Shah.

Using a different model for marketing

The start-up bet on the fact that social media would have to operate a different model than the conventional digital or advertising agencies. Social media had a lot of new elements; the way it is priced would be different, and the way one had to engage was different.

“We developed several services like community management and online reputation management as modules and started offering them to our first set of potential clients, then offered them modules, so that they can pick and choose what they needed. It was very tough in the beginning as the concept was and still is to a large extent something that marketers are figuring out. Back in April 2008, when we were researching on this subject, we found only five articles on it on Wikipedia. Several of the terms like Social Media Marketing, Advocacy Management, Community Management didn’t even exist then,” says Shah.

It was then that the company realised that it had to educate and grow the market if it had to be in business, and did that by publishing an e-book on social media to help corporations understand what it is all about.

Since then, the start-up has been steadfast in its focus on research, which involved adding new features and a team to continuously monitor and be agile when it came to servicing clients.

Developing software-based tools

Another differentiator was a focus on developing software-based tools.

“We developed one in-house to analyse online reputation management. We also developed other in-house products that helped us in developing Facebook applications at lower cost and with turnaround of few hours. This helped us in reducing our costs and pass on the benefits to our clients,” explained Shah.

This was followed up with a 24x7 monitoring centre that is run like a command centre checking corporate mentions around the clock. The start-up counts Yes Bank and ITC among its clients.


The company has been bootstrapped, but is open to raising debt. This would help it to expand faster. The start-up has offices in Mumbai, Gurgaon and Bengaluru.

The Indian social media agency space is similar to the Wild West as large advertising agencies, marketing firms and other specialist digital marketing outfits all vie for the same pie. A number of social media outfits are proliferating, which could saturate the segment and eventually a lot of businesses could shut shop or get acquired.

“We believe that half-a-dozen big agencies will dominate and we want to be one of them,” says Shah.

Whether Windchimes is in the right place at the right time, time will tell.