Born in India, Bhana Grover grew up with colorful stories of elephant-headed gods and palatial mausoleums, but she noticed that entertaining and educational content aimed at ethnic niches was lacking in the United States.
So Grover founded Niche Media Inc., Philadelphia, two years ago. This week, her company, a direct marketer of multimedia CD-ROMs revolving around Indian tales, was slated to unveil a virtual community that targets South Asians.
Visitors to www.handsonworld.com will be able to consult a beauty, career or marriage counselor; participate in online chats; place a personal ad; and, within two months, buy from a selection of 15,000 South Asian CDs and videos. Niche Media plans to expand the site to include communities for Latinos, Chinese and Koreans.
“When you go online, companies are breaking you down into gender or age, but nobody is breaking you down into ethnicity,” Grover said. “To me, that's what is so exciting because there are so many issues that people have when they aren't living in their ethnic country.”
Grover is waiting for word from AT&T on a deal she proposed for the telecommunications company to package its online software, WorldNet, with her CD-ROMs. She hopes to partner with AT&T and other corporations to use the CD-ROMS as incentives in direct mail to South Asians, which represent a relatively under-tapped market.
“The Indian market is unusual in that they all speak English, so a lot of marketers already think they are targeting them. That's a misconception, because when you do target marketing you want to be as personalized as possible,” said Cindy Lin, assistant vice president at DataBase Management, New York, which bases its Indian list on surnames but is planning on getting a direct-response list.
“Some companies currently go after Indian-Americans. Obviously, the AT&Ts and MCIs will go after that population because they know they will make long-distance phone calls back home,” she said.
More than 480 out of 500 South Asians reported owning a computer, according to a survey by Niche Media. Although Grover's research is a great deal less than professional — she sent her nephew and a friend to three Indian temples and paid them a quarter for each completed survey — she doesn't appear to be off target.
“Indian-Americans are one of the most affluent and most educated groups of all the Asian-American populations,” Lin said, noting that about 12 percent of the U.S. population is Indian. “Since they are well-educated and affluent, you could assume that more than average would own computers.”
Grover's most recent CD-ROM, “The Taj Mahal Storybook and Playground,” tells the story of the massive Indian mausoleum. In addition to promotions on her Web site and in Indian media, Grover e-mailed visitors to her Web site and names culled from her partnerships with Indian religious or professional groups.
“I have gotten so much support from the community,” she said, adding that she doesn't pay for lists of association members but sometimes contributes a portion of her earnings to the temples.
The company sent 1,400 e-mails and received a 10 percent response rate. The Taj Mahal CD-ROM also is being sold in museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
“The Story of Ganesha” served as Grover's first foray into the South Asian market two years ago. To market the CD-ROM, she sent direct mail to 4,000 South Asian doctors found in telephone books.
“Everything was done on a shoestring budget. When you have no money, you learn to figure things out,” she said. “We thought that doctors are high-end and have a higher education, so we should start with them.”
Although the campaign garnered a 9 percent response rate, Grover was less than satisfied. She discovered that many people shied away from the CD-ROM, viewing it as a religious tale rather than an entertaining story
“We now try to avoid religious icons and make sure it appeals to the Western culture as well,” she said. “We learned that we have to be — I hate to say it — politically correct.”