When KarachiSnob (KS) was launched in 2007, plenty of people asked why it was called Karachi ‘Snob’. Less than five years on, many still question the name but only few can refute the superior quality and usefulness of the website.
Launched by the US-based SnobCities Network, KarachiSnob is one of the six directory websites that lists various city-specific businesses. Other cities with a Snob site include Lahore and Islamabad in Pakistan, and Amman, Johannesburg and Kolkata internationally.
In its first ever official interview, the KarachiSnob team explains its vision for the site, “We wanted to create an easy-to-use directory, and to showcase the beauty of different places through an honest and quality-controlled environment to add convenience, enjoyment and positive energy to people living in Karachi.”
The Snob team did well in achieving their objectives so far as statistics show that the site attracts between 100,000 to 125,000 unique visitors per month. A visitor profile summary from Alexa.com (which ranks KarachiSnob at 689th in Pakistan) shows that 92 per cent of the visitors come from Pakistan, and the vast majority has a postgraduate education. These statistics are not out of the ordinary but go a long way to prove that the site has managed to capture the market it wanted, described by the KS team as “people who appreciate a pleasant environment and connect with our concept and energy.”
The Snob model
Catering to a discerning target audience means that the team must vet each business before listing it. Every business must fulfil five criteria to be deemed ‘snob’ worthy: product quality, ambiance, customer service, reputation and availability. Making the selection process transparent ensures a level of authenticity and credibility which is often missing in online directories.
Along with credibility, the site benefits immensely from its clean, uncluttered layout, regularly updated listings and simple but effective categorisation of businesses. However, KarachiSnob’s real popularity stems from what marketing folks like to call ‘first mover advantage’. Now although KarachiSnob is by no means the first online directory from Pakistan, it is the first and only directory that lists local (that is, city-specific) businesses. Combine that with the fact that the well-heeled are constantly looking for the next hip and big thing to do in Karachi and you have a recipe for success. The premise also works well to serve tourists and visitors to the city. Considered in the context of a city guide, KarachiSnob can easily be termed as the most influential addition to the Karachi digiscape in the last decade.
However, regardless of popularity, success in real terms is measured in dollars and cents. The revenue model of most online directories consists of charging for listings and featured listings, in addition to sponsored and contextual advertising. KarachiSnob’s model is somewhat different. In fact, according to Umair Mohsin, Director, Digital Media and Strategy, Media Idée, it isn’t even a model per se. “KarachiSnob did not grow out of a business model but out of a sense of being a helpful and entertaining network of online directories.”
This sentiment is echoed by the Snob team, “Advertising is not a major priority for us and is only accepted on a case by case basis from like-minded companies.” Obviously, the idea is to apply the same level of discernment to the advertising as they do to the listings.
While the standard listings are still free (in order to ensure credibility), the site has managed to develop several other revenue streams. The first of the usually used scheme is scrolling a banner ad on top of the site. Our sources say that this space is sold for 500 US dollars per month (45,000 rupees). The second, and possibly most significant, revenue generator are the ‘business pages’ of KarachiSnob. These pages have an advertorial of sorts about a specific business, photographs, as well as details about special deals. Mohsin says that a business page costs 95,000 rupees per year. A third revenue stream comes in the form of the Snob membership card which is priced at 1,800 rupees.
KarachiSnob has two regular sponsors whose logos appear at the bottom of the page: CityFM89 and MTV Pakistan. The financial details of these sponsorships, as well as any particulars regarding contextual advertising and barter deals remain unknown, making the calculation of total advertising revenue somewhat difficult.
However Mohsin’s guesstimate is that it is about 4,000 US dollars per month, which would put annual revenue at roughly over four million rupees. This figure may appear inconsequential, especially when considered in the context of Pakistan’s total digital ad revenue of 566 million rupees (Source: Aurora Fact File, FY 2010-11), but it is important to remember that KarachiSnob caters to an extremely niche audience of Karachiites alone.
Beyond the financial details however, KarachiSnob is essentially an experience-based venture, and should therefore be judged with that aspect in mind.
Hussain Tariq, owner of Café Blue Ginger (a fine dining establishment in Karachi) says that the benefits of advertising on Snob are “intangible in nature,” and the website management has a “listening ear unlike some of the other portals, and we have no difficulty in convincing them about how we want things to be done.”
Speaking strictly from a consumer’s point of view, Salma Jafri, founder of Wordpl (an online freelance writing consultancy) says that while KarachiSnob is useful, it desperately needs basic elements such as a search bar and a ‘home’ button in order to make navigation easier.
The site does face a couple of major challenges though. The first is competition in the form of other online directories such as Yello.pk, Danka, Pakistic, Karachi Metblogs etcetera. None of these sites have exactly the same target audience as Snob, but they offer editorial content and allow users to post reviews of their experiences. KarachiSnob could certainly benefit from objective editorial content in the form of features and articles in order to break the monotony of the listings. The other feature of the website that needs overhauling is design and navigation. While the format of the webpage is clean and simple, the design could be a made a bit upscale and ‘snobby’ to more aptly reflect the positioning of the Snob brand, says Mohsin.
The KarachiSnob team promises some “exciting surprises” in the near future but basically wants to stay true to the original concept, “regardless of what others were, or are, doing”.
Marylou Andrew wrote this article for the February 2012 edition of Spider magazine.