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Where does the brand begin? #Oberoidomore

This is The Oberoi Bangalore. Or at least some parts of it.

1 oberoi-bangalore-b8 OberoiHotel_Reuters old-billboard

This morning around 5.30 am I was on my morning walk when I saw a man lying on MG road outside the hotel gates. I took a double take as you NEVER see anyone lying across any road, let alone one as busy as MG Road.

At that hour it is pretty dark and buses and cars were racing down the road. As they came close to the man/body they’d swerve and continue.

I walked up to the hotel gate where there were a bunch of security guards standing and ‘enjoying’ the view. I asked them to come out and help move the man to the side. They refused saying that their supervisor had seen the man and told them to do nothing.

Inspite of repeated asking they refused.

Finally a passing auto stopped and between the 2 of us we stopped the traffic and moved the man, who was either drunk or had a fit, to the side.

Can you imagine if a vehicle ran over him just outside the hotel with the staff knowing that they could have stopped it. Beyond being an unspeakable tragedy it would have been a PR disaster for the brand.

Of course Oberoi has outsourced their security but ultimately they are all seen as the hotel staff and what they do reflects on the property and the brand.

I was pretty disappointed with what happened this morning. Especially as I have experienced their hospitality as a guest, so I know what they are capable of.

Ironic, considering they are in the hospitality business.

It also raised a more fundamental Q in my head about the brand. Does the brand only begin once you enter the gates? Maybe that is the training everyone gets. Once inside our property the guest is God.

Or is it nothing to do with the brand and it is all about humanity.

Either way I wish Oberoi did more than stand and watch.

I have left them a message on their fb page to let them know and hopefully avoid any other misfortune.

#Oberoidomore

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Is it worth the effort?

January 19, 2015 1 comment

In any Indian city, you are unlikely to see a car with no scratches or dents. It seems to be the price to pay for car ownership.

Everyone, except me.

Our car is 2 months old and has been pretty much unscathed.

Till today. At a traffic light, a car whose driver was engrossed on his phone scratched our car and got away in the traffic.

Now I have a car with that little mark.

Raising the Q. Do I go get it fixed or let it be thinking it’s a small thing and anyway in a few days it will pick up another one.

It’s a decision that says either I am a proud car owner OR I really don’t care much about the car as it is just a utility vehicle.

Pretty much the same with brand communications.

It could just be a small typo. Or a torn down hoarding. An event which had bad sound. Or a banner that just doesn’t close.

old-billboard

None of these are really important on their own. Or maybe even together.

But what it says about the brand is worth considering. It is the start of brand damage. And as a proud brand owner what it says about the manager and the company is telling.

So is it worth the effort?

Each to its own, but my car’s going to the garage this week to get buffed and shiny again.

No effo

Brand interruptions

November 24, 2013 Leave a comment

Image

Radio is back in our lives. Or at least my life.

With commutes to work in the car being a part of the daily routine listening to radio is my preferred way to pass time.

And I am appalled at what I hear on the radio here in Nairobi. Or at least the way the programs are constructed.

To my mind, fundamentally, the radio comprises of 2 elements. Music and News.

Different radio channels do different kinds of music. So one can choose what one wants to listen to and then choose the music.

News tends to be uniform across the channels and it takes usually 3 forms. There is general news, which includes politics, sports business and the ilk. There is traffic news. And lastly there is entertainment ‘gossip’ news. Quite a simple formula really and in nearly every country I have listened to radio this pretty much is what one hears.

The RJ’s primary role then is one of anchoring the music. Introduce the songs, talk about it, invite call ins etc.

In some countries the RJ may decide to talk about a topic that could be of relevance to the demographic that the station targets and engage the listener. But at the core of his/her job is the music.

What I hear often in Nairobi is, literally, 2 independent channels in one.

There is the songs which play every few minutes.

There is the yakking by the RJs completely disconnected to the music. Most of it has to do with relationships in all its variants. And there’s a fair bit of sport. But the music is completely incidental. Rarely do they refer to the tracks. They often behave like the music did not even exist.

I just find the experience rather jarring and prefer to switch off the radio than the toing and froing between 2 disconnected activities.

I see many brands behaving in this schizoid manner.

There’s a lot of activity being put out but seldom does one connect with the next one and each is viewed in isolation. A visiting friend I was talking to last evening was talking about his brand advertising by saying how sometimes they advertising in English, sometimes in the local language. Sometimes a celebrity is used. Sometimes it is a song. It is like each campaign is created to solve the specific problem at hand with little regard to what happened previously. Imagine if you were the brand’s consumer. You’d be left wondering what in the world was going on.

Clearly brand communications don’t need to be similar or the same. There has to be a core that is retained through every communications.

For example: What does a British doctor have to do with India-Pakistan partition?

The answer is Google.

First see this: Dr Who

Then see this: Reunion

You just got to say ‘ So clever’. And that is what you feel after every Google communication/ad. If not there is an aberration taking place right there. (Ok I am simplifying big time to make my point!!)

I see those as brand interruptions. They create a burr, and using marketing jargon, create ‘dissonance’.

These don’t have to be ads of course. Yesterday someone I follow tweeted about a shabby coffee outlet at the airport. This from a brand that does classy/good looking outlets everywhere else. It clearly caused enough of an impact for him to tweet about it.

Good, strong brands have a well articulated core and then ensure that nothing that is put out deviates from communicating that core. Be it a retail outlet, a promotion or even a radio ad.

Till that happens it’s going to be an RJ talking about hair weaves right after ‘Walk of life’.!!

 

Brand rituals to build loyalty?

When I take the clothes out of the washing machine, before I put them on the drying line, I ‘snap’ the item in question and hang it out to dry.

Why?

Well it is a reflex action, based on what I saw when I grew up and seeing my mother do. Maybe you do it, maybe you don’t.

Similarly there are numerous rituals that I perform nearly unknowingly because that’s what I have done for years.

How I make my coffee.

How I make my bed.

When I read the papers.

etc etc

The thing about rituals is that once they are ingrained in you, they are extremely hard to shake off.

Linking this back to marketing and the world of brands that we live in today, I think precious few brands invest in creating rituals.

Looking back to the growing years, there were toothpastes, soaps, dish washers, televisions, cars etc. But they were all brands.

And the thing about many brands that we grew up with, is that we outgrew them as they were linked to the time gone by. Those were brands chosen by ones parents, not by one self.

Colgate seems to be the one exception that somehow for all its fuddy duddiness has manged to cut across age groups and generations.

So we were pretty quick to ‘discard’ brands that we grew up with.

Even brands we then tried as adults, often, came and went with little emotional attachment.

Looking at this I wondered if there was a way to link rituals with brand loyalty. If one grew up associating a ritual with a brand then would it be a way to have loyalty for longer?

This blog doesn’t have directions or recommendations but wondering aloud if that was possible.

For example going back to my clothes drying solution when I snap the clothes before drying, if the action released a fragrance would I associate the action with a brand and would it strengthen my loyalty?

If turning on the TV emits a little tune like the intel/airtel sign off would it ingrain that sound in my brain that as I grow up it is a sound I associate with entertainment?

Of the brands that I am aware of Corona stands out as a brand with a clear ritual of a wedge of lime inserted in the bottle top.Image

I don’t know. I am just thinking if there’s anything worth exploring in that area.

Sure would be a rich vein to research.

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Loyalty : Points or Surprise & Delight

So often I have been engaged in conversations with clients about building customer loyalty. Rather quickly the conversation turns to loyalty programs, points, cards and so on. At some point it all looks too difficult and it is shelved. Rather infrequently, a half hearted attempt is made to run something to get that tick box in the marketing scorecard.

Yet as I look at the many loyalty programs being run how wonder how many of them genuinely build loyalty to the brand. How many make you feel better about the brand?

Here’s an example of what I mean

Going by the cards I have, I am loyal to Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Kenya Airways, Emirates and Qantas. Yet when I booked tickets for my family last night, I booked Qatar because they had better timings.

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Going by the cards I have, I am loyal to Starwood, Marriott, Hyatt, HIlton yet when I travel I look for the hotel close to where I need to be.

For sure I first look to see if any of my ‘loyalty’ brands have an option that suits me best, but final decision is based on other factors.

I have flown Singapore Airlines for many years. I love the airline for any number of reasons. But I don’t know that the fact that I am a krisflyer member makes me feel better about the brand.

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I totally get that in this day of intense competition one needs to recognise and reward one’s most valuable customers. And putting together a point program seems like the most obvious way to go.

But what about if you sell a breakfast cereal? Or a detergent? What do they do? They don’t know their customers at all. The current trend seems to be facebook pages and driving likes.

I recall, many years ago, a paint brand in India would drop a silver coin in its paint cans. Every painter knew that. This drove painters to recommend this particular brand and drove loyalty.

A toothpaste brand used to put in little figurines of animals in their pack (not the tube!!). Guess which brand kids forced their parents to buy.

So there are ways around the ‘but I don’t know who my customer is’. Sometimes, you don’t have to know who your customer is, to build loyalty.

Four Seasons hotel till recently did not have a loyalty program. For them ‘every customer is an important customer’. However, from their reservation system they were able to identify who their frequent customers were and arrange little things like room upgrades, a free drink etc that made customers genuinely feel attached to the brand than being busy tracking points. They too have, however, recently succumbed to the need to have a points progam and will launch one any day now.

And finally a most recent example. There’s a guy who sells flowers from a little shop, outside a mall, near where we stay. And we’ve bought flowers on the odd occasion from him. I would hazard, not more than a dozen times. Last time we visited the mall, we mentioned to him that the last set of flowers we bought from him didn’t last very long. Not a complaint, just a mention. When we came out of the mall, he was waiting with a whole bouquet of flowers. For free. Because we were not happy with our last experience. Guess who just got a 100% loyal customer.

Other examples like amazon.com and zappos come to mind immediately.

Yes I completely understand that this is the basic requirement to build loyalty. Have a happy customer. Surprise and delight them.

But how often do brands get caught up in systems and processes and let the points do the talking.

Marketers that construct systems that keep that fundamental principle in mind will build real loyalty. Others will be caught up with ‘value of a point’, ‘value of a like’ and the ilk.

 

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All activity, is not good activity

February 18, 2013 Leave a comment

Earlier this week I was on a red eye flight.

Less than 3 hour flight but thanks to time differences that would take care of the night, and I was really looking forward to a shut eye.

As the safety video player prior to take off, I heard that dreaded sound of business travellers around the world.

A baby crying.

Now don’t get me wrong, I like children. I have one of my own. I have flown with my kid, and with other kids on several flights over the years.

Anyone who is a parent knows that kids get uncomfortable on a flight, and it peaks at take off and landing. Firstly the lights are switched off and then the change in air pressure creates ear aches.

The only way to over come that pain is to balance the pressure by swallowing, hence why airlines used to give something to suck on once you board.

These parents were trying to quiet the child by shushing and singing lullabyes. Obviously, nothing worked as the child just screamed till the flight reached its normal flying altitude. While, I felt really bad for the baby, I couldn’t help but think about the parents who were ill informed, and therefore, ill prepared.

In my interactions with marketers I have frequently faced similar marketers who feel the need to do something in the hope that it will solve whatever problem they are facing.

We need a promotion.

We need an event.

The most common one is ‘We need a Christmas campaign’.

Seldom is thought given to the need for this activity.

What business problem are they trying to solve? Is it customer acquisition? Is it retention? Is it a share of wallet exercise?

Or is it just ‘let’s do something, because if we don’t we’ll be accused of being lazy and callous’

It is an astute marketer that doesn’t panic when faced with a sudden situation and feels that she/he needs to do something.

Pause, understand what the threat/opportunity is, does it open a new window of attack that can be exploited and then act. This doesn’t need to take weeks or even days. It just needs someone who is well informed and patient enough to do the what -if analysis and then move.

‘Let’s do something’ is just a waste of effort and valuable resources. Not to mention aggravation all around.

Going back to the baby I referred to at the start of this blog. Imagine if you were the baby. Your ears are aching and your parents are trying to put you to sleep.

Not all activity, is good activity.

 

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No feeling. No winning.

December 10, 2012 2 comments

Now that the emotions around the US presidential elections are safely, pretty much, behind us I wanted to share my, relatively superficial, perspective on it, and what it can teach ‘commodity category’ marketers in many parts of the world.

One caveat : I am staying out of the politics and policies of the candidates involved because as we all know it’s barely trustworthy.

Let me start with this picture.

obamaIt is apparently the most retweeted picture in the history of well…tweeting.

What comes shining through is a feeling of ‘one of us’ but maybe better. Through his 5 years of high visibility politicking we have learnt about his daughters, his dog, his wife, his golf handicap etc. We are inundated with pictures such as the ones below.

image barack-obama-hug obama-eatingWhat is the feeling one has about the opposition candidate? Let’s look at his CV briefly. MBA from Harvard, CEO of Bain Consulting, Co-founded Bain Capital, Governor of Massachusetts, profitably led the Salt Lake Olympic Organising committee etc. Not shabby at all is it. I am pretty sure intellectually the two candidates would be on par. But what does one ‘feel’ about him? Nothing really. So everyone’s focused on what he says/said.

Rewind 20 years ago to this famous debate moment. Clinton v/s Bush Senior. Who did you want to win?

Even the Al Gore v/s Bush senior debates.. Al Gore was the intellectual giant but people felt for Bush. (simply speaking!!)

So if people like you, or at least have some sort of feeling for you, you’re more likely to win your debate, your argument, your battle.

Over the past few years I’ve been part of a few categories where the brand is a commodity. (Ironic statement that..brand is a commodity means it is not a brand in the first place, but let’s leave that debate aside for now). The ‘marketing’ strategy, without exception, in every market has been ‘let’s cut prices’. Or let’s shout our speeds and feeds. And then folks are surprised that though they spent a lot of money the consumer still doesn’t show brand love.

Many definitions of brand out there, but finally it comes down to the way the consumer feels about the ‘product’. It is hard to have feelings for someone/something that keeps talking about how cheap they are, or how fast they are.

Marketers could do worse than learn from Obama. Not his social media strategy or his debating skills or specifics like that. Learn to connect. Don’t worry about the perfect connect. Start somewhere. Then over time hone it, improve it, strengthen it.

No feeling. No winning.

In life, in politics, or in the market place.

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