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Brands have social responsibilities

Last evening I was watching something on TV and this ad appeared.  It’s an ad for a phone brand called LYF.

I don’t know about you but I found it cringe worthy. No I am not talking about the lack of an idea or even the poor execution or anything like that. Here we have a bunch of guys sitting around watching a woman taking off some item of clothing and then dancing to an item number.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I found the ad offensive. Then again, I do see many offensive ads. But when we have someone like a Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni, R Ashwin and so on, watching Kangana Ranaut do a number it gives permission to a whole bunch of men around the country to expect women to do the same.

I know there will be a lot of people saying that I am over reacting, but we are a country where people even copy hair styles of their heroes. And at a time when we are rocked pretty regularly with horrible stories of how a woman got mistreated by a guy I strongly believe that brands that can, should be more responsible, than only trying to sell their product.

And we have examples of brands doing just that..marrying a social message with a brand one.

Started in Canada but quickly became a global phenomenon was Dove.

 

They have continued with the same message in many countries. Their campaign for real beauty has consistently tried to reinforce the idea that one should be proud of the way one looks and not be forced to align to stereotypes.

Closer home is Ariel. With their campaign #Sharetheload they have tried to ask the Q: Why should laundry (and indeed housework) only be the woman’s duty.

There are many more examples, of brands that have risen above the short term need to meet a quarter’s numbers to deliver a higher message that tries to change the way society behaves.

I believe all brands have this responsibility. The bigger brands more so, as they have the ability and credibility to do so.

Brands are not just what you see on a shelf. Celebrities are brands too.

Celebrities that endorse brands should keep an eye on the script and have a point of view on whether they support the point of view of the ad. After all if a Virat Kohli refuses to do an item number ad, he also sends a message to his peers and the brands that seek his endorsement that he expects a certain behaviour.

The same is true with our movie stars. As long as they are shown, on screen, killing people, beating their women and children, smoking and so on, we are going to have millions of people who ape them blindly. I am, not for a moment, blaming society’s ills on them of course, but we all have a role to play if we want to rid society of the demons we have.

It is not hard for big brands to align their brand messaging to a higher purpose creating a movement that they can ride on. From Dove’s case we have seen that it is global, sustaining over time and beneficial to the brand.

Brands should lead society, not just reflect them.

How Social Media is destroying brand loyalty

cheating

Last week, I wrote about my trysts with Scotty’s diner. I had been there a couple of times, and rather enjoyed the food and the conversations with the staff. On my walk to Scotty’s I noticed another place called Bloom’s Cafe. Wondering, what it was like, I went on-line to read about it. And there were some pretty good reviews of the place. So the next morning, I went to Bloom’s.

There was nothing wrong with my experience at Scotty’s. I was quite happy there, but the temptation to try out an option was too hard to resist, buffeted as it was with great reviews. Quite frankly, there was nothing Scotty’s could have done differently to prevent me from trying out Bloom’s.

And that is the risk that brands are facing with the advent of social media.

Used to be that there was a category of goods called ‘impulse purchase’ that were always susceptible to consumer moods. Typically candy/snacks and the type, where the risk was low and the financial downside was minimal.

Higher involvement categories were pretty much inured against this. These were considered purchases and the sales outlet, the salesman and word of mouth  of friends mattered a lot.

Till the mid 1990s ones awareness was limited to what we read in the media and heard from friends. With the advent of the internet the choices before us exploded. Brands we had dreamt of, or never heard of were all available at the click of a button. But how do you decide on what you were willing to spend your hard earned money.

Enter the concept of reviews. First on amazon, now showing everywhere. From a pair of socks to apartments there is no shortage of opinions being expressed that is changing consumer decisions everyday.

Emirates or Etihad

Hyatt or a Westin

Mobilio or Ertiga

Sobha or Prestige

And so on..

What we are seeing is that with social media, words of strangers carry as much weight as that of friends.

Much as people are willing to try out new options, bad service from their own brands is instantly shared on-line as well.

It appears that the days of lifelong loyalty are long gone.

So what are brands to do?

I believe it is a combination of 3 elements.

Customer Satisfaction: Ensure that existing customers are happy and their issues/concerns are instantly resolved. Don’t give them an opportunity to complain publicly. If they do, ensure the problem is addressed publicly as well.

Consumer Advocacy: As reviews play an important part in prospect decision making, there is need to run a continual consumer advocacy program. Some companies incentivise consumers to post advisors on trip advisor, for example. Similar programs exist, or should be created, by other brands as well.

Consumer Acquisition: Acquisition has to be a continuous program as there will always be people who drop out, seduced by a good review somewhere else. Hence it is important that brands are always on the hunt for new prospects, who may well be loyalists of another brand.

In my opinion consumer decisions will be shaped by

Advertising + Media (editorial) + Social Media.

Brands will need to play in all these spaces and have distinct, integrated, strategies that work across all.

 

Re-visiting re-targeting

December 6, 2015 2 comments

This morning I went to a grocery store and looked at some cereal boxes. For some reason, I decided to not buy it, put the box down and left the store. Then I wandered into a shoe store right next door. As I was browsing through some shoes, there was a guy from the grocery store holding a box of cereal, asking if I wanted to buy it now. After overcoming my shock at seeing him there, I declined and went to the store next door. This time a clothes store. And again, as I was browsing for some jeans there was the same guy holding another box of cereal. And this continued through a few stores.

In fact for a few days I saw him nearly everywhere I went. Just as I was getting really irritated with him following me, he mysteriously vanished as well.

In real life this would be really weird. But it happens often on-line. It is a concept called Re-targeting.

regargeting

Re-targeting is simply an advertiser’s way of targeting you with sales messages based on your previous browsing history. Usually connected with some e-commerce activity.

Earlier this week I was looking at buying a pen on-line. Since then I have been inundated with ads for the pen on my facebook feed, email side ads, nearly every other site I have visited. Yes, bordering on irritation.

In my humble opinion the idea of re-targeting, while great, needs 3 simple principles to be followed.

  1.  Context: Just like when advertising’ context is important, the same principle applies to re-targeting. I think sometimes brands get so anxious that the customer has not bought that they start showing up in the very next page being browsed. This serves to, both confuse and frustrate the customer. So ensure that re-targeted messaging continues to be within the context of the brand/product/message.
  2. Message: Often times I have seen that the advertising message being delivered in re-targeting is basically just restating the product/brand message. There is little attempt to factor in that I have just been on that page, seen that message and not completed the transaction expected. So showing the very same messaging is not going to work. Re-targeted messaging should be delivered in a manner that gets the customer to perform the action, that was not completed the first time. Typically, this may include an offer. Or, my preference is, to deliver the message in a different way. Perhaps a new value proposition even. This is a rich bed for some A/B testing.
  3. Timing: There are 2 aspects to this. How soon after the initial targeted message do you re-target? If the customer is continuing to browse related content then obviously it makes sense to be visible literally immediately. However, be careful to not come across as stalking. The other aspect of timing is how long do you continue to re-target. For a b2b product, re-targeting should focus on getting the customer to move to the next step of the journey. Any estimates on typically how long this takes should guide the duration of re-targeting. For FMCG brands this is a little trickier. Factors like, when the original interaction took place, basket value, seasonality all play a role. Any continued message delivery after purchase is made is money wasted, and stopping message delivery when the customer is still shopping is leaving money on the table. So some rigorous analytics is called for.

Of celebrity advertising

November 10, 2015 5 comments

Last week I read that Messi had signed up as the brand ambassador for the Tata Group. I really hope that he is leveraged well by the Tata brand. They both deserve it.

This reminded me that since I returned to India, a year ago, I have seen a huge jump in use of celebrities in brand advertising. Some doing it well, some well..let’s just say less so.

To my mind there are basically 4 ways brands use celebrities for their brands.

  1. As themselves: This is the most obvious route, where the celebrity plays her/his real life persona on the screen as well. This is the highest on the credibility scale. The gold standard here, in my opinion is the Mean Joe Greene ad run by Coke about four decades ago. Watch it here. Turkish airlines did some with Kevin Costner, Messi and Kobe and so on. This is a hard area to operate in due to the limited ways to have celebs play themselves and also make the brand connect.
  2. Playing a part in a script: This second set is when the celebrity is playing a part in a regular TV script. ie the script works even without the celebrity. But use of the celebrity raises brand visibility. A great example here is the pappu pass ho gaya TVCs created by Cadbury’s. This is probably the easier on the agency, where they start with a script than being stuck with a celebrity, around who they need to write a script. Here is one from that set.
  3. As props: This is the more common way that I have noticed around, where the celebrity is just standing around and pointing, or waving, embarrassingly at the products they are supporting. I imagine this happens when clients sign up celebs in advance of a brand idea that they are ready to execute with. Some recent examples.IMG_0019IMG_0018IMG_00134. As users: This is where the celebrity claims to be the user of the brand in question. This has absolutely no credibility and treats consumers as morons. Something a famous Scotsman said, one should never do. Many examples come to mind. Unfortunately they all feature Shahrukh Khan. Remember the Santro ads? Who ever thought he would own, and drive one himself. The latest in his series is the campaign for Big Basket. Does the brand really expect anyone to believe that he is a Big Basketer? Here is one ad in the series.IMG_0014So there you have it, my recommended list of ways to use a celebrity, in order of priority.

Before I sign off…wishing you a very Happy Diwali and Happy New Year. May it be start of something new and exciting.

Brands are alive and kicking. Thank you.

Image

Earlier this week I read an article that talked about the decline of brands with the growth of the internet. The essence of the article was that before the internet, people used brands as the surrogate of trust and knowledge. With all the information out there now, why would anyone need brands? Do your research and you can make your own choice.

At a rather simplistic level that makes sense. Simplistic being the key word.

I agree that with the internet everyone has access to all the information one needs to make an informed decision. But below are some examples of information out there.

The government of India is going to ban beef exports. This rumour was out there for a while with some of my very educated friends taking that to mean that the new ‘pro Hindu’ government was going to stamp out this business. Far from the truth. India is the world’s largest exporter of beef and has no such plans anywhere.

If you are being robbed at an ATM key in your PIN, in reverse. It sends an instant alert to the cops with your location so that they can be there in minutes. Not true.

The room key card for your hotel room carries your credit card information along with other personal information. Qn unscrupulous employee could use this information to rob you blind. Not true again.

In Microsoft Word pressing SHIFT F3 changes the casing of the words. True.

Saudi Arabia imports camels from Australia. Also true.

The problem today is that there’s just too much information out there. All looking very legitimate. So who, or what, do you trust?

Exactly.

The role for brands has never been stronger. It is the beacon of trust that guides the consumer adrift in the world of photoshop and innuendo.

But the role of brands is changing too.

Most brands, in the age of mass media, focus on building the emotional bond eschewing the rational. It’s usually about them and how consuming them will change the consumer’s life in some way.

In this age of ‘over information’ brands can also step in by pointing out the truth from the fiction thereby reinforcing trust in the brand.

The first bank that takes on the ATM lie, i referred to above, is going to earn a few trust cookies.

We will always have, and need brands. The internet helps them play a much bigger role than previously.

Those with a strong heart, will play it well.

 

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Generosity of brands

In a way this is a follow up on my last blog on the subject of what kind of content is typically shared, by my friends and those who I follow.

But today this was sparked off by a series of unrelated stuff, but around a common theme.

GENEROSITY.

Apparently the French parliament has passed a law allowing employees to donate their leave to a colleague with a seriously ill child. How amazing is that. You have something the other person needs and you give it with no expectation of anything in return. Just the hope that one day should you need it, others will come to your aid.

Then this morning I read about this book Image ‘Congratulations by the way’ by George Saunders.

Saunders says that the greatest gift we can give each other, is the gift of kindness. There’s a tale about a girl in his school, 40 years ago, who no one really liked and people made fun of. He himself was not unkind but wasn’t overly friendly either. He wished he was nicer.

In our life we remember people who are nice to us. Those who show compassion in an ocean of impersonality. We all want to be like them, but it is hard. Our own prejudices, pre occupations and egos come in the way.

I am really lucky to have a large number of people in my life who are generous with their time, advice, affection and just kindness. And to balance it out I do have a fair number of the self obsessed, win at all costs, will let you down type of people as well.

I mention this because if we, as marketers, are trying to build relationships with consumers and believe brands are like living organisms then shouldn’t this much cherished value of generosity be present in brands as well?

Many corporations have Corporate Social Responsibility programs which is their way of giving back to society. While I don’t decry that a teenie bit, it smells a bit of schizophrenia to me. Especially, if it is run as a whole separate operation from the brand organisation.

What if brands were generous with something. Wearing my communications hat on..I would say be generous with content.

Share content that will help your consumers get bigger, better, stronger, healthier, wiser..whatever it is that is at the centre of the brand. Share selflessly. Let consumers see that every contact is not a business transaction.

I understand that new content is hard to come by. Share existing content. Or repackage relevant content. After all how many articles have we all read about losing weight, productivity, managing email, being happy and so on. Yet there’s more and more being generated in this space as consumers seemingly like them.

This, to my mind does two things.

1. It builds a trusted relationship between brand and consumer. The brand becomes a trusted advisor. With the growth of social media the opportunity to build interactions based on this content becomes possible thereby strengthening, and even measuring, the relationship.

2. It generates a ripple effect in the consumer’s life. If she finds it useful and relevant, she will share it with her friends. And there’s no greater credibility than ‘word of mouth’ As the story spreads, so will that of the brand that shared the content in the first place.

If brands can be generous, like we expect humans to, i believe we will value and cherish them as much as we do our family and dear friends.

And it really costs nothing to be generous, does it?

 

Approachability, necessary way to build brands

March 2, 2014 1 comment

Last Sunday, I was at the Safaricom jazz festival here in Nairobi.

Safaricom is the big, dominant telecom company of Kenya and by sheer success and impact probably dominates the corporate landscape of Africa. Their product m-Pesa is the mobile platform of choice in Kenya and is the biggest mobile commerce product in the world.

Bob Collymore is the CEO of Safaricom.

Not a day passes by without his photograph in the media with a President or a minister or some other corporate bigwig. He’s a bit like THE CEO of Kenya and is the face of Safaricom.

So back to the jazz festival..

There were 2 types of tickets available. VIP and ordinary.

VIP tickets were more than twice the price of the ordinary ones. I confess, I tried to buy them but they were not available. So we, about 10 of us, ‘settled’ for the ordinary tickets.

By good fortune we were right upfront near the stage.

And guess who was right beside us? The above mentioned Bob Collymore. Just sitting casually with the everyday people. On noticing him, I went up to him to chat and he was friendly, warm and he had a pleasant conversation about music, the evening and stuff like that. At no point did I think I was talking to a celebrated CEO of a famous company. Through the evening he was right beside us. Whenever a VIP came to the tent, someone from his office would come up to him and take him in, where he’d do his bit, I guess, and come right back. Here’s a pic of him enjoying the show. Image

After the show as we were leaving, I went up to him to thank him and he made it a point to thank all of us individually for coming. I am his fan for life. If he was hiring, I’d join him in a jiffy :-).

Later in the week I was in a meeting with a major financial institution on their brand campaign. There were about 15 of us in the room. Among them the CEO of the company. If someone did not introduce him to me as such, I’d have mistaken him for a senior marketing exec. He was completely understated. Soft spoken. Engaged with us all as equals. And really keen to hear our POV.

1 more person I want to refer to before I conclude.

Sir Martin Sorrell. I was at a meeting, years ago with one of our big clients. And the client asked “Do you think Martin Sorrell will come to launch our event’. In a moment of bravado i said let me check. I searched for his emaill address on the WPP site. Sent him an email. In the meeting. 2 minutes later there was his response asking for dates and expectations. Over the next 30 minutes he and I exchanged emails about his presence at an event. I still drop him emails occasionally to update him about either myself or goings on in Africa. He always responds.

I mention these examples to make the point that ‘approachability’ is at the core of a strong brand. Be it a personal brand or a marketing brand. Consumers need to feel that they have a relationship with the brand. It is from that relationship that trust emerges. It is not about likes on a facebook page or a viral campaign. It is the relationship. Everything else is a byproduct.

Some years ago I was engaged in developing an SME campaign for a large global brand. And the research said that SMEs did not quite relate to the brand because they seemed unapproachable.They advertised in English. In glossy brochures and magazines, Events were held in 5 star hotels etc. So while they had relevant products the TA felt that the brand was out of reach. Lots of conversations later the company figured that the way they needed to reach out to the SMEs was through their distributors. Kept their ego aside and let the appropriate channel do the talking.

Someone from my PR organisation was saying that CEOs of they type I referred to above are the ones journalists seek because they know that they will always get a response, always get a quote and help them look good. That is not just good for the company they lead but good for the corporate brand as well. And every brand in their portfolio.

It’s not enough to be good. Need to be good and within reach as well. That is good branding.

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