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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.

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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.

Learnings from the BA Sachin ‘drama’

November 15, 2015 2 comments

So, a few days ago there was a huge hullabaloo over Sachin Tendulkar’s tweets around his disappointment with British Airways.British-Airways-Aircraft--001

In case, by some remote chance, you missed it here are his tweets.

_86665131_3025b3f7-bf0f-4801-bd3d-f1bd637768ef_86665133_23ba61d1-9a17-4088-babe-0597151a8dc0And here is BA’s response..

_86664484_5e8df018-d9ec-43ab-a4f4-b3c2b4cee7a5This seemingly concerned tweet from BA had Sachin’s followers in arms. How can BA ask for Sachin’s details. After all who doesn’t know Sachin.

The whole saga has been well covered by my friend @Saritharai here. http://www.forbes.com/sites/saritharai/2015/11/13/how-a-standard-twitter-response-has-makings-of-a-pr-disaster-for-british-airways-in-india/.

Then there were the saner bunch of people who asked questions around ‘whose baggage was lost? Sachin or his family’s?’ ‘How can BA be expected to know Sachin’s exact passport name’ etc.

Many fingers pointed out to the templated response from large corporations. Some expected that poor fellow, from BA, who tweeted to be fired. Maybe he, or she was as well.

As a marketer I have 3 lessons to share

  1. Response: BA got this right. Within 15 minutes of the original Sachin tweet, there was a response. Now I don’t know about you, but my experience with customer service on-line is patchy. Staying with the airlines industry I have tweeted twice. Once to Qatar and once to Emirates. Qatar was prompt and we had a proper twitterversation. Emirates did not bother to respond. I think the fact that BA responded and that they did in 15 minutes gets them full marks on that score. But that’s where it stops.
  2. Handling complaints: I was in a restaurant last month. And the guy next to me was unhappy about something and started shouting at the waiter. Within minutes the manager showed up. Started talking to the angry customer and placated him and all of us could continue with our meal in peace. Someone tweeting is akin to shouting. Sachin shouted out to his 8.4 mn followers that he was unhappy with BA. And BA shouted right back ‘Hey tell me what’s the problem’. Completely wrong. Take complaints private immediately. You can then apologise, give freebies etc and satisfy the customer. You don’t negotiate in public.
  3. Know your customers: With data available in plenty, data storage being cheap and adequate technology solutions out there every marketer should have a database of their most valued customers and prospects. Complete with their twitter handles, instagram accounts, facebook profiles etc. Cover every aspect of the social media channels and set them up in the ‘social media control room’. The moment someone in that list makes a complaint that should initiate a protocol that involves a high touch program. A call, an email whatever it takes. In some industries this list is static. In the services business this is a bit more dynamic. eg: All first class bookings MUST be in that list. This may be different from the high value customer list. I don’t expect this master ‘watch list’ to be more than a few thousand. If BA had this set up, the moment @sachin_rt tweeted with the words ‘Angry’, ‘Disappointed’, ‘Frustrated’ the flag would have gone up. An account manager would have tracked him down and called him. It’s not so hard. At the risk of a plug, IBM has the knowledge, skills and technology to make this happen today.

So that is what I learnt from this drama.

BA responded and promptly, but wrongly. And their CRM system needs to be set up appropriately to include social media footprints of their valued customers and prospects.

This episode again shows that non issues can threaten a brand in a relatively short time. Having proper mechanisms to deal with it is critical. Large companies need it more than the small ones. And large companies like IBM can help (another plug;-))

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.

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

What’s your story?

Shamitabh-

Today I saw the trailer of a movie called Shamitabh.

This reminded me of something I read about the conception of the movie.

Apparently Balki, the director of the movie, came up with the idea while stuck in a traffic jam to Amitabh Bachchan’s house. Once he reached there he told him the story, and Amitabh agreed on the spot. Now I am sure there is embellishment to that story but the basics struck a chord with me.

What did Balki say to Amitabh at a party that not just communicated the story but got him excited enough to say yes?

That is the kind of story telling we need on our brands every day.

Our consumers are like Amitabh at a party. They are amidst a lot of noise. Some of it enjoyable. They are going about their lives. And along comes someone saying ‘ hey got a minute? I have something to tell you’.

Does your brand, or you, have such a story?

If you do victory is yours.

And here is the link to the trailer: SHAMITABH.

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