Feels & Fields in brand building

information attention

In Scarcity Thinking in Marketing, I’d written about how, in an era of ‘infinite’ consumption choices, attention is arguably the most precious commodity for a brand. Also, as Faris pointed out in his excellent post, it is a zero sum game, and we’re approaching “peak attention”. We’re also well on our way to manipulating (read fracking)  it. State of the art marketing technology (say, programmatic) can sift through a consumer’s data from multiple sources, and use interest, intent and a bunch of other contexts to deliver an ad at the precise point when he/she can act favourably.

Very few brands, however, are close to this level though. Having the data is in itself a huge step, converting that to actionable insights is even huger! Data can be true, but not necessarily accurate. (read) Also, arguably marketing tech is still a wild west with snake oil salesmen. But more importantly, even if we assume that all the brands will finally get there, it then becomes a ‘square one’ driven by who can pay the most. In that respect, I do not see this as a sustainable advantage. Arguably again, at that point in time, new tech might come up with a potential of first mover advantage, but the way I’ve seen the digital marketing narrative evolve, it is probably an optimisation play than anything else. e.g. In the early days of Facebook marketing, much was made about storytelling and organic Likes, but look where we are now! Similarly, something radically different like VR is now being talked of as paradigm shifting storytelling opportunity, but until proven otherwise, I’ll be cynical.  More

Mean better than average?

BBH Labs offered some excellent perspective in a post titled ‘Mean Brands‘ a few days ago, which pointed out that when brands are asked to be more human online, we overlook the fact that humans are not nice online. Expanding on this, they showcased three scenarios – brand vs consumer, brand vs brand and brand vs organisation – with examples, and asked whether this was a good strategy to build stronger brand allegiance.

I was reminded of something I had tweeted earlier this year when Cleartrip was at the receiving end of some good old fashioned twitter outrage when putting an abrasive and stupid (non) customer in his place. I was convinced after going through the preceding tweets that Cleartrip had tried their hand at explanation before getting exasperated and reacting with sarcasm, just like a human. It was bold, but more importantly it also showed character and conviction.

Even as brands are trying to be human, humans are becoming (or are trying to become) brands. When they do get an audience, an increased sense of self-importance is inevitable. Most of the time, objectivity is minimal and the thrill of shaming/trolling a brand is too tempting. So perhaps a level playing field is only fair. Of course, it is always more fun when the knockout punch is delivered with a solid punchline. Richard Neill’s comedic rant and Bodyform’s hilarious response is an example. A few more here. (via @sunnysurya)

until next time, brands mean business!

Clear Blue Oceans

The last week, I encountered a few ‘brand response scenarios’ – two of them in which I was directly involved, and one where I was just an onlooker. Since this is an area where I also spend considerable time, as part of my job, I thought I’d share some perspectives too.

The first one involved a hotel booking. After reading excellent reviews on TripAdvisor and skimming through a well made website, I decided to send them a mail. For 2 days I received no response. I noticed that they were on twitter, and send them an @ message. No response from there too, though they continued to update with promos and news shares. In the meanwhile, I also sent a mail to an alternative id given on the site. After more than a week, I got a response, by which time, I had already booked another place, which responded in less than 24 hours. A deal of about Rs.25000.

We bought a new television from a retail chain after seeing an offer in the newspaper. As the regular story goes, they delayed (from their committed time) by more than 48 hours and (uncharacteristically and quite reluctantly) I made a huge scene at their outlet. In the meanwhile, I also posted on their FB wall (as a response to the image of the ad which had lured me) and sent them an @message on Twitter. The FB response took more than 48 hours and asked me to send a mail to a certain id. The product had been delivered by then, and I told them that. The next day, a tweet response followed, asking me what the problem was. 😐 No deal lost, but no love lost either.

In ‘Who Cares?‘, Godin talks about exactly these kind of scenarios, and from there I quote, “Caring, it turns out, is a competitive advantage, and one that takes effort, not money.” The third scenario is an excellent example of this at work.

Much has been written about it already, so you can read the posts, linked to below, to understand what the Cleartrip Hurry Algorithm ‘controversy’ was all about. This isn’t the first time I have regarded Cleartrip’s approach with admiration, and for good reason. This time, not only did they thank @jackerhack who pointed them to a blog post that trashed the new initiative, they also responded to that post and wrote a post of their own clarifying what they were trying to do, not just on the post itself, but also in the comments section where many people raised questions. Cleartrip has set such high benchmarks in this regard that all of the above are now standard fare expected from them, and I probably wouldn’t have written a post. :) But once again, they went further. A week after this incident, a new post announced a redesigned feature that not only solved the problem the users had with it, but made it even better with more information. The result? An update on the very post that had complained in the first place. #win

Cleartrip was listening, but then so are a lot of other companies. The difference here is caring enough to respond (externally) and creating an organisational will (internally) that works on a user problem and solves it. Not one time, but as a process.

until next time, know response…

While on contextual reputation…

Though I don’t answer much on Quora, I am quite a gawker and vote up answers too. One feature of Quora that I found extremely interesting and useful (and tweeted about) is the way Quora gives contextual ‘reputation’ (while reading answers) using the person’s topic bio. The interesting coincidence (because he also RT ed this tweet) is that I noticed it thanks to Mahendra‘s answer to a ‘Google Reader’ based question, and right next to his name was “Daily, dedicated user. Subscribed to over 200 feeds, followed by over 700 people on Reader/Buzz”. I must admit, before I realised that it was a topic bio, my first thought was why Mahendra was ‘wasting’ his Quora bio on Reader when he had such a huge list of phenomenal things he could say about himself. :)

But yes, coming back to ‘contextual reputation’, I liked it because it gives a lot of relevance and credibility and adds a layer to an answer – you can better understand where this  answerer and his response is coming from, for example. Another nuanced way of helping the reader weed out noise. I also thought this was a good way for brands/organisations to develop credibility in their domain, and involve their users, using function specific spokespersons, (brand, HR, operations etc) since “brands are currently not supported on Quora“.

And now we can go off on a tangent and check out a few brand experiences I had last week, all with oblique connections to contextual reputation, though lycra like they might seem :)

When Airtel changed its logo sometime back, though there were infinite debates on the need and quality of the new logo, their on ground management of the logo change was almost unequivocally appreciated. However,

To their credit, the ‘everything’ search, though has the old images, has the first link pointing to the new logo. But from an image perspective, ‘contextual reputation’ for logo change online gets a thumbs down.

Cleartrip, quite a favourite brand for their ‘no nonsense. clear talk and action’ way of managing their product and online presence, has a new campaign ‘Every trip has a purpose‘. But favouritism unfortunately doesn’t stop me from wordplay and I tweeted

Just as i was chided for provoking a brand, and was replying that I trusted Cleartrip to have a sense of humour, they replied with a ‘laughing hard’. Contextual reputation thumbs up. Hopefully they weren’t being sarcastic.

The last experience was from Tanishq, whose new Blush campaign I came across last week. Like I tweeted then, immediately after the Quora tweet, I found it quite interesting and worth an applause that a brand was experimenting with a Firefox/Chrome plugin. Instead of me explaining how it works, I will, in my new found enthusiasm for imagery, give you a screenshot.

As you can see, the plugin gives you, in addition to the ‘Like’, ‘Comment’ options you see after a Facebook status, a ‘Blush’ option, which when clicked, adds a comment with a link to the ‘Blush’ page. Hmm. I won’t get into a ‘app within FB vs outside website’ debate (there must be some reason, I assume). But unfortunately, boring that I am, I’ve never seen a jewelery that has made me blush. I can’t even see it in the Tanishq collection, assuming that I have the ‘where to wear it’ right. Maybe girls/women see it differently. So, why didn’t Tanishq just have a ‘Gold’ button, which would actually add to their ‘contextual reputation’ more than blush, and tie it to some sort of action that would actually get something tangible for all involved.

For example, I install the plugin and start using it just because of the ‘show off’ value. What if they tied in an offer linked to the number of “Golds” I gave/received on statuses, and then communicated that in the comment that appears after I have ‘Gold’ed a comment. Or how about virtual gifts, a way to showcase the gallery, and then an easy app to add the virtual gift to a profile pic? I have an inkling that women are likely to have a “nice earrings/pendant. where did you get it from” conversation. They could even make this Like based contest i.e. if you virtually gift someone and get them to add it to their profile pic, and they get maximum likes (make a leaderboard) we’ll let you actually gift them for free. Do that on Valentine’s day, and it just might work.

Meanwhile, I have a ‘reputation’ for longish posts, so I’ll just stop here.

until next time, add to the context?

Brands and consumer social influence

Sometime back, I had read a post on Inquisitr very interestingly titled “Let’s bring some reality to this social media game“. Although my expectation of reality was slightly different from what the post delivered, I still found it a good read because it dealt with an issue that I have thought about several times. We even discussed it in the comments section of a post that (among other things) brought up the Kiruba-Cleartrip incident from last year.  In my personal blog, I’d written about the ‘clique friendly web‘ in a tangential context – of bloggers with fan clubs perhaps losing objectivity and not tolerating a difference of opinion. The question, meanwhile, is really quite simple – should companies on social media sites give differential treatment to customers basis their ‘social influence’.

A few weeks back, I saw a post on Jeremiah’s blog which dealt with the same subject. His point – “Just as companies factor in value of a customers celebrity status, buying power or customer loyalty –companies must factor in social influence or put themselves at risk.” He has even created a matrix that shows 4 phases of  incorporating social influence and the pros and cons of each phase. He has factored in both absolute and relative influence (influence in context of a brand/company’s domain)

Let me try a context for this. Very simplistically put, I’ve always seen the consumer generated media as part of a media long tail. The traditional media is in the head, aggregators including Google, FB, Twitter are also there now, followed by forums/discussion boards, influential blogs and then the individual accounts. So consider this perspective. Brands have always given preferential treatment to MSM simply because they reach a mass. And let’s just say not just in terms of using them for communication, but the overall experience for their representatives. With the rise of the web and a new set of aggregators gaining prominence, brands have tried to evolve processes for the system – from SEO/M to blogger outreach to presence on Social Media. Yes, processes do help, but..

With search engines including real time updates in their results – Google even outlines how its Twitter algorithm works, brands now not only have to listen, but also work out the way to handle all the messages being thrown at them, because they’d be deemed unresponsive otherwise. The phrase “there’s no dipping your toe in social media” comes to mind. So, should there be differential treatment?

At this point, I know most companies would do exactly that, but I wonder if they’d then be just trading one set of media for another. I’ve seen many cases where a tweet from a relatively unknown (in my circles) person gets RTed and becomes a raging fire. It is perhaps easier to assign a process basis categories of social influence, but I think, unlike the structured media that has been dominant before, this is a web – of human connections, which is  more difficult to fathom, and have ways of inorganic spread that are no way close to measurement, yet. If indeed, there is a process to be set up, perhaps it should be more internal than external – involving different functional groups capable of thinking and reacting to specific domains and contexts. With services like Twitter planning on multiple identities within the same handle, perhaps the old fundamental social media approach of people to people might help debunk what I am also inclined to believe – “socializing cannot scale

until next time, weighing scales :)

PS: If I consider posts on both blogs, this one happens to be #1000 :)

Mob bile

Facebook recently launched Live Stream Box, which allows webmasters to stream relevant real time status updates on their site. Users can log in with Facebook Connect and post updates that will appear on facebook (their own profile as well as friends depending on their settings) as well as the site. It means that if say, I’m watching a live stream of any event on a particular site, which has this installed, I can use this to get my friends on FB to join the conversation. Two things struck me- one, it makes a whole new way of connecting friends around their topic of interest (context), and two, (a question), is this a step aimed at bettering twitter’s common lifestream and hashtag based way of aggregating conversations? (something that Facebook lacked so far)

As all the services increase their focus on real time, I couldn’t help but think of the impact it has had on usage. Are the users on these services becoming increasingly trigger happy? TC had an article recently titled “Friendfeed, syphilis and the perfection of online mobs“, which talked about the service being the hotbed of mob justice enthusiasts.  (because of its ability to aggregate conversations in one place) Its a subject that I have discussed here earlier – once in the Hasbro-Scrabulous context, and then collating 3 separate incidents. I must say that we have moved on since then- to places closer to home – the latest being The Kiruba Incident involving Cleartrip (The Kiruba version) In many cases, the mob doesn’t even pause to check the facts or look at the issue objectively/rationally, before they react. With all kinds of people out there, I wonder how long it will be before someone decides to use more than just the keyboard, and look at real justice options. (Actually it has happened before)

So, what would the effect of all this be on brands? Would they be able to keep up? Would they be able to deal with an angry mob? Real time is a reality, and it is would be more of a loss if brands decided not to use twitter. Its a different matter whether they choose to engage or are content with listening. There are quite a few tools out there which can help monitor the conversations, but what if the brands are not wired enough to respond effectively to the fires that happen? In this context, I read an interesting article on Adage, that talks about Slow Marketing. It talks about going back to the basics, and a need to focus on human, one-to-one connections.

The responsibility is on both sides. In their eagerness to cash in on the new big thing and create buzz, brands (and agencies that advise brands) set expectations that may be way beyond what the organisation behind the brand can actually meet – in this context, perhaps turn around speed, and response to all communication directed at it. From the article, 

Pick your battles: The social-media feeding frenzy puts a premium on responding to all conversation. You don’t need to respond to everything. Take a step back before diving in. In some cases, not engaging is the best form of engagement.

The responsibility lies with users too. Long before there were brands on the real time platforms, there were people. And people used to help newbies learn the protocols of communicating in the network. If you were a user, you wouldn’t want to be in a place where people were only out to make fun or do harm to you. Maybe we should extend that courtesy to brands too, and allow some leeway, at least in terms of reaction time. In many cases, the person behind the handle will be just another enthusiast like you, with hardly any support from the organisation, and he would be trying to show to his bosses the value that these services can provide. All of us have favourite brands, which, if they use social media effectively, will end up being more useful to us. By making witchhunts a standard operating procedure, we might be doing more harm than we realise.

There is an interesting discussion online, that talks about company websites and their return to favour, but more on that next week 😉

until next time, see you later