Changing brandscapes

Recently, I was part of an interesting round table discussion organised by afaqs and IBM around “Technology in Marketing“. While we did stick to the subject, in my mind, I was also wondering about the impact this (topic) was  having on the idea of brand. It has been only 4 years since I had last held a brand job, (I left TOI in 2010) but I can safely say that the landscape has changed massively. A few thoughts –

Time: The cycles of brand building have been massively reduced. This is not a 2010 phenomenon, but to give you some perspective, in that year Flipkart was just venturing beyond books and hardly the well known brand it is now. Zomato was a ‘promising startup’ according to a list made by the Smart Techie magazine and had just expanded beyond a single city. The flip side is that some of the other startups in that list no longer exist. AlooTechie, which reported this, also does not exist. I had a Nokia E series phone then, and they are pretty much a non entity now. In short, that word – change, and it’s faster than ever! It is said that brands get built over time, but do business cycles allow that liberty now?

Geography: A cliche used frequently is “Geography is history”, but a little incident reminded me that it may not altogether be true. One of the regular conversations these days is around taxi rentals and Uber is a favourite among many of my friends. I casually asked them whether they knew of the heavy rap Uber was getting in the US for remarks allegedly made by a senior VP. (alternate perspective) They didn’t, and it isn’t as though they don’t consume news online. They missed it amidst all the ‘noise’. While a brand may be global, how much does its international stature impact regional preferences, even in this hyper connected era?


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?

Facebook Groupie

What kind of a blog would this be if we didn’t discuss Facebook’s new announcements. At a simplistic level, it would seem that Facebook learned a lot from that Google study. (via a conversation with Mahendra)

Though i can’t access it yet, I’m very happy with the backup option, and hope that its a step towards portability. The new chat availability ‘visualisation’ seems slightly better than the old one. I can’t see the app dashboard yet.  But the other big announcement was the revamping of groups. I’d been categorising friends using lists for a while, but didn’t actually utilise them for anything specific. Though its easy to see this as a wall within a wall, from initial usage, I think the new Groups allow that one layer that needed to be added to generic ‘friendships’ – context, not to mention better control over who sees what. And from what I see, I don’t even have to be friends with a person to share things and have a great conversation on a topic both of us like. There are other advantages too. Of course, there are a a few issues, and as always, Facebook kept everything as public as possible (as default) but changes in this version is as inevitable as the waves of outrage that follows all Facebook announcements.

I’m still debating whether I’d like the Groups to be integrated better in the newsfeed (with ways to filter as per importance) or whether its current location (sidebar) is a better approach. From a signal-noise perspective, perhaps it should stay the way it is. I’m not very convinced about looking at Groups as ‘Friendfeed going mainstream‘ or even Wave. But that does make me wonder whether the next version will also have a feed aggregator, directly, or indirectly – allowing apps like Networked Blogs. That might actually get RSS to go mainstream. :) If that happens, I am also wondering about the implications on Google Reader, and actually any other network which serves as a content distribution/consumption channel.

Groups can be made ‘Secret’, and I’m still not sure how ‘Open’ and ‘Closed’ groups will show up in Facebook Search. Also, since I still don’t have access to Places, I can only wonder whether ‘Location’ can also be made a group feature. I’m seeing both the above from a brand perspective. Would a brand, for example, be able to highlight a location specific group on their Page, as part of a local promo? Even if the brands do not get information about the groups, Facebook would still have it, and that would definitely help target ads better.

Groups are not really a silver bullet, but I don’t think Facebook is aiming for that now either. Its just that they’ve not missed the starting gun, to slice and dice my social graph – that’s useful for me, as well as advertisers.

until next time, group on 😉


So, the Old Spice man  increased the sales of the product. Now we can renew the debate on the efficacy of social media on the bottom line. We obviously won’t ask for correlation data. :) The other side effect is that every brand manager will now want to replicate it – especially the viral and the ROI. Quite like a poster child (in India) of an era gone by – Sunsilk’s GangofGirls, which at that point had made many a  brand manager experimenting with digital media tell their agency “I want one too”. Damn virals work at meta levels!!

I recently read Kapil Ohri’s article on afaqs, on the site’s makeover – the shift from blogs and gangs to trends and forums and the ‘mandatory’ buttons – Facebook and Twitter. Its early days, so it’d be unfair to make a comment on the numbers, even if they were to be considered a parameter of success/ failure. But while, on buttons, I think YouTube videos would’ve been a help. More on that in a bit. A revamped GoG, and the Pantene vs Dove war for hairspace being fought offline and on blogs (Karthik, L Bhat) gives me enough food for thought.. and opinion.

Sunsilk Gang of Girls: GoG could have (like an industry person commented on the afaqs post) integrated Facebook in a much better way. Check out what Levi’s has done at their online store. Instead of separate registrations and profile, Facebook’s plugins could make life easier for the user and automatically bring in the ‘gangs’. It could get them to pull their own photos from Facebook for the ‘Makeover Machine’, suggest it to friends, and so on. Or build a Twitter app that uses the display picture. It could have perhaps thought bigger and had their ambassador (Priyanka Chopra?) interact with the users through her own identities on these platforms. Or used a location based tool like Foursquare (or FB Pages or later Google Places) to start building a resource for salons and tips at each place (think of a Burrp! for salons), maybe in sync with a YouTube channel for tips.

Pantene: Good Morning! They obviously missed a little thing when they didn’t pay attention to the pwnage of DNA at the hands of the Times Group during the former’s launch campaign in Mumbai back in 2005 (?), or the more recent Airtel- Reliance DTH fun. Not to mention the cliche that after a certain point, the only person who gets teased is the brand manager. Ok, I won’t overstate, but c’mon this is a real-time era AND they did walk into a Dovetailed ambush. Since the internet already has made them un-mysterious (thanks for that info, Karthik), maybe Pantene should have just added those FB page and Twitter links to their mass media communication, and solved the mystery immediately online. Mind you, thanks to our dismal internet penetration, they could still demystify it again on mass media, later, after perhaps, adding the content from their online and offline activities. (think non market research agency 80%) That way, there would’ve been at least some buffer against a Dove’s sneak attack. Arguable, but possible.

Dove: All of us should take the time and remember the controversy over the ‘campaign for real beauty’. But hey, they saw an opportunity and used it. Effects on long term goals are again arguable.

A little note on ‘low involvement’. I wrote about brands, content and new media platforms in the last post, in the context of the Old Spice campaign, and also mentioned the importance of ‘intent’ and setting objectives. Once the ‘why’ is done, the relevant crowd can be identified, along with the platforms and activation strategies – ‘(to) who’, where and what. (Read Rohit Awasthi’s comment on Karthik’s first post) When the ‘right’ content is pitched to the ‘right’ people at the ‘right’ time (and the ‘right’ platform too), very few categories are low involvement.  (read Naina’s comment on that post) And that’s the beauty of the web in general, and the tools that social media have provided marketers. Old Spice could be seen as low involvement too, until they did this campaign.

But having mostly seen communication as advertising (except arguably PR), creating content for social platforms is in itself quite a challenge for brand managers. Even if they were to  view ‘social’ as ‘media’, it requires a complete realignment of how media and content strategy is done, mostly because the mechanics of distribution are completely different. At a fundamental level, brands are dependent on users of platforms to create a buzz, and money doesn’t always work. At this point, tools can help with the ‘time’ (including location and other contexts) and ‘people’ (interest), and the way it works, if the ‘content’ is done right, people will get other people.

Therefore brand managers need to make a more diligent effort. The fragmentation of traditional media does not seem to have made much of an impact on the costs involved in using them as distribution channels. So when ‘social media’  presents ‘free’ channels, brand managers see a value proposition and jump right in with a TVC and or/other weapons of mass mediocrity. Brands, I believe, need to invest a bit more on who they’re trying to reach, and then invest some more on building content and designing networks and constructs (irrespective of platform) that will drive the crowd to interact with the content and share it more. Content and people that will drive more connections, and help meet everyone’s objectives.

But yes, until Augmented Reality allows me to scan a shampoo and tell me how many of my friends liked it, and think I should use it, (though my hair won’t last that long 😐 ) lets keep playing all the shampoo games we can play. :) And while on using social platforms purely with a sales objective, I’m reminded of how Grandma uses her laptop. (vid below) Can it be used for those purposes? Of course! But is that its best case use? We can argue 😉


until next time, sometimes brand strategies can be real poo!!

A different kind of social

Despite a healthy skepticism for all things Google attempts with social, Wave and Buzz not having helped very much, I was quite excited after I saw the presentation below by Google’s Paul Adams. (the link which I had shared last week) It meant that Google Me was worth keeping a watch on. No, not the movie, the service.

[Read Mahendra’s excellent key takeaways+thoughts post if you need a quick snapshot without having to read 216 pages.]

I was quite impressed with the scope of the presentation – from looking at people’s motivations behind their ‘social’ actions to the insights that have been gleaned. I must admit that i was a bit surprised that Google, or at least its employees took social this seriously. Good to know that Facebook and Zuckerberg’s stated aim of 1 billion users in the near future is finally pushing Google to do something other than killing of services (Jaiku, Dodgeball…) or making a mockery of itself in front of its competitors with half baked products. And that they’re doing research too. My first thought, after I finished reading the document was


Its ironic that Google faces a ‘What Would Google Do’ on itself. The good news is that there is enough scope for developing a network for context based social relationships and transactions. Like I said in my last post, the tools available still don’t allow me the freedom to aggregate and disaggregate connections and content at will in different contexts. It is possible to build a social network around many contexts – enterprise/professional use, location, family, interests and so on. I even saw an interesting app built for ‘proximity based networking’ – it syncs your existing networks – Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace with location and thereby does a twist on location based networking, with seemingly good privacy controls.

The bad news is that Mark Zuckerberg won’t take too kindly to encroachments in his space. As if ‘friends’ weren’t universal enough (at least inside the FB universe – including Connect), ‘Like’ is even more universal, and Facebook’s recent play is aimed at pipping Google’s (relative) ability to deliver the most relevant content to the user. It doesn’t help that social doesn’t seem to be what Google’s comfortable with.

But assuming Google Me is a social platform of some sort, what I’m wondering is that how many users would use Facebook lesser for a service which allows context to be brought into the picture. There’s something really simple about the ‘sharing’ on Facebook. For a service that used to be labeled ‘complex’ in the Orkut era, it has come far. Users have adapted. Also, how difficult is it for Facebook, which already has a massive userbase to introduce features that allow a user to create sub identities to splice and dice friends (already has lists) and content and choose what to use outside the network? It already has filters to control the kind of information I want to see on my newsfeed, these can be improved too.

The other thing is how/where Google would build this – a separate service/ something around or integrated with iGoogle/Buzz (brrr)/Chrome (browser or OS)/ Search itself ? A lot of the design would be based on this. And how can it balance the simplicity of Facebook sharing with the more complex needs of context and privacy?

A larger perspective is that we’re nowhere close to the end game as far as our (probably seamless in the future) network of digital and real activities go. Its having a larger impact than what we sometimes credit it for. In fact, we are only discovering how the web is changing our behaviour and even perhaps motivations. A few of us have yet to decide whether we want to sync our multiple online identities. And that means that though Facebook is probably the most accepted solution now, its by no means the perfect one, even for our current understanding. Facebook, Google and the ones we haven’t even heard about are all Work In Progress, but boy, what interesting work it is! No monopoly, lots of chance and multiple community chests :)

until next time, google yourself :)


The Twitter discussion last week with Surekha and Karthik, was mostly about attribution, but it had another facet to it – privacy. Last week, a childhood photo of mine was shared on Facebook, I promptly untagged. Thankfully Facebook still allows that, though I wonder for how long. But it made me think. Does the photo belong to the person clicking it or the person who has been clicked?

Surekha, for example, mentioned that she was okay if her tweet was reproduced, so long as it was attributed to her. I am ambivalent about my stance since I have at least a couple of problems, one practical, one theoretical (for now) – first, the context of it, where will it be used and in what context? I even stretched the thought to whether I can choose who gets to RT me and which tweets. Second, what if someone has a revenue model out of aggregating tweets, and that’s not just MSM I’m talking about, its online publications, blogs and blog aggregators too.

The first one is about privacy. When I share a status/tweet on FB/Twitter, I do it on the assumption that its shared in a relatively closed network, and in a context. It would be ironic if the content creators of new media to say they’ve been mistweeted. With Facebook’s  changes in policy at the end of last year, the definition of privacy is actually up in the air. No, actually Facebook is deciding what is privacy and that it is over. And to think that privacy was the cited reason for the non-portability of the data on the network!! There are two wonderful posts on the subject which you really should read – one by danah boyd and the other by nicholas carr. On a tangent, this post onThe Inquisitr about how (in the context of customer service), in spite of the web making every person a media outlet, the concerned corporations would choose to listen to only a few. The fear being whether rules of personal privacy would also be decided by a select few. Are we talking the Schmidt language here – “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place”. Oh, did I take that out of context? Heh.

The second one (about the revenue model) made me think about media and brands and intrigued me because it is linked to privacy, and more so, because I sensed a paradox – between the individual’s notion of privacy and how we expect a media outlet/brand to be dictated by us on how and where its content is used. Yes, they are not individuals. But even if news per se is not owned by anyone, isn’t the particular form in which it is carried owned? The brand, is owned. The way the web is evolving, do they have a choice about where they are seen and who talks about them? This is not a debate on whether it makes sense for them to be private/public, but my point is about choice. When we start thinking about ‘linking’ as a right, just because the web economy is supposedly supported by it, I get the feeling I mentioned earlier – will a (new) powerful few dictate how it plays out? Privacy and control – they cross paths a lot. What really are we creating?

until next time, protocols

Trust & Context

The Tiger Woods saga continues. And though I have had fun (like this) at his and Accenture’s expense, the entire series of events did make me wonder again on endorsements, especially after Accenture dropped Woods. The topic of endorsements is something I have written about earlier too – of how blogging/tweeting ambassadors would react to uncomfortable questions about their brands (Big B – Cadbury’s worms), and the effect of celebrity micro-bloggers even on brands they don’t endorse. But this is on a slightly different note.

“As perhaps the world’s ultimate symbol of high performance, he serves as a metaphor for our commitment to helping companies become high-performance businesses.”, the Accenture site had said earlier. Like we discussed on Twitter, a lot of the audience are not just fans of a celebrity’s attributes, but even assume that he is equally good or flawless in every other facet of his life/character too. Its perhaps a wrong expectation, not just from the audience, but from brands too. (high performance on the course) Lack of context.

That brings me to the subject of the connections we make on social sites, most notably Twitter, because (for me) only a small percentage of following/followers are made of people who we knew from before. The connections, while they may evolve into relationships later, are built on trust, developed over time and actions, and in my case have a contextual nature to it too. I rely on specific people for expertise on specific matters. I am guessing many others do too, many Twitter lists are a manifestation of that. The recommendation economy, consumer ambassadors, and micro ambassadors posts I have written earlier are variations of the same premise of trust.

When I look at entities like newspapers, which were built on a trust model, I wonder how the newly formed trust relationships will shape up. Newspapers and later other platforms owned the power of dissemination..distribution. The net disrupted that. In the age of unlimited content and trust agents, the new networks start playing crucial roles in trust relationships. And that is why, the ‘url shortener’ war that is in its early stages now – Facebook, Google, interests me.  Reach, trust and context. Who will you trust all your data with? How much of data mining can be done with the links we share and consume, and how much context can be gleaned from it? Which network gives you the maximum reach? While FB and Google can integrate with their own networks, is Twitter’s default shortener, and for now, it is doing things to maintain its lead.

And its not just this. These days I’m seeing more and more manifestations of power play around me – among people, organisations, communities. When Twitter plans to add ‘contributors’ to business accounts, and allow multiple users to be identified in a single handle, it means that the different people will have different levels of trust from their audience, it would also allow context. But when Marissa Mayer describes Google as “omnivorous” in its quest for indexing data, and when Facebook changes its privacy stance, I wonder whether a trust economy built among individuals and relying on networks for the reach, will get overshadowed by the networks themselves, and the way they use our data.

Tiger Woods might have been used by advertisers out of context with his permission. With unlimited data on you and fuzzy privacy settings, will you, without your knowledge, become a micro ambassador for something you have no expertise in, and thereby erode your trustworthiness? Silicon India profiles, Facebook Ads stating X friend has used an application, random RTs…..Paranoid? perhaps, but then, we share so much online, that maybe I can justify it. :)

until next time, deprived of privacy