We live in a rented apartment. It’s just more convenient at present. But is this a situation we intend to continue for the rest of our lives? No, because as we get older and have less flexibility to relocate, we would want to be in control, not dependent on someone else’s plans. And this is the way the vast majority of Indians think - and hence the high premium on home ownership even in cities where rental is vastly more economical.
The social cloud platforms entered our lives innocuously - an easy to use digital resume, a place to share files, back-up storage, park one’s address book. Nothing business critical. Or too personal. But that’s now all behind us, a time that belongs to the previous century.
Now, a LinkedIn outage sparks a Twitter outrage. Gmail powers the communications of many businesses. And our rich network of social connections reside on Facebook. No internet? The office just grinds to a halt. (Older folks might remember an era when the office phone conking was a reason for celebration, not the kind of stark despair that an internet outage triggers.)
I’m a big user of all the tools mentioned above. And I’ve now realized that though they are ‘free’ services, these companies ‘own’ me.
I have thousands of contacts on LinkedIn. More than perhaps the platform intended. So, frequently my address book is “not available”. And I am unable to export data any more which means that I can’t really use my address book outside of LinkedIn. None of these are problems that I can pay a little extra and get solved - the paid options are for other functionality.
Now, since I don’t actually pay LinkedIn any money for using their service, I feel rather guilty about having any complaints about it. They are bound to follow the dictates of their business and outliers like me are certainly not representative. And certainly it is an awesome platform that has been very useful to me and my organization.
I was a late arrival on Facebook, using it only in 2007 after hearing David Kirkpatrick at the Fortune Global Forum in New Delhi. But despite not having any strategy for this platform I do now have a number of relationships that are managed only through this platform, and it has a great archive of my photos - which was fantastic when I lost my laptop some years ago. But, increasingly, I find my feed being cluttered by ‘Promoted Posts’ that I cannot shut off. Receiving spam-like emails from folks that I’m not connected to. And a target for soft data harvesting. Again, there is no way to pay and shut off these unwanted features. So if I want to hang on to my social network, I must put up.
Twitter was less impacted by change than my other platforms. Till recently. They bought Tweetdeck, my favoured tool for bypassing Twitter’s own clunky interface. And my free tool is just not the same. Twitter has been great for me - helping me make a whole new bunch of friends based on similarity of interests. So again, I will lump the unpleasant change.
Cloud platform landlords behave a lot like real-estate landlords. As their property gets more popular, they hike the rent and become more arbitrary. So what can one do?
1. Have a Plan B available for the most crucial bits of your online presence. This Plan B should be on a platform that is accountable to you
2. Back up critical data on to your own server or in a paid-for service
3. Read the fine print on the free platforms and ensure that you understand the terms of service. Or read the reviews of the fine print.
4. If your business relies on a ‘free’ service it is worth exploring how you can derisk the dependency, even if it requires you to spend a bit more
I’ll conclude with the old adage - there is no such thing as a free lunch!
Image source: Google images
I have had the pleasure of hearing President Abdul Kalam speak at a couple of forums. And I really liked his “pledge of affirmation” to ensure everyone was on the same wavelength. I think it can work well in a magazine too - where we are, literally, on the same page!
So please lift your right hand and say after me:
a. Every company needs marketing, no matter how big or how small
b.No product sells itself. Not even the really good ones.
c. The right time to engage in marketing is now. Preferably when your company is healthy. Not when you are fighting for survival. But it is never too late
d. When I don’t have money, I can invest time instead, but I will never every stop investing in marketing
There. Feels good to say it out loud, no? (And I’m now sure that only the really interested are continuing to read.)
So let’s talk about why I believe every company needs marketing.
SALES IS ABOUT PUSH AND MARKETING IS ABOUT PULL
Sales is about push. You need feet-on-street peddling your product. Or ads screaming the virtues of your service. A lot of time is wasted in reaching out to people who are not interested in your offering. Or in explaining what it is because they have never heard of it or your organization for that matter. We all know that sales is time consuming and mostly performed by a relatively expensive resource. It is also a skill which is difficult to scale. A good salesperson can sell up to double what a bad one does, despite all attempts at training and standardization of the sales process.
Marketing gives you a chance to flip the equation. To get customers to ask you to sell to them! It’s about creating a pull for your brand. If you’ve been to a large laptop showroom, you’ll see that the most passive desk is the Apple one. They just wait for customers to come and ask them questions. They do not need to hustle - their brand has already done most of the work for them.
Good marketing ensures that the prospect is half-sold by the time the sales process starts.
Marketing creates an entry barrier for other, weaker, brands, allows you to charge a price premium, and reduces the cost of sales.
WHAT IS YOUR BRAND?
Whether you are a startup on a shoestring or a big marketer with moolah, if you don’t know why people buy from you, your program will fall flat. To ensure the whole organization is aligned, you need to be able to have the same answers to these 3 questions:
1. Who am I?
2. Why buy me?
3. Why not buy someone else?
If you have existing customers, it’s a fun exercise to do with them. Rarely have I found that management’s reasons to buy are the same as the customers! For example, an organization that sold on price discovered that their clients buy because of their quality. Oh, the opportunities for better pricing!
ELEMENTS OF A MARKETING PLAN
Marketing works best when it is done in a holistic manner. Each element of marketing feeds of the other, so doing only some elements is trying to drive a car on three wheels. Often, people do this saying that they don’t have money to put together a full-fledged plan. But you can substitute time for money in most cases. Besides, I’ve never heard a company say that they don’t have the time or money to organize their finances, and this is just as important!
Depending on your objectives, company life-stage and budget the weightage provided to each of these elements will vary. You may also decide to start with the three that you are comfortable with and keep adding an element each year. Or you can do a tiny bit of each element and keep deepening it every year with success and growth.
TIME VS MONEY
Throughout this article I’ve said that time can be substituted for money and vice versa. So if you are time-poor and cash-rich you can pay someone else to do the work for you, either inhouse or outsourced. That someone may have expertise or some scaleable structure which makes them better at it thank you. If you’re on a tight budget,with no money to pay someone else to do the work, then you’ll have to do it yourself. Many try to avoid this saying that they don’t know marketing. Possibly, but very few enter business knowing everything, so you’ll just have to figure it out. Attend conferences (we run some excellent sessions on marketing), read a book (I wrote No Money Marketing which is published by Tata McGraw-Hill), download some templates, tap into your network.
ALL CUSTOMERS/PROSPECTS ARE NOT EQUAL
People at different points of the buying cycle require different marketing inputs. It starts with awareness, then product specs, then comparisons, credibility, use-cases, financials, testimonials etc. Different kinds of people may seek information differently too - eg value buyers vs status seekers. So you’ll have to put together a program that addresses the needs of all the common varieties of your audience.
SET YOUR OBJECTIVES AND MEASURE OBSESSIVELY
Marketing often ends up being at the bottom of the budgeting gravy train because there is a myth that it is not measurable. Most of it is, though perhaps not instantaneously. Just as you don’t know whether a product will click till it is launched but still invest in it, you should put a plan for marketing which sets forth the investment and expected returns. And also a day by which you will pull the plug if an element or campaign doesn’t show value.
HOW MUCH SHOULD YOU SPEND?
It all depends. On what your market share is. There’s plenty of research to show that the benefits of being among the top 3 in any industry are huge. So you should spend whatever it takes to be there. Once you’ve achieved this goal, you have the flexibility to ratchet it down a bit. The worst time to cut down on marketing is when your marketshare is declining. The best time is when you are making above-average margins.
HOW DO I DO THIS?
There are many qualified agencies who can execute the various marketing elements for you. But you cannot expect them to put together a holistic plan for your business. That should come either internally or from a marketing strategy expert, who can also guide you on the success metrics.
Thanks for taking the pledge of affirmation to support marketing in your organization. I wish you all the best and hope you will build a powerhouse brand. And yes, you can put your hand down now.
(First published in Smart CEO magazine.)
Here are my guesses on how marketers will react to the economic expectations of 2013 and how you can prepare yourself.
1. Growth is expected to be better in 2013 than in 2012, 6.8% against 5.5%
The good news is that growth is likely to put more money in your pockets. From a marketer’s perspective, expansion is an opportunity to find new customers. So you can expect new products and variants to enter the market. On the downside, given the expectations for buoyant growth, customer loyalty and maintenance will continue to be at the current (abysmal) levels.
2. Interest rates are likely to be lowered in the first quarter
This makes it a good time to take loans for things like cars and homes. Given the general volatility, marketers will try to maximize sales during this window. As a consumer you would be advised to also benefit from this window and arrange for your loans and negotiate for freebies from the sellers. With elections looming around the corner businesses will be keen to make hay while the stable sun shines.
3. “Go Social” is becoming a CEO directive to marketers
Under pressure to deliver large numbers of “friends” organizations are giving away freebies just for “likes” and “follows” on Facebook and Twitter. If you have time to spare and don’t mind spamming your ‘real’ connections this could be a lucrative sideline for you.
Mature adopters are starting to seriously listen to the chatter on social media channels. So if you have a genuine consumer complaint, try getting your voice heard on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Chances are that the response rate will be better than on the phone or email. As a corollary, you’d be advised not to buy expensive stuff from companies that have an active social media response mechanism - chances are they care more about consumer happiness.
4. Let your fingers do the shopping
The variety of goods available online has drastically improved, with a flurry of new e-commerce sites launching last year. You can buy anything - diamonds, furniture, clothes, diapers, houses, veggies - online now. Heck, even Susanne Roshan has an e-commerce site now (www.thehomelabel.com). And if you’re afraid of credit card fraud, not to worry, most sites are happy to accept good old cash.
Benefits are not just convenience - many niche products like designer furniture, rare books, or alternative music are now available across India.
5. Globalization of Retail
While there is a lot of talk about retail FDI, in reality it will only be implemented in some 18 cities (population above 1 million in states that have agreed to implement). Secondly, given the cost of real-estate and congestion in cities, big box formats are not a given. What we can look forward to is on two fronts - availability of global products through e-commerce and improvement of existing stores as they gear up for global competition.
6. Consumer activism
As competition hots up, we’re seeing a lot of claims being made by products with no research backing. What level of sugar is ok in a product for it to be pushed as a healthy option? How much wholegrain is required for a product to be thus labelled? And what about products that promote the wrong values - like thin-ness or fairness or violence?
The Indian consumer is dealing with a barrage of new products but is singularly unprepared to evaluate their impact on his life. We do not yet have a strong culture of regulation, consumer protection or consumer education.
Marketers will exploit our weaknesses such as a desire for “healthy meals that are tasty and require no cooking” or “fairer skin in 7 days” or “taller children who don’t have to eat vegetables” or “sprays that make you sexy”. As consumers we should start researching products and reading the labels. If it sounds too good to be true, it is.
Just 20 years ago hand-me-down clothes were the norm for kids. Sweaters were hand-knitted and the wool later unravelled and reused for newer designs. Plastic bags were saved in a special storage place. Sewing machines, clocks, cars, pressure cookers were handed down through the generations. Not any more. The economic drivers for this thrift have mostly vanished. So we need to cultivate newer values such as conservation, eco-friendliness and thrift. Bangalore is drowning in a sea of garbage - we have to get more conscious about our material footprint. Facebook pages such as Second to None are a start towards enabling reuse of products.
8. Cause Marketing/Corporate Social Responsibility
The word on the marketing street is that consumers prefer brands with a conscience. Marketers apply this in two ways. One is where the “conscience” is baked into the product creation itself. For example fair-trade or organic products, no child labour, recycled materials etc. The other is where the organization or product isn’t particularly good to the environment or stakeholders, but uses the profits to do good. For example a mining company may invest in education, an IT company in women’s welfare and so on.
As consumers with a conscience you should support the efforts to bring you a conscientious product - because often you pay a price either in money terms or functionality. You should also learn to distinguish between those who do good just to look good and those who make a difference.
As marketers get more sophisticated and have greater access to international best practices and the ability to mine data, you can look forward to more complicated purchase decisions. You’ll have to use a calculator to figure out whether you should buy the product with the free tattoo, or the one with 10% extra, or the buy 1-get 1-free or the 2 -for-3 option. Coupons, a hitherto unheard of phenomenon are also entering the marketing mix. Group-buying sites are proliferating. Clever shoppers can save oodles of money. You snooze, you lose.
Smart marketers are integrating IT into their marketing programs. And with the rise of big data and the analytics to understand it, savvy CMOs can understand individual preferences like never before.
Innovations in manufacturing and distribution are making it possible in many industries to sell a single, unique unit. You can now buy a self-designed shoe, T-shirt, coffee mug, car, house...The possibilities are endless, as clever marketers reposition themselves as the ecosystem that facilitates your creativity and individualism.
At the same time we still have sloppy marketers who allow tele-callers to try and sell you the same card you already own, or take surveys for hotels you have never stayed in.
We should reward firms that take the trouble to treat you as an individual and punish firms that are too lazy to do so.
Happy Shopping in 2013!
Jessie Paul, is the CEO of Paul Writer
(This article appeared in Deccan Chronicle on 7 January, 2013)
Image: Courtesy Google
Holidaying over the New Year at Coorg, we were excited by the news that the new Taj Vivanta Madikeri was open. We made the one-hour drive from our cottage to the Taj Vivanta Madikeri, with visions of plush restaurants and lavish buffets were dancing in our heads. And then we were informed by the security guard at the gate that the restaurant wasn’t open to non-residents.
A Vivanta? What we thought was a 5-star? Without a restaurant? Just like the bed-and-breakfasts and “lodges” that mushroom across the countryside? Uh-oh. I never really understood the difference between the Gateway and Vivanta brands, but now I have no idea what to expect when I see the Taj label on a hotel.
I like the Taj hotels where I’ve stayed and I don’t mean to pick on them. But the point of a brand is consistency of experience and creating expectations that you can meet.
Marketers work very hard to “own” a position in people’s heads. An Oberoi connotes luxury. A BMW stands for good engineering. Big Bazaar stands for value for money. Indigo stands for being on time. So when a customer comes in, they come with the expectation that that attribute will be met. Any variation on this parameter creates huge dissonance in the customer’s mind. For example, the howls are always much louder when an Indigo flight is delayed than, say, Air India.
I like the new Cafe Coffee Day position - “sit down” - though I wish they had embarked on this campaign at least three years ago. They’ve understood that for many of their customers Cafe Coffee Day is more about a place to sit down and chat/work/meet than about the quality of the coffee or food.
As we begin 2013, marketers should consider whether (a) their brand stands for something easily identifiable and (b) whether that attribute is relevant to the customer. And once you’ve got that piece organized, ensure that your brand experience is engineered around that one attribute.
Jessie Paul is the CEO of Paul Writer
Is Cinderella a happy story? Or a tragic tale of an unlucky girl? Depends on where you stop the story right? True in business too. Apple is one of the most valuable firms in the world today - but was considered a failure not so long ago. J K Rowling was rejected by multiple publishers before getting Harry Potter into print. And so on.
Supposing you have a friend who borrows money from you once every month. She promises to repay it by a certain date, but always slips by a week. She then takes you out for dinner by way of apology. This has been a consistent pattern for, say, 5 years. Is she a good credit risk or not? Good, right? You always get your money back in the same timeframe and you get a dinner. Sounds like a sweet deal.
Yet when you do the same thing with your credit card company - miss the due date by a week but then pay up the “service” fee and the full outstanding - in a consistent manner, over many years, do they reward you with an upgrade? No! They are far more likely to classify you as a bad person and reduce your credit limit. Despite the fact that you are a predictable delayed payment and they actually make more money from you in the long run.
Should a telecom firm focus on people who talk a lot or those who have short calls? Airtel’s research found that decision makers are more likely to initiate calls than to receive them, and on average, their calls are shorter. Intuitive. So to identify the senior folks, without any additional information, all your phone company needs is your call data. Awesome. (As an aside, you can review your call pattern and see if you are a potential-CEO)
These are the kind of insights that a business would have if it looked at its customers as people, and not as units of consumption. The kind of insights any small businessperson has about their customers. The happy endings are created by letting the story continue to just the right point.
But, you say, is it scaleable?
Let me give you the example of retail chain, Target. They studied the purchase patterns of their customers and found that they started buying certain items once they discovered they were pregnant. This allowed them to pretty much predict who was pregnant with 100% accuracy without actually asking the question. (They ran into problems with they sent vouchers for baby products to a teen mother whose parents were not aware that she was pregnant!)
Clearly the same data lies with a large, impersonal, automated business, as it does with a small one where every customer is known by name. The difference is in how it is used - it is impossible to a expect every sales assistant to have the same level of knowledge as the business owner. True genius is when you can automate your thinking. And that’s where we ought to be headed.
Many businesses, including very small ones, are certainly moving in this direction. You can’t go to a restaurant without being pestered for your birthday and anniversary information. Sadly the application of that knowledge is minimal. Imagine, instead, that after having a bad experience at a restaurant, on your birthday they send your favourite dish home. Suddenly you’re touched and happy and talking about them everywhere! As I said in the beginning, a happy ending depends on where you stop the story.
One of the rules of good survey questionnaires is that the data should be actionable. That is, before you put a question in, you have to predict likely responses and what would be your action plan in each of those scenarios. If the likely action is ‘do nothing’ then that question should be dropped. There’s nothing humans hate more than being asked for their opinion and then having it ignored!
Of course, getting to know your customers on a large scale, requires a lot of information - just as you file a lot of data about your friends and family - preferences, allergies, hobbies, tastes. No wonder that the term, “Big Data”, is trending. It is used to refer to the mountains of data that each business now collects. What I’d prefer is for the phrase “Big Insights” to gain currency. That’s when there is a benefit to customers. That’s when we can start treating each customer as a unique person.
So how can we get to the point where we treat our customers as humans? And can make every commercial experience a happy story?
First step is to focus on meaningful data collection. What data do you really need? Today? You can usually go back and get more, but if you overdo it you are likely to drown. You also have to decide how you are going to collect this information - is it self-reported or observed? What are the fields that will help you to transform the customer to a person? Is it an interest in sports? Or music? Or the kind of personality? Or gender? You also have to decide how you are going to collect this information - is it self-reported or observed? This is the difference between asking someone if they play golf and getting a list of golf club members.
Second is to look at your data, and distinguish between information that helps improve your internal operations and that which helps you to offer a better experience to your customers. One helps to optimize whereas the other one could offer a quantum leap in sales or profitability.
Third is to decide how sharply you want to define your target segment. Is it a group of 100? or 1000 or just 1? This will - or should - make a huge difference to your outlook. If you want to target an individual then you need to create a back-end that can customize the output as per those individual’s parameters. Sounds difficult but in many industries the ability to do this exists though the desire to execute may still be far away.
Businesses that have been successful are those which have figured out a way to either create solutions for individuals, or better, still let customers design the product for themselves. Apple for example sells the same, undifferentiated hardware to everyone - but the users have the tools to make their experience unique.
The last piece is to enable the front-line delivery staff to make changes on the spot if the individual needs it. That’s when it’s real. It’s human.
And they all lived happily ever after.
About the Author: Jessie Paul Is the CEO of Paul Writer Strategic Services
Much like the shoemakerʼs children, marketers often do not have the time to invest in their personal brand. However, in todayʼs world, your personal brand impacts not just your career path, but also your companyʼs credibility in the online world. As someone who has consciously crafted her brand from professional marketer, to thought leader, to entrepreneur, Jessie Paul helps you to create a brand blueprint for yourself.
Presentation by Jessie Paul, Managing Director, Paul Writer Strategic Services at The Great Indian B2B Marketing Summit (3rd December, Bangalore)
How often at “social” conferences have you heard the attendees say, “oh you have to meet offline to become ‘real’ friends?” Really? I had penpals I was very close to without meeting. But that was because we used to send 4 page letters to each other every week, and pre-teen girls are not known for reticence! So the need for face-to-face is only so that we can discover if someone is Like Us or Not Like Us. Most folks hang out with people like themselves, and that’s the current limitation of most popular social media networks - you have no way of figuring whether your new new acquaintance is “likeable” by your definition.
Let’s say you have 500 connections on LinkedIn. You know where they work and that you have friends in common, but what percentage of them have traversed the difficult path to becoming your friends? Only the few where you have discovered something in common - good mutual friends, common alma mater, or perhaps a blog topic or technology. Ditto Facebook. Your old friends become closer - because you already know their interests, but making new ones depends on a chance photo of a child the same age as yours, a post on a hobby that you share and so on. In Twitter you tend to follow people with similar interests so the probability of making friends is slightly higher, though it isn’t really the purpose of the tool.
And that’s why Pinterest - a site where you ‘pin’ up pictures of stuff you like is the current rage. It’s had 21 million visits (against, say, Facebook’s 845 million active users), and the most common topics are crafts, hobbies, interior design and fashion. Average visit duration is 17 minutes, still less than Facebook’s 23 minutes, but the comparison is unfair. A Pinterest board attracts comments from those who have similar interests so you can immediately strike up a relevant conversation. It also provides an easy option for small businesses to join the conversation and say that they have similar products for sale or can make that object for you.
There are others, like Soundcloud, which is built around an interest in music. YouTube also is now encouraging recommendations and sharing.
This represents an important shift - from who you know to what you like. I think all of us have by now realized that not all our connections are interesting enough to us to want daily updates from them. At the same time, we find some topics so interesting that we’d love more information about them, and enjoy connecting with those with those interests. A move from discovering more about people we know (and their friends) to discovering new friends who share our interests.
One of the difficulties faced by marketers trying to sell on Facebook or LinkedIn is that it is hard to target ads for say, a heavy metal concert, or a marketing conference. The current demographic data is too limited to understand their interests. But if the network itself were built on interests, it would make for some really targeted marketing and advertising. And the potential of one-to-one marketing would be a reality.
Google+ through its circles does a better job of handling affinity, but not enough I guess to make a switchover from existing networks (they are at 90 million users at present).
What remains to be seen is whether a newbie like Pinterest from the “interests” camp takes the crown or whether the “who you know” stalwarts like Facebook and LinkedIn are able to add affinity features to their value proposition.
What’s your view? How would you like your world organized? What does your ideal social dashboard look like?
In many conferences, the favorite audience question is ‘Should I be on Social Media?” And the panel - usually made up of large, successful brands, gives an enthusiastic “Yes!”
But social media is just another communication channel, and should go through the same due diligence that you did when setting up the website, telephone hotline or PO Box.
Here are some factors you should think about before taking the plunge:
1. Your product sucks.
Don’t get me wrong, you don’t mean for it to suck. And certainly, if you work in an evolved, mature industry, it won’t, because you can control all the variables. But what about industries where, because of regulatory issues or supply chain issues, you don’t (yet) have 100% control over production? For example a builder can control the quality of the final building, but if the sand or cement companies go on strike, there can be a delay in completion.
Or brick-and-mortar organizations in start-up mode where they are still gradually learning to scale? Say you run a high-end, highly creative boutique ad agency. Your creative director is a genius but you don’t (yet) have two of them and unfortunately her dog falls sick on the day of an important deliverable, and she can’t come in. Your output suffers. It’s a temporary setback but if your client has a huge network and vents his frustration publicly it could shutdown your fledgling firm. Because your client will forgive you when she sees the wonderful campaign, but the comments are archived forever for an unforgiving public.
Eventually, if you’re a good businessperson, you will plan for these problems and control them. But in the interim? Should you provide a forum for people to flame you publicly?
2. A microscopic % of your target audience actually uses social media
India has around 30 million people on social media today (at least that’s what I hear at conferences) and that is increasing rapidly and is expected to hit 100 million soon. Big numbers. But we’re a country of 1 billion and many companies have less than 100 customers, and a prospect list of less than 1000. Unless you have data (just ask your customers!) that shows that your particular audience uses social media and is active enough to be influenced there, you’d be quite ok to postpone your arrival in the digital world. Much like many companies delayed their web presence till a sufficient number of customers could access the net.
The early adopters of social media tend to be disproportionately vocal and influential. Many have excellent reach with mass media, making the message ‘hop’ from digital to mainstream print/TV very easy. That’s of course a plus - you get coverage in mainstream for free, but it also means that any negative message spreads fast. (Remember, dog bites man is never as newsworthy has man bites dog)
3. You’re already drowning in data
As they say in computer programming, Garbage In Garbage Out (you never know when my engineering degree will remind me - and you - of its existence). Many companies enter social media with the laudable idea of listening to their customers. The customers respond enthusiastically, but the company doesn’t have a back-end system in place to make sense of it. Also, since the company hasn’t really thought through the goals of the digital presence, it does not have any research objectives or hypotheses to test. Instead, it just adds to the pile of already available unsorted, unfiled data on what customers want. Either manually or with a CRM on analytics system you will have to process this into meaningful insights. And depending on the scale of your organization you could quite possibly have gained that same insight by running a focus group discussion, speaking directly with 50 customers, or buying the latest quantitative study.
Oh, and because you asked for their views and didn’t do anything about it, your previously enthusiastic customers are now turning on you.
4. Your CEO thinks “social wocial” is over-rated
Knowing that he is wrong does not make the problem go away. Yes, yes, your CEO may not be your target audience or chosen demographic. But social requires you to engage with customers, interact with them and present a friendly face to them. Unless this is supported by the organization at the top-most level, you will not receive the required support in personnel, processes, and tools. Social has to be understood and treated as another valuable channel for getting in touch with stakeholders and baked into the overall communication strategy. Other channels like TV, radio, web, outdoor, magazines have been around for years, but their adoption has been influenced by the CEOs personal conviction too. (Trust me, everyone in marketing has released an ad somewhere because the CEO says “Oh, but I always read/see that”)
5. You are choked for bandwidth
Would you set up a 24x7 tele-helpline without hiring people to staff it first? Same logic should apply to social media too. It’s always on, and people’s expectations of response times are very exacting - less than an hour in most cases. Unless you have the staffing arrangement - and the required training, FAQ, scripts etc - in place, you are likely to burn your fingers.
This is a direct line of conversation with your customers - you can’t just outsource it and hope for the best. The outsourcing can only take care of outbound communication and managing routine requests. You and other senior members of your organization will have to occasionally chip in and respond/listen to customers. Are you ready for that?
I have taken an extreme view on each of these issues to make my point, but that’s the general direction.
None of these is a permanent situation - you will eventually have to overcome it.
It’s just a question of time. The digital age is definitely the future, it just hasn’t reached everyone yet.
On February 15th SAP launched its first consumer app, Recalls Plus. The app lets you know in real-time what product recalls are taking place. You can customize it for product category - eg food, toys and even for the age of your child. While Recalls seems an unusual choice for a first app, for concerned consumers - eg parents of children - it is a hot button topic. The app also allows social sharing of these alerts, so get prepared to get a lot more information on which baked treat had to be withdrawn for forgetting to label the peanuts.
But why this is an epoch-making app is because it allows manufacturers to share valuable product information directly with consumers. They can now bypass the distribution channels like retailers and dealers. They also do not need mass media or advertising to reach their subscribers. And through the social sharing options, the news will spread.
Sure, today, it’s only recalls of a specific type. But the same format would work well for frequent use-high-engagement products such as medications, babycare, airlines, food, cosmetics. If you can customize the kind of information you consume from the makers of these products many would be quite happy to receive it directly from them.
Ah, and what about trust, you say? Well, companies can’t legally tell lies so the communication would be as honest as their ads and more pithy. At the same time, since the success of this model requires the customer to opt-in, the more engaged, trusted brands would have an advantage. And social sharing would bring in feedback.
If a number of producers came together on a platform and also enabled purchases through that platform, it could change the consumption landscape. Imagine reading that your favorite cookie was now available in a low-cal variant, being able to add that at a click to your monthly e-shopping list and having that reach your home. Or that Apple had just launched iPort a timetravel device, and being able to get that without queuing for a light year.
Wonderful for the customer, and, when hooked to the supply chain system, great for just-in-time production. And when 3D Printers become a reality, that’s when we’re really going digital.
In the meantime, if SAP succeeds in customer sign-ups for its app, it could provide a valuable and differentiated media asset as an added carrot to its customers
LinkedIn listed on NYSE today and LNKD was born. Shares were priced at $45, and it has a valuation of $4.25 billion. Pretty awesome - the company's shares were sold today at about 17.5 times LinkedIn's 2010 sales.
Now that LinkedIn is rolling in the lolly - here’s what I’d like from them:
1. Invest in IT. Yes, you’re pretty much a monopoly, and yes, I do use LinkedIn a lot, but the glitches are getting to be noticeable. Sometimes it’s the events page that isn’t available, sometimes it’s the group approval process, most times it’s the blog tool. Some of these are 3rd party apps, but if you can’t make them perform, it is time you either bought them or recreated them.
2. Think of yourself as an ERP for marketers. Small businesses - like mine - could use LinkedIn as our main platform for email campaigns, events management, community building, web presence. Since you already own the customers you’re uniquely positioned to help me with insights and tools.
3. Offline networking forums to facilitate face to face networking, at least in less digital-mature economies like India.
4. I’m increasingly finding that business networking - which I would consider the strength of LinkedIn - is also taking place on Facebook. The line between friend, colleague, contact is blurring, and with more filters being enabled, Facebook is enabling that. www.paulwriter.com gets the most referral traffic via Twitter, followed by LinkedIn and then Facebook. FB currently generates 50% less traffic than LinkedIn, but it is growing.
5. Share some of that moolah with your loyal members. I’m part of the first 100,000 so cover at least this small number. Ok, if actual cash-in-an-envelope isn’t possible, please send me some ad credits!
The folks at LinkedIn are very smart and I don’t have the slightest desire to preach. But I thought I should mention some ways in which they could get me to Like them more :)