April 17, 2013

Consumerism and Advertising: Building Brands as Products, not Commodities

The original Article was written for Social Samosa 
Consumerism is increasing day by day especially when it comes to mass marketing and advertising being shoved down consumers’ throats. It isn’t any different on social media either. As a marketer, it is important to introspect if your consumers are really listening to what your communication is, or if they have become zombies brainwashed to buy your product. Do they rely solely on brand recall without having knowledge of or believing in what they are purchasing? Market trends keep shifting and a brand that has strong recall today can be history tomorrow.
So, the real question is how do social media marketers or advertisers communicate with and engage consumers without really having to generate the hype of consumerism around them?
I’ve always believed that communication is always about the consumer, whether in social media or in mainline communication. Making the product stand out in your communication is more relevant than just influencing the consumer or key influencers surrounding him. The communication should not only seek to break the clutter but should also make fundamental sense.
A very good example of this is L&T Insurance’s ‘Likh Ke Doge Kya?’ campaign. I had the opportunity to listen to Ms. Deepali Nair of L&T Insurance speak at the Computer Society of India IT 2020 Conference, about how they worked backwards on the entire campaign, tailored it to suit Facebook first and then ran it on television. It was an interesting campaign and very successful too.
It wasn’t about what consumers want, but what consumers aren’t really asking for. In hindsight, I am sure that, ‘Likh ke doge kya?’ is a question they always ask insurance providers. It also takes a look at how fallible the whole insurance business is, especially when it comes to claims, terms and conditions and queries. In this case, it wasn’t about shoving another insurance product that no one knows about down the consumer’s throat, but about making a firm commitment that queries would be responded to within X amount of time, and they would give it in writing. What stood out in the campaign was the promise of execution – exercising ownership and being accountable.
So, what should we, as marketers, be doing?
Research what consumers don’t know
Keep doing your research. Don’t stop doing that at all. But change the way you do it. It is about time we started looking beyond what the consumer is telling us and try to gauge insights by reading between the lines – what the consumer is thinking but not saying.

Of course there will be rants, cribbing and negative sentiments on social media. Invest time in resolving those. But don’t miss out on what the consumer isn’t telling you. And yes, by all means, classify your consumers based on demographics, but don’t obsess over the behaviour and decision-making of your target group. Yes, consumers may not know what they want, but you do. It is all about thinking backwards.

Don’t listen to what they’re saying. Listen to what they aren’t telling you.
When it comes to social media, ORM has always been the tool to listen to what the consumers have to say about brands and what consumers have an opinion about. But it doesn’t mean that ‘listening’ only involves market research, gauging sentiments, categories and keywords. Try to analyze what is lacking in the market. As advertisers, we may not have a control on the product, but we always have a control over the positioning.
Don’t give them a reason to talk! Talk to them!
The trick is to engage consumers by being proactive. Do whatever it takes to ensure that you are there as a product and brand to listen to what they are thinking and not saying. Before discussing the product or brand, ask them interesting questions. Use promoted posts to create a focus group testing within your communities. Yes, focus groups aren’t always accurate. But, be blatant about the questions that you ask – questions, the answers to which, you, as a consumer, would know but perhaps, hesitate to speak up. Consider crowdsourcingas an option but don’t feed your consumers, let them feed on the existing situation.
Don’t just shove a product down their throat! Ask them why? Why are they really using your product, as opposed to any other product? Do you really know what your differentiators are? Have you used the product yourself? Have you sat through the product brief and tried to identify if there is any difference between your product and any other product that the consumer would know about? No? Well then, do that. If there are no differences and you are just another competitor, it is more likely that the brand recall, advertising and how far your reach goes will be decisive factors for the consumer in making a purchase decision.
But if you talk to your existing communities, you will get the answer. Use that to your advantage. Create a campaign on any social media platform using any tool available to find out WHY does your consumer buy your product? Based on the responses, engage with the consumer accordingly and use it as a reference point for your next communication.
Trends change but buying behaviour has one element that will always remain constant – the ignorance that drives those trends. Use it to your advantage. What I am trying to say is perhaps futuristic but very simple. Every campaign, advertisement, billboard or hoarding that reaches out to the masses is reflecting the consumerist sense of behaviour, which is today, what is making the product or brand irrelevant. But social media has the power to change that – by genuinely engaging with the consumer. This change will not only benefit consumers but also, create a larger and more profitable market in the long run.
Interestingly, the other day Gautam Ghosh pointed me to this blog about ‘Collaborative Economy‘ by Jeremiah Owyang, suggesting how brands are already creating a shared market space amongst consumers and using it to their advantage. Rather than over-spending on products that they don’t need, consumers have let better economic sense prevail and have decided to share their needs. And that is what consumers would prefer in the future.
So what will make or break your brands is, ‘Is your brand truly unique and doesn’t need a recall to be purchased by your consumers.’
Do you know of any brands who are doing this well? Let me know.

Srinivas has been a communications professional for over 10 years, and has been blogging since 2005. He has worked with the likes of Social Wavelength, now Mirum India, (A JWT Group Company) for four years and now Heads Learning and Development & Analytics at Social Kinnect: A Digital Marketing Agency in Mumbai. His passion for Advertising, Creativity, Social & Digital Marketing helps make a difference for the brands they work with. 

Consumerism and Advertising: Is Your Brand Only a Commodity?

The original Article was written for Social Samosa
Consumerism? What’s That?
Here’s what Wiki says:
Consumerism is a social and economic order that encourages the purchase of goods and services in ever-greater amounts.
It is certainly something that drives all of us to constantly keep buying and have the craving to buy time and again. With a bend to figure out, what to buy, when to buy, how much to buy and how often to buy, consumerism has certainly been part of our lives since kingdom come. Interesting to notice how it is primarily driven on the basis of what others are buying and on the sheer influence of a majority of factors in the market. Have you’ve watched this movie ‘The Joneses,’ You’ll know what I mean…
Some key factors that affect the purchasing decisions are:
  1. What purchases are happening and what the market trends are.
  2. How buying behaviors are affecting lives of people in your region.
  3. How advertisers both on Social Media and offline are influencing the consumers.
  4. Price point and offers / how much more do I get if I buy this today.
  5. Finally there is the ‘I need this because I ‘NEED’ this.
Yes, a minimal thought is given these days by consumers on ‘need to have’ as opposed to ‘want to have’ because of the ridiculous amount of money brands are spending on advertising, giving deals and discounts and a lot of other factors to increase consumption and consumerism. That is also rolling out on Social / Digital Media. But in the bargain, the true question to ask is… 
Are your consumers really listening to you? Or have they become zombies who are brainwashed to buy your product based on incessant levels of advertising? As an advertiser or marketer we certainly need to create the ‘want to have’ aspiration for our buyers. But as a product builder, it’ll always be the opposite of it unless, you are someone like an Apple Inc.
It is always a good thing to really reach out to your consumer and engage them within your community and target group. It’s also important to focus on the ‘Big or Small’ whatever data you analyze and engage with them one-one. Being there for your consumers, rather than shoving something down their throat through sometimes insignificant or even irrelevant forms of advertising, including Facebook andLinkedIn media buy. It is ironic that the same marketers and advertisers are consumers themselves at the end of the day be it on digital, social or mainline media.
Speaking of which, there’s an interesting story I have to tell. One that I observed in a grocery store while I was out to buy a couple of things to eat as a consumer. I usually get a lot of insights out there. Some things that you could really use as a marketer/advertiser especially if you want to understand your consumers better.
So here’s what happened:
I was waiting in the queue before checking out with my purchases. There was a father who was with his 2 year old son in front of me and there was a mother with his 9 year old son behind me in the queue. (Approximate ages of the kids)
Scenario 1
The father ( approximately 37 years old) had a fairly empty to medium filled trolley. He had picked up an ordinary packet of candies maybe worth Rs. 20 for his 2 year old kid. Then the kid saw a big Dairy Milk in the rack, which probably is worth Rs. 30/40 bucks. As soon as he decided he wanted it, the kid wouldn’t let go of his packet of candies either, suggesting that he wanted both. But the dad, persuaded his 2 year old to trade the packet of candies for the Dairy Milk!
Scenario 2
The mom (approximately 34 years old) was waiting behind me, her trolley was generally full of stuff that you’d buy to consume on a daily basis, the vegetables, the packet of cereals, milk, butter/cheese, eggs, a huge bottle of cold drinks, some fruits, and probably a few cosmetic items. Her 9 year old son walked in from behind and he had 2 bars of Snickers, the smaller ones which would probably cost Rs. 10/20. She just told him to drop it in the trolley with no questions asked. So, what does one intercept from this observation? Many things probably and different people would come up with different interpretations. But one good thing about both the scenarios playing out at the same time was that it probably gave me a pretty hands on perspective on this buying behaviour.
This is what I can speculate.
Father knows Dairy Milk and has a better brand recall about the product. Keeping in mind the Indian parent buying behavior especially when it comes to chocolates I’d like to say Dairy Milk is always viewed as a premium brand of chocolate, no matter what it costs. And hence the intuitive need to haggle with a 2 year old kid to get rid of the candies packet.
In this case, Snickers, it may not have had a bigger brand recall with the mother and she wouldn’t really mind his kid buying those two packets as they anyways looked small.
These were my first two thoughts on impulse to interpret the behavior that I witnessed.
But if you come to think of it, there could be a multiple amount of permutations and combinations that might have affected the purchasing and influencing decision.
For example, 
  1. What is the mindset of the father/mother?
  2. What is the spending power of the father/mother?
  3. What was his original intent of entering the grocery store and what he was willing to spend on extra purchases?
  4. How strong are their impulses, their gender and age and the kind of purchasing patterns they have etc.
  5. And of course, it would very well happen that the father and the mother both were just giving in to their kids demands, only difference in both of their behavior could have been the fact that the brand made a difference in their purchase.
So whether it is purchasing necessities, requirements or luxuries and indulgences, in our day to day lives, we all and I mean all of us consumers in the current economy and the conditions in India and worldwide are always affected by brands and brand recall certainly carries a lot of weight when making our purchases. I mean, that’s a given and I don’t even need to talk to this audience about it. We all know that.
Be it in mainline advertising or Social Media, our lives have dwelled within the breakup of our Target Demographic, the kind of things he/she buys, what age group he falls in and speculating what kind of things he/she likes, who are his primary/secondary influencers and what additional things are they interested in. That is our life 24×7, 365 and we all burn the midnight oil trying to decipher the consumer as if he/she was some code or a pattern sitting in front of our MacBooks, Desktops, iPads and laptops like the ‘operator’ from the Matrix.
Very few brands, let’s say Apple and mainly thanks to Steve Jobs, will take a call and say ‘Consumers don’t really know what they want.’ and if we were to do something that would appeal to them, then we aren’t really making a dent in the universe. We are mainly subverting our product to fit in and shove it down their throat for their consumption, actually consumption till the point where they actually puke until there’s no return.
So what am I trying to get to?
A few fundamental questions that I’d like to ask myself when it comes to Social Media or any form of marketing for that matter. I remember about a year and a half I wrote this blog post on brands getting their communication right.
I read that again now. Interesting to note that, this doesn’t change even today. But yes, I’d like to differ on one perspective.
Consumerism hasn’t yet reached its tipping point and most certainly all the things that we have been doing in the past will continue to stand. But what will make us and our brands more than just a commodity and as products to ‘stand out‘ is how we productize our services and servicize our products, something I learnt from The Purple Cow. Remember the irony I brought out in the beginning?
So the questions that will still linger in one’s mind are :
  1. Do consumers make decisions based on brand recall and communication?
  2. Or consumers have their own wandering mind which no matter how hard we try, we cannot decipher and the trends will keep shifting depending on the herd mentality of the consumers.
  3. Lastly, how do we really communicate to the consumer especially when we don’t have control most of the times over the product as marketers / advertisers
In a separate post, I have answered these questions in a different way, one that’ll help your brand be more than just a commodity, be it on social media or offline. I have written about how we need to build brands as products not commodities.  

Srinivas has been a communications professional for over 10 years, and has been blogging since 2005. He has worked with the likes of Social Wavelength, now Mirum India, (A JWT Group Company) for four years and now Heads Learning and Development & Analytics at Social Kinnect: A Digital Marketing Agency in Mumbai. His passion for Advertising, Creativity, Social & Digital Marketing helps make a difference for the brands they work with. 

April 11, 2013

Facebook’s Open Graph: Making Droids Out of Humans

The original Article was written by me on Busines2Community

I’m sure this is something that has been spoken about many times before especially when Facebook’s Open Graph was launched and a lot of products enabled the embedding of open graph into their APIs, and specifically ensuring that a lot of verbification happens on the go. Every product that has been launched within the start-up ecosystem has ensured that their app or product has an element of verb and being hooked on to their users in terms of ensuring that every time they use the app, automatically the action is shared on Facebook.

Fast forward to last week. I was just generally going through my own timeline for Facebook. I’ve been very sporadic as far as my use on Facebook is concerned. Generally speaking, my overall consumption and sharing on Facebook has reduced over a period of time now. I’m sure there are plenty of reasons for that, and yes, day by day, Facebook is really becoming a repository of meaningless content mostly not so much worth curating even. 

Of course, the kind of information that is already managed via my lists and by blocking / hiding feeds from unnecessary feeds is already taken care of. Yet, there isn’t a lot of information that I share myself and a lot of times users are sharing what’s happening in their lives.

Which is where, something I noticed on my timeline made me go back and think about how this Facebook Open Graph has changed the ball game already with how people are sharing information on their timelines. Soon enough, this is probably something that will determine how people will go about interacting with their friends or rather interacting with friends through applications.

Take a look at some of my recent updates.

Facebook Updates of the Open Graph Culture:

  • I biked 10 kms via Runkeeper
  • I read Steve JObs on GoodRead
  • I checked in at McDonalds, Mumbai
  • I am watching The House of Cards on GetGlue
  • I pinned Paris to ‘Places I want to Travel to’
  • I viewed ‘How to Sell Better’ on Slideshare

It’s already happening and very few of us realize how that is affecting our content sharing and consumption behaviours, but soon enough the Social would actually move towards A-Social and very cyborg like connections that we are heading towards. In fact, moving forward, with the introduction of Google Glass, this would be something that would completely change the game.

Going by how human intelligence is striving towards making everything automated and we are all becoming bots or droids of various products sharing various updates through so many social apps, it’d be hard to find a manual update and most interaction on Social would be droid like and less social in its truest sense.

What do you think?

Srinivas has been a communications professional for over 10 years, and has been blogging since 2005. He has worked with the likes of Social Wavelength, now Mirum India, (A JWT Group Company) for four years and now Heads Learning and Development & Analytics at Social Kinnect: A Digital Marketing Agency in Mumbai. His passion for Advertising, Creativity, Social & Digital Marketing helps make a difference for the brands they work with. 

April 08, 2013

Social Web on the Go – Is Social and Mobile the future?

The original Article was written by me on Social Samosa
A very interesting and certainly very intriguing concept is of course how the shift of consumption of media is on the go. A lot of consumer mindset is of course shifting towards mobile. Many folks have even completely shifted their marketing strategies to mobile. Mobile internet is slowly getting big.
I was down in Singapore a month or so ago and I noticed that trend already existing and was  very big there. With an internet penetration of 90% and above and Social / Digital media penetration of around 60% a lot of it there is via mobile.
I can see that will soon be the state of Internet in India too. Mobile and tablet devices reach consumers where PCs and Laptops don’t. Depending on the kind of brands that are very active on mobile campaigns it’s to be seen how that market shapes up.
But one thing is for sure, especially with more mobiles and tablets sold more than PCs and tablets and with the telecom industry booming in India, brands need to really give that importance to their consumers who are mobile and going to get mobile.
With premium services like Facebook mobile advertising, customized targeting via mobile or email as UID. Also with the new Facebook newsfeed coming into focus, mobile will play a key role in how brands will strike that first mover advantage or for that matter how many of them will start recognizing that sooner than later and transform their consumption patterns for users on mobile.
Something like customizable content for mobile would make amazing sense for your consumers.
For instance the recent announcement of Flipboard giving an option to users to create and curate their own content in form of magazines makes for an interesting use case of how mobile can be really used to drive customized content consumption.
Or using an app called MobileRoadie ( to create a Social media app for content consumption for niche audience of your content.
How much longer before Social and Mobile integration becomes stronger? Is social and Mobile the future? What are your thoughts on this?

Srinivas has been a communications professional for over 10 years, and has been blogging since 2005. He has worked with the likes of Social Wavelength, now Mirum India, (A JWT Group Company) for four years and now Heads Learning and Development & Analytics at Social Kinnect: A Digital Marketing Agency in Mumbai. His passion for Advertising, Creativity, Social & Digital Marketing helps make a difference for the brands they work with.