Friday, December 8, 2017

How different is your brand?

A cause for concern is that most of the brands’ differentiations happen 
only in advertising
What makes brands successful? How is it that certain brands have managed to remain strong over the years? While a multiplicity of reasons can be attributed to the success of brands, they usually have two important characteristics — they are relevant to their customers; and they are different from their competition.
The most important word in branding in my vocabulary is the word ‘different’. Sadly, brands find it easier to talk about differentiation than to actually make it happen. The really successful brands keep differentiating themselves all the time and are not content to sit back and lean on their past laurels.
Not a mere slogan
It’s difficult to have a discussion on successful brands without talking about Apple. Its ‘think different’ slogan was much more than just a motto— it was a way of life that permeated the company’s culture and its functioning. It challenged the status quo and changed the way the world computed, listened to music and used the mobile phone.
During my childhood, the Sony Walkman was a market leader. But then, the iPod, which enabled you to have around 1,000 songs in your pocket, was launched and the Walkman became history. It was certainly different and the market lapped it up.
Closer home...
While India has always been viewed as an attractive market by MNCs, they still struggle to come to terms with certain basics about it the country. It is true that the absolute numbers are much larger than several countries of the world, but the fact is that India is a price-driven market. Indians will patronise acceptable quality at affordable prices.
We don’t want sophisticated or over-engineered products with fancy prices. We will buy shampoos, but prefer the sachets, with its low purchase risk and affordability.
This is the difference a brand like Chik brought to the Indian market. Soon, the single-serve revolution spilled over to almost every other FMCG product, and today, multinationals too have realised the value of this difference, thus jumping on the bandwagon.
Seconds matter
India has witnessed a tremendous surge in mobile demand over the years, and today, it has overtaken the US in terms of smartphone sales. It was in this market that Tata Docomo (as it was known then) introduced the concept of per second billing and asked the consumer to be smart by not paying for more than what he actually used.
This made the larger competitors follow suit, thus benefiting the average consumer, and helped the fledgling operator get a foot in the crowded and yet vast Indian mobile services market.
The brand was noticed by consumers because of this difference. It made the competition sit up, take notice and reluctantly follow suit.
Advertising: the only differentiator?
Traditionally, advertising agencies are paid to think out of the box, and to come up with differences in communication strategy and execution which makes their client’s brand stand out from the competition.
But my reservation is that the clients are abdicating their responsibility of doing things differently by leaving it exclusively to the advertising agency. As a consequence, the only ‘different’ thing that happens with brands is in the area of advertising! Very little can be seen on the brand or on the service delivery front.
This cannot be a long term proposition and brands need seriously introspect if they are actually doing something different.
Are we living in the past?
There is another side to the coin too. While some companies do innovate and try something different, the results so far have been mixed. An important question we ask clients is ‘What have you done different recently?’ This usually stumps clients. They are so close to their brand that the only differences they are proud of seems to have been done years back.
That implies that nothing significantly different has happened recently. This is certainly a problem. We have an adage in advertising that says: ‘You are only as good as your latest campaign’. Which means any company is only as good as its current team. The same analogy can be applied to branding as well — a brand is only as good as its latest differentiation. So, however difficult it may be, come up with a difference that sets you apart.
So get down to work and do something different for your brands. Today.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Why Brands Need A Larger Purpose?

Why do brands exist? Because they help companies make money? Because consumers’ lives are better by using them? Because investors want to invest in those companies that have successful brands? While there is an element of truth in each of these statements, the reality is that many brands and businesses have existed and even prospered historically because someone had started them in the first place, and the next generation of entrepreneurs continued to do more of the same, at times improving their processes and ending up making them more successful. Yes, there are many brands that have been successful and have been so for years now. But if we look at the really successful brands (some of which have even become iconic) there is a larger truth about them. They all have a purpose clearly articulated by the founders that drives the brands, its employees and which impacts the consumers too as they continue to remain loyal to the brand. Let’s look at some of these brands that we have grown up with, used and admired.

A life without Apple?
No discussion on branding is complete without a fleeting mention at least of Apple. What did Apple do? It’s not only that they produced superbly-designed products that consumers fell in love with. They challenged the status quo. They changed the way people looked at computers, the way people listened to music and later challenged the way consumers looked at mobile phones. Here’s a commercial that best embodies the philosophy of the brand and its visionary founder. 




This leads me to make a fairly important point, a larger purpose impacting humans can make a big difference to the long term future of brands and what better example than Apple to demonstrate this.

And where will you go for your cup of coffee? 
Another interesting modern day brand is, Starbucks, and the purpose? Schultz being inspired by the coffee shops in Italy and realising the integral part the coffee shop played in the average Italian’s life thought about the USA and creating a “third place” in the average American’s life, knowing fully well that the American merely alternating between work and home. Why not create a “refuge” he thought? And then went on to create “rewarding everyday moments” in each one of his outlets all over the country and the world for that matter.

Matha, Pitha, Google, Deivam 
An ancient Tamil proverb says: “Father, mother and guru are good.” In today’s world, one might have to include Google!

Can you think of a life without Google? I for one can’t. Even if I have to travel to far-flung places like Mayiladuthurai who do I rely on? I rely on the lady with the American accent who reels off tongue-twisting Tamilian names that have foxed many Punjabis, with great aplomb. And that’s just one app. How can a student get through college without Google and here we were who studied masters without access to calculators for exams! And what’s their mission, “to organise the world’s information and make it universally-accessible and useful”.

So where do we go from here?
While examples are always inspiring and often reassuring, they might not be of much use if one has been in business for years, making money year-after-year repetitively, often doing more of the same. It’s perhaps time to step back and ask why we are in business. Very often, in today’s world of preoccupation with the performance of the quarter, are we missing the bigger picture? It’s perhaps time to think not only about business, revenue, collections, top line and bottom line but also about the human purpose of enterprise. How do we impact the lives of the people who ensure that our business has been around? How do we demonstrate that they matter to us? How do we touch their lives with our products and services in a more interesting and engaging way than we are currently doing?

So why are you in business?
All of us have answers to questions like “how” to do business. But how often have we thought of “why” we are in business. Sadly, it is not an easy question to answer. Let’s remember too that all consumers like stories, even about brands. So what’s your brand’s story? And how is that involving humans? It is in determining these that will set apart your brand and why should we only discuss brands like Apple, Starbucks, Google or Nike? Which will be the Indian brand that will be spoken of in the same breath? And what will be its purpose that will be its point of difference with the competition? I am an optimist and am waiting for the future for Indian brands to make a difference to the world.

Ramanujam Sridhar is the Founder CEO of brand-comm Public Relations

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

IndiGo manhandling incident has little impact on the brand, business


Though the incident triggered social media anger, there was no immediate commercial fallout, say experts
On November 8, India’s biggest low-cost airline IndiGo found itself in the middle of a PR disaster. A video doing the rounds in social media showed the airline’s staff allegedly manhandling a flier after a Chennai-Delhi flight. What followed were jokes, memes and calls for boycott, all of which a public apology from the airline’s CEO didn’t appear to stem.
But now, more than 10 days later, IndiGo doesn’t appear to have suffered commercially from social media anger. The online travel agents that BusinessLine spoke to said that in the days since the video became public, bookings on the airline — which enjoys close to 40 per cent market share in the domestic circuit — remained as strong as ever. Agents say there have been no requests by passengers to cancel their IndiGo flights or reschedule to another airline; neither has the airline had to drop fares to retain passengers.
So was #saynotoindigo nothing more than an empty threat? How much does negative PR affect the commercial aspect of a business? “Almost never in the short run,” said Ramanujam Sridhar, CEO, BrandComm. “The brand might take a beating for a while, but it’s still a good airline. Our sentiment for how we see the airline as treating its passengers is separate from the airline’s performance in getting you efficiently from one point to another. For a business to lose customers, there needs to be repeated negative experiences. Right now, I think most fliers see this incident as a one-off for IndiGo.”
IndiGo did not respond to a request for comment.
It’s even tougher for customers to express their unhappiness with a business in an oligopolistic industry like aviation, according to Paresh Vaish, Partner, EY. “IndiGo has among the most comprehensive coverage for domestic routes; so for a lot of fliers, the airline is sometimes the only option. Also, customers tend to separate the individual’s experience from the brand itself. So while Rajiv Katiyal (the passenger in the video) might choose to never fly IndiGo again, the chances of everybody else following the same way are slim.”
The only exception, Vaish added, is when passengers are concerned about safety. “Take Malaysia Airlines for example. After the MH370 disappearance, there was a significant drop in bookings which brought the carrier close to bankruptcy.” Brand guru Harish Bijoor concurred. “Sometimes, we may not like the brand but still use the product because there aren’t any other options available.”
Mahesh Reddy, Secretary General, Air Passengers Association of India, believes while the immediate commercial fallout of such incidents might be negligible, they don’t bode well either for a brand or the country’s image. “We’re speaking to airlines and asking them to train their apprentices and staff better. We’re also pushing for this with the ministry. Such incidents must not recur.”
Mature markets
“I think a commercial backlash is more likely in mature markets in the West where expectations of customer service are much higher,” Sridhar said. “Indians are slowly getting there. Right now, when we take to social media to complain, we’re just trying to shame the brand into doing better. We want to say that the behaviour is not acceptable; we’re not going to take this lying down.”

Thursday, November 16, 2017

When will IndiGo learn from its mistakes?

It must remember that training is crucial; every single employee is a brand ambassador
I am no great admirer of IndiGo Airlines, let me state that up front. They are too full of themselves, constantly telling us how they are on time, once again. I must confess that they are generally on time and that is a great boon if you live in a city like Bengaluru, where the air traffic is as unpredictable as the weather and even a few minutes delay can throw your entire schedule out of gear.Yet, they become strangely silent when they are late, blaming the air traffic control.
And they are reasonably inhumane as they ruthlessly offload passengers who come even a few seconds late, without bothering to look at the genuineness of the case. Yet, even their detractors might hesitate to gloat over the airline’s current predicament, after the recent fracas in which a passenger was manhandled by staffers. The sorry incident demonstrates, more than anything else, that companies obstinately refuse to learn from the mistakes of others and insist on making fresh ones themselves.
It can’t happen to us!
Crises are not new, nor are they ever going to go out of fashion. If anything, they are going to multiply in the digital world. But it seems to be a bit like our attitude to death. We somehow seem to think that it’s not going to happen to us, even when we are attending someone else’s funeral!
Airlines, by the very nature of the industry, with frequent customer contacts, multiple moments of truth and the shared use of several common services such as airports and air traffic control, which are handled by others, are more prone to trouble than other industries.
In the latest case, of course, IndiGo doesn’t really have an excuse as its employee and ex-employee are clearly to blame, even if there was severe provocation. Yes, it was not a flight attendant but a logistics person. This brings to mind what Disney used to talk about: every employee is either “on stage” or “off stage”, depending on whether he/she is facing customers or not. A janitor in a theme park is equally important because the visitor is going to ask him/her for directions. They are, therefore, all brand ambassadors, so it’s not enough to merely train the stewardesses and the people at the counter. The person who guides you on to the bus is perhaps more prone to the stresses and strains of customer contact and its risks. Though, in this case, it seems the passengers are the ones who are at the receiving end of the violence.
How prepared are we?
Every business, whether it is an airline, a mall, a hospital or a garment factory, is prone to crises. In the age of social media, the crisis can actually put forest fires to shame, so ruthlessly and violently does it spread. Speedy response is of the essence and IndiGo has been lethargic in this respect, given that the incident happened quite some days ago.
The smarter companies work closely with their communication agencies to catalogue a list of crises that can besiege their business and have a contingency plan to minimise the risk. The focus is on damage control. How can they keep the crisis from trending online? Can the PR company make sure that the ticker of a news channel does not include the company’s brand name? Can they move the news from page 1 to page 7 of a newspaper over a period of time? Can they hope for a bigger crisis to happen to someone else so that their crisis is forgotten?
Don’t gloat over someone else’s crisis
While it is natural for competitors to gloat over IndiGo’s crisis, my suggestion to them is this: look out for a similar or an even larger crisis that can come back to bite you. It may seem cute to create memes or send funny WhatsApp messages mocking the other company but we live in crisis-filled times and it speaks well of a company which stays dignified when someone else is going through a tough time. Who knows what might happen in the shifting sands of business? Keep your head even as your competition is losing theirs. This says a lot about a company’s leadership.
And the lesson to learn for IndiGo is simple. When you keep blowing your trumpet at every possible opportunity, you are opening yourself up to criticism when something goes wrong. If I sounded harsher than deserved, it is simply because I am a customer and I prefer my service provider to let others do the talking.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Is Virat going soft?

Recent ads featuring Virat Kohli show a hitherto unknown side of the cricketer
What comes to your mind when I say Virat Kohli? Champion, competitor, intense, aggressive, in your face, loud, brash... You could reel off these adjectives and for most part, you wouldn’t be off the mark. The overriding impression, in my mind at least, would be of unbridled aggression.
In fact, Rahul Dravid, who is the quintessential well-behaved cricketer, said in a recent interview that some of the things that Kohli says before a series makes him cringe!
Whilst Rahul Dravid may might have effectively signed himself off any major coaching assignment with the BCCI with this statement, it raised my own estimation of him for speaking his mind and echoing the sentiments of people like me. But what’s all this got to do with Virat’s alleged softness?
The king of celebrities
Virat is not only the undisputed number 1 in One-Day batting rankings, but he is also one of the richest sportsmen in the world, as per the latest Forbes list. So he’s clearly a hot celebrity endorsing a whole range of brands, including the tremendous Puma deal.
Yet, most celebrity advertising is similar looking as it focuses on the celebrities, their demeanour and achievements. Using Virat’s example, a usual ad would show him celebrating, shaking a triumphant fist or smashing the ball over the ropes as despairing fielders watch helplessly. No one is really sure whether this advertising and the celebrity, who is so highly paid, is actually helping the brand, given the number of ads and brands the same celebrity endorses.
So how does one break the clutter? The answer, as always, lies in the script: the often ignored component in celebrity commercials. Can we show a new dimension of the celebrity rather than the clich├ęd, similar ships-that-pass-me-in-the-night visuals? Yes, we can. How? By showing a side to the celebrity — Virat, in this case — that was hitherto unknown. The following commercials demonstrate this.
Are you a younger sibling?
If you are a younger sibling like me, you know what it is to be ignored, to be taunted and be asked to get lost by your elder brother or sister, as they carry on with their secretive business! Although the situation itself is not new, one can easily relate to this commercial.
In this ad, the game begins with the picking of teams. And guess who is left out? The youngest kid in the block. As the older kids speak to him derisively, Virat solicitously asks him whether he would want to open the batting for his team. And in a surprise twist, the kid belts out runs all around the park.
The new improved Virat
The commercial that really caught my fancy, however, is the one that shows Virat in a completely new light. In this, he is wearing a kurta, and talks about common themes that you and I can relate to. He says how he does nothing on Sundays and just as he is about to take off in his car, he is called for a game of cricket by kids who, cheekily, ask whether they should give him batting.
Mostly, the commercial shows Virat’s softer side as he talks about traffic jams and playing antakshari with his family.
Do they? Don’t they?
The romance-rumours of Anushka and Virat have been doing the rounds for years now. Now, there are rumours of their intended wedding!
This commercial is set in an actual wedding, and has Virat and Anushka decked in traditional clothes. Looking at the couple tying the knot, they discuss what the bride and bridegroom might be promising each other. The commercial actually ends on a sentimental note.
Interesting, more so for a brand like Manyavar.
Celebrity endorsements often end up as double edged swords, as the commercials are so eminently forgettable. Which is why script writers must strive that much more to beat the clutter and explore new avenues like the personal lives and emotions of celebrities rather than use their exploits to catch our fancy. Yes, perhaps there is another side to Virat Kohli that I did not know existed. And I like it.
Do you?

Thursday, November 2, 2017

After Tinder, Happn stepping up the dating game: Here's how


With 14 million swipes per day, the dating app is garnering popularity globally
Challenging the concept and the market of shaadi.com are many dating apps, which are targeted at freewheeling millennials in India. The most popular app in the country, is also the global favourite, Tinder with 14 million swipes per day. Breaking expectations that it will cater mostly to millennials, a large number of Baby Boomers are using the app, along with users from Tier-II and Tier-III towns, indicating its unchallenging popularity.
“People do not call it Tindering but it is just as popular. Any new brand that comes will have to create the same kind of appeal, ubiquity and applicability. New apps might match the depth that they have in terms of database too, because the ability to match depends on the number of users which is already high in India,” believes Harish Bijoor, the founder of Harish Bijoor Consultants, a private label consulting firm.
Yet, the market of dating apps, is buzzing. A large number of global and local apps, be it Woo or Truly Madly are making ripples in their own way. The most notable of the challengers is the French dating app, Happn which launched last year. The app came in with a big-bang ad campaign featuring Hrithik Roshan. The app is built on the concept that a chance meet with a person can turn into a possible date, with a little bit of help from technology.
Unlike Tinder which matches people based on age, location, common friends and interests, Happn romanticises meetings, in a truly French manner. It matches people who would have met otherwise too, and brings them together based on the grocery stores or laundromats or coffee shops that they visit. Their India ad, narrated by Roshan, shows two people bumping into each other, getting attracted and walking away hoping to meet later.
Experts believe that Tinder and Happn occupy different market segments and cater to different needs. “Tinder has a USP which few other apps can match. Happn’s USP is different and might not appeal to Indian sensibilities where reservations are higher. In India, the odds of a person one sits next to on a bus, not having the best of intentions on mind, is much higher,” says Anil Patrick, CEO at Thinking Hat Corporation, a branding and content management company.
Happn too seems to realise this. The app which launched last year, set a target of a million users in a year, even as they kicked off to a good start with 200,000 users. Tinder, on the other hand, came to India after it was an established brand abroad, and also had the first-mover advantage unlike Happn. “Any later entrant will have to play the catching-up game. Even when global majors like Uber and Amazon came to India with established players like Flipkart and Ola, they had to work towards being seen as an Indian brand catering to Indian situations and emotions,” feels Sridhar Ramanujam, CEO at Integrated Brand-Comm.
Tinder has failed to Indianise itself and its so-called ‘Sanskari’ ad failed to connect with its users, though it did not have any devastating effect on the usage itself. The ad, which came under considerable online ridicule, shows an Indian mother approving her daughter going on a Tinder date, with a tagline, ‘It’s how people meet.’ This is starkly different from its American ads, as one of them shows two people getting bored on a date and simultaneously searching for others during the date, with a tagline, ‘The only dates that matter.’
In India and abroad, Tinder has earned the repute of being popular for casual dates and hook-ups, which users seem to have taken to, even in India. Happn successfully occupied the sweet spot of romance in the many countries that it launched abroad, setting itself apart from the frivolous nature of online dating. If the French app wants to market that as its USP, it might be a long journey in India.
Dating is a relatively new concept in India. The market is catering to two different segments of population, those who are interested in getting married and those who are looking for something casual. And both these poles are occupied with strong brands. “If there is any space within dating that is not hook-ups, Tinder can cater to that too,” observes Bijoor.

WHAT’S HAPPN-ING

  • Experts believe that Tinder and Happn cater to different market needs
  • While Tinder has failed to Indianise itself, it still has the first-mover advantage

Monday, October 30, 2017

Will nostalgia work for Nokia?

Considering new phone buyers are young millennials, can the handset maker recapture market share?
Last week, I bought a new mobile phone. Now, before you dismiss this news with a ‘so-what’s-new’ flick of your hand, let me tell you — it was a Nokia . And I was very excited about this phone.
But before that, I need to tell you that this is not my main phone but my second phone. Like many diehard Apple fans, my first phone continues to be an iPhone with its ever-dying battery! But back to the excitement. A few months back, I was a judge at a case-study competition in a business school, and the brand being discussed was (hold your breath) Nokia. I heard millennials say that the greatest thing going for Nokia’s revival was the nostalgia factor.
I was intrigued, as I knew for a fact that many people who are currently in their 50s had Nokia as their first phone. As they grew in affluence (and also in waist size), they moved up to the more expensive Nokia models. But I wondered if the recommendation was feasible, considering that the primary phone buyers in India today are youngsters. Would the young user have the same nostalgia towards the iconic brand of yesteryear? But let me tell you my own story.
Remember the mid-nineties?
Even earlier, I had a special affinity for mobile phones. The agency I headed then was responsible for the launch of Birla AT&T (this brand later became Idea) in Pune. Working with the AT&T team was a great experience. If memory serves (and, I must confess, that it is today almost as reliable as the Australian batting middle order), we paid a princely sum of ₹17.88 for a minute of talk-time and ₹8 for incoming!
People used mobile phones primarily to give missed calls so that the recipient would call back from the landline. The generation had mixed feelings about mobile phones, assuming it was a luxury and an encroachment into their privacy, among other things. But amidst all this, one brand stood head and shoulders above the rest — Nokia, with its Indian sounding name.
With Nokia, they could manage to send SMSes and give missed calls. In fact, the brand had, at one point, a dominant market share of over 80 per cent if reports are to be believed. Unlike Motorola which, despite being the inventor of the mobile phone, struggled in India (due to its practice of shipping those phones that did not sell in the US), Nokia actually created phones for India and Indians, which sold like hot cakes.
Here is the ad for one of their top selling models of the past — the Nokia 1100.
Back to the present
So, the weekend before Diwali, I asked my colleagues which phone they would recommend in the ₹15,000 range. I got a number of recommendations like Moto G, Samsung, Redmi and even Nokia. I strongly believe that timing is everything in marketing and, on the same day, there was a huge ad for the new Nokia phone series in the newspapers.


I went to Reliance Digital to check out the phones. I must say that the service across the board in retail outlets in India has improved phenomenally — including Reliance Digital. The sales girl kept pushing Oppo, making me wonder if she thought I was PC Sreeram without hair, as she kept talking about the camera.
I asked for the Nokia and ended up buying it. My wife, who is the techno wizard in the family, reassured me that the interface with Google was very clean. Like most husbands, I have this enormous propensity to agree unconditionally to what my wife says and ended up buying the Nokia phone for less than ₹13,000.
Will Nokia succeed?
I know that my forecasts are usually wrong, so I won’t even venture in that direction. But I believe the brand has great equity, at least with older users. It may not be as glamorous as its Chinese competitors or as large a spender as Samsung. But it could be a good, reliable phone that has its own niche in a cut-throat market convoluted by the great online bazaar.
A lot will depend on user experience and how vocal consumers are about the phone and its functions. I am waiting to see how my phone and my favourite brand will perform in the marketplace!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Understand your consumers to create powerful ads

Consumer insights are waiting to be observed and acted upon. The key is observation
It’s no secret that India (particularly, its youth) is addicted to mobile phones. According to Nielsen, the number of smartphone users has risen from 130 million in May 2014 to 180 million in May 2016.
It’s hardly surprising, then, that every mobile maker in China and his brother-in-law is in the country! Whatever be the political tension between these two Asian superpowers, there is no shortage of selfies being taken on Chinese phones in India. Even as the customer beams at the camera, the manufacturers and marketers of the brands in question smile their way to the bank.
If mobiles are growing at such a rate, can services be far behind? The overall smartphone usage has been multiplying, with the Indian consumer spending 178 minutes (on an average) a day on shopping, banking, entertainment, music and other activities.
As a consequence, the mobile services category is one of the most exciting advertising categories to work on today, replacing the Cola of my times, in terms of attraction to creative people.
I’ll give you a missed call
The easiest way to open a conversation when you are in a room full of strangers is to talk about your mobile services. You’ll suddenly discover how the room is full of similarly aggrieved customers, who complain about call drops being worse than Indian slip fielders, networks being as sluggish as the Australian batsmen’s footwork against Indian spin, and a service that is best not spoken about.
In a nutshell, all brands are equally bad when it comes to service. The only differentiating factor is the advertising. So what do you do when you have to advertise a product that is similar in features and service to its competition? You look for consumer insights. And what does is this oft-quoted, yet misunderstood term in marketing, mean? According to brandgymblog, it is: “A discovery about your consumer that opens the door to an opportunity for your brand.”
And just how do you make this discovery? By observing the consumer and playing back your observations creatively to her via different communication media, so that when she sees the ad, she says, “Hey, is this about me?”
How often do we pay attention to something when it is about us? Almost all the time. So here’s a quick jog of your memory to Airtel’s youth campaign that resonated extremely well with the youngsters — every young Indian could relate to the heros and their friends in these ads. Even though the two commercials were aired years ago, they still work.
Oops! I dropped my phone again
One of the most commonly distressing habits of people is their amazing propensity to drop their phones. Samsung latched on to this and offered a ‘one time screen replacement’ for all of us casual, careless mobile phone users.
Here’s a commercial, which has two distracted young men bumping into each other and promptly dropping their phones. One of them is fortunate enough to have a Samsung phone and is secure in the knowledge that the screen can be replaced; the other, unfortunately, can only look on in horrified silence.
As far as commercials go, this probably lacks the appeal of the Airtel commercials you saw earlier. But it does have a powerful insight — of phone dropping — that overshadows the ordinary picturisation and acting of the models.
Not just the ad agency’s responsibility
All around us, consumer insights are waiting to be observed and acted upon. The key is observation. Sadly, many of us ‘see’ without ‘observing’ and ‘hear’ without ‘listening’. Don’t abdicate the discovery of insights to your ad agency — it is your brand and your consumer.
Walk in their shoes, live their life, go through their pains and empathise with them. You will observe interesting things about what they feel, experience and care about. And remember, insights by themselves are useless. They must be integrated with your product or service’s usage. Like the insight about missed calls is brilliant for Airtel, but will not work for Nike.
And this leads me to a slightly uncomfortable question: when did you last have a consumer insight on your brand?

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Why Uber should walk the talk


The company should be more about consumer experience and less about advertising
Let me quickly tell you that I like Uber. I wish I could say ‘I love Uber’, but I am just a selfish consumer, warts and all. I liked Uber because it is so much cheaper than the Airport taxi that people in Bangalore are used to.
I didn’t need to count my change for the toll, nor did I have to fret and fume when the driver didn’t have the difference amount at 11.30 pm, when I was tired, angry and sleepy. I liked Uber too as the cars were newer than Ola’s, and drivers seemed less surly. Ola drivers, whom I bumped into, usually launched into a diatribe about the company and its policies — or the lack thereof.
Of course, these were the hey days of cab drivers when some made ₹80,000 or more a month, even as cab companies bent over backwards to get drivers on board and incentivised them as though there was no tomorrow. Why should I have worried that these cab companies were losing money left, right and centre, as long as I was getting pampered?
All goods things end
Of course, the Utopian days could not last — and indeed, it did not. Today, there are more cabs, poorer service, unhappier drivers and consequently, dissatisfied consumers. It is not only the users but the drivers too who reminisce about those ‘good old days’ that may never come back.
To counter the simmering discontent, Uber, which is certainly giving Ola a run for its money in India, is doing what many multinational brands do in our country — use mass media advertising. So here’s the new Uber ad, which some of you may have seen.
We can’t pay you, so we’ll praise you
As you can clearly see, the ad is a tribute to the Uber driver, of how sensitive, considerate and caring he is in the way he drives the car, in how he handles himself and even how he handles your vegetables!
Sadly, service brands seem to forget that ‘service’ is all about delivering expectations — and all this commercial does is fuel them. Despite my preference for Uber, I am getting annoyed by drivers who are constantly on the phone.
They are so busy complaining about the complexities of incentives to other drivers that they scarcely pay attention to the passenger — this is hardly what is being portrayed in the commercial! But in the same breath, I need to tell you that I find drivers in smaller towns like Vizag a lot more courteous and considerate than in the larger cities like Bangalore.
What are the moments of truth in cab travel?
All of us are familiar with the five moments of truth that Jan Carlzon spoke about in airline travel which are:
~ Making a reservation
~ Getting Tickets
~ Boarding
~ Flying
~ Retrieving Baggage
What are the ‘moments of truth’ in a cab ride? How often have we been annoyed by the driver cancelling the trip and you getting charged for it? How often have we met surly, rude or badly turned-out drivers who are unmindful of everything you say?Yes, Uber does have a system where both passengers and drivers can rate each other.
But can something more than advertising be done? Can we have mystery passengers who rate drivers objectively and give feedback to the company on the actual state of consumer service and the on ground — or in the cab, if you will — experience? Incentives could also be considered for softer factors like customer experience and delight, not so much on the number of trips or mileage that is clocked during the day.
Blinding flash of the obvious
Very often, companies forget that customer service is boring — it is doing things right, repetitively, time after time. In Uber’s case, the complexity is that the experience is being delivered by drivers and even if you call them partners, they have their own agenda which can often be at odds with the company’s objectives.
I am sure Uber realises the value of drivers and also knows that things aren’t hunky dory between the two, given the company’s focus on profitability. So the easiest way to make drivers happy is by releasing television commercials like these. The trickier part, however, is training, building their motivation and demonstrating to the drivers that they truly are partners and not mere actors in a TV commercial.
I know it is easy for people like me to do back seat driving from an Uber cab even as I check my Facebook notifications. But on the plus side, I am a regular customer who constantly refers the brand. I may be critical, but I sure do mean well.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Why celebrities have turned the tables on brands by ending their endorsements

Key highlights:
  • Virat Kohli decided recently to stop endorsing cola brand Pepsi
  • He said he would not ask people to consume something that he himself does not
  • Amitabh Bachchan ended his 14 year association endorsing the brand Pepsi in 2014
While it has seen several times where brands dump their celebrity brand ambassadors over certain controversies or scandals, Virat Kohli's decision recently to stop endorsing cola brand Pepsi despite being offered a lucrative deal came as a change.
In the past we have seen even cola brands ending ties with their celebrity endorsers due to controversies. This was seen with Salman Khan when cola brand Thums Up decided to end their association with the star who at that time had was steeped in controversies. Even Snapdeal had ended their ties with Aamir Khan after a controversy regarding his comments on rising intolerance in the country.
International tennis star Maria Sharapova who had admitted to doping later resulted in an exodus of brands from her portfolio. The same was with Tiger Woods after news of his several affairs came to fore.
However, Kohli's decision to dump Pepsi is one of the few but growing examples of how celebrity brand endorsers are today taking it endorsement seriously.
He refused to renew the contract which ended in April this year saying that he would not ask people to consume something that he himself does not.
Besides this, Kohli will no longer endorse fairness creams or products of that genre, an official who works with Kohli told PTI.
This is definitely a bold stand taken by the Indian cricket captain to endorse brands and products he utilises and believes in. This is considering that cola brands can offer very lucrative deals. While his deal with Pepsi was not disclosed, his deals with Puma and MRF itself are worth Rs 100 crore each and the deal with cola brand was expected to be somewhere along the same line.
But Kohli is not the only celebrity that has dumped a brand selling a product which is unhealthy or frowned upon in society.
Actor Amitabh Bachchan ended his 14 year association endorsing the brand Pepsi in 2014 when he was confronted by young schoolgirl about being the face of a product that is full of negative ingredients. This he said made him brake off his association with the cola brand.
Other Bollywood actors such as Anushka Sharma, Kangana Ranaut, Ranbir Kapoor, Nandita Das and Randeep Hooda have all dumped the fairness creams category as a whole and have taken a stand that they will never endorse such brands or products. Many of them are reported to had even turned down deals to become the brand ambassadors of such products.
Another sports celebrity that has shunned endorsing cola brands is Olympic medal winner at Rio PV Sindhu. She clarified soon after winning the Olympics that she would not endorse cola brands or anything harmful for health.
Even the one time king of brand endorsements, cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar, had turned down a group of advertisers saying that he would never endorse any alcohol or tobacco brands.
Actor Aamir Khan has also reportedly turned down from endorsing a luxury car brand which had offered him a huge deal. The reason for this decision was that the actor currently only wants to work on ads that are socially relevant and that the brand did not come under the umbrella of social issues.
Even Akshay Kumar is said to have turned down a lucrative deal to endorse a paan masala brand.
One of the reasons why celebrities today are picky with which brands they endorse is due to backlash from people on social media and the greater public scrutiny that they come under as role models.
For instance, Deepika Padukone received severe backlash on Twitter and social media sites over her recent endorsement of Coca Cola. Some of the people called her irresponsible for endorsing such a drink.
Even former James Bond star Pierce Brosnan faced a barrage of tweets and comments condemning his endorsement of Pan Bahar masala in their ad campaign.
According to K V Sridhar, Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Hyper Collective there are two reasons for celebrity brand endorsers to be so picky these days is when they have money they can afford to be selective and how close the values of brand and them match.
“When you do have enough money then you do everything. When you have money, you have a choice on which brand you can endorse and which you do not want to. Added to this is the social media scrutiny that these celebrities have to endure these days,” said Sridhar.
He further says that the vales of the celebrity and the values of the brand must match, because if they do not match then there is friction.
Ram Gudipati, Founder & CEO of brand consultancy firm Brand Harvest too says that every celebrity today is social and interacts with their audience and fans, and this is a reason why they have to picky with brands.
“Virat is seen as the epitome of fitness and his association with Pepsi would be seen as counterproductive. It will also be seen as a hypocrisy as cola brands are being reported as unhealthy in media,” Gudipati said.
He too points out that money at this stage for celebrities such as Kohli and Amitabh Bachchan is not an issue. “They have reached a stage where Rs 6-7 crore won't matter.”
He further points that this can even add to their benefit as they can charge a premium for those brands they do endorse. “Take for instance Aamir Khan, he is said to charge a high rate of Rs 8 crore per day. He can charge such a premium as the value he brings to the table for a brand. Even Amitabh Bachchan for that matter, what he charges and what value he drives for a brand is several times more,” said Gudipati.
Sridhar Ramanujam, Founder & CEO of Integrated Brand-Comm says that Kohli has now become one of top sportsmen globally and with that comes reputation which he has to manage. He further adds that brand endorsement rules have become strict too as celebrities today cannot endorse things they don't use.
Recently, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) released new rules that held celebrities responsible for the claims made in ads in which they appear.
“Celebrities have to worry about their reputation more than the money, as that is taken care of. They have to come across as concerned about the society,” said Ramanujam.