The Graveyard named ‘Conversation With Customers’ (OR Not)

teco2Been debating the issue whether the “Customer Conversations with Brand” is at all something us social media communicators should spend time, energy and resources on.

Sometimes it is so tiring to see every (social) marketer worth his/her salt (or so he/she thinks) going on and on about ‘sparking conversations’ with customers. If you think of it, no one fires up a social media app thinking, “I can’t wait to have a conversation with my shampoo brand!” But (and a big but) there are situations and categories where people actually do so. Let’s examine this ‘sparking conversations’ thingy

Every time a marketing team says their social media objective is to spark “conversations” with people, there are a few simple things that need to be established:

  1. If someone comments on your social properties, and a Customer Care rep gets back to them – that’s not a conversation.
  2. If a comment on a social property is met with a GIF or a meme to spark “engagement” – that’s not a conversation either.
  3. The most important – the marketing team wants to have conversations, but does the business want the same?

When someone actually calls your helpline, how many minutes do they spend pressing buttons on a menu trying to hear a human voice? When they go to your website, does the little messenger in the bottom right corner lead to an automated response, or a real human being?

More often than not, the marketing team wants to have conversations with customers, but the business doesn’t. It’s not set up to. And the definition of a brand conversation in a marketer’s mind and a consumer’s mind are two very different things. Forced conversations are terrible. Especially with brands. “Sparking conversations with brand” cannot be a marketing objective.

On the other hand

What about the brand who have conversation and community as a core part of their proposition?

– The weight loss brand built on the principle of people coming together to encourage each other to success, with a conversation that is actively encouraged and started by both the brand and its customers. And that brand is not authentic to itself, or as successful, without sparking conversation (that add value, create loyalty, grow retention etc)Runner


– What about the mental health brand who’s core proposition is conversation, where people openly share their stories and experiences on social, and where creating awareness of discussion forums and expertise deepens the value of the brand to the users.

– Same is true for gadgets brands. Last I checked, One Plus became such a ‘Never Settler’ because of brand’s relations with its community of enthusiasts, evangelists and common customersoneplus-5t-deals

So what this leaves us at. I am as confused as you, but one thing is sure, things are fluid in this world of gigabytes and smart phones. Customers are sending signals with every tap of on their screens. Research and understand your customers and their needs, then decide what they want.

If, they want to have conversations, talk away, as humanely as possible, and address their needs. If all they want is good quality products you do that. If they are craving attentive and empathetic customer care service, you should be there when they need you. You keep pegging away and you won’t know what you may end up with. Hell, we have dyed-in-the-wool B2B chemical company BASF selling their chemicals on Facebook. So everything works (may be not everything), just figure out your sweetspot.



The Tyranny of Conversion

“Yeah, but did it convert?

What was the conversion rate?” – is often the #1 argument made when critiquing content or marketing.


The problem is, quite often that critique is made on content or marketing that wasn’t meant to convert in the first place.

1. Not all marketing is meant to convert into a sale. That’s what a vacuum salesman tries to do. If you’re going door to door selling vacuums, by all means – convert everything and everyone.

2. A lot of marketing is meant to delight. It’s meant to form a stronger bond with consumers, tell a brand story, spark a thought with the consumer and add value outside the “product” space.

3. The emergence of digital and the ability to track micro-interactions with brands has led to an incredible amount of conversation around “measuring everything” and tying it back to conversions, but that’s a tricky slope to go down and ends up in situations where you try to come up with a silly metric like “Revenue Per Retweet”.

4. Conversion is an element of marketing, but it is not the only one. Connecting with consumers, raising awareness, proving value, building loyalty, entertainment – it’s all a part of marketing.

When you tell someone your content wasn’t meant to convert, don’t let them belittle you. They just don’t understand it well enough.

Here is how you can make them understand

Look at the products in this world with the highest margins. They all have the same thing in common. They spend fortunes on messaging that is specifically designed to elicit our most cherished emotions … love, self-esteem, passion, romance, intelligence, humanity, and on & on & on.

“Brain Marketing” has a metric called “Conversions.” “Heart Marketing” has a metric called “Positive feelings”.

Large ticket purchases are risky … risk creates emotions … and when the buyer decides whether to buy / not buy (convert) … guess who has veto power?

The Heart!

So yes, if you are selling discount ballpoint pens … “Convert, convert, convert” If you are selling anything of high value with high margins … and know that product loyalty can be inter-generational … by all means … focus on Heart-Based marketing.

PR to Native Marketing – So What’s So New About You Bro?

Native marketing – the digital marketing panacea, the next big thing or just another buzz word?

People new to the marketing game would go gaga over it. Afheat_pacino_deniroter all, this is what they have been taught in business school – as a brand give the customers what they want, something that will add value to them, through a medium they respect and are hooked to.

That we all know. The win, however, lies in giving them the above without the intrusiveness of display marketing or discomfort of remarketing. If you can do that they will gladly give you their business. And come back for more.

Yay for applied marketing science!

Veteran marketers would probably feel happy that finally there is something which can help them reach their target audience as naturally as possible – without them knowing that they are being marketed to. No dangers of being termed as a salesy or worst, a spammer – (shudders), right?

Quite right. This is what native marketing is supposed to do in a marketing ecosystem where the writers are fantastic and know the publishing platform and the marketed object inside out – and marketers know their target audience to a tee.

And it happens all the time. Just look at how GE (of all companies) managed to sell out special edition sneakers (of all things) in just seven minutes because of a native marketing push, or how Netflix promoted the release of the second season of the Netflix series “Orange is the New Black” through an article in The New York Times titled “Women Inmates: Separate But Not Equal.”

So finally, a never before marketing equivalent of Thor’s hammer, right?

Correct to an extent, but not the ‘never before’ bit.

A PR professional with just a wee bit of experience will look at native marketing and wonder what the fuss is all about. In fact they have been practicing it day in and day out. This professional will actually feel like laughing because he/she has been doing it way better.

Before you yell blasphemy, let’s examine the traits of a successful native marketing program and that of a PR program:

Native marketing is a paid placement of the content that is so cohesive with the page content, so assimilated into the design, and so consistent with the user experience that the viewer simply feels that it naturally belongs where it is placed.

Take out the ‘paid placement’ bit and you have everything which makes a PR-led story successful for a brand – a content that communicates with the target audience through a media with an aim to create and maintain a positive image for an entity and create a strong relationship with the audience. A content which is as native as it can be, a medium which target audience has natural affinity to, a brand promotion story which doesn’t feel like promotion. The promotion would actually look like breaking news or a scoop. And here is the best part – all this without paying the media!

Now add the impact dynamic – PR fueled content can make or break your brand, it is that strategic. While a well-received piece of content placed through native marketing would get you few more eyeballs, it is that tactical.

Let’s now consider some PR led successes – Flipkart was just a happy-go-lucky E-commerce start-up from whom people loved to buy books till headlines screamed million dollars’ investments. Soon followed the news of billion dollar valuations. Suddenly everyone wanted to be part of the story – IIM grads, IIT junta, more investors, brands, customers…what not.

Or, consider the classic case of making bacon a preferred choice of the breakfast of the Americans. All just through a series of articles with headlines saying 4,500 physicians urge heavier breakfasts, of course the claim was backed up by physicians in the ‘network.’

That’s is how PR led content can change your life as a brand!

Hence the question from PR to Native Marketing – what’s so new and shiny about you bro, when you are not even for free?

Afterthoughts: Okay the PR professional will probably charge a fee but if he/she can get your startup story on the front page of Economic Times, it’s worth it, right?

What Really Killed Nokia!!!

It lost the positioning game!apple-vs-nokia

The unimaginable happened and Nokia (in)famously got sold to Microsoft for a paltry $7 Billion approx. (at one time Nokia was worth more than 7 times to this, and close to its sale Whatsapp was sold to Facebook for about 19 billion, with none the physical assets, brand name and intellectual property)

It has happened before, and it will happen again to famous names, seemingly impregnable brands.

But why it really happened?

Many reasons can be, and have been, cited as being the real reason, and to be frank, it may be the combination of all that but in my opinion the biggest culprit is the utter and complete positioning failure vis-à-vis Apple.

Nokia and its products were leading the segment and the industry. All was going well. Such a dominant position in the market, that it was almost a monopoly. Huge premiums were lapped up by the people. It had the positioning of anticipation, prestige, aspiration, rock-solid credibility, technology leadership in the minds of its customers.

Then it failed to protect it, in the wake of new kid on the block; Apple or should we saynokia symbian iPhone or perhaps touch enabled smartphones.

Nokia made the classic Xerox arrogance mistake. The mistake of believing that the power of its products is from the power of the company! In fact it is always opposite – the power of a company is derived from the power of positioning of its products in the minds of its audience.

Nokia products and by extension Nokia brand had a leadership positioning; it failed to protect it, it lost it…forever.

Yes Nokia did introduce competing and even better products later on but funny thing with positioning is that it has got nothing to do with you; it is always the perception of you in the minds of your customers. Once the perception changes to negative, it is almost impossible to win it back to what it was.

What Nokia could have done..

The P&G Trick

Multi-branding is what it possibly could have done. It should have taken a leaf out of P&G’s book. P&G plays the multi-branding game beautifully. Every time a competitor introduces a new product category, P&G introduces a new brand in the same category and since P&G brand name already enjoys leadership position, any brand associated with them is perceived as a leader in the category. Game is over before it even began.

Game, Set and Match to P&G!

It did it when washing powder were getting popular, P&G introduced Tide with positioning reinforcing marketing and we all know how Tide fared.

It again happened when a new category of Dishwasher detergent was introduced; P&G introduced Cascade and so on…

Nokia should have done the same, introduce a product under new brand name in the touchscreen smartphone category in the early days of iPhone and dovetail it nicely into already dominant Nokia brand positioning.

Not that Nokia did not have the technology; It had it 7 years before iPhone – Nuovo, formerly vice president and chief designer at Nokia, told the Wall Street Journal that Nokia had developed an iPhone-like device in 2002.

Now just imagine, Nokia at its peak popularity coming out with the new touch-screen phone with all the Nokia brand bells & whistles – sturdiness, battery backup, durability – along with the promise of same or close to iPhone experience. Which phone will you go for?

Case closed!