Category — communications
Brands like a few other things occupy a lot of my mind-space more so since I got more interested in marketing, social media and start-ups. How brands are built and how in most cases even otherwise(including financially) successful businesses fail to build any brand.The bigger the brand a start-up has, the better it gets for getting more business, better employees, better partners/tie-ups so on and so forth. Clearly creating a brand is a wonderful thing for a start-up, which brings us to the fundamental question.
Why a few start-ups are able to create brands and most others fail/take considerably long?
I’ve been in the startup zone i.e working on, for and around startups for more than 5 years now (Haven’t made my millions yet *sob* *sob*) and have closely seen dozens of start-ups coming and going down. In my opinion here are the few things that work for startups that are able to build brands out of themselves(not in any order)
- Nature of business
- Personality of co-founders
- Customer Service
- Social Media
Surprisingly I am unable to think of more things that determine whether a startup creates a brand for itself or not. Let’s take these one by one
- Nature of business: To drill down further what matters here is
A. Size of the market: The bigger your potential customer segment, the bigger possibility their is to create a brand. A video sharing platform like Youtube/Vimeo will be a bit easier to build brands on that a document sharing platform like Scribd/Slideshare. Almost everyone I interact with (even the field boys) know of Youtube and except for a few who run startups themselves, no one knows of Slidshare or Scribd.
B. B2B vs B2C/C2C: Though it can also come under the Point 1 (Market Size) but I feel this should be listed separately. B2C and C2c startups doing a decent job are more likely to be talked about than B2B startups doing about fine. A startup that sells insurance policies or gift items to corporates is less likely to be talked about as much as a startup that sells insurance and gift items directly to end users. Reason is obvious, the number of transactions, number of people touched, the viral aspect, the ease of referral and sale is higher in B2C or C2c.C. Nature of the product: Let’s say some products are more sexier than others. For ex: people would love to talk/share about buying a tablet/mobile more than buying a soap/washing powder or mosquito repellent. So if your start-up retails electronic items and people have a good experience with you, they’ll talk about it more than if your start-up sells detergents or sanitary napkins with an equally good experience. Also, because one might value or buy some products more (often) than others. People might buy more books/clothes than furniture in a given period. Thus more chances to talk about them.
D. In built virality: Some startups have virality in their core. For example some social media sites like Facebook,twitter or even messengers like gtalk/bbm will make more sense once you have your offline network there. Thus, by default you are more likely to invite your friends over to them than let’s say do an app that takes care of your daily expenses or helps you record voice notes.
E. Customer Experience:
God is in the detail
While it might come naturally to a few, most people won’t get it. A substantial component of creating brands lies in the attention to detail. The words on the new user registration email, the design of visiting card(mint picked Dialabook.in’s visiting card for a story), name of the company, the usability of your website/app, how well the search works, which products are promoted, intuitiveness in using the product (thanks to great design).
EVERYTHING MATTERS and THEY ALL ADD UP
- Positioning:“What your startup does and how is it different from others?”. The easier it is for people to figure that out, the better it is for them. What your startup does should be quite apparent.If you can’t explain what you do to your grandmom/parents, you *might* have a problem. How you are different from others off course is a criterion for an established industry. For example when the first few e-commerce websites were launched, differentiation was out of question but after a first few years your start up would be put to the differentiation test. “How is this different/better?”.Someone once told me(and I concur) “we do X better” mostly doesn’t cut it*You might have trouble explaining about your cloud based business or how your start-up is creating a genome database but that’s ok. In most cases it should not be that difficult to explain
- Personality of Founder/Co-Founders: Startups, their cultures and brands are a reflection of their founder/co-founders. Therefore whether a startup will be able to create a brand or not for itself is a function of the founders personalities. Just like someone who is more gregarious or glib talker will connect/network with more people than a loner their start-up will also be defined/limited by their own personal nature. Initially since it’s the founders reach that defines who all know about a startup, if a founder’s own network is small, very few people will know about it. Not only this, all of the following about founders have huge impact
A. How active they are on Social Media
B. How good can they express their product/service/ideas
C. How good can they present in an event
D. How good can they gel with new people (even if purely for the purpose of promoting their product)
E. How well can they leverage their existing connections or previous job(s) and friend of friends
- Customer Service
DO WHAT YOU DO SO WELL THAT THEY WILL WANT TO SEE IT AGAIN AND BRING THEIR FRIENDS. – Walt DisneyThough this is the most obvious point, I’ll reiterate. How you treat your customers will have a huge impact on your brand. Not only great customer service ensures that your customers stick with you for long, it also ensures that they talk about you to their friends and if you are good they’ll sell you to their friends for FREE. All of the following add up in your customer service ratings
A. Response/Turn around time of customer service calls/emails. The tone and content of your communication
B. Community: Having a community of users/consumers that get a kick out of using/dealing with you is extremely important. You’ll get a sense of this in initial months. Once you have this going, you need to make them your brand ambassadors by giving them more reasons or incentives to talk about you to their friends. I remember how when we were building kwippy.com we had a dozen odd super passionate users from across the Globe. Once we realized that we started involving them in our decisions about the product. Put them in an email list, gave them access to features in beta . We also sent an avid user in the US a hat which he could wear for a conference he was to attend
C. Picking up and the phone and trying to resolve critical issues instead of going back and forth on emails
E. Surprising them: Every once in a while, you should surprise your customers in whatever capacity you can think of and afford. People LOVE surprises and Love talking about them to others
- Social Media:Independently they might not mean much but together Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Blog, Flickr, Youtube, Quora, Foursquare, pinterest and Soundcloud can do interesting things to your startup’s brand. I vividly remember how we got our first big story on Mint thanks to twitter. You must remember that this is where people of today’s day and age spend their time. The distribution and usage patterns might change but people would still be spending their time here. Startups who are able to create brands, get this bit right.
- Passion:At core of every brand is Passion. Passion stems from believing in what you are doing and how useful/relevant it would be someone. I could have included this point in the founder’s part but wanted to give it it’s dues. If the founders are super passionate about their business and somehow get their team to feel the same way it starts showing up in totally unexpected ways. Everything from how your team thinks of customers, how they build processes, how much hours they spend trying to make customers lives better, how they innovate and more comes from the magic pill called Passion. Most successful startups with brands have a bunch of passionate people showing up everyday for years with same energy and this is what translates into brands
December 27, 2012 2 Comments
Customer Service would easily be one of the most oft used(and abused) words in Business. For some people, customer service means giving their customers the kind of experience they would like to get (as a customer) but for others(majority?) it’s a mere formality, a lip service that you have to offer just for the sake of it.
While customer service in itself is a big subject comprising numerous things including principles, processes and much more, there’s a particular thing that I feel is amiss especially when it comes to online businesses, i.e. Personal Touch.
Personal Touch in customer service for online businesses is according to me a great value add given the fact that unlike offline businesses the customers are not talking to a company rep face to face or they can’t talk at length(or decide to wait in the company’s office) till their issue gets resolved. In fact Customer Service, especially over email, which is the most prominent way of offering Customer Service/Support is by design(asynchronous) a customer-unfriendly method. Given the fact that instead of talking to someone in person or over phone you are literally talking to a computer and unless the guys at other end make some real effort to add some personal elements things are bound to not be smooth.Adding Personal Touch to any non-verbal communication not only helps build credibility/trust but also ensures smooth resolution of any issues that a customer might have.
Over the last few months I’ve run into(online) customer service reps of various services including E-commerce and Mobile operators and almost NONE of them have what one can say Personal Touch in their customer service. As expected, almost all of them just work on a few standard templates which their customer service reps copy and paste. What further intrigues me is the fact that contrary to being Personal some of these online businesses try to be the opposite i.e. being as impersonal as they can be.
is still acceptable, these ones
are completely unacceptable.
I completely fail to understand what is the ingenious thought behind hiding the identity of the person who is responding to these emails. Could it be the CEO/CTO/CFO himself?
Not only is the case of missing identity a big barrier in building any sort of rapport with the business it also complicates things as the customer never gets to know who was the person whom they last spoke to(over mail), who are they talking to now and how much do they already know about their issue.
It’s not Rocket Science that small things like how your customer service team addresses their customers (Dear Customer Vs Dear Mr Dhingra), the tone/format in which they talk or type emails(Pre-decided formats or customized replies), how they sign off their emails(Customer Service, XYZ.com or Shantanu, Post Sales Support, XYZ.com, Email:-, Ph:-) matter a lot. They especially matter a lot when you are an online business and even more so when you are just starting up. BTW Dell India is an exception in this regard(at least)
Isn’t it great to actually see the “Full Name”(unlike just the first name) of the person who just mailed you back?
Isn’t it re-assuring to know that you also have their professional email id, telephone number and even extension in their email signature?
Besides other things, businesses should realize that by adding “Personal Touch” in their customer service, not only can they solve customer vows more quickly and efficiently, they can expect to get more/repeat business from them.
So having said all that, does your Customer Service have enough Personal Touch?
March 31, 2010 No Comments
A couple days back the food giant Nestle(after being targeted by Greenpeace) stepped on the wrong side of Social Media by posting rude and insensitive status updates and comments on their Facebook page. As expected, updates like this
and comments like this
did not go down well with their existing fans and those who checked the page because of the brouhaha. Therefore, Nestle suddenly found itself in middle of another debacle courtesy inappropriate management of their Facebook page. The person handling their Facebook page obviously had no idea (nor does he/she have any now) of the blunder he/she committed.
Now that the mistakes have been made and realized, what next? I’ve read as much as ten posts by Indian and International bloggers/social media whatevers essentially either link blogging what others are saying or making the most obvious and superficial suggestions how the tone of the messages should not have been rude etc. Interestingly none of them offered a direction if not a solution of what can a brand do if it happens to run into a situation like this.
Possibly, it’s because none of those who wrote about the Nestle Crisis have ever managed a single Fan page by themselves.
Keeping that aside here’s a quick list of things that I would have done had I been in charge of the Fan page
( I have intentionally limited the scope of discussion to Facebook Fan Page and Off course I don’t expect everyone to agree with my method)
1) Admit you have made mistake(s):
One of the best ways to start your firefighting plan is by acknowledging your mistake and maybe promising that it won’t happen in future. A big brand admitting they did something wrong and apologizing gives everyone the signal that the brand is conscious of what it is doing and sets the expectation right. Also, most aggressive critics and fans turned critics an ego boost from this.
2) Remove offensive content:
Yes, remove the content that offended people. Irrespective of what others feel I am a strongly believer that you should remove offensive content to avoid it offending even more people. An offensive status message will keep getting more eyeballs with time and it’s best to take it out of the loop.
3) Change the Landing Tab:
This is what one gets if they go to the Nestle Facebook page
The deal here is that it shows you the same things irrespective of the fact whether you are a fan or not. This landing page could temporarily be changed to some other tab, say info.
Facebook Default Landing Tab settings.
4)Turn of “Auto expand” comments:
Slightly below the default landing tab drop down is another option that let’s you configure if the comments
on a status will be expanded by default(with top few comments listed) or will they just show up as *x comments*, only on clicking which one can see the comments. The idea here is to reduce the visibility of negative content so as to reduce others doing the same thing.
These are just a few things that can possibly be done to control the situation from flaring further and in case things go really out of hand temporarily stop fans from posting comments to your page all-together.
All the points mentioned above are just for firefighting a Nestle like crisis on Facebook and are obviously not the perfect solution. Some people for example might have issues with removing the offensive content or making it less/easily visible but then a temporary fix needs to be done to avoid things from spilling over. Also, once the basic firefighting is taken care of the brand must get back to doing the right things and work its way out of the Crisis.
March 21, 2010 2 Comments
It’s not uncommon for MNC’s like IBM , TCS to part sponsor a medium or large scale event in India related to bloggers, techies or social media guys but there’s a new trend in the offering. Off late companies(especially product ones) have started to reach out to their target audience(bloggers in most cases) by not just sponsoring a third party event but by organising events exclusively for their target audience. A couple of weeks back Nokia organized a bloggers meetup in Gurgaon’s Trident Hotel to reach out to bloggers and share more about their latest model N97.
On the same lines Lenovo organized a bloggers(tech?) meet yesterday at All Sports Bar,CP. The meet was aimed at spreading the word about newly launched line of products by Lenovo and giving the bloggers an opportunity to check out the newest models of laptops/all-in-one’s and learn more about them from the company folks directly.
“Engagement”, said Lenovo’s product manager is what sets small/niche meets like these apart from generic medium to large scale events and as an attendee I couldn’t agree more. With more than 6 people to attend to a dozen bloggers not only everyone got sufficient attention and information about the products, we all got a chance to explore the products, test them out and learn a thing or two otherwise.
It’s nice to see PR evolve to the Social Media circles in India and would be interesting to see how things go from here.
July 1, 2009 2 Comments
After being nominated and nicely received for Tata Nen’s Hottest Indian Startup Awards and being Featured in Economic Times, Kwippy has made it to India’s 25 Hot Web 2.0 Startups list compiled by Cyber Media group’s Dataquest magazine. Dataquest is a premier IT magazine and has been in circulation for many a years now. Many Thanks to them for including kwippy in their list
Preserving Status Quo:
This btw is one of the best descriptions that I’ve read about kwippy and hey there’s a mention of “Slideshare” there too. Also, this would be the first appearance of “yours socially” in print media
Three Cheers to Kwippy !!!
May 14, 2009 5 Comments
One early use of Twitter had El Fattah and a dozen or so of his collegues coordinating movements to surround a car in which their friend Malek was being held by the police, to prevent it and him from being towed away. Knowing they were being monitored, they then sent messages suggesting that many more of them were coming. The police sent reinforcements, surrounding and thus immobilizing the car themselves. This kept Malek in place until the press and the members of parliament arrived. The threat of bad publicity led to Malek’s release, an outcome that would have been hard to coordinate without Twitter – Here Comes Everybody, Clay Shirky
James Karl Buck, a graduate journalism student from the University of California-Berkeley was in Mahalla, Egypt, covering an anti-government protest when he and his translator, Mohammed Maree, were arrested. On his way to the police station, Buck took out his cell phone and sent a single word message, “Arrested”, to his friends and contacts using the micro-blogging site Twitter. This alerted them and helped secure his release(details not known)
Mortin Pain Reliever in an effort to pitch to mom who wear their babies released a print and video ad campaign.The campaign didn’t go down well with moms and they started fighting back on their blogs and Twitter. As the campaign picked momentum, the company officials realised their mistake and in order to pacify irrate customers, removed the ad from their website and apologised on their site.
A few weeks back amazon users realized that many books about gays, lesbians, bisexual and transsexual issues stopped appearing in relevant searches. Enraged users and authors swung into action and started posting updates on Twitter about this with adding a hashtag #amazonfail. It wasn’t long enough that Twitterverse was abuzz with #amazonfail, this led to a public communication by the company that this incident was inadvertant and soon things were fixed and back to normal.
Twitter is increasingly being used for activism of sorts. Be it customers protesting against a product/company, or citizens campaigning against their government officials/policies, Twitter is the platform of choice when it comes to raising your voice against an issue or coordinating a protest(online and offline both).
Social media activism has graduated from protests in blogosphere, groups in social networking sites to #hashmobs on Twitter. The reasons for Twitter’s success as a platform for activism are
1) Critical Mass: Twitter has gained enormous mass since last year and is now a force to reckon with. Millions of users from all parts of the world use it to stay connected with their friends and family. It’s not just people like you and me, there are some really big brands that have presence on Twitter.
2) Dense Connectivity: Twitter is one of the most densely connected networks of all. It won’t be wrong to say “On Twitter, everyone is connected to everyone”, which means getting the word out is a lot easier. Chances of people noticing something and sharing it with others is quite high. The ease of sharing content(RT ) is another reason for word to be spread easily.
3) Search: Awesome search functionality, made further useful by trending topics make the discoverability of memes a lot easier. With the latest changes, everyone can see the trending topics on their Twitter page. This without any effort discoverability is really helpful in getting more eyeballs.
4) High visibility outside the platform: What makes a protest on Twitter better from say one of Facebook is that Twitter updates are more shareable(via blog widgets, feeds) than Facebook messages. Also, thanks to dozens of really popular tools, Twitter updates are just not limited to the website, you can get updates on your desktop app, mobile phone and email.
5) Hooked Traditional Media: There’s enough traditional media presence on Twitter which is eager to pick the next big story. So anything of significance in Twitterverse is quite likely to be noticed by them and spread further.
It would be interesting to see how activism on Twitter evolves from this point on. I’d like to end this post by sharing a list of Twitter Activism related protests/campaigns.
1. James Karl Buck: Arrested
4. Using Twitter to coordinate war protest
5. G20 summit protestors used Twitter and Facebook
6. Protest against Section92A, New Zealand
7. Inside Maldova’s Twitter revolution
8. Coordinating Malek’s release
10. Domino’s Social Media Disaster
11. Twittering Forest Fires
12. Twitter Charity(Twestival) raises more than US $250,000
Lastly here’s a nicely writter guide by digiactive to get you started with Twitter Activism
May 5, 2009 2 Comments
People love connecting with others who share the same tastes, goals, beliefs, lifestyle, social status, locality and even dislikes. Essentially (most) people are on a lookout for new groups to join and satiate their innate desire of belonging, of being a part of something along with others for all sorts of reasons.
Brands are one of the many possible threads that connect people in many ways and it’s not limited to just those who like the same brand of alcohol or the same brand of cigarette but even to kids who like the same brand of candy.
Brands, because of the way they are intertwined in our daily lives offer tremendous ways(even unconsciously) for their customers to connect and luckily for them, people want to connect with the brands they love. They connect to find like minded people, to know more about the brand and their latest offerings, in hope of availing some offers/discounts or just to broadcast their choices to the world. Since the advent of social software , the grouping of people into communities/tribes has peaked a new high.
Ridiculously easy group-forming matters because the desire to be part of a group that shares, cooperates, or acts in concert is a basic human instinct that has always been constrained by transaction costs. Now that group-forming has gone from hard to ridiculously easy, we are seeing an explosion of experiments with new groups and new kinds of groups – Clay Shirky, author of “Here Comes Everybody”
What does all this mean for brands ? Yes, if you are a brand that people love/like and you’d like to take your relationship to the next level then you should also think of having your community.
Here are the top 5 reasons why your brand should have a community.
According to me, the most important thing a brand can get from a community is honest feedback. Be it a new product or a new ad campaign, it’s extremely important to know what your customers feel about what you are doing. Forget market research, a community gives you a direct channel to know more about your customers, what are they like and what they like. This can be immensely helpful in improving the existing products and services and building better ones. This group can also be used to beta test a new product/idea.
Community, means audience that likes your brand and wants to stay connected. A small but focused audience is a lot better than large but unfocused audience. The difference here is that this audience wants to know more about your brand/products/services as much(if not more) as you want to tell them. This means the conversion rates for any campaign here would be higher than that of a campaign aimed at a randomly chosen lot.
3) Brand Image:
Everyone loves a social brand, a brand that’s closely connected with it’s customers scores better over one that isn’t. Having a community around a brand will better the brand image in general and lend more trust and loyalty to it . If a brand is spending resources to build and foster a community it shows that it cares. Cares for its customers and is willing to give them back some love.
Will you feel nice if you get a birthday greeting from your favorite brand ?
Will you feel nice if you get a discount offer on the latest product from your favorite brand ?
Will you feel nice if you get a sneak preview about the upcoming range of products from your favorite brand ?
If the answer to any of the above is yes, you are highly likely to talk to your friends(online and offline) about it and that’s how buzz starts to build and spread. The way communities work naturally supports word of mouth. In a group even small things aren’t small. Also, there are other factors associated with a brand’s community that add more credibility and virality to the buzz ,which in turn helps it to spread faster and wider.
5) Crisis Aversion/Management:
Think about it, would things have been a bit better had dominos already been on Twitter or Youtube ? I am sure things would be been better(even though slightly). By having an account on any of these services would have helped them in connecting with a small fraction of their customers who spend considerable time online and if there online interactions with the brand had been good, they would have definitely(on their own) taken on the task of dozing the fire and maybe prevented it from snowballing and this is just a small community on a third party tool.
I am by no means suggesting that every brand should have a community, these points are just to share why I feel it’s important for brands to have communities. What do you think ?
Pic Courtesy: http://www.ccfa.org/
April 24, 2009 11 Comments
Twitterverse is again abuzz with news about another Pizza maker but luckily this time it’s not for some negative news. The brand in question here is PizzaHut and the news is that PizzaHut has posted for an opening on their site for a Twintern(wondering how they came up with that word).
As per the requirements posted by the company, the Twintern would be closely working with PR team and would be responsible for maintaining and growing their social media presence, monitoring social media tools and doing PR outreach for the company. While most people(read Twitterers) are visibly excited about this piece of news there’s more to it than “Oh, somebody’s getting paid for Tweeting and Facebooking, that’s uber cool”.
David Teicher raises some valid concerns while trying to figure out the motive behind this move. This move clearly has to be motivated by the recent Domino’s Debacle but is reacting in this way a wise thing to do ? Few things that immediately come to one’s mind
1) What’s the strategy behind this move ?
Social Media is not just about tools. Jumping straight to a tool without having a clearly formulated strategy is a big NO.
2) Is it really right putting a college student on the drivers seat ?
Making him/her their official SM spokesperson and giving him/her unparalleled access to marketing strategies doesn’t quite sound right.
3) Who will supervise the intern’s work ?
There needs to be someone senior who has to take care of the intern’s work profile and how is he/she handling it. Given the niche nature(at least in PizzaHut) of the job I am not sure if there will be any approriate senior(with social media expertise) to supervise his/her work.
From the looks of it, this seems more like an experimental move, probably driven from the PR department to leverage the situation and get some traction in social media circles. As expected, there has been a rise in the mention of “PizzaHut” in Twitter since the news came out.
Whatever the case maybe, this move will boost confidence of others who were contemplating jumping on the social media bandwagon and also give a tiny ray of hope for those millions of Twitterers, that they too can one day get paid of posting updates on their favorite service.
April 21, 2009 3 Comments
It’s been a few days since that appalling video of Domino’s employees tampering with food at their outlet got attention of social media users and started spreading in a viral manner. A crisis like this can easily get worse if things are not handled correctly and in a timely manner but luckily(mostly) for Domino’s that’s not the case. Despite the huge wave of disgust that the video generated, it feels like things are under control now and the negative buzz which was generated will subside in the next few days.
1) Initiate action against the culprits:
The folks at Domino’s were quick to realize that “actions speak louder than words” and thus their first step was to initiate an inquiry into the matter and punish the guilty. Not only were the employee involved terminated from their jobs, they are now in custody and face felony charges.
2) Stop the negative content from spreading:
Stopping new people to talk about negative content and trying to control the spread of negative content should be next on the agenda. Domino’s got this right(though it took some time) and got the video off YouTube.
3) Participate in social media conversations:
Domino’s guys were decently quick to realize that they were getting a lot of bad PR in Twitter and thus they jumped into the scene by creating an account on Wednesday afternoon and started engaging with disgusted people. This works well for various reasons including pumping out positive things which otherwise don’t spread that virally as the negative one’s.
There is nothing more important or sacred to us than our customer’s trust
While the firefighting efforts had started on Twitter, Domino’s guys opened another front on YouTube by posting a nicely drafted public apology by Patrick Doyle, President of Domino’s U.S.A. The apology helped in re-affirming brands commitment towards it’s customer’s trust. Patrick also mentioned the steps they plan to take to avoid future happening of any untoward incident like this( sanitizing stores, tighter recruitment process, daily audits etc)
While Domino’s did open communication channels on a few Social Media Tools they didn’t announce anything on their official web resources and didn’t do a press release as they feared this will lead more people to know about this debacle and invite more embarrassment for the brand said Tim McIntyre, Dominos spokesman. So domino’s websites remain the way they were, as if nothing happened. While I see the point, I would have still preferred an official “what we are doing about the incident” channel.
Update: Domino’s site has an official update for their customers
While these efforts will definitely help in dozing the fire, it will still take a lot of continued effort on Domino’s part to keep the fire from spreading.
For example: It will take them a while to realize that while they have removed the video from YouTube, goodasyou still has that video and a few even gross one’s and some explaining for this(assuming it’s not fake)
and ensuring that people don’t start talking about other things which can further take down their brand value
The next few days would be interesting, let’s see how the situation stands then.
April 16, 2009 No Comments