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Brands should involve, not hunt consumers: AAAI Symposium

MUMBAI: "Instead of hunting consumers with advertising like a shark, it would be better if brands involved consumers through communication. The consumer should be involved with the message. Share time with consumers by taking them inside your corporate culture rather than taking time away from them."

These were some of the words of advice that author Stefan Engeseth who has written the book, One, had for attendees at the AAAI Symposium this morning.

 

Engeseth works with Fortune 500 companies to explore ways in which they can engage customers in a more effective manner. He noted that earlier brands interacted with many consumers at one time through mass media like television. Then computers allowed for a one to one interaction like direct marketing. The next step, according to him, is for brands to be one with the consumer. This means taking them inside the brand’s corporate culture.

 

 

“The consumer train is moving at the speed of light. Brands must have a feel of where consumers want to go instead of just listening to the sound of the approaching train. This is why some brands have started using real people in their communication. Brands need to be street smart. This means going on the street and listening to what consumers have to say,” said Engeseth.

 

He gave the example of Diesel Jeans going on the street and asking students what they wear and why. Coca Cola, according to him, does a good job of using its consumer channels. He mentioned that Levis should look at making an open source brand. In this way, customers would have a hand in creating the product tailored to their needs rather than simply taking goods packaged in a box. For the campaign, What’s Up, in the US, the company used the help of fans in storyboards to create a powerful campaign. He also said that brands would do well to take the advice of creative people working in agencies as to how the products can be improved.

According to him it is important that companies be open and receptive to what consumers have to say. He gave the example of a man who named his son Google. The search firm invited him into their family and even gave him a tour of the office. “A company with a closed mindset would on the other hand have ridiculed him. I would even suggest that companies have a consumer fan who is passionate about their products on their board. That way they will know how to improve. Linux is a company that is thriving because it takes ideas from computer fans. Maintaining a fan connect is important as you constantly get ideas about what you need to do. Lamborghini, for example, went from making tractors to making sports cars because of this. Its profits grew as a result. If consumers feel that they are bombarded with ads then it is time for brands to evolve in terms of how they market themselves,” he said.

He gave an example of a computer firm that gave away free computers in Brazil. This is advertising. If the product is good, positive word of mouth will happen. According to him, if Microsoft does not open itself up more to what customers have to say then it may not survive in the future. After all, when Napster came, the music industry at first did not pay attention to how music fans wanted to consume music. They paid a price for this. He noted that the internet has given consumers a powerful voice through blogs. If one does a search on Microsoft using Google then one will come across a lot of anti Microsoft pictures and postings.

Apple, according to him, is another firm that is not too receptive on ideas coming from outside. He apparently sent letters to Steve Jobs and other Apple employees on creative ideas. He also mentioned the need for brand differentiation and for companies to look at the next big step. For instance, consumers keep complaining that computers speed is slow. This is something software firms should look at in terms of innovation. Nokia has the phrase staying connected. According to him, the firm should look at giving a free phone to a man for his wife. That way they can always stay connected and this is not rocket science but sheer common sense.

He adds that in this day and age, a brand must deliver what it promises. If it doesn’t, then customers have avenues like the Internet to express their grievances. Sify COO George Zaaccharius, also reiterated this point. He said that it is important for brand marketers to keep track of blogs otherwise the blogs will contradict the advertisers message. He spoke on the role of brands in a technology driven environment. He laid stress on the digital age where books, medical records, credit card information will all be taken online. Distribution channels are increasing like broadband. This poses a challenge and an opportunity for marketers. Search according to him is one of the most powerful and cost effective marketing tools. Consumers can touch the brand before experiencing it.

There is a lot of interactivity. For instance, on Amazon.com one can read reviews of products like cameras. “In the television scenario, the advertiser does not know what is going through the viewers mind or even if he/she is interested in that product. In search consumers have specific intentions. That is why sponsored links on Google, Yahoo and other portals are growing in popularity. There are also maps being done with technologies like Ajax. For instance, in San Francisco, one can check out the restaurants in particular locality using the map of the city. One can click on a particular restaurant to find out its offerings. Each time one clicks on say, Calzone, the owners of Calzone pay Google. This is a good alternative to advertising in classified pages.”

He also mentioned broadband is allowing ads to be viewed on the Internet According to him, last month Sify had two million downloads of different video clips last month whether it is television channels, music videos, trailers. Therefore, advertisers should look to leverage the power of the online medium. Also, the fact is that search tools are gaining more intelligence. For instance, the ads that pop up with person 'A' does a search is different from what appears when person 'B' does one.

In the final morning session, Dr Geeta Athreya, spoke about social communication. Basically it works towards creating awareness on social issues like what Unicef is doing for polio. The aim is to put pressure on the people in charge of systems to improve them. She noted that Unicef took TV spots using Amitabh Bachchan to spread the message of polio eradication. The brand recall in Madhya Pradesh and Bengal was high at 70 per cent both aided and unaided. It also used cricketers like Zaheer Khan to help ‘Bowl Out’ polio. Unicef also uses hoardings to spread the message. It also uses community outreach initiatives like using children to bring in younger siblings of their friends to get polio drops.

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