Is your social media presence working for your brand?

social media pic 1

Gone are the days when spends on digital and social media were a miniscule percentage of overall marketing spends and managing them was relegated to young interns who already had a presence on social platforms. While most companies have woken up to the power of the medium, there is also more than a little apprehension as questions abound about utility and returns on this medium.

This post is a summary of learnings from various sources; my experience handling various digital media agencies – overseeing email, search, digital and social media marketing, from observing various types of social media campaigns and their impact, and from studying the latest behavioural research on this topic. Read on…

Don’t buy fans and followers; favour organic growth:

While planning a social media campaign, one of the first suggestions on the table is likely to be a contest with products being handed out for free in order to lure new followers or create a buzz.

The argument for chasing fans and followers during the early days of social media was that the consumers engaged via social media were more likely to buy and recommend the brand. Now, studies have shown that the mere act of endorsing a brand does not affect a consumer’s behaviour or lead to increased purchasing, nor does it spur purchasing by the consumers’ friends.  As marketers experienced this, the argument for chasing fans and followers moved from getting these fans to buy your products to using these followers to spread information on the brand.

But such luring tactics often attract the wrong people who are not strongly attached to the brand. This leads to low engagement with content which defeats the whole purpose of acquiring these fans to spread information. Letting fans and followers grow organically, you are likely to attract those with a positive predisposition towards your brand. And on this foundation, meaningful campaigns can be built going forward.

Have channel specific campaigns and strategy:

For brands, it’s become a norm to be present on multiple social networks. The content is created with focus on one social media network, usually Facebook, and then cross posted (same content across networks) or cross promoted (content modified slightly for other networks). At times, content is cross-linked between social media, e.g., driving people from Twitter to a Facebook campaign. While the reason expressed for this is that the audience on various networks is different and one is maximizing reach, the underlying reason is most often economies.  You save effort, you save time, and ultimately you save money.

Everyone knows that there are big differences between different social networks – predominant content format, posting structure, audience profile and how a user interacts with them. If the differences are so fundamental and so wide, how can one strategy work effectively across?

The big folly is that we put all digital and social as one arm of an integrated media campaign. The result? Marketers and brand managers think of campaigns across digital and social as one campaign rather than thinking about integrated digital campaigns with each network on one arm. It is crucial to pick the right network for a brand rather than jumping on to the next social media bandwagon. Select social networks that fit brand message, type of content, and target audience. Then ensure that the strategy for each channel is in line with the consumer behaviour and interaction that the channel dictates.

Go beyond content marketing, pre-roll ads; collaborate:

Of late, you see a plethora of brands releasing 2-7 minute long videos on YouTube. While most of them in India are released on festive occasions or events, and are about family relationships, it’s not uncommon to see brands talking about issues like self-consciousness, gender stereotypes, sexuality, empowerment etc. Call it storytelling, branded content marketing, brand purpose videos, every agency and marketer wants to create that next “viral video” that wins awards!

The reality is that Consumers often see through these tactics and recognise the intention behind the content that the brands churn out. Very few brands have generated meaningful consumer interest in such “amazingly awesome”, “heart wrenching” videos. Then, in desperation, comes the artificial trending and pre-roll pushing of these videos which are routinely ignored and skipped.  Brands need to go beyond this ‘advertising on digital media’ mentality and take advantage of the many possibilities that digital and social media offer today.

For instance, consider youtube. YouTube has a simple Venn diagram indicating the sweet spot for developing a video content strategy. Since it is tough for a brand to “Create” all the content that fits this sweet spot, they suggest considering the options to “Collaborate” and “Curate”. HBR talks about the rise of crowd culture where today you’ll find a flourishing crowd around almost any topic. Cooking, parenting, health, fashion, films, arts, skin care… you name it and chances are you’ll find entertainers you’ve never heard of, some with  millions of followers. That’s where the leverage of collaboration comes in – content that fits the brand message and target audience can be produced and promoted in partnership with the creator’s channel.

Listen to everything; Measure appropriately:

Social Media Command Center

Geoff Livingston / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0

Of late, companies have started creating social “command centers” – rooms with wall-to-wall computer screens and projections, tracking campaigns and brand chatter in real-time across social networks 24×7. These are used to a) create relevant content speedily around a campaign or event, b) receive and respond to consumer feedback and c) identify and mitigate potential PR crises (of late this is becoming the #1 reason for establishing such centers).

While such centres turn big data into beautiful data, more often than not, they fail to deliver on expectations. Those who look at such data closely, berate the inadequacy in data gathering, integration and analysis tools. And those in senior management don’t relate to, and state as meaningless, graphs of retweets, likes, mentions and sentiments. Core to both of these issues, is that the business case (outcome) of social listening is not clearly defined and the investment is justified by activity.

If the primary role of social media is managing consumer feedback, the meaningful measures should be related to traditional consumer feedback mechanisms like call centres (number of calls reduced, speed in resolution etc.). If it is for listening to consumer talk, then measures should be related to traditional research programs (insights generated, product feedback received etc.). These are tricky to measure, but despite the innate difficulties involved, such measurement and attribution is important and possible.

Though social media has been around for more than a decade now, it’s still relatively new and brands are still figuring out a way to navigate and leverage this medium to create impact. In the next post, we’ll delve into an approach to measure the impact and returns on this medium.

    • Ravindra Ramavath
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November 20, 2017 at 11:00 am Leave a comment

Never Say “Never Again”

[Note: This post first appeared here, in Fundamatics, an e-zine.]

After a tepid release of ‘Diamonds are Forever’ in 1971, Sean Connery is reported to have vowed that he would ‘never again’ play ‘that’ role. Yet, in 1983, there he was again, suave and swashbuckling as ever, Agent 007 in the rather cheekily named ‘Never Say Never Again’. Although Sean (may I call him Sean?) took more than a decade to realize the error of his ways, I learned this precept right at the start of my entrepreneurial journey.

A decade ago, when I was just a tiny cog in the wheels of a large consulting firm, I swore off consulting forever and decided to start a ‘real’ business, manufacturing and selling products.

I had no clue about the nature of products that I wanted to sell or how to set up a firm, but I was quite clear about the type of organisation that I was going to create – looking back, this was a clue to where I would eventually end up. I wrote a short charter describing the values, work culture, and environment of the organisation that I would build. Among other things, the charter mentioned a fun-filled pursuit of excellence, a reverence for data and detail, an acceptance of diversity and differences of opinion, a desire to be respected for expertise, and a best-in-class product offering.

As I cast around for the sector that I wished to be a part of and hedged my bets by attending a few job interviews, a colleague connected me to a healthcare start-up. On meeting the founders, I found their knowledge immense, enthusiasm infectious and long-term vision motivating. However, I knew that start-ups in the healthcare domain went through a long research phase and took years to break even. Meanwhile, discussions with a large corporate player in the tech space seemed to be fructifying towards a job which would provide a stable income. I recall feeling bewildered and anxious at the time, and thinking through the pros and cons of every aspect of each opportunity. Though it brought me no closer to a decision between the two, I think it helped clarify what I really wanted.

Luckily, sometimes life lets you off easy, as happened in my case. A middle path opened between adventure and stability – a large MNC that had acquired some wellness brands sought a consultant with prior experience in both consumer goods and healthcare to assist their marketing team. I gave myself a year to experiment, and signed up as an independent consultant with both firms – the large one and the healthcare start-up. Thus began my entrepreneurial journey; not with a daring leap into the unknown but with a few tentative steps towards it.

At both the organisations I had the good fortune to work with people who were experts in their domain, secure enough to generously share their knowledge and to give me the space to contribute to the best of my ability (thanks Shailaja, Nafisa, and Nikhil). Life got a bit hectic at times, with work at the large firm taking up the weekdays and the start-up occupying bits and bobs of free time on Sundays and national holidays. Yet, the satisfaction of contributing towards the growth of multiple brands made it a very fulfilling year.

Unlike U2, I realised then that I had indeed found what I was looking for, a combination of three factors that had made my work enjoyable that year. Two of these were the diversity of categories that I was working on and the satisfaction of having added value to clients’ businesses in each of these. The third was the focus on consumers in every aspect of my work – whether growth strategy, market sizing, go-to-market plans, communication, or implementation. I gave up my prior oath to swear off consulting forever, admitted to myself that consulting was the destination after all, and gave the experiment a more formal shape and structure. Never say never again!

ev logo jpeg

Escape Velocity was formed in Q2 FY ’09, a Market Strategy and Marketing Consulting firm that would help firms and brands grow.  The first few months of the firm would be well described by the song “With a little help from my friends”. Friends helped with brainstorming on a name for the firm, finding office space, and finding the first few recruits who took the risk of joining a start-up. Poornima Burte at Design-Orb did a superb job of translating my thoughts into a logo, the objective of ‘accelerating growth’ for clients beautifully expressed in our ‘growth spiral’ logo.

During the initial years, we survived by staying lean – sharing office space and admin resources with another start-up, and limiting our team size to a small group of multi-talented individuals. Our office was tucked away in a quaint nook of this concrete jungle called Mumbai, an old wadi in Prabhadevi that time and development forgot. The neighbourhood consisted of an old bungalow with vines growing on the roof, a chawl, a few apartment blocks, and trees scattered all around. During tough and stressful times, going to office continued to be something to look forward to every morning. When struggling to crack a knotty problem, few things could be more refreshing than looking out and seeing a purple-rumped sunbird perched at a flower on one of the trees, or watching a coppersmith barbet peck-peck-pecking away at another.

The warmth and cheer of colleagues always made me feel optimistic about our long-term prospects. Their willingness to participate in free-form discussions about work ensured I always had food for thought, and kept me learning new ways to look at and tackle problems.

I believed then – and still do – that most issues related to the growth of a brand or B2C business require a mix of quantitative analysis and qualitative understanding, informed by a practitioner’s perspective in order to develop an impactful solution. The importance of maintaining a balance between the qualitative and quantitative approach applies as much to seemingly number-based topics such as growth strategy or market sizing, as it does to topics such as branding, communication strategy or marketing plans.

Unfortunately, until they find boutique firms such as ours, clients often get creative ideas from agencies that may be tangential to brand strategy, or recommendations based on purely quantitative analysis from larger consulting firms. Rarely do they find an integrated approach that analyses both qualitative and quantitative data from a variety of sources to synthesize a custom solution for their brand or business. Rarer still is to have practitioners with industry experience on the team, ensuring that the recommendations are vetted for actionability. The projects that we have successfully completed for firms that are market leaders in domains as diverse as consumer goods, health and wellness, services, chemicals etc., as well as for reputed private equity firms, are testimony to the efficacy of this approach.

From the outset, we were clear that we defined our offering as ‘informed’ or ‘evidence based’ Market Strategy and Marketing; one of our basic tenets was that all our recommendations would be driven by a deep understanding of data from all available sources. Now, as the domain of market strategy and marketing enters a period of prolonged churn and perhaps redefinition, we believe that this twin focus on data – both big data and rich data – and practitioner experience will enable us to serve clients well and help deliver success to their businesses and brands.

I recently reviewed the charter for the organisation that I wrote in 2008. I expected to cringe at a document that hadn’t aged well. However, as I read it, I was filled with immense pride as I realised that not only was it still readable, I could also identify all the principles in the document as values that we at Escape Velocity still adhere to.  Over time, of course, these principles have evolved as we understand our work better, but they have given us a strong internal mooring and a cultural foundation that should last us through the next phase of our adventures.

  • Zenobia Driver

October 31, 2017 at 11:50 am Leave a comment

Customer Experience: NEXA

 

The Background

In my previous post, I shared a few examples from my personal life that illustrate how customer experience has become critical to our purchase decisions and how brands are using this as a tool for customer acquisition, retention, loyalty and advocacy.

The examples I described covered multiple aspects of Customer Experience – interaction with different representatives of the brand, customer orientation and service. In addition to these aspects in the last post, customer experience also includes the shopping environment.

It’s a similar understanding of all these elements that led to the birth of Nexa by Maruti Suzuki

The Nexa Experience

Maruti Suzuki has always been associated with offering value for money, fuel-efficient cars. This leading car brand in India has had strong offerings in the entry-level vehicles segment and has effectively targeted first-time buyers. However, despite repeated attempts, the brand was unable to make a mark in the mid and top segment of the car market.

maruti800.png

With the introduction of Nexa in mid-2015, the brand intended to attract a different set of aspirational buyers – third-generation car buyers who are well informed and well travelled – by offering a premium customer experience in all aspects, one that went far beyond offering a superior car and looked at car buying in a holistic manner. The Nexa experience was designed as a premium retail network offering a unique car buying and ownership experience, built on pillars of innovation, technology and pampering. Apart from offering a more premium product, it focused on a premium buying experience in an exclusive environment while focusing on hospitality, and building a strong relationship with consumers for the entire duration of the ownership of their car.

Product, they took care of – the first car to be launched was the S-Cross, which was well styled, on-trend and loaded with features which one wouldn’t expect in a traditional Maruti. This was followed by the launch of Baleno, Ciaz & Ignis – all of which have advanced technology, superior features, and top-end styling and feel.

Environment was a key focus area – while traditional Marutis were sold in plain jane, no–frill showrooms, the Nexa showrooms were designed to give an exclusive feel – black and white interiors, luxury lounges, infotainment systems, professional spotlights, the works! They were not benchmarked against car dealerships, but instead to luxury stores, 5-star hotels, aviation and banking experiences. For example, they drew upon the idea of relationship managers (RMs) typically found in banks and made their salespersons RMs who would build a relationship over the course of the ownership of the vehicle. They also started associating with fashion shows and music concerts to project the brand in a younger, more premium light.

Nexa

The Result

Results have been promising.

Maruti was able to attract new consumers to its brand – over 50% of consumers who come to Nexa showrooms are car owners who have never owned a Maruti Suzuki vehicle before and for whom Maruti wasn’t even in the consideration set due to its mass image. About 51% of consumers who come into a Nexa showroom end up buying a car from there. Today, Nexa has built a strong 3,00,000 customer base.

Maruti has moved from a 46% market share in FY15 to 51% in FY17. Nexa contributes ~25% in value terms and 15% in volume terms to the total sales of the company, and has been able to achieve this three years ahead of schedule.

To extend the Nexa experience further, Maruti has recently rolled out Nexa Service – premium workshops designed especially to cater to customers opting for products from the Nexa brand, equipped with high level of automation, premium lounges, online appointment facilities, status updates, etc.

My Experience

Having read so much about it, I decided to visit a Nexa showroom in order to see whether all the hype was true.

The experience was impressive, to say the least. The showroom had a very sophisticated, premium feel – elegant, monochromatic interiors, dedicated waiting areas and enclosed spaces for customer interactions, and the space had an intuitive flow. There was remarkable use of technology throughout the space – the waiting lounge had flat screens with information about not only their own cars but also about competitor brands, tablets were used to walk us through the features of the car on the shop floor. It was a paper-free environment, where all information was captured and shared digitally – KYC forms, details of the car I looked at, specific customizations that I had requested and price quotes. Also impressive were the salespersons who were sharply dressed and well spoken; during the entire interaction it was remarkable to see how well versed they were with the product features and the ease with which they used technology to showcase them.

After this experience, the brand image is no longer fuddy-duddy; instead it is young, current and on-point. I would definitely be excited to consider the brand next time I am looking to buy a car.

Several brands, like Maruti, have understood the power of customer experience and are committing themselves to enhancing this in their own ways. Can you think of any examples of brands that have taken big strides towards customer experience? Do share your thoughts.

    • Roshni Jhaveri

 

October 24, 2017 at 7:12 am Leave a comment

Are emailers effective? A review of communication tactics, Part 2

As mentioned in my last post, with an aim to analyse the marketing emailers that I’ve received, I let promotional emails accumulate in my Gmail folders for over three months – from June to August this year. Presented in this post is an analysis of these emailers, an experiment I’m glad to share with the readers of this blog.

Background Notes:

I almost never notice ‘marketing / promotion / lead generation’ emails sent to me. That’s because Gmail, my primary email client for personal emails, detects and filters unwanted emails with an alarming accuracy level – less than 0.1% of email in the average Gmail inbox is spam. And the occasional, unsolicited ones that I do spot in my inbox are duly marked ‘spam’ which ensures that I don’t see more such in future.

As I downloaded the emails accumulated in my spam folder, I noticed that more than 90% of those emails were for Banking and Financial services (BFSI) products. It was a significant volume of emails from one sector, so I removed the small number of emails from other sectors and am just presenting the findings from the 469 emails from the BFSI sector.

Hence, a caveat, this is a biased analysis. The analysis is only of BFSI product emails sent to me specifically, based on how I have been profiled by a) email marketing service providers / databases (ESP), and b) BFSI products/brands that I purchased or interacted with; as well as c) a few ‘opt-out’ choices I made over the course of these 3 months from some of the email databases.

Deliverability insights:

Did you notice that I mentioned that these emails were pulled out from the spam folder? A probable reason for emails from these senders being classified spam is their domain / IP reputation, not to mention the ‘quality’ of their email lists.

The graph below shows the top email sending domains and the number of brands they’ve sent emails for.  For instance, I received 65 emails, on behalf of 15 different brands, from one of these senders, mailpost.in. These domains are pretty much in the business of ‘bulk’ mailing – repeatedly sending emails to the same consumer for various brands.

1 DomainsSendingEmails

Would a brand really want to be associated with such bulk senders?  As marketers, before picking or approving an ESP, some hard questions need to be asked. How was their database built? How good is their segmentation? What data protection systems and processes do they have? What is their spam rate? How do they measure deliverability? What tools do they use for email authentication? What is the domain and IP reputation? Digging deep into these even before an email is designed ensures tremendous campaign success later.

Time based insights:

As I opened these emails to glance at the contents, the quantum of such email kept increasing and this trend continued even after I stopped opening them and unsubscribed to some of these databases. From about 2.6 emails every day in June, they went up 3x to 8.2 emails per day by August. The one thing that ESPs are clearly good at is tracking open rates and ensuring their future mailing tactics maximise chances of meeting their objectives.

2 EmailsByMonth

The next variable I looked at was day of the week. BFSI brands prefer weekdays, with a slight peak in emails sent on Thursdays and Fridays, and a clear drop on Sundays. 

3 EmailsByWeekday

At an hourly level, the trend is clear too; email receiving peaks between 11AM to 1PM. I got 40% of all emails in that slot and this trend was fairly consistent across weekdays and across months. These trends are in-line with some send time learning on email marketing.

4 EmailsByHour

Product category insights:

Among the various sub-segments that comprise BFSI, Life insurance has the maximum share of voice (SOV) on mass media (TV, print and radio). It’s followed by Mutual Funds and Retail banking (thanks to all the new banking licenses), and I expected the same aggressiveness and SOV in digital/email marketing as well. But, more than a third of emails I received were for Credit cards followed by those for Personal loans. The former are being pushed aggressively by traditional banks while the later were being pushed by NBFCs.5 EmailsByProduct

Banks still send 44% of all emails.  But what is really interesting is that if you remove credit cards, both NBFCs and online aggregators/dotcoms are giving tough competition to traditional banks. Online aggregators have started to go beyond regular insurance products and are sending out a fair mix of emails on other financial products.

6 EmailsBySenderType

Messaging insights:

In terms of the actual emails themselves, to see how many different ‘creatives’ are being sent, I analysed the subject lines. I began by assuming that the email content / message is the same if a subject line is the same; many a time the email content was the same even with a changed subject line,  I ignored this scenario.  I noticed that both the quantum of duplicate emails as well as their proportion kept increasing as months went by. While this is a telling commentary on how an email marketing companies’ business model works; what is of greater concern is that brand marketers are opting to re-send the same set of creatives for months together.

7 DuplicateEmailsOverMonth

As mentioned in my earlier blog post, the email subject line has a critical role to play in email marketing. It has to provoke and interest a person enough to make him open and read the email body. And because email open rates are abysmally low, the subject line has an additional burden of delivering the brands’ benefit. The word cloud shown below visualises the words used in the subject lines in these 469 emails that I received over the 3 month period, with the brand and product category names removed. The more prominent the word, the more frequently it is used in the subject line.

8 WordCloudAllBFSI-redone-banks removed-horizontal

Once the brand name and product category is established, brands seem to be mostly communicating promotions – free, no fee, save, cash back, complementary, vouchers / tickets, offer etc. Very few talk about  other important benefits that drive brand image, such as a) service levels – expert, stress free etc., b) process – instant, e-approved, cashless etc., and c) network – large, convenience, etc. The basic selling of almost all products on discounts and rewards is quite telling, it probably indicates one of these – heavy competition in this space, current stage of category evolution and/or undifferentiated benefits.

Coming to the content of the emails, what I received was an overdose of image-based emails. Most email clients suppress images by default;   this not only leads to wrong measurement of ‘open rates’ but also a bad user experience as a consumer doesn’t seeing anything immediately  on opening an email. The other problem with image-based emails is that they leave little scope for personalization basis name or even basis segmentation and profiling of consumers.

Then there is content that seems to follows a standard template, what I call ‘the bullet point’ approach’. These mailers typically have 4-5 undifferentiated features listed, stone-cold, without a mention of the overarching final payoff in terms of what it gives the consumer (functional benefit) or how it makes them feel (emotional benefit). The functional benefit, even if attempted, is just a description of what the service does (e.g. quick financial assistance for all your needs), it does not ladder it up higher to how it improves the customer’s life (So what ? How does this matter to me? How will it make my life better?).

9 EmailContent

In many cases, the heading is another feature or a call to action and neither it nor the image add any value to the subject of the email. The reason why someone opened an email is because they are interested in knowing more about what is promised in the ‘subject’ line. When an email message doesn’t deliver or explain what the subject line promises, the click-through rates plummet.

10 EmailContent-MultipleCTA

Then there were some mailers that made the unpardonable mistake of having multiple call-to-action (CTA) or worse still not having a CTA. While the image itself is clickable, how is the consumer to know what action is required from him / her to get to what is being promised?

11 EmailContent-CTA-Missing

The typical CRM emails wishing customers on various occasions (festival, celebration etc.) fall into this category too. It’s critical to balance value and frequency and avoid over-sending emails.

Analysing the emails from the past few months, I get a sense that marketing teams often completely outsource email marketing to generalist agencies and ESPs, spending very little time and effort  monitoring and reviewing email marketing  strategy and campaigns.  This essentially means most email marketing programs fail to deliver on their objectives, or even if they do, they deliver them sub-optimally. Email marketing is by no means easy and it has many moving parts that the brand has to get right – strategy, technology, creative (design, copywriting) to robust analytics.  Here’s hoping to see a few email campaigns in the near future that are pathbreaking.

  • Ravindra Ramavath

September 18, 2017 at 11:20 am Leave a comment

Are emailers effective ? – A review of communication tactics

I am a regular follower of marketing charts (note: slow to load) and every so often I notice a chart  which  shows that marketers still consider email to be a valuable marketing tool.  For instance, various polls among marketers showed that a) they considered email marketing to be the most effective and least difficult vehicle for lead generation, b) email marketing provided the best ROI of any digital channel, c) 89% have decided to either increase or keep the same spends on email marketing. And if millennials are the segment that you’re targeting, this Adobe survey showed that email is one of the best ways to reach millennials.

On paper, email is still one of the most cost-effective ways to reach consumers, both in terms of total cost as well as cost per contact. Ever wondered what actually happens to all such awareness/promotion/lead generation emails being sent out? How many are noticed by the recipients in the inbox of their email account? More importantly, what proportion of recipients open and read them? What impact do they have on the reputation of the company / brand? What metrics should be used to measure effectiveness?  As a marketer concerned with the effectiveness and ROI of any communication tactic or channel, these are the nature of questions that I’m always trying to answer.

Fin-serv - part 1 - image

As I see it, there are fundamentally 3 critical aspects to getting a lead generation email marketing campaign right: a) ensuring the email lands in the target’s inbox, at the right time, b) Ensuring the email is actually opened and c) ensuring the relevant message is delivered and call to action achieved. A strong understanding of technology, analytics and creative is required to deliver all three. A lack of understanding of any of these aspects results in inefficient spends and belies the claim of cost-effectiveness. The onus of closely monitoring and reviewing the execution of email marketing campaigns lies with marketers as not all digital marketing agencies and email service providers (ESPs) possess the right mix of people with technical, analytical and creative understanding.

The following sections explore each of the three points mentioned above in more detail.

Landing in the inbox, at the right time:

This is one of the most critical aspects to understand, but one that marketers often pay little attention to. The marketing departments at many companies depend on a generalist digital agency that in turn goes to the cheapest database provider and ESP – often a single entity – for generating leads.  Using such providers, buying or renting databases from them is pretty much the worst thing a brand can do.

Firstly, email addresses in such databases are probably obtained by dubious means. Secondly, the authenticity, profiling and segmenting of such databases tends to be of extremely poor quality. To make things worse, these databases are likely to have been milked dry for other brands. All these lead to a low IP reputation of these ESPs, making it easy to identify emails coming from them as spam. Plus, all it takes to train the machine learning spam filters are a few disgruntled recipients who mark the emails as spam. Spam filters work really, really well (99.9% accurate) leading to poor delivery of emails into inboxes.

Once this ‘deliverability’ problem is taken care of, it’s time to move on to the ‘when to deliver’ problem. Send the email on the wrong day and it is likely to remain unopened, or, once opened, be ineffective as the call to action has been rendered meaningless. Send the email at the wrong time and it is likely to be ignored.

To sum up, finding the right email agency is crucial. Email marketing is moving away from being a piecemeal activity to one that is cross-functionally integrated into marketing, sales and customer service. In such a scenario, two critical points – to have a specialised email agency on board which has the right ethics, technology, strategic thinking, analytics and creative capability, and for the marketer to periodically oversee and review the activity.

Ensuring emails are opened:

In our regular work, we’ve seen varying email open rates for some email campaigns on opt-in email lists generated by the brand. Open rates have been as low as 2% in the case of those sent out by a consumer goods firm, to 8% for an apparel e-commerce firm, and as high as 16% for an aspirational youth apparel brand. One reason for such huge variance and underperformance – at as basic a level as ‘open’ – of email campaigns is the time problem described in the earlier section. But a lot of it is due to a messaging problem too, as described in the next section.

The email subject line has a critical role to play in email marketing. It has to grab attention, provoke, interest and encourage further opening and reading of the email body. And because such email open rates are abysmally low, the subject lines have to lead to and sometimes even deliver the brands’ benefit. In short, between the ‘from’ and the ‘subject’ the intended recipient should get a crystal clear idea about the brand and the benefit. No wonder good email marketers are most interested in optimizing their subject lines for higher open rates.

Messaging and Action:

This brings us to the next piece on content of the email – the creatives.  I see this as one problematic area where there is a vast scope for improvement.

Some of the best innovations are happening in this space in terms of email interactivity. While some like embedding gifs are plain rookie, others like collapsible menus and shopping carts are really interesting. It’s time to use some of these innovations to improve campaign objective metrics.

Yet most awareness/promotion/lead generation emails that I’ve noticed over the past three months consisted entirely of images with little text. Going forward, a majority of emails are going to be opened on mobiles. Many such image-only emails are going to be resized by the mobile email apps making them difficult to read. If emails aren’t being optimised for or made responsive to mobile, chances are they aren’t getting the desired results.

Another huge problem is the email content itself. Senders are increasingly getting into ‘create once and send multiple times’ mode.  The same set of email creatives are sent multiple times with a different baiting subject line. While such tactics might help optimise ‘open rates’, they cause a deterioration in all other call-to-action parameters. Ensuring that the content is relevant and consistent with the brand, and that the subject line of the email matches what is actually in the content body is critical. And this is where regular tracking and reviewing all the other critical email marketing metrics – click-through rate, conversion rate, list grow rate, sharing rate etc., – is critical.

In order to have shareable data to illustrate the points mentioned, I decided to use the promotional mails that I received as examples. For the same, I let promotional emails accumulate in my Gmail folders for over 3 months with an aim to analyse and learn from them. Now that this post has established some fundamental principles, my next post will present a detailed analysis of those emails.

 

  • Ravindra Ramavath

 

September 14, 2017 at 8:35 am Leave a comment

Customer Experience is Everything

customer satisfaction

A few experiences in just the last few months got me thinking about how much the quality of interaction with the brand influences our purchase decisions.

Customer Experience is the collective impression of multiple interactions that a customer has with the brand over the entire lifecycle of owning their product/ using their service. Delivering quality customer experience has become a (basic) expectation for its customers and if unmet can have dire consequences for the brand.

Here are a few examples that pan across industries and across different touch points in an ownership cycle where I, personally, have chosen brands and products only because they offered a superior customer experience.

My first example is at the inquiry phase, one of the initial touch points one experiences in a purchase process and this is when the brand leaves its first impression on a customer.

I was looking for a replacement for my current Skoda – a sedan that I have been using for the last 7 years. There have been several launches in the last couple of years which have changed the landscape on the roads – mid-sized SUVs and crossover versions have become quite popular – and I was quite excited at the thought of changing to those from my sedan. But the experience with several of these brands left me longing for more and I have now been in the market for over 10 months.

Take the case of Hyundai Creta – I first requested a test-drive through their website and after no communication from them for over a month, I decided to go to the showroom myself and take a look. At the showroom, the first question I was asked by the saleswoman was about when I would take the final decision to buy the car. You ask me when? I ask you, first show me the car!!! She points at the car and says “This Creta. Sit.”, then goes on to read out the features in acronyms “…body made with UHSS, also has ABS with EBD, ESC, offers VHM and HAS…”. When I asked what ESC was – I was given a blank stare and the acronym list continued. When I interrupted again to ask about the parking assist – rear and front parking sensors, cameras, etc. – because that’s important to me, I was, albeit politely, asked to “wait till I finish reading the features”. In the same breath I was told that I would have to wait for 3 weeks to test drive the car! That was it! You can’t ask me to wait anymore – I waited a month to hear back from you, I waited for you to finish reading out your script, now you expect me to wait for 3 weeks just to test drive it and then wait another 6 months to get the car! No way!

Take the case of Nissan Terrano, a vastly improved initial response time, but then …. Again, I requested a test drive through the website, but this time heard back from multiple dealers. One dealer told me that he had a test drive car but could not come to my home or office to show it to me due to registration issues. After 3 months, they called back to set up an appointment for a test drive. The sales person who came to show me the car did not know anything about the car!!! He drove a long way to show me the car and did not even know how to turn off the car when there was no ‘P’ (for Parking) in the automatic gearbox configuration. Another dealer, who got in touch with me, scheduled a test drive – came an hour late but got the wrong car! The wrong car, really?!?!

I am still waiting to hear back from Renault – it has now been 9 months since I last requested a test drive through the website and the company contact number.

I have now reached a point where I am willing to just replace my old Skoda with a new Skoda – I don’t want a new drive and brand experience if I have to deal with all this! And if purchase experience is so bad, I cannot begin to imagine the horrors when it comes to servicing and repairing the car.

And so, I went back to my trusted Skoda – put in a request for a test drive through their website, heard back from them immediately and within 5 minutes from the closest dealer and in another 10 minutes from the dealer’s sales representative who scheduled the test drive for the same evening. He came on time, with the right car and configuration, with all the information, knew exactly what features to talk to me about and answered all my questions. Now is that too much to expect? I think not. Even before I test-drove the car, half the battle was won for them, and within 5 minutes of sitting in the car the decision was made.

Established brands in high involvement categories (as in this case) often get this wrong. Automobile industry experts say that high attrition of sales personnel is a big problem for passenger car dealers, and only a few brands invest heavily on training the sales and service personnel. Furthermore, few brands insist that dealers invest in a certain number and variety of test drive cars, or track dealer functions and customer experiences regularly and have checks and balances in place to course correct.

While this was a high involvement and high value purchase, the same expectations hold for other lower involvement/ value purchases too.

We’ve all heard and read about how Eureka Forbes was able to build a new household water purifier category and a major driver in achieving so is its investment in building a highly trained sales team. And today, over 30 years since launch, it has a strong sales team of 8000+ “euro-champs” who continue to deliver the brand’s promise. As I’ve seen from my experience, their investment in customer support and service continues to pay off for the brand.

I had been a loyal Aquaguard user for years and when it came time to change homes, basis the recommendation of a health-conscious friend, I opted for a Kent water purifier because it had better features and superior technology. But soon realized that it was a mistake – up until the purchase of the machine things were fine but when it came to installation, the struggle started and then repairing and part replacements were needed within the first 3 months itself – these were parts which weren’t covered in the warranty, and service advisors were going to visit only after 3 days. What was I expected to do for 3 days!! In a household of 8, which had no drinking water for 3 days, I had to invest in a water dispenser. So when it came time to choose a water purifier for the my husband’s new office – we went back to the trusted Aquaguard – where they now come to service and repair, regularly, promptly and on time.

So it’s not just the sales staff that needs to have its A-game, it needs to be supported well with the service end of the purchase as well. When the entire journey of the interaction is a satisfying experience for the customer, is when a brand is truly successful in delivering an exemplary customer experience.

My neighbor, a 60-year old homemaker, a loyal Big Basketeer, has only praises for the brand especially due to her experience with the customer service team – they let her return sub-par produce, they send her a better replacement for free, they give her discounts even without her opting for it during check-out and they expedite her order delivery on just a simple request over a phone call. She has definitely converted several of her neighbors into Big Basketeers, including myself.

Just based on my experiences, Skoda and Aquaguard were able to retain their customer despite having a standard [but quality] offering and Big Basket was able to convert its customer into a champion for its brand and get the best kind of advertising it could ask for – Word of Mouth.

And these are just a few of the reasons why customer experience is so critical for brands. Brands spend top dollar on customer retention and advocacy and these brands have been able to achieve so through investing in their customer experience.

  • Roshni Jhaveri

August 10, 2017 at 5:50 am 1 comment

Jio – 7 months after

jiolaunchA lot of data has passed through the Jio network since we wrote the last post on Jio in September ’16. More than 100 crore GB of data which by their own yield estimate of Rs.50/GB, is Rs. 5,000 crore of revenue lost for someone!  In a little less than a day, the data freebie on Jio ends and it will become a paid service. In a few days after that, we’ll know what this massive freebie translated into, in terms of new customers and their value.

I’ve been using Jio for the last 5 months, first as a secondary mobile connection primarily for data (my guess is that most people who are still are using it, are doing the same) and now as my primary and only mobile connection.  Hence, I’m mentioning below my opinion about a few things that I think have worked for Jio, and a few that have not, both from an end-user’s perspective and a marketers’.

First, what worked :

  • Freebie and Prime strategy: The freebie strategy worked, and how ! Jio crossed the 50 million subscriber mark in 83 days, something its competitors in India took more than 12 years to touch. Then, in another 87 days they hit the 100 million subscriber mark. When competitors tried hard to match the initial tariffs / plans that Jio announced, Jio overwrote them with new Prime membership plans. Pricing annual Prime membership at a rock-bottom Rs. 99 ensured that they enrolled 50 million subscribers within a month and before the current go-live date of 1st April for paid services. So, on launch day, it might well have the highest number of mobile broadband users in India (Airtel, India’s largest telecom operator had between 41-60 million 3G+4G customers in 2016 according to various News reports). The Prime plan with low data tariffs has also ensured that they have a good chance of locking in customers for another year, experiencing and testing their network while Jio irons out issues.
  • Unique customers / minimum duplications: Using the MyJio app and generating a unique barcode per device they’ve ensured – to a large extent – that there is only one Jio connection per phone / IMEI number. The unique barcode per phone and Aadhar based eKYC means Jio has very accurate knowledge about who their live customer is. This enables them to actually track ARPU (per user) rather than ARPU (per SIM) which is what the industry is compelled to track now. Remember, India has more than 12 billion telecom subscribers (November 2016) which is about 1.2 SIMS per phones in circulation (~760 million phones in circulation). Millions of disconnections happen when the regulator comes up with new rules for subscriber verification or when operators decide to clean up their Virtual Location Registers (a database of all the SIM cards being serviced on their network). By Jio’s own estimates the active SIMs will reduce by 330 million to 800 million with no voice arbitrage within a short time.
  • LYF smartphones: In 2016, Reliance Retail launched their own brand of smartphones called LYF. Prices of these phones started from a very competitive Rs 3,999 and were probably aimed at pushing 4G phones into India (“fuelled the 4G ecosystem” in Jio’s own words). By Q3-CY 16, they started bundling free Jio SIMs and apps on these phones giving them a good base of customers who stress tested their network and service infrastructure. In that quarter, LYF smartphone share crossed 7% by volume and became the #5 brand of smartphone in India. More importantly, competition caught up, now all smartphones shipped in India are LTE enabled with 7 out of 10 being 4G enabled. That’s some good groundwork and substantial base for Jio’s 4G network.
  • JioMoney tie-up with the Uber: In February, Uber and Jio announced a strategic partnership enabling payment of Uber trips using Jio’s mobile wallet JioMoney. Till then, Paytm was the only wallet option on Uber India and for Paytm, Uber was one of its biggest merchants, if not the biggest. While Jio gives out numbers of its mobile subscribers, it doesn’t give out details of adoption of their apps – which seems to be a small proportion of their user base (Google Play store indicates between 10-50 million installs of the Jio app while it’s greater than 50 million installs for Paytm). Uber gives Jio users a strong reason to migrate to using the Jiomoney app which will play a critical role for growth of Jio’s other media services apps – currently Jio is giving out free content worth over Rs. 10,000 per year to each Prime user.

What hasn’t worked and needs improvement:

  • Jio4gvoice app: This was a master stroke and a necessary evil for acquiring more customers – there are already 124 million LTE devices, not all of them VoLTE capable – but one that has the maximum potential to alienate them too. Jio4gvoice is essentially a voice calling app that enables non-VoLTE (4G-LTE) devices to be used for making calls on the Jio network. When I checked the Google play store last, there were more than 50 million installs of this app (almost a proxy of how many non-VoLTE devices are being used on their network). On these phones, this app has to be always connected to their data network, to make and receive calls and SMSes and this drains the battery quickly. Added to this, every new update brings a fresh set of bugs with it. And because it is the only way to make a call on Jio with non-VoLTE phones, any bugs in this app are the first to be noticed and the most frustrating aspect of Jio.
  • Network and Speeds: Jio might have the ‘capacity to carry 100% of India’s voice traffic’ or claim to have the ‘lowest call drop in Industry’ and offer the ‘BEST experience’. But, my experience has been quite contrary to these claims. On the move, the network has disconnection and connection issues leading to frequent call drops and inability to call back quickly. In locations like airports, they have serious network issues. JioNet could have helped in such high traffic areas, but it hasn’t been rolled out adequately and has since dropped from prime plans. As far as being the world’s largest data network goes, rarely have I obtained speeds above 1 Mbps.
  • Call connection issues: It’s common knowledge now that Jio faced issues connecting calls to users of other networks as they didn’t get sufficient points of interconnect’s (PoIs) from other telecom operators. Though the busy hour call failure rate has dropped from the highs of 88% when they launched in September, it still hovers between 8-12% (Jio publishes data on their website on a daily basis). It is really frustrating that even after 6 months, a fair bit of this issue remains. Once Jio becomes a paid service, if this issue persists, it is going to cause more agony to customers.
  • Customer service: I’ve already mentioned in my last post that the experience with Jio at customer touchpoints hasn’t been satisfactory. My aggravation with this increased last month. I had to make multiple visits to their store as well as make multiple calls to their call center to get clarity on some issues. Every time I was given a different answer, and many a times an incorrect one. Then there are other basic processes which don’t work – for example, DND activation via their app doesn’t work.
  • Finally the Marketing:
    • Relentless communication to existing user base: Either their CRM back-end has not been integrated to the payment back-end, or it is not synced frequently enough, or their marketers, data analysts and programmers are being plain lazy. Whatever the reason, existing users – even those who have enrolled into plans – have been bombarded with 100s of messages and push notifications (many of them incomplete) asking them to enrol into one of the various plans. People might ignore them as long as they are getting stuff for free, once they start paying, it’s a different expectation altogether.
    • Advertising: They had a pug, a zoo-zoo and a catchy jingle / catchphrase as benchmarks to beat. What do they come up with? Flying balloons – lots of them! No wonder it made it to the bad set of the annual list of the best and the bekaar ads.

While it has got a number of things right, a couple of the above are real deal breakers. No network or frequent network disconnections and low speeds are going to turn off people even if they’ve subscribed into dirt-cheap prime plans. And it’s a matter of time before competition cuts their prices to a reasonable level and offers superior services.

Will voice services become a non-differentiator? Will data explosion start and / or continue with commencement of paid services of Jio? Will Jio be able to meet its grand 2021 vision of capturing more than 50% of the 3 lakh crore data market it is projecting ? A close watch on how these tactics by the incumbents and Jio play out through the rest of the year will give us a fair guesstimate.

Update (a day after this post ) :

Just as you thought the freebies won’t end, they’ve extended enrolment for prime till April 15th. This is probably because they could only enrol 72 million so far.

Then the free service goes on till July 1st. While they say this is to enable Jio customers to fully familiarise Jio customers with their services and enable digital payments for further purchases, I think the problem is somewhere else. 1 lakh towers will be added to the 1 lakh towers already existing in the coming months. There are “small pockets of congestion” on the network impacting service quality.

  • Ravindra Ramavath

March 31, 2017 at 6:38 am Leave a comment

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