Posted in Marketing & Strategy Articles, Total Reads: 2453
, Published on 30 January 2012
A recent study by Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and IMRB revealed that India is all set to have 121 million internet users by December 2011. Not a startling prediction by any means considering the rising standard of living in India, but it can be quite startling for marketing departments of companies if they don’t exploit this medium to build a brand image in the minds of consumers.
Today the number of brands competing for our attention has increased manifold. Also the ways in which people perceive a brand and experience moments of truth with the brand (read: brand touchpoints) have undergone a tremendous shift as compared to the past. Traditionally, marketers used to develop brand perceptions by conveying messages over broadcast mediums like TV, radio and print. But today with advancement in Internet technology and Social Media, the brand experience runs deeper, is far more complex and more fragile. This has resulted in brand perception taking a backseat as marketers are more focussed on developing positive brand experiences for the consumers.
Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google has famously quoted “Every two days now we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003". This has been validated by the endless stream of information reaching the consumers via the internet. Just a decade ago marketers had a high control over information about their brands reaching the consumers and hence they had a fair amount of control on the brand image they wanted to create in the minds of the consumers. Today internet coupled with social media has broken this information barrier thereby jeopardising the extent of control marketers have in creating a favourable brand image in the minds of the consumers.
Future too, will present the same problem to marketers: the amount of information available to the consumers is expected to increase exponentially. And this will include negative and harmful information about the brand as well which will create an image dissonance in the minds of consumers. Thus it is imperative that marketers take cognizance of this fact and invest time and energy in online branding as well. They will have to develop strategies so that the right message reaches the consumers and the message is not distorted by noise (read: negativity).
So for starters how do marketers go about online branding? The answer lies in knowing consumer’s online habits. What are consumers referring to while searching information about the brand? Are they depending on social media sites like Twitter, Facebook or some other online sites? After having a clear understanding of this digital behaviour the next step would be enriching these channels with the information the marketer wants to project about the brand. This might per say include a Facebook Fan Page about the brand or it can include an online community about the brand where like minded people take pride in discussing about the brand. Or a tie up with Google or any other search engine so that contextual advertisements about the brand can be included when a consumer is searching for information about a generic product.
Social media and branding have some very important things in common: starting conversations and building effective relationships. So just having a page on Facebook or any other social media site is not enough. Marketers must look for ways to engage consumers on these social media sites by starting conversations, making regular posts, creating events/ contests that create a buzz about the product and replying directly to consumer’s queries on the page.
Also internet not just presents a platform to create awareness and build relationships among people it also serves as a touchpoint medium where consumers can make a purchase. So if a tweet or a Facebook status update leads people to search for in depth information about the brand, provision should be made to link the information search process to the actual buying process or atleast direct the consumers to have a connect with the company customer care department, where they can ask for more information. Technical aspects of making an online purchase smooth will help in developing a positive brand image in consumer’s minds.
Technology has made it possible for people to communicate easily with the brands and vice versa. Today consumers are at the core of brand’s success. Thus marketers should focus on the next big thing – Online Crowdsourcing. Earlier crowdsourcing used to refer to people who used to give a best idea and creative execution for the brand. Now with internet and social media having a wide penetration crowdsourcing is pretty much easy to achieve. Now- a-days online communities for brands consist of consumers who form an almost-symbiotic relationship with the brand in virtually all that the brand does. Now here brands can poll these members about the next big idea they want to launch and thereby gauging consumer response in real time.
Thus brand can test market a concept and modify it or even abort it, if the concept is not perceived positively by the brand crowd. Also once new products are created companies will look forward to their brand crowd to spread the word and also make them act as brand evangelists. Also brand loyalty among them can be increased by distributing test samples to brand crowd before the product hits the market and by providing them invites to exclusive in store and out store events. Infact brands can influence people to prepare the next advertising campaign for them in exchange for certain rewards like a fully sponsored abroad trip!
Doritos "Crash the Super Bowl" campaign is one prominent example of a online crowdsourcing. Doritos fans created their own advertisements for the chance to win a trip to the game, $25,000 cash, and the fame of creating a Super Bowl advertisement. In 2011, four consumer-created ads for Doritos and Pepsi Max ranked among the top ten in the USA TODAY Ad Meter.
The next thing in online brand management is knowing what consumers are talking about the brand and taking appropriate action. Everyday millions of consumers converse in online communities, discussion boards, online blogs and social media websites like Facebook, Twitter etc. They share their views and experiences about the brand, which can be positive or negative. Also many people refer to the user opinions and experiences before they make a purchase. These experiences posted by the consumers are their moments of truth with the brand; and a negative experience can create a spiralling effect that can tarnish the image of the brand. Hence it is necessary to take these online user comments as a feedback and improve the brand quality. For this brand presence across all social media accounts is a must. Also inorder to track these user opinions, solutions can be as simple as deploying a Google Alert about the brand activity on the web and as complex as deploying special software like BuzzMetrics (developed by a joint venture between The Nielsen Company and McKinsey).
Also certain response actions can be planned out for the negative user comments. Like if a user has quoted some wrong facts about the brand, the company can step in and clear the air by reposting the right facts. A negative experience from the user may actually cause the company to tweak its marketing mix. While in certain cases where person is just degrading the brand or posting a harmful joke or rant about the brand, necessary legal action can be also be taken!
The major aspect of online brand management is having a dedicated company website about the brand, where the information about the brand is controlled by the company itself. Also the website should have a detailed history about the evolution of the brand through different periods of time, indulge users in certain trivia about the brand and look to increase touchpoints with the consumer. Also integration with social media websites should be made. Certain contests and rewards can be planned on a timely basis to keep the consumers interested with latest news and developments.
Last but not the least, online brand management should project a consistent image with the one generated by traditional channels of marketing. Amid all the clutter and changes happening in the online space, the brand image which the marketer wishes to create should not be affected by external environment. After all restaurant chains like McDonald’s are successful because people know what to expect from the brand whether they be in US or in India!! It may that the other local burger maker produces far superior burgers than McDonald’s but it is the consistency which consumers associate with the brand McDonald’s that will drive them to the McDonald’s store.
It takes several years to build a brand; to develop a differentiating factor among the competitors and concentrated marketing efforts by the company to promote the brand. Online brand management will definitely go a long way as one of the key attention areas in marketing the brand.
This article has been authored by Karan Sood from SIMSREE, Mumbai