Building a brand’s buzz through conversations

Baat karne se baat banti hai !

In today’s connected world, conversations are the key for a brand’s buzz . Its no longer sufficient for brands to just advertise, and inform about their awesome products and services. They need to do way more. Brands today need  a better way to engage with their end customers. To build a better connect – one conversation at a time.

Interestingly, a lot has changed about the very nature of these brand-centric conversations. With growing digital channel adoption, consumer discussions are now getting captured on blogs/forums/review portals and easy to track. Add to this the exponential growth in social media and internet-on-mobile (more people share within the first 5 mins of their experience) .

While most conversations are still happening in a way where its difficult to track or measure them, brands now do understand the critical aspect of tracking/managing these conversations.

As marketers we need to ask ourselves these 6 questions about brand-related conversations –

conversationsLife cycle of a Conversation

Conversations have a natural life – their impact decays over time.  Once a conversation is started, it might grow (if it catches the customer fancy) or as in many cases, die immediately after birth. Even the ones, which spread and create a lot of buzz, finally start seeing a decay- when fewer customers want to join in or spread the word.

Hence, brands need to

  • Start new conversations every now and then
  • Find fresh themes/content/ads are needed which keep the consumers engaged
  • Evaluate the relevance of a message in its immediate context
  • Identify what resonates with the target audience , thereby leading to longer life cycle of the message

Whats been said in the conversations

This parameter, though important, suffers from the fact that we are not able to track most of the conversations – the ones that happen in real world.

Consumers tend to write and talk more about their negative experiences about a brand, rather that the moments when the brand came close to wowing them. Its probable that slightly positive experiences do not motivate the customers to overcome the hurdle of writing/sharing. E.g. a friend of mine had a great experience at the Carnation Service Center in Noida. Though I have heard him refer to that incident twice, I guess he was not motivated enough to go online and talk about it.

Now that the data-bias is known, if we focus only on digital conversations, brands today have a whole suite of listening products available, which tell them about the location/communities/products that are creating the buzz.  Many brands also spend a lot of effort in seeding these conversations- they might call them viral campaigns, paid-bloggers or social media enthusiasts – these efforts help the brand build more dialogues around their chosen positioning.

How many are talking about it

The brand’s buzz should help increase reach apart from the recall-value. A good indicator is to measure how many people are talking about the brand.

Please note that this parameter needs to be seen in two ways

  • How many individual conversations are happening – do more people trigger/initiate a conversation? An engaged customer is more likely to trigger a conversation. So higher the number of concurrent new conversations, deeper is the engagement. Its also a function of what kind of catalyst the brand provides. We have seen how Apple Launches get covered/re-covered in every media, how Amul keeps coming up with interesting takes on current affairs, to spark new conversations.
  • How many participants are there, for each conversation – is it popular, going viral ? We are past the time of – “Forward this to 20 people to get xxxxxxx” kind of gimmicks. In today’s world, a message needs to resonate with the individual, for it to be shared further.

But as we identified above, most consumers do not end up talking about the brand. Call it inertia or lack-of-incentives, most brands are unable to get their happy customers to become a brand-ambassador.

Who is talking

Who initiated the conversation, was it the brand, or the paid-blogger or was it a genuine customer?

Even if it was a genuine customer, is this customer a fan-boy/girl, is she been with the brand for a long time? Does she hold a significant equity in her community about the industry that the brand represents.E.g. I have noticed that celebrity endorsements work really well in sports, but would it be as powerful if Sachin Tendulkar tells us that he prefers a Rolex over a Tissot.

Who is listening

This one is slightly tricky. Many would question the need to have this, once we have already identified who is talking. But if we add the “platform” or the “conversation-setting” angle to this, we get a clear context of what impact a certain conversation would have on its audience.

A negative review on the Official Facebook page with 100K fans, means that it has the potential to fireball, simply if many more raise their hands saying they too had a similar issue. And most brands have teams/solutions to manage this.

On the other hand, a person referring to a brand in her stream is probably not even noticed by the brand’s service/social-media teams. But it has been found that negative or positive reviews shared with friends are decision-changers. McKinsey reports have claimed that across all the stages of a customer’s decision cycle, referrals play the most significant role. If thats really the case, brands should focus on getting happy customers to talk about them to their individual friends.

Looking at both the speaker and the listener, we could have the following scenarios :

  1. Brand talking about itself – ads
  2. Customer talking about a brand – Testimonials/Celebrity endorsements/Reviews/Ratings
  3. “Real” Customer talking from her own experience – Customer’s Social Updates

I would assume that while brands have Pt 1 covered amazingly well, and Pt 2 reasonably ok, most of them still are struggling with Pt 3. And this is the real opportunity that we have in the world of Facebook and Twitter.

What does it lead to

At the very minimal, a conversation helps re-inforce the brand and at the extreme maybe cause an impulse switch. A smart marketer would build/manage conversations which lead to some increased commitment by the customers, and hopefully a commitment that they wear proudly.

Customer Complaints and Social Media

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social platforms have provided an immense tool in the hands of the consumers. Suddenly the lone voice of the consumer, can get magnified if it resonates with a significant number of people – some from her own network, some who discover her woes and views through the sheer virality of the platform or the content.

While many brands have seen a lot of success with Facebook fan registrations, and started using it as a smart way to advertise. Many others have had a mixed response so far.

But for most brands, their biggest fear with social media, is the reputation loss due to consumer complaints. A research by A.T. Kearney’s on social media found that between 5% and 20% of all complaints to many organisations are made through social media. Not a channel to be ignored, if you want to keep your customers happy.

And its interesting how they have chosen to address this risksocialmedia-customer-service

They Just Ignore or Deny it

It has been documented through multiple surveys that more than 70% of consumer complaints on Facebook pages of brands are ignored. Add to this many more who just delete the customer queries or complaints. (7 out of 20 retailers did this in the Stella service sponsored exercise).

They respond one-on-one to the customer

Many companies and their customer-care teams, believe that the complaint related discussion and the resolution should be one-on-one either on phone or email. This allows the service team, sufficient elbow room to understand the issue, without getting distracted with the background noise, which may or may not be related to the specific query. Sound logic there.

But don’t forget to showcase the final resolution on the same platform. Why? because according to an American Express study , companies that resolve customer complaints via social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook see 21% more sales than companies that handle complaints on the telephone or in written form. Do see the attached infographic for more details.

They resolve it on the Platform itself

Many a brands have embraced Facebook/Twitter boldly and have started responding to customer queries directly on the platform. It is obvious, that this requires higher levels of empowerment for the individual staff members, a robust training on what messages to use (canned or otherwise) and access to customer/prospect data to swiftly resolve the query.

The successful ones have tried to follow these 3 simple rules:

  1. Don’t waste time in responding (less likely that the issue would snowball)
  2. Don’t shift blames (customers are mostly seeking a resolution and see all teams as the same brand)
  3. Don’t be defensive
Some leave it for the specialists

There are a few rapidly growing firms and agencies who have added social-media-customer-complaints-resolution as a key offering in their portfolio.