Let’s Talk! ~ The Xperiential Marketing Mantra

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With the death of distance and the rapidly multiplying opportunities and avenues for communication, companies are trying to come to terms with a novel phenomenon- the ever increasing power of consumer generated content. Marketers are realizing that the new age consumer is extremely intelligent, exceptionally well connected, substantially well informed, and unscrupulously spoiled for choice. To repeat the old marketing cliché, if ever the customer was king, it is today!  This renewed and increasingly dominant status of the masses has largely to do with the internet culture and connectivity. John Hagel and Arthur Armstrong had remarked this pretty early on in their book “Net Gains”: “The notion of barter and fair exchange has been an important element of the culture and etiquette of the early internet.”  “Virtual communities” they had observed, “not only gather potential purchasers together, but they also arm them with far more information than they have typically been able to access conveniently and cost effectively in the past. Moving away from this traditional information asymmetry is likely to create reverse markets in which power shifts to the customer. These reverse markets highlight two other defining characteristics of virtual communities- integration of content and communication and emphasis on member generated content.” This was and still is a feature that characterizes much of consumer dominated online activity. Communities like Amazon.com and Ebay.com have harnessed the full potential of online consumer involvement and knowledge sharing. With the growing usage of internet and the enhancement of communication infrastructure, such activity has become all the more critical from the point of view of organizations in the emergent markets like our’s.  According to a recent research report released by the IAMAI titled, “E-ntertainment, Eyes and Ears tuning to the Internet”, India’s current internet population stands at 25 million and is estimated to grow fourfold to 100 million by 2007. Of the current internet users, 94% lie within the 18-45 year age group and 28% use the internet for shopping. Clearly, the majority of buyers are net navigators.  Online forums and communities have ensured that the consumer’s voice is heard loud and clear and marketers have realized that consumers can no longer be treated like passive listeners. Lectures are passé, it’s time for dialogue. Customer camaraderie is shaking the foundations of many an old guard. Consumer forums and now blogs have altered the connotation of “feedback”- that symbolic pile ticked matchboxes that hitherto lay in the hinterland of corporate consciousness. Consumers are leveraging the new media to rave, rant and express their opinion on pretty much everything. 

Websites like Mouthshout.com, Epinion.com and Consumer-voice.org have taken consumer empowerment to the next level. Mouthshut.com, for instance, houses reviews of about 75,000 products from across categories. For the uninitiated, the next time you think of buying a car, type “Swift + Mouthshut review” in Google and you will know exactly what we mean. Hundreds of authentic reviews from customers who have been there and done that and have no vested interest in sharing their opinions with you!

 Added to this is the fact that other readers have the power to rate individual reviews. Faisal Farooqui, CEO, Mouthshut.com calls this phenomenon “The wisdom of the masses”. He remarks, “The boundaries between the publisher and the public are dissolving. The new journalist or reviewer is the passionate consumer who has invested his money and had a personal experience with a product or service.” Companies are realizing that they need to gear up really fast to meet with the challenges that this development will throw upon them. Like it or not, they have to deal with it. One way of doing this would be to confront the consumers. But doing this would in effect tantamount to digging one’s own grave! The second and more feasible option then is to engage in the culture of dialogue. Dina Mehta, renowned consultant on Corporate Blogging, shares her sapience. “The socio-cultural environment of a huge chunk of the urban consumers is becoming increasingly well connected and transparent. Companies are confronting a huge cultural risk. The need of the hour is to reorient their thinking from communication management and think in the direction of risk management.” And that is precisely what some forward thinking corporations are doing. Muthshut.com, for instance, has come up with a one of its kind solution for anxious companies desirous of addressing the grievances of existing consumers and influencing the opinion of prospective ones. The website will now have exclusive corporate blogs whereby companies will get a fair chance to interact with the consumer community and present their case on a platform where they are sure of being heard.  Farooqui makes a fairly interesting point. He says that consumer activism and the reorientation of corporate communication is reflective of a larger cultural transformation. “We are living in times of consumer democracy. This trend is becoming both conspicuous and powerful in all industries, entertainment also being one of them. The increasing popularity of reality shows is also testimony to the fact that power is passing on from the hands of the consumer and manufacturers to that of the common man.” The mushrooming of online forums and the fast catching up phenomenon of Blogs mark a new phase in the saga of citizen journalism. Effective consumer generated content has instigated companies to refashion themselves. Companies are now really learning to say, “Let’s talk!” 

Spreading the Ideavirus in India: Viral Marketing Unleashed

vm1.jpg The leading Bollywood web portal, India FM, recently launched a viral marketing campaign for the Abhishek Bachchan-starrer Bluffmaster. Net surfers were lured to play a game, and subsequently informed that they had won a staggering $100,000. And as the winners began to bask in the glory of their newfound fortune, they were told that all of this was mere buffoonery! These users had the option of forwarding this bluff to their friends. Net result: A total of 30,000 users participated in this campaign, and sent it to another 78,000 people.

Slowly but steadily,
India is waking up to the huge potential of viral marketing. Interactive marketing agencies are increasingly trying to maximise the effectiveness of their campaigns through this new form of marketing. Agrees Manish Vij of Quasar Media, an agency that has successfully completed campaigns for Motorola, Samsung and Makemytrip.com: “The rise in media outreach and word-of-mouth beyond users of the same publisher are only some of the benefits of viral marketing. For good campaigns, the increase in reach could even be to the tune of 150 per cent.”

FedEx Express, a subsidiary of FedEx Corp, also launched a region-wide viral marketing campaign in
India recently. Centered on the FedEx ads with comic sketches, some of which are already popular in
India, the campaign aimed at increasing brand awareness and promoting key FedEx brand attributes. The advertisements were available for viewing, download as well as for emailing to friends through a micro-website (www.relaxiwillmanage.com), and were communicated to customers and prospects through banner advertisements on key websites, email communication and the distribution of a CD-ROM.
 Vij feels that viral marketing campaigns need to have an element of community. As such, viral marketing heavily relies on an individual’s impulse to share information. While in some cases, this might be the result of an incentive, it is also born out of a sense of sharing information with one’s social network. In fact, the uniqueness of a successful viral marketing campaign can be judged by its ability to proliferate itself without any material incentive to the customer. This can be triggered off though humor, privilege (creating exclusive mental and physical spaces) or some other form of emotional appeal.
The FedEx campaign, for instance, deployed humor. Google, on the other hand, capitalized on the values of privilege and community to promote its Gmail through viral marketing. The campaign started with a small user base, from which a club was formed leveraging member contacts to expand the user base while retaining the element of exclusivity through special invites, access, passes and so on.

Companies have been smart enough to realize that one of the triggers to create a recall value for brands is by encouraging consumers to actively engage and interact with brands. Corporates are focusing on enhancing the reaction quotient of consumers towards brands. The Internet happens to be one of the most critical media in this regard. This is not confined to entertainment and FMCG categories; technology companies are also deploying this as a useful tool. One of the most recent examples of the successes of viral marketing in
India was Samsung’s campaign to promote the Samsung X series of Notebook PCs. The campaign sought to increase brand awareness among target consumers (Internet users in the 24-45 age group) through an online contest that users were encouraged to participate in and refer to their friends. The prize of the contest was the product itself: the ‘X’ series Notebook PC. This campaign managed to pull 50,000 participants to the site and delivered very good results:

Number of visitors to the demo: 1.42 lakh
Number of friends referred: 76 per cent
Visitors referred who came back to play: 42 per cent
Total interactivity: 1.25 million
Total OTS: 7.1 million
Total unique reach: 5 million
Media reach: 185 per cent

(Source: Volume No. 11, Internet and Mobile Association of
India Newsletter)

 Marketers abroad have already experimented with viral marketing with great success. In
France, Adidas is generating buzz (via JDN) around its brand by targeting soccer fans with an integrated campaign. A website with some funny content featuring popular comedians Omar & Fred is at the centre of the stage, but the campaign idea is to drive 15-24 year-old guys to the Adidas stores around the country. The concept particularly targets the fans of Olympique Marseille (sponsored by Adidas). An email marketing campaign (currently with an amazing 96 per cent opening rate) invites young people to visit the Tyaimesoubien.com website, download a postcard, answer the questions it presents, and deliver it to the local Adidas store for the chance of winning tickets for Olympique Marseille’s matches.

The entertainment industry too is testing the idea flu. For its debut in
France, Desperate Housewives has come up with a site www.husbandsforsale.com that opens a Brave New World for women. The site gives you the opportunity to buy and sell your husband online. You can select him by region, age (over 86-year-olds are also available) and by ‘perfection level’. The site offers great deals and most of all, the delivery is free!
In Asia, viral marketing has started picking up in emerging economies such as
India, which has a growing Internet user base and technology penetration. Realizing the potential, companies like Coca-Cola have promoted quite a few interactive features. The company’s website, www.myenjoyzone.com , won the Gold Trophy at ‘The Promotion Marketing Awards of
Asia’.
This award along with other brand initiatives, like Internet marketing, SMS viral campaign for Vanilla Coke and on-ground consumer activation across the country, have helped Coca-Cola India emerge the ‘Marketing Company of the Year’. The beverage giant also came up with another feather in its cap: CokeMusic.com. With its focus on being a hub for teenage music lovers, it has managed to get over a million page views a day, an average growth of over 200,000 unique visitors per month, and average visits lasting longer than 25 minutes.
In an age where optimum utilization of resources is the only way to survive in an otherwise crazy market, viral marketing is a charming and cost-effective alternative form of promotion. The Indian market, given the state of brand clutter, online explosion and media boom, is ready for a virus attack. For marketers, the option really is to innovate, communicate or to stagnate!