Saturday, November 12, 2011

Building Brands - Of the Consumers, By the Consumers, For the Consumers

Mayuresh Kanvinde, Rohil Mitra | NMIMS

Building Brands - Of the Consumers, By the Consumers, For the Consumers

In July 2006, HUL (then HLL) launched India’s first community portal exclusively belonging to a brand – The Sunsilk “Gang Of Girls”. The initiative was an instant success with the number of members crossing the half million mark within six months of launching. It was HUL’s attempt to revive the Sunsilk brand. Today with a member base of 7.5 lakh users (a mere 2.5 lakh users in four and a half years), the success of Sunsilk’s brand building exercise is debatable. But, what cannot be denied is HUL’s early recognition of a marketing channel – Conversational Marketing - that is moving towards becoming the trend for marketing and brand building in 2012.

The launch of Orkut in 2004 (2006 in India) and the rise of Facebook and its ubiquity, paved the way for a new kind of a marketing channel which we all know as “Social Media”. Today almost each brand has its own Facebook page which is “liked” by fans, where the brand gets promoted each time the target segment logs onto Facebook. But, not all brands have sufficiently leveraged the true value of social media. Social Media have been extensively used for advertising and sales promotion. So much so that the value of communities like Facebook to marketers has been questioned as to whether it is the right place to reach your consumer. The regular argument is the fact that Facebook advertisements have critically low Click-Through-Rates (CTR), implying that people use Facebook solely to socialize and not to find out or know about their brands or products. Compared to this are the high CTRs of search engines ads like in the case of Google Adwords; rightly so because a person visits Google to find something. However true the argument is, what the perpetuators of this argument fail to realise is that Facebook or other social media can be used as tools to converse with the customer, make friends with the customer, and listen to what the customer has to say rather than to just tell the customer about their products. Surely, people use Facebook to express their views and to be listened to. Unlike traditional media channels like television and print media, social media provides this advantage of being a two-way communication channel - a channel to build brands that are of the consumers, by the consumers and for the consumers.

My Starbucks Idea

Starbucks is perhaps the best example of how to leverage everything that social media has to offer. Their online portal “” proudly announced on June 17, 2011 that they had launched 150 ideas from a plethora of ideas submitted by its customers. My Starbucks Idea is a simple community where Starbucks customers can submit their own ideas about how Starbucks can improve in all categories ranging from their coffee to the experience and involvement of the customers. These ideas are voted by other members of the community and / or are selected by Starbucks idea partners for launching. The progress on each idea is updated regularly and most ideas are replied to. Typical ideas from the 150 launched were:

• An iPhone App to check on the balance on the Starbucks Card (loyalty card)
• Opening a new store in El Salvador
• Reintroducing an old flavour of coffee
• Improvement in a chocolate chunk cookie recipe
• Buying a Friend a Beverage Remotely through Facebook

Critics of Starbucks argue that the entire crowd-sourcing platform has been a failed project, as of a total of 116100 ideas submitted so far only 150 have been launched. But, the question to be asked is whether Starbucks aimed it to be merely a crowd-sourcing platform. What Starbucks has achieved through its idea portal is what cannot be achieved through traditional advertising and promotions and that is customer loyalty. Starbucks customers feel that their favourite coffee chain is listening to them, is considering their suggestions. By involving the customers, Starbucks has created a sense of belonging among them and that is enough for the customers to keep visiting Starbucks. A long-term brand loyalty has been established. What’s more? Through the ideas submitted, Starbucks gets a free access to customer insights, what consumers expect from them – a market research at zero cost.

Taking social media and technology to further heights is Nike. It has created a harmonious combination the two, by using the runner’s iPod and technology built into the Nike running shoe to measure and track workouts. The workout information gets stored automatically on, where users can create their personal profile, log their workout information and share it with others, chat with other users, share content and build relationships. Through NikePlus, Nike was also able collect user data, without interrupting the user experience of consumers, which was used to send targeted communications to users and recommend newer products based on their individual preferences.

The NikePlus platform is now taking the user experience to a further level by providing ‘goals and challenges’ feature where users can set their training goals online. Users can compare their running goals and accomplishments with other users and challenge them for specific milestones. The portal also suggests potential running partners to users based on location and training intensity. The platform thus allows Nike to build a close relationship with its consumers by supporting them to improve themselves.
Through NikePlus, Nike has managed to spark a movement that brings together people around the globe united to one another by a shared passion for running. The shared passion always existed. But it is Nike that has leveraged it through its exemplifying use of social media.

Over the past 25 years since its launch, Maggi has emerged as one of the most affectionate brands among Indian consumers. A brand which has probably grown larger than its parent company Nestle and for all the right reasons – the emotional bond built over generations of consumers. But, as Maggi approached its 25th anniversary, it faced newer challenges with the entry of strong FMCG players like HUL (Knorr), ITC (Sunfeast) and Horlicks (Foodles). While the competitors were aggressively advertising their newly launched products, Maggi resorted to taking its emotional connect to the next level. Through the “Me & Meri Maggi” campaign, Maggi urged its consumers to tell their own story about what Maggi means to them and where does Maggi picture in their life. These stories were included in Maggi’s advertisements and also on the campaign website and the Meri Maggi Facebook page, which has over 540000 fans. Further, Maggi introduced three flavours which were a direct outcome of the 30000 stories shared by Maggi’s consumers. Though not everyone visited the Maggi website to share their stories, what the campaign achieved was that the role of Maggi in everyone’s life was reinstated in the minds of all consumers.

Maggi further went on to launch the “Guess the Taste” of mystery noodles campaign where limited edition packs were sold across the country in packets marked with a distinctive question mark design. More than 45,000 consumers have already contacted Maggi with their suggested name for the taste.

And Maggi hasn’t stopped there. The latest campaign of Maggi further strengthens the emotional bond by taking the Meri Maggi campaign further by saying “Kyun Meri Maggi itne saalon se sabke dil me hai?” (Why is My Maggi everyone’s favourite for so many years?)

Successful Facebook Campaigns:

The Most Popular Facebook Page

With over 34 million fans and growing, Coca-Cola’s Facebook page is the most popular Facebook page (ranked 11 by number of fans) among all brands world-wide. With a product that is minimally differentiated from its sole global competitor, Pepsi, Coca-Cola is a brand that needs loyalty like no other. It has successfully achieved it by differentiating itself by associating itself with happiness though its global “Open Happiness” campaign.

Coca-Cola’s true commitment to their fans on Facebook is illustrated in the story of how the page came to be. The page was originally created by two fans who just loved Coke. When Coca-Cola came to know about the page, rather than creating another official page, they acknowledge the efforts of the creators and worked with them to continue building the page to represent the brand. They were able to leverage on the connections that were already established with fans on Facebook even before they were involved while also demonstrating how much they valued customer involvement and participation.

Today, Coca-Cola acts as any other friend that a Facebook user has. The discussions initiated by Coca-Cola are not just about the brand but about what the brand stands for – Fun and Happiness.

The Most Engaging Facebook Page

According to a study released by Visibli, wherein fan engagement on Facebook pages with more than 1 lakh fans was analysed, Audi USA surprisingly emerged as having the most engaged fans on Facebook. With over 3.8 million Likes on the page, Audi had an average of 7,487 Likes and 292 Comments on their posts in April, 2011, which certainly sets an example on how to design a Facebook Page for a brand.
So then the question arises -What is Audi doing differently from other brands? For a start, it isn’t just pushing out facts about their latest models, posting videos from auto shows, and giving away free cars on their Facebook page. On March 11th, Audi asked fans, “What’s the best thing that anyone has ever said about your Audi at the pump?” The question triggered engaging conversations amongst car enthusiasts and provided a unique opportunity for Audi owners to share their stories ( bringing out the true potential of social media.

When you think of Harley-Davidson, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? Well, motorcycles for sure. But is it just the motorcycle? Or is it a motorcycle on an open desert highway, with a rider with leather boots and gear, and a rumbling exhaust that could make a jet engine seem all too meek. Harley-Davidson symbolizes rebellion, youth, freedom, and open possibilities. It’s an image created by the people (

Realising the strong cult that was inherently present among its owners, Harley-Davidson initiated the HOG, the Harley Owners Group in 1983. Its membership restricted to owners of Harley-Davidson motorcycles, along with a hierarchal structure of chapters ensures that only the purest of loyalists have the most say in the community thereby inculcating a strong sense of belonging to the cult which would thrive through future generations.

In 2001, the HOG community went online making it easier for newer members to join, for members to stay connected to their brand even when away from their motorcycles and to connect with other members across the world linked through the common thread of the Harley-Davidson culture. Today the community boasts of over 1,100 chapters and over 1 million chapter members. The organisation of chapters allows the members to meet with local riders through events, rallies, support causes and road-trips as well as socialize over the internet with their global counterparts. The HOG site mentions some of the membership benefits as road-side assistance, participation in events sponsored by the company as well as by local dealers and a HOG magazine consisting of HOG Tales of riding.

Because of HOG, Harley-Davidson has reached benchmarking levels in consumer loyalty and brand equity. Today, Harley-Davidson is in full alignment with the dreams and expectations of the Harley-Davidson owner because it was the Harley owner that dictated what the brand stood for - in the true sense, a brand of the consumers, by the consumers, for the consumers.

Trends of the future

According to a study conducted by TWI Surveys, Inc., spending on social media and “conversational marketing” - albeit still in their nascent stage - will surpass traditional marketing spend by the end of 2012. Currently, 70% of respondents of the survey are spending 2.5% or less of their communications budgets on conversational marketing while 81% of survey respondents said they will spend at least as much on conversational marketing as traditional marketing by 2012.

A look at the current marketing strategies of prominent brands in India and abroad suggests the trend is on the rise. Be it Mahindra’s “Spark the Rise” or Airtel’s “Har Friend Zaroori” campaign; the customer has now gained centre-stage. The efficiency as well as effectiveness of conversational marketing in building long-term brand loyalty has been demonstrated successfully. Marketers have to realise the underlying potential that social media and conversational marketing provide. If not, marketers would be tempted to shy away from these channels in lieu of traditional channels. With social media, the sky is the limit. But the question still arises – Do you realise it limitlessness?

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