Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Age of Distrust and The Age for Trust

Loss of Faith
The last few years have seen an increasing ‘loss of faith’ against politicians and media (because all communication happens through offline and online media) thanks to a mix of facts and fakes.
Seen both in India and across the world and has been crystallized by the elections of Trump and to a certain extent Modi.
 Fake news, trickery, fake viral stories etc. have been profligate sparing no one - including Trump, Obama, Modi and many others. It is not surprising that politicians have been the most affected since they have a history behind them closely followed by the media thanks to the ready access to truth and fake information.
Veles, Macedonia emerged as the “world capital” of fake news, being the registered home of 100+ pro-Trump sites, earning its propagators' thousands of dollars in advertising revenues and making it difficult to distinguish between real and fake headlines.

Popularity over Veracity
The authenticity of the news is not determined by the veracity but rather by popularity and this is the case where so-called news sites like Pgurus, Satyavijayi, Beef Janata Party etc. have included news with morphed pictures and false news. Social media propagates most of this ‘news’, not surprisingly thanks to the power of the ‘share’ button.
With this huge infiltration of fake news in the media, there is an inundation of such news on social feeds and for marketing, it has been good news from a content propagation aspect but it has come at the cost of trust and consumer confidence.

The Age of Distrust has begun…
There is an air of skepticism of practically everything, let alone business or marketing in particular. Venture capitalists have been questioned for their investments in various startups, CEOs have been questioned for the way they run their company, marketing has been questioned for flogging every day into a marketable day.
For Millennials, given their attitude, in particular, this is hardly surprising.  What is surprising is the speed at which the older generations are forming similar sentiments.
In the era of high skepticism and low confidence, marketers face perhaps one of their greatest challenges: believability.

Solving it themselves... Consumer Reviews
Surprisingly the solution to this has come from the consumers themselves. Ask other people for their opinions! Hence online reviews form an integral part of most purchasing decisions. A person like you is just as credible for information as experts about a company or brand. Over 50% of consumers are now routinely checking online reviews before making a purchasing decision.
Not surprisingly most e-commerce sites have a review section for each product. Sites like Zomato or Yelp have gone a step further by centering their business on consumer opinions.

Business leaders will recognize that in this new world they cannot operate with a top-down approach. Rather, a flatter, participatory model is needed, one that isn’t just “for the people” but “with the people.” The best companies are the ones listening to customers and responding to them.
For marketers, it is time to renew their efforts on their existing customers. In the age of a mountain of dollars, the steroid like discounts and undue weightage on customer acquisition at any cost; retaining old customers have been given the go by. Perhaps with the tightening of belts and emphasis on profitability, the scenario will change as their voices, opinions, and beliefs now say much more about a brand than traditional advertising or marketing can. Social media offers the most obvious platform for this kind of marketing, but other forms of social-in-nature content are beginning to take off as well.
Brands that regularly engage with their customers directly through social media, forums, and review platforms are best geared to handle the new age of distrust.  “62% of millennials say that if a brand engages with them on social networks, they are more likely to become a loyal customer. They expect brands to not only be on social networks but to engage them.” The reviews and feedback consumers leave not only generate brand loyalty but also provide potential customers—those who don’t quite trust traditional marketing methods—with the push they need when a purchasing decision needs to be made.

Make a Negative a Positive
Negative experiences that were earlier ignored or responded in a standardized template through IVR or email have now become a tactic for customer acquisition.  Responding publicly to these negative experiences has interestingly shown the brands in a new light highlighting transparency and trust. Only brands that have something to hide will avoid replying or go around in circles.  Research shows increasing customer retention by just 5 percent can lead to a 25 percent to 95 percent increase in company profits. So engage with your customers!
It’s hard to say when consumer confidence will be restored to its normal levels; sins of the past may make that nearly impossible. But like it or not, distrust is now ubiquitous. Fake news is now part of the world we live in. Each and every time it’s disseminated, brand trust dips.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Emotional Rational Brands - Brands with a Purpose

Raksha Bandhan or Friendship Day has seen an outpouring of emotional creativity from brands. This is an indication of social mores as we, as consumers have become more socially aware and also advocacy driven. Even commercialisation has increasingly moved to more meaningful and purpose driven initiatives respecting and giving back to society.   This is indeed a sign of times that commercial interests are seeking a higher plane.

  • Millennial Behaviour

A significant factor that has also influenced brands is the customer of the present/ future called Millennials.  Given the nature of the audience, they are driven by shared values, communities and hence it is imperative that brands be built on existential values.

  • Moving Up Maslow's

In my opinion, that brands are moving up the ladder or are shifting from the lower bases of Maslow’s hierarchy to the higher ones. Functional aspects of the brand are shifting to love, esteem and self-actualization.  We are perhaps at the cusp of an evolutionary leap for brands. Some of the brands who are in the safety space are moving to love and brands in the love phase are moving to esteem and so on. This step-by-step process will eventually lead to the ultimate part – self-actualization.

  • Functional - Lesser Importance

A pure consumption play is slowly losing its meaning. And hence, while talking on functional aspects are important, brands need to take an emotional lift. It increasingly comes from within, and brands need to look at ways and means of maximizing our lives – a purpose to help contribute a better world.

  • Emotionally Driven

90% of our decisions are driven by emotion. So by giving a purpose to a brand, we are conveying a larger story. Stories create an emotional response in the brain and brands that address the wrong part of the brain and by just listing rational features and benefits, are at a disadvantage.

  • Being Practical

Putting all the ‘socially good’ initiatives aside, purely from a practical angle it also helps brands and products to move to a plank that has a higher calling and receptiveness. How long can a detergent brand say that it washes whitest? How long can a brand say that it makes life easier by washing better? Innovation has become so rapid that new products are launched every day and with the democratization of technology, newer products are being launched even by upstarts.

  • Changed Environment

Over the last few years, the environment has also changed physically and socially. For example – consumers are beginning to recognize that we are facing a using shortage in terms of water and hence water conversation has become an important issue. Whilst it may not totally influence the buying decisions, there is a sense of appreciation of brands which respect the environment. Undoubtedly there will be a trade off but the fact remains that customers are acknowledging and making environmental concerns a part of the purchasing decision process.  Needless to say, influential consumers who have the wherewithal are making this change.

  • Increased Ownership and Activism

Very importantly, and partly hastened by the access to news from all across the world, consumers also believe that they have to take responsibility for the problems they are facing and cannot leave it to governments/ politicians to solve their problems. Correspondingly activism has also increased.
So consumers are increasingly expecting that brands also take responsibility for society in a larger sense. Which means that businesses should have a larger stake than just profits, they should improve the economic and social conditions.

  • Be True

However, when communicating with customers on this level, nothing is more important than authenticity and integrity. Claims by a brand should be not different from reality. If there is a dissonance, this will anger the consumer and it is not surprising that many consumers are rising against brands, which do not follow the path.

The authenticity will inspire support from customers who share the purpose. Stronger the purpose, the stronger will be a connection to customers. Simon Sinek said ‘people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it.’ And when customers identify with the purpose, he/she is connecting on an emotional level and as I mentioned before, most customers are emotional in their decision making.
Some brands and their leaders are becoming more purpose-led by rediscovering and rearticulating their core values. More importantly, they are leading with action. Both Howard Schultz of Starbucks and Hamdi Ulukaya of Chobani have been outspoken advocates for refugees (much to the chagrin of Trump). Closer home, Tata Tea has talked about getting consumers to “Jaago (awaken) Re”! – act before it becomes too late.

  • Don't Be Untrue

Other brands are taking notice of such transformations and the power of a cause to drive business.
It’s natural to expect that some of these are knee-jerk opportunism and elitist puffery. Uber, on one hand, talks about helping pet adoption but their sexist organizational culture has been detrimental. In fact, Lyft has increased market shares dramatically after the controversy has broken out.

And yet, they seem to be so much more—they are corporate attempts to create brand purpose and evolve it beyond love and esteem on the part of their customers. Well-aligned with purpose.
And therein lies the tension, and opportunity. Brands that want to be purposeful can become a purpose-led brand, but not without intention. An intention, without action, is cowardly.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Is Your All-star Team The Best Team?

In arguably one of the best sports films ever - "Miracle"; Herb Brooks (played by Kurt Russell) chose 26 players ignoring far more talented and star players. In a conversation with his staff -
“Herb Brooks: Take a look at this.
Craig Patrick: What's this?
Herb Brooks: 26 names. The tough part will be getting it down to 20 before the opening ceremonies.
Craig Patrick: This is the final roster? You're kidding me, right? This is our first day, Herb. We've got a week of this. What about the advisory staff? Aren't they supposed to have a say in this?
Herb Brooks: Not technically
Craig Patrick: You're missing some of the best players.
Herb Brooks: I'm not looking for the best players, Craig. I'm looking for the right ones.”

Just a couple of years after the release of Miracle, during the 2006 World Championships in basketball, the dream team of NBA stars and super successful coaches finished shockingly third losing even to Greece, who interestingly did not a single NBA star. The sports journalists had a field day. Quite obviously, the headlines were not palatable to the stars from the USA.

The failure of all-star teams is not just restricted to sports but to businesses too. There are enough examples of companies with stars but end up falling down and flopping for example - DeLorean Motors, Enron, Kodak and Polaroid some of the companies who had superstars but flopped miserably. 

These stars have been successful in earlier organizations and given their experience and success they should replicate their success but it is not necessary that they do. The reasons are multiple.
  • Lack of mutual trust and respect for one another
The moment the word star is used it is assumed that these people come with huge egos and sense of self-aggrandizement. The reason for their bigger ego comes with the successes they have had.  But with the ego comes a lack of trust on others - whether the others can do the job given or simply because the individual concerned thinks that he/ she is better than the other. Either way, since trust and respect for others, is missing, reciprocation from the other side is also difficult. Without trust and respect for one another, the team lacks a foundation on which relationships and more importantly organizations are built on.
Building trust or respecting others is not difficult at all. Speak and act with maturity. Do not pull others down. Respect deadlines and stick to commitments. Very importantly do not be two faced.
Once trust is broken it is very difficult to bring it back.  Hence once trust and respect are developed between teammates, it is easier to reach the organizational goal. The focus of the team is not on individuals and their behaviors. 
  • Wanting all the attention to be focused on themselves
Superstars also like to be the cynosure of all eyes.  And they would not like to share the limelight with anyone else. Grabbing this piece of the attention pie could cause a lot of friction.
Many superstars like to hog the limelight and tom-tom all the things they have done. When each individual was to do this at the cost of the other you can expect a team of bickering individuals who are selfish. The result will be expectedly miserable.
Everybody has a place in the organization and in the sun. Give credit where it is due.
  • Improper complementary skills and chemistry
Just like Herb Brooks looked for the right players at the right positions, so too should be the requirement from an organizational perspective. When the right players are chosen, there is a balance in the team, which negates the negatives and provides a defense to weaknesses and also play to their strengths.  This criticality that should be addressed is that while the team may have a common goal, the path taken by each person may be different and hence not complement each other. When paths to reach the goal are divergent disaster usually strikes.
It is important to know each and every team member’s strengths, weaknesses etc. This will help understand the team better and complement each other. Team chemistry allows for trust and respect while all members continue to focus on accomplishing their individual and team goals
Lack of shared responsibility and accountability 

Holding each individual or star accountable is the least to be expected, this will lead to each star following a path that is individualistic and pandering to his/ her personal goal, which may not be the same as the organizational goal.  The sum of all individual goals does not add up to the organizational goal.
One of the biggest offenders is the phrase “It’s not my job.” Sitting in an ivory tower is not going to help matters.
The need is to hold each individual responsible for the other. Most functions are linked to each other and hence of one department do not meet its deadlines then other departments will need to chip in. For example, if there is a stock out in a retail store, then not only should the SCM team be responsible but also the marketing and operations team. Additionally, performance bonuses can be a joint one rather than department centric one.
  • Poor communication
Talk when you have to. The tendency of stars is to sit in a cocoon and expect others to understand. Communicating internally is extremely important and studies have shown that ineffective communication is the root of most problems.
Eventually, it is the team, which needs to deliver, and not the individual alone. An organization does not deliver mutually exclusive goals rather a sum/ mix of all. At the end of the day, it is not about what individuals delivered but how a team has performed.
The task for stars is to take the “WE” approach. This leads to performance at optimum levels that are necessary for success. Focus on team success. Everyone loves to be a part of a successful venture. As the team begins to trust and respect each other, the process moves more smoothly.
A note of caution though, teamwork is about getting work done and it is not about getting along. If the stars can adapt to each other and get the work done, that should suffice.

Choosing the right people

But, how do you know if someone is “right”?
People make a business a success or a failure, hence getting the right people is important.  And from experience getting the right people is not easy. We have a tendency to get swayed by credentials and past successes.
The importance of properly identifying and selecting the right people is paramount. A commonly used term - Knowledge, Skills, and Ability (KSA) is used why creating job descriptions.  However while organizations can identify people based on JDs, they do not do a good job of assessing behaviors. There are multiple tools/ assessments to measure this and it is for the HR team to leverage this.

Came across a very interesting equation which stated that
Right People = Right Position + Right Time + Right Things + Right Way
In other words, you know you have the right people when they are in the right positions at the right time doing the right things in the right way.
Right position = person has the appropriate skills and knowledge necessary to correctly perform the duties of the position
Right time = the person is in the right position at the right point in his or her career
Right things= the person understands how to apply his or her skills in the most productive and efficient manner
Right way = the person is producing at the highest level possible in a manner consistent with the core values, beliefs and principles of the organization while achieving fulfilment

The Age of Distrust and The Age for Trust

Loss of Faith The last few years have seen an increasing ‘loss of faith’ against politicians and media (because all communication happens ...