Smart strategies to get customers to actively seek out your brand communication

Personalized messages that are contextual and location-specific work the best

Rajesh Srivastava

[Photograph by Ian Muttoo under Creative Commons]

"The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place" - George Bernard Shaw

How do you communicate your brand benefits to your customers? Advertise on television, in the press, on radio, in cinema or outdoors? But are customers noticing your advertisements or running away from them? Surely you would want them to seek out your ads. For that you will have to understand the factors that cause audiences to ignore and even avoid your ads.

Let us start with you. You have a fine product and you want to advertise it so that the whole world, metaphorically speaking, is informed about it. So you create a TV commercial (TVC) extolling the benefits of your brand and decide to advertise it during one of the world’s biggest carnivals: FIFA World Cup. In consultation with your media buying agency, you decide that your TVC will appear during the World Cup final, whenever a penalty kick is to be taken. Your reasoning seems logical: the penalty kick in a final match would have viewers glued to the TV screen and if at that moment your TVC is telecast, it is bound to be seen by a spellbound global audience.

Bingo! Such an opportunity presents itself. As Cristiano Ronaldo prepares to take the penalty kick, your TVC is telecast.

Now step into the viewers' shoes. How would they be feeling? Absolutely frustrated and disappointed. Many would curse your brand because it has intruded into their lives unsolicited and uninvited. They want to see Ronaldo take the penalty kick, not your TVC. Many among the audience will vow never to touch your brand.

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Episode 18: New Rules of Business


This is just one of the reasons why customers shun ads. The other issues are:

1. One-way communication: Today’s customers want to engage with the brand. In fact, they wish to co-create the brand. But most current ads are one-way communication, with no opportunities for customer engagement.

2. One-sided communication: Most ads extol only the positive features of their brands. None gives a balanced view. Today’s customers reject these biased, one-sided communication in favour of balanced communication which assists them in taking an informed decision.

3. Mass communication: Unfortunately, most ads are designed as mass communication meant for mass audiences. Today’s customer’s desire customized / personalized communication that are tailor-made for them.

4. Not optimized for context and location: Most communication is not context- or location-specific. A potential customer may be sitting at home in the evening, waiting to have dinner. At this moment he sees a TVC for shaving foam. The viewer will completely switch off from it because it does not fit into the context of what he is thinking at the moment.

5. They put company's interest ahead of customers': A majority of ads do this. Customers vehemently reject this approach.

Ads with these traits prompt customers to avoid them.

As a brand owner, what strategies should you deploy so that your customers seek out your ads? Simple. Reduce or eliminate the traits listed above and replace them with:

1. Put customers' interest ahead of your company.

2. Strive to provide a two-way platform for the customer to engage and co-create the brand along with you.

3. Strive to customize and personalize the communication for every customer.

4. Make your communications context- and location-relevant to the customer.

If you adhere to these guidelines, chances are, customers will seek out your communications.

Let me share examples of successful communications that follow these principles.

1. Content marketing: Let’s take Toyota. Just before the onset of the monsoon, it wants owners to get their cars serviced. Merely advertising in newspapers may not be effective. Toyota creates a newsletter titled '5 Ways to Drive Safely During Monsoon' and puts it out in the public domain. Customers are likely to click on the link because the title indicates that the information will be useful to them. Result: they click on the link which displays the promised content. The fifth point in the list urges them to get their cars serviced, with a link directing then to Toyota’s web page offering the servicing facility.

This approach works because the content is contextually relevant—car owners are already primed for safety, so more people are likely to sign up for getting their cars serviced. Now is Toyota running after customers or is it the other way around?

2. Rewards: Let's stay with Toyota. Nine months have elapsed since the monsoon offer. Now Toyota wishes car owners to get their vehicles serviced again. Again, merely advertising will likely get them a poor response. Toyota releases a communication saying that it will offer free servicing to the first 5,000 Toyota car owners to register; and everyone else who registers will also get a 25 percent discount. Result: the response is likely to be good, because it is in the interest of the car owners to register for servicing. Now, instead of Toyota running after customers, it is customers who will run after Toyota.

3. Geo-fencing: From automobiles let us move to ice cream. Take this time when I was going past a geo-fenced ice cream parlour. Geo-fencing uses global positioning system (GPS) or radio frequency identification (RFID) to set up a virtual boundary. Anytime a device enters that zone, it triggers a text message or email to the device.

As soon as I entered the geo-fenced location, I got a message on my smartphone: "Please look to your side and you will notice us. We make delicious, natural, homemade ice cream. Step in to enjoy it. To make the ice cream even sweeter we have a special 25% discount for you."

The communication is context and location-specific; it is relevant and customized for me. It is likely to generate a higher footfall for the ice cream parlour.

4. Dynamic advertising: Let’s say I am visiting Dubai and I sent a text message to my friend inviting him to have coffee at The Dubai Mall. At the backend, my message is auctioned by the telecom service provider to various cafes in the Mall. Let's assume that Starbucks wins the bid. When I enter The Dubai Mall carrying my smartphone, a personalized message will be delivered on my smartphone: "Dear Mr. Rajesh Srivastava, welcome to Dubai Mall. We invite you and your friends to visit us and enjoy your experience. We also wish to offer you a 20% price off on your purchases." Since this message is tailored to my context—the reason why I am in Dubai Mall—is location-specific, and is also personalized for me, there’s a high chance that I would take my friend to Starbucks.

5. Deliver a pleasurable experience to invoke the reciprocation and likability principles: Take Charmin. It markets toilet paper. Research shows that people, especially women, face a problem when they spend a day out, because of inadequate restrooms in several areas—including Times Square, New York. So in Times Square, Charmin set up mobile restrooms. Anyone could use them. And when they use the restroom, they also end up using the Charmin product. Because the product is good, they end up not only having a positive perception about it, but from a behavioural science perspective, it invokes feelings of reciprocation and likeability among them. The next time they have to buy toilet paper you know which brand they will seek out.

What were the common themes that ran across these five illustrations?

• Communications should be crafted in a manner that it is in customers’ interest to seek them out and act on them.

• The communication should be balanced.

• It should offer a platform for customers to engage with the brand.

• It should be location- and context-specific.

• Customized /personalized communication works better.

• Pleasurable experiences for customers brings into play the reciprocal and likeability principles.

You too should therefore move away from one-sided, biased ads that are served to unsuspecting customers without seeking their permission and move towards a communication programme that gives a balanced view of the brand, is customized and personalized to each person and is contextual and location-specific. And above all, put customers' interest ahead of the company’s. If done well, customers instead of running away from your brand, will seek it out.

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About the author

Rajesh Srivastava
Rajesh Srivastava

Author and Visiting Faculty

IIM Indore

Rajesh Srivastava has 3 decades of corporate & academic experience. He has reenergised companies, including J K Helene Curtis Ltd., & nurtured brands like, Bagpiper whiskey, Royal Challenge whiskey, Blue Riband gin, Blue Riband Duet, Park Avenue range of deodorant & personal care products. He is part of the Visiting Faculty at IIM Indore. He is an alumnus of IIT Kanpur & IIM Bangalore. He is currently working on his first book.

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