Gokul Krishnamoorthy
Jul 29, 2015

Opinion: Brands should learn to earn respect – the #KalamSir way

If the late president was trending all day yesterday, it was with good reason

Opinion: Brands should learn to earn respect – the #KalamSir way
Roopak Saluja who runs The 120  Media Collective, someone I’ve known for the three years I’ve been with Campaign, sent out a tweet this weekend. I could relate to him. So could several others.
His mother was on her maiden Vistara flight. When she asked for the non-veg meal she was pre-booked to be served, it wasn’t there. But that’s not what got him. She was told by the staff something to the effect that it was ‘not their problem’. Apparently, it’s the second time this has happened with him with the same airline. If I had been on the flight, I wouldn’t have raised a hue and cry over a choice of meal. But if someone had denied my parents the veg meal they had pre-booked, I would have been equally angry. If they had been at the receiving end of this kind of response, I would have been equally enraged.
I saw this tweet and I recalled the best piece of analysis on consumer apathy by companies ever written, in my view. It was in VCCircle, titled, ‘Fat, dumb and happy’. I will never tire of referencing it. Born of personal experience with a telco and a bank, Manjit Jolly speaks about companies choosing to be ‘Fat, Dumb and Happy’, because they can afford to be. This was in 2010. The constantly expanding bottom of the pyramid means that chasing acquisitions was a profitable enough proposition, he argued, rather convincingly. Nothing seems to have changed since then.
It’s almost comforting to revert to another man’s suffering at the hands of brands. It’s the feeling that you are not alone. And there only seems to be more of us anguished souls, as we discover through social media.
We all heard from the CRM experts a few years ago that this consumer apathy would come to an end in some categories, as new customers dry up and the more profitable consumers are sought after. Perhaps true, in some categories. Several banks spend a lot more time and resources on priority customers, who simply are more profitable to have on board. More than the guys who deposit 50,000 rupees a month, spend most of it within the month, and post one demand too many while doing that. If they are a drag on your bottom line, by all means, don’t focus on those customers. But why get them on board in the first place?
Let’s get back to the influence of social media. Writing in January 2014, I realise that I seemed to have made a rather obvious statement on companies responding to social media rants. My guess was that the whole paranoia with angry customers on social media would wane, with machines taking over and sending automated responses, while brands patiently search for an appropriate response. Guess what? Things have taken a turn for worse.
The truth today is, consumers can use social media only as an avenue for venting their frustration, unless it reaches the upper echelons of the brand owner or someone responsible from the brand happens to come across their justifiable angst in real time.
That seems to be accepted as the ground reality. In the backdrop of which, I was offered some sound advice after my ‘rants’ against Sony and Tata Sky on Twitter reached a few of my paltry base of followers on the micro-blogging platform this weekend.
Some well-meaning friends suggested that such outbursts against brands on social media can go against one’s employment prospects and that I should be careful before airing my views. It was a complete shocker.
Even in the course of my employment, thankfully as a journalist, I have voiced my opinion against issues like telcos’ non-adherence to MNP, inadequacies in how credit scores are collated, and other issues. Issues of consumer concern. The newspaper I worked with before now runs a column on consumer rights, or the lack of it.
But, if you voice your angst on social media as a consumer, I am told, your future employability is at risk. After a moment’s thought, I told one of the well-wishers who happened to be from the head hunting and coaching space: “So be it.”
It is irony that your Tweets and posts which very few people will really get to see, will be historical evidence of trouble-making consumers to avoid. I am not even sure if this is really true as a parameter for evaluating potential employees. But I will not be surprised if it is. It is merely a reflection of how callous we are towards consumers and their rights. Even the right to be heard.  
I picked this following LinkedIn post up as I was browsing tributes to the 'people’s president', late Dr APJ Abdul Kalam.
In 2009, I visited his website and requested him to visit my website and one day I received an E-autograph from him with Best Wishes. Such a nice human being.Who found time for ordinary people like me. Salute! #APJAbdulKalam.
The former president of the country, who breathed his last while reaching out to students in Shillong, had the time to respond to an unknown fellow citizen. Does this tell brands anything about how they can earn respect?
Or do they have to be reminded, that #KalamSir has been trending on Twitter all day?
Such respect cannot be earned with a facade. It takes sincere intent, demonstrated consistently.

(The author is managing editor of Campaign India. This article was first posted on LinkedIn. Twitter: @goks140)
Campaign India

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