Opinion: Essence of brand conversations in a digital world

Rajat Gandhi, head, PerformicsIndia, says that digital enables consumers to speak to brands offers brands the opportunity to hear and participate in their conversations directly

Feb 10, 2012 05:39:00 PM | Article | Rajat Gandhi

A recent study by Chicago University’s Booth Business School found that social media is more addictive than alcohol and cigarettes! The study was conducted on Americans; if a similar study was done in India I am sure we would have got similar results among the argumentative Indians.

Biggest brands have one thing in common and that is they command a lot of trust from their consumers. To build these trusted brands the companies have always invested heavily into listening to what their consumers have to say about them. What their needs are; How are they changing; and how products and services can be customised to make their life easier and simpler.

On the other hand conversations have always been central to our relationships. They define how we perceive people, brands, situations or any other aspects of our lives. We want to talk and be heard. Consumers have always conversed about the brands, but it is only with the advents of digital medium that the consumers can speak to brands and the brands have the opportunity to hear and participate in their conversations directly.  

The “Always On” digital medium today offer brands to speak to consumers in an ongoing basis and at a scale never seen before. Therefore it is imperative that the brands engage with their consumers in a proactive manner to (a) build trust (b) tell the consumers what they stand for (c) participate and listen to their needs (d) build products and services, and (e) engage with prospective investors and employees.

To have a meaningful conversation around the brand it is imperative that the basics of engagement and conversations are followed. Needless to say the real world rules apply in the virtual world too:

  1. Listen and understand what your consumer is saying, as in the real world good listeners are the most popular. Ask relevant questions and show genuine concerns to their point of view.
  2. Speak, don’t preach. It’s simple people don’t like to be preached! Treat your consumers equally. Don’t broadcast yourself from a pedestal, try and be their friend. A friend whom they can trust.
  3. Revert and act. It’s good to listen and speak but the brands must revert and act, this builds the trust between the brands and consumers. Consumers will move away if you do not keep your promise. They must see a value in conversing with you. They must see action being taken to their problems and concerns. You don’t need to be defensive and do not argue. Consumers know that you have a right to make mistakes, but you do not have the right to repeat them.
  4. Be transparent and honest in your conversations, be upfront, don’t give excuses. In the long run people appreciate transparency and honesty.

The above is easier said than done. Having a conversation is a double-edged sword and the old saying still applies – familiarity breeds contempt. The competitive environment of business may throw up challenges. Hence, it is imperative that the conversations remain conversations and
do not turn into arguments, or an opportunity to ridicule competition.