It’s all about photos

Photo Credit — https://unsplash.com/@jaywennington

Out of all the work experience that I have, almost half of it has been into photography industry now — a category that has really exploded in last decade, a category in which you literally have to be on your toes in case you want to make a mark, a category that has gone through unimagined consumer behavior changes at an unimagined pace. We all are clicking, clicking all the time, clicking anything & everything!

My work also involves meeting photographers and consumers who are looking to hire photographers on a regular basis and at times the kind of insights that I get by just observing or casually interacting with them is mind blowing.

The trend of getting life events photographed or preserving our unique moments as photographs has been existing since centuries but there is something now because of which photographs and photography are as much part of our lives as food and sleep.

Thanks to social media, it will be safe to say that now we humans literally eat, breathe and live our lives through photos. This is something that we all know of but at times certain incidences just make this realization starker!Read More

Facebook Advertising — Customise, Connect, Change

Image Credit — https://unsplash.com/@carlheyerdahl

Love me, or hate me, but you can not ignore me — Sincerely Yours, Facebook!

Even if certain set of users won’t agree to this statement but considering Facebook & Instagram are still dominating the charts of most downloaded and most used apps, it would be better to accept that Facebook is one of those beasts which marketers can’t ignore if they’re going for a paid digital campaign especially for a consumer product category.

I know there are enough pro and anti Facebook advertising arguments all over the internet but this post is not about whether to go for Facebook advertising or not, it’s more about when you are doing it, do it right. No point in spending money without fixing the basics first.

It’s 2017 & why I am still talking of basics of Facebook advertising? I mean, even a school kid knows how to advertise on Facebook? What’s the big deal about it when it’s just so simple and easy to set up a Facebook campaign? Well, that’s the exact problem — it’s just so easy! And almost everyone is setting it up without much effort or thought put behind understanding the platform or learning the best practices.

And when something is very easy, it’s also easier to mess it up. Isn’t it?

In last 15 days I have met four startups who are spending big money on Facebook advertising and three of them have digital agencies managing their accounts. While we discuss CPA and efficacy of the medium, there is this general sigh that CPA is not coming down and the effectiveness of their campaign is decreasing with time. I got a chance to analyze their campaigns and surprisingly, I found the problems common across — ignoring the basics and one-size-fit-all campaigns.

And all it takes is 3 simple steps to fix the same.

Customize

So startup A, with whom I was interacting recently, is a food company with a potential target audience that could range in between any age group, i.e., teenagers to even 50+year old ones. Their agency was running a digital campaign for age bracket 18–45 years with same messaging and same creatives. Their logic — after all it’s a food category and anyone could potentially be a customer for this category. True, absolutely true. But what happened to the basics of marketing known as segmentation and customizing the campaigns according to each segment? The more granular we go with customization, the more effective the outputs are in digital medium. For e.g., in this case it took us a day’s exercise to go through each product variant and try to figure out the star appeal of each variant. The moment we were ready with product feature matrix, it was getting clearer to the founders that perhaps each variant needs to be targeted to a different segment, customized with a different messaging. And that’s what we did — instead of one master campaign showing different products in different units of carousel, we configured multiple campaigns with messages and visuals tailored to different audience type. Going granular and customization upto the last level was some task for sure but the results were obvious and in a week’s time the acquisition numbers were moving northward within the same budget.

Customization takes time and effort but it’s worth it. Just go for it. Go granular, go microscopic.

Connect

Are you targeting your ads to those who have liked your page as well? Of course, the logical brain tells you why do you need to especially when you have limited money? The ones who have liked your page are already getting to see your updates, so why not use the money to target new audience and acquire new customers? Start up A, B, C & D — all four had done the same. And earlier, even I used to do the same. But then after experiencing the diminishing organic reach of Facebook posts that perhaps is not even in the range of 2 to 5% these days, I had changed my targeting strategy. And I was surprised with the improvement in the conversion rate.

So, next time when you are trying to sell any new product or targeting your users for repurchase, connect with your existing base first, you’ll be surprised with your acquisition percentage and more importantly, your CPA. The rationale behind this is pretty simple — the ones who have liked your page are somewhat interested in you, the chances of them buying your product are much higher than the new ones.

When you have limited money, it’s all the more important that you prioritize it on targeting the interested ones first. Connect with your existing fan base, it works.

Change

Startup D had spent some decent money in getting their products shot beautifully. The campaigns were doing well initially but with time, the CTR had reduced. On asking, when was the last time the images were changed, the answer was almost three months back. To add to that, all the good pictures were used in first burst itself. But then why do they need to plan for second or third bursts when the first one was doing so good? Well, simply because users get bored of seeing the same thing again and again. To add to that, this phone era has reduced our attention span to 8 seconds which is perhaps lesser than that of many living creatures. And the only method to grab attention these days is through striking visuals. Visuals attract attention and new images give a fresh perspective to your ads. Be it digital or any form of advertising, a good visual evokes emotions and enhances the consumer connect. This has been tried and tested since ages in all forms of advertising but is especially true in this digital era where we literally breathe and live our virtual life through images.

Change your ads frequently, especially the images. Even if you are advertising the same product or service, just change the visuals and see the impact on your CTR. In one of my last campaigns, it moved up by 3x.

Customize, Connect & Change — that’s it. Focus on these and your basics will be in place. And if basics are in place, we all know rest can be managed, enhanced and improved 🙂

Experiencing the power of Brand Consistency through a 4 year old

Brand Consistency Helps.

And it just doesn’t matter if the consumer is 40 or 4 year old!

This is something that we all know and always try to achieve as a marketer but recently I experienced the power of a consistent brand in a different way altogether.

Few weeks back, I was traveling out of country along with my 4 year old and one of the days during that trip we were roaming in an area that had very limited options for food. While I was ok with anything to eat but it was the little one for whom we were not able to find any suitable option. To add to that, internet connectivity was weak and Google map wasn’t being of much use. It was already quite late for his meal time and he didn’t want to eat any of the packaged snacks that I was carrying. And suddenly he shouted — Mumma, look there is a Domino’s! I tried to look around and asked — where? He was pointing to a remote corner where we could spot a red & blue part of glow-sign. It was quite far but yes the red & blue looked familiar and we started walking in that direction. And bingo, he was right, there was a Domino’s! As we approached nearer, we realized there were other food joints as well including some good options for pizza. We tried to convince him to try out something new but the junior was adamant on having a pizza and that too from Domino’s only.

Here’s a snapshot of conversation between me and my 4 year old.

Me: Ok I understand you want to have pizza only but why not try this place (me pointing to the next outlet of Brand Y).

Him: No, I want to eat at Domino’s only as I know their pizzas are good.

Me (Trying my luck again as we wanted to explore something different): But how do you know the pizza at this other outlet is bad without even trying?

Him: Mumma, I don’t know if the other pizza is bad but I know Domino’s pizza is good. What if their cheese pizza will have mirchi (chilly) in it? Domino’s ke cheese pizza mein mirchi nahi hoti and taste humesha same hota hai (Domino’s cheese pizza doesn’t have chillies in it and always tastes the same). I’m hungry and I will have my favorite cheese pizza of Domino’s ONLY!

And yes, the mom and dad in us won over the foodie in us. We finally had pizzas at Domino’s only despite the fact that Brand Y outlet looked more appealing and had much higher rating on Tripadvisor.

Now a 4 year old’s love for pizza is something that I needn’t explain 🙂 but his love for Domino’s was something that I thought was worth observing:

  • He can’t read all the small letter alphabets yet, but it was him who could spot the brand from a really far off place. In fact the brand name was hardly noticeable but he could recognize the outlet just by a glimpse of that red & blue logo unit. Well,

Consistency surely makes a brand easily recognizable!

  • His trust in brand and its offering was rock solid! He had tried Domino’s cheese pizza at different places earlier and he knew that it tastes the same everywhere. Preferably,

Consumers trust the brand they recognize and consistency helps in building that trust!

  • He was sure of his choice and when it came to his favorite pizza he wasn’t willing to try anything else except Domino’s. He ensured that we bought the pizza from Domino’s only. And,

When there is a trust, there is a loyalty and chances of repeat business are quite high.

So here I was, practically experiencing the three key lessons of Brand Consistency through purchase behavior of my 4 year old who doesn’t even know how to read a brand name yet :). Consistency actually helps your brand get recognized, builds trust in the minds of your consumers and increases the chance of repeat business!

Btw, that area also had Domino’s biggest competitor in Indian market but somehow that brand was not the top of mind recall for my 4 year old, maybe because Domino’s is more of a household name in India due to its focus on home delivery model as against the fine dining or eat out experience by the competitor.

Domino’s — you definitely have a very loyal 4 year old consumer at my end!

Whatever happened to writing for humans!

Whatever happened to writing for humans!

Of late I have been interviewing people for content writer positions in my current organization. I had some content strategy in my mind and the goal as product owner was clear to me — create content for user engagement and offer content that the user is looking for. Yes, the operative word was “user”, loud and clear. But as baffling as it may sound, not even a single candidate whom I interviewed in last few weeks mentioned to me the word “user” in his/her opening pitch. It all started with writing content for search engines and ended with content quality being SEO friendly. To add to that, the kind of content that I am looking to create is sort of new initiative for my target audience, so it’s important for the candidate to have basic understanding of the category. When asked about industry experience, understanding of target audience, pat came the reply — you can let us know which words work for you and we will figure out the content that’s doing well for those words in search engines and create content for you accordingly, the written piece will have all those words with right density and frequency.

Density? Frequency? Engines? What happened to writing content for humans? Last I knew was search engines were meant for discoverability but consumption of content was still done by humans. Isn’t it? And search gods like Google have anyways changed their algorithm to focus on quality of content rather than quantity of keywords inserted in it.

Then, why this focus on promotion so much more than production?

I understand the importance of marketing the content esp. in this age of too-many-of-any type of content but being a hard core marketer I can only say one thing — you try to market whatever, be it product or service or content, if the foundation of it is not in place, then your marketing can only help you just as much and not that much.

I know there are many golden rules that exist for creating engaging content, marketing the content etc but based on all my practical experiences in product & marketing, especially in digital, here is my quick list for new age content creation process:

User first — As basic as it may sound, but this is really important — put your users first above everything. Write for target audience and not for target channels. Content to me especially when I am looking for user engagement is exactly like a product. If you put your users in the heart of your content creation process, half of your battle is won. Speaking of user first, I actually love this quote by Jamie Turner:


As a simple practice when I write or approve any piece of content for my products, I generally check it on 3 quick parameters — is it offering value to my readers, is the language easy to understand for my readers and is it engaging, inspiring or thought-provoking for my readers? Yes, “readers” it is, in all three parameters.

Quality can never be outdated — Whatever changes may happen in our content search or content consumption behavior but one thing that can never be changed is the importance of “quality” of content especially in today’s age where there is a content jungle out there. You may adapt many tricks to get discovered but once the user has landed on your page and if sufficient substance is not there in your content then she will lose interest and is bound to navigate away immediately. To add to that, average attention span of readers has further reduced by more than 30% in last 3 years. While there are many methods to get your content promoted, and content marketing seems to be one of the most fashionable jargons these days but there is no substitute to the quality of content that you produce if you want your marketing to really work for your content.

Engage with readers — Again a term that we have heard quite often but it’s one of the most ignored parameters when it comes to content. Like any product or service, user engagement in your content is a must. Connect, interact, converse and accept the feedback or criticism graciously. The more the user is engaged, the easier it is for them to act or decide.

To sum it up, if the content is unique, offers value to its readers and is interesting enough to hold reader’s attention, then there is no reason why the reader won’t share and spread the word around it. “Share”, isn’t it the reason why content has suddenly become one of the most important marketing channels in the digital world?

The agile digital marketing

Digital marketing is agile. Heard it, said it and experienced it many times earlier but I think the recent #CWC15 trend on Twitter is just one of the simplest and most perfect examples to explain this agility. Twitter this time definitely upped its engagement quotient manifold with its live cricket dashboard. It was a very well crafted and well promoted initiative with prompts and alerts at most visible places. Even a non-cricket lover couldn’t miss to notice it.

Twitter riding on an event is nothing new, neither marketers trying to grab consumer’s attention on all possible screens. But what was interesting to observe was the speed at which marketers could change their communication on this medium, engaging their audience in the moments that mattered, with messages that were contextually relevant at that point of time.

Just look at some of the screenshots grabbed on Twitter last week. Many brands came out with interesting messages that were very different from their general marketing communication, though some surely appeared to be force-fit in their quest to be different or relevant to the game. But overall the noteworthy point was the number of brands advertising on Twitter this time or the number of messages that brands could promote everyday depending upon which match it was and who was winning or losing the game. Imagine coming out with so many options during traditional advertising days? Imagine the cost implication or effort required to do it then? And no, I am not at all comparing the new age vs. traditional medium like television for things like reach. No doubts, television wins hands down at least in Indian market when it comes to reach but if I have to just take the digital medium as a second screen option, then the flexibility that this medium offers to adapt and be real time is fascinating!


And to me, the one brand that stood out completely on Twitter during ICC World Cup 2015 was Cadbury 5 Star. Not only were they smart in their content, they were also nimble enough to change as required. This Ramesh-Suresh duo knew how, when and what to speak. Otherwise, remember the reactions on seeing those super upbeat ads for any team during the commercial break on television esp. when that team was losing the game.


If I have to quickly jot down the steps on how to engage with your audience real-time without going into too much theoretical details of agile marketing, then I would sum it up in just three simple steps:

  • Listen intently
  • Communicate constantly
  • React instantly

Easy, isn’t it? Think again :-). How many of us listen carefully before communicating? How many of us communicate judiciously instead of reacting? How many of us react immediately without listening properly? Sometimes the simplest things are actually not so simple to handle and so is the case with digital medium. While the medium is very easy to use but not everyone knows how to use it to its full advantage. And those who have figured it out are already excelling in engaging with their audience on second, third or multiple screens.

BTW, I started my post with digital medium but when it came to referring to this year’s world cup, I only used Twitter as an example. I am myself wondering why I could notice all of it only on Twitter and not anywhere else? Is it just me who thinks that Twitter was the most preferred second screen option during this world cup? Would love to read some numbers by other sites but for now I would leave you with this latest post by Twitter that officially states on how #CWC15 played out on Twitter across the world.

Buying Facebook Likes? Paying for positive reviews? Purchasing Twitter Followers?

Just few days back I had tweeted about my declining interest in some of my favorite blogs. Reason? Posts on those blogs now are obvious enough to make out that they are paid and not the real ones. And yesterday I got to read this report, which states that paid reviews are gaining momentum as social media marketing trend.

As per this recent report by Gartner, by 2014 between 10% and 15% of all ratings and reviews on social networking sites will be fake or paid ones as against the current percentage of 1% to 2%. Due to increased consumer reliance on social media sites, companies are now spending more in order to get attention and build positive content on these channels.

“With over half of the Internet’s population on social networks, organizations are scrambling for new ways to build bigger follower bases, generate more hits on videos, garner more positive reviews than their competitors and solicit ‘likes’ on their Facebook pages,” said Jenny Sussin, senior research analyst at Gartner. “Many marketers have turned to paying for positive reviews with cash, coupons and promotions including additional hits on YouTube videos in order to pique site visitors’ interests in the hope of increasing sales, customer loyalty and customer advocacy through social media ‘word of mouth’ campaigns.”

The report also predicts that with the percentage of false social networking reviews increasing, chances of backlash will be more both in terms of media attention and Federal Trade Commission lawsuits. You can read the summary of the report here.

Fake reviews and paid likes? Considering the consumer presence and engagement with social sites it had to happen but my question is why? If you ask me, I still have not come across even a single such sensibly executed paid campaign that I can accept or appreciate either as a consumer or as a marketer. “Like us on Facebook and win prizes”, “Follow us on Twitter and get discount” – digital medium is flooded with such offers and promotions these days.

Offers and promotions to attract relevant audience are still understandable as once they are associated with your brand you can try to engage them in interesting ways but buying out random followers and likes just to project a huge fan following? OK, you bought likes, have a huge fan following on Facebook and large follower base on Twitter, then what? Are they reading your communication? Are they engaged with your brand? Are they interacting with you on these channels? In most of these cases, answer is no. Then what business objective is getting served with these randomly bought followers? Even for paid content, positive posts written with a balanced approach may help to boost your image to some extent but then if it is not backed up with product / service fulfillment then what? Your same post gets backfired with numerous negative comments and ratings. And this I’m speaking of “smart” paid content, let’s not even discuss the ones written in a way that self advertise those posts being fakes and not real ones loud and clear.

These gimmicks (or shall I call them modern day internet scam) may help you achieve your short-term goals but in the long run? Well, I have no idea! Not only these can lead to loss of brand credibility but can backfire as well in an uncontrolled negative way. To add to that, it would also impact the core essence of social media being i.e., engagement and interaction! So, what do you think of these campaigns? Do you think social media will also meet the same fate as email or sms marketing? Can you make out the difference between real and paid content? Have you liked any page for any incentive and if yes, did you unlike the page once you were incentivized? Would love to hear your views on these.

E-books outselling hardcover books: Slow extinction of physical book industry?

Until few months back, Amazon used to sell 48 Kindle copies for every 100 physical copies of books that it offered in both formats. But the figures definitely seem to have taken a dramatic change now.

Amazon.com, one of the US’ largest booksellers, announced on Monday that for the past three months, sales of books for its e-reader, the Kindle, has outnumbered sales of hardcover books (via).

Now Amazon is selling 143 Kindle books for every 100 hardcover books, including hardcovers for which there is no Kindle edition. The figures do not include free Kindle books.
As far as overall digital book sale is concerned, even there is an upsurge. In past four weeks, sales rose to 180 digital books for every 100 hardcover copies. Amazon has 630,000 Kindle books, a small fraction of the millions of books sold on the site.
The growth rate of Kindle sales tripled after Amazon lowered the price of the device in late June to $189 from $259 and as per the Association of American Publishers, e-book sales have quadrupled this year through May.

Amazon had earlier also predicted to sell more of e-books as compared to physical books  and the recent statistics undeniably cast a notable change in favor of their estimation. There is definitely need for this product in certain consumer segments, moreover e-books are eco friendly and easier to store as compared to the physical ones. So, does this mean physical books are on their slow path to extinction now? What about avid readers like me who still prefer to read the physical books? Will the affordability, accessibility and convenience factor to store books affect my consumption behavior? Though Kindle as such has not been doing that great in India but considering the book market in India (India is the world’s third largest English language book market and has been growing at about 10% per annum for several years) and availability of more affordable products like Infibeam’s Pi, will the global trend of e-book outselling physical books apply to Indian market too? Would be interesting to observe some statistics from Indian e-book sellers to come out with a better comparison between international vs. domestic market but as of now from all the global trends, e-books definitely seem to be picking faster than estimated and that too in a short span of time.

Digi-moms in India: Opportunity for brands?

A quick observation on my blogging or social networking circle and it always makes me think about the new generation, internet-savvy moms all around me.  The way these moms spend time updating about their babies in blogs, Facebook etc or the way they seek and discuss info about parenting on different websites, you definitely know that this section of consumer has definitely arrived on digital medium now. Yes, the presence maybe only in metros or selected cities, but nevertheless the population doesn’t seem to be worth ignoring for sure. And When I read a recent report about the arrival of digi-moms ( the term surely sounds nice 🙂 ) in India, I wasn’t surprised a bit on the statistics mentioned there. The survey dealt with the online behavior of over 3,000 mothers across eight countries in Asia including India, China, Singapore, Hong Kong and Korea.

  • As per the study conducted by Microsoft Advertising and Starcom MediaVest, Mothers in India are becoming increasingly Internet-savvy, be it for shopping or keeping in touch with family.

  • 87 per cent of the mothers surveyed in India said that the Internet is now an important part of their lives.

  • As many as 50 per cent said they had made online purchases in the last one month.

  • While Indian mothers spend 56 per cent of their total time on the Internet either for work or study, 90 per cent of them use it to connect with family and friends. As many as 75 per cent defined going online as their “me-time activity”.

  • About 81 per cent of the mothers in the country prefer reading newspapers and magazines online, and books top their list of shopping items.

  • More than 90 per cent of the moms agreed that good brands or products were worth talking about, and over 72 per cent said that they can persuade friends and family to buy the same products.

Well, the figures are definitely encouraging and the terms like online being “me-time-activity” for most of these moms definitely seem to be so relatable (I’ve many friends who were working earlier but after motherhood they are either on partial sabbatical or have decided to be at home full time, these women actually think their online time to be a ‘me time’ when they can connect with their friends, colleagues , fellow bloggers etc.) but when you think of the brands reaching out to this section on digital medium, you wonder why kids or parenting related brands are not spending their money online? I have seen it in quite many cases where the discussion on some forum is all about motherhood or kids but then the corresponding advertisement on the page would be of some general insurance company or online share trading offering. Not that a woman won’t be interested in it, there may be some for sure but would have been better to see some kiddie brand or women oriented products using online medium to reach out this new generation of digital population.  I know acceptance of this medium is still a challenge in most of the industries and despite so much of evangelization there are hardly few Indian brands who have really explored this medium in the right way. But when the presence of your TG is just so obvious, why not try it out? As far as I’m concerned, with or without this survey report, I think I can see this segment increasing in internet world quite clearly 🙂

Word of Mouth: Facilitating vs. Faking it

I have recently written a post on Word of Mouth Marketing at pluggd.in

Excerpt from the post: “Word of mouth” marketing is an age old concept now and from bigger organizations to start ups, almost everybody wants to take this free marketing path. While some think that WOM is something which will happen on its own, some go ahead & incentivize their customers to spread the word and then there are some who take extreme steps of contracting paid outsourced help to create positive word of mouth for their brands. Despite this being “known-by-all” concept, how many startups are there who genuinely have been focusing on this free marketing route and targeting the consumers who can be influencers for fresh leads? Read more on “WOMM – The Evergreen Strategy for Free Marketing” at pluggd.in

As far as understating this concept is concerned, Word of Mouth undoubtedly seems to be one of the simplest marketing terms but when it comes to execution, this is one of the trickiest of the lots. See these for e.g.,

  • A popular networking site bombarding by sending emails through dummy user ids with following subject & content:
    • Subject: I’ve never seen anything like this before!
    • Excerpt from the email content: I came across this recently and since then, I’ve met some pretty interesting people and think you must try this out too. This is really good and different, just click this link and be my friend.

Well, frankly speaking one does not care a bit for any new networking site which asks you to join only because you can make friends with interesting people there! At the first look itself this mail looks just so artificial.

  • A newly launched e-commerce site sending the following message in your Facebook account again through dummy user profiles:
    • Hey there! I have been using thisxyz.com and I find it to be pretty good site for all your online book shopping needs. Collection of books there is just so great and you get some amazing discounts too. All you have to do is register and start your shopping now.

I actually landed on this site esp. because it mentioned about a good collection of books and it didn’t take me more than a second to realize that it was just another sham message, an effort by some newbie to spread the positive word without even having the basics in place. Forget the discount, the collection itself was pathetic. Even very popular books were not available and the search as well as browse functionalities were just too hopeless. Yes, the message managed to get me there, but only once. The experience was sad enough to ensure that I don’t go back there again, more so when I’ve multiple other options available.

In an effort of spreading the positive message amongst the crowd, most of the companies actually forget that word of mouth can only be encouraged and not forced; it can only be facilitated and not faked. Owe it to the simplicity (at least the presumed simplicity) of implementation, most marketers just jump on to it without realizing the repercussion of over-doing it or doing it the sham way. Today’s consumers are smart enough to smell the scam and if they do, then such unnatural messages actually backfire and tarnish the image of the brand instead of building it further. Even though the word “marketing” is attached to this term, still word of mouth marketing is not about creating the word on your own, it  is marketing the word created by your consumers; more importantly it is about providing reasons to your consumers (either through your product or service) to speak up and then utilizing this buzz within your marketing framework.

Note: Like my experience with Flipkart, do you have similar experiences with any Indian or International brand where you’ve been so impressed that you’ve created the WOM for it on your own? Would love to hear your anecdotes here.

The art of communication

Sometimes even the most important thing can be communicated in such a simple way and an interesting communication always adds to the beauty of any promotion campaign.
Visited the Café Coffee Day next to my office and the two cappuccinos served for me and my colleague looked like this 🙂


Need I write anything more? Nahi na…the messaging on coffees brought smile to my face and personally speaking, I liked it.
Myntra, a Bangalore based personalized merchandising company has done a tie-up with Café Coffee Day to promote its IPL special t-shirts and jerseys in CCD outlets. Instead of the whole outlet being painted with danglers or streamers, this was the communication to me as a customer and my immediate reaction was – “what’s this about, can you tell me more details”? As a customer it appealed to me at the first exposure itself and made me curious enough to ask for details. No heavy bombardment with the messaging yet the connect with a potential customer established at the first point itself 🙂