Everybody who is somebody in Marketing is today craving about the power of Social Media on consumers. I have been hooked onto this upcoming (or is it already there) medium for over two years now, but am yet to tap the full potential, both in terms of knowledge gain as well as ways of improving business. While most of the self-claimed Social Media Gurus believe that usage of a social platform such as Twitter or Facebook itself is Social Media marketing, it really isn't. At least for Retailers and Brands. Its about how the medium is used to connect to consumers and to receive feedback from them, rather than passing communication / message such as promotions and offers. While I have been thinking of writing a column on this topic for quite long (apologies to followers of this column and even those who don’t, for not being around for more than eight weeks due to other predicaments) I read something a while ago which prompted me to discuss this topic. Feedback, as always most welcome.
Ralph Lauren, the marquee Luxury brand in all senses has launched a heavily interactive iPad app to promote its RLX (Ralph Lauren Extreme) sportswear line. The photo and animation-rich , the first the publicly-traded fashion company has created for the iPad, invites users to perform different actions that underline the apparel line’s various properties. Users can use their fingers to paint in color on a black-and-white photograph (highlighting the collection’s colorful palette), tap to freeze model-athletes in various acrobatic poses (conveying agility) and blow into their iPad’s microphone to demonstrate the “light-as-air” fabrics, among other things. It utilizes much of what the device has to offer: its built-in accelerometer, digital compass, assisted GPS and multi-touch capabilities. Users can shop the collection within the app, share images via Facebook and e-mail, and save images to their photo library. Like most fashion apps, the vast majority of users will open it once and never again — but that appears to serve Ralph Lauren’s purposes well enough, given that the app promotes a single collection.
What started more as a mere communication (internet advertising followed by emailers a decade ago) evolved into a multi-million audience with the social media networks springing up by the day. Facebook, (valued at $82.9 Billion) one of the earliest entrants in the social networking space and a darling of the masses seems to lead the pack with tons of brands vying for mind space on the digital platform. It changed the way brands communicated – from one-way “take-it or ignore” communication to two way "compulsive interactivity". Brands are not just telling about themselves to their audience but also listening - started asking them what they wanted, what they liked and didn't. Specific to India, Shoppers Stop, Pantaloons, Wills Lifestyle, Vero Moda, Adidas & Nike are prominent in the apparel space; Pizza Hut, McDonalds, Hard Rock Café, Dominos and Taco Bell in the QSR space; Café Coffee Day & Barista as the two prominent café chains; and there are even malls such as Inorbit and Phoenix Mills that have their own community space! All these pages are updated frequently, ranging from twice a week to thrice a day, depending on the level of engagement that a brand wants to have.
Then came Twitter –a social networking and microblogging site where the user can post messages upto 140 characters (only), has followers and can follow other users as well. While this is mainly considered for personal networking and news updates due to the frequency of postings every day (over 65 million tweets a day according to Wiki), brands are vying to be heard in this space too. Many of them who are on Facebook double up their efforts to communicate through Twitter, while the popularity of it is not even half of that of Facebook which has over 500 million users!
Another big trend these days is the emergence of Foursquare, a location based social networking tool that allows the user to invite his or her friends; once connected, the user needs to check-in using the app (available for Android devices, iPhone, Symbian and even Blackberry). Users virtually check-in to locations that are listed everytime the app is refreshed. The network of friends would get to know the whereabouts of each other, except that one should be careful in his or her judgment before inviting the Spouse or Boss into the network, for they may want to keep them away from such coveted information! Globally, many brands have tagged themselves with Foursquare and offer specials to “Mayors” (a user becomes a Mayor with maximum check-ins in the past 60 days; and there can be only one user as Mayor everyday), ranging from a dollar off on a Frappucino at Starbucks to getting free bread sticks at participating Pizza Hut outlets in the US. “We want to give our customers an incentive to return to their favourite Pizza Hut as often as possible,” says Chris Fuller, Director of social media at Pizza Hut, Dallas. “This is a fun, interactive way to fuel customer loyalty. “Mobile tools and social media have become part of the daily routines of our customers,” he said. “They get their news, share their stories and, yes, order pizza from their phones without ever placing a call.
Cafe Coffee Day is the first Indian brand to go live on Foursquare. On your third check-in at CCD (applicable only for Bangalore for now), you will get a 15% discount. And if you are the Mayor, CCD will serve you a free coffee and a 20% discount on every 3rd check-in. Aside, Cafe Coffee Day is the first Indian brand on Foursquare to have their own Brand Page. With 7 out of 10 phones being sold in metros already being smartphones and getting less expensive (I wouldn’t say cheaper!) by the day, between Rs. 7,000 – Rs. 9,000 for a decent entry level one all the way upto super smartphones and tablets averaging Rs. 30,000, these apps will only become more popular and user friendly. Its up to the Retailers and Brands, how much they would like to involve themselves in this new media. After all, it doesn’t come easy and cheap – either it needs a dedicated in-house team or an outsourced one, either way requiring an in-depth knowledge about the medium. Time will tell, how well this media is used. Until then, stay connected with your favorite brands and ofcourse, your's truly.