Why CSR does not work for marketing

CSR marketing

Many companies consider their corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs as a powerful means of enhancing their corporate image. A few of them even ask their PR or advertising agencies to recommend ideas for CSR activities or projects that can be, well, marketed well. However, this approach inevitably skews the choice of potential CSR projects to a handful few that almost-guarantee a certain volume of buzz or favourable publicity, eschewing ideas that would perhaps be a better fit for the business and reap benefits more than just a questionable increase in goodwill towards the corporation.

This ‘questionable increase in goodwill’ is a ground worth exploring: whether there is evidence yet that CSR programs help enhance the corporate image in the minds of consumers. An even more important question to ask follows. Can a firm’s CSR activities help it sell more, because the consumers have a more positive image of the company or its brands? The short answer is a qualified no, as a clutch of research studies seem to suggest. The longer answer, as we are fond of saying, is more nuanced, and full of insights for marketers and corporate communications professionals. Continue reading

The marketing composite

The marketing composite

The recent electoral victory of Narendra Modi-led BJP (as part of NDA) presents to us a good opportunity to understand a concept that is intuitively obvious to many, and yet is often ignored in commentary surrounding marketing and communications. Let’s call this concept the marketing composite, and see how it plays out.

Modi’s campaign victory has been ascribed to many factors; with the prominent ones being – the electorate’s disillusionment with the incumbent government, Modi’s projection of a larger-than-life self image as a no-nonsense decision maker and able administrator, (acclaimed) huge media budget, Modi’s tireless campaign attending several rallies a day; for months on end, a resurgent support from the BJP and RSS ground-level cadres, a weaker opponent in Congress and a listless opposition campaign.

All the factors named above have been claimed to individually or collectively play a role in helping Modi achieve the electoral success. However, the commentary around the victory often chooses to focus on one or a handful of these factors; while ignoring the others. For example, you are quite likely to read a gripping analysis of how Modi’s image-building contributed to the electoral success that does not mention the role played by the party cadres. Continue reading

A Marketing lens on the 2014 Indian elections

Indian elections

As the 2014 Indian General Elections draw to a close, now is a good time as ever to apply the marketing lens to the electoral campaigns of the leading political parties and observe their communication strategies.

Indeed, all political parties are forced to think as brand marketers when it comes to running electoral campaigns. They need to identify their constituents and their grievances accurately, target an explicit set of grievances (or the opportunities for value-creation) and provide convincing and persuasive answers to the two fundamental questions of brand positioning: why should their constituents consider them for a vote (as a contender), and why should they actually vote for them.

In elections as complex and long drawn as seen in India, it is near impossible to capture or analyze all communication nuances with their attendant context in a blog post. Our intent therefore is not to provide an exhaustive review; but to pick some standout campaign themes and comment on their effectiveness, with the goal of providing some useful lessons for brand marketers and communications managers. Let us therefore present nine important observations in no particular order. Continue reading

Building Brands: Lessons from Hotels

brand lessons hotels

The essence of marketing is to create and sell a product or service that better meets the needs of a set of people, for profit. The essence of brand building is to make a promise to this set of people – the targeted market – about the product or service’s features and benefits, and then come good on this promise repeatedly and consistently.

It naturally follows that the biggest test for all marketers or brand owners is to articulate their brand’s promise convincingly, and then rally to deliver on this promise – for every single customer, every single time. Anecdotal evidence however suggests that whilst brand owners often excel in the first half of this challenge – convincing articulation of a persuasive promise  – they tend to fall a bit behind when it comes to the second half. Continue reading

Who’s shooting your next commercial?

Consumer Generated Content

Electric-car maker Tesla recently posted a new video commercial on its Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk even raved about it on his Twitter feed. What is the big deal here? That the one-minute video is a spec commercial produced by a bunch of recent college graduates, who say they are ‘passionate about what the brand and Elon Musk stand for’.

Of course, the primary goal of the creators in creating a spec ad was to win business or generate leads. But the fact that Tesla endorsed it and even published it – the carmaker has never done paid TV advertising thus far – marked yet another instance when a brand coopted user-generated content (UGC), or more likely consumer-generated content (CGC) as part of its communications.

Many brands have experimented with user or consumer-generated content – they have used images or footage in their commercials; sometimes going one step farther than Tesla and actually buying media space to run CGC as brand-endorsed commercials. Continue reading

Going viral the right way

Viral

As brand marketers continue to increase their digital marketing spends relative to the conventional media, their primary goal is to generate virality, buzz or word of mouth online – whether stated or otherwise. Digital marketing effectiveness is often measured by the number of people who viewed a brand’s communication (a video, website or a social media status update), commented or shared it. Of the three behaviors named above, sharing of a brand’s name or communication is what leads to virality or buzz in the true sense, or what is technically known as online word of mouth (WOM).

Back in 2010, a group of consultants writing for the McKinsey Quarterly classified online WOM in three forms as per its origin – experiential WOM that is spontaneously generated by consumers from their personal brand experiences, consequential WOM that is generated as a result of marketing efforts by brand owners, and intentional WOM when brands pay prominent influencers (celebrities for example) to generate positive endorsements through the influencers’ social feeds.

Keeping the intentional WOM out of our discussion, does consumer-generated online WOM matter for brand performance? More specifically, does higher WOM lead to increased sales? Researchers have tried to establish empirical link between online WOM and its impact on sales.

In a paper titled ‘Investigating the Relationship Between the Content of Online Word of Mouth, Advertising, and Brand Performance’, academic researchers from three prominent business schools in the United States suggest that of the three types of online WOM, experiential WOM appears to be most crucial driver of actual sales. Continue reading

The buzz ripple

Ellen Oscar selfie

The 2014 Oscars gave us the most retweeted tweet ever – a fact that was reported widely in the news media subsequently. In that respect, the Oscars gave us a striking case study on how social media combines with the conventional news media – both online and offline – to generate pulses of publicity or buzz. To understand how this happens, let’s see first what led to the creation of the ‘most retweeted tweet’.

This year’s host Ellen DeGeneres is no stranger to social media stardom and it was her choice “to take a lot of selfies” during the Oscars event and share them on Twitter. The decision turned out to be a masterstroke, as we now know, even though Twitter was already abuzz with Oscars-related updates. Think of the people around the world on Twitter who had no interest in Oscars and no idea of DeGeneres were jolted to acknowledge the both when they stumbled upon the now-famed selfie – retweeted by over 3 million people.

Interestingly, it didn’t matter if someone missed the selfie on Twitter, for the latter was all over the newspapers, news portals and TV channels for the next few days. Therefore, an idea that was born on live television took a life of its own on the social web, and then came back down to news media, which again made to several social media conversations.

This pulsation of cross-media virality – the buzz ripple – is a product of today’s age when both social and the news media feed off each other; where trending stories on Twitter now make it to the news as fast as developing news stories make it to Twitter. The implications for brand marketers are stunningly huge. It need not matter whether a powerful idea first attracts mass attention – through the conventional media or on digital – for if it is powerful enough, there is a high probability that it will soon generate a buzz ripple across online and offline.

Consider how this scenario played out for Samsung during the Oscars 2014. The former company, as part of its $20 million event sponsorship, had negotiated a product placement deal that involved featuring of Samsung smartphones on the live show. When Ellen proposed taking selfies for the show – she was suggested to use Samsung phones. Everyone who watched Oscars on TV saw Ellen use a Samsung phone for the famous selfie. But the bonanza for Samsung did not end there – it got bigger on Twitter where Samsung was claimed to get 900 mentions a minute at one point. Of course, from Twitter, it found its way back to the news stories like this, which promptly found mentions back on Twitter – creating the buzz ripple. Continue reading

Dealing with extreme attitudes

Group of protesters

The ability to change people’s attitudes towards an idea or an object – say a product category or a brand – is a highly sought-after marketing skill. Attitudes can often be good predictors of behavior and any marketing campaign that succeeds in changing attitudes of any given segment, favourably, is by definition helping expand the market.

All of us hold attitudes towards a large range of objects or entities. A surprisingly large number of these attitudes are pliable – that is most of us do not have compunctions changing them – leading us to experience the joys of effective marketing. But there also exist extreme attitudes, and running into them is a marketer’s nightmare. Think of convincing a Narendra Modi fan to vote for any other party in the next general elections. Think of persuading a Mac fan to try a Windows PC or Chromebook, or a Sachin Tendulkar fan to consider Jacques Kallis, Ricky Ponting or Rahul Dravid as the greatest Cricketer we have all seen.

All of us also know people who hold doggedly to their attitudes towards objects or entities that so many of others couldn’t be less bothered about. But generally, controversial or dichotomous topics attract attitude extremity. Think pro-abortion and anti-abortion, pro-gay marriage and anti-gay marriage; pro-liberalization and anti-liberalization and the list goes on.

What are the psychological reasons for driving attitude extremity? And what must a marketer do to take a chance – however bleak – at changing such extreme attitudes and at least bring them to moderation? While there are no easy cookbook answers available as yet, some clues are found in a book titled ‘Attitude Strength: Antecedents and Consequences’. Let’s first examine why people develop such extreme attitudes. Continue reading

Can great marketing sell a bad product?

Car park

Will a spectacularly creative and memorable campaign help you sell a product that is decidedly poor value compared to other alternatives in its category? The short answer is yes. And the longer answer, as always, is a little more nuanced.

To answer this question conclusively, we need to first understand and make note of a marketing concept called the ‘moment of truth’. Between a consumer and a brand, the moment of truth comes when the brand has to live the promise made in its promotional campaign. Therefore, for a car brand promising a mileage of 20km per liter in its advertisement, the moment of truth happens when the consumer fills up the tank for the second time and gets to calculate the mileage. This is the precise moment when the brand’s promise has to come true. If it comes true, the consumer’s trust in the brand grows. If it doesn’t, the brand possibly has a problem at hand.

A great marketing promotional campaign can therefore help you sell a bad product until the moment of truth arrives for the consumer. Intuitively, it now becomes clearer how this principle can be applied to brands across multiple categories. Continue reading

Evoc on Public Relations – II

At presentation

In the first post of this two-part series, we saw how the function of public relations is used to perform two key roles for any public entity – marketing and advocacy. The role of marketing comes into fore whenever PR is directed at an entity’s customers. Also, recall that from a marketing perspective, customers include buyers of a firm’s products and services, its employees and also investors and lenders – virtually any stakeholder who derives an obvious and articulable value from an organization’s operations.

The goal of PR, as with any marketing communications, is two-fold, make customers aware of an organization’s (public entity’s) value proposition as embedded in its products and services (this includes the organization’s value as an employer), and persuade them to choose its products or services over those of competitors, or even close substitutes. These two categories of goals synchronize perfectly to the standard brand building process, and now let us examine these in detail. Continue reading