Monthly Archives: September 2012

Academic research avenues in Brand Communities

Brand community is the term which I am living with for the last three years. It simply means a group of people who are connected to a brand, irrespective of whether they have purchased it or not. In earlier times, brand communities were formed in offline world which required gathering of brand enthusiasts at a particular place at regular intervals of time to stay connected with other brand enthusiasts and feel proud of being associated with the brand. I wonder if any brand in India, could manage to build such a strong brand community, but the one global brand which did it successfully is Harley Davidson. Also, these brand community enthusiasts helped fellow community members in whatever manner they could. However, with the arrival of Internet and subsequently social media which facilitated enormous amount of two way communication the phenomenon of brand communities has become crucial for every organization.This pulsating combination of brand community and the social media impressed me and thus I chose this as my research topic for my doctoral work.

I had an opportunity to talk about research avenues in this domain, with doctoral students of Mudra Institute of Communications, Ahmedabad. The initially planned 6 hours session exceeded to 7 hours session with just three doctoral students. Yes, you don’t have luxury of many voices in a doctoral class! It was indeed a new experience for me and enjoyed it a lot.

We began discussing the change in branding phenomenon. Gone are the days when branding was just considered to be an activity that marketing department had to fulfill. We discussed how various environmental factors have enriched the branding phenomenon as its impact on business ecosystem has become complex. The discussion led to the point that branding is not just about logos, name, colour etc. but its a promise that an organization makes to the both internal and external stakeholders. Then we discussed about the emergence of brand community phenomenon. This led to the discussion on user-generated brand communities vs. firm-generated brand communities. It was necessary to understand that given the technology available, even if brands choose not to participate in this community phenomenon, there are other stakeholders who have the rights and the capability to create a brand community and one never knows if that brand community would be spreading a positive word of mouth or a negative!

Then we arrived at the discussion of where to host the brand community assuming that brand decides to create a community around its brand. There are two alternatives, either brands could create it on their own infrastructure (corporate website or a dedicated website for the community) or they could leverage third party infrastructure like that of Facebook, Twitter etc. It came out very well from the discussion that creating a brand community is just half job done, the challenge lies in maintaining the momentum of the community on a continuous basis. Once, the brand realizes it therein emerge related issues of why community members should join a community?, why they would participate regularly? what they would get out of this community? and last but not the least, how would brand get benefited (explicitly or implicitly) after having invested resources in this community building and community management exercise.

The answers to the above questions were found in the second half of the day with live examples shared by me and we sliced case studies one after another to understand each aspect raised above.

I was happy that by end of the day, I could expose the students to this topic, make them understand its importance and helped them identify few research avenues which they could pursue further in their doctoral research journey.

Brand associations with festivals on Social Media

Festivals are a good time for brands to generate some engagement on social media. I won’t feel shy to share my opinion that some brands literally wait for festivals to share a visually appealing image and hope for the engagement through it. The next few months in India would be full of festivals, starting with Ganesh Chaturthi, followed by Navratri, Diwali, Christmas and New Year. As a brand (especially B2C brand) one could leverage this for emotional connect with the stakeholders of the brand and may be also expect some spikes in sales. So, what all can a brand do or the activities that brands have done so far during festivals are:

  • Share an image with message about the festival.
  • Share an image with the colour that resembles their brand (specially done by ‘green brands’)
  • Add brand’s logo on the image with the festival message.
  • Share an offer along with the festival message.

I feel any or all of the above ways to express and build emotional connect with stakeholders, looks passive in today’s world as anyone with decent knowledge about Internet and image editing software like Photoshop could do these. How can a brand differentiate its message from other brands and yet build an effective emotional connect?

Wouldn’t it be better to connect the value proposition of the brand with the festival message? If you are wondering how it could be done, here are few examples that I found on my Facebook Newsfeed on the occasion of today’s Ganesh Chaturthi festival. These messages were just different and garnered my attention than other run-of-the-mill festival messages from other brands.

I am sure you would clearly identify the brand’s value proposition in the manner they have exhibited through the message. I personally liked the Zomato’s message, where an image has a story in itself with a strong impact.

Which one did you like?

Wagon R

Flipkart

DigitalVidya

Happydent

Zomato

Leveraging Social Media: A stakeholder perspective

Many brands when decide to establish their presence on social media, most often the only stakeholder that they think about is “customer”. Well, a brand isn’t built / spoilt just because of only this stakeholder. Every brand has variety of stakeholders like suppliers, employees, PR firms, rating agencies, social community, competitors etc. Hence, I believe that when firms decide to create their presence on social media, they should think about every stakeholder and see how could they add value to them.

I had an opportunity to discuss my views with few senior level marketing managers who were participating in a Management Development Program at Fore School of Management, New Delhi.   It was a great experience for me to share my views and also discuss with them about their thoughts and plans to leverage social media.

It is very essential to share some case studies when you are delivering talk before practitioners and hence I chose some case studies carefully. For instance Dell IdeaStorm, where they tried to involve multiple stakeholders on their own social platform for crowdsourcing ideas. Another interesting example that awestruck the audience was of Pure Air Lovers Society (P.A.L.S.), community built by Suzlon. I also shared some other case studies like Blendtec, Hippo, Kaya Skin Clinic and Hindware.

It was a good interactive session and I was glad that I could add value by sharing an alternate perspective of leveraging social media. The subsequent discussions did give me a hint that they appreciated perspective of addressing social media journey in terms of stakeholder view. Just when I was writing this post, I came across this post on Facebook, which is every appreciable.

I am all ears to hear your views on this perspective.

Promptness & Relevance: PR mantra on social media

Time and again this amazing micro-blogging platform, Twitter has stumped me with its aura. I simply keep on falling in love with it every other day for being so informative and agile. Really the agility of the platform keeps you on your toes, more so if you are an entrepreneur trying hard to make your mark through this platform. Here, I share an example of promptness and relevance, which I call the PR mantra to be successful on Twitter. This morning I came across a tweet that shared a news item which said that according to a research conducted at Stanford University, organic food wasn’t found to be healthier than that food grown in a conventional manner. Now, that was a shocking research results, though I am used to face such counter-intuitive research results in my research career.

I do not consume any organic food, but have heard through various sources that it does make a difference to health. So, I wondered how the research results differ from the common notion about organic food. I thought to check with two organic food e-commerce players I was aware of – @foodmandi and @farm2kitchen and made a tweet with mention to both at 10.25 am.

I didn’t receive any reply from either of them for couple of hours. I wondered if these brands considered Twitter to be a key platform, it’s a sin for them not to reach on such tweet where you are directly put on spot. If I were the brand manager of the brand, I would grab this opportunity to educate my audience and strengthen top of the mind recall for my brand. Guess what, within few hours I receive this tweet from Farm2Kitchen.  

 

They attempted a blogpost, where they clearly explained the contextual differences of US and India and why the research results highlighted by Stanford University couldn’t be relevant in Indian context. They went on further to share some stats about the amount of pesticides that were used in India and the ill-effects of them that were experienced.

If you are a brand trying to build your mark with social media; here are few key takeaways:

  • Keep your eyes open. Though simple and often repeatedly advised, it does take an effort to practice it with due diligence. For e.g. the last tweet (as of 1530 hours of 5th Sept) from @Foodmandi was at 1304 hrs on 3rd Sept. Now, one could say, its their choice to be responsive or not, but in that case they are mis-leveraging the strengths of the medium.
  • Respect social media users who mention you. It is an opportunity to converse with your audience when they mention you. It is always advisable to respond promptly. In this case, though Farm2Kitchen started working on the blogpost, an immediate response to my tweet that they will get back soon would have been appreciable.
  • Leverage every opportunity to educate target audience. Educating target audience should be ideally a proactive measure. However, when a controversial situation arises in your product category / service, it could be an ideal opportunity to strike the chord with your command on the category and help educate the target audience; as, in this case Farm2Kitchen has done exceptionally well (You got to read their blogpost, to understand why I have made such a strong comment!).
  • Ensure you maintain a top of the mind recall. When you answer such controversies in a convincing manner, this creates a substantial chance for the brand to remain in the top of the mind recall state for the users.

Gone are the days when PR exercises were meant to be just shining on traditional media where brands had ample time. Today it is an era of real-time media. So brands, -“Be Prompt & Relevant”, to build your PR in an effective manner with judicious use of social media platforms. As in this case, Farm2Kitchen created relevance through their educational blogpost and made prompt use of Twitter to disseminate the message further.

The art of teaching MBA students: My learning at ISB, Hyderabad

Teaching is a natural progressive profession (in most cases) for PhD students., Although the doctoral programs are designed to enable a person with adequate research and domain knowledge, rarely this program infuses teaching skills. Candidates generally learn the art once they are in the profession by experiential learning or by observing and discussing with their senior colleagues. Teaching is one such art, which can’t be taught, however an indicative skill training would be largely helpful for budding faculty members. ISB, Hyderabad realized this need of the educational ecosystem and floated a two day Doctoral Consortium on Teaching for final year doctoral candidates. About 25 doctoral candidates from leading b-schools of the country like IIM-A, IIM-B, IIM-C, MDI-Gurgaon, XLRI-Jamshedpur were invited for the consortium. I was one amongst those lucky ones to be invited to this first of its kind consortium.

The consortium began on the evening of 24th August, with an inaugural session. Prof. Arun Pereira – Head of Centre for Teaching, Learning and Case Development, began the session and introduced the vision of the centre. He then followed on with an interesting example of Hole in the Wall experiment and made us think with a message “For learning to take place, teachers are not required”. Now, in a doctoral consortium on teaching, if the head of the centre starts the session with such message, what sense would you make of it! But, he made us ponder upon that sentence and very soon he made us realize that, given the type and availability of resources, people could learn on their own (as exemplified in the Hole in the Wall experiment), however what matters is facilitating the right resources at right time, at right place and in right form. Gone are the days when teachers were considered to be the only source of knowledge. These days every individual is capable to construct knowledge, if he/she is exposed to the right resources. Prof. Pereira left with food for thought and we had lots to ponder upon that night.

On the 1st day of consortium, i.e. 25th August, Prof. Pereira welcomed us for yet another thought provoking session. He eloquently emphasized that in order to ensure effective learning; faculty members should follow the 3 step path of Interest –> Involvement –> Interaction. It is the sole responsibility (and a major challenge!) for faculty members to build interest of students in a topic, further on develop involvement and ensure that interaction occurs not only between faculty and student but also among students, as that would result into peer learning. He went on to highlight that presently practiced teaching methods / approaches were sub-optimal in assuring the effective learning process. As an example of effective learning methodology, he exposed us to the concept of Flipped classroom, where the active part of learning (discussion, practice by doing, teaching others) happens within class and the traditional passive part of learning (listening, audio/visual, and demonstration) happens outside the classroom.

The 2nd session of the day was conducted by Prof. Raveendra Chittoor. He discussed about case method of teaching and highlighted the key aspects of this methodology to train MBA students. Case method of teaching does enable students to empathize with the decision maker in the case and equip them to take decisions. However, one should realize that there is nothing like  ‘the correct’ answer as a solution for a case study.

The major part of consortium was conducted by Gavin Wedell. He led us through three important sessions that spread across 25th and 26th August, 2012. He conducted his sessions in innovative manner with highly engaging presentations. He covered topics such as Student Engagement, Effective Delivery Methodologies and Effective Learning Design. He not only discussed ways  to teach in an academic setting, but also shared some useful tips to conduct corporate workshops, seminars etc. Truly speaking I have never seen as engaging speaker as him. He kept us on toes in all his sessions with his flash quizzes, quirky talks (yet meaningful!), in-class exercises and so on.

On 26th August, there was a panel discussion with two eminent panelists – Prof. Chittoor and Prof. Naga Lakshmi, moderated by Prof. Pereira. We attendees were given freedom to ask panel members questions on various teaching aspects like classroom etiquettes, grading, student engagement, coursework design etc. Thanks to some valuable questions raised by the attendees, the panel discussion turned out to be very helpful and cleared many doubts in us.

Last sessions on both days were the peak of the sessions in the consortium and I am sure every one of us enjoyed it. These were the Practicum sessions, wherein all candidates were made to teach on a topic of their choice. On the first day, candidates had to teach for 3 minutes without using any teaching aid and on the 2nd day, they were made to teach for 8 minutes, with help of a teaching aid. At the end of one’s practicum, we were asked to reflect on our mistakes, which was highly appreciable. There couldn’t be a better way to teach one about their strengths and weaknesses.

I am sure anyone reading this would be eagerly awaiting for the next doctoral consortium on teaching by ISB. It was a great learning experience for me, having received some useful tips that would be helpful further in the career.

Now, here comes my critical viewpoint (though constructive in a sense!). I feel the job is half done on part of ISB. It is good and relevant on their part to hold such workshop for future faculty members. But, if we understand the educational ecosystem in this country, in most of the cases, the power rests with the owners of the institute. No matter how innovatively a faculty member tries to impart education, many a times his/her efforts are curbed by the top management due to their myopic vision of making profits or their lack of understanding. Hence, it would be good if a complementary workshop is organized for owners of educational institutes to make them realize the importance of effective learning schema and new teaching methodologies. We can’t ignore the fact that we are still a top-down driven country and hence it is very crucial that for an ecosystem to change, the top management also go through such exercises. If ISB team is reading this blogpost, I hope this constructive suggestion is considered in future.

I thank the entire ISB team for – giving me an unforgettable opportunity of my life, superb hospitality and great learning that I will cherish for lifetime. Thanks a lot!