03 October 2015 10:09:57 IST

Medium or small, this is how you grow

Here are some marketing strategy inputs for SMEs and start-ups to build brand and business

“I t’s a brand about happiness, whether to customers or employees or even vendors.”

— Tony Hseih, CEO, Zappos Inc

In today’s day and age, when customer complaints and anguish straddle the world of offline and digital via word of mouth and social media, small moments of serendipity can drive a brand forward like nothing else.

Start-ups and SMEs looking to make the next quantum leap should always remember that there is nothing like a delighted customer to build your brand.

For the internet era entrepreneurs, they have a living example in Zappos — a model brand in the online shoe retail business which stands out with strong operating margins, long-term value and stickiness of its customers. What is the ethos of this brand? The answer is simple. The pursuit of happiness!

So what are the key areas that brands/businesses can focus on in this digital age to drive growth and build long-term value for the brand and for the business? Here are nine things founders and CXOs must remember which, in my view, help create an excellent marketing and brand building strategy:

Know your customer and how you can reach them most effectively

I can never emphasise this enough. Very often I have seen brands/founders/CXOs being unclear about “who” they are looking to talk to and that leads to carpet-bombing with unclear target definitions and objectives — thereby leading to campaigns that either fail or consume too much money to reach people, and that too not in the most effective fashion.

It is critical to take some time, research your core target group and write a clear brief for communication as well as your digital and media agencies.

Don’t try to reach everyone. Reach those who will adopt your brand/product/service first and talk about you. Know which mediums they use, which language they prefer, where they are based, what the cultural nuances are and how you can engage better. I am reminded of a brand trying to serve a need in rural pockets of India and talking to them primarily via TV in markets where, due to lack of power, people did not have access to television on a regular basis. You don’t want to be caught doing this.

People buy the benefit and solution and not advertising — Deliver Wow! In this era of complaints and continued erosion of margins, Zappos gets 75 per cent of its revenues from repeat business and repeat customers provide 2.5x the revenue per transaction. It is not always about being cheapest to compete in the market place as some in your sales team will keep telling you, it is about creating Wow! and creating brand advocacy that truly drives long-term value for the organisation. Will such a brand be able to drive fantastic growth for shareholders and employees — you bet it would.

You ask me how? It is quite simple actually. Empower your people to ensure excellence in brand delivery and reward and recognise people who deliver the Wow! and encourage your delighted customers to share their stories online. Create platforms proactively either via social media or via website/s where these stories get amplified further via videos. Use the videos thereafter to drive the Wow! effect to others who engage with the brand.

The website/app is the window to your brand and ensure that the customer experience and user interface is built with only your customer in mind . Every aspect of it should be solely focused on how it makes it easy for the customer to access and navigate. This is a core area that should never ever be compromised upon, either.

Nothing replaces a fantastic experience when it comes to brand building. No amount of spends and advertising can ever replace that and hence remember to focus the most on the service/product/app/website experience as core.

Allow your target audience and customers to build your brand with you and for you Coke had its largest Facebook page created not by some digital agency charging a bomb but by consumers. Today it has 41 million fans engaging with the brand. Should Coke have tried to take action against such fans or allowed people to render their own version of what Coke meant to them?

Giving power to people to shape your brand is an adventure but one that can be truly rewarding if done right. Leverage social media with clear objectives behind each one you choose to be on and build and start a competition to crowdsource your product ideas, crowdsource your creative and videos and testimonials and reviews, socialise it, gamify it and be seen as a brand that is in sync with the times. Brand perception is driven by how others see you and hence if you make them a part of the journey it is bound to be a beautiful pursuit of happiness.

Leverage content and story-telling online to drive consumer engagement So often we buy products looking at some communication which talks about some new feature or ingredient which the brand educates us about. Add value to your customer’s life and benefit your brand. You run a company which is into mobility hardware — provide tips on how it can be used to improve their daily tasks, drive initiatives on digital literacy, drive content on how screen time has to be balanced with other things in life, share videos, offer a platform to engage and you will shall have a loyal advocate base that will drive your brand forward.

You should look at using affiliates, social media, online media, online PR and tell your story and encourage others to do so too. Start engaging and not just selling. Tell real stories about your customers, employees, stakeholders, vendors and engage. The fact that it drives enhanced traffic and conversion for the brand is yet another benefit that should spur you to do so. What’s more, you can measure it all and prove it works. But remember, talk to the customers in the language they are comfortable in, use mediums they use and leverage tools that are easily understood by customers.

Build open and honest relationships with trustworthy and human communication I saw the other day Carl Pei (Co-founder of OnePlus) tweet about how they could have marketed OnePlus Two better. That is another example of how founders, brands and organisations are becoming more and more open and digital is playing a critical part in that.

Customers like brands that are human. This is specially true for start-ups and SMEs as for them there is no legacy and they need to create their own space. Be honest, open and human in your communication online.

I saw a few tweets from a friend who was trashing one of the largest telecom brands online because no matter what he tried, he got a robotic response and that frustrated him even more. All he wanted was for someone to empathise with him as a human. What he got was a bot replying to his tweets. Disastrous for the brand as many more people joined the thread and furthered the cause of destroying the brand’s credibility online.

(To be continued)