Prema Sagar
Jun 6, 2016

India: When brands keep it real

Storytelling, partnerships and socially responsible initiatives are just some of the ways brands are diversifying their engagement strategies to boost engagement with Indian consumers.

India: When brands keep it real

Storytelling, partnerships and socially responsible initiatives are just some of the ways brands are diversifying their engagement strategies to boost engagement with Indian consumers.

In a rapidly changing world, what do brands have to do to stay relevant? They have to constantly reassess their marketing and communications strategy.

In the past few years, the ways you can connect with and influence your customer and other stakeholders have grown exponentially. With this increase in touch-points, the chances of doing something interesting, something different, as well as the chances of running into trouble have also gone up. And increasingly we see brands dealing with both using strategies that are multi-tentacled.

Brand storytelling

Brands are increasingly replacing many different terms—advertising, communication, digital marketing, and others—with one: brand storytelling. If this was earlier a term usually associated with more consumer-facing businesses, it is now being used by B2B companies as well, such as GE. What this change of terminology does is to change perspective and perceptions—from trying to use different mediums in a disjointed way to creating a narrative first and then letting it flow through different mediums in the most impactful way. Of course, it has to be visually compelling, relying on videos, animation and infographics, even if the stakeholder is not the consumer but other businesses or the government.

Working as partners

This narrative works best when organisations give their agencies a seat at the high table. A company-agency co-created narrative is more controlled even as it flows through the different mediums more effortlessly. In our experience, wherever the communications teams are given that high seat, companies have done better.

There have been instances when we have seen crack teams of blended communications expertise work closely with the C-suite to evolve not just communications strategies but also ideate strategic initiatives. Not only is accountability higher because of a co-created narrative, there is higher agility in terms of responding to unforeseen occurrences—whether something good or a crisis.

On the other hand, when companies have not done that, or brought in communications consultants late, we have seen something seemingly controllable turn into a fully-fledged disaster for the brand. And then it takes even longer to bring the narrative back under your control.

All eyes on the data

Speaking of crises, we have seen real-time monitoring and data analytics as the game-changers in managing tough situations. Countering speculations with actual data and knowledge has not just helped companies feel more in control, it has helped them manoeuvre the conversation back into the realm of what they can control.

The GBM Live! Newsroom has been at the centre of monitoring several such crises and we see companies increasingly relying on data and analytics to guide their next steps. 

Walking the talk with social responsibility

In terms of the narrative itself, it has been heartening to see brands embracing the social realities of India and trying to do their bit in getting the conversations move in the right direction. Whether it is about the changing role of women in the Indian society or bridging socio-economic inequalities, brands are trying to perpetuate progressive outlooks through their brand stories. They have also been on cue with the latest developments in the country, talking about everything from elections to student agitations.

And this is not all just talk.

Brands are also looking at ways to contribute to the community in a positive way, especially when most needed. Last year, during the horrific Chennai flood, the cab service Ola helped rescue efforts with their boats, while PayTM offered free mobile recharges for anyone in Chennai. Other brands helped by waiving off charges on their services or opening their doors—literally—to people affected by the flood. Similar steps are being taken by brands in Maharashtra right now with the shortage of water.

While the cynical might view these gestures as opportunism, I see this as brands really understanding their roles as corporate citizens and standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the community. 

Consumer content

What these citizen campaigns also highlighted was how brands are increasingly working with consumers to get them to create content instead of just creating content for them. Brands are now partnering consumers (and social media influencers)—tapping into their knowledge of their followers—to come up with social content that is not just brand-centric but more consumer-focussed.

Engaging with the government

Another partnership that brands have been working on is with the government and regulatory authorities. In the past few months and years, we have seen what happens when companies don’t acknowledge and work with them.

Today, we see brands increasingly trying to engage with the government to ensure that they work together in a more systematic way and have open channels of communications when the need arises. Through associations and coalitions, brands are increasingly open to working together with their competition to create platforms for industry-level conversations with the government and related authorities.

At a time when the government is looking to put the economy into higher gear, these conversations play a pivotal role in ensuring that government and industry are working in sync and not at cross-purposes.

As they grow in the Indian market, brands have to go beyond the typical marketing approach that they have been going with and instead look at integrated and yet flexible approaches that take cognisance of the new mediums of getting across without getting lost in their complex labyrinth.

Working with their agencies as partners is one way to ensure that, and it is great to see brands do that more often.

Prema Sagar is vice-chair, Burson-Marsteller, Asia-Pacific, and principal/founder, Genesis Burson-Marsteller


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