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Sri Lankan marketers see the power of social media

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Last week Sri Lanka witnessed a landmark event when we saw an allegedly controversial advertisement by a top biscuit manufacturer back-benched by the adverse comments on social media. The decision was all the more important given that there was no mention of the same from the traditional media, which included the editorials that I scanned.                           From the social media platforms, Facebook was the lead media that was driving consumer thought creation on the alleged controversial piece of communication, which signifies the power of this media. Incidentally, this was the second time we saw the power of this medium. The last time Sri Lanka saw a behaviour shift with FB playing a lead role was the Aluthgama incident, which not only gathered momentum in Sri Lanka but also in countries that had a strong Islamic presence. Powerful advertisement – Share of life I do not wish to comment on the allegedly controversial TV commercial of the top biscuit manufacturer, but from a strict marketing perspective I have realised that ‘share of life’ communication always evokes a strong reaction consumer reaction, just like in the case of the above what we saw last week. There was selection attention leading to attitude formation on the brand, which resulted in a behavioural reaction. In this case it was somewhat negative given the story line, but the fact of the matter was that there was a response from consumers. From the brand marketers’ point of view, the debate is if it was the reaction of the target consumers or that of the fundamentalists. Let’s accept it; in Sri Lanka the reason why brands like Fair and Lovely became very popular was because there was a latent need for people wanting look fair. Hence in the said advertisement when the prospective groom expressed more interest in the fair-skinned sister, in my mind this is a common behavioural reaction, especially in the middle to lower income segments of people in the country. Maybe the linking of the skin colour to the brand promise was the issue at hand – a very interesting piece of communication. I am wondering if Sri Lanka was ready for such blunt communication that we tend to see daily on Indian channels like NDTV. Some can argue that marketing a product in a socially-acceptable manner is a given rather than an exception. In the above communication piece, I guess one can debate the merits and demerits of such a communication strategy. I am really interested to find out what the reaction at the point of sale has been. If the FB roar was extended to the retail space and it led to strong trial generation strictly from an advertising perspective, the advertising agency has done its task. If the product delivery happened post trail leading to repeat purchase, then one can even debate that the brand is on the winning road map. I guess time will tell. Behaviour change – Listen more Whilst Sri Lanka awaits the consumer verdict on the biscuit manufacturer’s strategy, the fact remains that social media has become a strong communication medium. In simple terms, social media is essentially all forms of web communication. Most commonly used tools are Facebook, Twitter, company websites, Instagram, Pinterest and lately Tinder, just to name a few. The reason why social media is popular is because it’s cheap and it can reach many people quickly. Some called these people smart people; meaning they are IT savvy and have the ability to be relevant to a diverse set of people on a continuous basis. One of the key characteristics of social media is that it is not a talking modality only but it drives behaviour of having to listen. One has to be a good listener rather than just a talker, which can be tracked to likes and consumer engagement criteria for evaluating impact. The popularity of social media is as follows: 1) It helps get attention to the product and it encourages feedback from people, which is what happened to the top biscuit manufacturer last week in Sri Lanka. 2) It fosters likeminded people to flock to a brand and engage in a conversation that can result in purchase. 3) Social media also gets a lovable human face to link up with a brand but the challenge is for companies to select the correct type of endorsee to drive credibility and authority towards the brand. Elections – 2015 Given that next year will be a crucial year for Sri Lanka with expectations of a presidential election being held, it will be interesting to observe how the candidates use social media to attract youngsters into the category and then drive behaviour towards voting for selected candidates. Let’s accept it; even the last US elections was driven on the social media platform together with data mining technologies that were able to gauge voter patterns on an hourly basis on the date of the elections. Let me share a few recommendations on the use of social media effectively: 1) Use images: People like images. I guess a picture says a thousand words. Research has revealed that even on Twitter if one uses an image the re-tweeting increases by 200%. 2) Use Google – authority. If you are an advertiser or a thought creator, then link your message to the author profile. This link helps brand building on the net in the long term. 3) Affordability: Advertising on social media tends to give discounts which are very deep. Be careful. Don’t give too many offers that take away the proposition of your brand. It’s better to get a consumer to buy your brand on the ‘value for money’ idea rather than just focus on price. 4) Meet in person: Whilst social media tends to have the characteristic of strong communication, the most impactful happens to be face-to-face. Whilst we can meet many prospective customers on the web, we must push for a face-to-face meeting if we are serious about relationship marketing. 5) Combine: If your company has a website, FB page and Twitter account, then link all the three media together. This generates a stronger touch point to the brand than just single-minded jabs at different times of the consumer experience. 6) Outsource: Let’s accept it, social media is time-consuming. So once the initial setting up is done based on the brand architecture that you envisage, then you must consider outsourcing the overall social engagement medium. There are many integrated marketing communication agencies now in Sri Lanka that can do this task whilst focussing on the conventional advertising mediums. 7) Just ask:  Don’t just tell your customers about your brand. Ask them about the brand. Build a conversation rather than just one-way communication. Keep the consumer’s interest alive. This requires dialogue. Personality – Design it The most important objective that must be addressed by way of social media is what personality you have given your brand. We must keep in mind that every piece of communication touches the consumer psyche and leaves a mark. A combination of such stimuli will lead to a behavioural pattern in the consumer’s mind. Hence ask yourself what personality you have created for the brand over time. Is this personality in line with the brand promise that the other elements of the marketing mix can deliver? (The author is an award winning marketer and business professional who has outstanding experience in brand marketing and national category marketing at the country level. He is an independent board director of many private and public sector organisations in Sri Lanka. The thoughts are strictly his personal views and not the views of the organisations he serves.)

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