Word of Mouth Anyone ?

Trendy. Trend. Trending… The world has changed, and so has the way we communicate. It is no longer person to person, or point to point- to borrow a networking jargon. Rather instead of casting our views, we these days are into broadcasting our views. What I am referring to, as you might have guessed, is the most happening place in this world right now- Twitter. 

This phenomenon that has picked up tremendous pace in India in the fast one year- has opened up an entirely new space for companies, personalities, and brands to market themselves and their offerings. So while you have the leading politicians of our country trying to win brownie points with the intelligentsia by ‘tweeting’ about their noble intentions and bragging about their accomplishments (or what they feel), all the leading film stars from the Khans to the Bachchans to the Khans again, are using the platform to interact with their fans and promoting their flicks. We have netizens, bloggers, and writers trying to build their own army of followers, we also have wannabes and starlets turning pop philosophers and giving ‘gyaan’ left right and center. Even sportspersons are not far behind, and neither are the journalists- who have been given another mouthpiece to blabber on…

So where does it leave the common man, or the common brands- that are the focus of this article? In this maze of superstars and super-heavyweights, how does the common man get empowered? Or does he? Read on…

In the Mahabharata, there was this very interesting character called ‘Sanjay’ who basically acted as the eyes for ‘Drithrashtra’ while the war was going on. Sanjay could see every minute detail, every move and every trick being played on the battlefield- and would relay it to Drithrashtra honestly. Now, you might think that why am I bringing in Mythology while talking about the WTF generation (Wikipedia Twitter Facebook- the other interpretation is as true if not truer). What I want to do is to draw an analogy- and here it is…

The world right now is in a state of active war- the war to get into the consumer’s mind- the war to grab the maximum eyeballs- the war to get oneself heard. Companies and brands are trying to capture as much goodwill and market share as possible. Being good is just not enough; it is being number one that is in everyone’s minds. So what? – You might ask. The customers are gaining- they are getting more options to choose from- they are getting the best products- the best services- and what not? Let the battle rage on and on as long as we, the customers, are not losing. The objective of the war is to serve us the best- and as long as we are being served well- we should just sit back and relax and let the show go on. As customers, however, it makes best sense to be aware of what is going on in the war. 

There is so much going on however, that it is difficult to keep track of what is happening in the world around us. And that’s where Twitter comes in and gives us a power that is even greater than what Sanjay in Mahabharata had. Using Twitter we can, not just see what’s going on, but also participate in the battle and turn out the most important players of the same. We, as customers, are the most important stakeholders- it is because of us that the companies exist- and thus we should have more than a certain say in whatever moves these companies are making or planning to make. Twitter enables us to make ourselves heard- not just by a small circle of friends that is always ready to listen to us (irrespective of whether they think we make sense or not), but by the world in general. A tweet we send is like a radio signal- anyone who has a radio can access it- or rather anyone who has an internet connection around the world- can log onto Twitter and see what we have to say. So today, when I tweet- “Coke’s new campaign is hogwash” and add a hash tag “#cokefail”, I will voice my opinion to millions across the globe within a few seconds. People who share a similar opinion will do the same and add the same has tag- and within a few minutes there would be a stream of opinions on the campaign from all over. In minutes the topic may even become ‘Trending’-meaning that the subject has created quite a stir in the twitter world (which is essentially a sample of the real world- with an ever increasing sample size). So, the question may arise, what is the point? The point is simple- it is not just ordinary customers like us who have access to such opinions- The Coke people would also be most certainly looking at these sentiments and feeling uncomfortable. In effect they receive ‘Instant feedback’ which will enable them to do better the next time they try.

In a larger context, what Twitter has done is that companies and brands cannot afford to ignore us anymore. The times, when the only way to make oneself heard was a ‘Letter to the Editor’ to a leading daily, are far behind us. The WTF generation is ruling the roost and how! So the next point that comes to mind is whether the companies should be worried of this empowerment of its customers?

The answer is that they should not. Platforms like Twitter have provided them a greater power- the power to build an army- and expand it at an exponential rate. In the customer life cycle we talk about in most of our marketing classes, there comes a stage when a customer acts as ‘Brand Ambassador’ for the company’s products and services. Companies try to quicken the time taken to convert a ‘prospect’ to a ‘loyal customer’ and ultimately to a ‘Brand Ambassador’. And as discussed in the preceding paragraphs, Twitter has empowered the customers- thereby quickening the customer life cycle process and providing a platform to the Brand Ambassadors to spread the word around- or rather tweet the word around- and that too in 140 characters- for frankly who has the time to read thousand words. Oh Gosh. I better stop. #TheEnd #ThankYou

[The article has been written by Piyush Dewan. He is an MBA in marketing from NMIMS, Mumbai. ]

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