Marketing Head Fastrack: Everything We Want to Know Comes from Social Media

Social media is changing the way businesses interact with--and create marketing assets for--customers, says Simeran Bhasin, Marketing Head, Fastrack & New Brands at Titan Industries. It's time others got on board too.

CIO: What new trend do you see in marketing that you wish more CXOs were aware of?

Simeran Bhasin: One big trend is that digital media is becoming an increasingly important part of our lives, especially if you work in the youth segment. And that means that we need to change the way we do business, whether it is the way we select and work with agencies, the way we structure our teams internally, and the kind of functions and departments we have internally.

How much has changed? What's really changed?

Digital media represents a huge change from say five years ago. Before, there was only indirect contact with the customer for the most part. You met them mostly through research, and when you did meet them directly it was through focus groups and things like that. When social media broke out in India, we immediately got onto it. Prior to that, when Fastrack was launched, the only way to get an initial feel was to go into the market ourselves to do research.

What this means is that the customer's voice has become much stronger than before, and it's able to reach us directly, without any filters. So you get absolutely honest feedback from consumers, who on their part are much more confident and aggressive, and not afraid to give their opinion. This puts pressure on companies who now have to monitor how responsive--and how connected--they are to their customers.

Social media has become a means for us to engage and have a two-way conversation with the consumer. That wasn't possible earlier. I think access to the brand has become much larger with social media. Consumers didn't have access to us and we didn't have access to the consumer's voice unless you did traditional research. We now don't believe in traditional research at all. We just believe in keeping in direct touch with our consumer. So all our insights, everything that we want to know actually comes from observing what's happening on our social media pages, Facebook in particular.

That's why I think the entire digital space has been extremely important for Fastrack; it has been a big part of our journey in the last seven years.

When your customers contact you directly through social media, how do you respond?

We respond to them on our Facebook page or we respond to them in the form of a message, or we take them offline. Where we need more details we take it offline. We take their number or their e-mail id and engage with them directly. That's how we stay in touch and engage with our consumers.

4.8 millionThe number of Facebook likes Fastrack has, making it one of the most popular Indian brands on Facebook.

"We now don't believe in traditional research at all. Everything we want to know comes from observing what's happening on our social media pages."

How has social media changed media planning?

The lesson we have learnt is that there are a huge number of youth spending their time on social media, the highest compared to any other media. And with very minimal spend you are able to reach out to consumers in a way that you aren't through standard print plans or through conventional TV plans. You can no longer look at effective media planning like that. Effective media planning can be done at no cost if you have a strong social media community--that's been our biggest learning.

That sounds like a lot of customer input. What's the organizational learning curve like?

For us the learning curve has literally been vertical. And it has been that way for the past several years.

The learning curve is much faster because we have a large fanbase on Facebook that is constantly reacting in real time to whatever we are doing. I think brands that don't use social media to understand and gain insights into their consumers will have a much slower learning curve. Theirs is the learning curve of the traditional world, where you got in touch with your consumers only as many times as you did research with them. And you reached out to much fewer people. Now you are reaching out to 4.5 million people and you have access to them at any point of time.

What else has social media changed for organizations?

Social media has certainly made us a lot more answerable to consumers than we were ever before. It's consumers who are forcing this change. We can no longer hide in our glass towers saying we don't know what the consumer is saying; now the consumer is going to force you to know what he is saying.

What's the next step for marketing people as far as social media is concerned? Will it remain a Facebook page play?

What is important for marketers to do is to listen and learn. You can't assume that what happened on Facebook three years ago is what is happening on Facebook today. Let's talk about our consumer profile, for example. The consumer profile that used to be on Facebook in its early years, about two to three years ago, used to be that of an 'aspirational' consumer, a very discerning, English-sp eaking consumer. What we have noticed over the last couple of years is that the consumer base has grown on Facebook and that there has been a huge change in consumer profile.

Today, the consumer is not as affluent, is not an early adopter; the consumer now is predominantly mass consumer, and is coming in from smaller towns. They tend to be followers rather than early adopters. The language that they speak is not English and therefore the quality of comprehension of campaigns that we have put out has dramatically dropped.

That's exactly what happened on Orkut as well. As Orkut grew the consumer profile changed, from a more affluent, discerning, English-speaking, early-adopter consumer to a more regional kind of consumer, by people who tend to be followers, a more 'mass consumer' consumer. And the same thing is happening on Facebook today.

Given this whole 'massification' of social media, what you do with your campaigns then needs to change.

How have you adapted to this change?

That's a big challenge right now. Earlier, edgy campaigns were very well appreciated. Now, you suddenly have a lot of people calling you and cribbing about the campaigns you're putting up. This is simply because their sensibilities are more conservative compared to the original set of early-adopter consumers. We have to respond to these consumers. We have to be careful and make changes to our marketing plans and decisions. And we are finding out that we have to be very careful in terms of the decisions we take because they can easily change brand strategy.

We've covered a lot of ground. What's your one big social-media related challenge?

One of the challenges we face is to be able to create campaigns for social media. I don't think there are agencies out there that are good enough to marry traditional creative processes with this new-age media. Most traditional advertising agencies don't know how to think digital--they just simply adapt a print campaign or a TV campaign and use it on the digital media. That is the biggest challenge we face today: To find the people who know how the technology works, who know how social media and digital media work, and who then can think creatively within that. India has a huge dearth of such kind of talent.

Is there a danger of being Facebook dependant?

We had thought that Google+ would become the next Facebook, but that's not happening. I don't think Google+ has been able to gain much traction. Today, Facebook is still large but with the digital media something new can come up any day and take over.

That's something all marketers need to watch out for. They need to have their fingers in many multiple pies because you can never tell when Facebook might die and something else will rise. We have to constantly keep our ear to the ground to figure out what is happening and where it is happening.

The lesson we have learnt is that there are a huge number of youth spending their time on social media, the highest compared to any other media. And with very minimal spend you are able to reach out to consumers in a way that you aren't through standard print plans or through conventional TV plans. You can no longer look at effective media planning like that. Effective media planning can be done at no cost if you have a strong social media community--that's been our biggest learning.

That sounds like a lot of customer input. What's the organizational learning curve like?

For us the learning curve has literally been vertical. And it has been that way for the past several years.

The learning curve is much faster because we have a large fanbase on Facebook that is constantly reacting in real time to whatever we are doing. I think brands that don't use social media to understand and gain insights into their consumers will have a much slower learning curve. Theirs is the learning curve of the traditional world, where you got in touch with your consumers only as many times as you did research with them. And you reached out to much fewer people. Now you are reaching out to 4.5 million people and you have access to them at any point of time.

What else has social media changed for organizations?

Social media has certainly made us a lot more answerable to consumers than we were ever before. It's consumers who are forcing this change. We can no longer hide in our glass towers saying we don't know what the consumer is saying; now the consumer is going to force you to know what he is saying.

This story, "Marketing Head Fastrack: Everything We Want to Know Comes from Social Media" was originally published by IDG News Service .

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