Sony Bhandwalkar, Head of Strategic Marketing, ITD, Schneider Electric India, on the practicality of using social media platforms in the Indian marketing landscape. By Satyaki Sarkar
Over the last 17 years, Sony Bhandwalkar has fine-tuned the art of building and implementing a marketing strategy that seamlessly aligns with business goals and delivers growth. She has worked in various business verticals, including IT, electricals, electronics, networking, and telecommunications. At Schneider Electric India she leads the country’s ‘go to market’ marketing strategy. Predominantly involved in the B2B space, Sony has a number of unique insights into the current marketing landscape, specifically social media marketing, which is an important medium.
“Social media is a mandate today in the marketing world and, by all accounts, it will only further penetrate all aspects of life and work. It has the power of drawing ‘collective consciousness’ towards a cause, a brand, a lifestyle or a person and hence social media is like a double-edged sword, it can be leveraged in a positive as well as an extremely negative way,” says Sony.
Two sides of the coin
Social media is an amazing way to engage with customers, but it comes with a huge price and responsibility. We’ve created an age where engaging our stakeholders is all the rage. We work so hard to get customers to Like us, Tweet us or write a review, that we often overlook the social media monster we’ve created. “In consumer marketing space or personal marketing, when you want to make your public persona stronger, it can be an excellent tool to drive positive outcomes and favourable impressions,” says Sony. “A very small action or response on social media can have a huge impact on the reputation and goodwill of the company or person. However, the opposite is also true, and the scary part is that most of the time it is very easy to not even be aware of the repercussions that a tiny action might have. Consumers today have a voice, a share in the conversation about your brand. That’s why it’s important to measure the engagement and passion surrounding your brand. This makes it an extremely responsible medium to use, which promotes careful judgement calls and a strong foresight. It puts the onus on the marketing person who is in charge of the strategy to be adopted and planning the outcome that is desired.”
The practical aspects
“Social media is currently one of the main encouragers of ADD or Attention Deficit Disorder, where you need to see something interesting every second. If something doesn’t hold your attention, you move on instantly as there is never a shortage. But through this process you can also understand how a customer’s journey takes place and the important factors determining it. However, since India is largely a developing nation than a developed one, the Internet adoption rate is only 34 per cent of the population of 1.3 billion. Out of this 34 per cent about 15-20 per cent use some form of social media and out of which probably just 10 per cent is going to be part of your relevant target audience. So it’s a matter of knowing whether your target audience uses social media frequently and regularly enough, and then taking a call about how you can use it as a medium for your marketing operations. It all boils down to what you are trying to say, and to whom you are trying to say it. Among the many social mediums like Facebook, LinkedIn, twitter, blogging sites, Pinterest, Instagram, Quora, etc I feel that Facebook is very much a personal platform revolving around lifestyle products, causes and socialising habits. So I don’t believe these platforms can make a significant impact on B2C more than B2B.
“Apps are extremely handy tools in the digital age, which brings every imaginable form of functionality, reach and access to the user. It is the phase of mobile apps, much like the dotcom phase, which we saw for the first time during the rise of the Internet. At the time we felt like everything else before it had been done away with, and would soon become obsolete. I believe that while advancements are happening all the time, what we are living in currently is also a phase. However, right now it is an extremely great tool that has a lot of opportunity to offer while being a cost effective option available. It is extremely easy to create an app of our own, and immediately start off an entire business campaign through it. Very soon robotics and AI may takeover as tools for a marketer to ‘convert’ a prospective customer. Having said that, using social media platforms as marketing mediums have their advantages as well as their disadvantages.”
Catering to GenY
“GenY are aka ‘Digital natives’ with good reason, because 70 per cent of this Generation Y claim to have a major impact on their lives should they lose their smartphones or inaccessibility to their computers and Internet. This generation forms a wide age group of target audience who don’t shy from sharing their opinions about their likes, hates, brand preference and in India I feel companies are continuing to make the blunder of not getting involved in online conversations about their brand, even if they are having more than 50 per cent of their customers coming from online purchases. They are even ignoring a lot of customer complaints that reach them via social media! To GenY this is the equivalent of hanging up on a customer who calls the customer service phone line—can we afford this?
“Facebook’s new Live feature, specifically, has been gaining a lot of popularity and is being used by several organisations to live stream important events, celebrations, and announcements. It is a very good thing as well. Not everyone can be invited to the launch of a company’s product, be it a new perfume or a car. So even without attending it, people can watch what is going on, live, from the comfort of their home.”
Social media marketing in India
“Looking at the Indian population, I don’t think social media platforms will soon replace traditional forms of marketing and advertisements. Firstly, we would need to assume that all of India has access to a smartphone or the Internet. Out of the 1.3 billion population, the Internet adoption rate is 34 per cent and out of this only an approximately 15-20 per cent are social media familiar. So if we profile the 1.3 billion for an addressable market for a product we will be fools to ignore the ones who don’t have Internet access or aren’t social media savvy. This is why at the moment we still need to continue with a mix of traditional media and social media. If, however, if your target segment falls within the demographics of A+B class cities with two to three connected devices prospects, then social media can become one of the major tools for your campaign. It’s not over and done here—it is not enough to merely have a social media presence, brands need to make themselves useful to their customers by providing them with information, support, and the ever popular ‘incentive’. We need to engage with the customers while understanding the buying journey.”
Dangers and risks
“Although information technology greatly enhance our lives it greatly impinges on our privacy and security running a risk of interception or invasion both lawful and unlawful. The social media domain and the GenY open book lifestyle allows for such invasions in the form of identity theft, virtual voyeurism, virtual stalking sometimes affecting real life also. We vent out our frustrations on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, etc, but little do we know how the picture we uploaded last week, or the status we posted an hour ago can be misused. Although there are a number of technological measures through which these risks can be reduced, it is equally important to have a robust legal regime in place that lays emphasis on the maintenance of privacy.
“Additionally, social media, ironically, is connected and disconnected at the same time. While Wikipedia defines social media as ‘computer-mediated that allow the creating and sharing of information and different forms of expression…’, we are drifting away from the human interaction and connectedness, finding solace in a virtual world promoting a culture of non-participation and seclusion. That is something we need to keep a look into, and be careful so that it doesn’t take over and completely change our lives.
“This is the age when we need to be extra careful and responsible, and be constantly aware of our actions, be it on social media or otherwise. We need to have a strong grasp of the possible repercussions and consequences that even a small act can have.
“Having said that, from a professional standpoint, we really need to pull up our socks and measure the ROI that we are gaining by using these mediums. We have to judge and balance the results and rewards while comparing them to the benefits earned. So the most important thing for us, currently, would be to develop a more effective marketing and social media strategy, efficient and precise way of measuring and monitoring it all accurately, be it in targeted marketing or general marketing, and decide on the relevance and need, as opposed to the results.”