Friday, September 14, 2012

Selling Social Media to Sethji

“Social Media is all about building communities and encouraging conversations around your brand. As community members, people who like or trust your brand talk among themselves; you earn something that traditional advertising cannot give you – actual testimonials, referrals, endorsement from the real buyers” the Social Media Expert was going on with his well prepared sales pitch.
The target of this pitch, the Seth-ji in context – owner of six saree shops and an up and coming tutorial center was busy fidgeting with a match stick, cleaning wax from his ears. Any marketing guy worth his “real world” experience would have understood from the body language of the Seth that he was a lost case, but the one totting the PPT didn’t and rambled on as I watched the disinterested Seth (not the evil brother of Osiris) desperately warding off his post daal-bati-churma slumber.

Then, gulping a disinterested yawn and cutting short the sales man’s monologue, the Sethji went for the jugular, the Coup d'état, “kharcho ki parsi? Ki faido hogo? Kitto piso aawogo?” (What will it cost? What will be the benefit? How much am I going to earn?)  And this is exactly where Social Media is being hit for a six. “Your hits, and traffic and Likes on Face Book is good. But where is the money? Show me the revenue stream, the actual money I can count” said another business man who wanted to be an early convert.  


The big mistake that young and “on the noose of deadline” marketers are doing is that they are not explaining to the clients that Social Media marketing, like the money that is spent on traditional branding cannot show overnight results. Most of it is intangible, takes time to build and is a continuous process. There are tools that can reasonably tell you whether your money spent is going in the right direction, but there is no balance sheet that can weigh the assets against the liabilities.


Another industrialist almost fell off his chair when I was trying to explain the efficacies of using social media to connect with the employees – of engaging the employees to use social media to enhance the salience of the company’s brand.”What?” He yelled in mock horror, “You are suggesting that I allow employees to chat during office hours, that too using company band-width? You must be a stark, raving, lunatic!”


People like these demand a different approach. I tell them what a die-hard bibliophile I am. How, to me, going to a book store to spend hours at an end is like a pilgrimage. How I love the smell of ink on paper. How, to me it is as much a tactile pleasure to hold a book in my hand as it is to engage with brilliant minds through the written words. I will never, ever give up on the bookstore, however convenient it may be to order the titles online. Yet, I cannot disown, or refuse to acknowledge the giant called Amazon. Today, with free home delivery and cash on demand, most people prefer to buy books on the net – another fact I cannot overlook. The fact of the matter is simple – the internet is not only becoming ubiquitous but is also changing many of the ways we think and act. If we do not move with the times, the times will certainly leave us behind.


When I saw the Saree wali Sethji nodding in agreement to the above argument, I brought him back to his senses to the saree shop. “Do you think the pleasure of feeling this chiffon, the caress of zari and zardosi on your skin, the riot of colours before your eyes as the attendant unfurls and swirls open a saree for display be taken away? Buying a saree to a lady is a process, an expedition – that begins with a visit to the shop and ends with haggling over the price. Can the net replace this experience and sell the same saree in the cold confines of virtual reality?” Yes it can and is doing so by increasing numbers.


No, this doesn’t mean that the traditional saree shops will go defunct. Nor does it mean that the ladies visiting the shops will dwindle in numbers. What it simply means is that there is a parallel phenomenon that is taking place and the virtual market is also growing exponentially. It is a market frequented by real people with real needs and with the monies to spare. Which calls for sales connect – something that social media marketing does and does only too well.


To drive home the point, I always tell people that “Social Media is like Anna Hazare. Everybody knows that what he has to offer is valuable. But he has been hijacked by charlatans and self seekers out to make a fast buck by riding on his potential. Investing in him now may look a bit far-fetched, but once he attains critical mass, he may well be the tilting factor, the king maker.”


Now that I am at it, let me make a prophesy: the key factor, for both Anna and Social Media success will be the content. RSS generated (no pun intended) traffic will not fool the populace. Be original. Be honest. And purge your system off the vainglorious non-entities who think they are answers to Rahul Gandhi. You can have your 25 seconds of fame as Mulayam’s Amar Singh, the next time around.


And this is where Social Media is different from Anna and his cohorts. The Social activism is a fad. But Social media is here to stay!    


-          Chawm Ganguly


PS. Sethji has accepted the proposal. He has called me tomorrow to discuss how to make Social Media Marketing SST (Sasta, Sundar aur Tikaw! – Cheap, beautiful and long lasting)


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