The future consumer engagement model starts with personalisation, noted the Executive President of Strategy and Business Development at Aditya Birla Group, an event instituted by Ad Club Madras and MMA
By Gokul Krishnamoorthy
If one had stated that the American President would dictate policy every morning in 140 characters (or 280) and fire people on Twitter with the same frequency, it would have sounded like a joke in the past but is reality today, noted D Shivakumar, Executive President – Strategy and Business Development, Aditya Birla Group. He followed up on the quip to add that we would see more such ‘Trump-like’ consumer engagement from political brands in the days ahead, in his inaugural RK Swamy Memorial Lecture in Chennai on 11 December 2019.
Instituted by the Ad Club Madras and the Madras Management Association (MMA) 16 years after his demise, the event coincided with advertising doyen RK Swamy’s 97th birthday, revealed his youngest offspring Shekhar Swamy, Group CEO, RK Swamy Hansa, delivering the welcome address.
Starting with personalisation
Shivakumar’s talk on consumer engagement in the future juxtaposed the past norms of consumer engagement with the present before peering into the future. One key aspect he touched on was how social media and technology have changed consumer engagement for good. Consumer engagement in future would not start with the packaging as it did in the years gone by but with personalisation which was an option back then, he explained.
In the past, engagement was aimed at acquiring and retaining a customer. That model involved garnering attention, reach and personalisation if possible, he noted.
“In my book, the future (engagement) model starts with personalisation,” said Shivakumar, adding that the brand needed to be authentic and sought the consumer to both respond and recommend in the new model.
He postulated a ‘B-E-S-T’ model which he elaborated as:
Society (engaging society and issues therein)
Technology (using technology to reach consumers)
The speaker cited lack of data in the past versus the abundance of data and content available today. While the data presented possibilities for brands, the content overload (211 million pieces per minute online) has led to time-starved consumers, he observed.
“Almost all content engagement is local,” said Shivakumar, pointing to Star India’s regional language cricket feeds and quoting statistics on 96 per cent (or more) search being local. On personalisation, he pointed to Netflix that presents a customised home screen based on usage data.
An engagement ecosystem
Not all is well with technology, though. While there were privacy challenges with data, social media proliferation brings with it its own pain-points.
When Shivakumar posted on LinkedIn about yet another book, it was nothing different for the voracious reader who entered the world of social media only two years ago. It’s something he does regularly, posting on books and authors of various hues. But the author of the book he had summarised in this instance was not as popular a corporate leader as Shivakumar: it was ex-McKinsey honcho Rajat Gupta. The feedback was nasty, which Shivakumar attributed to the way people had started using social media — to vent out. If this could happen to an individual, people would throw ‘all kinds of darts’ at brands if they got something wrong, he reasoned. What is important, is if the consumer has understood you right.
“There is deep hatred and anger which comes out. Do people get what you are trying to say?” posed the speaker.
While brands need to engage with society using technology and data is today available to enable personalisation, no one brand will have access to all data — they will need to collaborate with each other to deliver the convenience the consumer seeks, according to Shivakumar.
“At the heart of the full chain of engagement today, is convenience. It’s about building an engagement ecosystem,” he surmised.