April 7, 2017

When You Follow Your “Stream” of Consciousness

Piyal Banerjee, India Practice Chair – Consumer Technology and India Lead – Step Up, and Neha Agarwal, Head of Digital – GBM Marketing, share their experiences and learnings from WPP Stream

Every year, WPP Stream India, a unique un-conference, brings together practitioners and experts from the field of marketing, advertising, communication and media. Cutting through the clutter of the usual event formats, Stream offers free-flowing, free-wheeling conversations where anyone can participate, anyone can lead. The USP of Stream is freedom of choice. This year was no different, with the three-day retreat in Jaipur brimming with interesting face-offs, insightful discussions, impromptu sessions, cook-offs, film screenings, entertainment performances and more.

Pleasing the fickle consumer
The Woodstock of perspectives, views and opinions, WPP Stream India 2017 threw up a lot of conversations, observations and sometimes even pronouncements around the drifting, evolving consumer habits, and how brands form their narrative based on that. If there was a consensus, it was that the consumer is getting more and more difficult to please. A brand has to think ahead to evolve with the consumer—but at the same time, it should stay true to its brand values. Here is a glimpse of some discussions that brought home this point.

Consumers value authenticity: From food, to clothes, music, food, medicines and more, brands are going authentic and embracing their roots. They are commanding a premium, and the consumer is embracing this authenticity. The animated discussion on this topic also led to a debate over personality-led versus brand-led communication. Does it come across as more authentic when someone endorses your brand or should the brand speak for itself? While the debate was open-ended (as most debates in Stream are, where everyone agrees to disagree), there was a consensus in the fact that consumers can see through false promises and fake communication.

Customer loyalty is dying: Three strikes and you’re out! With the choices available in the market today, your customer may forgive you once or twice, but not the third time. The online world of deals and offers makes consumers shift seamlessly from one brand to another. Take the example of Uber and Ola—usually it is a matter of availability and cost and not brand preference that makes you choose one or the other at any given point. Similarly, because of deals on travel portals, people fly any airline, as opposed to earlier when consumers had their clear preferences.

Be where the consumer is:
Online micro-communities like Lokhandwala Ladies, Gurgaon Foodies, and Upcycle in cities are booming. Whether to answer a need or build a connect with like-minded people, these communities are becoming local hubs, and brands are slowly waking up to that. These communities are now becoming the focus of marketing and sales for brands. But brands can’t stop here. They have to look for the next place where their consumers might converge.

Listen to the consumer: What do ‘Pineapple Pen’ and ‘Sonam Gupta Bewafa Hai’ have that makes people share them? Some of the attributes are influencer outreach, acting smart and fast (like Paytm during demonetisation), being new and innovative (like the song Kolavari Di), highlighting emotions like humour (Pineapple Pen), anger (political messages). If we listen to the consumer, we will know what to say to them—and also how to say it.

You have to tell a story, not sell: Roshan Abbas and Siddharth Banerjee of Vodafone India spoke about how to make your audience go ‘speechless’. In their parlance, SPEECHLESS stands for setup, prepare, engineer, engage, connect, highlight, listen, evangelize, summarize, signoff. If you do all of this with your talk, you can persuade people to do what you want them to. Piyush Pandey, the ad guru, added to it and said that when on stage if you share and not present then people will love it, because it does not sound like empty platitudes but feels like an experience.

Technology is an enabler, focus on solving a problem: Devices are now closer to humans than humans themselves. Technology has started to communicate with and for us. That is because technology is increasingly about WTF (watch-talk-feel)—this is IOT, Internet of Touch. So how does this impact brand engagement with consumers? It goes back to the point of being present where your consumer is. Understand the relationship between the consumer and her devices, stay true to your intent and values, and keep it real instead of going overboard.

The medium can become the message:
Arnab Goswami spoke about the media landscape, and one of the things he said he was able to do was to give the common man a voice on the screen—by taking up issues he or she is concerned with. He also said, “When you go crazy about your belief and get attached to it, change happens.” News without the impact is not news, he added. The message for brands was clear—communicate with empathy, be passionate about your core values and communicate for impact.

The three-day event had a message for organisations. That sometimes you need a space to be unstructured and free of fixed agendas to spark original thoughts and ideas. With interesting performances, impromptu discussions, creative outlets of painting, cooking and more, WPP Stream India 2017 gave everyone who attended food for thought, body and soul.