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Brand management is about consistency of your promises: Deepak Bhatt, IIM Ahmedabad

13-November-2017
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Brand management is about consistency of your promises: Deepak Bhatt, IIM Ahmedabad

Managing brand communication has seen a big shift over the years. With the rise of social media platforms and newer technological innovations, the task communication experts have become all the more complex and demanding.

In an interview with exchange4media, Deepak Bhatt who manages communication, public relations and digital marketing at the prestigious Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA), one of Asia’s finest B-schools, spoke about the challenges of managing brand communication in an era of hyper-connectivity. Edited excerpts:

1 How has the role of communication specialist evolved from managing media to engaging the target audience directly?

I believe a part of the answer is already in your question – the shift from passively managing to actively engaging. Firstly, the role moved from interacting with media – print and electronic media – to the digital, social platforms, for instance. Some of the old rules don’t apply anymore. Your audience is not just consuming messages that you send out, say, by an advertorial or some PR exercise. Your audience enters into a dialogue with you, they may probe deeper and understand your offerings and your values better. The audience is a lot more informed, a lot more alert, a lot more driven.

Secondly, there must be a strong connect between what values you claim to uphold and what you actually do. You can’t get away by polluting the local river or destroying the local forest or upsetting the local ecology just because your product sources some raw material from there. You are more answerable. CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) is not a buzz-word, it’s a reality.
And I love the way viewers, consumers; users are turning more alert and more demanding. That helps corporates and brands remain alert too and grow into more responsible organisations.

2 With the rise of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, has the definition of communication management and brand management taken a new meaning? How?

Well, the essence of businesses is still the same: remain true to your core values, respect your audience and keep delivering value. To that extent, the integrated communication has grown, but not really changed. Maybe evolved is a good word.

Modern day communication management requires you to be active, updated and truly passionate. You can’t afford to sit back and relax – your audience expects you to be a step ahead. But that also means you have umpteen opportunities to share great news on the go. In fact, even the smallest of corporate achievements can now be showcased instantly – a tweet, an FB post, an Instagram update .

This also presents an amazing opportunity to stay relevant and respond faster. Your brand can communicate that you really care about your consumers. For instance, if a consumer complains about a faulty product, the brand can take the right steps instantly. Rapid action pleases customers. And that action, that moment when your brand truly listens and cares, that moment can go viral; your consumers will make it go viral. After all, brand management is about the consistency of your promises, right?

3 IIMA is one of the most formidable brands known, how have you managed to leverage digital platforms to give it an equally impactful digital identity?

That’s quite an interesting question. Much before social media happened, the IIMA was already a huge brand – and that too without aggressive marketing. Our alumni, spread all over the globe, had further reinforced the strongly positive image of the IIMA. Corporate placements and surveys of educational institutions repeatedly showed exceptional confidence in brand IIMA. So we already had a good ground on which to build.

And yet digital success for us didn’t happen all by itself. We looked around and proactively identified some key areas for our presence on social platforms. For instance, we started out by getting our official Twitter and FB accounts verified and committed ourselves to a deeper level of engagement.

Next, we reached out and bonded with students and faculty – past and present – to ensure our communication was truly 360-degrees. I mean, it’d be unfortunate if we reached out strangers and not talk to our own faculty or students, right? We listened and understood their expectations from our digital entities.

Simultaneously, we put in a lot of planning. Earlier our efforts weren’t that well-targeted, but now we know what we are doing and what direction we’re heading. We teach management, so it’s only natural that we manage our presence well.

4 What are the three biggest challenges for Communication and Brand managers today in your view?

Some challenges are timeless – like staying true to your core values, as I said earlier. Others are contemporary and present themselves on varied magnitudes along the time continuum.

I believe the first challenge is staying alert. You simply cannot lag behind – it makes no sense if your consumers know about things and you’re the last to know. On the one hand, it means you must be able to share great news real-time and assure your consumers that they are trusting the right brand. On the other hand, it also means you can sense potential PR disasters and be better prepared.

Displaying that you care enough is another challenge. Your consumers and stakeholders must view you and come to trust you as a brand that listens, engages and responds. Sometimes, a simple acknowledgment email is all that takes, but you need to do that too.

And, you’re under constant scrutiny. Anything that a corporate organisation does or says will be viewed under a microscope. So the third challenge is to maintain that tactful balance and walk the delicate path of public communication with utmost care. You must choose your values carefully.

5 With the rise of interactive platforms, has crisis management taken on a new meaning? Is brand management more difficult to practice at such times than ever before?

Typically, crises management may be broken into three distinct phases: the actual incident, acknowledgment that it’s a crisis and the organisation’s response to the crisis. Each of the three phases is seeing a compressed time-cycle. We see crisis being reported a lot faster, and, with all the social media presence everywhere, people are also keeping a close tab on how and when you respond. That means you’ve got to be nimble in acknowledging if it’s a crisis, in identifying what exactly went wrong, owning up if your organisation is responsible for any lapses and offering a solution quickly. Everything must be handled swiftly, accurately and transparently.

And social media helps all parties. It helps consumers to quickly register complaints, even share pictures of faulty products online. Conversely, it helps organizations instantly see what’s gone wrong and deal with the issue in a mature manner, with full transparency. Swift and sincere responses from organisations also help it win many more new customers, who begin to trust the brand better.

Having said that, I’d also say crisis management can also provide an opportunity for organizations to go out and tell the world they are professionals. While organizations don’t exactly look forward to crises, some buckle under pressure while others thrive on it.

As for brand management, I wouldn’t say it is getting difficult. Or at least, it isn’t the only thing that’s getting difficult! If you’re good and have got your value proposition right and you’re agile, you’re on the winning side. I suppose agility is key.

6 What according to you are the three best practices for effective campaign building?

Best practices for campaign building cannot be truly isolated from best management practices. Everything that your organization and your brand stand for will be reflected in the way you handle your campaigns. For instance, at the IIMA we stand for management education at the global level and we aim at building responsible, successful business leaders.

That means our campaigns also draw from those core values and strengths. For instance, sincerity is something we value highly, so while our campaigns do need to reach out to more people, our message is always subdued and sincere. It’s like we under-promise and over-deliver, both in the good sense of the word.

Next, you need to understand the medium you are using. Clichéd as it may sound unless you know the medium well, your message will be lost, or worse, distorted. What works on FB won’t work very well on LinkedIn, so the message and context must be suitable for the medium and the platform you are using.

Finally, clarity and brevity are the twins one needs to espouse. Consumers are flooded with hundreds of messages so your campaign must stand out by understanding that less is more and small is beautiful, as they say. Keep it simple, keep it clear and keep it direct.

7 What kind of trends do you predict in the coming time as far as managing communication strategies are concerned and how far will technology play a role in that?

Technology is playing an increasingly critical role and that’s the way it’s going to be from now on. Technology has been such a wonderful enabler – it’s quickly erasing the differences between large organizations sitting on huge resources and smaller organizations with numerous constraints.

Small organization, even when resource-constrained, can come up with great campaigns, manage social media better and communicate a lot more effectively. That’s what is interesting. I mean, managing your brand on the social media isn’t necessarily expensive. You can pull off some great stuff, your messages can be interesting and carry the potential of going viral at virtually no cost, so there is surely a big opportunity.

I see nimble organizations of all sizes pulling ahead and growing at unprecedented speeds. That’s a major shift from yesterday’s economy where only the cash-rich organizations grew.

Next, I see there’s a lot of room for communicating in an entertaining way. Of course you need to sell your product, and for that, you’ll need to promote the product, but are your messages entertaining or boring? I’m willing to bet that the fun element, to the extent it suits the brand and its core offering, will provide a major differentiating factor.

Finally, engagement will increase. No prizes for guessing communication is truly now a two-way process. Both the organization and the consumer constantly interact and listen to each other. Organizations will need to pick up subtle messages that consumers, whether satisfied or disgruntled, leave behind. Subtlety, therefore, will be key.

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