We’ve stopped what we are doing and creating your personalized BrandZ™ report, which will appear in your inbox soon.

Loyalty in the time of speed dating

Karthik Nagarajan

Chief Content Officer



Loyalty in the time of speed dating

If you are looking to understand how customer loyalty has changed in India over the last five years, you might want to start with the home dining table. In the recent past, the dining table used to be a colony of the kitchen ruled over by the same queen (or king, in some cases). Over the last five years, however, the dining table has been democratized (without bloodshed!) and is governed today by the free market – “an open-source dining table,” if you will. It’s a land in which there is no loyalty to cuisines or restaurants, and that is governed by the technology of ordering apps.

Overall, we are probably going through a phase where loyalty to brands is at its lowest-ever level. We can probably attribute this to how easily we get bored today. Not just with food, but across categories – from what we watch, to what we drink, to even in our relationships. How can brands survive in a world like that? The answer lies in their ability to be fluid – and hence, to be relevant to the customer at as many touchpoints as possible.

How does one achieve this? Here are three lessons from diverse universes:

  1. Content begins where advertising ends

Advertising is not dead. It is probably more relevant today than ever, but clarity has set in on its limitations. Gone are the days when the U.S. merchant John Wanamaker said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. I just don’t know which half!”. Today, thanks to evolved research techniques, we probably know down to the rupee which ad spends worked and which did not. It has become equally clear that mainline advertising is best thought of as a tool for awareness. By itself, mainline advertising will not be able to impact consideration through a sustained conversation with the customer. And that is precisely where content comes in and shines.  

  1. Don’t broadcast to the customer, but hang out with them

The customer of today, especially the one who is yet to turn 30, values relationships – whether with people or with brands. In fact, they treat brands similarly to how they treat people – just like a friend, a brand needs to be relevant, reflect your aspirations, be a lot like you, and be interesting enough to have a conversation! And just like with a person, it’s OK for a brand to be different things at different times, as long as its values are consistent. A brand like Lifebuoy has a content narrative that looks very different from its mainline advertising; a brand like TATA Tea has won innumerable fans as much for what it stands for today as for how its pre-activism platform “Jaago Re” has evolved over the years.

  1. An influencer is an inspiration to buy, not a media channel

Today’s customer has even more power than we typically recognize as marketers. He has the power to choose who he follows and unfollows, at the blink of an eye. The most interesting people on different platforms have large followings precisely because of that reason – their ability to stay relevant and interesting for a long period of time. And there is nothing more uninteresting or off-putting for a follower than an influencer using a brand hashtag on social media. Brands don’t need the largest influencer on a platform - they need the most effective one, the person who can sound convincing as an organic customer. Hence it is more important than ever to a brand that the influencer sounds more like herself and less like the brand. This can only happen when we treat influencers as talent and work with them throughout the year, rather than treating them as media channels to activate during the campaign period.

Overall, brands need to look at all consumer touchpoints as content consumption points – whether it is an on-ground activation, a social media post, or an OTT integration. Approach them with care and genuine humanity – as if these touchpoints were opportunities to sit down and have a beverage with the customer, and hopefully forge a meaningful connection.