Is India ready for Customer Advocacy?

I am a member of the esteemed technology committee of Retailers Association of India and in that capacity, one of our key contributions every year is to help shape a technology forum for the industry viz Retail Technology Conclave (ReTechCon). We start deliberating on the theme, key content and speakers to be invited a few months in advance. Every member of the committee brings in his/her own experience, knowledge and network of relationships to make this a marquee event of the industry, every year.

This year, we started preparations last month and after having finalized the theme – Digital India, Digital Retail — we started exploring the topics for discussion in line with the theme and the need of the industry in the current context.

Advocating advocacy

I believe that if every business starts focusing honestly on its customers, then not only is it on the success track but it also doesn’t have to waste a lot of money on marketing channels. I also believe that acquiring customers is easier than making them buy from you regularly. What’s the toughest and most important is making them your brand advocates. I always root for allocating a major portion of marketing budgets on this rather than on customer acquisition. Hence, at every available opportunity, I try to push for these ideas.

So while we were discussing the topic ‘Customer Management’ for the conclave, I was very keen on having a session on ‘Customer Advocacy’ as well. Many among my colleagues did not welcome the idea as they felt India is probably not yet ready for advocacy. I feel, however, that advocacy has nothing to do with the readiness of a market but the brand. Customer advocacy is part of every brand marketing cycle if the brand has established its original proposition in the minds of its customers. In fact, most of the times, if the brand is truly delivering the promised value, its customers automatically start talking about it to others. They do this not with the intention of influencing others but out of sheer excitement of sharing their brand experience. By doing this, they actually land up being brand advocates. Therefore, the marketing teams need to be empowered and focused on ensuring that brand delivers its promise truly to its customers.

Identifying the gap

I once asked the CMO of a large brand why CMOs aren’t able to exercise control on brand delivery. He explained that it was because in India most consumer companies operate in silos. The marketing department communicates the brand in the market whereas the delivery is controlled by the operations or customer service team. According to him, the time has come for the problem to be discussed at the board level and for businesses, especially consumer businesses, to start implementing required technologies and processes to bridge the gap between marketing and delivery team.

Yes, technology can play a very important role in tracking and delivering brand value to customers. That’s why we see some of the e-commerce brands now adopting advocacy as the strategy for growth. Look at the recent ad campaigns by Flipkart and Amazon. They strongly communicate the confidence the companies feel in the experience they have delivered to their customers so far — A guy staking his annual increment while advocating Flipkart to his boss or a bride-to-be risking her wedding wardrobe with Amazon are very strong and bold messages. I am sure both companies have enough reasons to believe that their customers are ready to advocate their brands. Since both the brands are technology-driven on delivery and service aspects, they have enough reason to be confident of their readiness on advocacy based marketing.

If advocacy is the key aspect of their marketing strategy, then I am sure brands need to work towards putting the required technology and processes in place. The time has come for Indian retail industry to take this more seriously.

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Ajay Aggarwal

Ajay Aggarwal

Ajay Aggarwal is a veteran with over 39 years of experience in the retail. His work with employers, customers and as an entrepreneur has given him a wide exposure to all aspects of retail — customer service, business development, operations, manufacturing and strategy. After having successfully launched and operated several businesses, he is now associated with Ship2myid as its MD.
Ajay Aggarwal

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