August 14, 2022

Winning With Words: Quiet(ish) Brand Building in A Chaotic World

A couple of years ago, I happened to visit my cousins in Kota, which is the coaching hub of the country. In my time in the city, I

A couple of years ago, I happened to visit my cousins in Kota, which is the coaching hub of the country. In my time in the city, I couldn’t help but ponder on how Kota is a marketer’s wet dream.

Image credit: MyHoardings

Think about it, nearly 20 million students in India are trying to get into engineering, medical and law colleges. Out of them, 200,000 travel to Kota every year. Now that may seem like a mere 1%, but it's the most desirable consumer segment - kind of like how urban millennials are to internet brands.

Let’s be real, out of 1.2 billion Indians, 440 million are millennials, around 150 million of them own smartphones, and an even lower number have significant disposable income - that’s a single-digit percentage of the country’s population.

In some ways, Kota is the microcosm of this crème-de-la-crème consumer base - with its high concentration of high-intent consumers and ample supply of the product - coaching centres.

In some parallel universe, in a market as perfect as this one, the role of marketing and PR would be to simply inform. Strangely, my experience was quite the opposite. Once I landed in the city, I couldn’t miss the larger-than-life billboards, huge front-page articles and dozens of paper handouts hawking the dream of a good life to these kids.

Tuition Trap: Often competing coaching centres would claim the same topper!
That is when it struck me - these coaching centres were locked in an arms race with mad marketing & PR, ready to do anything and everything to undercut each other.

This led me to the bigger question...Does this work?

Do these rhetorical shouting matches where every company claims to be ‘No. 1’ or ‘India’s largest’ or ‘most prestigious’ actually help the brand or do they simply burden them with bloated ad & PR budgets?

Is there a way to prove that prudent communication delivers better ROI than hyperbole, given so much of what often passes as PR or Marketing is simply that?

I had to know what went into building consumer trust and a seamless consumer journey. Unfortunately, there is no single metric to measure success across all media platforms, so I looked at a company that has built an enduring brand within the education space in a small amount of time - Gradeup.

Students spend a total of 330+ million minutes every month on Gradeup, more than any other edtech player in the market, and they have used a mix of online marketing, on-ground demos, referrals, PR and community-building efforts to gain and retain consumers.

Their campaigns had a 5-stage approach - Define, Refine, Experiment, Analyze and Monetize (DREAM).

There were three takeaways for me from the Gradeup case - brand trust is a function of honesty, genuine and consistent communication builds loyalty over time, and most importantly brand equity is earned and not demanded.

In recent times, we have seen the rhetorical bullshit of some of the biggest brands across the world being called out on social media - and there’ll be more.

There’s another reason to say it like it is. In today’s era of information overload, will this rhetoric lead to sustained audience attention? According to an Adweek survey back in 2014, 81% of shoppers do online research before buying, and another Rapt Media study from 2016 said, 63% of consumers said they’d think more positively of a brand if it gave them content that was more valuable, interesting or relevant.

I can quote a hundred other studies, but it really all boils down to this...It’s time we start treating consumers the way we’d like to be treated ourselves - like intelligent homo sapiens.
Today's consumers are always having their 'minds blown', don't be the bomb. Credit: Dobrisa

The role of a communicator in this era of sensory overload is to talk to them as equals, and quit trying to sneak up on them, interrupt their daily lives, or worse, shout at them.

It's the end of the era of spin, authenticity is the new cool.

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