Why you should start a Blog

On most days it is impossible for me to come up with an original blog idea to bring to life. But some days, in between the dreary unsuccessful ones, it is difficult and but not impossible to capture on paper that ephemeral output from the collision of disparate ideas in your head, like atoms smashing into each other in the LHC. An event that you fervently hope produces something unique or interesting, truly worth sharing with the wider world. Lightning in a bottle when the mental cadence is captured with skill on that blank page in front of you. In the last 760 days, I tried it many times and on 84 tries I managed to capture proof of this effort. I say ‘capture proof of ‘ and not ‘succeeded’ consciously. For the effort is best judged by the reader and not the writer.

Who is going to appreciate it? Writing is HARD. Coming up with something original to say is HARD. Making an original remix is HARD. The fields you and I will toil on, our blog a lone digital raindrop among the millions, will give little in terms of immediate return, if by immediate return you mean wider recognition from a busy world. Did you know at the end of 2011, there were 181 million blogs, compared to only 36 million in 2006. At best a few close well meaning friends and strangers will drop by and give your blogpost a cursory polite ‘LIKE’ click and even fewer will maybe subscribe, hoping your future output gets better than the preceding lukewarm ones.  At worst, for a long dispiriting stretch, you will write for an audience of one. You.

But I am not here to argue the downside. But you needed to know it.

I am really here to argue that that lone audience is worth writing to. Even if you start writing a blog that till your dying day is never seen by anyone but yourself (the very definition of a personal diary) you should relentlessly persist.

ONW2

The reason came to me on a run, when I was feeling a bit underwhelmed with my blog view metric. I was hoping to close the year with 10000 views and had not even crossed 5000.

The Reason to blog : The best thing a blog does is force you to rise above the daily cacophony of life and people and all the mundane minutae that is urban life, even if briefly, into that wondrous cloud of IDEAS. And that reason alone, that brief visit to the world of ideas, makes all the toil worth it because that idea cloud is the pinnacle of your own intelligence, the REAL reason for your education, inside and outside of school and the genuine proof of your original analysis. 

It’s succinctly captured by this below admonition :

GP

Harvard Business Review says that people who are serious about ideas are blogging. They also added “..Writing is still the clearest and most definitive medium for demonstrating expertise on the web“. So in 2013 I urge you to stop being average and small and force your way into the better club.

Start blogging.

ONW

On Marketing : Using the Fan Base

If your business is the kind that could do well with reviews and references from happy customers, what’s stopping you from leveraging it ? If you are a seller of a service that you are proud about and confident about, would you not stand to benefit from your customers letting others know about what you are selling ? What if you incentivise the happy ones to talk about your product and in return pay them in kind or with a discount ? Think about HOW you could do that. Be creative and also pls DO DO be subtle and classy. Don’t over-preach to a zealous choir.

So if you sell fantastic coffee that blows away an fan of coffee and that guy has 452 friends on FaceBook and 321 on LinkedIn and 112 people follow him on twitter , what’s stopping you from telling the guy “Look Tom, every time you talk about us on your network, I am going to give you a free refill buddy. And do it only till you feel we are selling awesome coffee. Stop it when you don’t FEEL it“.

First off, this is a not one of those fake chirpy creeps on Shopping Network Channel, speaking in a patently fake voice about another shitty vegetable dicer. This is a real living breathing fan.

Second, when your accountant/CFO tut-tut’s and tsk-tsk’s you about silly offers like this,tell him this has way better ROI and AUTHENTICITY than sterile print ads that no one really stops to read anymore. This buzz is far more potent.

Third, this does wonders for your own unit’s morale. I mean, come on. You are selling things ppl are FAN of. Have a thing for. Love. Adore. (Think Apple fans). You aren’t just another tree falling in an empty forest. You will be missed when you are gone.

The free refill is only a polite thank you to the fans.

So first make something that is worth being a fan of and about and then make something up to thank them fans for spreading the word.

On Education : Teaching SocMedia Smartness

I am digging online to see if I can get a PDF copy of syllabi for students enrolling into 10th Std or above for the coming academic year. Just to get a chance to loudly laugh (and then silently weep)at the latest irrelevant detritus being thrown at kids like feces flung about  in a crowded monkey cage.

Here is something I think they should teach kids and maybe even employees just starting off their careers and some managers deep in it and struggling :

Platform Appropriateness.

Which means knowing what is and is NOT a good time/thing/item to share via :

  1. Twitter
  2. Facebook
  3. Blog
  4. Instant Messaging
  5. Email
  6. Phone call
  7. Face to Face
  8. LinkedIn updates

I don’t really know and most of the time I am winging it. I suspect few do. And we stumble a lot. You and I see too many people who sometimes Twitter stuff they should be sharing on an email with a few close friends, emailing funny or acute observation they should be twittering to their followers, blogging a topic they ought to be emailing the interested few, sharing a narcissistic update they are better off discussing with the dog or cat over morning coffee and updating their LinkedIn status with muses best done to a very very restricted buddy list on Facebook.

Platform Appropriateness is the kind of stuff we need to be grappling with. And we are not.

Make Complaining Painless for Customers

Feedback is called the Breakfast of Champions. How easy do you make it for your customer to give you feedback ? How easy is it for you to give feedback to your favorite brands ?

If the process of giving feedback is onerous or exhausting, and your excuse is ‘Our business model is complicated and spread across a huge geography’ I recommend you read up on Zappos and Amazon and how they ended up where they are today. Remember that pithy saying: If you want to find a shortcut way to do a job, give it to a lazy man – he will always finish the job with a minimum of energy output. Make it so that the laziest fan of your product/service can give you feedback with no excuse. Disclaimer : Of course if you are a seller of shoddy products or services you are most likely not too keen to make it easy for your unfortunate ‘victims’ (they are victims more than they are customers) to get in touch with you. Also if you are government entity you positively don’t give a fish. And the very worst thing you can do is install one of those eternally optimistic ‘suggestion boxes’ that will be used to collect cigarettes butts and paper waste for all its life. That was last a good idea in 1967.

Jeff Immelt, GE CEO gave this advice to a deputy: “Spend a ton of time with your customers. Especially when you’re new, the first thing you should do is go out to customers and ask them how you compare with competitors, how your service is, what they think of your products. ….(inside the company)…people tend to get enamored with your title, and people want to look good in front of you. Customers will give you the reality. They don’t care about your title, they just want value. You’ll never get anything straighter than from a customer.”

Now, India, following a global trend, is selling a record number of smart phones. Customers are getting wired faster than ever here. Are you now making it easy for them to reach out to you now that they have some cool, always connected tools to do it ? How easy is it for your customer armed with a BlackBerry/iPhone/Smartphone to email you feedback that helps you get even better at what you do ? And remember, loading your bloated flash heavy company web address on a Smartphone on GPRS/EDGE/3G is a painful exercise on the best of days so an email address that pops right off would be a very smart move if you want lots of feedback to improve your breakfast. Make it a priority. Better still get a twitter handle and a facebook fan page that is monitored by living breathing young marketing whizzes at your company.

Your feedback mechanism should factor in laziness and RESPECT it when the feedback process is being designed.

But what if you are a successful, well-known brand. Do you meet the standard? 4 days ago I was waiting for a train in a random metro station here in Delhi and I noticed something. Too few signboards at the station to tell customers INSIDE the train which station they are at. I love the Metro. And so wanted to pass this feedback to help them get even better at their customer experience. So I googled ‘mail address for customer feedback to DMRC’. Landed me on the ‘contact us’ page all right but no email address. So I called the helpline. I got a bored guy who gave me what looked like a very dubious email address (anuj@delhimetrorail.com). I emailed him anyway.

No response from Anuj so far.

I thought about the episode and decided to really test this theory on how easy Indian brands compare against the best in making it easy for a customer to get in touch with them to possibly help the brand get better. And who better to have on your side with that project than you OWN customers. Did you know MOST of India’s top brands assume you ONLY have a grievance!!

The Project :

First I googled the name of the Top 10 brands on the planet.

The experts in this, at http://www.interbrand.com tell me they are :

  1. Coca Cola
  2. IBM
  3. Microsoft
  4. Google
  5. GE
  6. Mcdonalds
  7. Intel
  8. Nokia
  9. Disney
  10. 10.  HP

Source: http://www.interbrand.com/en/best-global-brands/best-global-brands-2008/best-global-brands-2010.aspx

Next I googled the name of the Top 10 brands in India. Brand Equity (of the venerated Economic Times newspaper) tells me India’s top 10 most trusted brands 2010 are :

  1. Nokia
  2. Colgate
  3. Lux
  4. Dettol
  5. Britannia
  6. Lifebouy
  7. Clinic Plus
  8. Pond’s
  9. Fair & Lovely
  10. 10.  Pepsodent

Source : http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/articleshow/6469107.cms

Then I typed the EXACT same search term for all of these 20 brands. Search string was ’email address for customer feedback for [brand name]’

Added ‘India’ after the brand name for Indian firms.

ex: email address for customer feedback for Disney

ex: email address for customer feedback for Lux India

I added India after the brand names in India to help make the search success chances sharper.

I avoided any site not directly affiliated to the company domain name. Here I noticed a company called GetHuman in US that really tries hard to make it easy for someone to get in touch with a human being in a company.

All searches was run from http://www.google.co.in/ on a Firefox version 3.6.16 browser.

Here are the results of my project (click on the image to enlarge it):

click to enlarge
click to enlarge

And since I used nothing but a laptop and decent web browser anyone can try this for their brands.

Interesting tit bits :

Coke and Zappos both use a company called suggestionbox.com to collect feedback and the site looks very robust. Someone is doing something right at http://www.suggestionbox.com

Indian brands are appalling in how difficult they make it for a customer to get in touch with them. They assume you are a complainer right from the start! Only Pepsodent and Pond’s are web 2.0 savvy and Colgate and Fair and Lovely hate you.

If Jeff Immelt is right and if you really never get anything straighter than from a customer, how can you make it easier for her ? Think about that today.

Oh and did I mention India became the Cricket World Champions last night !!