In his latest WSJ column, our CEO Mahesh Murthy, talks about harnessing the power real-time marketing.
Some of you may recognize the construct in the headline with the symbol – it’s called a hashtag, and the 4-odd million folks on Twitter in India and the other 90 million worldwide will probably know what it is.
It’s an indicator of a topic that could trend.
And boy, has this topic trended today.
The travails of the Indian godman who was outed yesterday for trying to achieve nirvana with a south Indian film actress has caught the imagination of Indian twitterati. At the moment as I write this, the Nithyananda hashtag is trending at somewhere between #7 and #8 in the world, with over 1,350 contributors who have weighed in on the “X by day, Y by night” theme, with over 5,000 tweets. Go here to see the latest tally.
But Twitter aside, it is the top trending topic on Google search today – actually it’s 6 of the top 10 topics at this moment, the others being the name of the Tamil actress, his alleged partner in passion, that mainstream media has so kindly but futilely blocked out.
Now if you take that the average person on Twitter has about 125 followers, then the hashtag and mention has already touched at least 1 million people in India and elsewhere today. Not counting the many more who are already discussing this avidly on Facebook and other platforms.
1 million folks is many more people than any newspaper reached in India this morning; or any daytime TV show will reach. So this isn’t just about a flash trend – it’s a huge opportunity.
This isn’t just news – this theme is a lightning rod for continuing entertainment, albeit at the poor godman’s expense. While some contributions on the hashtag are really funny – from the inimitable Ramesh Srivats’ “Bhagwan ke liye” by day and “mujhe ch*d do” by night, the medium has allowed everyone to chime in with their own 2 cents: sample “Brahman by day, bra man by night” and I predict in the process brightened up the mood at thousands of offices around the country.
There might be nothing new about this incident. Indeed, we’ve had a long and lovely record in India of godmen – from Osho to Dhirendra Not-So-Brahmachari – who were known to explore non-theoretical routes to bliss. We are, after all the country that wrote the Kama Sutra and built Khajuraho.
What’s interesting though is that never before have we had a medium, or a set of connected digital platforms that the average entrepreneur could so easily take advantage of to reach so many, at such little cost.
Is there a learning here for a business, or a brand? Let me venture a few.
One, realize that we live in a world where real-time marketing is becoming a necessity. My favorite analogy is that a brand manager’s role is increasingly more like that of an air traffic controller – watch your prospects globally in real-time, and manage your campaigns 24 by 7. See the trends early, watch them build momentum and make your calls, really quick. In the future you might even have to work in shifts. If a trend lasts from Saturday to Sunday, will your brand not take advantage of it because it’s your day off? In the marketing firm I run, we already have a few folks working weekends to keep tabs on the buzz for the brands we help manage.
Two, realize that you can’t predict the next hashtag, or theme, or meme. You can either have a system that can quickly learn to evaluate and take advantage of it or, you’ll need to learn to roll your own, and deal with the unpredictability there.
Three, learn to respond pretty damn quick. This trend today, for instance could be used by anybody from a TV channel looking for an audience to a rival religious sect as an opportunity to advertise. No one has, yet. You should, the keyword prices are really cheap right now: zero bidders. And it doesn’t always have to be paid advertising. I, for one, have shamelessly latched on to this meme to write and launch this column. I’ll try to tag it appropriately, and put it up on platforms like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Buzz and such to reach you right away. Perhaps it might get a little more traffic as a result.
Four, response isn’t always the best offense. How do you learn to get these working for you more reliably? Think about your brand promotion – can it become news by itself on a regular basis? A small manufacturer of kitchen appliances called Blendtec has built a cult around their regular videos of what their blenders can, well, blend. If you’ve ever wondered whether an iPhone or a golf ball can be liquefied, wonder no more. Blendtec’s funny videos on the – yes, free – YouTube platform have been seen well over 20 million times. I can’t imagine the cost of a TV commercial to get that kind of reach and attention.
Five, what if it’s a wave against you? What if you were the unfortunate Nithyananda? Well, if you had the right Hollywood-style agent you could parlay it into a book and TV deal and get even more followers if you wanted. But levity aside, if you wanted to clear your name, you should use this very medium to tell the world. A soundbite to a TV reporter won’t cut it here.
As an aside, somewhere we all need to realize that there is very little privacy on this planet. It’s really difficult to ‘get off the grid’.
What you might reluctantly adjust your thinking to is the opposite – to take advantage of the grid and the network out there and make it work for your personal and business brands. Sure enough, the buzz on this topic will die down in a day or two. And there’ll be something else after that, for its fifteen hours of fame.
Rakhi Sawant, Salman and Blendtec get it. Perhaps a Tabu, Rani and a Kelvinator don’t.
To paraphrase Brendan Behan, the Irish playwright – there’s no such thing as bad publicity – except your own obituary.