Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Communicating in Social Media

Those in the communications industry know that there are two forms of communicating - one-to-one and one-to-many. As the terms indicate, one may want to converse with only one person at a given point of time or with more than one at the same time. Basically it is about impact and relevance.

Till about a couple of months back almost anything that I posted on Facebook was one-to-many. Be it some story from the net or photographs from holidays. This despite that I have created a variety of lists categorizing friends.

Savitha on the other hand is more discrete. Her sister is far more conservative and prefers not posting photos on Facebook. She and her husband prefer to share pictures only with family through mails or Picasa. In fact, my sister-in-law observed that the practice of publishing huge albums, detailing the action in respective lives, on Facebook was more Indian behaviour. Hard to say if that is true, but does seem to be.

After that I did practice restraint, but the narcissism got the better of me. And after a recent holiday I posted photos on Facebook, for everyone too see. I must say, the number of likes is directly proportional to the feel good factor.

Photos are still tolerable.

What really amuses me is a spouse wishing the partner on birthday or anniversary on Facebook. "Happy birthday, husband (or wife, as the case maybe). Or "I miss you". Recently someone added pictures and details of the shradh for their deceased family member. There was this one occasion where a lady on Twitter spoke about the state of her undergarment during her menstruation.

I wonder if these people would do that in real world, especially in public. I am sure they won't. But social media somehow removes inhibitions. 

How do you wish a friend on his or her birthday? Call, SMS or on Facebook? If on Facebook, do you send a private message or write on the wall. A look at my wall on birthday tells me that people prefer the wall to a private message. Nothing wrong but why wall and not a private message, I wonder. Should be convenience.

I do not have to emphasize the need for exercising caution while communicating on Social Media. It is surprising that while we are agitated by the privacy settings of some social media sites, we ourselves do not practice discretion while we converse.

Here is a model that we could use while communicating in social media. It is based on personal experiences, observation and logic.

Before communicating, consider whether you want to communicate to an individual or a group. Though the group could be anything from a crowd to a close knit group. The message could be a personal. For example, say health records or bank details/passwords. Even things like I love you or my pantie is stained kind of information. Or message could be non-personal like news, jokes, trivia or any information in the public domain.
Based on this, you may want to:
  1. Whisper: If it is a personal message, please keep it strictly one-to-one. Use tools that will preserve the piracy.   
  2. Relay: Even if there is nothing personal about it, it is better to be one-to-one. While using any tool shouldn't cause any harm. Would still prefer that one uses an email or private message rather than a social media.
  3. Hidden truths: Imagine a secret society. The membership and communication is strictly controlled. Secret society or a close knit group, open communication with outer world is strictly avoided.
  4. Loudspeaker: Tweet or share in public. It's information, for the public. 
Some mediums provide only one-to-one communication while others provide multiple options. The choice of communication tool has to decided based on the audience and the relevance. Having said that it is a personal choice of what to communicate and how to communicate. For others, there is a model here. 
How much this thought is going to be relevant to people on Facebook, I am not sure.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Packaging and labelling in India: Think Global, Act Global?

I recently visited Mallorca, the beautiful island in the Mediterranean. My sister-in-law gifted us a holiday through a vacation ownership package that came their way. Being a villa with a kitchen, we could cook food. Saves costs and takes care of the needs of the Indian palate. While we did purchase most of the groceries here before departing, there were still some purchases to be made for which we visited a super market, there.

At the super market, I realised that all the product packaging and labels were in Spanish. Without an exception. I guess I was too naive to get surprised. In India, while there are some brands which use Indian languages, I felt English was the language of choice for packaging.

Now, it could be because I am getting old and hence I am getting more attached to own culture and language. Or maybe the marketer in me suddenly woke up. Why can't the packaging in India be in Indian languages?

Before you make judgements, let me clarify that I have nothing against usage of English but the usage of local languages in packaging is certainly a win-win for all. The consumer, the brands.

By the way, how many brands or products do you know off that have packaging in any local language? Nirma came to my mind, immediately.

After my return, I went through the house looking at various products. Not surprisingly, almost all used English. In fact, many had foreign language. For example, the new Vaseline moisturising lotion had Arabic script, the Gillette shaving foam and shower gel had French...But few, very few had any Indian language. Surprisingly, even Pazha Mudir Nilayam, the local Tamil Nadu retail chain that sells fruits and vegetables used English and no Tamil.

Consider this.

According to statistics, the percentage of English users in India is about 33% translating to about 330 million though the English speaking population in India is only about 9% which is only 100 million. Of course, after the United States of America, we have the second largest English speaking population in the world. But still the percentage of people that does not understand English is still 700 million and odd!

Before I move on, the difference between English speakers and English users is that the former can read, speak and form sentences, the latter can only read English letters. This means that effectively, the packaging and labelling is reaching to only 100 million Indians.

Also consider this, the population of Spain is about 47 million. The population of Tamil Nadu is 60! And remember there're many states that have far higher local language speaking population than English speaking. Why do, then, the marketeers shy away from using local regional languages in India?

Now, the challenge for marketeers could be that there are far too many languages for them to cover in India. Also, is it viable as the cost of packaging might increase?

But that brands will be able to connect better with their consumers by communicating with them means greater loyalty. Right? Unless the brands have assumed that in India it is ok to have the packaging in English. Or because English is aspirational and any presentation in local language might decrease the brand equity!

I spoke with few, very few though, about this subject. The thought seems to be that premium segment products, if in a regional language packaging, may actually deter them from buying the product.

But it may also be true that the packaging and labelling in products distributed in B, C and D centres may actually be in local language. I am not able to confirm that.

I am not suggesting that English be abolished. Just add the local language for that particular state. For example, all the Lays chips that go to Assam could have branding in both English and Assamese. Of course this means that the packaging itself will have to be redesigned as there will be more to add in the same space.

The brand consultants, advertising agencies and PR agencies should urge their clients to use local language in their packaging.

But more importantly it should be the mandate of political parties to ensure such a change is brought about. The regional parties who take upon themselves to promote the language, art and culture in their state must insist on this change. In Tamil Nadu, due to one such order, all shops and establishments are mandated to have name boards in Tamil.

But why only packaging and labelling? What about websites of corporates? How many corporates do you know who have website in Indian languages? I am sure very few.

When the entire corporate world seems to chanting - think global, act local - why must packaging be not so.