With marketers and agencies facing the challenge of creating an experience for the consumers, the advent of technology has changed the dimensions of brand-consumer communication. While reaching out to the consumer is a challenge, how personalisation becomes a key tool is important for the industry to look up.
Shahid Nizami, managing director, APAC at HubSpot tells ETBrandEquity.com that when we talk about disruptions, a lot of people say think it has to do with blockchain, machine learning, or AI. Instead, if a company or a brand can delight its customers in the best possible manner, it can be an experience disruptor without using any technology. He explained, what he called, the five adaptations which the experience disruptors have taken and what the HubSpot research showed about the new age companies doing differently.
What is experience disruption, how different is it from what the industry has witnessed so far?
Disruption is one of the words which has been overused and under-understood for a very long time. It started being used as a throw-away word especially regarding the likes of companies, like Google for example. Everyone is saying Google is causing a lot of disruption in the market, which is true. Or for that matter Intel, when they started, or Apple with their iPhone, right? If you look at all these companies, they are technology disruptors. Between these three companies, they have more than 40,000 patents registered, they are truly technology disruptors.
But in today’s age, there are a lot of other players who are doing really well. For example, companies like Netflix, Ola, OYO rooms, Myntra, or Swiggy, are not technology disruptors. Yes, they have a technology layer but not like Apple, Google, or Intel. What they have done definitely is to be an experience disruptor. So to give you an example from the Indian context, Myntra as an experience disruptorn has tied up with tailors across the country. Now when you order any Myntra product, when it does not fit you well, Myntra will actually send a tailor to your house, who will take your measurement, do the alteration and give it back to you within 24 to 48 hours. This is experience disruption.
How can this experience be made better from a brand’s perspective?
We are in an age of experience disruption where the customer is king and that is what these companies are doing, changing that experience for the customers. Let’s talk about Swiggy for example, or Deliveroo, or any of these players. They have technology in place but that is very minimal, they are just connecting customers. If you are hungry at 11 pm at night in Bangalore or Delhi, you don’t want to go out and get stuck in traffic for an hour, you can just use one of these services. So again experience disruption is all about that.
We did a lot of research at HubSpot, we spoke with a lot of large and small companies globally, and we came to a 5-step adaptation, these are different adaptations that experience disruptor companies have made where they change the experience of the customers. Traditional companies focus on product fit, but these companies focus on experience fit. They ask themselves, ‘How do I create not just a great product but also a great experience for our customers?’
The experience disruptors are moving to a frictionless environment where buying from you should be frictionless. For example, earlier companies would say, we will only accept credit cards, while only 2% of Indians have credit cards. Before Flipkart, even if I wanted to buy, I as the average Indian, I couldn’t. Flipkart took this friction-filled process and made it a frictionless process, with cash on delivery. Now you can use digital wallets, you can do cash on delivery or use a credit card. So that way we can go to a frictionless way of working.
The third adaptation as we call it is moving from an anonymous experience to a personalised experience. The best example here is actually Netflix. I think India is getting there with the likes of Voot and Hotstar, but Netflix does it the best. When it comes to segmenting, for example, a certain movie will suit the target audience of urban males who are 20 to 30, living in tier one cities in India. There are easily 2, 00,000 people who fit that criteria. What Netflix has done is a move to the whole concept of the segment of one, where every single user of Netflix in itself is a segment of its own. Earlier, the goal was to create a general persona. If you are a 25-year-old urban male who is metrosexual, then this for you. But now using a high level of personalisation through data, this works at a deeper level.
The fourth one which is very interesting is, what the age-old companies have always been preaching is to sell to their customers. But the new-age companies, the experience disruptors have moved from ‘sell to customers’ to a ‘sell-through customers’. A lot of this is because of social media – every company is now encouraging their customers to actually go and create their stories on Instagram, on Facebook. I think that is a great way where your customers are becoming your biggest marketing channel. Because they are hashtagging the companies and saying ‘Hey I bought this new pair of #Levis jeans, how does it look?’ I think sell-through customers is something which is catching up very well.
The last one is moving from a business model follower to creating their own business models, what we would like to call ‘business model busters’. Basically in any industry, there are about 10-15 real competitors where everybody’s way of go to market, and way of selling is very much the same. How do you challenge this model? I can give you an example of a company called Haylee, they are in the mattresses business. Nobody buys used mattresses, but Haylee has a 100-day challenge specifically to address this wastage. Haylee will do a 100-night free trial, first you buy the mattress online, you don’t have to go to any store, you just go to the site, you click, say what dimension and size you want, single, and they deliver on the same day. That’s a business model buster.
What do you want to comment on the trends in the content marketing space? And will India align with global and APAC trends?
There are two phases. Content marketing is a long term marketing strategy. If you look at markets like Singapore or Hong Kong or Malaysia or Australia, Japan, those markets are more mature when it comes to understanding content marketing. These customers understand – when I create content, it will not show results overnight. Because your content will start appearing slowly, you will build authority and it will start appearing in top searches in Google and the traffic will start flowing in. More people will actually start referring back to this content slowly. Hence, content marketing is a long term strategy.
In India, our customers are excited about this space, but they want instant results, within the same week. For instant results, you need to put up paid ads, but this can also adversely affect your leads, as well as an expensive route. Content marketing, on the other hand, is a lifetime investment, you do it once and it stays with you forever.
How do you see the role of AI for marketing, how is the customer experience?
Absolutely, I think the blockchain is still fairly new, and we have yet to see how it will affect customer experience. But with the AI standpoint, the whole concept of conversational marketing is changing the market. Conversational marketing is something that has really picked up with the advent of ML and AI. We did some research at HubSpot where we talked to thousands of customers globally and we asked how important it was for them to get an immediate response from the companies they interact with. 90% of the customers responded that it was important or very important for them to get an immediate response to the business they are working with. So that tells us that the customers don’t have the time to wait for a response from companies.
The whole concept of conversational marketing has picked up really well. This is where AI chat boxes step in, where they pull in a lot of information for the company as well as provide instant feedback to customers. They set up a sound knowledge base for companies. HubSpot has got an of the knowledge base for what are the top three things which customers look for when they come to the HubSpot website. At some point in time, AI and smart ML are going to say now this customer is really serious, he might be buying from us, I should flag this off to a real human being who can close this deal or take it to the next level. So again that way AI has really changed the way marketing has been done in the past.
What are your expansion plans for India, marketing strategy, challenges you faced while incorporating partners in India?
There are a few things we are doing in India. Like everyone knows, India is a big market for any technology company and also a fairly cost-sensitive market. We are leading in India with what we call our freemium strategy. A freemium strategy is basically free for life. You just need to go to our website and you can get HubSpot free for life. Now we also have put in a bit of marketing automation, we also have email marketing as part of the free cost. Because in India, the customers are very cost-sensitive, they don’t pay unless they see the value in that product. So with the freemium strategy, we are able to not just market and do some crazy ad campaign, we say the truth is in the potential. The other thing which is working very well for us is startups. There are a lot of startups in India, even in tier 2 cities, so we are tied up with the likes of NASSCOM, co-working spaces like 91 Spring Board and technology companies like Amazon Web Services.
We are creating a very big partner ecosystem. India is still a very face to face market, and while we are based in Singapore, when customers want to work with you and pay you money, they want to see your face. We now have over 100 partners across India, both in tier 1 cities and tier 2 cities who are helping us build customers for HubSpot products and services. That is something which we are doing really well in the Indian market, where we are leading with our partner ecosystem. Our partners are primarily what we call agency partners. These are marketing agencies who want to do more for their customers, they look to partner with HubSpot. The main thing they ask themselves is ‘If I partner with HubSpot, will I start acquiring tons of customers tomorrow?’ And the answer is no because we are an inbound marketing company, which uses a long term strategy. They are also impatient, but very keen. Some of our top partners are in India, from a pay standpoint.