June 13, 2011

"Synthesised Communications" - Article by Sanjay Anandaram

With more and more communication taking place electronically, one would think that marketing folks would be looking into each leveraging every interaction as a means of building a brand relationship. However experience suggests that there are miles to go before e-communication gets integrated into the traditional marketing plans of even leading brands.

After checking mail in my “Inbox”, I usually review the mail in the “Junk” folder to ensure that no important message has inadvertently been routed to this folder. Upon a recent review, I came across a mail from “Webmaster” and had “Despatch of documents through electronic mode” in the subject line. Even though it seemed like this mail was in the right folder, wanting to be doubly sure, I clicked on it and was surprised to learn that it was a message from the Investor Services Division of a company where I am a tiny shareholder. The message contained an attachment – a circular informing me that all communication (including notices and copies of the annual reports) henceforth would only be done electronically and, to quote the cold officialese, that “in view of the above, it would not be necessary to respond to the attached Circular”.

Why couldn’t the company – ironically, a top player in the hospitality business, no less – have communicated to me in a manner that was more personal, friendlier and more importantly not be confused with junk or spam mail? Why couldn’t the name of the company be mentioned? Why wasn’t the subject line different and one that would make me read it? Instead, the mail was in my “Junk” folder and worse, there was the real danger that subsequent, more important communication could get diverted to that folder with me perhaps losing out? Did the letter have to sound cold, impersonal and distant? How could a leading company in the hospitality business communicate so unthinkingly?

I received an e-bill from bill@tataindicom.com. After making the payment, I received an acknowledgement from Tata-Indicom-Support@tatatel.co.in. Why the two different domain names? Why isn’t e-communication with customers an important branding tool? Were customer support and marketing two different silos in this company?

Startups too aren’t immune. The official names of startup companies isn’t as well known as the “market names” or brands they represent. So why have this unknown company name in the email id of the employees? Why not use the brand name in all communications? Still several startups make the mistake of using both the brand and the official name and some make the bigger mistake of just using the official name. For example, imagine receiving an email from infoedge.in as opposed to naukri.com!

Few governments, certainly not the Indian one, can be accused of being innovative, citizen friendly and brand conscious. Consider this:

A senior Central government functionary from Ministry of Science and Technology used to use email to communicate very courteously, promptly and knowledgeably. The only issue I had was that his official email id (even printed on his letterhead) was “dept@rediffmail.com! Recently, I was informed by the gentleman who replaced this functionary that henceforth all communication was no longer to be sent to the rediffmail.com address but to another. Only this was a Yahoo.com account! How come the Govt of India doesn’t provide an official email id to its officers? The point is not whether it can (of course, it can) or should (of course it should!) but what it reveals about the mindset behind such efforts. Isn’t anyone in Government thinking of issues like security, storage or the impression this creates of a so-called IT Superpower (even discounting for hyperbole)? Isn’t there a CIO or CTO for the government who lays down, implements and enforces such simple policies and guidelines across ministries and departments? And this is the government that is implementing the world’s most ambitious IT project, namely the UID!

India’s great leap forward will be driven by a mix of policy, attitude, procedures, technology and governance. Someone once described India as a country with its head in the 21st century and its body in the 19th. While it is perhaps natural to wax lyrical and get all pumped up about the coming Indian dawn, it is important to note that it is in the minutest of details that the devil lies. Details that, for example, harmonise activities across departments, that showcase a single brand, that highlight a common set of values and propositions.

And in spite of this nation with its millions of gods, the devil can easily trip us all up.

Sanjay Anandaram is a passionate advocate of entrepreneurship in India; He brings close to two decades of experience as an entrepreneur, corporate executive, venture investor, faculty member, advisor and mentor. He’s involved with Nasscom, TiE, IIM-Bangalore, and INSEAD business school in driving entrepreneurship. He can be reached at sanjay@jumpstartup.net. The views expressed here are his own.