Best Customers and Velvet Rope Marketing (Part 3)

Do You Know Me?

Just after the lockdown was lifted, I wanted to visit a retail electronics store near my house with my son to check some of the new gadgets and devices. It is right across my house. We have been there many times over the past years. Since access inside the store was restricted due to the coronavirus regulations, circles had been drawn outside the store. We were on the fifth circle outside the store. A few minutes of waiting and I realised that we would have to wait for 20-25 minutes before we would be left in. I walked up to the person at the entrance and said, “I am your Best Customer. If you check my purchase history linked to my mobile number, you will find that I have spend a couple lakhs in the past two years with you to buy a smart TV, iPads, phones and more. Don’t you think I should be given priority access to get inside?” I think we all know the response! I walked away and took my business elsewhere.

In the pre-corona world, the experience was not very different at multiplexes. I have watched dozens of movies at Inox at Nariman Point with family. They should know. And yet every experience from booking to buying food is exactly the same each time. It is like I am a new customer for them each time I visit. So, I have to go the app to book tickets and compete with everyone else to get the best seats. And in case I miss the Thursday morning window for popular movies, I may not even get seats adjacent for the three of us.

Imagine instead if Inox sent me an email on Thursday morning stating, “Dear Rajesh. You are part of our Velvet Rope Marketing (Best Customer) programme. We have reserved three seats for you and your family for this new movie releasing tomorrow which we know you will like. These seats are for the Saturday 5:30 pm show which we know is your favourite show time. The seats are in the second last row on the left aisle which we also know is where you prefer to watch. We will hold the seats for the next two hours. Just click here and pay, and the seats are yours. Hope to see you at Inox soon.”

What an experience this would be! Instead of splitting watching between Inox at Nariman Point and PVR at Lower Parel, I would give Inox all my entertainment spend which means they would double revenues from me, making me even more of a Best Customer for them.

I can give more examples but we get the idea. We have all been through these experiences. A decade or two ago, online and offline brands knew very little about us so they had no way to differentiate our experiences. But now, they do. All our actions on websites and apps are tracked and stored forever. Our purchases in offline stores are linked with our mobile number. And yet, the actual experience hasn’t changed much except perhaps in earning some loyalty points.

The retail and ecommerce industries have much to learn from airlines and hotels.

Best Customers and Velvet Rope Marketing (Part 2)

The Broken Best Customer Experience

I buy a lot of books and some random stuff from Amazon. I have been a customer pretty much from when they started operations in India – possibly a Best Customer. (This is for Amazon to decide based on what they think my Customer Lifetime Value is.) Amazon’s home page is therefore prime estate to target me. They are supposed to have amazing algorithms to target me based on my purchasing history. This is what I saw the other day on the home page:

I have little interest in starting my parenting journey with Amazon – my son is 15 years old! And I have no interest in ACs, washing machines, TVs and fridges. Show me books, books and more books. To be fair, book recommendations did show up later on the page (second scroll).

I have over time learnt to ignore the home page. I invariably never scroll down. I just use the search bar to get to what I want. The home page is a significant lost opportunity for Amazon to sell one of their possible Best Customers a lot more. Here is another screenshot of wasted sales moments:

Netflix is another company which is supposed to have very good targeting algorithms. And yet, I find myself seeing much of the same content that I have ignored for many months. I have seen those recommendations and I am not interested. There is no way for me to tell that to Netflix. It knows I have not clicked on those shows or movies, and yet I have to wade through them. While the recommendation engines are good to targeting me based on what I have watched, they don’t seem to understand what I am not interested in, and therefore not waste screen real estate showing me those recos for the 258th time.

The purpose of these rants is to show how brands miss moments for monetisation (either revenue or attention). I can understand brands not doing it for everyone – but not doing it for Best Customers? Unforgivable in a world where they track not just every transaction but every click and perhaps even eyeball movement.

And it is even worse when it comes to the physical retail stores.

Best Customers and Velvet Rope Marketing (Part 1)

Data Flywheel

In a recent MartechBrain conversation, Kedar Parikh, my colleague at Netcore overseeing product management and machine learning, explained about the Data Flywheel using this graphic:

Data to Insights to Intelligence to Decisions, which leads to further enrichment of the Data. And that’s how the flywheel turns. Faster and faster. With more and more data. Creating better customer experiences. Omnichannel and personalised.

Customer data will be the new engine, differentiator and moat for B2C companies. As the share of digital rises, more and more data is being generated. Every click, every swipe, every action, every transaction is now available for analysis and reaction. Until a few years ago, even if a marketer collected a lot of individual-level data, it was very difficult to analyse and come up with actionable insights in real-time. This has all changed with the available of cloud computing and AI-ML.

Data can be sent, stored, and analysed in the cloud in real-time to create differentiated experiences. Campaigns, journeys, personalisation across all engagement channels can be done at a scale that was unimaginable just a decade ago. Software-as-a-service (SaaS) is now combining with the Data Cloud to take Martech to its logical next step – omnichannel personalised experiences.

There is a lot of room for improvement. Today’s customer experience leaves a lot to be desired – especially for the Best Customers.

Microns and Brands: Made for Each Other (Part 12)

An Example

Eat your own dog food, as they say! Here is the use case. Let’s say you came across this blog series and did a quick read. Somewhere, I nudge you to subscribe to a 4-micron series summarising the key ideas. Here is what you would get:

Day 1: What are Microns

Microns as a new email format for brands and content creators:

  • Informational “Personalised” Emails
  • Can be consumed in seconds
  • Mobile-First: fits on a single screen; no scrolling
  • Design thinking – no cognitive overload
  • Multi-lingual
  • Push; Sent daily, at a scheduled time
  • Can have rich media (images, audio, video)
  • Humanised: crafted by a person, not a bot
  • Variety: a micron for every interest, all in one place
  • Shareable via messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook
  • Showcase for innovations: interactive, dynamic content

Day 2: The 6 types of Micron Moments

  • Pre-purchase persuasion
  • Post-purchase engagement
  • Connecting with unknown customers
  • Interacting with anonymous visitors
  • Communicating with the long tail of customers
  • Targeting the inactive email database

Day 3: Micron Moments in daily life

  • Reading a news story and wanting more
  • Dental care tips
  • A book / movie to dig deeper into
  • Using an app / product better
  • Following a person I like
  • Cholesterol care
  • A challenging puzzle to solve
  • More on the next Friday movie
  • What to buy next
  • A past memory – a photo, a file, a flight

Day 4: Micron advantages

  • Fill a big gap in customer engagement
  • Email for branding – a new use case
  • DIY / self-serve – can start in minutes
  • Near zero cost – so no long approval process
  • Infinite scale possible – with near-zero budget
  • Fill missing moments in the brand-customer relationship
  • Great for daily nudges
  • Convert moments to money
  • Universal (email = identity)
  • No other alternative is possible

Short, simple, sequenced, informational. That is the wonderful world of microns.

Microns and Brands: Made for Each Other (Part 11)

The MyToday Advantage

There are many questions that come to mind about MyToday’s microns platform. Why would Netcore offer microns? What is the catch for the brand – after all there is no free lunch in the world. What if consumers start receiving too many microns – would it not add to the inbox clutter? Doesn’t Twitter offer something similar? Would not WhatsApp be better? Can a push notification do the job better? Let us address each of them.

First, why is Netcore offering microns? I see this as a great way to bring an innovation into the world of email and capture attention. Netcore has less than 1% of the global email market. The cost of producing an email is infinitesimally small for a company like Netcore. (An SMS is many times more expensive since operators need to be paid.) Netcore already sends over 10 billion emails each month for its enterprise customers. As such, it knows how to handle scale. By offering microns at a fraction of the price of emails, I hope to create interest in brands globally who are not using Netcore – and create new ideas for brands already using Netcore. As long as engaging emails grow, Netcore will grow.

Second, what is the catch for the brand? Microns have to adhere to a set of rules – be short, informational, sequenced (not one-off). Microns are about adding value to the recipient’s daily life, rather than showing up as an unwanted guest at the doorstep (in the inbox). As such, microns will have a greater likelihood of being opened and thus also enhance the brand’s mental availability.

Third, the problem of too many microns being sent to an inbox is a good problem to have! We all know how to deal with many micro-messages – just look at the quantum of WhatsApp messages we already handle in a day. Even a dozen microns daily will take up no more than a few minutes of time.

Fourth, the question of other platforms like Twitter offering something similar. Twitter, Medium and Substack are all broadcast platforms even as they offer the same publish-subscribe model – everyone sees the same message. Besides, you need a Twitter account. Email IDs are 10 times more ubiquitous than Twiiter. It is a no-contest. No other digital platform comes close – email wins hands down!

Fifth, what about alternatives like WhatsApp and push notifications (PNs)? WhatsApp’s terms of service do not allow for free continuous engagement and PNs are blocked by many app users. Email is the only unwalled solution. In fact, in the coming cookieless world, email will become identity. Building a direct connect with consumers via email with engaging content will be the key to unlocking their value – and this is where microns can play a very powerful role.

Finally, in the coming cookieless world, think of microns as the new cookies. They use the email address as the identity, the inbox as the retargeting vehicle with the micron as the message (informational ad).

To summarise the microns advantage using the MyToday platform:

  • Fill a big gap in customer engagement
  • Email for branding – a new use case
  • DIY / self-serve – can start in minutes
  • Fill missing moments in the brand-customer relationship
  • Great for daily nudges
  • Convert moments to money
  • Universal (email = identity)
  • No other alternative is possible

This is the world we want to create with microns and the MyToday platform.

Microns and Brands: Made for Each Other (Part 10)

My Missing Microns

I made a list of all the moments brands are losing out connecting with me through the course of a day:

  • Indian Express can have a number (or QR code) for major stories which sends me a 3-day backgrounder with the wider context (and links to previous stories or op-eds). News / media sites and apps could do similar.
  • I need to take medicines for cholesterol control. The pharma company could send me tips on what else I could do for a healthy life.
  • Colgate could send me a short series on dental care – how to brush better, how to floss (short videos). Yes, all of this is available on the Internet, but I haven’t really bothered to check that content out. And Colgate is a brand I trust – so they could curate the best for me.
  • Zoom could send me a series of microns on how to make better use of Zoom (eg. polls, breakout rooms) and the new features they have released
  • Yeti (the microphone manufacturer) could send me a short micron series on the various controls that are there, and how to make me sound better when speaking with others
  • I browse Amazon often for books and other products – each is a micron moment opportunity to nudge me over the next few days to tell me more about the products of interest
  • Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hotstar could send short video clips of movies or web series I have shown interest in
  • YouTube could offer me a curation of videos linked to what I have watched
  • Tim Ferris could send me a short summary of the key ideas from the Jim Collins conversation I just heard – the five key takeaways to make me more productive
  • Swiggy could give me a gentle nudge to order out in the evening – a pre-filled cart with my last order and a single-click purchase
  • Inox could send me a short series about the new movie releasing on Friday – much like the book example we discussed
  • India Today could send me a daily news quiz – a single multiple-choice question
  • Dropbox could send me a random link each day to a document from my past
  • WSJ could send me a set of crossword clues daily – because they know I downloaded their year-end puzzles book and answers
  • Simon Sinek (if he knew I liked his books and ideas) could send me a 30-day micron series with a refresher course and a recommendation on one action to do daily
  • HDFC Bank could send me a recommendation on what to buy next
  • Indigo could send me a memory from my past – a reminder of a flight I took (with the top news items of that day to set context); a gentle nudge towards welcoming me back onboard

None of this is happening today. Each is a missed engagement opportunity from a brand I love and have a need for. Getting all these microns in my Inbox might seem like a lot – but even if I got 20 microns daily, it would take by just 5-10 minutes of time. And each of them has something useful – to make me better informed, healthier, happier, and perhaps even wiser. Would this not be a change for the better compared to all the noise we wade through on our social media platforms?

Microns can make memories, money, and magic. It is for us to imagine a new world with more of microns and less of everything else. That is the promise of MyToday’s microns platform – for content creators and consumers, for publishers and subscribers, for brands and customers.

Microns and Brands: Made for Each Other (Part 9)

Brand Connection

This can be triggered post-purchase (direct) or through a brand requiring a registration for tips and offers. This can be particularly helpful in cases where the user is not directly known to a brand – for example, a purchase was done via a marketplace.

Instant Pot Purchase
#1 Getting started (assembly) / care instructions
#2 Simple recipes (under say 3 categories to get started)
#3 Connecting to community
#4 Planning a 30-minute dinner/ lunch – guidance
#5 Accessories that could be helpful
#6 Common mistakes and how to avoid them (if applicable)
#7 FAQ
#8 Seasonal recipes – festival, spring/summer/winter veggies, or just special

Cadbury / Nestle / Amul
#1 New launches/gift packs one may like
#2 Festival/occasion-triggered offers/ emails
#3 Fun things to do with chocolate
#4 Showcase innovations like chocolate with your “name” on it
#5 Community/ public service messages (if applicable) – for instance, the Diwali location-enabled ad done by Cadbury to promote local shops
#6 Chocolate gift ideas
#7 Ads across the years (things like this will work for brands that have been with us for long)
#8 Amul could send the cartoon of the week (even collections, or this day that year)
#9 History of chocolate, that item or the brand
#10 Chocolates from around the world / types of ‘condensed milk’ – sweetened, evaporated, dulce leche, and so on

Pharmacy / Medicines
#1 If a long-term course (like for blood pressure), offer monthly subscription
#2 Tips to reduce the medical condition
#3 Lifestyle/health tips
#4 Stories of people who have improved health
#5 Live connect with experts

Kellogg’s
#1 Fun ways to serve cereal (other than traditional)
#2 Fun combinations (with other products from same brand or outside)
#3 New launches
#4 Small puzzles/ activities for children or even adults
#5 Healthy eating tips
#6 Best with waste – example the boxes

Huggies / Pampers
#1 Invite to subscribe packs to save money
#2 Tips to prevent diaper rash, etc.
#3 Prompts as necessary to change diaper size, renew subscription
#4 Toilet training tips (though counter-intuitive)
#5 Other related products that could be helpful
#6 Connecting with mommy community
#7 Parenting tips/ curated emails

Children’s Books
#1 Books by children’s age group
#2 Books by interest/learning level
#3 Links/pointers to YouTube/ Spotify – with video/ audio book reading
#4 Other launches related to books – worksheets, puzzles, toys(?)
#5 Recommendations from other parents (could also go cross-brand)
#6 Pointers to book reading/ other related online/ offline brand events
#7 Tips to help children read, play, interact, etc.

Hopefully, these ideas give an idea of the innovative uses of microns. A subscription is linked with a moment – a trigger (interest, purchase) and can either be a short series or a much longer sequence. The idea (from a brand’s perspective) is a forever relationship – something new every day which becomes a habit for the recipient, leading to better brand recall and hopefully more purchases over time.

Microns and Brands: Made for Each Other (Part 8)

Microns: More Examples

With the help of my colleagues, we put together many more ideas for microns.

Beauty

Seasonal/festival-sensitive tips for cosmetics (for inactive subscribers)

Festival-specific
#1 What make-up to wear for Diwali etc.
#2 How to avoid skin damage after Holi

Occasion-specific
#1 What makeup to wear for a wedding

Season-specific
E.g How to avoid dry skin in the winter, and how you can use make-up to mask it
Daily make-up tips/routine depending on the weather

Beginner make-up tips for first-time visitor to website

After purchase of product
#1 Here is a tutorial on how to use this product
#2 Videos/Insta posts using that product/product line
#3 Best occasions (weather as well) to use the product
#4 Products that are complementary (suggestions)

Edutech

After student enrolled to a class/course
#1 Entire class schedule and syllabus including assignments due, date of quizzes etc.
#2 Morning reminder of classes for the day, assignments due etc.
#3 Evening reminder of homework due, how to prepare for next day’s classes

Enrolled but not going to class
#1 Tips on managing course in a busy schedule
#2 Pointers on some exciting snippets from the class/ lesson plan
#3 How other members in the cohort are benefitting (FOMO)
#4 Lesson catchup (if synchronous/ time-bound lessons)
#5 Catch-up segments from classes

Pre-purchase but been on course site 
#1 Free content preview of say one lesson in the course
#2 Mini e-book
#3 Offer to ‘audit’ the course for one (demo/live) lesson
#4 Success stories/ Testimonials from folks who have taken the course
#5 Suggestions on other similar courses
#6 Option for say certification/ just course completion and the different benefits
#7 Open house with the trainers/ counsellors
#8 Tips on managing this course with a full-time job/ school
#9 Offers (if paid course)

Electronics

After looking up a gadget on site
#1 Review of the gadget
#2 Special use cases specific to that gadget
#3 Comparison of similar/same gadget from a rival company

NBFC

Customer has savings and is eligible to set up a DEMAT account
#1 Email with suggestions on what to do with Savings
#2 Benefits of DEMAT
#3 How to set up a DEMAT account with snapshots of bank/NBFC’s website (3 simple steps)
#4 How to start, tips or suggestions
#5 Daily morning and evening update of portfolio with suggestion to “sell or do not sell”
#6 Daily tips for stocks, link to articles on trends

Microns and Brands: Made for Each Other (Part 7)

Microns for Travel

Let us take another example. Suppose you are planning to decide whether to spend some time in Hyderabad for a brief vacation. Imagine getting a series of microns, each acting as a micro-nudge to persuading you.

Day 1: Why Hyderabad is Your Perfect Winter Destination

With the temperature staying in the pleasant 20s during the day and only dipping to as low as 12 degrees in the early hours of the morning, this is the perfect time to visit Hyderabad. Roam around the city with no worries of any heat or rain ruining your plans and enjoy the pleasant Hyderabad weather.

Day 2: Two Architectural Marvels in the City of the Nizams

  • Golconda Fort: The site of discovery of the Koh-i-noor, a medieval fort now overlooking the city, Golconda is one of the historical places to visit in Hyderabad. The Sound & Light show brings alive the grandeur of one of India’s famous forts.
  • Charminar: The epic signature of the city, Char Minar is located in the heart of Hyderabad’s old city, surrounded by Mecca Masjid. Built in 1591 by Muhammad Quli Qutub Shah, it is graced by 4 minarets soaring almost 50ft in height, it has a mosque and 45 prayer spaces is amongst the famous places in Hyderabad.

Day 3: Food delicacies you must try from Hyderabad

  • Hyderabadi Biryani: If you were to rank the cuisine of Hyderabad by popularity, the biryani of Hyderabad will be at the top of the charts with its rich aromatic flavour and taste never fail to bring anyone back for a second helping! It is usually made with mutton, but chicken biryani is also a hot favourite. Where to Eat: Cafe Bahar, Basheerbagh
  • Kubani ka Meetha: Made of dried apricots, this dish comes subtly flavoured and sweetened just sufficiently. This dessert is almost a staple at most weddings and other festivities in Hyderabad. Where to Eat: Palace Heights, Abids

 Day 4: Best Places to Stay when in Hyderabad

  • Old City- Historical and architectural marvels, traditional hyderabadi food
  • Secunderabad – Army cantonment area etc.
  • Jubilee Hills — posh locale, lots of restaurants, KBR park etc.
  • Gachibowli — for IT sector, relatives, places like IKEA etc.

Each of these microns add value. Once again, the brevity ensures rapid consumption. There is only signal and no noise. There are no distractions. The content fits on a single mobile screen. The microns are only sent after consent. They are not a lifetime forced subscription – one is automatically unsubscribed once the short series is done.

Microns and Brands: Made for Each Other (Part 6)

Microns for Purchase – 2

Day 3: Excerpt from the book

This is a book about a radical idea.

An idea that’s long been known to make rulers nervous. An idea denied by religions and ideologies, ignored by the news media and erased from the annals of world history.

At the same time, it’s an idea that’s legitimised by virtually every branch of science. One that’s corroborated by evolution and confirmed by everyday life. An idea so intrinsic to human nature that it goes unnoticed and gets overlooked.

If only we had the courage to take it more seriously, it’s an idea that might just start a revolution. Turn society on its head. Because once you grasp what it really means, it’s nothing less than a mind-bending drug that ensures you’ll never look at the world the same again

So what is this radical idea?

That most people, deep down, are pretty decent.

Day 4: Interviews with the author

  • NPR: “If we can actually trust each other, if we do have the courage to move to a more realistic, hopeful view of human nature, then we can move to a very different kind of society as well — and build very different kinds of schools and democracies and workplaces.”
  • Time: “I think everything starts with your view of human nature, because what you assume about other people is often what you get out of them. So if we assume that most people deep down are selfish and cannot be trusted, then you’ll start designing your institutions around that idea. And you’ll create exactly the kind of people that your view of human nature presupposes.”
  • YouTube: An interview with Aaron Bastani for Novara Media

Day 5: Book reviews

  • Washington Independent: “The premise of Bregman’s book is that evolving into big-brained homo sapiens demanded extensive cooperation, so we’re hard-wired to be social, work in groups, and consider what’s best for the collective. He suggests our innate eagerness to please and to be liked — and, crucially, our ability to feel shame — makes us more like “homo puppy.”
  • The Guardian: “There will always be a battle between our altruistic and selfish instincts, our openness and our protectiveness – it is the very stuff of human drama. Still, if the devil has all the best tunes, it makes a welcome change to read such a sustained and enjoyable tribute to our better natures.”
  • From an Amazon review: “This is an uplifting and hopeful book which has arrived at just the right time to lift spirits and to increase solidarity. It picks interesting and varied case studies to make its points, arguing the central thesis that even in what appear to be the worse situations, humans kind nature always bobs to the surface. I am enjoying reading it, however it is not really an academic text, more a text written for the popular market.”

That is what microns are – just-in-time, contextual, pithy (can be read in 15-30 seconds), and informative. They come to us in our inbox. We can read and either act or simply move on. They are short enough that we can read them in a glance rather than wait for later. Would these not be far more effective in nudging us towards a purchase after we have shown an interest in the book?