Exclusive | Social Media, a shopping tool: Volvo's Sudeep Narayan

Recently DMAi held it's first season of CxO Roundtable series. These sessions were aimed at the front runners of marketing community who were  a part of stimulating round table discussion with peers across various sectors. These stalwarts  stressed  on the need of marketing conversations that drives business. The inaugural session  focused on social media analytics.

On the sidelines of the event Adgully caught-up with Sudeep Narayan, Marketing & PR Director at Volvo Auto India with an aim to understand how the automotive sector has been applying / experimenting with  the on-growing  need  for digital and social media .

Narayan has been with Volvo Cars, since its inception. He joined the company in 2008 (6 months after the operations began in India) and was the first Indian member in the Management Team. Prior to this he was with General Motors. Speaking about his stint in the advertising, media industry and at Volvo cars, he said, “Whilst in Advertising, I was predominantly handling automotive businesses. The journey in Volvo cars has been a very challenging and an interesting one. Since we are still establishing the brand’s Scandinavian luxury and safety heritage the market forces have become extremely dynamic and the segment is witnessing heavy marketing investments.”

His mandate is to carve a niche within the luxury segment and strategize activities that boost the brand. Over the past couple of years the brand has seen a successful foray into Fashion (with Lakme fashion Week) and the introduction of Volvo World Golf Challenge (their global amateur golf property).

Giving us a sense of the market, Narayan said, “Firstly, let me talk about the industry itself. Although the Y-O-Y 2012 versus 2013 pace has slowed down and the 5.3% decline is short-term, India remains one of the high growth potential markets across segments in the medium/long term. Especially the luxury segment which currently comprises a miniscule 1.5% of the total industry volumes is set to be at 3% by 2020. This could tantamount to a 4-fold increase in 7 years. Even in slowdown the luxury segment is growing.”

Coming to Digital media, he feels that digital media is still seen as a shopping tool and seldom a brand building tool. This is perhaps different for some other categories/industries. “When it comes to a high value purchase, usually the entire family is involved and they would like to touch-feel-test drive the metal. We do see digital media as a sales enhancer for prospects,” he added.

Sharing about the impact of Social media and digital penetration and how it has affected his business, Narayan said, “I would say yes and no. Though this is not a diplomatic answer, there are customers from varied backgrounds – from the CXO Industrialists to the landowner in the city suburb. Digital, especially social platforms allows an opportunity of a dialogue between the brand and its prospects but off late social is rather abused.” 

“We do not believe in purchasing likes/fans on our social platforms. Our competition on social media has grown from a couple of thousands to over millions, thanks to iPads being dished out every week to lucky tweeters! Since we believe in doing a more focused approach, we prefer to initiate a conversation on the social media and carry it forward on a personalized CRM/DM medium. This has provided us the embracing inroads into the prospects life,” he added further.

How will current web analytics and other digital performance reporting interact with social media marketing analysis in the future? Answering this, he said, “This is currently undergoing a transformation from quantitative to qualitative analysis. Mood/tonality analysis, for a luxury brand may not be about absolute numbers but the quality of interaction and imparting knowledge about the brand takes centre-stage.”

In terms of success and tools, he opined that although they have the analytics and other listening tools deployed globally, measuring success from the digital platforms are varied. Some tools according to him are: Positive disposition analysis, Desirability (to own) analysis, Ready for consideration analysis, Customer experience diagnostics, Loyalty factors and Brand Advocacy.

We see demos of tools very often, but how much importance is attributed to the manual intervention that goes into deriving actionable insights from this data on social media platform.  Explaining the point further he said, “I believe manual intervention is a must. A plane can fly on Auto-Pilot but the responsibility and expertise of the human pilot is of utmost importance.”

According to him in terms of crisis and managing issues, his personal opinion is to stay calm and acknowledge it immediately. Often companies think about the solutions and then revert with the communication. In the supersonic era, one should communicate first and apprise of the solution being worked upon.
“Then the next step should be a one-to-one communication. It may be an  email, call or  meeting. We usually address the query in an impersonal virtual/digital domain. I think it should be addressed in both digital and personal channels of communications,” opines Narayan.

Some trends he foresees for the car industry is with regard to the supply-chain and production integration in the website which is currently happening in bits and pieces. For e.g: if a customer wants to select a colour, the car configuration in websites should be able to tell the prospect that silver colours will get into production in 10 days and if he/she wants immediate delivery then the colour option is white. This means the customer facing communication is directly connected to the production and supply systems which eradicate intermittent channels and communicates directly/correctly to the prospect.

But the augmented reality is that although it is happening now it is more a one-way communication. The 2-way interactive real-life experience is on the anvil.
Narayan also spoke about the important social media policies at Volvo. “In fact even our customer service teams are involved since a lot of posts do happen about product experience. The policy is focused and crisp. For customers we have a concept called ‘Customer Champion’ who is part of all dealerships (one in each dealership) and they report to the company’s customer champion. Any posts about the product experience, they answer. All other posts for e.g. media relations; product news; events etc, I am responsible to authorize our digital partner to answer critical questions, post my approval , but they answer directly if the query is among the FAQs,” said Narayan thereby concluding a most interesting conversation.


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