The emerging era of customer unions!

I was reading an interesting article by Umair Haque on the threat of open customer rebellion and how industrial age businesses are completely unprepared to change the ways they  engage, treat and manage customers.He writes:

"Yesterday's massive, sprawling organizations could pacify "consumers" by buying them off with a discount or three, an overblown celebrity promising the moon, an entirely new "brand" designed as camouflage, or adding an extra blade or five, patty or three, or cylinder or four, and calling it "innovation." But that probably won't pacify people concerned not merely with what they "get," but with what, if anything, you're really contributing to society".

He goes to quote an interesting example:

"ING customers mobilised on Twitter and other social networks to protest at bonuses paid to bosses at the bank, one of the biggest in the country. The threat of direct action raised the spectre of a partial run on ING, terrifying the Dutch establishment. Fred Polhout, union organiser at the bank, says: "People were outraged. We heard about the bloated sums being paid again in the City and in New York; but suddenly the issue exploded on our own front door."

To me this is a lovely articulation of  how unprepared many companies are. It made me think of some interesting analogy of how new information age thinking has to drive changes in industrial age-mindset companies:

  1. In the industrial age, there were labor unions who acted as interest groups for community who produced goods. The customer had no power as they were fragmented across markets. The information age is creating customer unions where customers come together to rally against companies which do injustice to them, their enviroment, their community, unfair business relationship & services etc. 
  2. The labor unions could take the cause of only one company, theortically speaking. But, customer unions can have members across different products/brands across geographies and pose a larger threat.
  3. The customer unions are self-engaging members who pose a potential threat to companies who undermine their power.
  4. The customer unions can come together within a few hours and disrupt the brand reputation built over years by companies.
  5. The customer unions have the power of internet, social media to engage & collaborate for this cause and will disengage once the cause is achieved.
  6. If there were union leaders who drove the labor unions, here there are customer leaders who drive the opinions and issues. Companies need to identify them as they emerge from time to time for different reasons. But address them with agility.
  7. Authencity and honesty will be the hallmark of successfully handling these customer unions and companies need to find new innovative methods of handling them openly & with transparency.

It's time companies and marketing departments realize this and find new ways of truly engaging with customers and their opinions.




Customers don't just want coupons on mobile. They look for information & reviews!

Most marketers have not forgotten the mass marketing principles and refuse to unlearn them for personal devices like mobiles which is increasingly becoming a marketing tool.

Off late, I have been bombarded with too many messages from retailers in India, just to inform me about their new arrivals or sale!  I dread to give away my mobile number to any retailer. The response from customers will only decrease over time if this is misused. It will become a case of message sent but just not seen at all - from OTS( Opportunity-to-See) to OTT( Opportunity-to-Trash) becoming huge!

E-marketer has an interesting research that tells a lot for grocery retailers but I do believe it is relevant for any marketer who's looking at the mobile medium.


Mobile is a great medium for dialogue, conversation and relationships. Don't treat it like a TV with lower costs of reach!

Airtel's India's first mobile app centre- A case for Open Apps - Did they miss a trick or two here!

Airtel in India launched a massive advertising campaign today for their India's first Mobile Application centre today. It has been in a soft launch mode for some time( 4 months) and Airtel claims there have been over 13 million downloads, over 71,000 apps and compatibility of these apps with over 780 devices.

Airtel is looking at this  App centre as a huge value-addition to their current customers.

How do consumers benefit?

  • If am an Airtel subscriber, I can download a host of applications from the app centre for a price.
  • If am new subscriber, may be some of  the apps look so interesting that I may want to prefer them over competitors if I need a new mobile connection.

The questions really for me are as follows for a mobile phone service provider w.r.t to Mobile Apps:

  1. Do Apps for a mobile service provider increase stickiness?  Am not so sure as yet with these applications. If for example, Airtel had an App which constantly analyzed mobile tariffs based on  current usage and recommended the right tariff & savings, it would be far more subscriber-centric and valuable. This can lead to better retention, higher usage and lower churn. Also, not to mention strong word-of-mouth that it would generate. 
  2. Is it just a buzz or is it truly differentiating given that fact that many consumers are still not GPRS/WAP savvy in India.  The jury is still out on this. Sure there will be a select few who could be interested but adoption is quite critical for widespread success of mobile apps.
  3. What about non-Airtel subscribers? I am a not an Airtel subscriber. I tried to download the app and it denied the download . Would it not be far more beneficial for Airtel to have "Open Apps" compatible with any device. This can in fact become a "valuable lead"  for them as I could use it my Nokia or LG or Samsung or Blackerry Phone and also serve as a strong branding & communication platform. This is new world of mobile marketing. The key really here is that they lost my lead once the download was denied.

I am strong advocate of Open- Apps especially for Mobile Phone service provides and even device providers. The walled gardens need to break down. In fact, opengardens one of the top 10 mobile blogs do believe this trend is coming soon.

Imagine what OPEN-APPS, could have done to Airtel:

  1. Why 13 million, what about the rest of the 100-200 million subscribers who are looking for an app to support their mobile lifestyle? Airtel automatically becomes a mobile service provider of choice - a preferred brand.
  2. Imagine the millions of device owners who could have an Airtel App - It is a great branding and customer marketing/advertising opportunity that is waiting to be tapped.
  3. Imagine the mind-market leadership that Airtel could gain out of this. It's quite incredible.