An Interview with Anaggh Desai, CEO, The Bombay Store

Rakesh Kumar
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An Interview with Anaggh Desai, CEO, The Bombay Store

'Frank', 'Insightful' and 'Remarkable' are the some of qualities that you can associate with Mr. Anaggh Desai, Mentor/CEO, The Bombay Store. The head of a 100-year old contemporary lifestyle store, he's someone whom you must follow if you're on Twitter for his wisdom and lively personality.

Last week I got an opportunity to interview him where I could pick his wise brain.

In this interview, he talks at length about the social media strategies that powers The Bombay Store and some of the mistakes that Indian brands are making on social media.

What was your goal when you first wanted to adopt Facebook and Twitter? Do you think you have achieved it?

"The Bombay Store – Old, Iconic, classic…. Yeah! It is nice, my parents used to take me there" was the answer in 2009-10 whenever asked. This was from the 21-35 age group who did not know the difference and change The Bombay Store had begun to undergo.

The objective was NOT to adopt Facebook & Twitter, but to add the digital medium as a long term strategy to aid the quest in addressing and communicating with a different target audience – engage with them, communicate, get information, create a community and finally induce purchase.

I think we are slowly getting there. We now interacting and engage with our customers, on all the afore said matters. Also complaints are handled on a real time basis, customer reviews on new products are also being taken into account. But there is a long way to go.

What is your average response time while replying to a tweet or a facebook comment?

We believe that any interest/query/issue stays on the top of one's mind for a time frame of 15-30 minutes. So if the customer is not responded to within in that time frame, you are more likely to lose/disgruntle him/her. So we see to it, that these fans/customers are replied to within a time frame of 15-30 minutes, unless the query is posted at odd hours. In case the query requires more time to revert back, we inform the fans/customers about the same.

Your #ChappalMaaro campaign on Twitter was one of the most interesting campaigns in recent times by an Indian brand. However, some people from the industry pointed to it as a brand to hashtag mismatch. How would you correlate the success of the campaign with respect to your branding?

Contradictory question here. This campaign concept – execution happened in less than an hour. In fact, we thought of it as a definite fit, given the fact: The first Indian retailer Strong Legacy of more than 100 years

Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak with other eminent leaders revolutionized the idea of Swadeshi, invoking nation’s collective conciousness.

The Municipal elections had just taken place and the youth had their own grievances which they were giving vent to, we just gave an humorous twist to that, and quite successfully if I may say so.

Industry people pointing out a mismatch is a given and needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. For every campaign – change of Airtel colors, to Vodafone or IPL, somebody does not like the campaign. But, the primary aims of the campaign are to – gather eyeballs, be talked about and eventually translate in ROI.

This we managed to do admirably – Flip Flops, something never before associated with The Bombay Store was a huge risk, particularly more than 10,000 numbers in different designs. #ChappalMaaro coincided with the launch and we had an 80% + sellout in less than 5 weeks.

You are actively campaigning against child abuse through Facebook and Twitter. Why have you associated your brand with a sensitive issue like child abuse? How has the response been from your community members?

The Bombay Store has always been involved in CSR activities. We began with ‘Magic Bus” last year in a big way and have continued to do so. If every brand feels uncomfortable associating with sensitive issues, how will those be ever addressed? As a socially responsible brand, we do not wait for a cause/issue to become fashionable, before being associated with it. We feel social media brings together a lot of people for a good cause. It has now evolved into a platform to not only reach people but also support the cause and help people. It’s just not child abuse we are also supporting other NGO’s for their fundraiser events by giving them a platform at our stores. This has been well received by our community members.

What type of content works best to keep the community engaged with your brand?

Our content is strategy driven. Our fans look for brand's Value Addition from time to time. So a major portion of our updates are dedicated to New Product Launches, Informing about In-Store Offers, spreading awareness about the existing product line. Having said that, we do not forget to add a fun element to our updates. We constantly try to interact with the community to get their insights, which are critical for our success in long term both- online & offline.

How often do you post updates on Facebook and Twitter? In your opinion, what is the best time to post that ensures maximum participation from your community?

Daily 2 updates with a time gap of 7 hours has been effective for our brand.For twitter specifically, Morning 11.30 am -1.30 pm & Evening 6.00 pm - 8.30 pm time slots are the best with respect to participation & interaction, as that is the time when most users are travelling to & from work. While for Facebook, 11.00 am - 1.00 pm or 7.00 pm to 9.00 pm works good for the brand. We believe these are people who access from their Office or Home.

On an average, how many responses do you get on your Facebook and Twitter account? Do you use any tools to make it easy for you to communicate with your audience?

We at 'The Bombay Store focus on quality of interaction rather than numbers. With every update or published content we try to improvise. We currently receive 25-35 responses/day on both the platforms. But our Social Media activity doesn't stop at Facebook & Twitter, we look beyond towards - Pinterest, Youtube, Blogs, Flickr etc. We did try the Facebook Offers recently and the results were promising. We plan to use it more effectively in the coming months.

How do you handle a disgruntled customer?

You need to be a good listener to a disgruntled customer. We generally prefer listening patiently to the customer and understand the nature of the problem. Based on the nature & intensity of the problem the further course of action is decided. In most cases the problems are basic in nature and are directly dealt over the digital platform itself, while in some cases it is taken over email or over the phone on one to one basis.

Do you offer discount coupons to a cribbing customer to pacify him? If yes, at what level are such decisions taken and how is this communicated to the ground staff?

Discount sounds too commercially motivated. Most customers have a genuine reason to crib and want it to be addressed. So that is our first priority. And sometimes we do show our gratitude by way of some token. The Customer & Communication department falling under marketing takes this decision.

What % of the traffic to your website comes from social media platforms? How has the trend been over the last few years/months?

Too negligible to really speak off. However, over the past couple of months this has begun to increase to an average of around 5%. We are looking at this traction growing to over 25-30% over the coming 6-9 months.

Over the years, social media has grown to become an effective marketing channel. How much of your marketing budget is spent on social media?

Roughly around 20% this year.

How has your social media marketing budget varied over the last few years years/months?

We have recently gone full throttle on social media. Last year when it was handled in-house, the budget was around 8%. We are not much into Facebook Ads, we believe in building our base through interaction and engagement.

Calculating the the ROI of social media is a holy grail that many are still trying to figure out. What are the key metrics you look for when determining the ROI of your social media efforts? Do you use any tools to measure these metrics?

It is very tempting to enter into number games. Count and Compare fans, Interaction, Retweets, Likes etc. But honestly for us Social Media ROI is same as any other Offline Media. Social Media can be used for various purposes right from building brand awareness, promoting new products to existing customers, Increasing Footfalls for our Stores, Promoting the E-Store etc, all of which lead to increase in actual sales at the end of the year. So to sum it up, actual increase in the sales at end of the year to the budget spent on Social Media is our parameter to measure ROI.

As I said we are not into number game we don't like to complicate ourselves with different tools and the mind boggling stats it throws at you.

Can you give as an introduction about the team that is behind your social media marketing efforts?

This was initially handled in house by Komia Chugh who incidentally learnt all of Social Media on the job, however we now have Digital Latte handling this on an ongoing basis.

Do you have any social media policy in place that tells your employees how to use social media? If yes, what is the purpose of it? If no, how do your employees know what can be done on social media and what cannot?

An unwritten policy of what not to say or talk, Yes. But no formal one has been evolved as yet. This is also due to the fact that more than 75% of our employees are digitally challenged and we are in the process of educating them currently.

Does the social media team work on silos? Or do top management or even developers and other team members know what is being promised?

No. A proper content and activity plan is prepared monthly, broken down weekly and shared with the team by Marketing. The evaluation is also discussed and shared.

Do you look into user reviews on sites such as Tripadvisor and MouthShut?

YES we have our account on trip advisor. Infact we are now ranked 1st for shopping in Mumbai on trip advisor. MouthShut had a couple of reviews that were immediately responded to.

Why don’t you have a blog? Any specific reason or just an unexplored territory?

We do have a blog on Posterous, with more than 4000 followers, but it is more similar information driven and has been given a bit of back seat at the current moment. The eventual plan is to integrate that on the website.

You have a strong presence on Facebook and Twitter. Are you looking to explore other social media platforms such as Google+, Pinterest or may be even a Tumblr blog?

Besides Facebook and Twitter we also have a strong presence on Pinterest, Flickr, Blog and Foursqaure. Yes we will be exploring other relevant platforms to reach out to new audience.

Videos have proved to be an effective way to communicate with the audience. Do you think adding YouTube to your marketing mix can help your business?

We have a you tube channel but i agree that we have not explored it to its full potential. All our latest PR videos go on you tube. Here eventually we expect classes, events to be recorded and uploaded to happen soon.

Have you recruited anyone via social media channels such as LinkedIn?

Across channels, yes more than a couple.

Apart from social media, are you exploring other digital marketing channels such as Google AdWords, Search Engine Optimization and Mobile Marketing?

SEO and SEM is already in place. Google Adwords and mobile marketing are already there in our next expansion phase of digital media.

India has the world's 3rd largest Internet population. Yet, not many businesses have adopted an online marketing strategy. What do you think may be the reason behind this?

Companies are slow to adopt social media as a marketing tactic due to the lack of the ability to accurately quantify an ROI. They believe not all products have a consumer target that will make social media marketing an effective tactic. Besides, the major fact remains, a lot of businesses are yet to understand ‘online’ completely.

Recently, Facebook announced that India will become its largest userbase by 2015. As a brand, how do you view this announcement?

More prospective customers.

What are some of the biggest mistakes that you see Indian brands making on social media?

The diversity of content and audience is all part of the charm and potential of social media, and when navigated properly, the potential ROI for almost any industry is huge. Great many businesses are not only failing to maximize the benefit of being present on social media, but they might also be hurting themselves. Here are a few common mistakes:

Treating social media like other marketing campaigns - Probably one of the biggest mistakes which companies make in their social media efforts is following their usual route of one-way communication. You take your product, and your message, and put it out there for public consumption, and call it a day. In social media, no matter how well-developed or well-styled that message is, if there is no true engagement with your audience, you’re essentially spamming them. And nothing turns off a social media crowd like spamming.

  • You need to engage with your followers. Ask them questions, and respond to theirs.
  •  Not being willing to devote the resources to make social media work - Businesses want to get involved in social media, but then don’t put in the time and resources needed to make it work.
  • Ignoring and not knowing your audience - Another mistake is to get involved in social media without actually getting involved. If you want to see a considerable return on the effort you’re putting in, then you have to put in considerable (and well-timed, and researched, and strategic) effort. The bottom line: you have to be willing to not just put your same old marketing campaigns into a 140 character format, but completely embark on a whole new, multi-layered way of communicating with your target audience.
  • Not seeing negative feedback as an opportunity
  • Expecting big numbers and results fast - consider that you’re investing in building a community and that takes time and a commitment.
  • Just because your Twitter account has only 50 followers right now doesn’t mean that A) those 50 people aren’t worth continuing to offer engaging, diverse, great content to; or B) that you won’t one day have more followers who will benefit from seeing a well-established history of activity on your end. Building up a real social media personality and presence will always take time. Be patient – it can be worth it.

Following are some of the tips that you can takeaway from the interview:

  1. Respond to a complaint as soon as possible if you don't want to disgruntle the customer. Within 15-30 minutes if possible.
  2. Genuinely address a complaint. Pacifying with discounts is not the only way.
  3. Involve yourself in CSR activities. Social media brings together a lot of people for a good cause.
  4. Don't indulge in one-way communication. Engage with your audience.
  5. Building community takes time and commitment. Be patient.

Hope you all liked the interview. It was a great pleasure bringing it to you.

Want us to interview your favourite brand or expert? Please feel free to share their names in the comments below. We will do our best to interview them for you.

Social media Twitter Facebook Youtube LinkedIn Pinterest Tripadvisor Mobile Marketing SEO Social Media Strategies Blogs Google AdWords search engine optimization Tweets Social Media ROI SEM Interactions CSR Anaggh Desai Flickr The Bombay Store #ChappalMaaro Komia Chugh Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak Magic Bus MouthShut