"Digital marketers have incredibly stressful lives": Hushidar Kharas, Amazon Prime Video, on a book he co-authored with Venke Sharma

By Ashwini Gangal, afaqs!, Mumbai | July 19, 2017
The book is titled 'The Indestructible Brand'. We bring you a quick chat with the authors.
Venke Sharma and Hushidar Kharas

Venke Sharma and Hushidar Kharas


In the age of social media, a virtual landmine for brands, the word 'crisis' has taken on a whole new meaning. In a book titled 'The Indestructible Brand', one peppered with real brand examples of social media disasters, and tips on how to tackle them, authors Venke Sharma (former Tribal DDB, Leo Burnett hand) and Hushidar Kharas (former Star, KFC, Future Group hand and present day in-charge of customer engagement and social media at Amazon Prime Video) discuss crisis management in the age of social media.

The Indestructible Brand

Published by Sage, the book has 142 pages. Sanjay Behl, chief executive officer, Raymond India, has written the foreword. The book will be unveiled at an event in Mumbai, this evening.

Edited Excerpts

What's the core TG for this book? What change are you hoping this book will help bring about?

Venke: Custodians of brands and organisations are the primary target audience. While the CEO is the ultimate brand custodian, the responsibility is shared with CXOs, marketing heads, brand managers, digital managers, and corporate communication/PR, social media, legal, HR and IT teams. Also by extension, by all the agencies that partner brands.

What prompted you two to pen down a book on this subject? A specific social media crisis you watched a brand go through? A social media disaster that was averted by a brand thanks to smart action?

Venke Sharma Venke Sharma

Venke: We've both lived and worked through social media crises in different organisations... While the nature of the crisis was different in each case, the similarities were clear: a crisis always comes out of the blue, the first reaction of most internal teams - legal, product or business owners - is to ignore it, not respond, and hope it goes away, and external agency teams are not part of the internal dynamics to anticipate, and execute a swift response to, a crisis.

We interacted with brands around the world and understood how some of them have successfully pre-empted and resolved such cases. We felt we had some practical, real world insights to offer.

Most brands have digital managers and agency partners to handle this side of things. What, to your mind, is the one weapon they all lack... and would do well to include in their arsenal?

Hushidar Kharas Hushidar Kharas

Hushidar: Digital marketers have incredibly stressful lives. They're expected to be the first channel that goes live on each campaign, often with just a few hours' notice, and are always focused on what they need to be telling the customers, what messages they need to convey, and what metrics they need to measure.

In the midst of all this, they often ignore the stray pieces of negative feedback that seem random and disconnected... until suddenly they aren't. The weapon I'd love to give them all is the time to stop, look, and listen to what customers are saying. In the absence of that luxury, there are keyword-based listening tools, automated alerts on email, and better organisational awareness that a crisis is everyone's problem, and the whole squad needs to pitch in to solve it.

Name a brand that, in your view, has used/is using social media well. Explain why you picked this one.

Hushidar: Southwest Airlines and Taco Bell do a great job in the United States. Zomato has created a strong niche for itself in India. Oreo's 'Dunk in the dark' campaign (the brand won hearts with an opportunistic tweet during the 2013 Super Bowl blackout; see image) is now the stuff of legend.

From a crisis management point of view, we'd rate Amul's response on social - Facebook, not Twitter - to a split milk complaint from Gurgaon as one of the best we've seen. It was prompt, transparent and heartfelt. Also, Lipton Tea in the Middle East did a great job dealing with a malicious consumer complaint about worms in the tea bag.

And now for the converse of the previous question - name a brand that, in your view, did not use/is not using social media optimally.

Hushidar: In September 2012 Volkswagen launched the Polo with a national print campaign in India. It surprised newspaper readers with a motorised device attached on the back page that vibrated automatically when the paper was opened. This was meant to make them curious enough to walk into a Volkswagen showroom for a test drive. The campaign received humongous chatter on social media, not all of it positive... some users called it a vibrator.

In response, the official Volkswagen India handle tweeted back - 'Women would be dumb to call it a vibrator. Or maybe they do not understand real driving experience. #PunIntended #Volkswagen #Creative'.

Screenshot of a tweet addressed to Volkswagen Screenshot of a tweet addressed to Volkswagen

This crass sexist response earned the brand the ire of the Twitterverse. Volkswagen promptly deleted the tweet, but several users had taken screenshots of it (see image) and the brand continued to receive flak. Volkswagen did not respond for almost three days, and when they did it was the clichéd explanation that their handle had been compromised.

You mentioned metrics and measurement earlier. What's your take on the matter of ROI on digital? What's the best way to measure return on the digital dollar?

Hushidar: (This issue marks a) seminal shift in the way all marketing activities are measured. The fact that digital activities can drive direct business returns - easier to track if your business has an online sales component - makes marketers ask the same question of TV, print, radio and outdoor. Having said that, there's a huge amount of smoke-and-mirrors in the way digital is measured today, with multiple vanity metrics clogging up precious bandwidth and genuine debate about the right attribution methodologies (first click versus last click).

A sound principle is to continuously remind yourself of what your core business is; are you in the business of delivering impressions, driving video views, or generating likes, shares and comments? The answer is usually no. In most cases, one can ascertain the impact of each digital media buy on actual business - subscriptions, orders, enquiries - and assign a cost per unit sold.

After factoring in scalability - will these prices hold if you suddenly increase spends? - it is possible to model your entire media mix to drive the most efficient channels for your business.

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