Customer is king, they say (Although I think the Queens can’t be ignored either). So, what is the hype all about? What pearls of knowledge do customers hold for the world of marketing and management, one wonders.
I recently made 200 customer calls for my startup, an exercise all of us in the company from the CEO to marketing to other teams have to contribute to during the festive season. As the Corporate Communications Lead of my company, this got me thinking about value creation and its role in the corporate environment.
Jessica Jackley, a social entrepreneur and impact investor, has summed up the concept of value creation succinctly. She quotes,
The Future is about creating value. If we have tools to empower each other, more possibility is reality.
Having straddled the challenges of inspiring confidence among communities to start and sustain businesses, she probably understands the importance of value creation very acutely.
Modern businesses are taking this very seriously too, with the very existence of a company depending on how much value it can give to its customers, partners, employees and clients. E-commerce companies like Flipkart, Swiggy, Ola and others have sold the value proposition of convenience to make their business operations an integral part of people’s lives. Interestingly, this focus on value creation has far reaching impact on the PR community. It has narrowed the gap between aligning business objectives with public relations objectives, particularly in the startup ecosystem.
So, what does value creation mean for new-age companies? While there is some ambiguity around the concept, the general consensus, especially for direct-to-consumer brands, seems to be that it means building products, services, avenues and pathways that can woo and delight customers. After all, for a thriving startup ecosystem itching to cater to a monthly active internet user base of 451 million (2019 IAMAI report), this customer obsession is hardly surprising.
PR professionals, by virtue of being in the services segment, have always considered value creation core to its function. How the community has gone about creating, delivering and showcasing this value has been a topic of conversation in many forums over the years.
Now, as I spoke to one customer after another, my mind wandered back to the first few days of my PR career when I was asked to do the much-dreaded ‘press release follow-ups’, Twitter rage hadn’t yet caught on and instead of undue public embarrassment, most of us who sent a press release and followed up with more than 50 journalists were served with a mouthful if we bothered them.
Incidentally, that never happened during the calls I made to customers for my present company, where me and my colleagues were to give usage instructions on how best to use our products.
After some introspection, it dawned on me. I was adding value to each person I was placing a call to. Those usage instructions would help increase the longevity of our products and our customers appreciated our efforts.
Being in the business of creating value and communicating it to our clients’ stakeholders, it is perhaps important for us to consider how little value incessant follow-ups, and other mundane processes, add to anybody’s life in the PR space. I was, in fact, fortunate to work under people at my previous organisation, who discarded the ‘follow-up’ way of working as soon as they realised it was an obsolete practice and started to value quality over quantity. We used to spend more time understanding the company and the environment it operated in and taking concrete stories that audiences would be interested in. I may not have realised it then but that made a difference in helping us look at the larger picture and doing things that moved the needle for the brands we worked for.
The constant push to think of the context in which the brand is operating, helped us figure why a profitable enterprise in an ecosystem that is burning cash makes for a good story, it helped us get our brands’ customer stories out in avenues where human interest stories mattered, it helped us understand cultural influences on food habits and how that could drive behavioural change. In a nutshell, it helped us have conversations that would add value not only to the people we were speaking with but also to us as professionals.
PR certainly plays an important role in helping brands create value for their audiences, especially if that brand is a startup. After all, startup success is not called a ‘valuation game’ for no reason, right? Understanding the evolution of what value creation means in the present context could lead the way for contemporary best practices in the PR world.