This article has been modified. Please see clarification at the end.
Chances are that in our day to day lives, many of us would have come across a humdrum home utility product-the ironing mat. However, there is a high probability that unlike other big ticket products occupying space in our homes, not many of us would have sought out the brand name of that product. A close look at the ironing mat would reveal that it is a creation of a home utility product manufacturer Bonita. The company has christened the product Alpha ironing mat, doffing its hat to the crucial role played by a group of dedicated homemakers in determining the final product and its design.
"It was the alpha consumers in the age group of 25 to 45 years who gave us insights to come up with this product. Traditionally, the commodity market has lacked the much needed focus on product design and form. Our close engagement with the educated and working homemakers helped us discover two important consumer truths. The first, the lack of space in the Indian homes for an ironing board, and second, that a lot of ironing in our homes happen on bed." says Umang Srivastava, JMD, Bonita India. Based on these insights, Bonita came up with the concept of an ironing mat which could be laid out on bed, is foldable and does not occupy much space.
Like Bonita, a number of companies are turning to alpha consumers to conjure up invincible products by marrying their in-house research with feedback from consumer on their tastes and preferences. To successfully leverage the concept of alpha marketing, it is crucial for companies to create and build a relevant profile of such consumers. For example, for Aqua Mobiles alpha consumers are technology enthusiasts and it seeks out bloggers, active Pinterest users and online product reviewers. Aqua Mobiles has a marketing team that identifies alpha consumers and 'activate' them.
Identifying the right set of alpha consumers is a complex process. Kali Charan Shukla, VP, marketing, Helpchat, explains, "One way of finding alpha consumer is to dissect the primary target of the brand in terms of age, lifestyle, location, SEC and social influence. Also, they're often opinion leaders, and can be powerful allies in spreading the word about new products." Aliasger Motiwala, co-founder, Plobal Apps, admits that in most industries, particularly in the app business, the consumer demography for each product is different. For one of its clients that was in the business of home food delivery, it created a group of alpha users by reaching out to students living away from parents and working men and women.
Besides identifying the alpha consumers it's equally important for companies to keep them motivated and active. A large number of companies provide incentives to such groups. "Incentives vary. For instance, some people are enthusiastic and technologically inclined and therefore take the lead in testing a tech product before its launch. We also give a free handset or put their links in our blog and Facebook page so that they also get more traffic. A few are given monetary incentives as well," says Govind Bansal, co-founder, Aqua Mobiles. Toonz Retail, which is into retailing kidswear, too incentivises alpha consumers. "We use customer analysis and internal intelligence mechanisms to identify our alpha customers. Such consumers gain monetarily through the loyalty reward mechanism and also get discounts," says Sharad Venkta, MD, Toonz Retail.
Keeping the alpha consumers engaged and staying in touch with them through relevant platforms is another focus area for companies. Nitin Agarwal, head, marketing, ShopClues, says that the company uses online platforms -DP review and Team Bhp to reach out to customers. Darshan Patodi, co-founder, yellowfashion.in,points out "As our alpha consumers are digitally and socially active, we use Facebook and Whatsapp to converse with them. These platforms have the potential to help news go viral and therefore best suited to spread positive word about a product." Pau Abelló Pellicer, managing director, bathroom products, Roca, says, "We engage designers and architects by sharing new product updates, new technologies, inviting them to forums, and providing samples at reasonable rates for their projects."
Today's alpha consumer is technology savvy, well read and travelled. She is ambitious and always on the lookout for better opportunities. Therefore the relationship with alpha customers calls for careful handling and nurturing to ensure that it's a win for both the company as well as the alpha consumers. "Alpha consumers want transparency, honesty and very focused attention backed with complete logic. They love to hear about innovative ideas and products. Serve to their satisfaction and they will spread your good name through social media and reverse is also true," says Rohit Aggarwal, CEO, Koenig Solutions. He adds, " Servicing to alpha consumers is exciting as their demand for good quality in product inspire the companies to work harder. Companies are treating them as influencers for their products."
With all the advantages that alpha consumers offer brands, at times the brand may have to resort to serious course correction to truly align with customer preferences. Jewellery manufacturer Voylla's experience reflects this. Based on alpha consumer feedback, the company launched an exclusive range of earrings. Despite making the right noises the product failed to register impressive sales. In-depth analysis revealed that while the earrings were an impressive piece of art, it was too big and bold to be carried by Indian women of average built and height. Taking clues from these revelations, Voylla relaunched the product in smaller size and reduced the price significantly. Jagrati Shringi, co-founder, Voylla, claims, "The experience taught us that one needs to keep the group of alpha users close to brands' mass consumer base. This is so because people do get impressed by influencers but will not patronise the product if it does not fit their requirements."
To get the best from one's group of alpha users it's very important for companies to build trust among them. Helpchat's Shukla, says, "Alpha consumers are risk takers as purchasing or trying something new requires time and financial investment. Alpha consumers like the personal entertainment that they get by using a new product and this reflects a quest for novelty. Brand needs to provide them a special status by offering them exclusive preview of products, create an incentive system and most importantly keep them engaged and motivated by listening to them."
Nurturing early adopters: Amit Damani
At Vista Rooms, alpha customers are considered as early adopters. These customers not only shape our product but are also, our ambassadors. They help us in initial marketing and testing of our product. Points that make an ordinary customer an alpha customer are repeat customers, social media evangelists and customers who refer our service actively.
We communicate with alpha users both offline and online. Our offline efforts include, attending and hosting meet-ups to attract our target group. Other programs include college connect programs, etc. Our online efforts include managing community groups on Facebook, blogging about relevant topics, hosting AMA's on different forums. Alpha users take help of more modern mediums like quora, reddit, medium, etc to motivate potential customers to try our service and product. We constantly stay in touch with our community on personal mediums like Whatsapp and Twitter. We take their feedback constructively and act on it with them in mind. Every time, we solve an issue we ask for a third eye view on it. This makes our members feel more welcomed and involved in the process and this helps us gain their trust. Potential customer can apply to our program by signing up as a Vista Ambassador on our web page or they can write to us. We help our ambassadors in developing logical reasoning by involving them in core decision processes, we also encourage them to do audits and host events on our behalf. This helps in building a sense of leadership.
We provide monetary as well non-monetary incentives to our ambassadors . Monetary gains include a steady pay per month and non-monetary benefits include premium access to our alliances, discounts and exclusive free trial for our new initiatives.
Co Founder, Vista Rooms
This version corrects Govind Bansal's name. The earlier one had misstated it as Gavind Banal. The correction has been made and error regretted.