ORM Is An Important Discipline In Its Own Right: Karthi Marshan, Kotak Mahindra Group

The crisis delivered a “triple whammy”, making online reputation management (ORM) more challenging & promising, says Karthi Marshan, President & Chief Marketing Officer, Kotak Mahindra Group

The DDB Mudra Whitebook captures Karthi Marshan, President & Chief Marketing Officer, Kotak Mahindra Group take on how ORM is helping increase engagement, while also raising expectations.



ORM was always important for financial brands. How has it evolved in in recent past as digital became a mainstay in a market like India?

I would encourage brands to look hard at their influencer strategies. The early days were full of signing on influencers exactly like we used to buy ads on ‘Chaya Geet’ or ‘Chitrahaar’ once upon a time --- commodity: eyeballs. Today, the digitally comfortable consumer is on to us, and if an influencer doesn’t have credibility for the space they are posting, or the brand they are endorsing, it’s just money down the tube, or in this case, down the pipe. Similarly, the era for puff pieces in PR is done. Consumers will only pay attention to content that matters to them, that responds to their live pain points.

Largely for marketers in present times, ORM is part of a larger play. As a marketer, how do you look at its individual role, or what it brings to the table?

While ORM will have connections to marketing, it is an important discipline in its own right. Whether or not the brand has a marketing strategy and a plan in the conventional sense of advertising and marketing, it must have an ORM strategy. Today, brands can be broken with just 140 characters --- literally just one tweet at the right time and place, by any regular Kumar with very few followers, can create its own momentum and bring a brand to its knees overnight. No brand can afford to be an ostrich about this. Your consumers, prospects, employees, former employees, vigilantes, competitors --- your next strike can come from any of these quarters. Unless you have a 24-hour vigil as well as a war room that is always ready to be activated, you are at risk of sudden death.

Many marketers still need to work with partners for their ORM play. What are some points to watch out for here while selecting the partners you work with for these kinds of services?

Exactly like in large technology investments, or for example investments in things such as fraud prevention, virus protection et al, it is vital to ensure that the interests of your partners are aligned with your brand’s interests. If the partner wins only and always when the brand wins, the partner will be motivated to work like an extension of the brand. If not, the partner’s incentives can go at cross-purposes with the brand, and this can cost all parties a lot in the long run.

What are some of the key trends that you see emerging in the ORM space in India?

Ironically, good old-fashioned etiquette will have a renaissance. While they may sound like clichés, authenticity, empathy, transparency are the emerging trends in online reputation management. Being able to say sorry, early and sincerely, because nobody can get it right all the time, is just what the doctor ordered. Because people appreciate brands that can admit to being wrong and willing to make amends more than they will tolerate brands that hide behind a wall of legalese. Needless to say that emerging tools such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) will also be brought to bear more and more to help manage the masses of online chatter, and our energies can be focussed on solving for the most important, not the loudest.

Any example that you would like to share where ORM hit above its weight to achieve outcomes for Kotak Mahindra Group?

I can tell you that on numerous occasions, when we have spotted an irate customer online early, and have been able to connect with them quickly to understand the problem, and have been able to resolve speedily and successfully, we have not just won back that customer and her friends, but scores of others who have silently witnessed the very public parts of such journeys.

I am also proud to report that every now and then, when a customer has mistakenly vented about something where we were not even in the wrong, other customers have stepped up to defend us, sometimes even before we responded. That’s ORM gold, in my view, when your customers take up for you.