A tale of Dunbar, Gore, Whatsapp, Mom and Zomato

We were driving around a forest near the tea country in Southern India. No people. Just monkeys and deer. As we passed a remote village my mother suddenly said we have relatives living nearby. What? She whipped out her address book, called said relatives the next time our phone was functional, and next thing we were having high tea in the manager’s bungalow of a beautiful estate. On a holiday to Sri Lanka we had high tea with an aged relative residing in a vintage printing press. Again, located by my mother through her handy dandy address book. Most families will have similar stories. It’s not serendipity – it’s hard work of investing in relationships and reciprocating wedding invitations and Christmas cards.

Dunbar posited that most people can’t have more than 150 reciprocal relationships. The sort where I get your back and you get mine. His research was based on the observation of Bill Gore (co-founder with wife Genevieve of W.L. Gore, famous for Gore-Tex, waterproof breathable fabric) that when the number of employees in a factory exceeded 150, the relationships deteriorated. At that number you don’t need id cards to remember your colleagues, and groups are self-policing through social consequences. Everyone is an Associate and works with a lattice communication structure.

Now you see why Whatsapp groups – which are limited to 256 – are far more intense socially than Facebook or LinkedIn. You actually get to know each other and social-policing is very visible too. Smaller groups on FB and LinkedIn have similar dynamics.

What this means is that you can use technology to increase the number of acquaintances you have, but for the social units to be cohesive and engaged they have to be limited to 150 members, with a human owning those relationships. Just like a good old-fashioned distributor. Or Mom. Today, even organizations that are set up to manage a smaller group of accounts, like wealth management branches, suffer from non-sticky non-committed relationship managers who are tasked on revenue goals rather than retention.

Zomato recently backed away from a tussle with the National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) which contested a dine-in membership program that they said was financially loaded against the restaurants. Unlike the online delivery business which provides restaurants with the vital service of increasing kitchen utilization and smoothing demand during off-peak, the dine-in program increases restaurant occupancy by discounting even during peak. Oops. As aggregators grow they need to have a solid Account Based Marketing program that develops a relationship with their key stakeholders – customers, employees, investors, and partners. Any new initiative should be socialized with the top groups and their feedback taken. To learn more about customer experience check out. Zomato is transitioning from discovery to fulfilment – it should not rely on pricing as its primary lever.

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Emily Nicholls has been promoted to Director Field Marketing, Northern Europe at Sitecore. She was earlier Senior Marketing Manager UK