Q: Everybody give a tumbler on a packet of tea and a comb on a packet
of sugar. Is there any one promotion you have found more exciting than all this
-Joel R Shenvi, Mumbai
A: Joel, I am as tired of these
inane promotions as you are. Promotions are meant to create a positive blip for sale volume. Here
is one from the mother market of them all, the United States of America.
The American consumer is a
typical 5th generation marketed-to consumer. Totally tired of
marketing. Totally tired of advertising. And totally tired of every consumer
promotion there is.
Milwaukee saw an exciting
re-invention of the consumer promotion. A company that manufactures an insect
repellant and insect-killer in spray form had a marketing problem. Sales were
down. The times were tough.
The promotion the company thought
of was an exciting one. Five healthy American cockroaches were caught and
stunned. Their bellies were bar-coded. When these healthy American cockroaches
regained their presence, they were let loose into the drainage system of
The next morning saw an ad in the
paper announcing a USD 50,000 reward for anyone who brought in one of the
bar-coded cockroaches dead or alive. The next day saw a run on the shops.
Everyone wanted an insect killer spray. Stocks of every company selling one was
liquidated off the shelves.
Milwaukee saw a kind of the Great
American Gold Rush. Kids went about with canisters to kill. Office-goers
carried a spray in their jackets and went hunting for USD 50,000 in their
A killer promotion for sure.
Q: How has luxury retail been evolving in India? Is there a fair
bit of traction in this space?
-R L Sinha, Kolkata.
A: Sinha-Da, luxury-retail space in the country was
initially spurred into action by the space offered by 5-star properties in
India. This meant that luxury brands could afford a presence in some 6-10
luxury hotel lobbies and shopping galleries in some 6 big cities. This
restricted presence. Anyone with a desire to partake of the offering of these
brand labels made a beeline to these properties. Therefore, you had consumers
from as far as Hoshiarpur and Bhatinda going all the way to Delhi to buy their Swarovski crystals.
At best, the most popular luxury brands had access
to some 20 plus stores in India. Not anymore. And that’s evolution for sure.
paradigm is broken. The emergence of the Mall has led the way. Brands
have even ventured out to the High Streets, braving very un-differentiated segments
of shoppers, many of them who walk by in by the awe of the brand, and many who
walk in and get frightened by the price tags altogether.
luxury brand has a wider presence across channels. Across the trade channel of
the 5 star hotel property, the Premium Mall, the Popular Mall, the High Street
and the On-line store. The niche is widening its marketing wedge. There is
plenty of traction in this space as India affords more and more, luxury retail
Q: I am on the verge of bringing out a range
of ready-to-eat foods for the Indian market. Can I depend solely on the power
of organized retail to make it big, or do I need to venture out deeper?
-Rohit Kapashi, New Delhi
A: Rohit, depends totally on the ambition
of your venture. If your ambition is to dominate the
market you enter, then the use of organised retail is just not enough. Organised
retail is very small in the country. Of the total value of Indian retail, only
7.1 per cent comes from organised retail.
Brands have to rely on the large,
dissipated and very vibrant kirana category for their real vibrant sales. In
terms of distribution mix, urban markets need a skew of organised and
un-organised. In rural markets, the choice is largely through un-organised
retail, village shandies and mandis, and the local ration shops, just as there
is the trend of the emerging discount chain in rural.
Q: Modern retailers
are launching their own brands that compete with other older brands in the
market. Is this fair? And how does it hurt established brands.
A: Rohini, first things first. There is
nothing that is really unfair in the market process of an organized retailer
offering his/her own brands on sale. Most of the time, what is offered is great
quality stuff at 30 per cent cheaper prices even. The only missing element is the big brand label. This is certainly
a threat to the organised old brand in the market. But then, everyone must
compete. At the end of this long game of competition, the consumer will
hopefully be the ultimate winner.
These are DOBs(dealers own brands) or
Private labels. They are small in number as of now. Most sell private label
brands within their organised retail store formats. Some will venture out to
sell through the mass chain ultimately. This is a tough task though. The core
competence of such private labels is largely show-cased within the private
space of the store that spawns it. FMCG distribution and management is a
different core competence altogether. Transgressing and owning this competence
is a tough task.
Q: Whether the market is on the up-turn or down-tick,
there is always a value-consumer out there. Am I right? And how does she
-Anand Abirami, Chennai.
you are right. Every market has its own proportion of value-seekers. As
consumers age in terms of being consumers itself, the value dimension does get
blunted and brand imagery takes over.
This value consumer is the one who
spends the most time in your super-markets. He/she is down-grading on brands.
At times this is a brand to brand down-grade and at times it is a pack-to-pack
down-grade within the same brand. From larger packs to smaller.
In addition to this, consumer demand is getting stretched out over lower-cost
variants. For example, in the automotive category we have consumers who have
had 2-box cars for all of 8 years and are looking to change. When they
re-enter the market to change, typically they would come in with aspiration to
upgrade to a 3-box version(sedans). However, during the last slow-down in India, we have had
customers actually going in yet again for a 2-box car replacement. This means
they want to fork out less as an outlay in tough times.
What this does is that it does not only kill the sale of a 3-box car which
would have otherwise happened in the short-term, but in the medium to
long-term, it postpones this family from being in the 3-box car market for a
cycle time which might be as short as 6-years in India or right up to 10-years
in a strong value-delivery seeking family. This is a hit not for one quarter
but for successive streams of quarters.
The consumer is still brand-conscious, but this brand-consciousness operates
within a price-format that is value-defining.
In terms of consumption behavior, the consumer is much more careful in terms of
usage. There is no surplus usage. There is less squandering and more real usage.
The toothpaste is used with care and the tube is squeezed out till the last bit
is out with a 'chimta'(tong) in the bathroom, just as the cake of soap is used
till its last bits are squeezed. Hotel soaps and shampoos picked up on travels
by the man or woman of the house are being used as well to optimal
For this type of consumer, value is in. Wastage is out.
Q: Do brands over-estimate the consumer's
spending capacities? Are there examples of fault-lines across categories?
-Devika lahiri, New Delhi
fault-lines run long and deep. Apparel is a classic case. The gung-ho nature of
the economy, the fact that the demographics of this nation are young-skewed, and
the Outdoor nature of the young led apparel marketers to go a bit too gung-ho
in their attitude as well recently.
This has seen inventory pile-ups, styles laid out in the market and in pricing
decisions as well. Every business plan of many an apparel maker is in the
doldrums due to this.
FMCGs did wrong as well. Many focused on larger volume and value packs. The
small packs were ignored. Low unit and low value packs literally vacated many
markets. This was an undoing for the brands in tough times when consumers want
to move to smaller packs. Companies like Britannia however re-invented the
wheel in time. The small-pack focus of the company is poised to reap rich
One read the market, the economy and its peoples wrong in a cautionary
Q: Everything is out to be
tried. A new kind of try-marketing is out here where everyone is bending
backwards in offering trails. Is this is a new marketing ploy?
-Revathi P Mudra, Bhubaneswar.
A: Revathi, this is a all about brands wanting to get tactile with their
consumers. The idea is a simple one. The best way to sell anything to anyone is
to show them the brand. The next thing the consumer wants to do is touch the
brand. The third thing would be to use the brand and check it out for its
In many cases of products, the price of the product is prohibitive to
allow a trial without purchase, therefore, low trials mean low buys. Marketers
circumvent this by offering the free trail.
What is important to understand is the number of days of trail or occasions
of trial that is necessary for the product or service to be just right for
adoption by the consumer. Once that is understood, the cost viability of the
activity can be worked out.
For instance, for a coffee brand to be adopted in a home, a total of a
minimum 3 months of trail daily is necessary. This means that a competing brand
should be able to work this right only if it is able to provide that deep a
placement of its free stock. A simple one-time Rs.5 sachet free does not work.
At best it is a very expensive waste.
The ability of the consumer to see, touch, feel and experience the product or service
in all its brand and product sensorial aspects is the biggest advantage.
During a recession, this type of trail-offers spring up fast and strong. When
there is not enough money to use on mass media advertising, ‘tryvertising’
becomes a very focused way of reaching consumers 1:1.
In recent months the US and Europe have seen a surge in tryvertising.
There are tryvertising websites that get you to register onto them with your
database. Freebies are then sent to those registered and feedback is solicited.
If you register on a couple of these websites and if you are sincere in your
feedback giving mechanism, regularity and correctness, you can run an entire
home on literally just this.
Q: I do believe agri-product branding is the biggest opportunity India has.
Do you agree?
-Usha RR, Hyderabad
A: Usha, a whole-hearted yes. Agri-produce branding is pretty nascent in
our country. The branding of sugar is a classic example. It has gone nowhere. The
opportunity surely does lie here, in terrains such as these where we have had
In the case of milk, each of the dairy co-operatives
has done a yeoman task. Amul is one, but there are forty others in India who
have done similar good work. The non-co-operative enterprises such as Heritage
Foods have added to this effort.
The staples sector is far away from this
movement. However, with the emergence of organized retail in India, a lot of
action can be seen in this space.
Chains such as Reliance, the Aditya Birla
Group, and others in this space will offer Private label brand sin staples.
This will be the first big step into the branding of staples.
The agri product needs to fulfill the basic
parameters of good quality and consistency on offer to be branded.
Additionally, on procurement price, these products need to hold the line to be
accepted as brands that are static price rather than brands that fluctuate
their prices basis availability.
Q: What are the most important skills one needs to have in advertising
-Josh KR, Tiruvalla.
A: Josh, many many things really.
The ability to emote with the
needs of a brand is a very important trait. The ability to feel the robustness of
a brand in the market-place is another. It is important for advertising
professionals to step into the market and smell the sweat of the alien
consumer. Most advertising men and women find this difficult.
Advertising people need to start
living the life of the ordinary
man and woman on the street. Most don’t. It is important to travel in the same
buses that common people travel in. It is important to watch the same tele-serials
that common people watch. There is a big disconnect here. The common man on the
street watches “Comedy Nights with Kapil” and the advertising man is hooked to
Living like the consumer and
breathing the same air the consumer of the brand you advertise for, is an
imperative to success. It is an imperative to build emotional connect,
strategic content and ultimate long-standing creatives of creative and
Q: With the large number of
mobile handsets in the country, where is the media opportunity on mobiles
-R K Jena, New Delhi.
A: Jena-ji, as of speaking now, we have a total of 914 million mobile phones in
this country. We are still growing at 11 million phones plus per month. Most of
the new connections are coming from our small towns and villages. I do
believe this is a big revolution that has occurred in India. Homes in rural areas
which do not have a Television set even, today have mobile phones. In many ways
every telco is seeding a medium within every Indian home. A medium that is
personal, involved and involving.
The mobile phone is an excellent medium to use. Creativity in its use is yet to
arrive. As newer ideas emerge, this will become a big medium to capitalize
The mobile phone is closer to you than anyone else. It is on 24 X 7, is kept
closest to your heart in your shirt pocket, is compelling in its demands as you
rush to read every message that beeps on it. It is demanding even more when the
call rings. You leave everything else and rush to pick it up. It is a media
that packs a lot of expectation. Every call that rings can bring a promise to
you that enhances your value, your life and your economic well being. The
mobile phone is a promise.
The mobile is better than your spouse as well. It demands nothing. It does not
fight. It listens to you all the time. It is only as intrusive as you want and
allow it to be. And you can shut it off when you want to. A great medium for
The mobile phone is a promising media. A media whose promise is yet to be exploited.
There is an ideas-drought here. If you carry that brilliant idea and patent,
now is the time to attack the medium in India.
Q: Brands are jumping onto social
media marketing in too much of a hurry. Is this not a double-edged sword of a
-Devaki M, Ludhiana
A: Devaki, a double-edged sword for sure. Totally. But this is good. Brands
must ride the good with the bad. Social media is hopefully run by real consumers
more than planted and paid consumers. If that is true, true democracy will
prevail in marketing as social mediums tell brands what they must hear, but
were hitherto too distant to hear.
I do not believe negative
WOM can carry too far if there is no fire to stoke this negativity at all.
Social networks are good because they are reasonably fair. They are democratic.
In that manner a spade will be called a spade and not a sickle or a gun.
The problem with Marketing and marketers today is that all of us want only the
positive. We shun the negative.
It is important to understand that the consumer is a positive and a negative
person packaged into one body , mind and soul altogether. The Yin and Yang will
be at play forever.
No brand can expect its image and experience to be positive forever. Further
still, no brand can expect its image to be ten on ten positive. There will come
times when consumers will want to articulate the negative as well. In such
times, your brand will be 9 points positive and 1 point negative. This is good
for the brand.
Brands must learn that they must ape the lives of their consumers. No consumer
is perfect. The perfect being is a myth. Similarly, the perfect brand is and
should be engineered to be a myth. If your brand is too perfect, sit down and
re-engineer the brand. The brand must be equally fallible and real and alive as
is the consumer. Consumers forgive small faults. I go the extent to say that
brands that have perfect offerings must engineer small faults that will come by
time and again. Brands must get as real as their consumers are.
Negative impact of WOM is a reality that brands must be prepared for. In a
world that is democratic you cannot have brands that are autocratic in their
orientations. Brands need to step off the pedestals they live upon. Social
media is a great step-down ladder for brands.
Q: I have a big problem with shop-lifters. Mine is a small self-serve outlet for
gifts, but my losses on this count are big. Of the 200 customers I get every
day, a minimum 20 must be robbing me.
Is there gyan here?
-Rohit Ram, Delhi.
that’s a large number of shop-lifters in your gift shop. There is something
surely very wrong. Ideally, your shop-lifers must not be more than 4 on 200.
Even that is a big number. Sadly
those who shop-lift pick the more expensive items, and therefore the value of
shop-lift goes up. You must be closing shop soon.
is normally a very young person. At times children in their teens. College
students and young people at large. Look at them keenly through those close-circuit
cameras keenly. They are shifty-eyed, are spotted wandering aimlessly, visit
the same shop many times, but buy very little. Spot them in groups as well. Groups
that have wandered off a college or school even.
this the solo performer. The bored young and old person alike who meanders and
hangs around a bit too long in a shop. Profiling your customer carefully and
keeping a keen watch, and catching a few and making great examples of those
catches is a way to go. Name and shame publicly for one.
Apart from CC TV, investing in
shop-wardens in plainclothes who hang around the store without looking like a
part of the store, is a good thing to invest in. Further, shop-lifting
time-slots can be identified by the trend of catching people on the job.
Intensify the vigil in these time-slots.
from Sensomats and other such pieces of technology, nothing like the sharp
human eye to assess and catch the culprit.
Take care on aspects of store-design and layout of
merchandise as well. Positioning
of those items that are really small and liftable very close to the
cash-counters is what many outlets attempt. This however spoils the store at
large and affects the spontaneity of store design and layout. However, worth a try.
Harish Bijoor is a business strategy
specialist and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.