In a new bottle

Business Standard, Monday, April 1, 2013

The old paradigm of business - where manufacturers produced, marketers relayed product messages, consumers listened and sales followed naturally - has crumbled. It has given way to an economy where consumers co-create with manufacturers, marketing stands for two-way interactions, and made-for-the-customer offerings zip into the marketplace bypassing traditional channels, using platforms unheard of even a few years ago.

Opinion leaders are still hunting for that one term that adequately describes the world marketers face today. Marketers, too, understand that for businesses operating with outdated strategies, the stakes couldn't be higher. Most of the conversation in the area is therefore forward-looking, about the 'new and emerging' trends. Businesses speak of digital, mobile, new media, social media, technology-driven trends in data crunching, shopper research, analytics etc all the time. Alongside, marketers are working on a range of items they might want to nix from their marketing game plan forever.

Mind you, this is also an age of remakes, where classics are getting a facelift, where old ideas are being recalibrated to meet the needs of the highly demanding and ever connected consumer. Unfortunately, there's no one push-button marketing idea that will send a steady stream of customers to your door. Whether you sell products or services, you a whole range of strategies - original or remixed - should be used for customers. Here are some well-established, frequently-used strategies that have fallen out of favour and resurfaced in new avatars.

No more door-to-door sales
Remember the time your sales force went door to door selling products? Or encouraged sampling of a yet-unnamed soon-to-be launched products? Even the bigger fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies relied on the salesman for products like sanitary napkins, shampoos, soaps etc. Those were early days - trade channels hadn't fully developed and the consumer was experiencing some categories, even some home-grown brands, for the first time. She was still, if lucky, using "imported" products.

Today, with the development of modern trade and even greater penetration of general trade, such door-to-door knocks have become redundant. As a corollary, even product demonstrations at homes have reduced significantly. "The consumer is far more educated today and far more aware," says Anand Halve, co-founder, chlorophyll brand and communications consultancy, adding, "Surf (detergent product from HUL) showing how it works with bucket washes, for instance, is not required now, as habits of consumers have changed," he says.

The ground for product demonstrations and samplings has also shifted. According to a Nielsen study, the traditional trade density in India hovers at 7,000 outlets per million customers. Modern trade is a meagre six per million customers. Together, the numbers give a view of the penetration of trade channels. In fact, a recent study, titled Shop Talk by IIM-A, TNS, KiE Square and Ogilvy Action pointed out how modern trade shopping is increasingly looked upon as recreational. Samplings and allied activations are seen as part of the experience of shopping, a win-win for retail and brands.

From that standpoint, there is little scope for door-to-door sales, demonstrations and samplings. Especially in the FMCG space, where price wars have depressed product prices to a point where investment in a door-to-door sales force with dubious experience isn't viable.

Further, with companies like Amway and Oriflame coming in with their focused, multi-level marketing structures, straddling retail and one-to-one sales is difficult. Take Eureka Forbes, the makers of Aquaguard water purifiers, for instance. The company continues to focus on direct selling but has also launched its retail brand, available in select stores. It has kept the product lines apart in terms of distribution, ensuring there is no cannibalisation of sales.

Then there are companies that have exclusive demonstration centres - or experience zones - where consumers get a first-hand feel of the products. Germany's Miele, the world's largest family-owned home appliance company, for example, concentrates on experience-driven marketing. At Miele's flagship store, the Miele Experience Centre in New Delhi guests are entertained on invitation for personalised attention. "A live kitchen within the Miele Experience Centre with all the appliances is an ideal place to showcase the products before they are purchased," says the company spokesperson.

Changing face of consumer contests
In the age of Twitter, we may be used to speaking our minds in a restricted number of characters, but that doesn't mean we are falling over each other to complete slogans in stipulated word counts… offline. Recall the contests asking consumers to send in slogans or complete the sentence "I love Brand X because…" in, say, 20 words? They are over for good, say marketing experts, due to two developments: email has replaced snail mail and sifting through physical papers is considered tedious. "We have become a very visual generation. It is far easier for consumers as well as for companies to send in pictures or upload a video today," says Halve.

Alpana Parida, president, DY Works, offers an alternative explanation. She says today the consumer is inundated with reality and game shows on television and companies are interacting with consumers via messaging, online platforms, even radio channels, vying for the consumers' time. "However, there is only so much time a consumer can devote to a certain brand," she laments.

As contests changed, so did the prizes. Long-lasting, low-cost promotions - collect X number of wrappers and redeem them against a jar of, say, Parle Poppins - have given way to big-ticket prizes. Jagdeep Kapoor, CMD, Samsika Marketing Consultants, remembers: "Years ago, housewives would save wrappers of Polson butter and get rewards for the number of wrappers saved. This encouraged consumption and loyalty. Children enthusiastically participated in the Gold Spot (soft drink brand) promotion through a collection-and-redemption drive to reap benefits on redemption. This tactic is hardly used these days."

Today, promotions like Britannia's "Britannia Khao, World Cup Jao" operate on similar collection-and-redemption lines. "For two consecutive cricket World Cups - the first being the English World Cup in the late 1990s - Britannia ran this promotion. Consumers were rewarded with a trip to a World Cup match depending on points collected from various Britannia products," says Kapoor.

This can be related to the "big fat prize" craze. Calling in and playing Kaun Banega Crorepati from home gives you the opportunity to win a minimum of Rs 1 lakh. A far cry from days when one was doled out some small utility item. "Consumers want a high-value reward. They want cars, cash, vacations. That is the big draw," says Halve.

This can also be attributed to the shifting sands of consumer loyalty. For such promotions to stick, consumers must keep buying a specific product over a period of time; a commitment not everyone makes.

As far as brands go, no stone should be left unturned. If you fail to bait them with prizes, try the fame hook. Think 'meri Maggi story', or the Dove campaign, where consumers become an intrinsic part of the brands' advertising by sharing their own positive experience of using the brand. Snacks brand Kurkure's ad campaign to make "real people" famous through the "Chai Time Achievers" initiative, promised to feature Kurkure consumers and their families on at least a million Kurkure packs. It was an opportunity for consumers to enjoy celebrity status by getting their pictures published on the packets.

That's quite an incentive for people hankering for their 15 seconds of fame.

Mascots out, celebrities in
Mascots are defined as "any person, animal, or object used to represent a group with a common public identity like brands, companies, organisations, sporting teams etc". Think the Amul girl with her polka dotted frock and pigtails, or the Air India's Maharaja, or 7Up's Fido Dido. Today though, with the rise of celebrity endorsement, the mascot has largely been pushed to the background, especially given that brands can choose from a host of stars: Bollywood and cricket; then there are other sport stars, television stars, even the occasional "star nutritionist" kinds. With such a vast pool, bringing on celebrities on board is simpler than investing in a mascot.

The paucity of mascots may also be traced to the "restless consumer" factor. Analysts say it may take more than a decade and several hundreds crores of rupees to build a recognisable mascot. But celebrities are easy to come by; what's more you can change them in a jiffy, if you need to change the tone, look younger, want to be taken seriously or even to build trust in times of crisis.

Though the use of celebrities is rampant, not all brands use them effectively, reasons Vispy Doctor, MD, Ormax Consultants. "Often there is no real personality match between the brand and the endorser," he says. "Such endorsements fail to enhance brand personality. The celebrities in most cases end up superseding the brand." Result: One remembers the celebrity but not the brand.

In contrast, mascots, when used right, can create a visual for consumers to identify with the brand permanently. There needs to be some semiotic connect between brands and mascots. Pillsbury's dough chef, and paint brand Nerolac's erstwhile mascot Goody, the tiger (who was, incidentally, retired by the company after more than 35 years), are fitting examples. For the Pillsbury mascot, the semiotic link of flour, dough, chef cap - all come together to connote expertise in cooking. Contrast this with Nerolac: paint, smiling tiger with a paint brush. Though nice-looking, the tiger didn't convey much else for the brand. In fact, when Nerolac underwent a corporate brand makeover some years back, Goody was phased out to bring about the company's "mature" look.

That's a trap with mascots: staying relevant beyond generations. So brands are taking the easy way out, choosing to go with the flavour-of-the-season celebrity.

That said, the good thing about mascots is that they can also do little to damage a brand's reputation. But illegal weapons and black bucks can continue to haunt celebrities for a long time.

As marketing tools and strategies evolve and change, brands would do well to remember that they cannot afford to slack off at any time. Once business starts coming in on a regular basis, it's tempting to ease off some of the hard work. But that's a mistake. Businesses need to be relentless in their research and development and market continually to keep consumers asking for more.

Alpana Parida is President of DY Works, a leading brand strategy and design firm.

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