Thursday, July 31, 2008

The terror strikes again…..

The beautiful soil of our motherland is under the clench of terrorist attack once again.... As the nation gears up to celebrate the 51st Independence Day, the innocent populace are shaken by the horrid and grisly act of these terrorists. The general public are so tensed, every time they step out of their house there is a nervousness whether they / their kith and kin shall be returning back home safe. Every now and then there is a threat call or an e-mail by the self styled jehadis to blow out the nation. Grapevine persists in every circle, be it in office, metro stations, college canteens; some of the fellow citizens even go to the extent saying that the acts performed by the terrorists are only the curtain raiser. We are yet to face the worst. The citizens of independent India are under tremendous fear, it seems we have lost the freedom of movement. I want to ask my readers ( if any) is this the result of the sacrifice done by Mahatma Gandhi, Shaheed Bhagat Singh or Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose? Is this what was dreamt by our freedom fighters? If this is the state of condition of independent India after a few decade, where our political leaders in order to serve their vested interest take resort from these ‘jehadis,’ what impression are we giving to our next generation?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Consumer Behaviour & Decision Making Process

India’s way is not Europe’s. India is not Calcutta or Bombay. India lives in her seven hundred thousand villages. (Mahatma Gandhi, 1926.)

Every business activity begins with an attempt to understand the consumer. What are the consumers’ desires and requirements? How do they behave in the market place while they seek to fulfill their desires? How the firm can develop and create need satisfying products to generate the greatest consumer satisfaction as well as corporate return? With urban markets being saturated for several category of consumer goods and with rising rural incomes, marketing executives are fanning out and discovering the strengths of the large rural markets as they try to enlarge their markets. Today the idea has grown of its infancy and dominates discussions in any corporate boardroom strategy session. Adi Godrej, Chairman of the Godrej Group, unhesitatingly proclaimed, “It is a myth that rural consumers are not brand and quality conscious.” Since the liberalization and growth of Indian economy in early 1990s, the Indian rural consumers are witnessing an increasing exposure to new domestic and foreign products. In fact, it is larger than the urban market for both FMCGs (53% share of the total market) and durable (59%). Today large number of businesses are diversifying their focus on rural market while aligning their strategies to meet the demands of the high volume customers there. India's rural majority today accounts for more than US$100 billion in consumer spending, making them by far the biggest buyers in the country and contributing significantly to India's gross domestic product. However, despite enhanced socio-economic status of the rural community, the rural penetration rates are low, due to lack of strong business system infrastructure, high cost and geographical notabilities, thus offering tremendous potential for growth. It is rightly observed by C. K. PRAHLAD, THE MANAGEMENT GURU, “Selling to the poor may be more profitable than selling to you and me. This is where the future is. Opportunities are every where. The digital divide is not about lack of opportunity, it is about the lack of imagination.” Success in rural marketing calls for a sound network and a thorough understanding of the rural psyche. (Godrej black hair dyes were used on buffaloes in Raichur so as to give them a presentable look in the village haats.)

From the age of “Buyer Beware” the Indian consumer is progressively moving into the concept of “ Seller Beware”. This is also true for the rural consumers as compared to their urban counterpart who are exposed more to all the information at the click of the mouse. A rural consumer may be illiterate but he is intelligent and very conscious of value for money and expects good value in return. In recent times, Indian consumers are at a point where there is multiplicative effect of income growth, aspiration to consume and changed consumption friendly ideology, particularly in rural India. The buying behaviour of rural consumers are of special interest these days to the marketing analyst because rural India is zealously consuming everything from toothpowder to motor cycles. The purchase decisions in Indian homes have become a collective process with women and teenagers playing the vital role on product and brand choices. It is the joint process in the family where woman being the initiator, man the financier and child the influencer. To understand rural buying behaviour a marketer must comprehend the factors that influence buying behaviour and the variations present in behaviour. The behaviour variations that are unique to rural markets are influenced by the place of purchase and occupation and sometimes get reflected in the creative application or use of products. They exhibit different purchase behaviour as compared to their urban counterpart. Thus the understanding of rural consumer purchase behaviour is a must for the marketers in tapping the large latent rural markets.

(Full paper published by IIM Kozhikode, April 2008)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

India Inc: Branding Strategies

Branding involves a gamut of activities the sum total of which lead to the creation of the brand. A successful brand has high awareness, depicts a desirable and unique image, gets easy recognition and is highly trusted by customers. A brand derives strength from its experience with its customers. The most important strategic decision facing the marketing manager during launch of a new product is in choosing not just appropriate brand name, but to select a good set of identities. (Robertson, 1987). A brand identity is an outward expression that includes the name and visual appearance. It originates from the company that is responsible for creating a differentiated product with unique features. We can cite the case of the cola giant- Coca Cola that has been able to maintain its strong presence in the soft drink market because the trade marks Coke and Coca Cola denote values that go beyond mere physical attributes and product labeling. For the communication strategy to be successful, companies have used strong brand identity as foundation with differentiated products that have high awareness and a good image perception in the minds of the consumer. The marketing mix strategy also plays an important role in establishing a brand identity. For example the tangible attributes that comprise the product will send a message to the consumer about the important features of a brand. However with time the functions, or the essence of brand has changed. Today it is what they do for people that matters more, how they reflect and engage them, how they define their aspiration and enable them to do more. The objective of brand has become more of emotional and psychological than that of mere recognition and differentiation for which the concept of brand came into existence. Powerful brands can drive success in competitive and financial markets, and indeed become the organization's most valuable assets. Marketers engaged in branding seek to develop or align the expectations behind the brand's experience, creating the impression that a brand associated with a product or service has certain qualities or characteristics that make it special or unique.

India is a country which is witnessing robust growth and a booming economy. The growth in the country is happening at a steady rate as foreign funds flow to fund infrastructure and consumer markets that seek to tap the domains in an extensive manner. The opening up of the Indian economy has given a level playing field for foreign brands against Indian brands. Several MNCs have begun to focus their attention on Indian markets. Global brands are threatening the existence of Indian brands which have strong presence in the minds of the customers all round the globe and have performed consistently for a long time. Customers buy brand not only for the intrinsic values associated with it but also because the brand has surprised them in the past with newer and more novel experiences. Branding is a promise made to the customer that will deliver values beyond expectation. Branding strategy hence should also involve continuously communicating to the customer of the novel experiences that he/she has had with the brand.

The film Love Story 2050 which exhibits the sky rails and ultra-high rises of an almost star-wars-ish Mumbai--has been created by Sun Microsystems. The SUN brand appears in the film through some innovative in-film placements, hoping to reach out to millions and help create a positive disposition towards their brand alongside the glamourous Priyanka Chopra and the newbie Harman Baweja.

So, how do the dynamics change with the change of settings ? Should the biggest democracy in the world go for branding? US see India as a resource for intellectual capital. Some of the Asian and Arabian countries consider India as a place for quality medical services at affordable prices. Koreans look at India as their market place for selling consumer durable and some of the European countries view India as one of the important tourist destinations in the World. Different countries look at India in different approach but every one is optimistic. Therefore even a country like India has to go for her own branding.

(Full paper presented in a National Conference in India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, February 2008)

Monday, July 7, 2008

Yet another epic on the small screen..

Kahani Hamari Mahabharat Ki started to be aired on 9X Channel, …special thanks to TV Baron Ekta Kapoor. In this era of multimedia and animated films, where our children are glued to the TV sets to watch their favourite cartoon characters (Doreamon, Sinchan, Kitretchu etc.) swing in from every corner under the sky or yet blindly admire their cricket idols all throughout the year, it is indeed a boon to enhance their knowledge in these epics…..Ramayan & Mahabharat. It is also a relief for the people of our generation who are exhausted to watch the never ending Saas Bahu saga or the so called reality shows or even the much more pathetic 24 hours NEWS CHANNELS on the idiot box…...ooops I mean TV.

Todays’ children are not in the habit of reading books outside their school syllabus; thanks to our education system and the socio cultural fabric of our society. They are either burdened with unit tests every week or to fulfil their parents’ dreams to be the No 1. As if these were not enough, we find that our children seldom finds a place to play any outdoor games. They relax by engaging themselves in computer / video games, grab the mobile phones from the elder members of the family or even we parents do not mind taking our children to multiplexes and buy them a membership card for play station etc., as it satisfies our belongingness needs or self esteem requirements…I still remember, we used to exchange the Enid Blyton’s or Shidney Sheldon’s books or even Tintin or Amar Chitra Katha comics. Thus, it is only the small screen which can acquaint our children with the rich and strong cultural heritage of our country. This prerequisite has been timely identified by the small screen producers as well as media houses and therefore, keep their set of target audience cemented to the idiot box. In the age of nuclear families where parents are tied up with taut job schedule and find it very difficult to share their little knowledge on Indian mythology, it is only the television with such offering that can bring a sigh of relief……of course the senior generation would compare the scripts, cast and other technicalities with the previous screening of Mahabharat by the legendary B.R.Chopra...