Intangible categories including financial products have to move beyond selling products and sell propositions, said Manisha Lath Gupta, CMO, Axis Bank, speaking at the Pitch CMO Summit 2012 – South in Hyderabad yesterday.
Delivering her address: 'Marketing the Intangible: Focus on Service Related Communication in the Financial Sector', Lath said that the benefit of a tangible product is that it has the capability of being touched, whereas in an intangible product the same is missing. Hence soaps, beverages and apparels fall under tangibles and travel experience, financial services and hospitality fall under intangibles.
According to her, the customer journey in tangibles starts with advertising, to the shop to the product and the promotion, whereas in intangibles, such as the financial sector, the journey is longer, which starts on advertising, to doing research, to the bank, to the employees at the bank, and the service given and finally the feedback. Hence, the focus areas in tangibles are the advertising, packaging and the product. In intangibles the focus areas are advertising, in a bank (for example), the employees who directly deal with the consumers, packaging, the product, and finally the payment gateway. She added that in fact packaging is more important in intangibles that tangibles. And all have an according divided budget.
So what should be the service marketing mix for intangible products? Gupta's answer was online marketing, shopper marketing, customer strategy, alternate channel interfaces, customer engagement and activation, customer relationship management, innovation and finally advertising. In this mix, she said, advertising is often the last point unlike tangibles where it would be the first point.
For intangibles too digital is the way forward, which can no longer be ignored. In fact people are doing more research online, and educating themselves before buying the product, Gupta said. Hence, it was more important for the service providers to have an online presence and give them the information.
In the digital marketing spectrum, for awareness and evaluation/recommendation, a mix of search engine marketing, search engine optimisation, and social media marketing are the key tools. The latter also plays a big role in adoption and building loyalty, Gupta said.
So why go social? To start with Gupta warned that social marketing does not replace web marketing. Social media humanises the company and becomes an interface to interact with the consumer/customer. Social media puts the customer in the core and also introduces new value drivers in the company's strategy.
Quoting a Blogworks and exchange4media study, Gupta pointed out that an overwhelming 85 per cent respondents in a survey agreed that social media impacted buying decisions. High involvement categories like automobiles, gadgets, mobiles, healthcare, travel, finance, will likely see more impact than low involvement categories.
But she warned the strategy should be right as it was easy on social media for the customer to simply 'Unlike' the brand and remove it from his preference choices. And since the buzz travels faster and peer influence is much more there, the damage to a brand is far greater. She gave examples of Axis Bank how it utilised social media – Facebook, YouTube and interactive apps – Meri Zindagi Ka Safar campaign; and delivering the brand values through the Axis Bank Green Banking Campaign.
Laying emphasis on 'Shopper Marketing', particularly in an intangible category, Gupta said that a unique and differentiated retail experience to customers goes a long way in building brand affinity. Some of the initiatives that Axis Bank took in this regard was by laying a new layout for its banks. Self help zones were created, guidance and knowledge was provided at various parts of the bank, services were tangibilised through big displays.
She gave an example of Kingfisher Airlines, which with its 'branded talk strategy' was able to become a differentiator, in an intangible category. It was able to create experiences. It was an airline, which started calling passengers as 'Guests' and all of a sudden, it became a branded word, which no one else would use it. People would talk about its services like how their luggage was picked up at the airport and how they were addresses as 'Guests'.
The next step for any banking services could be to create alternative channel interfaces. Digital arm is not limited to social media. Every online payment transaction is a brand experience, and hence keeping these alternate channels easy was a must. The way forward for the banking sector was to get mobile. Transactions would be made through mobiles and cards could get redundant very soon.
The title sponsor for the event was The Economic Times and associate sponsor was TV9. It was supported by Ad Club Hyderabad and Ad Club Madras.
For the record, Manisha Lath Gupta was among the 'Impact 50 Most Influential Women' in the Indian media, advertising and marketing domains.