"Quarter Se Quarter Tak mentality will no longer help marketers"
Industry experts stress that it is time to focus on qualitative marketshare rather than quantitative & that marketers need to understand how the Indian consumer is changing
The consumer is king, but it seems that brands have forgotten the importance of this age-old and often repeated adage in their search for profits and marketshare. Or, at least, this is the opinion of Professor Niraj Dawar, a renowned marketing expert and author of the highly-praised ‘TILT: Shifting Your Strategy From Products To Customers’. As part of IMPACT’s ‘One On One With Niraj Dawar’, Professor Dawar chaired a panel discussion on ‘Walking The Talk Of Consumer Marketing’, which sought to find out the readiness of Indian companies when it comes to the ‘Tilt’ – the point when a company starts focusing more on increasing consumer satisfaction than product quality.
The panel included the likes of Rama Bijapurkar, one of the most well-known marketing consultants in the country and the author of books such as ‘We Are Like That Only: Understanding The Logic Of Indian Consumer’ and ‘Winning In The Indian Market’; MG Parmeshwaran, Executive Director and CEO, Draftfcb+Ulka Advertising; and Shireesh Joshi, COO (Strategic Marketing Group), Godrej. It was an interesting mix of personalities from academia, corporate, economics and advertising, which guaranteed some unique viewpoints.
The conversation started with Dawar asking Joshi and Parmeshwaran why their customers or clients buy from them. According to Joshi, the reason was durability of the brand name and the fact that people know they can trust the brand to provide quality. Parmeshwaran also had somewhat similar reasons. He felt that it was because his clients knew that his company would partner them through the good times as well as the bad. “Our clients have been us for a long, long time because they know that we lose sleep even if they don’t perform well,” he said. Though this proved that Indian consumers place a lot of emphasis on value, Dawar asked Bijapurkar whether it was true, as is popularly thought, that the Indian consumer was concerned only about value for money. Bijapurkar’s answer was that the Indian consumer wants only value. “Indian consumers process value very differently. Some want to maximise it, some will want to pay only a certain amount for the value, while others don’t care paying more for it,” she said, highlighting the diversity of Indian consumers which has been the bane of so many MNCs in the past.
The discussion then turned to the changing needs of the consumer with Joshi opining that with people having more choices now, it is important to brands to be durable but also flexible. He gave the example of footwear (not only in terms of brands but also types) to highlight the diverse choices available to customers. “How do you keep pace with this, while at the same time keeping benefit of scale when it comes to manufacturing?” he asked.
On being asked where the centre of gravity of Indian businesses lay with respect to consumer focus and manufacturing focus, Parmeshwaran opined that though India had been a supply side economy until about 15-20 years back, this has changed in the last decade with more competition and new players willing to splurge on innovation. This has caused companies to invest more on downstream or consumer-centric activities. The problem though, according to him, is that the Indian economy is a “data-deficient” economy. “We don’t analyse enough. Our marketeers are not spending enough time understanding how the Indian consumer is changing and they (consumers) are changing much faster then we give them credit for, though marketers are not,” he said. Joshi agreed with this point, stating that the direct connect between marketers and the consumer has disappeared, especially with surveys getting outsourced.
Bijapurkar, though, had a slightly different take on the current scenario. According to her, the Indian economy has become more supply-oriented though with India Inc. having been doing well because the economy was in an upswing. “With less picking in the current economic climate, we shall see more consumer-oriented focus from companies,” she opined. She did agree that the consumer is way ahead of the supplier, especially the larger firms, with the smaller and more agile players are doing a much better job of keeping up with consumer expectations. “The MNC mentality is ‘a market for my strategy’, whereas in India, it should be ‘a strategy for the market’ I was hoping that retailers would be the ones to innovate but with the current climate being really bad for retailing, it’s turned into a no-man’s land. We are waiting and watching,” she added.
Parmeshwaran, however, pointed out that it was unfair to blame all large corporations for not innovating enough in terms of consumer satisfaction. He cited the example of Bharti Airtel, which outsourced bulling to local retailers by introducing pre-paid cards. “Large companies can definitely do more in this area but they do innovate. We don’t spend enough time understanding the customer,” he said.
Joshi, who spent seven years in China working in the food sector, was asked about the difference in marketing practices in the two countries. According to him, some of the changes that he experienced in China were so dramatic that there is no parallel for them in India. “In seven years, we saw four significant business cycles in China! But, in the end, consumers everywhere want good products. Focus on the basics for these are true universally,” he added.
The session concluded with Dawar asking Bijapurkar about her advice to Indian companies. She opined that Indian companies will automatically ‘Tilt’ if the slowdown continued or if they see value in the tilt. However, she added that the “Quarter Se Quarter Tak” mentality is no longer going to help them and that it is time to focus on qualitative marketshare rather than quantitative.
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