Technology has not just given us a pair of shoes to run faster, it's given us wings: Geetu Verma

Dependency on technology has changed social structures, human interaction and the way we market our products and services, says Verma, Executive Director - Foods & Refreshments, Hindustan Unilever Ltd

e4m by Collin Furtado
Updated: Oct 1, 2014 8:12 AM
Technology has not just given us a pair of shoes to run faster, it's given us wings: Geetu Verma

Change is happening faster than we realise, and the challenge for marketers is to be geared for it, be future ready.

In her presentation titled ‘Marketing to the Jetsons,’ Geetu Verma, Executive Director - Foods & Refreshments, Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL) said, “There are many facets of this change and they are galloping… We need to wind up with the thought that change is not about to happen, but the fact that change is here and it is now”.  Verma was speaking at the exchange4media Conclave.

Verma explained how technology is at the helm of this change, deciding the way we live, from the industrial revolution to the invention of the light bulb or vaccination and preventive healthcare to even how elections are fought through social media. And what is aiding this change is the information explosion. “With 240 million internet users, 950 million mobile subscribers, 650 million websites… information is something that is available easily,” she said. “If you reflect on change, you’d realise it took about a hundred years for 30 million landlines in India and it took only 20 years for mobiles and for internet to reach these kinds of numbers. That is the pace we are talking about,” she added.

In her presentation she also touched upon our dependency on technology. Verma said, “It is jokingly said that in today’s day it is may be easier to find a clean glass of drinking water with a Wi-Fi … this dependency on technology has changed social structures, changed the way people interact with each other and most importantly, how we market our products and services. It’s not just given people a pair of shoes to run faster, it’s given them wings.”

Brand communication with the audiences has become two-way. Which is why brands need to have supreme confidence in their product or service to put it out there for consumers to disaggregate and do what they want with it. Citing the example of IKEA Hackers she said, “IKEA Hackers is one such fan page created for the fans, by the fans, where ideas have been taken apart, they have been built on and the company is letting it happen because it is confident of its offering. Consumers are engaging with it, they are tweeting and talking about it and they are building a conversation factor,” said Verma. Another example she provided to illustrate the power of consumer opinions is the way CNA Fashion, which is a Dutch clothesline. It allowed people to ‘like’ their clothes and there was a display on every hanger showing the number of likes each outfit had. This works both ways - helping people to choose according to other people’s taste, or go with something different.

Highlighting how addicted we are to technology today, she said, “I was just having a look at numbers which came out on a TATA Communications report. This says that 82 per cent of users in India suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out), 46 per cent of internet users are spending six hours a day on the internet and 43 per cent of these internet users would happily trade television for the online. That is really the time that is being spent … we do not have time to watch a television program before tweeting about what we like.”

She said that this trend was not only limited to urban India but was evident in tier II cities too. Today farmers are using their mobile phones to get information on the commodity markets or a schoolteacher is using online booking. Andhra Pradesh has the largest number of smart phones in a tier II city. “Andhra Pradesh is one state where smart phone penetration is the highest in tier II towns… Let’s just pause and think about how we can round up the facets of this change. It has created an audience that is spoilt for choice. It has created a populace with a vocal kind of choice and now has a platform to express it,” Verma added.

She further talked about how companies used to look at India as one whole country when it is actually a combination of different nations. From Delhi to Andhra Pradesh, every state has a different audience.  Place becomes an important differentiator in how are we going to use technology. She gave the example of Kan Khajura campaign that used technology in this way. It leveraged missed calls to create effective promotions.

She briefly also touched upon the need for both etail and retail to coexist and the need for better solutions for them to evolve together. 

During Verma’s interaction with Sam Balsara, CMD, Madison World, she was asked about how marketers deal with the risks involved with change. She said one has to be comfortable with taking risks. “We did find this resistance to move to digital from the tried and tested television and print. Mostly because digital has more data. We did a couple of things internally - we actually earmarked a certain percentage of our spend for digital.  We did this for quite some time. Secondly, we even put a digital experimentation fund. Heads of businesses have a fund and you can come and pitch your ideas. It could be a bizarre or a risky idea but if you are convincing, take the money and go home. We have seen some marvelous things come out of that.”

Geetu Verma, Executive Director - Foods & Refreshments, Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL) was at the first session at the exchange4media Conclave 2014, in Mumbai, speaking about ‘Marketing in the New World’. The 14th edition of the Conclave featured some of the finest and most influential speakers from around the world.

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