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India moved from 45th Rank to 43rd Rank, a few days ago in the world Competitive Index of the World Economic Forum, ahead of China, Brazil and Russia.

India is now the largest producer of milk and second largest producer of MBAs in the world. Indian consumers have changed. Have marketers changed to respond to this phenomenon?

Thanks to changes in the Indian consumer – who has graduated to being a world class one - the face of Indian marketing too has changed. Choices have widened in the hope of improving standards of living. A scenario like this prompts people involved in marketing to look for new ways of achieving maximum customer satisfaction, while giving out ample benefits for their brands and companies. The key word in this marketing revolution is ‘change’.

The focus has to be on the change in people’s perceptions with respect to marketing in India.

This reminds me of an experience I had some time ago. I had a visitor from the US who stayed for about two weeks at the Taj Mahal Hotel. On his return to the US, a friend of mine who happens to be a professor there, called to find out what I had done to my visitor. According to him, the visitor had gone back with a very poor opinion of our country!

But, what had I done? Hadn’t I put him up in the best hotel in Mumbai where he was well looked after? Yes, said my friend, but the visitor’s opinion about Indians wasn’t good. So, I decided to talk to this person myself. On inquiring, he said that he was a little disturbed and concerned, and added, “When I got back to the US, people asked me about my trip to India and the beautiful places I saw there. They asked me whether I saw the Taj Mahal, and I had to tell them the truth, that the rogues have converted it into a hotel”.

This proves that more and more people will – like my visitor – now carry a pre-fixed image and impression of a particular product; where the actual importance is relegated to the background.

The biggest trend that has to be taken care of is about gaps in perceptions, which most Indians aren’t aware of. What do, we say, or even what we don’t say will lead to impressions and perceptions which will ultimately, make products win or lose.

So what are these changes that are taking place? The main ones are in the fields of demographics and psychographics – age, sex, education, income and, of course, lifestyle.

Refrigerators were, in the years gone by, white in colours; while telephones were black. But no longer! Years ago only men smoked, but not anymore! Earrings were worn only by women but today people like teenagers sport them. Things have changed, for better or worse, demographically and psychographically.

The next major change, in my view, is going to be in the area of personal time and its usage. I, for instance, have increased my working hours by six hours because of a little gizmo called the mobile. Today, I can run an entire office from the car. The fact remains that if you use your personal time productively, you get more leisure time. And leisure time is going to be at a premium; and a large market for India. RCI, for instance, realizing this fact has tapped the market effectively. It has been able to sell time sharing slots to over lacs of people for visiting places in India and abroad.

Then we have credit cards which can be used for leisure as well as official business. We are the second largest users of credit cards in the world, set to overtake the US by the year 2007, in terms of people having credit cards. Utilisation of time will be a major change in our country.

Services to the customer will be important for marketing in the coming years. Earlier, shopping meant South Mumbai, South Delhi. Today, every neighbourhood has a mall, outlets with many brands to choose from. All of us will carry imaginary remote controls in our pockets, switching from brand to brand, soon. Sticking to one brand is a thing of the past. Luxury Brands, Upscale brands, like Louis Vuitton, Bally Shoes, Mont Blanc pens are all available.

Above all, we will have services offered at our doorstep. Banking, for example, is now possible at home. Standard Chartered for example, sends its executives to those desiring to open a new account, instead of one going to the bank. One of them arrived in my office and, on learning that I didn’t have any photograph of myself, simply produced a camera from his bag and took my photograph. They call this “Room service”.

In the case of television, the increasing number of channels is another new phenomenon. If one channel goes down, another comes up. From soaps, to news to movies viewership rates now have gone up substantially. However, people watch programmes, not channels. So the more channels come in, the more opportunity for marketers to build new brands. The next two years will be the best time to build new brands because every channel is going to give you value. Marketers, should look at the change as an opportunity and not as a problem.

Value – the word says it all. While brand loyalty was much hyped as value loyalty in the past, a changing marketing scene has seen a shift in perspective. The idea of loyalty to one particular brand does not exist any longer.

Indian Airlines and Vayudoot were, initially, the only two players in the domestic airline market. With the latter closing down, Indian Airlines became the only available option. Today, years down the line, the number of private airlines has increased; and what the customer chooses is value.

What IA had was a monopoly. Today, things have changed and service is the priority. People are now shifting to value rather than brands; and brand loyalty occurs only when a particular brand offers consistent value service. Value, not just in terms of money, but also in terms of perceived intangibles like image and perceptions. Now Indian, Jet Airways, Kingfisher, Air Sahara, Air Deccan, Spice Jet are all flying.

So how does one stand out among the others? The answer justifies the money spent on advertising. One cannot go back to the earlier notion that 50 per cent of all advertising is a waste. However, since one cannot ascertain what is a waste, one goes on spending. One needs to be accountable for ones plans and action.

Discounts and promotion is another interesting aspect of change in marketing. I did a study with around 900 MBA’s from different product fields. The reason was my interest in seeing how promotions were used by them to enhance their image and increase sales. What they did was, just before promotions, give heavy discounts so that sales of the next three months could be preponed. Then, when the promotions were actually launched they could leave their jobs for others at higher positions. The success of the brand could then let them say, “I launched it”. Failure of a brand would let them say, “It happened because, obviously, I left the company”. Discounts and promotions are used differently by different people What people buy is the deal and not the brand, which is why discounts should not be offered first of all.

Talking about competition, how you look at change is important, but how competition is going to look at you is just as important. How you meet competition in the short-term and long-term is essential.

One of the strongest predictions I can make is ‘Brand Management’ will succeed. If you do not concentrate on your brand building, someone else will build his own brand. What you need to do is keep your standards high. Remember, today’s Indian consumers are world class.

Consumers have changed. Have you, Mr. Brand Manager? If not, please mentally change soon, and benefit.

Copyright © 2006, All rights reserved with Jagdeep Kapoor – Managing Director, Samsika Marketing Consultants Pvt. Ltd.
No part of this document may be modified, reproduced, stored, deleted or introduced in any retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means (Electronic, Mechanical, Photocopying, Recording or Otherwise), without the prior written permission of the copyright owner of the document.
The author is Jagdeep Kapoor, Brand Guru and Managing Director of the successful Samsika Marketing Consultancy.
Tel: (022) 28477700/7701 (022) 28470214/15 Fax:022 28477699
E-mail : jkapoor@samsika.com