'Data important, but intuition crucial to consumer connect'

JAIPUR: After the evocative speech by the Big B, it was down to the serious business of what Ad Asia 2003 was all about - intellectual discourse.

 

 

And the central thread running through the convention was about always staying connected to the consumer while pushing the envelope on what would work as far as brand building was concerned. More than one speaker pointed to the tyranny of data and number crunching leading to people losing track of intuition and gut feel in the scheme of things.

Talking on "The Future Of Competition: What is the Role of Advertising?", CK Prahalad, professor of business administration as well as corporate strategy and international business, University of Michigan Business School, said it was crucial for the marketers/managers to remember that customers of today have the choice to buy or not to buy. It was up to the manager to persuade his customers to buy, he explained.

Said Prahalad, "Value is created only at the point of exchange and it is co-created by both firm and consumer." According to Prahalad, real value branding was all about "experience fulfilment". "Consumer experience in communities will ultimately shape the brand," he elaborated.

The rural market was a focus area in Prahalad's presentation and he identified India, Brazil and China as the frontier markets of the future. The reason being that India, in particular, was witnessing a consumer revolution condensed into five years which took the West 50 years to achieve.

India was an opportunity and a challenge he said, dishing out figures of the kind of consumer spends that were driving sales - monthly sales of one million cell phones and 100,000 motorcycles made in India are two examples that he offered. The new economy was the engine that would deliver "the economy of the people, for the people, by the people," said Prahalad.

If "Breaking the Rules" is the theme of the convention, arguably no one personified it in a more radical manner than Ricardo Semler, president, Semco S/A, Brazil. The author of the seminal work 'Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World's Most Unusual Workplace' was just that in the way he made his presentation. No slides, no powerpoint presentation, no notes even. Semler didn't even bother to speak from the podium but chose rather to stroll up and down across the stage. He stuck to his allotted 45 minutes almost to the second and strongly made his point with the help of case studies and real life examples.

Semler called upon organisations to think differently and find innovative solutions to problems. Speaking extempore about 'Creativity at the Centre of Organization Structure', Semler said the problem that many companies faced was that they just did not know how to deal with the sheer speed of change that the marketplace was witnessing.

One of the world's most respected champions of organisational changes, Semler said, what was required was to apply a different thought process in your business.

Citing the examples of corporations such as Gillette and Microsoft, Semler demonstrated how striking innovations in the products of both companies happened only during the early stages of product development. Gillette's twin blade shaving razor was a case in point. "All that three years and $608 million in a research project that involved two NASA scientists achieved was a third blade added." The problem, said Semler, was that companies were "caught in a system that is constantly emulating itself.

Concluding the pre-lunch session was Vindi Banga, chairman of Hindustan Lever Ltd (HLL), who said it was possible to find new ways of building bonds with the consumer. Strongly criticising the marketer's increasing tendency to use sales promotions, Banga said, "This kind of activity does deep-rooted damage to the brand." He said that this was part of the phenomenon of brand commoditisation and wondered if ad agencies were guilty of 'aiding and abetting this process' of devaluing brands.

The post lunch session had speakers talk about 'Rewriting the Rules'. Among others, there was Clyde Fessler, former V-P, Business Development, Harley- Davidson Motor Company, USA, talking about the phenomenon of Cult Branding and Carolina Inez Reyes, V-P, marketing, Jollibee Foods Corporation, Philippines, sharing her experience of Challenging Mega Brands.

Other speakers included Tim Lindsey, president, Lowe and Partners Worldwide, UK; Irwin Gottlieb, chairman and CEO, Mindshare Worldwide, UK and Sergio Zyman, chairman, Zyman marketing Group, USA.

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