Indian marketing pundits dwell over changed paradigm

NEW DELHI: Business modules and branding experts need some serious stock taking if business has to be conducted in the changed environment of today, when consumer democracy via the Internet and blogs, along with a huge range of choices, has radically changed the paradigm within which business is still being conducted.

This was one of the key points at the first ever Indian Marketing Summit that opened here today. Along with that, Indian media needs to take stock also of how much knowledge is being created in this field in India.

The session started with Dr S Neelamegham saying that Indian media is already getting into its own model and not aping the west. He pointed out that in the products market, out of all the brands available, the top 20 belong to Indian companies and along with some brands that belong to the Indian MNCs, the major share of the brands market in India is of local origin.

But he pointed out that India and China are both "growing younger" compared to the US or Europe, and their attitudes are changing and marketers need to understand that. "Studying the young purchasers' attitudes, and also regional and regional variations is a must," Dr Neelamegham said.

He gave the example of Coca Cola being able to make a real dent into the Indian market, especially rural market, from the moment it went desi: "Thanda matlab Coca Cola". He said rural markets are not a problem, so long as the companies understand the needs of the intelligent rural buyer, just as Pepsi went to villages the moment they reduced the price by decreasing the size and changing the shape of the bottle, he argued.

Dr Neelamegham, however, pointed to one bane of the media here: the companies have done a lot of heir own research and changed and adapted their strategies, but do not share their experiences to be made into research papers that can become case studies.

Dr Sharad Sarin from XLRI, didn't quite agree with Dr Neelamegham, pointing out that while Indian media is rich in context, it is poor in concept, and that there was nothing unique being offered by the country in terms of original research that could be quoted globally.

Dr Sarin said that US influence is ubiquitous and that it is and will remain the foremost global knowledge powerhouse, and the rest of the world will be a borrower.

On a more positive note, Dr Sarin said: "Indian companies have a tremendous capacity of managing their own affairs successfully, something that a 100 Bill Gates perhaps would not be able to do, given the mind-boggling diversity in the country and the corruption. But then, lets bring out what they have done and how they have done this." Sarin concluded by calling for developing an inventory bank of all of Indian intellectual property.

In the post-lunch session, on "Brand contact points multiplying geometrically: are brands keeping pace, Santosh Desai, till recently McCann Erickson India's president and now slated to join as marketing head of Pantaloons, talked about whether with the tremendous proliferation of contact points, should we try and address all of them?

Desai basically held that the proliferation of contact points of touch points (newspaper ads of yore, TV, Internet, mobile phones, and so forth) has not changed the basics. "They have merely increased the bandwidth of possibilities. But that has not changed anything fundamental.

He criticised the approach of brand managers for treating customers as an entity distinct from the brand, and treating the brand as real estate that belonged to the companies.

"Brand and life have got separated. Brand managers hate conversation, in fact, they hate people. They are scared to talk, which is why they use surveyors as an intermediary between themselves and the people."

But those practices would have to change, he averred, especially in the age of Internet and blogs, which have given tremendous democracy, real democracy, not the notional political democracy of voting once in five years, Desai said.

There has been the paradigm shift because of two developments: the emergence of the trained customer and the plethora of new public platforms of conversation. "With that, the difference of the two worlds, brands and people, have been eradicated. This is the age of democracy of desire, the world of transient pleasures. There is the new democratic relationship, with a community of shared interests aligned around axis of interests of individuals."

In this changed environ, Desai said brands have to promote conversation, even with the rabidly critical segments, and stop fearing criticism. Brands have become organic parts of society, and "They have to listen visibly," he suggested.

Dr Amitabha Chattopaddhyay L'Oreal Chaired Professor of Marketing Innovation and Creativity, from INSEAD, France, talked about the problem of minimising costs and yet, finding out indexes for expenditure-benefit ratio.

What marketers are doing is counting the CPM, or cost (of a particular promotional activity) per million persons. "But this assumes that all contacts are equal," He critiqued and said talked of the 'fragmented manner of functioning of brands'.

Not only has the contact landscape changed, but the people have also changed. This is the new customer, with whom the old rule-of-thumb does not works as a strategy.

Those marketing exercises survive that are informative, attractive and credible, Chattopaddhyay stated.

"What drives the market is the consumer's brand perception driven by marketing activities. Certain brands own certain contacts," he held, adding that today, the customer has t be asked how he would like to be reached.

Chattopaddhyay spoke of the formula of Brand Experience Point, which gives the 'share of voice'. Stating that there is a high correlation between this Brand Experience Share, BES and market share.

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