October 29, 2010

The path to Generi-city!

 I wished to write about a single incident but decided all four won't do any harm (There are no editors to check on me here, huh?) Last week I was sitting in class when the director of our institute while addressing us on some vague topic claimed, "We could have gone for any Xerox machine but when it comes to xeroxing, Canon is the best and there was no choice there..."
Picture this. Two weeks back I was at the general store picking up a snack to soothen my stomach and laong walked this bald guy and said, "Bhaiyya, woh Colgate dena...germi-check waali."  
A similar incident was reported by one of my friends in some other town when he asked for a Manikchand Bisleri. 
And of course, how can I forget my own childhood when I always stopped by the store at the corner of my school to buy a Milkybar Cadbury! Imagine!
Generic brands by definition are unbranded indigenous alternatives for the famed biggies yet marketers call a perfectly famous branded product 'generic'. So how does a product become 'generic'? Yes, it's a long, long way for your brand to become generic and it is composed of four steps (Yes, you can call it the Faraaz Kazi model and award me the Nobel if you really take a fancy to it!)


1) Brand identification: In the growth stage of the PLC of your brand, this step shoots up suddenly. Why you ask? I hope you're counting the dollars being spent on the exercise of brand building. As such it is new in the market, some competitors are watching you, some innovators and early adopters are trying it out and because of that you are investing in the brand with the hope of keeping it in the first quadrant of the BCG. We try to give the brand a personality of its own, to differentiate it from similar products and to add that 'extra' in the customer's mind. The real reason for Hippo using a mascot and those really jazzy colours on their different variety of packs is to make the packets stand out from the huge stock hanging from the retailer's wall. With the $10.8 billion snack market to grow to nearly 80 billion by 2013, getting cluttered, this strategy should prove more than beneficial for them.

2) Brand familiarity: In essence, it would mean the same as above but no there's a slight difference, just marginal enough that the consumer himself own't notice. Familiarity here means that the consumer has started using the brand and is taking  a liking to it. Here, we're talking about the brand building a positive or negative connect with the customer based on the experiences the customer associates with the brand. This is the most tricky stage in the process. Imagine a thirst traveler walking in some unimaginable corner of north-east India. He has exhausted his stock of water and till far, he can see nothing but the treacherous roads surrounded with dust and mud and the harsh rays of the sun egging them on. Just as he's about to give up and collapse, he sees a small stall on the road and hurries to ask for water. Faced with such a situation, he is ready to give up his aversion to tap water and moves to the dripping tap behind the shop when he sees a small refrigerator containing bottles of packaged water. He drops to his feet and is willing to pay four times for that brand. That brand has just been his saviour. Okay, keeping the hypothetical example aside, let's just say this step involves optimising your marketing mix so as to achieve maximum penetration, not yet in the market but in the consumer's mind. In essence, you are trying to bring up the customer's perceived value of your brand by associating more positive experiences. Advertising campaigns play the most important role in this regards. This builds up the brand image and positions the brand in the customer's mind more in line with what you were trying to communicate, reducing information dissonance. Have you ever thought about the second side of the coin. In the buying process for a cellphone, you would have considered more than one mobile phone before finalising on one (yeah, I bet!). The finalised phone maybe useful for what we talk next but what about the eliminated alternatives? The fact of that matter is even if you arrive at a Nokia 5230, you were familiar enough with LG Cookie Pep and Samsung Corby Plus to give them a chance to compete in your brain.

3) Brand Loyalty: Gotcha! I did mention four steps and I end up putting this all the more, over hyped term on the third step itself. Ever imagined why? Hmmm...I guess you'll have to wait till we reach the fourth step then. For the time being, how do u define brand loyalty. Keeping the jargon away, in simple terms brand loyalty occurs when the customer comes back to you. See the change in circumstances. Till now, it was you who was approaching the customer. This is where the marketing shifts from 'Push' to 'Pull'. Of course the most optimal loyalty would be when even switchers turn hard-core loyalists but this is impractical in the real world. So we take the average loyalist for your brand. Of course, by now your brand has great product dimensions, is easily available at the customer's convenience, undertakes some great promotional activities through IMC and can even charge a premium as people are willing to pay for the 'differentiation' (positioning) you have created. Remember just by bringing down the customer's sensitivity to price, you cannot close the chapter. Brand loyalty stems form all organisational factors working in synchronisation to provide added value to their customer. In the end, brand loyalty is the prime constituent of your most important asset-brand equity. My neighbour goes to the bakery in the morning to get some buns for breakfast and often returns empty handed. "Why?" I ask him. He says,"Wibs got over!". I tell him he should have opted for the bakery buns, they are just as good and he shrugs avoiding a reply.

4) Brand integration: As the earlier two steps, the last two too are marginally different. Brand integration occurs when your brand crosses that level of saturation for a customer by 'killing' other brands. In simple terms, other brands cease to exist, the customer becomes immune to their charms, offers, deals and appeals. Bingo's take on Frito Lays for their American Onion flavour involved an indirect form of competitive advertising. In the Bingo ad, the villagers bite into the chip and exclaim "Ye to apne gaon mein bhi milta hai!", meaning that it's not imported as the lying prospective groom claims. The 'groom' in reality is a metaphor for competitor, Frito Lays. Both products are made using the same recipe so they taste almost similar. On top, Bingo is offering a fifty percent discount on its pack. Yet,a majority of the consumers are going for Lays and not Bingo, Parle, Balaji or Haldirams for that matter! On a more pragmatic take, complete brand integration is not possible as other competitors are not static but will be perhaps more dynamic than you if they have the resources and capabilities to compete. But a successful brand always has a strong sail, the wind is of course supplied by the consumer's mind.

Apart from this, there are external factors affecting the level of generi-city too. For example, dynamics of the packaged water and the snacks industry are different. Bisleri not only had the first mover advantage but also fewer competitors for almost 30 years. Compare the same for Frito-Lays after being taken over by Pepsi had just a couple of years to build its brand and then there was an overflow in the Indian snacks market. Presence of too many unbranded options and easily available subsitutes (ok, I'm making Porter proud!) are a deterrent to your efforts in reaching the next level of your consumer's mind. 
It is interesting to note that in the 1980s, Ramesh Chauhan changed the look of Bisleri. PET bottle packaging was introduced for the very first time as consumers were quite sceptical about glass bottles serving mineral water. From then on the real surge in sales had started and by 2000, Chauhan noticed the brand was becoming generic. He made an interesting move, again pulling out a similar trick from the past. He modified the packaging of the product to a complex hexagonal, flat-seeved bottle. The trump card was that he got the design patented (with competition from majors like Kinley and Aquafina and surrogate alcholics) Once this was done, how can any marketer forget the 'Play safe' campaign which was launched nationally with the sole goal of attacking the competiton and make Bisleri distinctive enough to stand on its own on the shelf. The first TV advert saw a girl and a guy who were out for camping, getting naughty, almost climbing atop each other and just when things seem to take off, the girl whispers something in the guy's ears. The poor guy rushes to the chemist where the attendant is snoring and wakes him up and asks him something. The attendant returns with a crate full of Bisleri and the guy and the girl are seen lapping up the mineral water. Apart from this, Bisleri also entered new segments, especially targeting the bulk B2B base and today 60-70% of its sales come from that segement. In 1995, it was available in around 50,000 outlets but today it is available in more than 2,00,000 outlets and that includes stationery stores and beediwaalas who'll stock no other brand. From 1995, its operations have multiplied 40 percent and today it holds a 60% share of the 40% per annum growing bottled water market. Yes, it has almost trebled its distribution, to make sure when a customer asks for a Bisleri, he gets a 'Bisleri'. And that's perhaps one of the reasons it is phasing out 'Bailey' gradually from the market. With companies like Tata introducing a natural mineral water 'Himalaya', Bisleri was quick to adopt and introduce some modifications in the product and now we have Bisleri-mountain mineral water ('Mountains'-'Himalaya', got that? These marketers, tricky breed, eh?).
So at the end of the day, does it really benefit a brand from becoming generic? Yes, it does. Does it really benefit its parent? Sadly, it doesn't! There can be a lot of arguements on the statement I've just made and I'm pretty much sure of all of them but the fact is the most major disadvantage of a company's brand going generic is bigger than all the advantages put together. The answer lies in the first four cases of the article itself, right at the introduction. Have you ever imagined how much a Bisleri or a Cadbury lose out on sales due to generi-city? The mistakes of Xerox in the past when Japanese competitiors began to enter the market are not only a case of marketing myopia for refusing to change but also a lesson for marketers on the ill-effects of generi-city.

With hugs and kisses to the Consumer,                                                   
     The Young Marketer

October 15, 2010

Don't 'exploit' me with your advertisements

Today, just as I logged in to check my Facebook account, I received a message from the moderator of a popular advertising page on Facebook to join a debate that was taking shape on exploitative advertising. With nothing else to do, I jumped into the fray. I checked out the topic.As a customer, the guy has a very valid point but let's take a look from the marketer's point of view. This is how it shaped.

Query: Ok.This is something I have been thinking about for a while......it is about what I call exploitative advertising.......Who says that a product sells only if it delivers ???...Take a look at Fair and Lovely...2 decades of sales past, I have not heard (much less seen) anyone's complexion moving over to the fairer side; ...not a friend or friend's friend's friend or even a distant relative or acquaintance. So, intuitively speaking, the product does not work. So, we can safely infer that either the ads lie or the ad-makers are ignorant. But the right choice is irrelevant. You see, the kind of adverts that Fair and Lovely releases, especially in India, seem to prey upon our insecurities. Every man wants to have a fair bride. Every father wants to have a fair daughter. And so, every girl wants to be fair. The ads seem to EXPLOIT all the semi-misogynistic loopholes in our psyche. Now, the phenomenon has moved over to men. The outcome of crucial interviews are decided by a man's confidence, which is inexplicably linked to his complexion ( OH MY GOD ! I AM NOT FAIR !..WILL I EVER BE PROMOTED ?! ).....So the conclusion ???....It is a question.....and also a parting shot at the fleeced customers....Are people really like sheep ??...If you dangle the proverbial carrot, will they really be taken for a ride???....And are ads meant to be that way in the corporate era ??The need of cosmetics is seen from very ancient days. People were using a variety of cosmetic products both for curative purpose as well as beauty ones. Kajal, or Surma, Bindi, Sindoor, Kumkum, Mehandi, Altas, Alaras are some traditional... cosmetics used on those days as certain social symbolic issues besides for preventing the parts of the body from many infections and maintaining the freshness and/ presentablity in different climatic conditions.

Faraaz Kazi: Of the Rs 3,000-crore cosmetics and toiletries market, the skincare segment accounts for Rs 1,200 crore. Fairness products account for a whopping Rs 700 crore of this segment.
Now as far as the company's claims are concerned, it is not a modern phenomenon but has gained momentum in the present. The cream does make you fair but it cannot do so if you're inherently dark, i.e. one can't become fairer than their actual skin colour (hence 75% of the customers claim to have been misled). A very narrow segment on whom the cream doesn't show their effects, can be classified as those who didn't try the product as specified by the company or under their ideal conditions.
Call it exploitative, misleading, false or deceptive, the truth of the matter is, it is here to stay! It's very difficult to allow your product to speak out aloud amidst the competition. As a marketer, what option have you left? Claims such as these are common tools to effectively get your proposition across. It is not that insecurities emerge from claims but the other way round because as a marketer one sees an unsatisfied need there. Yeah, the case of sanitisers as I said. I pointed it out on my blog too recently. It depends on your perspective totally, do you see it as unethical? But at the end of the day, won't you as a customer try it out (even once) if it's an epidemic. As they say better safe than sorry. Consider this in an extreme situation, as an advertiser if I claim if you don't try my product, apocalypse would strike or you would die within 24 hours, would you be willing to try it? Hmmm...that's precisely the reason.
Second, coming to Fair and Lovely (or Fairever or Fairglow or any other fairness product for that matter), claims or not, people will buy it (53% market share). Why? Because each one of us, rich or poor, Hindu or Muslim, has that underlying 'dream' to look and feel good. To carry the confidence that emerges from one's physical appearance. And hence people will buy it. Consider this, as a marketer what other positioning can you apply to a fairness product? There's very little room for negotiation! Yet HUL has done that or at least tried to by experimenting with variants, you have F&L anti-marks cream to ayurvedic and multi-vitamin and once they noticed 32% of males using the cream (not a TG they had specified), the male variant was introduced after Emami. Don't forget, a major factor of their success has been their distribution which reaches all tiers of their effective supply chain. At one point, F&L enjoyed a virtual monopoly with over 90 percent market share but look where it stands today thanks to competition (don't forget the milk-turmeric-kesar paste you apply on your face on weekends).
As a product, all fairness creams essentially use Niacin amide which is known for its skin lightening properties.
There were women groups which termed the adverts as regressive. Look at one brighter side of it, at least F&L doens't use celebs to endorse it (the claims could be more misleading then!). We see common faces (Genelia when she was not quite an actress was the most prominent advert on TV) so that people get the feel of reality. On the other side, they also have The Fair and Lovely foundation which promotes educating girls and seeks to empower them (are they nullifying the effects then?) Apart from this, 4 weeks or 7 days countdown to fairness sounds silly, done on improper research because one can easily claim that a complainant's skin isn't essentially the average facial skin, the company has tested it's product on. There's no law against it but lately ASCI has been pulling the noose on a lot of claims issued in ads. Lately, IRDA to passed an order to insurance companies to tighten the noose over agents who sold policies deceptively. For the details, may I request you to look here. At the end of the day, it is upto the consumer and his experiences, what he is ready to believe and what he is not. Ask yourself this: Did Rajnikant truly perform those sci-fi stunts in Robot? As they say (below)
Big enough?

With hugs and kisses to the Consumer,
The Young Marketer.

October 13, 2010

Dynamics of pyschology in advertising

Advertising Psychology 
My sincerest thanks to Ms. Carmen Neghina, teaching assistant at Nijmegen School of Management for this wonderful presentation. Being a psychologist, I sure could relate to it. I hope you do too.
With hugs and kisses to the Consumer,
The Young Marketer.

October 5, 2010

History of Advertising

I'd like to thank Helen Klein Ross, a well known personality in the US ad agencies, for this wonderful presentation. There is no need for me to add anything, though I would surely try to prepare a similar thing for Indian advertising lovers.

With hugs and kisses to the Consumer, 
The Young Marketer.

October 2, 2010

Now dare you forget the concepts!

How to differentiate between Marketing, PR, Advertising and the like. All people around me say they're essentially the same with a little twist in their tales. Well, here's a tale...for all you 'adult' marketers!

You’re a man and you see a gorgeous woman at a party. You go up to her and say, “I’m fantastic in bed.” That’s Direct Marketing. Pretty much like Dell.
You’re at a party with a bunch of friends and see a gorgeous woman. One of your friends goes up to her and pointing at you says, “He’s fantastic in bed.” That’s Advertising. The Priyagold way, esp. when you know no one's going to buy your product.
You see a gorgeous woman at a party. You go up to her and get her telephone number. The next day you call and say, “Hi, I’m fantastic in bed.” That’s Telemarketing. Hmmm, yes like ICICI!
You’re at a party and see a gorgeous woman. You get up and straighten your tie. You walk up to her and pour her a drink and then say, “By the way, I’m also fantastic in bed.” That’s Public Relations. Remember Vijay Mallya and Kingfisher?
You’re at a party and see a gorgeous woman. She walks up to you and says, “I hear you’re fantastic in bed.” That’s Brand Recognition. Like the Apple logo.
You're at a party and see a gorgeous woman. You remember she is the same from last night but this time she walks upto your brother  and whispers in his ear, "I guess you're great in bed like your brother." That's Brand Equity. Yes, the Unilever way.
You’re at a party and see a gorgeous woman. You talk her into going home with your friend. That’s a Sales Representative. Has to be someone from the private insurance department.
You're at a party and see a gorgeous woman. You walk upto her and talk her into taking both you and your friend to her place. That's Sales promotion. Bundling like FMCG soaps. 
Your friend can’t satisfy her so he calls you. That’s Tech Support. From Microsoft.
You're at a party and see a gorgeous woman. You walk upto her, hand over your visiting card and shout loudly, so all can hear, "Isse sasta aur achcha kahin nahin." That's 'Shameless' promotion. Do I need to say like whom?
You’re on your way to a party when you realise that there could be gorgeous women in all these houses you’re passing. So you climb onto the roof of one situated toward the center and shout at the top of your lungs, “I’m fantastic in bed!” That’s Junk Mail. Yeah, the Chinese penis enlargement pills!

Now go spread the knowledge!
With hugs and kisses to the Consumer, 
The Young Marketer.

September 22, 2010

The day my newspaper spoke to me!

 Yesterday, the town woke up to an innovative ad campaign run by Volkswagen India in leading dailies like The Times of India and The Hindu. The campaign was for its latest outbringing called the Volkswagen Vento and it ran across five metros, namely Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai. This is the first ever attempt of advertising through a 'talking newspaper'. It has set a trend in an industry that is devoid of healthy advertising revenus since the recession period. It has opened new doors and set the benchmark for creativity in print.

 The TOI edition consisted of a special ten page supplement which was filled by tidbits from the world but at the end there was a full page advert of Volkswagen's latest offering and near the boxes that highlited the sedan's features, was another black box that 'talked' about the same features that were visible in print. The main USP is that the paper would speak only when turned to the face of the back. Thus, one could start reading the paper normally and when on turned to the last page, the speaker would start. Imagine the comical situation as the paper fumbles in your hands and the message gets you curious. So what is the technology behind this? They have used a simple photodiode which is capable of converting light into voltage. The speaker is very light and seems to be made of recyclable material. It continously keeps on saying the following lines;
"Best in class German engineering is here. The new Volkswagen Vento. Built with great care and highly innovative features. Perhaps that’s why it breaks the hearts of our engineers to watch it drive away.
The new Volkswagen Vento. Crafted with so much passion, it’s hard to let it go.
Volkswagen. Das Auto."
The advert was carried in some 2.2 million copies and the small talking device consists of a chip, a speaker and a battery that can last for about two hours.To economise it further, these devices were made at VW's plant in China and about 2.5 million of such devices were distributed in India. Reports say that each device sosts around 5 rupees. We can add to that the cost of a full page ad in TOI which has an estimated readership of 3.5 lakhs (Considering each paper is generally read by two people, we are talking of a reach of 7 lakhs in a day!) The price per paper thus, comes around to 40 rupees, thereby bringing us to the magic figure of an investment of 6 crore rupees in one day across five metros! Combine the effect with The Hindu and multiply the numbers of an average readership across the five cities and we are talking about a reach of 25 lakh people. There is a high chance out of curiosity, the reader will here the message over and over till it sinks in. This cannot be achieved even with a 30 seconds TV spot which runs twice in an hour on ten different channels.This is not an overnight concept. It needed over six months of research to see it through. Volkswagen, Mediacom and TOI worked together to bring it off and ensure a healthy distribution of the paper.

“When we launched the brand, awareness was very low. Competition like Maruti, Tata, Hyundai outshouted us by far. In such a scenario, we had the option of following the norm and doing regular full-page/half-page ads or doing something completely radical. Our strategy to be innovative has worked,” says Divya Gururaj, MD of Mediacom. 

Well, this is not the first time VW has done this in India. Worldwide too, VW remains attains a top notch in innovative advertising. When it first started in India in November 2009, again it combined its campaign with TOI to bring out a successful roadblock that blocked out other ads and filled up the entire paper with its own ads by booking adverts, wholly or partly in thirteen of the twenty two pages of the newspaper. To watch the entire collection of the print ads in that particular edition of November 11, 2009, please click here.

In February 2010, VW introduced the Polo in the Indian market and again in TOI they ran cut ads in March, by cutting out a portion in the top of all16 pages of the special edition of the daily in the shape of the Polo.The design was well-crafted and of a different quality of paper with rich texture. This clearly sends out a message that VW is not ready to compromise when it comes to innovation, be it in its products or its advertising. This is one company which takes its work so seriously. Even its simple tagline evokes attention bringing both things to the front' one, that they are a superior German engineering company and two, they have full confidence in their product lines when they say it is THE car and not A car! No wonders, it is Volkswagen, THE CAR or should I say DAS AUTO!

With hugs and kisses to the Consumer,
The Young Marketer.

September 16, 2010

'Top' of the Pyramid

(Scene: Today's mega media seminar in the huge conference room of a leading 5 star hotel where a panel discussion is going on consisting of some of the biggest names in the industry)
Moderator: Yes, Mr. Kazi has a question!
Me: I have two things to say, comments, facts and questions, included! Yes, India is a heterogenous market with over 6,34,000 villages that speak across 19 languages and 900 dialects and yet it is easy to profile rural consumers with tags like low income and illiteracy. Even as I speak, marketers say this is growing and there is no limit to its growth but still companies are going with the theoretical framework in the hinterlands and in reality, it is something else. You're talking about a specific medium, i.e. print which has regional potential but there is growth in other media as well. As such, how important it is to integrate cross category media to increase brand exposure and strengthen brand encounters? Second thing, Mr. X spoke of local brands, however they also consist of indigenous spurious brands which are climbing upon the media investments of the original brands. From spell-alikes and look-alikes to ditto duplicates, these brands are eating into the pie of most big brands operating in the rural market and the rural consumer is swallowing them all, thus the bad quality perception rubs onto the original brand. Thus, it is a double edged sword. Dabur recently changed its packaging to counter such brands, so that it'd be harder to replicate their packaging. As such, keeping the product POV aside, what are the challenges for the creativity in the campaigns to counter spurious brands?
Moderator: That's a slightly complex question. I'll leave that to Mr.X to answer (turns towards the panel)
Mr.X: (Blah-blah...) The rural customer knows the brand and if he wants to purchase an unbranded product, he'll purchase an unbranded one which better connects to his lifestyle as opposed to the urban markets which are getting saturated. Ms. Y why is the urban market getting saturated today?
Ms.Y: (Blah-blah...) and that's why such a phenomenon is happening. Mr. Kazi, don't you think so?
Me: Huh?
What was the question that was asked, how was it analysed and passed on and what ultimately came back to me! Yes, that's the kind of talent we have at the top level and yet we blame the field staff for their callous attitude when the problem itself is not identified by the strategisers. A simple answer was yes, we should integrate other media where penetration is high, for example southern markets due to higher literacy but such a thing might not be as useful in a small village of Rajasthan where Dainik Jagran is perhaps, the only name for media. Integration is necessary to increase brand encounters, so customers can identify the brand image and this will also lead to increase in brand encounters and result in natural inquisitiveness for the brand. At the end of the day, that's what your advertising goal was! Secondly, with respect to spurious brands. Yes, not all companies can use Dabur's strategy. A easy and cost-effective way is to educate customers through interactive BTL activities to identify your brand. At the end of the day, loyal customers would themselves turn in the spurious brands and cause them to phase out. The approach is a simple application of the BoP theory. Yet, so much confusion!

-With hugs and kisses to the Consumer,
The Young Marketer.
Complexly Simple!

September 14, 2010

Advertising 'Strangulating' Council of India

Seven food and beverage majors have come together in a first of its kind agreement, pledging to self-monitor their products adhering to labeled standards. As per European nutritional standards, sugar content of more than 12.5 grams per 100 grams is considered to be detrimental for consumption. But when ASCI pulled up Kellog’s Chocos recently, it was found to contain 32.5 grams of sugar per 100 gram of the product. Indeed, they took their ‘poshan se bhara’ positioning too seriously or so it seems! Heinz’s Complan had to substantiate its claims of kids growing twice as much taller after consuming Complan, after GSK’s Horlicks logged in a ‘complaint’ with ASCI that Heinz was promoting fallacious claims.
ASCI, it seems is not just content with the nutrition factor of food products but also wants to pull up companies which are adopting ‘clutter breaking’ advertising. Recently Parle had to grudgingly pull out its LMN advert as ASCI associated racism and stereotyping with the brilliant ad that showed two African natives searching for water in the midst of a desert. Remember Amul Macho, the famous Kolkota based hosiery brand which was the leading advertiser amongst inner-wear brands in 2005. The famous cloth washing ad which showed a sari clad woman making suggestive expressions while washing her husband’s clothes became an overnight hit. It made tongues wag, some supported, some opposed but the talking helped the brand’s publicity. It created instant brand recall for the innerwear brand in a market which lacks complete brand loyalty. However, the ad had to be pulled off as it was in ‘bad taste’ as per ASCI standards but it had done its job (you still remember it, don’t you?). They did come up with another intelligent advert using orangutans which was again a little suggestive but thank god, no one cried ‘animal porn’ or ‘zoophilia’. There has been a spurt of deodorant brands trying to take on the market leader, Axe by adopting the sensual positioning in a sex deprived market. Set wet and Zatak were the first to take on the challenge and recently players like Wild Stone and Temptation are trying to use the same strategy against Axe (Lol, Axe has been doing that since decades before they were born in markets all across the world!) Some of the newer ads of such nascent brands are thrice as more suggestive as the Amul advert. One even shows steam blowing from a girl’s body parts as the guy walks past and another shows a girl’s piece of clothing falling off. Huh, it’s perfectly all right with me but why the blatant discrimination? This goes to show that competition plays a major role when it comes to igniting flames in successful brand campaigns. This cannot be the case with Axe as it is a multinational player, compared to the newer and smaller and predictably ‘more sensuous’ deodorants in the market. Wonder how long before Unilever submits a ‘complaint’!
Anyways, the seven major companies have also pledged to avoid promoting their products to children below the age of twelve years, a thing that could prove to be a kick in the jaw of channels like Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon. But this surely has laid down the grounds for ethical advertising in an industry where ethics have usually gone for a toss. The recent news that has reached me also involved a similar incident where 10,000 mandals in Mumbai have agreed upon a pact to avoid tobacco sponsors for this year’s Ganesh Chathurthi. This is startling, going by the fact that sixty percent of the festival sponsors are from the tobacco industry; going by the way they have managed to find ‘innovative’ ways past the banned mass media. A similar incident is being observed in liquor shops which are removing posters of liquor brands from the exterior of their stores.
What works for such industries is their creative conceptualization and effective positioning. With little difference in products and the complete absence of mass advertising, Word of Mouth efforts and surrogate advertising measures, combined with a healthy demand has ensured industry growth. The efforts of Kingfisher, India’s most prolific liquor brand have to be noted in this case. The iconic Vijay Mallya has ensured that the complete lack of advertising doesn’t hamper his growth. Foraying into the airline industry, food guides, the packaged water industry and even a television channel, Kingfisher is one brand which has reinforced its classic tune into the minds of the consumer. ‘Ooola la la ae oooo…’ goes the whistle and we nicely tap our feet to it. Surrogate advertising has made the liquor brand piggyback on its extensions and the main brand, though sidelined has raked in most of the attention. The most brilliant concept was to start a luxury lifestyle channel ‘NDTV Good Times’, in collaboration with NDTV. Please note the channel name does not have any mention of ‘Kingfisher’ but Kingfisher’s iconic blue and red bird occupies twenty four hours on the screen! Please note this is in an era when television advertising costs a bomb and liquor advertising has been completely banned. Of course, the marketing efforts are limited to one particular channel and a niche segment but Kingfisher has always been a premium brand catering to specific lifestyle needs and the channel stays in line with that positioning. So, Kingfisher is actually marketing its liquor without showcasing any visuals. Similar is the case albeit on a small scale with companies like Bacardi (Bacardi Music CDs), McDowells (Soda and music CDs) and of course Godfrey Philips and Red and White (Bravery awards).
With time, ASCI might just find a way for this too if Kingfisher collapses (which I don’t see happening in the short run) A better solution is to impose a ‘sin tax’  and raise prices of such products to discourage consumption but again that might just increase the grey market demand. It never was a question of ethics when it came to advertising, we all know how ethical the industry is! Just wonder are advertisers smarter than the council that monitors them or is it the other way round? Advertising has changed with times. Otherwise will this old PIA to Twin towers print ad, be accepted now? I leave that to you...
With hugs and kisses to the Consumer, 
The Young Marketer.

September 10, 2010

Micro'MAX'ing Nokia's share

We can move on to greener pastures by the time Pepsi and Coke max it out as per the earlier post. Speaking of Max, there is actually another Max who is challenging another giant in another category. Welcome to the David-Goliath scenario where a local homegrown company which has grown by leaps and bounds in the past six months is taking on the might of a Finnish phone company. Micromax mobiles is suddenly threatening to overthrow Nokia’s marketing efforts. With a strong distribution network, sports sponsorships by the dozens, interactive campaigns and a wide array of low-cost products, Micromax is surely more than a local challenger to Nokia, the current market leader. It currently occupies the third position in the market after Samsung with a six percent market share and growing rapidly.
 Micromax, founded by Rajesh Agrawal started as a computer distributor for companies like Dell and HP in 1991. In 2008, they forayed into mobile phones. After the success of the X1i (30 days on a single charge and priced at two thousand rupees) in the rural market, Micromax eyed the more suave urban area. Micromax has two aces up its sleeve — a keen eye for what the customer needs, and the ability to swing their supply chain. With over 55 companies operating in the market and over 60 percent share controlled by Nokia alone, Micromax was still confident of tapping into unexplored niches and categories through their product offerings and marketing efforts. The recent product strengthening has been on the dual-sim and QWERTY keypad forefront at reasonable prices-offerings Indian consumers have lapped upto. The company also gives five percent commission to each of its distribution partners (450 distributors and 50000 retailers) but does not offer any credit. Obviously, it can't if it is offering three times as much commission as Nokia and yet offer credit! This has also helped them build a reliable and fast cash cycle.
Micromax introduced Akshay Kumar and partnered with Lowe to roll in their motion sensing game phone and signed Twinkle Khanna to endorse the Swarovski crystal studded Bling edition. Another of their innovative products has been a phone that doubles up as a master remote for your household appliances. Critics say that Micromax's rise has been fuelled by the Government's decision to ban Chinese mobiles that lacked an IMEI number. But then there were other low cost players too, so why only Micromax?When the telecom bubble started to grow, we saw companies like Lava, Karbonn, Lemon, Zen, Max, Onida and Videocon jump into the mobile boat. However, the consumer has always been selective and with so many options, it was but obvious that a few will survive. Micromax was lucky to be one of them and of course with its surprising products and campaigns it was bound to! Lava and Karbonn threatened to overshadow it once using the same marketing strategies but they are surely feeling the pinch now. After all, how many Lava and Karbonn adverts you come across these days? The two recent models by Micromax, promoted widely in the recent Cricket tri series in Sri Lanka, Q6 and Q7 are giving Nokia’s premium models a run for their money. Compare Micromax's 26 models with the wide array of Nokia's cell phones and you'll find why Nokia is hell bent on killing its own instruments even before they complete a technological cycle.
Mr. Wahid Nasirullah, who has a small mobile store near Sewri station amongst several stores in the surrounding says, “Earlier on, I used to stock only big names like Nokia and Samsung but since the Chinese handsets came in, we saw local manufacturers coming up with their own answer. As the public likes it, we have to stock them. Now my store has more Micromax mobiles than Nokia ones.” Small mobile handset players are going to take over the market. Mobile penetration is high and most of the untapped market is the lower segment of Sec C and Sec D consumers, for whom a QWERTY keypad phone at a throw away price is equal to owning an I-phone, well almost! Ask Mr. Nasirullah the reason for Micromax’s success and he answers, “The cost factor! Micromax is giving the same things as Nokia and more at half the price and people are intelligent, they don’t want the brand. As long as they’re getting good warranty and good service no one’s bothered.”
True! Mr. Nasirullah’s store is one amongst the thousands of such unorganized retail mobile outlets which account for more than sixty percent of mobile sales in the Indian market (thanks to their selling handsets lower than stores like Croma and The Mobile Store), and he might just have made a valid point. Due to the sheer competition, the mobile market is almost getting commoditized. Nokia is coming out with a new model almost every week. Even as I write this, Nokia’s engineers are working on a cost-effective phone for the Indian market. The 2600, 2610, 2300, 2310, 5310, et al and God knows what they have dumped here, to counter the effect of the Chinese mobiles and local manufacturers like Micromax. Today, Nokia launched two new models, C1 and C2 in the entry level segment with dual-sim option (earlier on, they did not have a dual-sim phone. See!) and Micromax too, is not taking it easy and coming out with handsets like pancakes. The battle field is more on the price front than the feature as the focus has been to tap the bottom of the pyramid segment and make mobiles more common than tissues in your bathroom. So will Goliath crush David or will David hurl the stone just in time to conquer Goliath? Whatever be the result, David might just have to change his brand name and reposition himself as he is surely not ‘micro’ anymore!
With hugs and kisses to the Consumer, 
The Young Marketer.

September 8, 2010

Pepsi to 'Max'?

 The Pepsi-Coke battle has seen a ‘strong’ new member being introduced in the former’s team. Pepsi recently launched the Pepsi Max cola in the Indian market, after its success in the western markets. India is primarily a market where both cola companies have increased the sweetness in their flavor Remember Coke’s early trial to change the drink’s taste in India and make it as strong as it was in the west and what it resulted into? Surprisingly, however the market leader of the soft drink market argues against this ‘sweet’ statement. 

Thums-up stands tall with a whooping seventeen percent market share (till 2003, it had twenty-four percent market share!) The strong taste of Thums-up has also being positioned strongly into the minds of the Indian consumer with the tagline ‘Taste the Thunder’. Pepsi rings in a close second with thirteen percent, followed by Coke with eight percent, if you observe only the cola market. As such, to battle the might of the thunderous Indian brand, Pepsi decide to introduce ‘Pepsi Max’ in the Indian market. What most people are dismissing as an illogical extension is actually a strategy in disguise to veer consumers away from Thums-up and towards the new brand. Indian consumers are however skeptical about such brands which try to take on the might of an already established brand. I see some innovators and early adopters trying the brand but if the product does not live upto the expectations then surely that will be it. Before growth, Pepsi Max would have to be minimized. Because most consumers, identify with Thums-up as it stands for the vintage Indian cola brand. It balanced its equity in a manner better than Campa Cola (by Pure Drinks Ltd. had a 30% market share then) did against Double Cola (US based) in the 70’s and that is why it is surviving today with a high percentage of loyal followers, of which some don’t even know that it’s a Coke brand. Coke brought the brand from Ramesh Chauhan of Parle--who declined Pepsi’s offer citing that Coke would be able to do better justice to their brand and don’t forget the allegations that Coke tried to kill the Thums up brand later to strengthen their hold on the market--as the latter wanted to concentrate on the yet to burgeon packaged water market and what was a three way battle between Pepsi (which reentered India in 1988), Coke (reentered in 1993 after being drive away due to FERA) and Thums-up, suddenly became a one on one war. Coke continued with the macho adventurous, carefree positioning of the brand that connected with the inner rebel in the Indian male (the main reason why Campa Cola failed with its happy and good image). Coke’s long term investment of $60 million in 1993 has surely rung in their present cash registers in the Indian market.
Even if you speak of campaigns, Thums-up has remained the same throughout with its strong positioning as an adventurous brand. Only three campaigns come to mind, ‘Toofani Thanda’, ‘Taste the Thunder’ and ‘Grow up to Thums up’. The latter more to appeal to a set of the audience whose earlier generation had witnessed the Thums up tale and not to forget, the positioning was so strong that Coke had to rub it off on Coca Cola with the campaign ‘Thanda matlab Coca Cola’. How many statements Coca Cola has changed after that? How many has Pepsi changed in answer? How many different celebrities, ranging from Tendulkar to SRK and from Aishwariya Rai to Amitabh Bachchan have been roped in between the two brands? Whereas, if you check Thums up it has only used three prominent celebs, Sunil Gavaskar (in 1977) Salman Khan (from 1996-2003) and Akshay Kumar (2003 onwards), who have a distinct carefree and rough image attached to them. This is truly iconic!
So coming back to the recent onslaught, what would be Coke’s reaction to Pepsi’s strategy? Don’t they know? Of course, they do if they are Coca Cola and especially, when the battle is with Pepsi for a market like India. Then what are they going to do about it? I doubt they will take any new product development decisions because the Thums-up brand is still the market leader. Coke can think of launching Coke zero in the Indian market which has traditionally being positioned similarly as Pepsi Max but I doubt they will do it as Thums-up has attained the status of a cult brand primarily because it did not give into the demands of seasonal temptations and maintained its positioning relevant with times. As long as Pepsi Max doesn’t challenge its hold too much, till then I see no reaction from Coke. But yes, Pepsi is not advertising the new brand too much currently except for outdoors and online. Pepsi has intelligently positioned it as a strong drink, free from sugar and for the health conscious consumer (targeting the 25-35 age group people who actually consume more Thums up. Good research by Pepsi, eh?).  Using  simplicity and creativity, Pepsi has put up a large OOH advert which shows a Pepsi Max bottle spilling the drink into an overflowing glass and the punch line says it all ‘Maximum kick, No sugar’. Are they trying to achieve converts from the liquor religion? Lol! Maybe you will see Coke retaliate to reinforce Thums up in our minds, by launching another of those high flying Akshay Kumar campaigns which always gets on my nerves. But one thing is for sure, Coke is not going to remain silent. In reality, you never know, especially when the battle is between these two giants. We’ll wait and watch how much Pepsi Max can actually ‘Max’ Pepsi’s share.

With hugs and kisses to the Consumer, 
The Young Marketer.

September 7, 2010

May I have your permission please (2)

Let's continue with the four conventions of permission marketing:

1. Prospects have to give you permission to approach them. If not, you should not approach them as it can reduce your goodwill.

2. Permission is definitely selfish, realize that! Your prospect will mostly give you permit to approach them only if they are able to identify a reward or benefit in your offering.

3. Permission should be unsubscribed anytime the prospect wishes. You should provide them with the unsubscribe option but, if you have done your homework correctly there can be no going wrong.

4. Permission should not be transferred. You cannot exchange the permit with another person. It means that you only send an offer through e-mail to leads who really want you to send them though they have varying degrees of interest in your products. Maintaining the highest ethical standards in such a relation is very necessary.
Consider this I went to a book store’s annual sale last year and purchased some books worth a certain amount. The attendant, while preparing the invoice pushed a feedback form towards me and asked me to fill it with all my details intact. I did so and this year I got an invite for this year’s sale alongwith a discount voucher for certain category of books. Apart from this, their monthly newsletter also reaches my place without failure and I get to read reviews of the new best-sellers before deciding to buy them.
One of my friends, who is a shopaholic, is a frequent denizen of a leading retail chain. The first time she went there to shop for clothes and accessories, she was told about their program to become a lifetime member for free. This ensured she would not only accumulate points for her purchases and redeem them later but also be informed about discount sales, bargain deals and partner events well in advance than non-members. Well there’s nothing such as a free lunch as the popular saying goes and she does get an e-mail every week about the new fashion products in store and the special prices put up for members.
Getting the attention of the people is the challenge and permission marketing doesn’t quite do away with it. Converting that one brief moment of attention that you generate form an individual into a mutually beneficial relationship is what permission marketing looks at. Mostly people have to know what is in it for them to invest their most important resource in, i.e. time. Money, ofcourse is not so important so long as the segmentation is wise. Signing up for lottery online means you part away  with your personal details, the chances of winning the lottery are rare but the chances of getting your inbox flooded are huge. The reward at the end is enticement enough for an individual to participate in the lottery and expose himself to the marketers.
From the marketer’s perspective, the main advantage is both on the cost and time aspect. The cost for approaching the prospect online and even gaining his feedback is almost nil, thanks to e-mail. Even if you approach thirty individuals of which only five become your consumers, the cost of knowing why the other twenty-five did not is the same as approaching them, i.e. zero. E-mail being the quickest mode of communication also saves a lot of time meaning that the marketer can follow up with the prospect continuously. And that’s the important lesson, to change the prospect’s behavior; you have to talk to them over and over again. In time, another batch of five prospects would be converted into your consumers.
If you are interested in a hobby like writing and you have signed up on various forums, become a member of popular websites for writers, downloaded a comprehensive editing software online and signed up on portals offering your services as a writer, there is no doubt in my mind that half the mails that hit your inbox or the newsletters that reach your address are of products that are some way or the other associated with your hobby. This is because you have ‘volunteered’ to make yourself available for such products and services by expressing your interest in writing. So automatically, the observation network of similar companies takes you into consideration as a prospect and the very next day you are hit by a flurry of mails from another writing software that promises better results at a lesser price.
The evaluation of the marketing efforts also changes as companies don’t just evaluate on rating scales and TRPs but also on the number of people who have ‘volunteered’ themselves for their marketing efforts. Permission marketing is both entertaining and educating, giving companies a chance to learn more about their prospects and the individuals a chance to know more about the products and companies that they would be interested in.
In the words of Seth Godin permission marketing’s main focus is on, "turning strangers into friends, and friends into customers."Permission marketing might not be a foolproof solution towards faulty marketing practices but it surely is a way around that looks at getting the best for the parties involved. The appeal surrounding permission marketing might not be as great as the attention given to interruption marketing but when it comes to relationship handling in this era of CRM practices, permission marketing is definitely the order of the day!

With hugs and kisses to the Consumer,
The Young Marketer.

August 26, 2010

May I have your permission please?

One of the better articles, I wrote on permission marketing which is an increasingly exploited concept these days. Again, this article has been published on the Enthrall Media blog and you can read the first part of the long analysis here.

With hugs and kisses to the Consumer,
The Young Marketer.

Social or Unsocial media!

This is an article I wrote for the Enthrall Media blog on the changing role of social media when I used to work there as a Marketing Analyst. It is a very brief overview of the topic. You can read it here.

With hugs and kisses to the Consumer,
The Young Marketer.

August 19, 2010

Marketing the light reads!

Our very own, Chetan ‘nearly one crore earner in royalties’ Bhagat, started the trend of IIT books with his “Five point someone’. He spends lakhs on PR every month to keep brand ‘Bhagat’ alive when not in books (who says marketing is only for products?) Today, he earns more from seminars and guest lectures in universities than his advances. The famed author could not have started a better revolution even if he wanted to. Once the success of Bhagat’s books sunk in the market, you had every Tom, Dick and Harry trying his hand at writing. Lol, many of them even got published by the many publishing houses which have defined themselves as light publishers!
Rupa publishers, the one which publishes Bhagat’s books (I guess they have the first look contract and even if they don’t, how does it matter anyway?) has been one of the Indian companies standing upto the market demand of the new light reads. No wonder, they rejected my book by quoting that they have a busy schedule in the coming year. Rupa’s books are of a superior quality (Design, Layout and Editing are moderate) and it has almost bombarded the market with breezy reads. ‘A romance with chaos’ by Nishant Kaushik, ‘Right Fit, Wrong Shoe’ by Varsha Dixit and ‘Nothing can be as crazy’ by Ajay Mohan are some of the recent best-sellers from the category. The writing is decent and the editing passable in most of the books but then who cares about that? The price (again Rupa was the pioneer) is really affordable and doesn’t burn a hole in your pocket at all.
Shrishti, another popular publishing house, has earned the tag of THE IIT/IIM PUBLISHER from me. Firstly, it keeps churning out books like flying popcorn. Secondly, I guess it has almost become a perquisite to be published by Shrishti, the author should be a student or alumni of the big institutes. Thirdly, I doubt they have an editor because there are as many mistakes in every single page of almost each book, to put the Chinese population to shame (Okay, I over-exaggerated that one: D). The most important point that is in their business model is that they are virtually cost leaders. With each book priced at one hundred rupees and a robust distribution network, a Shrishti book is available almost anywhere, from Retail book chains to the local station shop. People are willing to stock it, not only because they sell like hotcakes (Every book is a self-proclaimed best-seller!) but also because the publisher offers them a mammoth margin compared to the industry. It’s only natural for any dealer to stock and push the books then (Next time you visit the store, observe the visual merchandising for Shrishti books). Questions can be raised, how they hell do they survive in a low margin industry? One possible explanation is their mass production technique and reprinting popular editions almost every six months with a new design, helps them distribute their costs over a large quantity and generate maximum revenue. I don’t know, I still keep getting those books even when I am not reading them (kind of a subliminal message their price conveys, I guess) but anyways, they help me in the sense that I don’t have to search for editing exercises for my students. Lol!
The bigger players are not to be left behind either. Karan Bajaj’s second novel ‘Johhny Gone Down’ published by Harper Colins saw a first print run of over 50,000 copies and though the book has seen some amount of criticism, it has not stopped the publishers from going in for the second print run. Penguin India also recently launched its Metro reads for people who like reading on the go. The books are a combination of young and literary fiction, so I don’t know where to categorise them. RandomHouse India, which has the unique distinction of the first publication house to reject me, also has come out with its ‘Kaama Kahaani’ series.
The light readers market is growing in direct proportion to the growth of literacy in the country. The market demands, so the publishers are reactive (instead of being proactive), and they are coming out with more such books every month. Also, it’s a simple fact; a layman would well prefer a Chetan Bhagat over a Salman Rushdie. The audience is different (yes, there is an overlap when you have people like me who read just about everything!) but then what needs to be reminded is that authors like Bhagat are not writing for the coveted Man Booker. Their success largely depends upon the number of books sold unlike literary fiction which sees how many people were floored by its metaphors. The main target market is people who are not very well conversed with English as a language (so who cares about editing?) and are more likely to grab a book just to display their intellect (oh of course, for them a ‘One night at a call centre’ is equivalent to a ‘Mein Kampf’). Job done, friends impressed, girls floored and ego satisfied!
Mandar Kokate’s self-published book (now he owns Expression publications) ‘Oh Shit, not again!’ continues to be a Crossword best seller, even after two years of its release. I read the book as a grammar refreshing exercise and just about barely managed to finish it. Priced at one hundred and fifty rupees, it prompts the reader to at least take a look. The blurb sounds promising but when you open the first page, you know you should have never picked it up, in the first place. But thoughtfully, he’s an intelligent businessman, keeps rejecting all the proposals that are sent to him (Expression has only two popular fiction titles so far!)
I actually find it irritating when people enquire back after I have told them that I am a voracious reader.
“Oh, have you read Chetan Bhagat?” they ask in glee. Huh? Get a life, don’t be frogs in a saturated well. Expand your reading horizons. You can start with my forthcoming novel. Oh but again, it is a light read, I guess. What can I do? The market demands so!
With hugs and kisses to the Consumer,
The Young Marketer.

July 20, 2010

Solving the big mystery

                     As markets change and economies become more complicated, there is a proportionate change in consumer preferences too. To meet this change, there has to be another change-an organizational change! The change has to be not just in products but also in the marketing efforts. The trick to this change lies in evaluating existing marketing practices and benchmarking them against the best in the industry. Hmmm…benchmarking or heavy standardization is a broad term; depending on the context you use it. Each company wants to outplay the other in this competing age and feedback becomes as important as the initial planning of the system. Profits and Sales lie on the base of competition. No longer are high earnings or high dividend payouts regarded as internal excellence and similarly, customers are also asking questions if they find competition being more just to their demands. Hence, companies are carrying out competitive evaluation in a manner that will stump normal understanding but it has an underlying logic.

                  Recently, I worked for half a dozen projects which involved me going to places (read client locations) to evaluate their services and products. At the end of it, I had to fill a combined (structured and unstructured) questionnaire, answering various events that took place. From the ambience and cleanliness to the attitude of the staff and the presentation of physical evidence, all went in the review. Of course, it also depended on my mood and how happy I felt in the 'place’.

                  Welcome to the age of ‘mystery shopping’ or ‘ghost shopping’ or ‘service evaluation’ or whatever you want to call it. Here, agencies like the one I undertook this project for, sign contracts with their clientele, who happen to be leading service providers mostly, and aim at finding what really is going on in their area of suspicions. Sounds like detective work, doesn’t it? Well, only partly. It helps that sometimes the clientele already have done their research work, which is they know the problem areas and just need the agency to find out why such and such things are happening, and then arrive at conclusions. The agency in turn sends out their detectives (read mystery shoppers) to the client’s narrowed down list, say a couple of branches--treated as a sample--where the sales haven’t been picking up for the past six months. And then the mystery shopper does the rest, which includes assuming a fake identity and profile most of the time. Once the MS fills the questionnaire, then again the agency guys set to work on the collected data of their mystery shoppers. Generalizing the findings, one can easily arrive at a handful of conclusions to present to the client, who is more than happy to accept it and sets about ‘correcting’ things in the ways and manners of his organization policies.

                    Of the half a dozen, projects which I have handled, one of them included almost ten branches of an IT service provider that provides software coaching to students. Assuming a student profile and talking to the counselors was no big deal but when it comes to translating them in evaluation parameters, it becomes a tad difficult and of course, recording the premises without seeming suspicious is a little more than a challenge. Similarly, there was a leading animation academy, who wanted to gain feedback from its prospective customers and the closes it could get was simulated mystery shoppers. It played safe without giving its staff a whiff of things in the administration. Then there was a famous coffee chain outlet of the past, falling to modern competition but still wanted to spunk up internal matters, so out we went to its three locations in different parts of the city. Somewhere the experiences were pleasant whereas otherwise, it was horrendous. One of the most prime corporate houses of our times has opened a gaming chain, a concept that was touted to be the next big thing in India, especially after Xbox and PSP3 but it could not pull in the gamers, why? Ah, that formed a huge explanation in my report. It was strange to notice that a section of their target group was one of the factors driving out the crowd from some stores. It is amazing how viewing things from the consumer POV, opens up sections you would have never noticed before. A recently launched mobile service provider wanted to know how the sales were picking up in Maharashtra. It had outlined at least fifty stores, of which around twenty were in Mumbai itself. As an MS, I had to not only evaluate the buying process but also the service of the new sim-card.

                  Some clients want to evaluate their competition and ask for the MS to be sent to select competitor branches, which they have found out are doing better than their best and then, the agency usually benchmarks standard practices. But most clients want to evaluate their own branches, especially in cases of large corporate houses where decentralization has made it difficult to assume knowledge of all happenings. The client is happy and so is the agency as both have scratched each others’ backs and the itch is satisfied.

                     Ah, but why will the MS do it? What’s in it for them? How can their itch be satisfied? Well, the answer is very simple. The MS gets some good recommendations which build a healthy personal brand and of course, a little amount of money that keeps them happy. Apart from that, the MS is usually allowed to keep the products that he is asked to purchase from the client location and is paid for it too. Also, if the MS is evaluating services, no doubt he is allowed to try them out and experience them. Remember, intangibles have no value. So sometimes, the experience can be bliss and some agencies even allow you to take a friend together. It helps if you have a weak memory and you have to remember all the evaluation criteria and at the same time, click a couple of pictures or do an audio-visual recording furtively. Some agencies pay a travelling allowance in addition to, the regular MS fees and recommendation certificates. Working with a good research agency can only boost your career prospects and in this age of complex consumer behavior, being a mystery shopper calls for some looking upto, doesn’t it?

With hugs and kisses to the consumer,
The Young Marketer.