afaqs!

Start flirting with the consumer, or be dumped

By , agencyfaqs!, na | In Advertising | May 06, 2005
The consumer is dangerously fickle. For a brand to constantly stay fresh and therefore, appealing, it has to be inconsistent and unpredictable

Sourabh Mishra
Natasha Singh

"Why stick to one thing when you can have it all?" The words of Carrey Bradshaw, the protagonist of the now cult TV series 'Sex in the City', in a way sums up the thought process of the fickle, unfaithful consumer of today. & #BANNER1 & #

In case, you haven't noticed it already, "Brahminical restraint" has given way to "Hesitant hedonism". These days, even shopping for daily provisions is a rather enticing experience. The sheer array of choices available in everything from bathing soaps to washing powder will try to seduce you away from the brands you have been using forever and make you want to flirt with something new.

Gone are the days where you had a choice of two brands for washing powder, or a handful of brands for a skincare cream. With a market cluttered with brands galore for any product, the consumer is turning increasingly promiscuous. She is spoilt for choice: Too much to choose from and too little difference between the brands has made experimenters out of everyone. Brands are in over supply and the consumer is making the most of it.

The desire for this constant new stimulation is best illustrated by the fates of 'branded', and thus advertised, nightclubs. In Bangalore and Mumbai, a new nightclub opens almost every month. The first few weeks are sold-out, but once the novelty wears off, it is patronised only till the next new club comes along.

A similar trend is emerging in skincare - traditionally believed to be a 'brand loyal' category. The 'Dressing Table Audit' done across Mumbai and Delhi among SEC A&B women by Everest in March 2005 showed that women in these two cities like to experiment with new cosmetic and skincare brands.

For a brand to constantly stay fresh, it has to be inconsistent and unpredictable. Don't take the consumer for granted and, more importantly, don't let the consumer take you for granted. This is the cardinal rule for staying on top of the flirting game. If the consumer is not going to commit and even if she does, not forever, then the best way to keep her interested is to keep the flirting game going for as long as possible.

Constantly surprising and exciting the consumer will keep her interested. Therefore brands that do not get trapped by their own identities are best suited to do this now.

Brands have to be wary of being seen as too well defined or too rigid to change. The more broadly or generically defined a brand is, the easier it is to be surprising and exciting.

Nokia seems to be doing this well at the moment. Some other brands, which are constantly evolving to keep the surprise and interest alive are Titan and Parle G.

Newer aspects of these brands seem to be coming alive today, creating a whole new relevance for their consumers.

An example of a fantastic brand that seems to be stuck in its own formula is Fevicol. The excitement and surprise have given way to predictable expressions today. Will predictability lead to boredom, and will the consumers' roving eye start looking for 'newer' options?

If an old brand does not offer her the excitement of a new one, she changes without hesitation. This is most overt in the case of entertainment brands - eating out (restaurants) and partying (pubs, bars, discos, nightclubs).

Going back to the example of patronage of new nightclubs, that entire business seems equipped for this behaviour. Old clubs no longer try to keep afloat for years before closing shop. A lot of them simply go underground to resurface in a few months in new avatars, new decor, new name, a different music and theme.

And it seems to work. So, in some categories at least, the answer could lie in shorter brand lifecycles. There is no need to stick to one brand and try to keep it afloat when people are looking for new and exciting options.

The solution could well be a short-term approach to brand building that will give marketers a long-term ownership of their consumer segments. Creating brands for a short-term "buzz" effect and then killing them before they become stale could be a viable option. As a marketer or business-owner, if your consumer constantly wants 'the excitement of something new', then give her new brands to flirt with rather than risk losing her totally by boring her with the old.

Consistency is death in some categories. The only kind of consistency, which still holds interest, is in the quality of products. And that is hygiene in most cases. If you can't deliver quality consistently, you are out!

So, how do we evolve along with the consumer and use her flirtatious behaviour to our advantage? By giving her more options and not asking her to be loyal - it is an acknowledgement of her progress.

In fact, more and more brands have been responding by evolving or reappearing in new avatars to appear fresh and yet, familiar. Introducing variations and 'relaunches' are the obvious ways to appear new and more relevant due to tailor-made solutions. The same mother brand offers multiple benefits through different and new variants.

But this is not the ultimate solution. 'New and improved' might generate some interest due to regard for the familiar, but true excitement, hence engagement, is generated by genuinely new and exciting things.

So, what is the way forward for brands from here? There is a need for a new set of brand management skills to cope with this ever changing, ever seeking consumer. But it can't be addressed by the old marketing textbooks and mantras we have become comfortable with. For us to stay ahead, we have to approach it from hitherto unexplored courses. Is your appetite sufficiently whetted? Look out for the next article.

(Sourabh Mishra is a VP and the National Planning Director with Everest Brand Solutions. Natasha Singh is an account planner with Everest's Mumbai office. The views expressed in this article are the authors' and may not necessarily reflect those of their organisation. The authors welcome feedback at sourabh_mishra@ind.dyr.com) 2005 agencyfaqs!