What is activation? How do you define the term? Where did the word first originate? These are some of the questions which initiated the discussion on activating brands in 101 markets and while doing so, getting the balance right between mass advertising and activation. The session, last in the line in the 101 Markets: India beyond the Metros, a day-long seminar organised by afaqs! to highlight the marketing potential and importance of the emerging towns of India, discussed these and lots more. The event was sponsored by STAR Ananda, STAR Majha, Hindustan and Jagran Solutions.
Moderated by Nirmallya Roy Chowdhury, vice-president and branch head, RMG Connect, the session had Ambika Sharma, national head, Jagran Solutions; Sachin Sahay, district manager, north, ITC; and Verghese Chandy, senior general manager, marketing operations, Malayala Manorama Group sharing their insights and instances of various activations.
Roy Chowdhury started the session saying that he first learnt the word activation from the Unilever School which brought it to India.
Sahay replied that essentially, activation is aimed at driving consumption. While other media drive awareness, increasing salience, like they say, the real test of the cooking lies in eating. It essentially boils down to the fact that a brand not only undergoes the phases of trials and adoption but really drives the consumption for any marketer. So from that perspective, activation plays a critical role. However, an important point is that activation alone will not help drive that consumption but distribution has to back it up.
The next question was for Sharma of Jagran Solutions on how marketers looked at activation.
Sharma started with the definition of activation, saying it is brand central and media neutral. For any marketer, any channel that activates the brand with the consumer is activation but in India, the tern activation is used for on-ground activities. However, the definition is fast changing.
The difference between advertising and activation, as Sharma pointed out, is that advertising is one-to-many, while activation's core strength lies in being one-to-one. Activation is all about experiential marketing. Whatever message is conveyed in the advertisement can be delivered to the consumer, explaining the USP and experience of the product, which provides a better knowledge and enables him to choose a product over the competition, fulfilling the role of activation.
The last member on the dais, Chandy, remarked that there is a need to redefine activation while using synergised media options. He also said that more than understanding the nuances of a programme, it is the audience that needs to be understood for any activation to be successful.
Citing an activation executed by Malayala Manorama in Kerala for rainwater harvesting he said, "Kerala, though blessed with abundant rains has a huge shortage of potable water during summer time. We addressed it through our multi media channels, celebrities to talk about the need to rain water harvesting, through street plays, etc. Results have been phenomenal. Today, every new house/flats in Kerala are constructed with rainwater harvesting infrastructure built in. The project got the UNESCO award for best rural communication. It also enhanced the brand equity of Malayala Manorama considerably."
Talking of the difficulties in measuring the returns on money spent on activations in the small town markets of India, Sahay said that unless one has been physically to these markets, it is virtually impossible to recognise the problems or constraints. He also asserted that the current infrastructure is not aiding brand managers and media in any way.
However, given the potential and size of these areas, marketers will just have to think of ways to minimise the cost per reach. Giving an example of ITC's initiative, e-Choupal, he said that one of the ways of doing that would be for brands to "ride a platform that minimises their cost".
When Chowdhury asked him whether an established brand had to work less on its communication and whether it is difficult to dislodge such a brand from its position, Sahay said, "It is not so. Even for a product category such as cigarettes, which people assume is a high-loyalty market, it's not true. Consumers change their brand very often. Relevance of the brand depends on three aspects at one point in time - economic condition of the consumer, his feeling of empathy with a brand and his aspiration."
While a consumer can relate to brand 'A' due to his economic conditions, his aspiration will make him start relating to brand 'B' as soon as his economic condition gets better. That is the tipping point for a brand to start an activation to get that switch. Sahay also shared with the audience that ITC still keeps track of its consumers' changing smoking habits, even though there has long been a ban on cigarette brands' communication.
On the question of whether activation is a one-time act or should there be a frequency coming in to keep top-of-the-mind recall, Sahay remarked that it depends on the product life cycle of a brand. Citing two examples of Colgate and Vivel, an ITC product, he said that Colgate, with its objective of nurturing the category in terms of usage adoption, can from time to time ride a platform like e-Choupal and do school activations to reach its target group in emerging markets of India.
However, for a brand like Vivel, with a need to drive awareness about the brand, activations can't just be a one-time phenomenon but needs to be for a longer period of time - till the brand has a fair share of its consumers.
However, Sharma said that it doesn't matter if it's a one-time activation as long as you get the consumer on-board for the product. There would be other media channels to hand-hold him through the rest of the consumer acquisition cycle. While sometimes it may happen that activations need to be extended as the consumer may require a long time to hand hold him.
Sharma gave the example of a recent activity that Jagran Solutions had handled for Microsoft Go A-Live Challenge. The campaign focussed on increasing the base of email ids. While this campaign started with an initial time frame of two months, it took the agency eight months to complete the consumer acquisition cycle for its client, Microsoft. The result was that they touched base with 71 cities across India and generated 3.5 lakh ids. Through this campaign, the net base of Microsoft increased to 15 per cent.
Sharma also discussed the fact that while it is easy for a mass media campaign to be replicated as it is from the planning desk - during an activation things change quite often. "However, this does not mean that deliverables cannot be controlled during an activation. For that to happen, it is important to understand the insights of consumers in emerging markets of India. The receptiveness of the consumer had to be gauged correctly," she added.
She also said that there are both positives and negatives of dealing with consumers coming from an emerging market vis-à-vis a metro consumer. Amongst negatives is the fact that such a consumer always approaches the information provided to him with suspicion and information needs to be reinforced by some peer group, making word-of-mouth very important in such markets.
However, on the other hand, the uncluttered market provides for a good plus and if brands do not give a negative feedback, it is far easier to convert and keep the consumer with you.
Chowdhury concluded the session by saying that both mass advertisements and activations go hand in hand for a brand to make a space in the market and the right mix could only be achieved through understanding of both media and audience.
In answer to a question from the audience on whether ideas fall flat during execution of an activation, Sharma remarked that while it happens, a good understanding of consumer could minimise that. "Talking to a small town consumer in the same language you use for a metro consumer is not going to work. The understanding and deliverables have to be worked out before you get on-ground with your campaign."
Chandy replied to a question on whether activation alone could support a brand by saying, "That cannot be done. All the media have to be used to get to a consumer - what is important is to get the balance right in that."