World Brand Congress 2009: Surrender to the consumer

By Biprorshee Das , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Marketing | November 05, 2009
In a panel discussion on marketing amid the economic downturn, experts emphasised the need for marketers to pay more attention to consumers and ensure two-way communication between the consumer and the marketer

While the world is busy being optimistic about the global economy, one can be sure that talks of lessons from the recent economic meltdown will remain the flavour of the season.

In a panel discussion on the first day of the World Brand Congress 2009 in Mumbai, experts from the media, advertising and corporate spheres discussed better marketing in troubled economic conditions.

& #BANNER1 & #KV Sridhar, national creative director, Leo Burnett India; Aditya Nath Jha, head, global branding and corporate marketing, Infosys; Ishan Raina, chief executive officer, OOH Media; and Shantanu Bhanja, vice-president, marketing, Hindustan Times were on the panel, in a discussion titled 'Beyond Conventional Marketing Especially in an Economic Downturn'.

Raina began the discussion, saying that organisations must encourage youngsters to think beyond the usual.

"All organisational hierarchy is designed for control and not creativity. Traditionally, all such hierarchy is based on the models of the army and church," Raina said, speaking of hindrances to "thinking out of the box".

"One knows if the army begins to think out of the box, it will spell disaster," he added, suggesting that stringent rules do not facilitate free thinking.

Raina said that it is important to accept that failure is inevitable, but one must never lose self-belief.
"The first thing about being unusual is having the right to fail. Most organisations that do unusual things have people who are talented and have belief," he explained.

Sridhar followed Raina and began his speech on a lighter vein, saying that he was "innocently ignorant" and knew little about economics.

In his presentation, Sridhar spoke of how companies acted in different ways in the recent recessionary times.

The first group, he said, were the ones who went ahead with their spending and other plans, unperturbed. Sridhar cited companies such as Tata Capital, Aircel, Videocon, Godrej and Coke, which showed courage in trying times and got deserving results.

The second group, according to Sridhar, held back and cut down on their spending, and their losses were noticeable. In this category, he used examples of the retail and real estate sectors, and direct-to-home television service providers.

The third group comprised those who realised that the solution did not lie in cutting back, but spending innovatively.

As examples, Sridhar spoke of Levi's Jeans that began selling their jeans on easy monthly instalments, a first-of-its-kind campaign for apparel in India. Other Indian examples he cited included the World Gold Council, which encouraged investment in gold with the assurance of 100 per cent buyback; and retail giants such as Big Bazaar, which came up with innovative sales and discounts.

Sridhar also used international examples to drive home the point of innovative marketing. He spoke of James Ready Beer, which, in a bid to sell its beer for as low as $1, invited consumers to 'bid for their billboards'. Consumers could share their own pictures on the billboards that advertised the beer brand, thereby sharing the company's advertising costs.

He also spoke of Hyundai's initiative, wherein the automobile company assured customers that they could return their cars and get the full amount back, if they lost their job.

Bhanja was the next to speak. In his speech, he spoke of how Hindustan Times revamped itself, keeping the readers in mind.

"HT is a brand that is re-launched every morning. We decided that the newspaper must not be only about news, but telling why something happened and its impact on the readers' lives," Bhanja said.

He added that with blogs and content on the internet and social networking sites, Hindustan Times is not just a newspaper; it has moved from one-way communication to two-way communication with the readers.

"In times of downturn, we thought we should go out and connect with the consumer. So that when revival happens, we are much better poised," Bhanja said.

He also spoke of the importance of connecting with the youth. "We understand that the youth of today do not consume news like before. They catch up through the internet, mobile phones and RSS feeds," said Bhanja.

Jha was the final speaker of the session, who began by stating that the problem is not with recession, which is just a phenomenon that comes and goes. The problem, according to Jha, is to know how to sustain in such conditions.

"The key to sustenance is how one connects with consumers," said Jha.

He spoke of the five trends that he thinks will change marketing.

The first trend is the shift from marketers informing consumers to engaging them. "Traditionally, marketers 'informed' consumers. Today with technology, marketers and consumers can engage each other," said Jha.

The second trend is the rising significance of a "company brand" rather than just a "product brand".

The third trend is that now, marketers are increasingly being "found" by consumers from various sources, as opposed to the traditional ways, when marketers chased consumers. "If you, as a marketer, are not willing to be found, you are doomed," Jha said.

He said that it is becoming increasingly important to listen to consumers. "The fourth shift is from 'shouting' to 'listening'. It is extremely important for marketers to listen to what the consumers are talking about. It is a unique feedback system," said Jha.

The final trend, Jha observed, is that everything now is measurable and accountable, which facilitates correction of mistakes.

As closing comments for the session, Jha said that it is time one surrenders to the consumers and accepts that they are the most powerful.

Raina had the last word. "Go to the consumer. Jo dikhega vahi bikega."

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