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IMRB Consumer Portrait 2010: Empowering and engaging the customer

By Poojya Trivedi , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Marketing | March 18, 2010
The symposium saw a communion of big names from the industry

In its third year, IMRB Consumer Portrait, the symposium organised by the market research firm IMRB International, held at the Crowne Plaza, Gurgaon, Delhi on March 17 saw a communion of big names from the industry.

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The theme for this year's session was Consumer Portrait 2010: Power play - coping with assertion, which spoke about the changing behaviour of the consumer and how today's consumers have become more demanding and assertive. R Gowthaman, leader, South Asia, Mindshare, made the opening remarks of the session titled Power Play Communication: Recipient Conflict; other speakers were Kishore Chakraborti, vice-president, McCann Erickson India and Vivek Gupta, senior vice-president, IMRB.

The session focused on the communication strategy, which explored the power equations between different stakeholders such as corporate and customers. It dealt with the importance of the communication message in the era of communication explosion and how to go about communicating the message that consumers will not filter.

Beginning the discussion, Gowthaman gave the perspective of the media agency in the current challenging environment. The topic of his presentation was how to look at communication beyond the purchase of the product. He stated that there is a set of certain and uncertain issues that are currently happening in the market. The set of certain things include the increasing bandwidth, diversity in population, technology convergence and the emergence of digital generation.

The uncertain things, on the other hand, include privacy, which has gone for a toss and the speed of change is so fast that what was relevant yesterday is no more important now. He said, "None of us have any control on what is being communicated and the attention is getting fragmented."

He added that the segments are getting consolidated; marketers today cannot just focus on one target group. "The first concern is that access is fluid (with the growing use of mobile phone and the Internet) as well as fixed (via TV sets) and how, in this scenario, we can address the addressability of an individual," he observed. He also emphasised on the popularity of user generated content and word of mouth, which has become the most sought after communication message. With the growing use of social networking websites, SMSes and other user created content, consumers are more active and connected to each other. "Therefore, it is not about the volume but about effectiveness of communication," added Gowthaman.

"Marketers are moving away from the traditional communication such as jingles and are moving towards a dynamic culture where they can create a connect with the consumer," Gowthaman said on the changing role of media in the industry. He ended the session by asking whether CRM is the way forward.

Chakraborti spoke on consumer empowerment, which has become the new trend. He cited various examples such as Vodafone's Power to You and Aircel's Boat campaign and said, "Today, even the middle class understands that they can become a hero or a role-model and companies understand that, too. The companies are doing whatever it takes to make the consumers empowered and create a connect," said Chakraborti. He added that today, consumers want variety, so instead of 90 second commercials, there are 90 commercials that provide the needed change to the consumer and keep them engaged, such as Vodafone's Zoozoo ads.

He cited the example of Aircel's Boat campaign, that involved installing an inflated boat in Mumbai, which could be used in case of floods. He said that such empowerment connects with consumers and stays with them. He also gave the example of Axe, the grooming product for men by HUL.

"In our patriarchal society, women are programmed to take rejection but men are not. That is what Axe has focused on. It says 'If you do not want to be rejected, you should use Axe ' - and that is empowering the men."

Chakraborti also spoke about the growing trend of companies getting into CSR activities. "Today, every company is doing some sort of marketing campaign, but soon the novelty of this will go away and CSR will become a brand hygiene," he added, saying that this would also saturate in future and companies would have to look for other ways to engage with their customers.

He spoke about the importance of brand communication in the process, saying, "From 'Sabse Safed' positioning, Surf Excel now tells its customer that 'Daag achche hain', because now it is no more about buying power but about giving the freedom to the consumer to do what they want."

He also talked about the emergence of a new kind of brand ambassadors, such as the Zoozoos, that allow consumers to relate and connect with them and with each other, unlike the celebrity brand ambassadors. However, he questioned, "All this is good, but are we really empowering consumers because there are still hate-sites which are flooded with comments. If that is the situation, companies still have something to worry about. The day a brand or company is able to provide what the consumer wants, the consumer will become the brand ambassador for the brand," he concluded.

The last spokesperson for the day was Gupta, who gave a comparative report on two popular ads of recent times, the Save the Tigers campaign by Aircel and Idea's Save the Trees campaign. He talked about the impact the two ads have created on consumers, with different executions.

As per a survey conducted by IMRB, the average engagement levels for the two campaigns were comparable, but the effect of providing concrete solutions considerably dropped in the case of the Tiger campaign. The reason he cited for the drop was that there was no action a consumer could take in order to prevent the killing of the animal, whereas in the case of Save our Trees campaign, consumers could take actions to stop wasting the paper.

"Testimonials and monologues tend to get boring after a point, whereas story-telling stays with the consumer. So, people could relate more to the Idea ad than the Aircel ad," Gupta said. He added, "Marketers' control on the Aircel campaign is not restricted, it is up to the consumers to take it forward and consumers do not know how to contribute towards it, even if they feel passionately about it."

He also spoke about the tonality of the ads. He said ads with positive tone are likely to grab more attention than the ads with negative tone.

Ideas that are currently trendy, such as empowering customers and marketing the company's CSR activities to involve consumers, will saturate after sometime and marketers will have to look for more ways to create a connect and engage their customers. The session ended on the note that marketers will have to keep exploring various ways to engage their customers.