How different can you get?

By Ashwini Gangal , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Marketing | April 04, 2011
On the second day of the 11th CII Marketing Summit, experts discussed the challenge of differentiating one's offering in the world of services marketing.

On Day Two of the CII (Confederation of Indian Industry) Summit, held at The Lalit Intercontinental Hotel, Mumbai, experts discussed the issue of how one can best differentiate one's offering in the services industry.

The panel comprised Suresh Kumar, chief executive officer, Fortune Park Hotels, Ashish Bhatia, regional director, Fortis Healthcare, Suresh Mahalingam, managing director and chief executive officer, Tata AIG Life, and Siddharth Roy Kapur, chief executive officer, UTV Motion Pictures. Arvind Sharma, chairperson, Leo Burnett India, moderated the session. Each panellist made an individual presentation.

The discussion ranged from addressing what's different about the services industry, to what professionals in the services industry can do to differentiate their service amidst similar service offerings.

Marketing of Financial Services

Mahalingam, who spoke mainly about financial services marketing, began by stating some facts; he reminded the panel that financial service brands have the task of gaining consumers' acceptance. This task is even more crucial in present times (after the economic liberalisation) as consumers today have high disposable incomes and are thus in a position to refuse what's being offered to them.

Speaking specifically about the financial services segment, Mahalingam said, "All three financial services - banking, asset management and life insurance - are money-related and highly regulated. Thus, from a customer's perspective, transparency is a must."

He added that in this space, what differentiates one service from other similar ones in the market is a genuine and humane concern for the customers' well-being. "Trust is a crucial differentiator; from a service point of view, reliability, responsiveness and ease of availability comprise trust," said Mahalingam.

Regarding competition in the financial services segment, Mahalingam continued, "As far as life insurance offerings go, it is important to de-mystify the 'risk aspect' in the minds of customers. People tend to harbour notions of invincibility and fate - these are the true competitors for a life insurance brand."

In the financial servicing industry, there is no product as such to show; there's merely a promise to be delivered. This is why it is not about fantastic advertising or hard-hitting communication. Rather, marketing in this space is more about differentiating the service.

"The intangible needs to be perceived as tangible - this is the key differentiator," Mahalingam asserted, adding that in the midst of many similar services, one way to differentiate and make the intangible into tangible was by capturing the active imagination of the consumer.

He concluded his presentation by sharing a couple of examples of service-related brands that have successfully differentiated themselves in this manner, including National Westminster (NatWest) in the UK (which publishes its customer complaints twice a year!) and The Taj Group of Hotels (which put the customer before all else during the tragic terrorist attack).

Kumar from Fortune Park Hotels took over and discussed the nature of service marketing. "Since there is no product to offer to customers - only an intangible service - there is no ownership, only a feeling of satisfaction that people can take back. This feeling is perishable and since a lot depends on the customer's perception, it is heterogeneous. In this market, the product and the service can't be separated."

He went on to educate the audience about the three 'R's of service marketing - Relationship, Retention and Recovery. Talking about the 'Relationship' factor, he said that there's a lot to learn from vegetable hawkers, barbers, postmen and newspaper delivery boys as they all customise their services and maintain relationships for generations on end.

Kumar laid stress on retaining old customers and rectifying inevitable errors in service with 'Retention' and 'Recovery'.

Marketing of Medical Services

Speaking specifically about marketing of healthcare services, Bhatia of Fortis Healthcare brought to notice a few interesting points. "We're not used to seeing the healthcare industry as a business," he said. Profit, apparently, still has negative connotations in the world of healthcare and it is deemed immoral and unethical to advertise one's healthcare professionals.

"This," Bhatia said, "is despite the fact that the doctor of one hospital is the biggest differentiator in comparison to the doctors of other hospitals." Owing to this perception, it becomes difficult for professionals in this segment to market their services and reach out to people. A potential solution, he shared, is to educate the referral doctor (doctor who referred the patient to the hospital) about the merits of the hospital so that he/she can market the services of that hospital.

Bhatia went on to explain why the healthcare service is unique amongst service industries. "It's a service where you don't invite your customer (patient) back!" he stated, adding that in this service, there is no room for error. Bad reputation (via the medium of word-of-mouth), he said, can undo years of brand building. Even the healthcare customer, he reminded, is unique as he/she is stressed, full of queries and comes with prior knowledge regarding his/her ailment, thanks to the information available on the internet.

Though he doesn't subscribe to 'medical tourism', on a related note, Bhatia concluded that one area in which the West scores over India is the detailed manner in which doctors communicate information to their patients.

In Movie Marketing, Content is King

Kapur of UTV Motion Pictures spoke about marketing of television shows and movies. Staying true to the content was his mantra. "The content is the message," he said, "So, it is important to draw on the content itself while marketing TV shows and movies. This is very different from the kind of marketing used for brands that are regular products (such as detergents), where marketing involves an additional layer of communication."

He shared the example of the movie Rang De Basanti, which was apparently marketed not as an Aamir Khan film, but as a film about a group of youngsters. This was done because the marketing needed to stay as close to the content of the film as possible.

Sharma summed up by reiterating that when it comes to marketing of services, the most important aspect is living up to customers' expectations, maintaining consistency in the delivery of one's services, delivering what is promised, and creating differentiation for one's service.

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