afaqs!

Metamorphosis

By Anand Halve , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Marketing | May 08, 2012
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As technology advances rapidly, consumers too are embracing change at the same speed. And they are expecting more.

Think for a moment: How much channel surfing do you think a TV viewer would do, if he had to get up from his seat and go across the room each time he had to switch to a new channel?

Anand-Halve

Choose from: Infrequently / Rarely / Never.

Similarly, once a person has got used to a car with an air conditioner, how likely do you think it is that he will want to travel in a non-air conditioned bus from Mumbai to, say, Pune?

Choose from: Unlikely/Improbable/Are you crazy?

Our expectations and behaviour are changed by our experience. That is, of course, is a self-evident truth - except that there is an added dimension to this 'learning behaviour' that is fascinating. And we are now transferring this learning behaviour across different aspects in our lives. When we experience that one restaurant accepts a credit card, we not only expect other restaurants to accept credit cards, but also expect shoe stores and booksellers and jewellery stores to accept them. When we get used to escalators in malls, we expect escalators in all public spaces.

However, there is something much more far-reaching that is taking place. Our experience of technology is changing our fundamental assumptions about all the elements in the marketing mix. These radical changes will lead to a very different construct of marketing basics in the future. Here are some important new directions.

DNA-Structure

Click, Quick

Once upon a time, there was a phenomenon known as 'booking a trunk call' if you wanted to speak to someone in another city. And there were various species of the trunk call: ordinary, PP (particular person - if that person isn't around, the call is not put through), urgent, lightning and demand (there may well have been others too). Anyone over 45 probably recalls them too. On the other hand, a 10-year old today is blissfully unaware of this historical practice, and without a second thought, direct dials a number on his father's mobile phone to speak to an aunt in Cincinnati.

Likewise, looking at the dozens of models of desktops, laptops, tablets, smart phones and more on display at a Croma store, it is hard to remember that not so long ago, you switched on a computer and used arcane instructions such as 'copy /a alpha.txt + beta.txt gamma.txt' and 'ren c:"Documents and Settings""All Users"Desktopfilex.txt filey.txt'. Today you just drag, drop and swipe icons. Soon, we will merely wiggle our fingers to get devices to do many things, including possibly an item number to the strains of Chikni Chameli.

But these situations were encountered in times when 'technology' was an ingredient of something else. So 'valve technology' in radios - which meant that you switched on a radio and waited patiently for the valves to glow to life - gave way to 'solid state' circuits with transistors, which meant that you could switch on your radio and assault your neighbours' ears with loud music instantaneously. As another example, CRT technology in TV sets gave way to LCD and Plasma technology, and then to HD-TV, Smart TV and 3-D TV technology.

But come the millennium, we began to see technology not as an ingredient, but as something captivating in and of itself. The fact that programmes like Gadget Guru, Tech Toyz and Click exist is due to the fact that we are fascinated by technology per se. Moore's Law (named after Intel co-founder, Gordon Moore) has suggested that technology changes at an increasingly rapid rate, in that 'the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit doubles approximately every 18 months'.

The premise of this article is that our adoption of rapid changes in the world of technology also changes our view as consumers in all areas of our lives. Consider some of the ways in which we are being changed by our interactions with technology; ways that marketers need to think about in the days ahead.

The end of sasta vs achha?

This is possibly the biggest change brought about by our romance with technology. In days gone by, the directly proportional relationship of price vs quality was self-evident. In the '80s, Surf's Lalitaji enunciated the ultimate truth of consumer belief when she said, "Sasti cheez aur achhi cheez me farq hota hai" (Translation: 'there is a (clear) difference between cheap stuff and quality stuff'). However, what happens to our view of this price-quality equation, when we see that, this year, we can get a mobile phone or laptop that is much cheaper and far better than the one we bought last year?

New direction No 1:

Goodbye Lalita-logic, and the end of cheap=poor, expensive=good.

The shrinking cone of time

A second significant transformation is taking place in our concept of 'reasonable speed of service'. As broadband and 3G speeds increase, and we get used to idea of live streaming, our expectations of transaction time change drastically.

If we can download email at super fast rates, and have Google generate zillions of results in fractions of a second, it follows that we want to be able to open a bank account in minutes ... we want the girl at the check-out counter to be able to scan our purchases and print the bill in seconds ... maybe we want to even do the one-minute-waltz in 45 seconds. Could this lie behind the incessant honking at traffic signals when even someone with three grey cells can see that it is not going to achieve anything? Or the irritated expression when your call is not answered immediately?

New direction No 2:

How fast does customer service have to be to match customer expectations and deliver satisfaction at a checkout counter in a store? Or at a check-in counter at an airport.

Reduced attention spans

Following the relentless chain of Einsteinian logic, if time is squeezed, can space be far behind? A reasonable regular-length article used to be about 1,500-2,000 words long (this one is about 1,700 words). But then we were told that was too long for a blog, which should be restricted to 200-300 words.

And then came Twitter, inventing the term 'microblogging' to persuade you to express profound, perspicacious thoughts in 140 characters. And of course there is the literary form known as the status update, which can be even shorter ("Had a falafel ... awesome!"). Does the squeezing of communication into smaller and smaller 'spaces' affect our desire - and perhaps even ability - to absorb lengthy messages? We are already seeing it happen. Once upon a time, a message for an iconic brand was 12 words long: 'Charms is the spirit of freedom. Charms is the way you are.' Now, MTV is content to say it in two words: 'Stay Raw.'

New direction No 3:

In an age of 'micro messaging', how long should brands take to get to the point?

Rate of change leading to expectation of 'Version N.m'

Luxury watches ('Haute Horologie' to the cognoscenti) may be among the few categories in which provenance has any cachet. Otherwise it's mostly about, "what's the next new thing?" Among the concepts born of technology that have become part of everyday language, is the notion of 'versions' and 'generations'.

We encounter a pot pourri of alpha numerals as we follow the arrival of web 3.0, and the Apple iPhone 4S, and Android 4.0 and 3G technology. Perhaps consumers expect new versions of everything, at the same pace. Consider the plethora of new models that automobile brands launch every year. The difference is quite superficial in many ways since, as an engineer told me, the internal combustion engine has remained pretty much the same for 100 years.

Our appetite for new models, being whetted by newer tech specs in operating systems, product versions and software updates, will probably influence the life cycle of products. Zara has already parlayed its rapid rate of new collections into a worldwide super-success.

New direction No 4:

What is the maximum period by which a brand will need to restage or relaunch itself?

The morphogenesis of brands

Finally, there is the rapid morphogenesis of brands that is inevitable when they deal with technology. Changes in technology force brands in those fields to innovate, adapt and evolve - often into new generations that bear scant resemblance to their ancestors. And those that don't morph, die. Kodak is the most recent example. But there have been others such as Grundig, Telefunken, Bush and TDK cassettes. On the other hand, Apple moved from computers to music to phones to TV. Google has moved from search to email to maps to mobile operating systems to mobile phones.

This also indicates the willingness of consumers to accept new initiatives from the same brand, often far removed from the brand's earlier areas of operation. It is perhaps a sign of things to come (if they haven't arrived already) to see Mahindra moving from tractors and utility vehicles to the XUV500 to realty to retail to holidays. Or, for Reliance, a petrochemical company, that became a mobile service that became a supermarket that became a jewellery store and so on.

New direction No 5:

How far will brands stretch their product portfolio?

In sum, in a paraphrase of the words from Genesis 1:27, one could say 'technology shall create consumers in its own image'. In the years ahead, the rate of change of technology will become the "default rate" for change in us as consumers.

Thus I propose Andy Halve's Corollary to Moore's Law: "The number of changes that we will want as consumers in anything and everything we use, will double approximately every 18 months." Welcome to the new calculus of marketing.

Anand Halve is co-founder of Chlorophyll, a brand consultancy. He is an acute observer of developments in brands and communications and a frequent blogger on afaqs.com. His just-released third book, Darwin's Brands, is available online (www.sagepub.in/Web2012/halvefb.htm) and in major bookstores.

To download the PDF version of the article, click here.

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