At B-school, our marketing professor cautioned us against the sins a marketer must not commit. In his Seven-Deadly-Sins-like list for marketing, the deadliest was something he labeled the 'Mahapaap' of Marketing - a marketer creating demand but failing to fulfill it.
So while Amazon sold over 100 million items on the back of its Prime Day shopping frenzy, millions of eager shoppers jostling to enter during its opening hours caused a server outage, not unlike shoppers of yore bringing down doors. The good Professor, Mr. Neelakantan, may have described this Prime Day outage as a 'Mahapaap'... but is it really so?
Whenever I go home, to Bombay, I eat sandwiches at a particular roadside stall. If you visit the stall late, say 10:30 pm, it's unlikely you will find their special cheese chilly toast; they would have run out of it by then. The fact that the sandwich runs out quickly, paradoxically adds to its allure. By nature, humans crave for things in short supply; the lack of something, ironically fuels our hunger for it. If you were to think of this in terms of the classical demand-supply curve, a sweet spot lies just under the intersection - where supply is slightly under demand. Here's where demand becomes desire. Marketing magic happens here, where you are not simply servicing demand but satisfying desire. It offers pricing power, potentially higher margins with lower discounts... and builds an inexplicable sheen on the brand.
Of course, this is not necessarily true for all product categories, especially where consumer involvement and cost of switching brands is low. And it goes without saying that brand and product propositions need to be robust and of value to the consumer; after all, soda bubbles don't last long.
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Hence, media reports of the Amazon Prime Day outage may have fueled even more consumer desire and frenzy. Stories of Prime Day offers were so good that the website crash may have drawn more consumers to log in - and they may have ended up buying something they didn't really need. The Prime Day outage may not have been a 'Mahapaap', after all. It appears as through there is merit in what some call 'artificially created scarcity'.
In the automotive business, a short waiting time for a particular model or variant or colour, may add to the allure of a brand or product - from the times of the Fiat Uno to the Ford Ecosport (ahem, subtle brand plug warning). Of course, the waiting time mustn't be too long! Consumers now demand to know how long it will be, else he or she will simply move on to something else.
Can getting to this sweet spot be engineered? Predicting demand becomes critical in industries with perishable products or in the case of complex manufacturing-based industries that have a long lead time/long-tail of suppliers that give the requisite components. Unlike football, with its zoo-full of predictors (an octopus to a hippopotamus to a parakeet), companies deploy advanced analytics and modeling techniques to predict consumer demand in order to keep production in tune with it. With consumers increasingly using the internet for research and purchase, many predictive models now involve signals and digital trails left by netizens.
Newspaper reports of 'wait times' on some products and massive discounts on others indicate that this job - crystal ball gazing, say some - is becoming increasingly difficult in a world that's described as VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous).
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The mathematics helps marketers be better prepared. But instances of supply being just under demand - getting to the sweet spot - may be serendipitous, evolving from supply constraints intercepting unprecedented desire from consumers who see value in a genuinely good product/brand.
Marketing continues to be both science and art. The science helps project demand while it's only the art that can stoke desire. And desire is innately human and the greatest brands are built on it. Ignoring this may perhaps be the only greatest sin... the only real 'Mahapaap' of marketing.
(The author is General Manager - Consumer Marketing, Ford India. His message to readers: "The opinions expressed in this post are my own and other such disclaimers.")
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