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A Brand New World - The New Question
A Brand New World - The New Question
By: Lakshmikant Gupta

“Authored by Lakshmikant Gupta - Chief Marketing Officer , LG Electronics India. This article is originally published here".  

We like to milk it!

When change happens, when new things start happening in the market, what do we do? Most often we think, “How can we get a piece of that action? How can I use that opportunity to sell more, earn more profit, get more visibility, etc?”

Guess what? We’re not the only ones thinking this. So it follows that if every company and brand is making a beeline for the same opportunity, we go from one cluttered place to another. In the end we end up saturating every new opportunity with a sameness that can only create blind spots for consumers. We did it with radio, we did it with TV and print media, we did it with malls and now we’re doing it with the digital medium. We’ve done it with products too, and the lesser said about pricing the better!

Inbuilt into the old way of doing things is the notion that I can take my existing practices, tweak them a bit, and apply it to a new scenario. For example, this is what most are doing with banner advertising in internet display media – take you print ad or key visual, slap on a headline and put it up. Or, the newest bandwagon – Social Media. Start a fanpage, and bombard whatever fans you get with product stories, and oh yes! give them greetings on Independence day and supply tidbits on the latest happenings in India vs. Sri Lanka test match. Or, take the promo idea that worked last year and create a new one with an additional 0% finance scheme!

All of these are assume one thing – the immortality of a previous idea. The notion that we have discovered all the tricks of marketing and the same ones can be successfully employed in all situations. Fact is, many old ideas are way past their use-by dates, and new situations will require brand new ideas.

The New Question

What is a better way to differentiate when the same opportunity presents itself to every brand? Going through the blogs of Seth Godin, I chanced upon the “New Question”. Instead of asking how we can exploit that opportunity, we should ask, “How does this advancement undermine or threaten my current model of doing things, and require me to build a new way?”

The basic assumption that a marketer must make is that the medicine that works today will expire tomorrow. This takes courage because many ongoing successful methods are difficult to let go of. But think about it. A bookseller and CD & DVD store has to compete with Amazon.com where customers cannot physically hold the product or browse it. Youtube.com is the second largest search engine. More than 2 billion searches were being done for mobile phones on Google in India last year. More Indians watch videos on Youtube than watch Discovery channel, or ZEE News or NDTV India, to name a few. Today consumers can complain to you and at the same time broadcast it to 1000 followers that she is unhappy with you. The list could go on!

In each of these situations, could we apply the practices of 1990’s or even of 2010? We have to challenge our existing knowledge and practices. These phenomena are happening for the first time, and require new approaches. The moment we re-think the problem in terms of a threat to the existing model, we are forcing ourselves to develop newer, stronger models which can be customised to fit into the new world. A round peg for a round hole!

How do these changes manifest themselves?

The shopping behavior of the urban consumer has changed to researching everything online. They will not accept the company’s word for anything. All that our display advertising on internet can do is to keep us visible and in consideration. But the balance of power has shifted toward neutral sources and “show me for me to believe it”. Giving a great experience to consumers during the search process has therefore become as important as delivering the product benefit. A new model has to be worked out that guides consumers, shows them how their lives can be benefitted, and of course re-invent the store experience to create that switch-factor. None of this is possible if we foist our previous successful practices to this new order of things.

 Let’s look at what is colloquially called Facebook Marketing. With more than 40 million Indians on FB, almost every known and unknown brand has a fanpage. But most of their content is plugging the brand and their products. Let us ask the question: Why are these millions on FB? Are they members of this community because they want to talk to brands or because they want to be around friends? Seen in this context, the attempt by brands to piggyback on the trend looks woefully inadequate.

Brands that have reinvented their communication to suit their consumers’ core need from the platform will invariably benefit more. Have a look at fanpages of Pepsi, MTV, LG to see how conventional communication approach has been challenged. These go beyond product and marketing pitch to engage, entertain and inform consumers. These then generate genuine interactions instead of impressions; conversations instead of message delivery; brand love rather than mere preference.

Have we seen this in action?

Recently a phenomenal music release happened. It’s a single called “Why This Kolaveri Di”. In a country obsessed with music and film stars, it was a milestone event for three reasons. Firstly, this song was released only on Youtube with no CD or mp3 in the market. Second, it generated more than a million views within 3 days of release purely on word of mouth. Third, despite it being a song from Tamil artists, the buzz spread to all regions of India, with North Indians liking it and discussing it on FB, Twitter as much as South Indians. It was featured even on a national TV news channel!

In an industry beleaguered by piracy and losses, where people freely exchange songs on mp3, where more people watch videos than listen as connoisseurs, here is a case of someone changing the model to deliver a hit. The new world order was used to re-examine and debunk existing practices. In the process, consumers felt refreshed and invigorated enough to generate that entire buzz themselves.

The New Question approach applies to product strategy as well. Recently one of the biggest booksellers, the 95 year old company Barnes and Noble launched Nook, a tablet to compete with Kindle. As they probably learnt from Amazon and the plethora of e-readers in the market, while selling from their website and brick and mortar stores, the only way to sustain the business well into the future would be to challenge the old selling model, and rejig the strategy as per the buying and reading habits of their customers. Previously, the company had shown vision by being the first to open Starbucks cafes inside their stores to help browsing customers spend more time in their stores, as well as providing Wi-fi service inside their shops since 2004.

These are the new and refreshing practices that keep a 95 year old brand relevant despite changing times. These would never happen unless someone asked the question of how do changing times threaten my current model. I would keenly watch the Nook development to see how Barnes & Noble manage the new age for growth.

To conclude a rather long post…

If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, the cliché goes. But with each new scenario managers must fluently evolve their practices to brand new ones. No expert predicted the rise of Google or Facebook, or the demise of Myspace and Orkut. But in these cases lie the answers – that the threat to our existing models is not from outside, but from our own resistance to give them up.