Thursday, December 29, 2011

Brand Trends 2011 and a Prognosis for 2012


Slow Down India

By Harish Bijoor

The year 2011 is wrapped up. All wrapped up on a cold January morning. Ready to be buried. It’s time to take stock of what went into it in marketing terms. What then were the trends that defined the calendar year 2011 in marketing and brand terms?

Here goes.
1. WATCH OUT! Activism is up:

This is a trend that is going to define marketing and branding in the years to come. The Anna Hazare anti-corruption movement in India, and indeed across the Indian diaspora, has set a trend all in itself for the marketer to watch, and watch out for. Activism is in. At this point of time this activism is all about an anti-corruption movement aimed at the politician and bureaucrat class at large.

Watch it spread to every terrain there is. Activism and consumer watch movements will now spread to corporate governance and surveillance in terms of corporate corruption, and corporate greed.

Watch it spread even wider in coming years then. Activism is a bug. A positive bug for sure. Watch it spread to activism in the terrain of wealth. Watch it become a movement that questions big wealth in the hands of a few versus no wealth in other hands at all. Activism in this space will question the possession of big cars versus small. Activism in this space will question every bit of flaunt. Activism in this space will indulge in audits of rich personas and what they wear, what they eat, what they use as accessories and what they spend on a single meal even.

In the immediate year ahead, expect consumer activism movements to gain traction. The marketer better prepare for this with transparent mechanisms. You might as well expect an RTI kind of legislation in the space of the brands and businesses you run and manage. Ouch!

2. E-commerce is the silent market-maker:

If in the year 2010, Multi-level marketing firms such as Amway were the silent market makers who gained big volumes and big acceptance in Indian homes, in the year 2011, it was the e-commerce outfit on the prowl.

VC moneys flowed into the terrain like vodka and whisky on New Year’s Eve we have just been through. Ideators and promoters of the e-commerce venture therefore went berserk burning money on the track to consumer stardom. Big successes were noted in the terrain with outfits in B2C commerce such as Flipkart, Home Shop 18, Yebhi, and their cousins in the C2C commerce such as eBay try every trick in the marketing book to reach out to distant markets urban, rurban and rural alike.

Cash-on-delivery (COD) worked miracles for the category. The Indian who largely distrusts credit card payments found comfort-space in paying at the doorstep for orders placed on the Internet. It’s a different matter that as much as 16% of all such orders are rejected at the door-step and the only guy who makes money on this entire transaction is the courier-agency which makes money twice over.

At the end of all this e-commerce evangelism at play, one big trend has emerged. India is today a level-playing field for all marketers. If you tie up with the right kind of e-commerce outfit, you will be able to reach distant markets, which you have ignored thus far. Distribution to rural markets is not such a big issue today for relatively higher value products such as microwave ovens, mobile phones and even cosmetics. Just tie up with an e-commerce portal, and sit back and enjoy.

This space saw the proliferation of group-buying sites as well. Localized and globalised outfits even. Snapdeal, Taggle, SoSasta and 94 others to be precise. Many folded up as well. Quick exits, as the category has inherent inconsistencies, which are yet to be attended to.

3. Telecom confused: 2G to Where Ji?:

If there is one consumer category that looked totally confused this year, it was telecom. Most of the biggies were still battling boardroom, parliamentary-committee room and courtroom woes in the wake of the 2G spectrum allocation issues.

3G came in, but everything seemed tepid. Telecom-service-provider marketers continued their advertising binges and splurged on creatives that kept the interest alive. Handset makers found themselves in a tizzy with market-shares getting re-defined drastically this year. The biggies were no longer the biggies. The smaller ones were struggling to make their bottom-lines look good, even as their top-lines boomed. The big issue at hand: sustainability. Telecom Darwinism is round the corner guys. The big ones will win and the small ones will struggle to survive.

Mobile number portability came in, the DND register got activated, smart-phones were a rage, VAS gained traction, green-tech saw investments and rural mobility was looked at with little more keenness. And despite it all, the category remained tepid and trends in the category are a bit amorphous for the moment.

4. Brands nudge health:

Brands continued to nudge the health bandwagon this year as well. Green tea became the biggest hit in political circles all over the country. Even government offices started offering green tea to visitors. And if it was a special visitor, the 'babu' offered honey with it as well, drawn out from the upper drawer of his desk. Wow!

Big opportunities spotted by the product category of tea, the category of honey, the category of Oats and the Services category of Yoga (of every avatar), meditation, gymnasiums and more. Wait for lots more of this in the years to come.

5. A De-branded India:

India got de-branded badly this year. Despite robust numbers on the GDP growth rates side of dynamics (which itself got scaled down dramatically) and despite the large consumer market we remain, issues such as corruption catapulted the nation into the active mind-set of a world audience. Corporate gurgles and noises of shifting investments to other parts of the world did its bit as well. Add to it a one-step-forward and one-step-backward attitude of the government at large, as witnessed on the FDI in retail issue, has India a bit on its back-foot.

But, as I keep saying, India is an idea whose time has come. Nothing can stop it. So watch out as every sector booms despite all this de-branding.

6. In the face:

Even as India as a country was a bit on the back-foot, Indians went places in the world scenario. 19 newly anointed CEO’s of large-format global companies were Indians. Shahrukh Khan roped in Akon for 'Chamak Challo', Lady Gaga was in India for the F1 show, Paris Hilton launched her bags in India, Tom Cruise came cruising by for the Mission Impossible launch, Snoop Dog was spotted with Akshay Kumar and Sunny Leone was a porn-star Indians loved to watch on Bigg Boss. Bollywood went went places.
India went viral as well as ‘Kolaveri Di’ hit 19 Million plus Youtube downloads and 'Jalebi Bai' replaced Shiela and Munni of 2010 with a raunchier visual than even Vidya Balan of The Dirty Picture fame.


And what do I see to be the one big trend for 2012?

I would wager a bet on the “Slow-down India” movement. At this point of time, working Indian is a bit too keyed up. There is just too much pressure in our living and working environment. Schools kids are pressurized to perform, college students are on a suicide spree, working adults are working both ends of their butts off.

The one big trend I would push for would be a campaign to slow-down India. This trend will then have ‘slow-food’ outlets emerge in our metros where you eat slowly, and enjoy the value of every morsel. The ‘slow-down’ Indian movement could be one adopted by companies to incorporate in their brand themes as well. If Tata Tea’s campaign of yore was all about “Jaago India Jaago”, with a more awake India today, Vodafone’s 2012 campaign could be a “Slow down India” campaign.

The slow-down movement is essential for India as we emerge the capital of diabetes in the world, the capital of hypertension and a strong contender for the cholesterol capital of the world. As life-style diseases of every kind hit us and as Corporate India experiences it all first hand amidst its own employees, this is an idea whose time has come!
Royalties welcome for this idea.
A Happy New Marketing year 2012 then! Slow down guys!
Harish Bijoor is a business strategy specialist and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc. @harishbijoor