Friday, May 04, 2012

Modern Retail and Integrity Branding

The Chicken and Egg of Retail

By Harish Bijoor

As we get excited with every data bit and byte that hits at us on the front of the Indian economy at large, and the emergence of modern retail as the ‘manna from heaven’ solution  that promises to tie up an efficient supply-chain that links the deprived back-end to the craving front end of Indian consumers on a consumption  spree, we forget something basic.

Yes, India is growing. Yes, the prognosis says that India will be a USD 7 Trillion economy by 2020. Yes, we will be the third largest economy after China(which will incidentally be at the USD 16 Trillion number in 2020) and the US(at USD 21 Trillion!)
And yes, the latest census proudly tells us that we are all of 1.21 Billion people now.  And yes, the spending power of the Indian is on the morph. But, as I have already said, we keep forgetting something basic.

The basic then: Indian retail is chasing the Western dream a bit too much by rote. If at all Indian retail needs to be relevant, original and innovative in terms of appeal to the Indian at large, we need to be different. Different on the one acid-test scale that every human being looks at the buying, selling and intermediation process at large. With Integrity.

In the several marketing summers I have lived, fought, sweated and thrived, there is one insight that has held me in good stead.  This is the insight of Integrity branding.

Integrity branding is all about saying the simple truths in your brand communication process. Stick to the tone and tenor of integrity and you can’t do no wrong!

Let me look at it in a manner of detailing the concept at hand. The point is simple. All consumers are essentially truth seeking animals. Yes, all of us lie in some small manner or the other. These are really the small lies that make the fabric of our modern day lives. Small lies that ward off the inconvenience of a lie-less society.

Despite all these small lies, we are essentially truth seeking as consumers. When you buy a toothpaste, you expect honesty out of the entire exercise. The consumer-brand interaction process is a relationship. A relationship quite like the many relationships we go through in our social lives.

When you get into a relationship with a member of the opposite sex, or let me be politically correct and say member of the same sex even, you expect just one primary thing out of the relationship. The truth. There is no relationship you get into expecting dishonesty and the lack of integrity.

Very simply put, consumers get into brand relationships based on the expectation of the truth. But does she get it? And how much of it? And how frequently so?

My belief is that the brand that offers the most of the truth most of the time in this continuous relationship is the one that succeeds. The brand that fails on this count is an utter failure right away, or on the path of a self-fulfilling prophesy of doom round the corner.

Let me illustrate this with an example. Let me choose my favorite gourmet table bird for this example, the chicken! Let me take three of them.

There are really three chickens in our marketing lives. And remember, all of us are marketing people, since there are only two kinds of people in the world. The “marketing person”, who markets to others. And the “marketed-to person” at the other end!

Imagine three chickens out there. Each of the chickens is a manufacturer and a marketer. Each of the chickens has done something they are very good at. Each has laid an egg. And each of the eggs looks alike.

Each of the marketer chickens takes a different path to market their respective eggs.

There is the first chicken, which I call the “Shy chicken”. This chicken looks at the egg it has laid and finds the product quality to be all of 100. It then stands up, looks at the target audience of potential consumers and whispers with a decibel of shout that is at best 2 on a scale of 100.

This chicken’s whisper is heard by very few of those in the target audience. Even those who hear of it, hear it as a faint whisper. The promise offered by the whisper is just 2 on a scale of 100. Those few who hear the whisper actually come to see the egg, lured often by the under-shout that creates quite a bit of mystery in the consumer at hand.

When the few consumers actually arrive to see the product, there is great joy. The consumer expectation of 2 is rewarded with a delivery of 100. The positive strokes offered in this purchase is +98. The negative of this approach of course is the fact that it scores very low on consumer awareness scores.

Look at the second chicken then. This is what I call the “honest chicken”. This chicken looks at the target audience and shouts out the product offer with a shout level of decibel 100. The shout quality is equal to that of product quality.

The pros of this approach is apparent. Awareness scores are good. Everyone has heard that the chicken has an egg to offer. But there is a problem here. Consumers do not necessarily respect honest chickens. When the consumer has heard the full story, he does not want to see the egg at all. There is just no mystery. Only a few arrive to see the egg, and these are the only ones who actually need an egg. And when they arrive, they expect 100 and get 100. No positive strokes and no negative. The potential of a buy is low as well.

The third chicken is waiting. This chicken finds the competition hot. This chicken gets onto the rooftop and shouts with a decibel value 400. The darned chicken has laid an egg but shouts as if it has laid an asteroid! The awareness scores are terrific. The entire town lands up to look at the phenomena. The expectation is 400. The delivery is 100. There is a negative stroke quotient of -300. And nobody buys!

All these three chickens and their respective approaches are out there for the marketer to choose from. Each of us makes this choice every living day. There are variations available in the gamut of 0-400 in terms of shout levels. Different marketers choose differently.

But guess what, the chicken that shouts with a decibel of 80 is the one that succeeds the most. Also, after 400 what? Back to a decibel of 2. In a market where everyone is shouting at 400, the one chicken which whispers the least is the one that is heard and trusted the most.

Think about it. Which chicken are you as a marketer? And which chicken are you as a working person? And which chicken are you as a person living in a family of your own?

The author is a brand-domain specialist and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc., a consulting practice with presence in the markets of Hong Kong, Dubai, UK and India.
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