30 September 2006

A hot job market

India is the next destination for the world. And, it’s not just in tourism or business process outsourcing or in finding consumers for foreign brands, although India has plenty to offer in all these areas as well. The thing is, India is opening up as a huge job market for global talent. Gone are the days when Indians moved overseas for jobs as doctors, engineers, teachers and software professionals. Indian companies, particularly the technology firms, are now hiring foreign nationals at various levels in their organisations.

It started not too long ago, with the Indian IT sector opening up offices globally and hiring local talent to address local needs. It made perfect sense, but, for India, that meant foreign talent on foreign land. With phenomenal growths in software consulting and business process outsourcing in India, and consequent job losses in their own countries, many foreigners turned to India as prospective employees, along with many Indians returning home with a similar hope. After all, India was hiring in large numbers. It made sense to translocate to India, even if it was for a couple of years.

Today, the picture looks brighter. Opportunities have opened up not only in Indian companies, but also in foreign companies moving jobs to India. This includes jobs in the technology sector, financial services, management consulting, healthcare services and media. Apart from offering low-talent electronic back-office jobs in BPOs, India is looking for high-skilled high-profile talent from the world. The good news is that India promises to pay well (well, not exactly at par perhaps, but…) and, thanks to Indian companies becoming global, offer business and management environments comparable to the best in the world.

So what if the heat and hygiene are serious issues, and the food too spicy for the palate, if you have talent and can speak/write in English, you’re likely to find your next job in India.

29 September 2006

How the West won

An executive plugs in his iPod on his way to work. A housewife takes her kids to McDonald’s for a birthday party. An auto-rickshaw driver stops to answer a call on his Nokia mobilephone. A teenager strolls into her college in her Nike and Levi’s. A schoolboy rushes home to play with his Microsoft Xbox 360. A family spends a day at the mall, loading their brand new Chevrolet with bagfuls of stuff before returning home to watch a DVD on their Sony system.

These scenes mark India’s changing urban lifestyle. India’s consumer culture is growing at a phenomenal pace, with its urban centres virtually exploding in a retail boom. Cities like Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai are leaping ahead of the rest, flooding the market with branded goods and services. The rest is not too far behind.

This growth is, of course, due to India’s acclaimed IT sector, servicing the world with software and IT-enabled services, creating tens of thousands of well-paying jobs every year. Not to be outdone, pharmaceuticals as well as financial and healthcare services are gearing up, with smaller industries like fashion, gold jewellery and diamonds emerging as highly-favoured players in the global market. The clientele for these industries is unquestionably overseas, and India’s earnings are in dollars and euros.

In exchange, India has opened up its market to the world, embracing a Westernised consumer culture that our forefathers had resisted for fifty years, thanks to our socialistic form of government and our first prime minister’s belief that advertisements made people buy things they did not want. But now, all that has changed. Globalised capitalism has entered our lives and transformed our country into a fast-growing economy, whose appetite for both foreign and local brands seems insatiable.

Marketers in the West have noticed this growing wealth and changing lifestyle of Indian consumers. Some may have even connived with their governments to enter the Indian market and induce this change. After all, apart from China (which is perceived as a contender for the same Indian consumer), where would they find such a huge population of consumers! So, they’ve stepped in with their brands, their marketing strategies and their advertising, investing their time and much-needed funds for India’s growing industries, creating a cultural shift towards Western materialism.

For India, the temptation has been too powerful to resist. The Indian government and the Indian consumer have both lapped it up… just as Lord Krishna had done with his makhan (butter) eons ago (or so the story goes).

26 September 2006

It’s time India and the West shared their marketing intel

How do Indian, global and MNC brands survive and succeed in this madness of a market that India is?

Going by the boom in the Indian economy, that’s a multi-billion-dollar question that many marketers want answered. Keeping aside the luck factor, obviously, marketers in India are doing something right. At the core of their marketing ethos is their ability to embrace India’s ethnicity and not challenge it – nor insult it, nor impose upon it – by offering one product or brand that fits all consumer segments.

Applying a global marketing formula for India isn’t necessarily the best a foreign brand can do. Just because a brand has succeeded in the United States or Europe – or even Brazil or Singapore – for half a century (or more) does not mean it’ll top the charts in India as well. MNC brands like McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Nike, Reebok, Motorola, Levi’s, Ford, IBM, among others, including famous Hollywood films, have had their setbacks and have finally resorted to more amenable offerings for the Indian consumer.

The buying habits of Indian consumers differ according to regional preferences (geography), religion, cultural and socio-economic conditions. Not that these conditions don’t apply to other countries, but, in India, consumer ‘idiosyncrasies’ which determine buying behaviour have been embedded over thousands of years. Successful Indian marketers have accepted this diversity, taken the trouble to understand the sentiments (not just the habits) of Indian consumers, found ways to reach out to them, and persuade them to buy the brands which they will benefit from.

However, this is one-half of the story. Indian marketers lack in the left-brained structured approach to marketing which is the domain of Western marketers. Indian marketers come up short in terms of building systems and procedures; in conducting the enormous amounts of research that are needed to understand consumers and markets; in terms of the analytics that go with this research; and in terms of building marketing and communication models which have launched so many successful brands in the West. There is much that Indian marketers can learn from their Western adversaries.

Maybe it’s time India and the West shared their marketing intelligence.

25 September 2006

Indian marketers understand ethnic behaviour better than others

Ethnic, multicultural, mainstream or whatever term marketers wish to use to describe their consumers, it’s foolish not to accept the fact that we share this planet with others. These ‘others’, like us, belong to various races, religions, cultures and social groups. They speak various languages. They practise various rituals and customs. They come from various economic backgrounds. Like us, they consume products and services – directly from nature or manufactured for them. They pay for these products and services like everybody else on this planet.

Because we have diverse backgrounds and lifestyles, our needs and wants are different from those around us. Our consumption patterns may also be different from those around us. Yet, together, we make up ‘the market’ for a multitude of products and services – and create demand in the marketplace. Marketers need to assess this demand for various products and services, produce them, brand them, sell them to consumers who can afford to pay for them, and make a profit for themselves.

The genius lies in accepting this fact or phenomenon – and finding ways to offer the right product/service (usually as a brand) to the consumer. Consumers will buy this product/service, consume it and, therefore, express their demand for it. However, not all consumers will buy/consume all products and services offered to them. Nor will they accept the form or format or formulation or price in which the marketer chooses to offer the product/service. That’s because consumers belong to different races, religions, cultures, economic backgrounds… and they have different needs and wants.

Indian marketers understand this well – perhaps better than their colleagues from other parts of the world. That’s because Indian marketers operate in a marketplace with over a billion people from diverse races, religions, socio-cultural and economic backgrounds.

Indian consumers speak in 20-odd languages and over 200 dialects. Close to 1,000 newspapers and magazines are published in India, and over 200 TV and radio channels address this billion-strong media-consuming population. All of them, presenting news and entertainment, and persuading these billion consumers to buy a plethora of brands they are pushing to sell. Added to this is a 5,000-year-old history, with matching heritage and lifestyle, making up one of the world’s largest markets of multitudinously-diverse consumers. Virtually every one of India’s 35 states and union territories is a melting-pot of (unique) ethnic behaviour.

I doubt if marketers from other countries possess such expertise.

23 September 2006

The coloured nature of the future American consumer

Much to my dismay, Americans are rather fond of the word ‘ethnic’ (I prefer ‘multicultural’), using it to demarcate the white Americans of European origin – defined as the mainstream population – from ‘the rest’. ‘The rest’, as you can guess, is ‘ethnic’ – people of non-white race, culture and skin-colour. This, of course, has cultural, socio-economic as well as political ramifications; but, for the sake of this post, I’ll stick to the marketing point of view.

From the marketing point of view (which includes demographics and consumption patterns), ‘the rest’ of the American population is made up of African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian-Americans. Even Native Americans (the original ‘Red’ Indians) don’t have enough purchasing power or command over the marketplace to make a difference to the American economy – and be counted.

This means, American marketing has primarily had an Anglo bias. Marketing strategies and communication campaigns, historically, have been targeted to the white American audience, and white Americans were by far the dominant consumers in the marketplace. Consumers of ethnic origin were ignored because of their lack of purchasing power.

It’s been some 40 years now that advertising targeted specifically to African-Americans have appeared in the mass media; with the Hispanics coming into focus in the mid-80’s, and the Asian-Americans more recently, probably from the beginning of the new millennium. Today, American marketers are clearly aware of the growing power of ethnic consumers – coming from ‘the rest’ of the population – and responding to the need of the hour with targeted marketing efforts.

The need for ethnic marketing is not a sudden phenomenon, but has grown over the last 40 years. Predictions were made about the growth of the ethnic population and their purchasing power, but were ignored by mainstream American marketers. It’s only in the last 10 years that any serious attention has been paid to understand this market. Here’s an excerpt from a 1999 article by Lisa Skriloff and Dawn Cornitcher of Multicultural Marketing Resources Inc.:

“Population growth and economic force tell a powerful story. The African American, Hispanic and Asian populations have a combined buying power of over a trillion dollars and minority populations are fast becoming the majority population in major markets. Not only is this trend fuelled by the growth of traditional ethnic segments but a growing influx of immigrants from Russia, Poland, and the Middle East continues to shift the mainstream view of how to define ethnic markets.”

There’s been a big hue and cry about this in America. Billions of dollars have been (and still continues to be) spent on researching and understanding ethnic groups, their culture, their media habits, their behaviour in response to targeted marketing, their brand associations, and their consumption patterns. To complicate the issue, differences have been found in the characteristics of immigrants (new on American soil) compared to their second and third and subsequent generations.

Questions abound: What language to use? Which cultural symbols have relevance? How to avoid controversy and not offend the audience? Are their communication and/or cultural pitfalls to guard against? Are there differences in consumption between or within groups for the same brand? What kind of communication stimuli generates the most favourable response? Etc.

To find answers to these questions, research is littering the streets and entering the households; studies and reports are being filed; monitoring tools and tracking devices are being created; specialised advertising, marketing and communication agencies are being set up. The mandate is clear: reach out to ethnic audiences, gain their approval, and sell to them. For, therein lies the future American consumer – the consumer of a different race, culture and skin-colour.

21 September 2006

Targeting the ethnic market

Marketing and advertising professionals, internationally, recognise the importance of ‘targeting’ (to consumers) while creating effective marketing and communication strategies. In this regard, it’s said that direct and 1-to-1 marketing specialists are better at it than most communication professionals, as they actually reach out to individual consumers (in flesh and blood, and by name) through personalised communication and the tools they use. The rest of the industry is left to do the best they can with the media options available to them – newspapers, magazines, TV, cable, outdoor, the world-wide-web, etc.

To be good at targeting, communication specialists (and, really, everyone in sales and marketing) need to know a great deal about the consumers they target. The effectiveness of their communication, and the response to it, depends on it. However, this is no easy task. When you look at the millions of consumers in your country, many of whom you may not want to target in your communication because they do not fit your brand/consumer profile, the task can be daunting. The problem becomes more complex when you need to reach out to various ethnic consumer segments with your brand.

The United States, which leads the world in advertising, invests a lot on research to find suitable ‘targeting’ models. The hope is to reduce the ‘chance factors’ in formulating marketing strategies and designing communication packages tailored to reach a specific target audience effectively. The strategy and the communication differ according to the brand and the target market; and there are questions, of course: What specific consumer segments is the brand addressing? How different are they? Does one communication reach and make sense to all segments? Are there any ethnic consumer segments – i.e. consumer segments with cultural differences – which need to be addressed?

American brands and advertising have mainly tailored their communication to the white American. Over the years this has changed, and their advertising has gradually included the African-American, with several brands – not to mention extensions and variations of existing brands – specifically created to sell to the African-American consumer. Today, American marketers and advertising agencies realise that the ethnic market holds a much bigger promise than the white market. Largely made up of African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian-Americans, the ethnic market in the United States is growing at a faster pace than the mainstream white American market, and is a potentially huge market.

The question is, can America find a successful formula for marketing its brands to this growing ethnic market?

19 September 2006

Sub-cultural viewpoints

I guess, today, very few countries in the world can claim to have a 100% homogeneous population in terms of cultural purity. Even Iceland, an island nation with a population close to 300,000 people, has Nordic and Celtic origins going back to the days of the Vikings; not to mention a smattering of immigrants from various parts of the world. Perhaps a Polynesian island would prove this axiom wrong. For, to maintain cultural purity, a tribe or a nation would have to be ‘untouched’ by tourists or immigrants or invaders – or the media.

Cultural or ethnic differences are bound to exist in populations of countries. India is a prime example of this, being endowed with her ancient tribes (the Adivasis), a debate over Dravidian-Aryan roots, and a history of invasions – both political and economic.

Whether we monitor ancestry and language (which is difficult enough for India), or complex variables such as self-identification and ethnic individuality in the age of globalisation, cultural diversity is a fact of life. A fact, that is forever changing, as migration between (and within) countries, national populations, and interracial marriages are increasing. Add to that the spread of global and MNC brands, and we have a new economic and socio-cultural order. And then, there’s the Internet. The fact is, new identities are forming everyday on shared relationships and socio-cultural experiences between individuals and groups of people… all over the world.

Within this changing world lies a host of sub-cultures: racial, religious, political, professional, popular, physically-impaired, environmental, social, historical, traditional, gender, genetic… the list is endless. These are groups of people, centred on an ideology, claiming some point of difference from the others, and from what is considered to be the mainstream population and culture. All these groups feel marginalised at some point or the other, expressing a loss of dignity and of their civil and political rights. They feel their contribution to the mainstream cultural movement, as well as to the economy and society, is underrated and often goes unrecognised. This feeling, sadly, is true in India as it is in the United States or anywhere else.

However, the mainstream population is not always sympathetic to these sub-cultural viewpoints, even if the governments of these countries are. The mainstream regards these sub-cultural viewpoints as politically motivated, with little to do with culture or civil rights, and responds with its own rhetoric: Are all sub-cultures equally valuable to a nation? Are they all worthy of our support? Do they deserve special treatment? Do they all deserve inclusion in our mainstream cultural movement? If these sub-cultures are given equal status and included in the mainstream cultural movement, would they still continue to function as sub-cultures?

15 September 2006

The ethnic conundrum

The word or term ‘ethnic’ puzzles me. I believe ethnic means belonging to a specific community; sharing a language, a culture, a religion; practising rituals and exhibiting certain types of behaviour common to a group of people. I also believe ethnic means sharing a lineage, since it is common practice to marry within a group and procreate. However, I do not use the term ‘ethnic’ to describe my many friends, neighbours and colleagues at work who come from various parts of India, carrying with them various languages, religions, cultural practices, food and shopping habits. Nor do I use this term ‘ethnic’ to describe people who have arrived from other parts of the world and now live in my country. These people share their land with me. To me, they are all Indians.

Fortunately for me, this feeling is reciprocated. In India, with its 35 states and union territories, 23 official languages, several established and practising religions, food habits, costumes and cultures too many to name, I am never classified as someone belonging to an ethnic group. Yes, since I originally come from West Bengal, I am identified as a Bengali – perhaps explaining my mother tongue, some of my preferences for food and literature, and my work ethos – but the identification ends there. Never has my status in India been described or defined as ethnic… though it probably has every reason to be described so. Yet, in the UK, the US or in Australia, among other countries, I am clearly categorised as someone belonging to an ethnic minority group.

This makes me wonder: Does ‘ethnic’ mean not belonging to the mainstream? For, it is true that, in the UK, the US or in Australia, as it is in other countries, I do not belong to the mainstream white majority population. I do not share their preferences for food or literature or music in totality. And, when I’m not communicating in English in their presence, I’m using one or more languages unknown to the white majority population in that country, putting them through some amount of discomfort. Curiously, this also happens in India, and people in India do mind if I speak in Bengali which they do not understand. Still, in spite of my Bengali antecedents (and perhaps poor social decorum), they do not go so far as to describe me as someone belonging to an ethnic group, let alone categorise me as ethnic minority.

Across the seas in the United States, the story is somewhat different. In the US, the white majority, defined as European Americans, makes up approximately 80% of the population. The balance 20% of the population is made up of various ethnic minority groups (this nomenclature is used by the US government and seems to be a socially accepted term): African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics, Alaskan Natives, etc. Nobody seems to mind that the European Americans of the mainstream White America are made up of European immigrants and their descendants: English, Irish, Italian, German, French, Scandinavian, Polish, and Russian, among others. Even though, in this case, each group makes up a small portion of the majority European American population.

This makes me wonder once again: Is this classification of ‘ethnic minority groups’ really a matter of language or culture or religion? Or, is it about race and the colour of one’s skin? And, perhaps going a little further, is it something designed by the white population of the world?

14 September 2006

Restructuring our lives

Our perception of who we are is a dynamic process. The change in perception of our own identity that occurs as an immigrant, and once again upon return to our original homeland (which I’ve described in my previous post from a personal experience), reifies the fact that our identity has a social context. Shifts in perceptions of our identity occur with social (and geographical) displacement; and, once again, with adjustment with the new environment.

Although we talk about our culture, ancestry, language and religion, our identity is usually rooted to a place. A change in location unsettles us. Going back and forth between two (or more) places rocks our sense of identity. We then tend to ascribe ourselves an identity on the basis of where we live at a particular moment, in the present context. We build bridges between the past and the present, restructuring our lives, in order to create a culture which is acceptable… habitable.

Sometimes, of course, we are suspended between cultures, even though we are stationed in a locality. We then identify ourselves in a continuous process, in the order of our experiences.

12 September 2006

Identity: views from my childhood

I had always considered my identity as something I always had. Like an inheritance. By virtue of being born and raised in a country called India, geo-politically, I had a nationality. I was an Indian. By virtue of my parents being from West Bengal (a state in Eastern India with a distinct history and culture), I was born and raised in a Bengali family, thereby, adopting Bengali as my language, and Bengali customs and traditions as standard practices of a life well-lived. Since my parents followed the principles of The Brahmo Samaj (as laid down by Raja Rammohan Roy some 150 years ago), I had a religious identity as well… right from birth. All these facets of my existence were inherited. They were my possessions, my identity.

Growing up in Australia I learnt that the colour of my skin was also my identity. Along with my ethnic features which identified me as an obvious Asian. So was the accent with which I spoke English. However, upon my return to India five years later, the process of forming a pseudo-Australian identity was reversed. The accent with which I spoke Bengali as well as English identified me as ‘foreign-returned’ and, therefore, not 100% Bengali or Indian. By virtue of an Australian orientation during my formative years, some of my Indian uniqueness had been replaced by a preference for westernised clothes, food, books, films, music, habits, lifestyle, the friends I chose to hang out with, and even my ideology (to an extent). These changes added a new dimension to my life and defined my identity in a whole new manner. The difference was, these facets of my existence were acquired; not inherited.

11 September 2006

What are we when we have nothing?

Possessions can be extensions of the self (see my previous posts). According to a ground-breaking paper on consumer behaviour by Russell W Belk, “The functions that possessions play in the extended self involve creation, enhancement, and preservation of a sense of identity.” In his paper, Professor Belk cites William James, who laid the foundations for modern conceptions of self, as having said that we are the sum of our possessions. He, then, goes on to review the basic states of our existence – having, doing, and being – following streams of thought more famously identified with Jean-Paul Sartre and existentialism.

Since Professor Belk’s work is on consumer behaviour, we must be fair to him and grant him that his construct of ‘possessions and the extended self’ (that’s the title of his ground-breaking paper) works perfectly well on consumers – i.e. on people who have the ability to create, or express, demand for products and services in the marketplace. And that, we know, is a function of our ability not just to desire a product or a service, preferably in a branded form, but also the money to back up that desire. It’s certainly a good case for capitalism – if not existentialism.

Does that, then, mean that our identity is really an economic entity? That, it’s really a matter of our purchasing power? And, if so, does that also mean that economically weak persons have weaker identities than those with more purchasing power? If, according to William James and Russell W Belk, we are what we have, what are we when we have nothing?

09 September 2006


Here’s some more wisdom (see yesterday’s post) from Russell W Belk, sociologist and consumer behaviorist, and his inquiry into consumer behaviour and consumption:

“…Possessions are an important component of sense of self. The most direct form of evidence is found in the nature of self-perceptions. Additional, especially striking evidence is found in the diminished sense of self when possessions are unintentionally lost or stolen. More evidence in the role of possessions in sense of self comes from anthropological studies of the way possessions are treated ritually and after death.”

We are what we have. It’s a simple concept, and a basic premise of consumer behaviour. But, it has boggled the minds of the best psychologists, sociologists, consumer behaviorists, advertisers and marketers for half a century at the least. For, as it turns out now, this simple concept is really a combination of two others. Not only are we what we are seen to be (the ‘me’ concept), we are also what is seen to be ours (the ‘mine’ concept). It seems we, as human beings, create our identities using both these – the ‘me’ and the ‘mine’ – concepts.

A lot of research is available defining the ‘me’, but it is in the inquiry into the ‘mine’, in the last 20 years or so, that has now led us to believe that our identities are not complete unless we take into account all our material possessions, the people we are connected with, and our experiences. Even our memories of the past.

That’s where Russell W Belk, among several other notable psychologists, sociologists and consumer behaviorists, comes in. Professor Belk contributes the metaphor of an ‘extended self’ as a possible explanation for the reason why we tend to create meanings for ourselves with, and through, objects and our surroundings. Why we tend to extend ourselves into the objective world around us; and, in turn, create our selves. Professor Belk suggests that the answer lies in our desire to possess… to collect… to acquire.

Dr Jan S Slater, who pursues this point further, elaborates his thoughts on possessions in his dissertation, ‘From Trash to Treasures’. He refers to Russell W Belk throughout his dissertation, particularly in ‘Chapter Two: Collecting Literature’, where he gives us a meaning as to why we would want to possess: “To possess something is to have it under one’s mastery or control and to identify it as one’s own. Possession may be individual, joint, or shared. Although objects of possession are most often tangible, possession may include certain experiences and knowledge, symbols and, in some cases, other persons (Belk, 1982).”

What are we, really, without these possessions?

08 September 2006

Self, extended self

“In its widest possible sense, however, a man’s Self is the sum total of all that he CAN call his, not only his body and his psychic powers, but his clothes and his house, his wife and children, his ancestors and friends, his reputation and works, his lands, and yacht and bank-account. All these things give him the same emotions. If the wax and prosper, he feels triumphant; if the dwindle and die away, he feels cast down – not necessarily in the same degree in each thing, but in much the same way for all.”

[William James, from his book The Principles of Psychology, Chapter X: The Consciousness of Self (1890)]

“We cannot hope to understand consumer behaviour without first gaining some understanding of the meanings that consumers attach to possessions. A key to understanding what possessions mean is recognizing that, knowingly or unknowingly, intentionally or unintentionally, we regard our possessions as parts of ourselves… That we are what we have is perhaps the most basic and powerful fact of consumer behaviour.
The premise that we regard our possessions as parts of ourselves is not new… If we define possessions as things we call ours, [William] James was saying that we are the sum of our possessions.”

[Russell W Belk, from his award-winning paper Possessions and the Extended Self (1988)]

Russell W Belk goes on to say that there’s a relationship between our possessions and our sense of self. This relationship is important not only
“to the understanding of consumer behaviour, but also on the premise that understanding the extended self will help us learn how consumer behaviour contributes to our broader existence as human beings.”

07 September 2006

Identifying ourselves with brands

I’m sure we identify ourselves with the brands we wear, carry, consume and use. Or desire. We feel good about them; even feel proud to own them. Which means, there is obviously some connect between us and the brands we use. What that connect is, and how do advertisers and marketers take advantage of it in order to create marketing communication that attracts consumers, are issues that have dogged the best of us from the marketing profession.

Let’s take the TAG Heuer brand for instance (see my previous post) and ask ourselves a few questions: Do we know who we are? Do we know what we are made of? Do we know what relationships we have with the brands we use?

The answer is ‘yes’ every time. Of course, we know – at least, to an extent. If we were to be interrogated intensively (or, perhaps, under hypnosis), we may be able to tell who we really are; explain our actions; or justify the brands we use. Even then, our answers may not correlate with our behaviour in real life. Why not? Is there something wrong with our answers? Well… not wrong, but there is definitely a gap between our understanding of ourselves and who we are. That’s because, knowing who we are requires self-awareness, which is a subject of spirituality, rather than psychology or marketing.

Sure, TAG Heuer can ask us ‘What are you made of?’ and rejoice over the cleverness of their advertising. But answering that question requires us to gaze inwardly towards some mental model we have of ourselves. That isn’t easy because we have several mental models of ourselves, each one quite different from the other; some of them are quite incomprehensible. Psychologists, social scientists, advertising and marketing professionals have been working hard at finding solutions to this, and one possible explanation seems to indicate that the answers go back to our ancestors. That, our ability to recognise ourselves, and explain our present behaviour, has anthropological roots.

What do we mean by this? Well, why not let British Neuropsychologist Paul Broks do the explaining?

“But evolution did not equip us to recognise ourselves. How could it? The mirror is a novel artefact. For most of our history, the most singular emblem of our identity – the face – has been invisible to us.

Recognition of oneself in the mirror requires mental manoeuvres beyond the activities of the brain’s outwardly oriented, automatic face recognition units. It presupposes an inward gaze towards some mental model of the self: in other words, self-awareness. Humans are almost, but not quite, unique in this regard. Before indifference sets in, animals generally react with alarm or curiosity when placed before a mirror. They behave fearfully, aggressively or affiliatively, as if confronted by another animal. Chimpanzees, though, share our fascination with the reflected image.”

[Excerpt from Prospect Magazine article]

Closer home, the advertising and marketing fraternity is also chasing this elusive phenomenon of consumer identification with brands. After all, a brand’s future rests on their ability to make successful consumer-brand connections of the nature TAG Heuer is well-known for. Much of this chase is through brand personality research using anthropomorphic research tools, among many others, based on translated theories of anthropology, human personality and behaviour.

There are many notable models on this subject, but let me mention just one from Young & Rubicam, a leading advertising agency based in New York. According to Young & Rubicam’s BrandAsset®Valuator and The Four Pillars model, a brand’s ‘esteem’, or consumer regard for a brand, reflects a brand’s popularity and perception of quality in the consumer’s mind. In their model, ‘esteem’ is a determining factor (they use the term dimension) in diagnosing a brand’s health, strength and stature.

04 September 2006

TAG Heuer's search for self-recognition

To keep pace with changing consumers, market forces and new technologies, brands need to change their marketing strategies and the brand communication that is created from it. Successful brands are quick to respond to changes in the marketplace, so as not to lose their market share or brand salience, but there is always one question that haunts marketing professionals: How often should a brand change its positioning and marketing strategy? The answer is not simple. It varies from situation to situation, brand to brand, and therefore foolish for anyone to provide a single formula to resolve this problem.

But, I guess, there’s no harm in discussing the problem in the context of a brand. A brand that has achieved its success while searching for self-recognition.

The brand I have in mind is TAG Heuer; especially since it introduced its latest advertising campaign “What are you made of?” recently, featuring several sports and film celebrities. TAG Heuer, as you probably know, is the market/consumer reference in prestigious sports watches and chronographs – and a renowned luxury brand. It has an interesting history – specifically from 1860, when Edouard Heuer started his Heuer Watch Company in Switzerland – of being actively engaged in sports, making the most accurate measuring instruments and sports watches in the world.

However, it’s not easy to create a sports-luxury – and now, lifestyle – watch or brand like TAG Heuer. Sports brands normally stand for high performance, technological innovation and contemporariness; while luxury and lifestyle brands typically represent fashion and glamour. TAG Heuer had its beginnings in creating stopwatches and water-resistant watches, and being recognised for its high degree of accuracy in measuring time, such as those needed during sporting events. And so, TAG Heuer came to be associated with sports: the Indy 500 and Formula 1 racing, international ski championships, golf, the Olympic Games, among many others.

As its brand profile improved over the years, TAG Heuer adopted a more fashionable and status-conscious appeal for its brand and morphed it with its sports-watch positioning to create the brand TAG Heuer is today. The brand used glamorous models and actors from around the world as its brand ambassadors, including India’s Shah Rukh Khan and Sushmita Sen. The latest advertising campaign “What are you made of?” uses Hollywood actors Uma Thurman and Brad Pitt, as well as Shah Rukh Khan, alongside sports celebrities Tiger Woods, Jeff Gordon, Kimi Raikkonen, Juan Pablo Montoya, Yao Ming and Maria Sharapova. This morphing of sports and glamour is not a new phenomenon for TAG Heuer, but has been cultivated over time.

In fact, TAG Heuer has strategically built its brand over the years, blending in physical prowess with mental strength, passion and beauty. In the last 15 years, the TAG Heuer brand has created one advertising campaign after another: “Don’t crack under pressure” in the early 1990s; “Success. It’s a mind game.” in the mid-1990s; “Inner strength” in the late 1990s; “Another side of me” in 2001-02; and “What are you made of?” in 2003 and its current version this year. TAG Heuer’s latest campaign exudes charisma, from the watches and the celebrities who wear them – successful people, their passion and the glamour that surrounds them. That’s TAG Heuer the brand… as it has always been.

This is what it says about the new advertising campaign from one of the press releases on the TAG Heuer website:

The signature “What are you made of?” has not changed: the question still interrogates but is never intrusive. It opens up a true mental dialogue with celebrities about their exceptional successes in sport or film, as well as the positive emotions they generate among their worldwide audiences.

“What are you made of?” offers values but never imposes them: to each his or her hero, to each to find him or herself in this quest for self-recognition.

[Citation: TAG Heuer brand advertising on the TAG Heuer website and Brandchannel article, Sports Brands Play at Life Style, by Alycia de Mesa (25-Oct-2004)]

02 September 2006

What's changing...

Changes in consumer behaviour are also a result of technology: its introduction and its application. Apart from everyday technology-based products such as TV, quartz watches, computers, home videos, microwave ovens, mobilephones, digital cameras, etc. which have changed our lifestyle in the last 30 years, it is digital technology that has really revolutionised the way we do things and live our lives.

The first major change came with TV and the news and entertainment it offered. It offered an audio-visual format like film through which we could find out what’s happening in the world around us. Even beyond. TV expanded our world as consumers, creating desires for more and more products and services by actively stimulating the aural and visual senses. As much of the TV viewing was done by the family together (as it is still done to a large extent in a country like India), a brand could reach out to the entire family, pass on its message, and speed up the decision-making process for buying.

Of course, things have changed. Many families have more than one TV set at home and much of the viewing has become personal. Today, there are many more channels to cater to smaller segments of consumers, with the content as well as the style of delivery of the content for these segments having changed over the years. Messages are more personal, playing into the basic nature of the audiences, creating stronger desires of ownership for products and brands. A current trend shows an increase in the demand for versions or models of the same product – TV sets, music systems, mobilephones, cars, computers, newspapers, TV programmes, ringtones for mobilephones, computer software, computer games, etc. – for personal use and families, today, have more of everything in their households.

With computers, the Internet, PDAs and mobilephones, the digital world has further revolutionised the format in which consumers receive messages. Playing on the personal-use route, the new technologies have made two great contributions to our lives: one, they have made life more instant; and two, they have enabled interactivity. Not only can we have access to news, information and entertainment as they happen, we can choose to receive these messages when and where we want them. Furthermore, should we feel the need to respond to these messages, provide feedback, or begin a dialogue, digital technology now allows us to do so.

For the brand and the marketer, this is a great boon. The choice of media has increased. The style and delivery format for the marketing message has increased. The opportunity to design creative messages has increased. The opportunity-to-see for the consumer has increased. The level of personalisation of the message to the consumer has increased. The ability of the consumer to respond to the message has increased. And, with the availability of multiple payment gateways, the purchase mechanism has increased. All this, apart from the fact that the new technologies now allow consumers, their interests and their purchase behaviour to be tracked using various software tools.

So, what’s changing for the brand marketer? Plenty, as you can see. It’s now time for the brand marketers to build their plans on these opportunities created by new and emerging technologies… to address changing consumer expectations, lifestyles and behaviours… to build new relationships, or renew old ones, by adding value to their consumers and their brands.

01 September 2006

What lies beneath!

“You think you know who you are. You have no idea.”
(Dialogue from the film ‘Crash’. Also the film’s tagline.)

This bit of dialogue (delivered by bad cop Matt Dillon) from Paul Haggis’ award-winning film ‘Crash’ this year could have come from any frustrated marketer or brand manager. For, this dialogue sums up exactly why thousands of marketing and brand managers across the world struggle every day to ensure their products and brands hold their ground in the marketplace – and continue to win new consumers.

The reason for their frustration is simple: consumers do whatever they feel like with a brand. Accept it, reject it, recommend it, bad-mouth it, ignore it… change their minds about it without giving a clue to explain their behaviour. This has been a great stumbling block for the marketing profession and, no matter how skilled or experienced or gifted the professional is, no marketer or marketing strategist or advertising agency or account planner can predict with any certainty how a consumer will respond to a specific brand or brand communication.

That’s where motivational research comes in, trying to get to the root of the problem, explaining why consumers behave as they do. It tries to dig into the human psyche – using various tests and techniques – to unearth motives that lead to specific types of consumer behaviour. Motivational research can, and does, help bring to surface some of the latent motives – as well as the obvious ones – to explain human tendencies and patterns of behaviour.

But, that’s only one part of the story. Thereafter comes the consumer behaviour model: the interpretation, the correlation with market research and field sales data, even transaction data if a CRM programme is in place, and the application of the motivational hypothesis to a marketing problem at hand in order to predict consumer decision-making processes and behaviour. A question, however, comes to mind: To what degree of accuracy can human and/or consumer behaviour be predicted?

Human beings are complicated creatures. What they say, they may not do. How they respond in a motivational test may not be how they respond to an advertising campaign or a brand displayed in a retail store. Although economic, cultural, sociological and religious influences may be accounted for in a consumer behaviour model, there may still be personal and/or circumstantial biases which become evident only at the moment of truth when the consumer makes a purchase. Even then, future purchase behaviour may not be consistent with the consumer’s previous purchase.

This really is the crux of the matter. In fact, some psychologists – and some marketing strategists like me – believe that human behaviour is not stable. That, it varies according to context and, therefore, cannot be predicted with certainty through motivational research or any kind of psychological assessment or marketing model. What lies beneath the human psyche, what forms the human personality and how it manifests itself in life, what goes through the mind of a consumer, particularly at the point of purchase, is indeed difficult to unravel and predict.