Sunday, October 9, 2011

Travails of a Nomad

-Ram Balasubramanian
JBIMS 2008-10

Greetings from the part of the country which has the second lowest GDP per capita income, the most “apolitical” scenario and a place which on its own would be the seventh most populous nation.
Yes, I am coming to you live from the dusty plains of Eastern UP, a host to holy lands like Varanasi, Allahabad and the likes.
Without further ado, let me first introduce myself. My name is Ram (JBIMS Batch of 2010) and currently I am a Key Account Manager for P&G.
Welcome to the non-glamorous part of Marketing- Sales! If you are the kind of person, who likes a comfortable A/C room, doesn’t like to get his/her hands dirty, doesn’t like as Prof Ghadiyar would say “Smell of the Bazaar” then this article would probably seem Greek & Latin to you. 
Let me state outright that this is not an elevation of “Sales” and a degradation of “Marketing”. It’s just that on campus we rarely talk about the importance of sales & the elements involved which is where this write-up aims to touch up on.

So here’s what I like to call “The Lessons of Sales.”
Lesson #1 - The greatest Myth: Selling is an inborn art!
-Whoever said this was unquestionably high on either alcohol or drugs, because this has got to be one of the biggest myths.  If this were remotely true, well for starters, I would have not lasted in P&G for a year. 
-Sales are highly data driven. In fact cutting through heaps of data to come to the relevant part that enables you to take decisions is the primary challenge.
-In fact, I can say safely that an ASM (Area sales Manager), looks at as much data (if not more) as his banker counterpart. Oh yes, you can trust me & take it to the bank (metaphorically speaking)J.

Lesson #2 - Push Push Push? No, it’s not all about “Maal Thokna”.
The overall trade scenario in FMCG is divided into broadly two parts:-
i. Unorganized Trade (Our neighbourhood kirana store). This is further sub-divided into:
-Large Grocery Stores
-Small Grocery Stores
-Chemist Outlets
-Cosmetic Stores
ii. Modern Trade (Malls)

Consider a scenario where you are handling three brands in your territory and across four distribution channels as given below:
Channel 1
Channel 2
Channel 3
Channel 4
Brand 1

Brand 2

Brand 3

Thus you have twelve options, to grow your business in your area/territory. It almost becomes like a    strategy game, wherein you are constantly looking out for which of these twelve options would you give the maximum output, while requiring the minimum input. So you see sales is much more than picking up your phone, and blasting at the person to “thokofy maal”. It involves more planning than you think. J
But why so serious, you may wonder? So here are some of the fun learning of sales:

Lesson #3 - “Raju Guidewalla” :  The new & improved Christopher Columbus!
No, I am not referring to the absolutely lovable character played by Aamir Khan in “Dil Hain Ki Maanta Nahin”. The reason I mentioned this is that sales, if not anything, would definitely find you an alternate career in the travel & tourism industry. No sooner do you join sales, than you become the official that of an entire lifetime for others (and maybe beyond that for the rest!).

Also, this means that striking conversations with people becomes that much easier.  I have lost count of times I have had amazing conversations with taxiwallahs at the airport or by local barber just by asking him “Acha aap UP se ho?? UP main Kahaan Illahabad (Hindi for Allahabad)? Illahabad ke paas kahaan....” And to his very horror, I name the very village from where he ran 20 years back to make a career in Mumbai! Are you still surprised that I get regular discounts from cabwallahs and that my barber has started giving me free massages? I hope not J.

“You get to stay in the swankiest of places”

                                                                   Lesson #4 - Lying in Mother Luxury’s Lap!
What’s common to the Le Meridien-Pune, Le Meriden – Jaipur, Grand Hyatt, The Leela-Kovalam and Taj-Lucknow? Apart from all of these being stupendously luxurious hotels, they also incidentally happen to be the ones in which your truly has had an opportunity to stay over the past one year, and mind you for more than once in the entire year !
This is quite easily the biggest perk of working as a sales guy.  You get to stay in some of the swankiest of places in town and learn to build a discerning taste as a customer in the luxury/ultra-luxury hotel segment. Not bad, eh?

Lesson #5 - U.P. breathes politics
Before joining P&G, I always used to wonder why, every time election discussions were held on a news channel, UP politics would be ferociously discussed and debated. At first I thought that it was only because UP was the state with the largest number of seats. Then I realized that the people of UP are amongst the most politically aware.  You can bet your life on it, that every kid in UP would know more about politics than you were knew or hope to know! In fact, even the local panchayat elections in UP, are fiercely contested with budgets running up to 5 lakhs and above.

Lesson #6 - The Rajiv Gandhi Gram Sadak Yojana works and how....!!
As a people, we have a tendency to criticize everything that the govt does/attempts to do. But now I’m convinced that some of the programs have really worked wonders.  My job entails lots of travelling to very small villages, even those with population less than 5000 (yes fellow SoBo’s, they exist!).
I have seen the amount of road connectivity present in U.P, with the help of this program and it is simply astounding. And going by the success of this programme in a poverty-prone region such as this, I’m sure this program would have worked wonders elsewhere as well. I bet the politically aware citizen class of UP would agree.

Lesson #7 - Data cards are your best friends…Aur har ek friend zaroori hota hai!
Leave a solitary existence in a non-metro city and you will know exactly what I am saying. In trains, at the airport, at bus terminals, you will constantly find yourself connected to this.
You can forget eating, probably you will forget sleeping as well but you will surely never ever forget to take your data card with you!

“You can forget eating, probably you will forget sleeping as well but you will surely never ever forget to take your data card with you!”

Lesson #8 - Trips to metros are an occasion to celebrate
Nothing can teach you the value of a metro city like a rural sales stint. You almost magically begin to like everything about it, so much so that you even start missing mundane things like “dust, pollution, noise, traffic and crowded trains” that you loathed earlier. Seriously trips back to metros are effectively a ticket to “civilization” just the way you like it!

Well, that brings me to a close to my learning thus far in the sales field.  As I begin yet another year, I’m sure there are a million new things that this amazing field will teach me. As the G-talk status of one of my seniors at JBIMS
‘Sales is the University of Life.’

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Cutting the Line

With advanced technology & fierce competition the concept of Sales gradually became ineffective & insufficient. Long term relationship with the consumer gained much more importance to sustain business. And thus the concept of Marketing gained popularity in the buyer’s market. Slowly the concept of Marketing became the integral part of the strategy & an inevitable tool for revenue generation. Over time, many facets of the concept of marketing emerged, one of which is promotion. Over the period this facet of marketing has evolved along with the evolved consumer has seen many innovations to differentiate itself in communicating the differentiation of the brand.
ATL (Above the line), BTL (Below the line) & TTL (Through the line) are the products of evolution & innovation in the promotional field. Initially companies & advertising agencies were dependent only on advertising (ATL) for the promotion of brands but as the competition increased they felt the need to innovate with a view to reaching the consumers and luring them. Thus the concept of BTL came into existence.
ATL or “Above The Line” is a gamut of promotional activities done through traditional marketing channels which spread the brand awareness by reaching to the mass audience. ATL doesn’t have direct consumer involvement. The marketing channels generally used in ATL are TVCs, Radio, Print, OOH etc.
BTL or “Below The Line” is a range of promotional activities done through non-conventional media channels which intend to establish the targeted relationship with the target consumer through direct consumer involvement. BTL activities are mostly consumer and geography specific due to the advantage of the flexibility of communication. This comprises brand activation events, exhibitions, road shows etc.

TTL or “Through The Line” is the term used when both ATL & BTL are utilised simultaneously for a particular brand campaign. Please note that at a given time ATL &  BTL activities are carried out through the specified channels & though the message is same, the activities are different.
Now we are aware of the characteristics of both ATL & BTL. Let us now categorise the following examples into ATL or BTL.
In one of the Big Boss seasons, Chevrolet Cruze was one of the sponsors. Chevrolet had planned a particularly distinct activity with the participants of Big Boss to promote Cruze. As a part of the activity the participants were divided into two teams and were briefed about the features of the car. The task was to come up with the TV commercial for Chevrolet Cruze by using its features. And the whole competition was telecasted on Colors, the general entertainment channel.
Yes at first sight anyone will categorise it as ATL activity. But just think by another angle, isn’t it also a BTL activity? Those participants are the target consumers for Cruze, they are directly involved in the brand and that was the kind of brand activation event. What would you call this kind of promotion which shows the characteristics of both ATL & BTL?
I now propose to introduce a term that I have coined for it.
The term is called CTL (Cutting The Line).
The promotional activities which show the characteristics of both ATL & BTL are called as CTL. Here brands really cut the line of the media & the type of activity to reach to their target consumer.
The reasons behind this evolution in the 4th ‘P’ i.e. promotion:
1.     The cluttered communication:
Increased competition in a particular category leads to the consumer confusion. To break this clutter brands feels the need of differentiation to stand out in the competition. CTL may come to the rescue of such brands.
2.     Fragmented media:
The no. of media options available to the marketers makes it difficult to maintain the consistency in the message. CTL integrates the media and gives the solution to this problem too.
3.    Evolved consumer:
The modern consumer is so evolved that he always makes an informed decision. CTL gives the way to involve him with the brand directly or through people who have shared a common problem.
4.    Decreasing attention span of the consumer:
This is the result of fragmented media & cluttered consumer. CTL gives an option of interesting & involving communication. The consumers either experience the product themselves or observe the company representatives using the product.
5.    The efficacy (in terms of money) expected from marketers :
Some of the cluttered industries expect a lot from their marketing departments in terms of optimum effects of campaigns in monetarily low budgets. By integrating two means of communication CTL becomes the rescuer for these marketers.
Let us look at a very popular example of “Cutting The Line Promotion”
The much-admired ‘Juicy Mango Surprise Project’ campaign of Frooti is an example of CTL in TVC. The ads captured people’s reaction to giant sized props in the form of mangoes which suddenly appear on the streets, rolling down from above a slope. In most cases, the mangoes seem to be chasing the people on the streets and the video captures their reaction to the charging mango. This is the pure integration of ATL & BTL.
In future, the day is not far when marketers will capture the excerpts of the BTL campaign to form the ATL campaign. This will help them to achieve the goal of maximum consumer involvement with lesser budgets.

The writer is a JBIMS alumni working at Reckitt Benckiser.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Manforce, doing it the other way

Take a look at these brand names - Premier, Josh, Ehsaas, Masti, Mauj, Ustaad and Rakshak - Did you get the product category I am referring to? Perhaps not. Okay, now take a look at these brand names - Kohinoor, Kamasutra, Moods, Durex. Did you get it now? Obviously yes! It's monsoon time, and this period is generally characterized not only by increased sales of conventional umbrellas but also by increased sales of these Chota Chatris (a popular slang for condoms). 
           Advertising is something which has always attracted me and hence I would like to focus on the advertising campaign of one of the new entrants in this category - Manforce condoms. Manforce condoms is the new product from the house of Mankind pharma and was launched in 2010. And considering that this category was already dominated by heavy weights like Kohinoor, Kamasutra, Moods etc., Manforce had to come out with an out of the box communication campaign so as to leave a mark on the minds of consumers. Well, traditionally most of the condom ads have had either sensual visual in them or have focused on male fantasies (Kamasutra ad campaigns). Moods was a game changer which brought forward the same message very subtly with the Moods - My Man campaign. These ads were made 5 - 10 years ago and the concepts were quite relevant back then. But considering that the consumer attitude towards this category has matured a great deal and the word condom is no longer considered a taboo, marketers for Manforce had to further dwell into the topic of sex and find some new or unexplored insights for the campaign. And boy-o-boy, didn't they find one?

You all must have heard the famous saying - Women need a reason to have sex, Men just need a place. Research suggests that most of the Indian males feel their partners are either shy or hide the excitement during the act. They are not that open to try out new things. But there is a covert want in the males wherein they want their partners to reciprocate with the same amount of excitement in the act and give pleasures they have only imagined. And this was the insight, Manforce focused upon in the campaign.
The current campaign includes 3 TVCs for the Manforce flavored condoms that have been aired very regularly for the last 5-6 months. What’s different in these ads is that they are not about the men but about the ‘Women’. All these ads show women in their early 20s sharing their sexual experiences. The ads show how the different flavors of Manforce condoms stimulate their desires. The stories used in these ads describe subtle, but naughty nuances of their experiences; for instance, using a strawberry flavored condom, simulation of the virgin experiences of “those early days” and the excitement of using the product.
             The purchaser of condoms in most of the cases is the male partner. And considering the insight that Indian males want their partners to be as excited and reciprocate in the act, Manforce will definitely be one of the brands in their mind while purchasing condoms. And that’s not all – the icing on the cake is the Tagline – “Excitement She can’t hide”. Its bang on!
           Certainly Manforce has got it right in terms of communication. And considering that Mankind pharma already operates in the Over the counter drugs segment, selling and distribution should not be a big issue for Manforce condoms. So, Manforce seems to have got all the right ingredients for the perfect recipe and it would be very interesting to see how the consumers react to this.

Let’s see how they carry their “force” into the market!

-The writer is a MMS-II marketing student at JBIMS

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Day In The Life Of Marketing Executives by Tanmay Joshi

11th January, 2011

Bandra Kurla Complex is true to its name, because it is really complex! Whoever “branded” it was indeed      
thoughtful; and his strategy, future looking!
Never mind the sarcasm; I start my narration without further ado...

1.41 P.M., BKC
A scribbled, almost illegible address on my left palm suggests a building called “Trade Centre” wherein I am 
scheduled to meet Ms. Deepali Naair, Country Head,  Branding and Corporate Communications at L&T 
Thanks to diligent help from my senior, Ms. Mahek Mehra, I fortunately locate the place in no time, however 
complex the “Complex” may seem!

My first impression of the place is “Swanky building!” (belied by its pedestrian name, Trade Center). I reach 
floor 6 and get down from the elevator. After a brief wait in the reception area, I am greeted with a warm 
welcome by Anjum, Ms. Deepali Naair’s assistant. Escorted by Anjum, I trudge along the corridor, passing 
several cubicles, or “activity centres” and finally reach her cabin.
 The rest of the L&T Insurance marketing team is seated just outside her cabin and is buzzing with 
palpable energy. Deepali sure knows how to keep her staff happily engaged.

2.15 P.M., L&T Insurance, Ms. Deepali Naair’s cabin

The cabin is neatly arranged; an expected sight, as I discover Deepali herself is a much organised professional. I quietly look around to notice awards and trophies citing marketing excellence, books on subjects ranging from branding and management to philosophy, a neatly arranged desk, photographs of her son and sundry memorabilia.

“Welcome Tanmay” I am warmly greeted by Deepali. “You will be guided by Dhruval here when I am not around, and you can ask him questions on our activities. Deepali points to a member of her team, Dhruval, who enters the cabin with a beaming face. By that time, another senior team member, Saumitra walks in and engages Deepali in an urgent discussion and takes away her attention to the work at hand. I decide to utilise this time understanding the company, and most importantly, marketing activities by interacting with Dhruval (by quietly slipping out).

Outside, a giggle, two hi-fives and a resounding laughter is heard at the backdrop as Dhruval smiles and I return the favour.
I bite on a slice of guava brought in by an attendant. I indulge in the eating activity as Dhruval pauses to grab a slice for himself. Through the transparent facade of her cabin, I notice that Deepali & Saumitra are engaged in a very intense and animated discussion which ends with both of them nodding vigorously in agreement.  I bring myself back to ask Dhruval-

“Can you tell me about the important activities carried out by the L&T Insurance marketing team?”

 Dhruval explains “Since insurance is among the first mass consumer facing businesses of the iconic L&T Group, the marketing activities here are very unique and exciting. One key area of focus for us is marketing research. We have taken a strategic decision to do extensive consumer work to understand and identify the right segments so that we can design suitable products for them. Marketing research helps us internalize the customer insights into the product & service offerings.

Meanwhile Deepali has received two calls and I see her leaving for an urgent meeting along with two of her team mates. By now few other team members have also voluntarily joined into our discussion.

They all talk to me “Building a brand, with as rich a parentage as the L&T group, has both its advantages and challenges. We have a major advantage that most of our target customers trust this name. The biggest challenge for us is to develop a strong association between the already well known associations of L&T with the insurance category.
All our collaterals are well defined and well designed. We try and differentiate from our competitors by building simple and easily understood products. In line with our brand philosophy, we want our customers to make informed choices. We are still in a start-up phase, hence the promotions and marketing activities currently are local and below the line. During important festive occasions like Durga Pooja, Navratri, we have supported local communities in key cities by erecting stalls. Here our sales force, mainly insurance agents armed with their sales pitch, flip charts have always been effective in lead generation.
We have also worked for branding of all customer touch points like our branches, website, call center etc. We have developed attractive Rewards and Recognition programs to motivate our sales force. We have planned to mark our presence on the social media and traditional media to generate the required buzz about the company”

As the question is answered, more laughter is heard in the background.
I observe that Deepali has come back from her meeting and I grab the opportunity to interact more with her.

2.55 P.M., With Ms. Deepali Naair

Marketers are known to be active at all points of time in the day, but in this particular lady at L&T Insurance, there is something different that you can observe. Her passion and energy for her brand rubs off on all the people around her and specifically her team, who burn the midnight oil quite regularly and very willingly.

Work reminds me of an important question that I must ask her.
“Ma’am, you have worked in the FMCG sector as well as in the financial services sector. What are the similarities and differences in working in these two different sectors?”
“The customer service aspect in an FMCG company is negligible compared to a financial services company. Again, the entire concept of B2B is much more important when it comes to financial services than in FMCG. In FMCG, the way of influencing a customer is more through pricing, packaging, advertisements etc. In financial services, we lay more emphasis on internal marketing to motivate the channel partners and education of the customer through an effective communications strategy. Concepts like Customer Lifetime Value, Renewal Strategy, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Marketing Analytics are predominantly applied in financial services marketing but not used widely in FMCG.  Basically, the use of technology is much more advanced in service oriented industries like insurance that helps us enhance our communications and reach out to our customers through new media. Another big difference is that “e-commerce” or “digital commerce” is a key focus area in financial services while it is non-existent in the FMCG sector.”

One thing is definitely noticeable in her team. Everyone is enthusiastically working. The work seems rigorous, as Deepali discusses one issue after another with her team members and the entire department is buzzing with activity!

 It is this thought that prompts me to ask her the next question:
“I see that your entire team functions at impeccable levels of activity. What is it that really drives the people in the unit? What are the four most important things that keep the passion of marketing teams going?”

She replies with ease:
“From my seventeen years of experience both as a leader and a team member, I have the following four points to share:
I think the most important thing for any team is that its members should have fun. They should have friends within the team and/or at their work place and this would eventually help them bond well and enjoy the time they spend at work”
 She quotes the example of her own team where the atmosphere is fairly informal and every new member added to the team is warmly welcomed and accepted.
“The second most important thing is creation of right opportunities. Here at L&T Insurance, I constantly expose the members of my team to new areas of marketing and also areas which are outside their current domains such as digital marketing, social media marketing and innovative marketing research techniques.  Team members with expertise in these new domains are encouraged to learn about traditional marketing arenas such as Television, Print, Advertising, PR, Event Management etc. Learnings in different domains create newer opportunities for every member and this helps them in their growth as marketers.
“The third most important thing is feedback. It has to be honest and both positive and negative. Also, the feedback should be immediate and timely. A feedback at the end of a month or a quarter is futile as you generally forget the details and only retain the perceptions and its impact.”
“Finally, the atmosphere in the team should be open where even the junior most members are encouraged to speak their mind. They must feel free to disagree with their leaders when they have a different point of view. This helps in reaching optimum solutions that benefit the organization”.

It’s 3.15 P.M. and I slowly realise that I have understood quite a lot about how a marketing department in an insurance company works and how an able leader can nurture a team into their effective best. Some questions just come to my mind as I begin to wind up.

“I am quite sure that with the level of activity I have witnessed here today, your daily routine and your successful marketing campaigns, you would have had great experiences in this company already. What has been your most satisfying experience?”

“One of my most interesting and important projects here has been the creation of the L&T Insurance brand. It involved intense work to finalize the elements that would form a base for branding in the future. These included the name and logo of the brand, identification of product verticals, personality of the brand etc. Since we are a start up, development and successful promotion of L&T Insurance website was also an important project that I’m proud of. For me, it was like giving birth to a child.”

“The insurance sector is now wide open and is rife with competition. In your opinion, which type of company with what unique edge, will sustain in the long run?”
“Any company that brings innovation to the customer with respect to all the marketing & service aspects will do well in the long run. Customer feedback is absolutely essential. The company that keeps the customer in focus and allows and implements changes that add value to the customers will do well in the insurance sector. Excellence in execution and therefore speed would also matter”

Deepali looks at her watch.  It is almost 3.30 P.M. and members of the IT team this time pour in to pull her out for yet another scheduled meeting. I begin to skim through my notepad and realise that most of it is filled. The same applies to my mind.
Even years later, I will still remember the exuberant marketing team, the agility and ability of the leader and the useful insights I received about an insurance company’s marketing department.

The hands of the clock indicate that I mustn’t extract more time out of her already packed schedule. The next few minutes are spent in warm and firm handshakes with a team that has been very warm in receiving me and is equally firm and focussed in its endeavours.

What an afternoon it has been with L&T Insurance!

An open invitation by Saumitra to join the team again soon, for some more interaction really benumbs me. I turn the handle of the door and hesitatingly begin my journey back home, through the corridor with exuberance still emanating from it. I walk past trade centre eventually, few points more knowledgeable than before....