The Mashup of Consumerism in Developing Markets

India sketchbook1 copy
Sketching the scenery of south India from a moving vehicle, I was forced to take it all in and put it down on paper as fast as I could.  Indians are absorbing consumer culture just as quickly, and adding the best of the "new world" while retaining the uniqueness of a 4000+ year old culture.

I passed by a Pizza Hut next to actual "huts", villages with intermittent electricity, bullock carts and bustling Internet cafes where farmers were trading commodities while students were doing their homework.  Fresh sugarcane juice was being squeezed with a sturdy device that looked like an improvised clothes wringer with a flywheel.  Next to the sugarcane stall were signs for Java programming, SAT and MCAST preperation classes.

A book that I picked up at Bengaluru airport, We Are Like That Only,(Winning in the Indian Market  is the U.S. edition) by Rama Bijapurkar  sheds light on the consumer mashup in modern India.  Generalizing a market of a billion people and their demand for consumer goods based on per capita income, past behavior and population growth would be short-sighted.  Indians don't want to emulate the west, they want to adopt western goods and services in their own way.

Is your product recession-proof?

Depends on what product category it's in, and whether you're leading with brand reputation or value.

Whether you're a B2C or B2B marketer (and I've mostly been the latter) there are many brand cues to take from CPGs and Retailers – after all, they’re the companies who spend the most on branding.

The October 08 issue of CPG Matters cites a recent consumer study by Unilever:  Winning Shoppers in Turbulent Times  detailing which Consumer Product categories are more vulnerable during an economic slump.  

According to the study:

(To save money) the top dozen categories shoppers will not abandon preferred brands (for a generic brand) include:

  • anti-perspirant and deodorant
  • batteries
  • canned vegetables
  • fresh meat and seafood
  • hair care
  • household cleanser
  • laundry detergents
  • margarine
  • pain relievers and cold medicines
  • personal wash
  • pet food
  • tissues and toilet paper

The top five categories where shoppers would reduce spending if the economy continues to struggle (…going to a private-label or generic brand) include:

  • air fresheners
  • cookies
  • beer/wine
  • frozen dinners
  • soda/pop 

So is your product laundry detergent, or cookies?    Are you a brand leader, or a value leader?  

A great primer on the competitive dynamic between consumer goods companies and retailers, which I recently re-read is Private Label Strategy by Nirmalya Kumar and Jan-Benedict Steenkamp.  It is a fast read that describes the power shift from brands to private label goods and the underlying dynamics of establishing value for consumers.


Food for thought for B2B and B2C marketers alike…

Marketers: Are You a Newscaster or a Reporter?

Newscaster_2 About 15 years ago, I learned a valuable lesson:  Marketers are either Newscasters or Reporters.   I hate to think in black and white terms, but this theory has held up for the past decade and a half, without exceptions.   To clarify,  a Newscaster is most comfortable reading from a telepromter, comes across as incredibly savvy, but has difficulty coming up with their own material.   A Reporter is most comfortable in the field, collecting information and putting it to work.  But they have to clean up for the camera.  Both roles have their strengths and weaknesses, but understanding them well has helped me make better hiring decisions, and challenge myself as well.

The incident that formed this theory was recruiting a well-respected marketer in my organization, whom I admired greatly,  for a product launch.  To be honest, I was a bit intimidated by her, and wanted to make sure she had ownership in the project.  So I walked through the key ideas and asked her to prepare the slide deck for the launch (I had witnessed this marketer deliver dozens of presentations, flawlessly).   

Two days later, I checked in, and the PowerPoint had not been started.  I inquired whether there was a problem using the program (not everyone knew how to use it in 1993...).   But the problem was, according to this superstar marketer, as follows:  "I know how to use PowerPoint, but I don't know what to put in it!".   I was shocked that a fellow marketer with 10+ years more seniority and experience couldn't tell a story.   But she was a Newscaster -- and a darn good one, at that.    So in the end,  I wrote the story, and she delivered it -- together, we hit a home run. 

Reporter I am, by nature, a reporter (and I do clean up good..),  but I'm uncomfortable reading canned speeches unless I make them my own, with anecdotes and stories.   And when I do need to present someone else's work,   I need to practice extra hard to get it right.   That said, I get involved in the work I'm doing that I have no trouble presenting "on-the-fly", because I know the material so well.   

I strive to be a better Newscaster, so I won't have to spend endless hours memorizing someone else's Power Point deck, and worrying less about the lighting of the stage and the position of the podium than I have to!    And I'm still in touch with the Newscaster I mentioned in the story.  Last time I checked in, she had taken on more "Reporter" challenges, and had earned my admiration once again. 

Election '08: A Marketer's Dream, or Never-Ending Nightmare?

Confession:  the Democratic Primary has turned me into a political junkie.  Why?   I'm an unlikely addict.  I'm not a registered Democrat, or a Republican, for that matter.  I'm an "uncommitted" or Independent voter, who, until recently, couldn't even vote in a presidential primary in my home state.   And I'm highly skeptical of political spin, since I do competitive positioning for a living. Ballot_box_2But I keep hitting "refresh" on political blogs to see if anything new has transpired (even if I only browsed the site 10 minutes ago) and I'm losing sleep on primary nights to listen to the same banter over this seemingly-endless Democratic race.   

After weeks of puzzling over this strange new addiction (I suppose it could be worse...), it finally dawned on me why I succumbed so easily.   I'm a marketer.   

We marketers position our companies for success.   If we are outmaneuvered by a competitor, we re-position, and make it fit into the overall plan.  We're always making adjustments, to meet a changing market, new prospects, new competitive threats. Election '08 is marketing on steroids.  In our drive-thru news culture, it's point-counterpoint every few hours.   And if you thought CMOs had short tenures (I believe Coopers and Lybrand measured the average CMO tenure at 14 months), we have long runs compared to campaign staff, who are hired and fired in the time it takes to make and retract a stray comment.   

So I'm empathising with my fellow sleep-deprived marketers on the campaign trail, and coming up with fresh strategies for them in my mind (for all candidates, by the way), because I can't help thinking of the next chess move (I position in my sleep).  It may have been an interesting puzzle for starters, but there's no need for me to go the distance to Puerto Rico, South Dakota, or the convention.

Now that I have this all figured out,  I think I will get some sleep, for a change.