Human society has evolved around the ‘market’, where buying and consumption is the central human activity that defines all social and political relations. Even the ever competing socialism and capitalism political theories make their respective cases on the ‘why’ of ‘who can buy more’? The odd contradiction of the market is that ‘all sellers are consumers, but all consumers are not always sellers.’ The scene got colourful and entertaining with the advent of mass media, which opened up the fascinating world of ‘marketing’ and ‘advertising’, making it probably the most artful profession of human persuasion. Seven inventions marked major flashpoints in human history and consequently redefined marketing each time they occurred – they were the printing paper, camera, radio, television, computer, internet and lastly, the mobile phone. All seven are now fused into one – the smartphone.
How sellers worked synergies between them, popular culture, mutating human needs to sell their wares before this fusion and how they did it after, is a fascinating record put together by Nimish Dwivedi in ‘Marketing Chronicles: A Compendium of Global & Local Marketing Insights from the Pre-Smartphone and the Post-Smartphone Era’. The discerning reader can also see the unintended commentary on societal notions and facets of human relations that drive the pertinent issues of today.
The first chapters explain how businesses and services that are a part of a single industry, advertise themselves on a single brand. For example, how makers of “laptops, electric shavers, luggage, mobile phones and wrinkle free shirts”, that cater to the air traveller, advertise their wares in a single space and benefit from the union of airline and hotels that team up with banks offering co-branded credit cards. Exploiting the frequent flyer’s pursuit of ‘miles’ on their trips, these very same services are sought by the flyer then the accumulated miles are redeemed on a free trip to a holiday destination. This is given the fact that even though the miles accumulated are on trips paid by companies, “it is the power of individual rewards that will ensure repeat business.” “The customer gets a never-before benefit, the card company gets more cards and higher spends, and the airline gets a loyal customer. It’s a win-win for all concerned,” the book says.
The idea of “reward” for the travelling customer for spending on their products that induce more such expenses can be further exploited, according to Nimish, if businesses like a hotel chain, an airline, a cellular phone company and business information provider partner with a bank and issue a multi-branded credit card, which could both massively benefit the brand and the customer. He also thoughtfully recommends brands to target the “millions of salesmen who travel to remote villages using the most uncomfortable means…sit huddled in crowded trains…(as) the real business travellers in India for whom basic comforts and conveniences do not even figure in the set of customer experiences.”
The next chapter fascinatingly recounts how brands like Nokia introduced “product placement”, to counter the “restless fingers” and diminishing attention-spans affected by the remote control and the “channel explosion”, causing people to ignore even the most eye-grabbing advertisements. The movie The Saint (one of my personal favourites too) shows the protagonist played by Val Kilmer using the Nokia Communicator (which combines the use of a handset and a computer) using the phone throughout his exploits as a face-changing spy, effectively using all the phone’s features integral to the movie plot. I myself remember another fast-paced action, thriller Cellular, which was a soft-launch for one of Nokia’s most successful modes of the multimedia phone generation, the 6600, which takes the viewer through the entire phone. Until then, product placement meant a “blinking neon flashing in the background while the actors did their bit on screen.” But here, the product actually had a role to play in the movie.
How more expensive brands of everyday products were introduced by advertising semi-superficial technical enhancements is also recounted. Tapping the human need to look attractive which equates beauty with intelligence and competence (Louise Philippe, Van Heusen, Allen Solly) or introducing a genuinely superior feature in an existing range of products (the gel pen, toothbrushes that could brush gums or Gillette razors) are examples where people were willing to pay 100% to 200% more.
Nimish surprisingly recommends retaining the trusty old customer service executive, even amidst these recessionary and cost-cutting times, with all the knowledge of the product’s features at the store and retail outlets, pointing to the need of the buyer to not having to make a complicated choice determined by his needs and budget. Apple is claimed by the author to have rather invested in this human resource with a full range of Customer Interaction Model beginning with a concierge desk that greets customers, a second line of product executives who introduce the various wares to the customers to the third line of a Genius Bar, where a certified Apple ‘Geniuses’ attend to complicated and technically trying queries on people’s Apple electronics.
The book also recollects how the changing geopolitical landscapes created new markets and marketing strategies, in the backdrop of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, which opened up the impoverished content to a range of sports and lifestyle products. A chapter on the elderly frail customer (Caring for India’s Ignored Generation) talks about brands have made inroads into this demographic with specialized material and financial products viz., elder friendly homes and retirement pension plans. He further recommends services like money management, domestic support, counselling services, recreational areas, caregiving for the multitude of senior citizens living by themselves.
Such a comprehensive panning over various time periods and changing demographics that influenced the evolution of the market, products and marketing techniques is a must read for entrepreneurs and marketing professionals alike. History, as they say, is a great teacher, and yesterday’s chapters may hold answers for branding and marketing issues of today.