@AIMA Congress: ‘Marketing is always a challenge’

05 Mar,2012

By Shruti Pushkarna


RK Swamy BBDO’s SK Swamy @ AIMA 2nd World Marketing Congress
[youtube width=”400″ height=”200″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WQ-UK3vd3v8[/youtube]
 Maruti’s Mayank Pareek @ AIMA 2nd World Marketing Congress
[youtube width=”400″ height=”200″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xKv0XlDoh8A[/youtube]

Yashwant Sinha, Former Union Minister for External Affairs and Member of Parliament, summed up the crux of all discussions at the two-day marketing congress appropriately when he said, “Marketing, as a function will always remain a challenge to marketers because it is an art and a science that will continue to grow.” In the several sessions over the two-day congress, the concept of marketing was expanded to include spheres as diverse as politics, corruption, business and spirituality. Leaders from all walks of life converged at the congress to understand the nuances of marketing and how to leverage the power of marketing.


The AIMA 2nd World Marketing Congress was held in New Delhi on March 2-3. The two day conference saw a panel of eminent speakers from various sectors who exchanged their thoughts on the changing dynamics of marketing. The theme of the conference this year was ‘Exploding Marketing Power. Speaking of the theme, World Marketing Congress Chairman & Chairman and Managing Director, BBDO RK Swamy, Srinivasan K Swamy said, “Marketing is the only thing that can deliver disproportionate results. Finance, manufacturing etc can only reduce cost to some extent, whereas marketing can provide excessive revenue and it has the power to bring on exponential return, that’s why we have this theme of exploding marketing power.” He also said, “The AIMA World Marketing Congress this year has raised the bar from last year to explore various dimensions of marketing not just in India but globally. The basic concepts of marketing have not changed in the last few decades but their implementation has. Marketing strategies start even before the product is launched, through the purchase and by means of post purchase offers.”


This was also the third year running for the AIMA-RK Swamy High Performance Brand Award. This year the award was won by Wipro Technologies, with Axis Bank as the first runner up and Voltas Ltd as the second runner up.


Staying relevant to the consumer

In the session on ‘Extracting Full Value of Marketing Investments’ both Virginia Sharma, Vice President & CMO, IBM India and Aditya Ghosh, President, Indigo Airlines stressed on the need to stay relevant to the consumers. Ms Sharma said, “You have to stay relevant to the consumer and that’s the toughest job as a marketer. Brand visibility and awareness can be bought- you can plug your logo anywhere and everywhere but what you can’t buy is relevance. So what we need to do is to build authentic advocates for the brand because advocacy shapes belief.”


Mr Ghosh said that all employees at Indigo are brand ambassadors for the airline. He said, “We need to ask ourselves how do we stay relevant to the customer and what is the customer really willing to pay for. Our aim is to concentrate on the product which remains relevant to the customers. Marketing does not define our business strategy but plays an important support role in pushing it further. Our marketing spend is less than 1 percent of our revenues. We create new innovative experiences and find various touch points with our customers that transcends into all our products and offerings.”


Mr Ghosh also shared three strategic guidelines that Indigo follows.

  • Stay true to the brand value
  • Carefully curate every possible touch point
  • Make a buzz-worthy yet credible impression

Mr Ghosh also said that a one-way marketing blast is not always necessary. It is important however to keep innovating the techniques of how you push your message across to the consumer.


Stretching the product life cycle

Nita Kapoor, EVP Marketing & Corporate Affairs, Godfrey Philips India Ltd chaired the session on ‘Stretching the product life cycle or product extensions’. In her opening remarks, she said, “Product extensions are fundamental to business strategy. Product extensions have a framework and their simple objective is to maximize revenue and create entry barriers.”


Alok Bharadwaj, Senior Vice President, Canon talked about product life cycle management as something that is more to do with creating values for the brand rather than a marketing gimmick. He said that it is important to create and add value every time there’s a product extension. He said, “There are two compelling business drivers in product life cycle management. One is innovation, which helps provide new propositions for product extensions. The other is marketing, which makes these propositions relevant to the customer.” He also added that since change is happening globally especially due to fast changing technology, management of product life cycle has to be done globally as well.


Mr Bharadwaj cited examples from technology products’ business cycle. He said, “Technology products have a slow start but they move up to the peak rapidly, staying at the peak only for a short while, they drop down quickly. Life cycle of these products is less than a year. So to make up for the loss in the second half of the product life cycle, a marketer has to capitalize by the time the product is reaching its peak and push for it to peak a bit higher. This is when product extensions come in.”


Understanding the rural consumer

The session on ‘Extracting the full power of Rural Marketing’ was chaired by Manisha Lath Gupta, CMO, Axis Bank and the keynote address was by Siva Nagarajan, MD, Mother Dairy. Ms Gupta started the session with a stress on the need to differentiate a rural consumer from an urban consumer. She said, “The needs of a rural consumer are very different from the needs of an urban consumer. As marketers we need to start innovating for the rural market.” She also said that the word ‘extracting’ had negative connotations attached to it, and as marketers one should really look at ‘serving the rural customer’. She said, “We should serve rather than exploit. We have to give back as much as we take. As marketers, we should be looking at developing sustainable livelihoods in rural areas.”


Mr Nagarajan agreed with Ms Gupta on the need to redefine the rural consumer. He said, “We don’t even have a proper definition for rural. For us, anything that is not urban is rural. Rural consumer is not a poor urban consumer. Speaking of winning strategies for extracting the full power of rural marketing, Mr Nagarajan said, “Rural India holds a big opportunity for marketers. It is extremely important for marketers to understand rural mindset, their income & spending patterns, penetration of various products in the market and most importantly give value back to the producer. For brands to set up a strong base in a rural market it is essential to realize that the rural consumer is not a poor urban consumer. Marketers need to have an interdependent eco-system which involves players like Government, NGO’s, Banks etc. We cannot look at price-led innovation, rather we need to look at product value. Apart from vivid demos, rural marketing and brand building involves educating the trade and the influencers and not just regular above-the-line activities.”


Making brands more meaningful

The session on ‘How to make brands meaningful and powerful’ saw Mayank Pareek, Managing Executive Officer, Maruti Suzuki India Ltd. and Vishnu Mohan, CEO-Asia Pacific, Havas Media, debate and deliberate the need to make brands more powerful and the ways to achieve that.


Mr Pareek said, “For marketers to make brands more powerful and meaningful, the biggest challenge faced by them is the buyers. Brands need to be relevant to what people are and what they want.” Citing examples of brands like Apple and Beetle, Mr Pareek emphasized on the need to create brands which ‘speak’ to prospective customers and go beyond just being ‘physical’ products.


Mr Mohan cited some findings from a Havas study which pointed out that 70 percent of brands have no life, which means that if they were to disappear today, customers won’t care about them. The study also says that people in the Asia Pacific region are more concerned about environmental, health and social issues, and they are also more attached to brands as compared to the western world. The study also indicated that people’s expectation of companies’ responsible behaviour have risen over the past two years.


So in a scenario where consumers recognize that environmental/social problems have an impact on their lives and that’s why they are willing to pay more for responsible products, the challenge for the marketer is to see if his/her brands are contributing to improve the lives of consumers.


Speaking of what makes brands meaningful, Mr Mohan pointed out three key pillars


  • Personal well being- The customer wants to know how the brand impacts him/her, what are the personal outcomes
  • Collective well being- How does the brand impact the collective outcomes of people, society
  • Communications- Brands need to be able to talk to consumers, make them think and trust


Mr Mohan concluded, “To be ‘valued’, brands need to transform from ‘value’ to ‘values’.”


Making it ‘interesting’

In the session on ‘Exploiting the power of Creativity’, R Balakrishnan, Chairman & Chief Creative Officer, Lowe Lintas India was at his creative best. He engaged the audience by playing some of the best TVCs to reinforce his idea that there are several ways of making things ‘interesting’. He said, “Marketing a brand is all about solving a problem as interestingly as possible after carefully understanding the need of the customer. Interesting can come in different ways, it can make people laugh or cry, or just make them say ‘wow’. Creativity today fundamentally revolves around making the boring seem interesting to the target audience. It can be done in various ways; by making a person feel like the hero of his own life, finding interesting insights about the new generation and translating it onto the advertisement or by giving an idea in a commercial which people can employ in real life.” Balki added, “You can’t teach people about creativity in a structured manner. However, structured thinking is required to make anything interesting.”


Distribution is about managing the mind of the market

The session on ‘Distribution/Channel Dynamics- Enhancing result’ was chaired by Paritosh Joshi, Chief Executive Officer, Star CJ Network India with an address by Amrit Thomas, CMO, United Spirits. Mr Joshi said, “Most people’s war stories that I have heard are to do with distribution. In a country like ours, availability comes before choice. Even before you get to choice, you have to arrange for availability. Also as distribution channels have evolved, the nature of the choice of marketers and the choice of customers has also become complex.”


Mr Thomas said that brands are like ideas in our minds. He said, “The role of advertising is to plant that idea. Having planted that idea, you need to convert the idea into acts- sales. The big shift we are seeing in marketing is the new technology- web and mobile. These have made the propagation of ideas easier.”


Speaking about enhancing results through distribution, Mr Thomas said that it is important to understand the mind of the market. He said, “The mind of the market is shaped by consumer, shopper, sales team and customer. Word of mouth/influence plays an important role in building brands and driving growth. Marketers need to understand and leverage touch points through consumers and shoppers interact with brands. Marketers also need to understand shopper and shopper occasions and make interventions to build competitive advantage at the point of purchase.”



The marketing congress ended with a valedictory address by Yashwant Sinha, who drew a parallel between the roles of a marketer and a politician and said that politicians try to market themselves continuously and if they stopped doing so, there would be no hope left for them in politics. He also said that he was surprised that not much technical work is done when it comes to marketing political ideologies.


Speaking of a sudden upsurge in demand in India, he said, “We are seeing not ‘exploration’ of the market but ‘explosion’ of the market. So capacities will have to be increased in order to meet that demand.” He urged marketers to contribute a lot more towards rural India as he said, “A great deal needs to be done in the area of rural marketing.” He stressed on the need for marketers to ‘innovate’, to craft their messages in a way that will meet their target groups. He concluded, “Marketing, as a function will always remain a challenge to marketers because it is an art and a science that will continue to grow.”


At the closing, World Marketing Congress Chairman & Chairman and Managing Director, BBDO RK Swamy, Mr Srinivasan K Swamy shared five personal takeaways from the congress.


  • Marketing is all about single-mindedness- He referred to the Indigo strategy cited by Mr Aditya Ghosh, President, Indigo Airlines, where they stress on not just flying planes on time but punctuality is woven into everything that they do at Indigo, even if it’s about starting meetings on time.
  • Value is more important- It is not that customers are looking for cheap products but they are looking for value for money.
  • Consumers are willing to pay- If companies are ethical, if they have CSR initiatives and they provide environmentally sensitive products, then the customers are willing to pay a higher price for their products.
  • It’s all about being interesting- Consumers like interesting things, interesting people and interesting products.
  • Intuition is passé- Today intuitive decision making is passé because there is so much one can do based on response driven marketing.

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