Sanjeev Kotnala: Do you have a combat strategy for a completely naked market?

05 Oct,2016

By Sanjeev Kotnala


This is a time of great anxiety for the marketers. The traditional synchronised product development process that they so wisely learnt and understood was never a complex process. It was a seamless choreographed process. The collaborating teams from verticals like research, manufacturing, marketing, communication and sales found their unique ways to formulate benefit claims to dress up the show. The nervous consumer got his kick and the counter the sound everyone loved.


In case of doubt, the marketers had the option to fallback on technological inspired jargon, newly initiated rituals, comparative sheets and slogans were available to enchant the consumer community. A wave of experiences and front-loading of sales was all that was needed for the brand to gain some momentum. The war of sales and distribution was fought on ground zero.


Media and communication have always been critical for success. Slick glamour quotient upped by the celebrity endorsements along with beautiful location seduced consumers from every screen and page. Consumer continued to believe everything that was printed and screened. Moreover, consumer education in the category, product or brand usually was completed at the retail point the last point of connect.


Marketers today are like the king with no clothes. The brand no longer can hide behind the fig leaf of campaigns and survive on after-sales service. In the era of information and technology, the new WOR (Word on Review) and comparison, nothing is hidden. The consumer does a much deeper research and finishes comparative analysis with a click. They have the power to read, listen and decipher original, copied and fake voices in reviews. Additionally, the social media allows them the chirping feedback and experience from people they trust and believe in. It is more powerful then the nest of the demonstrations and TVCs.


Marketers rightly believed they could strengthen, create or break perceptions. I have been on that side spending nights over these discussions, and feeling elated when ever the consumer appreciated efforts by the ringing counters.


It will be faulty to believe that the same is true today. The foundation of brand’s early imagery may still be initiated by the campaign and the buzz; however, the final skew of perceptions gets strengthened over media and input they hardly are able to control.


Truly, in the era gone by, a unilateral unholy alliance between client and agency rarely had the consumer in sight. Earlier, role and touchpoints were very compartmentalised and hence leveraged differently, unfortunately. The boundaries have blurred.


The consumer mindspace is cluttered and enriched with all the data and analysis much before contacting the retail salesman. We are slowly but surely moving to an era where last mile connectivity will be dominated in digital space with retail point (if at all) remaining a mere formality. The consumer belief in manufacturer statement is low. Higher credence is given to influencers, prosumers and existing users and buyers. They have their set of consumer points to refer and connect with.


This as expected is creating a new set of third party validation of products and services. It’s not rare to find an automobile service centre calling you for good review in JD Power survey. Or the hotels and airlines follow up for fresh review with loyalty points. Earlier, such validation and reviews were more B2B-centric. Currently, they have become hygiene even for B2C and B2I.


Brand owners and custodians may like it or not; the guard is down in the overtly naked market. The layers are slowly and surely being ripped off the celebrated positioning and promises experiences. The brand was never more naked then this.


Unfortunately, most of the comments and reviews tend to be full of negativity and issues faced by the consumer. Not only, it’s tough for the brand to match the expectation of most of the market, but humans are known more to crib than appreciate. One cannot discount these digital pouring across social media and review sites. These are more than free unsolicited advice and feedback.


How well-equipped is the brand to listen to the digital noise? Can it filter the contextual remarks, understand the language tonalities and its implications? Who is watching such matrices and at what frequency? How empowered is the frontline? Do they need to confer with upper management to tackle everyday situations? How good the brand is in anticipating issues? Does the brand have a cohesive policy of internal education on issues of market nakedness? There are too many right questions with few complete answers.


What is liked and who like’s it, is a valuable trigger for future sales. More important is that the reviews also tell you what is being disliked or what are the points in product, brand or service the marketer need to iron out? Reviews are the opportunity to engage the audience. It will most likely create a positive impression if the organisation starts listening and acting on the needs.


‘Good news must travel, but the bad news must travel faster’. The organisation must be alive to such situations and convert them into positive experiences. There is an absolute need for efficient management of external perceptions. For this, there is a need for review, buzz and feedback promotion strategy, along with listening and monitoring the noise. In this, a system that is empowered and does not require frequent escalation works best.


Remember that digital impressions are never can be wiped, they are permanent in nature. The organisation of today have to engage all consumers, satisfied or irritated. The only way to burry a negativity is to create higher level of positivity.


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