Consumers globally have never had it so good with choices galore in both quantity and quality. But these are also the times of stiff competition where marketers find it hard to get consumers and even harder to hold on to them. So, how does a marketer identify his target and build loyalty among his consumers?
Suresh Ramanathan, associate professor of marketing at the Graduate School of Business, Chicago University, who specializes in consumer behaviour, provided some answers
Has globalization brought about a certain amount of standardisation in consumer behaviour?
There is some amount of standardisation. Actually, I wouldn’t call it standardisation as much as commonality. One of the things that we should realize is that regardless of cultural nuances, certain underlying psychologies remain the same. Culture is just a contextual factor that might influence things, but the basic behaviour remains the same. What people are looking for in general remains more or less standard. Having said that, there are certain specific differences between cultures, and those should be respected. But the old understandings that you have limitations like borders for marketing don’t really apply anymore.
How is the changing media landscape affecting consumers and brands?
The big change now is in the way customers are involved in creating awareness about brands. They are talking about brands in ways beyond the control of the brand manager. Customers themselves decide on what kind of information they want to give and how they give it. So, there are a lot of choices for customers in how they want to convey their thoughts on a brand.
Are companies reacting to this change?
Some are reacting by embracing that change. So, there are companies that are actively monitoring social buzz. There are companies that are trying to feed the buzz through things like viral marketing, which influences what people say about your brand. Some companies are still convinced that the only way to go is through television advertising.
Which is fine in many ways but savvier companies are embracing all the ways of coming in contact with customers. A good marketing strategy is one that finds the cheapest way to tap the customer.
How does a company like Apple manage to enter the consumer psyche so deep that it becomes iconic?
Companies like that have great understanding of what their brand and their consumers are all about. They invest in creating a sense of brand community — where consumers come together for a common purpose.
For its computers, Apple has created a band of users that think of themselves as creative. A sense of social community and connection has been built among them.
But Apple has successfully gone beyond its core products and created mass appeal products such as the iPod and the iPhone…
The thing that connects the iPhone and the iPod to the Mac is the design. But that’s not all. The ‘coolness’ factor has a huge value for consumers. Apple succeeded in extending that factor to its phone and music player. It also increased sales of the Mac to allow more people to come in contact with the community.
These days sensory branding is seen as a big thing, especially for retail enterprises…
Sensory branding is just one aspect of the experience you should create as a retailer. It’s the overall user experience that deserves more attention. What sensory branding does is create opportunities for emotions to come into play. But beyond that it is important to create opportunities for relationship building.
US Presidential candidate Barack Obama has built a very popular global brand in a short period of time. What are the lessons for marketers?
That could be an entire discussion all by itself. The novelty factor and the background of the candidate is one. He is also an extremely articulate guy who can influence people and he inspires. The general political environment is also conducive to somebody like him because of the last few years. For marketers it has been an amazing campaign at the grassroots level especially in terms of fund-raising. He has been able to influence a lot of people into contributing $15-20 to his campaign. He has built social networks in all major towns and has people organizing his campaign all over.
I go back to the point I was making earlier. Advertising is not a one-way process and the Obama campaign has realized that. Get people involved in the process. The Hillary Clinton campaign was built on a traditional advertising model that was top down. Obama’s bottom up model completely changed the equation.