Leverage all sources of information and communication to interact with your target consumer. And segment the market more effectively in the process.
For audiences that are not Net-savvy, the instant information sources beyond online have also exploded.
In earlier times, a big budget Bollywood blockbuster would open on a Friday. You had one of many options: Take a risk, see it over the weekend and find out for yourself how it is. Check with a few friends in case they have gone and seen it already. Or wait for the first set of reviews to come out in the dailies on Sunday and decide whether the movie merits spending time and money on over the coming weekends.
Now consider the scenario today for some sets of audiences - the movie releases on Friday. By Friday noon, Internet portals are brimming with reviews, counter reviews and even audience comments! The reviews scale the whole spectrum from `Avoid' to `Must See' and various levels of tolerance in between.
People even have the opportunity to post their own reviews and have online debates.
For audiences that are not Net-savvy, the instant information sources beyond online have also exploded. No access to the Internet? Does not matter. Simply switch on any of the news channels and they will be beaming audience reactions to a movie live after the very first show. Worried about geographical segmentation? You can watch audience reactions from areas as diverse as Madurai and Mahabaleshwar on your television screen. And even if you are not watching television there is the obsessive-compulsive fingertip disorder - SMS. SMS can reach millions of people divulging the real killers in suspense movies or providing short `Must See' or `Must Avoid' reviews in a flash.
Now imagine this same level of information dissemination for all products and services besides cinema and its repercussion on business. It's actually happening.
Take the launch of a new variant from a soft drink company. The trendiest of advertising with some of the hottest and highest ranked celebrities will be developed for a core target of young audiences. The advertising will score very highly on all counts of likeability and relevance. Events will be planned around the launch. And what does the "Googling " generation for whom the drink is intended actually do?
Search on the Web and find out that this "hot", "new" variant is nothing but a version that failed miserably in Mexico last year. One blog comment and 25 SMSes are enough to spread the word across many colleges and cities.
The advertising works but the variant does not! There have always been discussions about "well informed" customers and now this information wave is cutting across all traditional demographics in terms of age groups, income and socio-economic classifications.
This is a fundamental shift in business and marketing strategy. The first fundamental shift is related to traditional segmentation and customer information processes. Traditional marketing segmentation has relied on demographics, psychographics or a combination of both. For example, demographically, a sewing machine can be marketed to women in the age group of 35-45 with a monthly income of Rs 8,000. She is likely to be a homemaker, a mother and someone who likes to do things for one's family. While these conventions still hold, there are two distinct sets here - a homemaker who is an enabled "information seeker" and uses diverse information sources versus one who does not. And the strategy needs to be adapted for both these audiences.
A 30-second spot during the afternoon soap opera would have worked for housewives relaxing before their afternoon nap. But for housewives who are surfing the Net and browsing through all the detailed features of sewing machines available in Japan and Germany, the company's Web site needs to be updated, not with cursory product details but with product benefits, and give compelling reasons why this product provides the utmost convenience and meets her needs.
And the amount of energy, effort and expertise that the organisation needs to harness in terms of creating and utilising this information source needs to be at the same level as what goes in creating the 30-second commercial, if not more. There needs to be an inbound helpline for answering all queries linked to the sewing machine. And other interaction and engagement options like SMS-based marketing need to be leveraged.
The seemingly endless news channels can also be used to obtain genuine customer and prospect feedback on the product. Like open source software - there is also the possibility of customer engagement in the development stages of the product itself, a whole new form of product development focus groups.
This also means a significant shift in the traditional communication development process. Core propositions have to be communicable effectively across diverse media from a commercial to an Internet banner to a search engine text communication.
After all, a customer may start by using a search engine to seek a product, then move on to receiving a friend's comments on the product through SMS and then see a hoarding for the product. The whole journey from awareness to interest to desire to action to satisfaction has become non-linear and random.
A clear example of harnessing this randomness to complete advantage has been achieved by BMW. To appeal to the Blackberry-addicted, Internet-embedded successful executive and yet communicate all the core values of BMW, the company created a series of films by noted directors like John Woo. And made them available on its Web site. A trendsetting initiative that created a never before buzz for the brand amongst it younger demographic target. It also enabled communication of brand values and customer engagement that a standard 30-degree spot could never have achieved.
Businesses need to build customer propositions that can compete globally - and also explain why they are tailored for specific ethnographic audiences. And they need to leverage the umpteen information sources available to today's customers.
Think about it. The iPod has reached a level of near "universal awareness" and "universally desired." And Apple has achieved this by spending hardly any amount on conventional mass media advertising.
The 360-degree brand experience has long been a part of our business lexicon. This may be the best time to invest in getting it right and reaping the benefits.
(The writer works in an MNC bank. The views expressed are personal.)