Mind your Marketing

It is all about the people

| Updated on August 30, 2019

Abraham Alapatt – President & Group Head – Marketing, Service Quality, Value Added Services & Innovation, Thomas Cook.

In conversation with Abraham Alapatt – President & Group Head – Marketing, Service Quality, Value Added Services & Innovation, Thomas Cook. With over 20 years of experience at senior strategic levels across varied domains – from brand building to corporate communication to customer service and more. Abraham talks about how brands can stitch together great customer experiences, what worked for Thomas Cook and the power of a 360 approach.

What does it take for brands to stay competitive in today's dynamic economy and market?

Today, thanks to technology, and the pace of information flow, no product or service remains unique for too long. Everybody knows what everybody's doing, faster than ever before. Even if a brand has an edge in terms of a product or a feature, or even a service differentiator, it is very quickly known, understood, and replicated or bettered.


Therefore, the one consistent thing you can ensure is that customers have a great experience in dealing with your brand. This can involve anything to ease of access or friendliness, the ability to recognise them as a repeat customer, to being able to build on your last engagement, rather than starting cold again. Your ability to be agile, in being responsive in terms of anticipating something, maybe even delighting them with something that they weren't expecting, even if it is something small, becomes a differentiator for your brand.

On the back end, you need to have an organisation that is constantly thinking about customer experience, making it a part of their strategy, to be competitive. You're building KPIs (Key Performance Indicator) and TATs (Turn Around Time) that ensure that what you're measuring is customer satisfaction. And at every stage, you are also measuring what the weak points are, and how you can keep strengthening them. So, you have an opportunity to be the leader, and that is clearly a competitive advantage. You're a leader, and you have terrific user experience.

Today, size and scale alone don't necessarily define leadership, because if the customer has a bad user experience dealing with the leader, you can cease being a leader, very fast.

How can marketers better understand the consumer mentality of the youth and get them on-board?

Compared to the previous generations, young consumers are more involved with everything they do. They believe in living in the moment. You have to give them more reason to believe in your brand or product offering in the present. They are less concerned about the physical attributes, and more about the mental or ‘reputational’ attributes. They are, in a sense, their own brand. They not only want to be an active participant in the event of life, but they want to also direct it and therefore their sense of involvement is far greater.

This changes the market dynamics and the rules of the marketers in every possible way. First of all, to engage with these young consumers, you have to have a reputation, image, or perception about your product or service that is aligned to their sense of ‘will it add value for me?’

So, marketers will have to find ways to communicate how their brand, product, or service is able to give them those experiences, which reinforce their belief in themselves as a brand and make them look more successful and more competitive.

Can a one-size-fits-all approach work in a differentiated market such as India?

Consultative selling is now becoming true for both product marketing as well as service marketing. Earlier, almost always, product selling was very transactional. Service selling, by definition, always had to be a bit consultative because you had to create it. Today, there is no question of one-size-fits-all.

Your customers when they come in and say that they have decided what they want, are very clear about it. And, of course, as a good marketer or seller, you shouldn't argue because the customer is very clear about

what they want. But there is value in asking customers the ‘why’ behind their decision. Trying to probe a bit and offering to recommend something because it fits the need better is likely to be appreciated.

So, for sure, one size does not fit all. Very often, there is a risk in trying to categorise everybody. A family with kids while planning a tour would want multiple things that will keep in mind everyone’s requirements. The decision depends on offering customised packages to them.

Why and how should brands think local?

Thanks to technology, localisation is now very real, and gives brands the opportunity to be accurate to a few metres of customers, using technology. We are now geo-targeting communications, and hyper-localisation is possible in many ways.

The days of just saying, “I've got this 60/30 second commercial and I'm going to dub it into 10 languages and everybody's going to sort of relate to it in the same way”, are gone.

We try to ensure that everything we do in our local market is as localised as possible. And because we are both a physical network and a virtual network, we get a real sense of what works and what doesn’t. So, while the core creative visual may be centrally designed, and we try to obviously keep that pan-India, and as neutral as possible, there is extensive localisation on the ground. In fact, we actually asked our local branch teams to come up with expressions or items that locals use, to decorate the branch office walls. So, the branch decor will actually have a context that makes sense in, say, Chennai, including colloquial terms in Tamil on the walls, talking of travel, and more. I'm just offering a small example of how you can actually appeal to people who walk in, rather than trying to have this MNC kind of approach of being consistent everywhere. This ability to be local and, at the same time, have the capability of a global company is a tremendous combination.

What makes a winner – better technology or the better idea?

The primary thing earlier was to have a good idea that manifests into a great commercial, product or service. A great idea from 10 years ago is no longer a great idea today. The very life span of a great idea is questioned almost every day. Today, you not only have to have a great idea, but you also have to constantly reinvent the jig to keep it being a great idea. No matter what you do around it or the money you put in a mediocre or bad idea, is eventually going to fail.

It is not an either-or situation; you need a great idea on which you can afford to invest money, attract more investors, grow scope and scale, and be long-term sustainable, while also being able to constantly reinvent that idea. Due to the digital environment, the pace of sustainability of a good idea has, today, changed completely.

Technology, therefore, is a huge part of not only learning how to keep it relevant and ticking, but also being able to make it agile and transform the UI and customer experience so that customers actually keep coming back and find relevance in the idea.

What are the 3 secrets to successful branding?

Keeping your finger on the pulse, especially with GenZ, given the speed at which they change their preferences, is crucial.

Constantly looking at products and services and service levels, and keeping an eye on service feedback, NPS, and more, which then give you a quick sense of what processes you need to tighten, what are your training requirements, and more.

In the service business, it becomes crucial, because it is all about the people, the person who is dealing with you at the store, for instance, the tour manager, when you're travelling, who can make all the difference. You can even have an average product, which is completely transformed with the right people selling and delivering it, on the ground.

This article is part of a brand initiative by The Hindu BusinessLine to profile marketing professionals from across India.

Abraham says…

a) My top three marketing mantras for 2019

Data, analytics and customer experience.

b) Three concepts/words I believe define a hot brand

Agile, proactive, and friendly.

c) A powerful ad campaign I liked

The ‘Saregama Carvaan’ was a good campaign. Its product idea translated into great work in terms of communication. That great idea and communication resulted in it being a phenomenal success.

Published on August 23, 2019

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