Marketing

Listening to consumers online and offline

S. RAMESH KUMAR ANURADHA SRIDHARAN | Updated on August 03, 2011

What’s cooking? Brands need to develop a framework to integrate their real-world and Web strategies to address consumer decision-making.

Marketing strategy today has to track and act on the information exchange happening online as well.

Facebook, Twitter, Orkut and other online social media have attracted both consumers and marketers. Conventional consumer decision-making needs to address contemporary developments in the environment while retaining its inherent strengths.

Parle, for instance, came to know that Hippo, one of its snack offerings, was not available in certain retail outlets through social media. Adidas had created awareness and, perhaps, enhanced consumers' intention to buy the brand through its Facebook page. According to a Google study, 64 per cent of consumers were inclined to buy a brand if it responded to their queries on Twitter.

There may be several other aspects of online interfaces that may be useful for marketers, but at a fundamental level, there is a need for brands to have a framework that can integrate their offline and online strategies to address consumer decision-making.

The framework should give a brand the scope to take into account its own context (its origin, associations, premium image, competitive offerings and so on). This can be called the brand context. For example, Lipton Iced tea, positioned to youngsters as a health drink, has a different context from conventional tea such as Red Label that has been in the market for several decades. The LG and Samsung brands in several durables categories have a different context as compared to Onida that had a strong, premium edge in its initial days (during the Eighties when colour televisions were becoming very popular).

The framework for brand contexts

Broadly, the proposed framework for brands outlines four possibilities associated with the brand context, to combine the online and offline strategies.

Brands that have a history of marketing activities and have been a successful part of the environment (both FMCG and durables categories) with regard to their performance

Brands that still have a good image but have declined in terms of their performance

Brands that are new to the environment

Brands associated with the service sector (According to the latest IAMAI market study, 80 per cent of e-commerce in India is associated with booking travel tickets.)

A combination of several aspects concerning the brand context and the offline/online strategies will enable the marketer to customise the strategy for the respective offering.

Diversity of brand contexts

There can be several perspectives on how the synergy discussed earlier can be captured in the marketing context. Cleartrip.com operates in the online travel domain (a relatively new brand) with a high percentage of loyal customers. It created awareness by positioning itself on the “simplicity of online booking”. Such travel portals need to recognise that basic travel happens more on a commodity plane and holiday travel is a high-involvement category that requires both online fulfilment and offline coordination with a number of agencies/suppliers to ensure positive consumer experience and trust. Once this happens, consumer experience will spread by word of mouth in social media.

The decision-making flow in this case is identifying a need (with the appropriate segment of consumers), creating awareness both through online and offline media, have the consumers compare the options through online media (comparison in the consideration set), make them experience the positives of the holiday package (requires several offline coordination points with a variety of agencies) and then have these consumers share these experiences on Facebook or Twitter with other consumers.

Online buying has evolved with the times; earlier, security and payment issues were more a barrier for consumers interested in online transactions. Online interaction for customising the needs, delivering on the stated needs and creating awareness on the positive experience (both by the brand and the consumers) are steps towards brand-building. This is different from the brand-building associated with a brand of chocolate such as KitKat that may also use contemporary media to build brands. (It used a mobile phone-based contest in the UK).

Online aspects combined with conventional brand-building strategies are also relevant to low-involvement offerings. A biscuit such as McVitie's, an offering with health-based ingredients, even with its international heritage, can displace a loyal consumer if it is not available in outlets where the loyal consumer shops. In this case, the need for a healthy snack has already been addressed by the purchase of the brand by the consumer. But given the low-involvement level in the category and awareness on health and fitness on online portals (from where the consumer learns about the ingredients that go into a health snack which is not fried), the consumer may try out a competitive offering such as Nutrichoice from Britannia. The trigger in this context is the online availability regarding the material on fitness (and interestingly not any brand of biscuit) and the brand image of a popular brand name (Britannia in this case) that has been built up over decades of conventional advertising.

A brand also needs to be sensitive to the behaviour of consumers at the point of purchase or consumption. A consumer in a bookshop such as Crossword may come across an interesting book and immediately compare prices on his mobile phone from Flipkart.com. He may find a better discount rate, cash on delivery, a wide inventory of titles and good customer service and this would make him order the same book from flipkart.com. An ardent reader who is in the habit of buying books frequently can get into this ritual of “browsing and buying “ which would be difficult to change.

This combination of the conventional retail store and the online store with the advances made in mobile technology poses new challenges associated with consumer decision-making. Brands such as Titan eyewear or Tanishq may soon start getting the consumer to view several types of “virtual self images” online, while the consumers browse through the collection at the retail outlet (during purchase) or spark off a trail of fantasy much before they step into the store.

Blending classic concepts with contemporary consumers is also applicable to the digital era.

(S. Ramesh Kumar is a Professor of Marketing at IIM Bangalore; Anuradha Sridharan was formerly Product Manager, Cleartrip.com)

Published on August 03, 2011

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