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Provoking brand inertia in two-wheeler arena

| Updated on: Nov 12, 2015
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Brand loyalty dynamics are changing with social media onslaught

Recent research reports on digital trends show that nearly half of auto buyers now follow the ROPO (research online purchase offline) method.

Compare this to two decades ago when information on brands and products were limited to the family and friends circle. Customers would persist with a brand despite average services/products as it was not easy to switch to another one.

This was fuelled by non-availability of information, knowledge and user reviews on other brands and products. What was actually brand inertia ended up being misinterpreted as brand loyalty.

With Google came online portals disseminating information on brands/products, be it Facebook, Twitter and other social media tools. Suddenly, it was not just friends and family but a whole host of influencers contributing to the purchase decision. Customers today are far better informed and the free flow of information is pushing them out of their inertia to pick the best brand/product at an affordable price.

Loyal no more?

In the current market scenario, brand loyalty is applicable only to the top selling brand till it continues to be the best in every aspect. What can competing brands then do to disturb the leader? Look no further than Nokia, one of the earliest to enter the mobile phone industry and enjoyed monopoly status till other players entered the arena.

These rivals changed the concept of the mobile phone from talking and texting to games and a gateway to social connectivity. Nokia was soon replaced by other Android or IOS devices prevalent in Samsung and Apple.

The concept of loyalty is a moot point in today’s world where youth dominates the landscape coupled with rapid technology advancements and competitive pricing. In this environment, it is important for brands to constantly be on consumers’ top-of-the-mind.

The two-wheeler industry has been dominated for decades by brands like Hero in motorcycles, Honda in scooters, Bajaj in scooters of the past and performance motorcycles today and Royal Enfield in the cruiser space.

These brands account for over 50 per cent of the market in their respective segments. They are able to retain customers because of their early category invention, continuous model variations and brand/product-related customer connect and engagement.

However, other brands are catching up on reliability, innovation, distribution and differentiated styling and features. In addition, they make all this information available to consumers through online portals.

Has the time now come for brand leaders to introspect and outsmart competition through constant product upgrades, low-cost innovation and creative consumer engagement? Will this prevent them from becoming the target of leadership brand’s inertia? Analysis of mindshare (preference for products and brands online) shows that brands such as Bajaj motorcycles, TVS scooters as well as Yamaha and Suzuki motorcycles/scooters are gaining popularity. Their ‘on street presence’ is now challenging the brand leader’s inertia among Indian two-wheeler buyers.

On the other hand, while brands like Hero and Honda are still at the top in sales, have they reached a tipping point? An analysis of market share shows that new segments such as performance and cruiser bikes are emerging larger attractions. This is thanks to style, power and image which are now part of brands from the stables of Bajaj and Royal Enfield.

Mindshare mapping

Loyalty in this market setting requires brands to be on top-of-the-mind. This means that a brand needs to work constantly towards creating excitement through innovation, price- value proposition and differentiated services without losing its relevance and the segment it is part of.

Good examples here are the new Bajaj Pulsar series, Royal Enfield’s Desert Storm and Thunderbird, TVS Jupiter, Suzuki Gixxer, Yamaha FZ series and KTM. These brands are not just challenging the leader’s consumer loyalty but constantly provoking brand inertia.

While Hero and Honda have led the market thus far, there are other brands working relentlessly towards being on customers’ top-of-the-mind. It would be interesting to watch the changes this might trigger in the market during this decade.  Even if the (brand) leader’s market share cannot be changed, upcoming brands can disturb the category mind set, spark fresh ideas and lead in innovation.

Anticipating change is one way brands can constantly evaluate their status with consumers. Another route, which is yet to gain traction in India, is to look at mindshare which is online preference for a brand or product. With ROPO picking up, most consumers do thorough research and comparisons before making their purchase decision.

When a brand or product is on top of the mind, it accounts for a high percentage of mindshare. Mindshare reflects changes in the market and consumer’s interest for a brand or its products in real time. It is, therefore, important for brands to track both mind and market share.

A systematic framework can be developed using both metrics to estimate brand inertia or loyalty which could go a long way in helping brands build their marketing strategies.

While traditionally proven field research techniques help track brand behaviour in its perceived positioning versus competing brands, this process involves ‘asking’ consumers and then interpreting their views. This is not only expensive and time consuming but also subject to interpretational challenges.

In advanced markets, the use of big data analytics is catching up which helps in real time tracking of consumer preferences. It is now being widely used to map and build consumer/brand behaviour models.

Big data analytics could go a long way in the two-wheeler industry as it is always better for brand managers to know and track in advance ‘who is moving their cheese’!

RL Ravichandran is Chairman, Choosemybike.in, and Vasini Varadan is Research and Business Development Head, Mind in Motion

Published on January 22, 2018

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