Buland Bharat Ki Badalati Tasveer

I know I haven’t written for a while now. Happy to have received some small notes from those who have missed my random musings. Well, here’s one more. Trust you’d find a little bit of yourself tucked away in this note too. I did.

kodakA few weeks earlier, Eastman Kodak filed for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11 in United States Bankruptcy Court in Lower Manhattan. The 131-year-old film pioneer succumbed to the onslaught of the digital world. What is ironical is that it was Kodak’s engineer – Steve Sasson – who actually invented digital cameras (in 1975) and put it back in the closet, to focus on what was their core strength – films!

Surely, with a 20-20 hindsight, they should have turned all their energies onto digital films and become a world leader in it. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to happen.

NetflixThe bookstore chain, Borders, lost out to the online giant Amazon and e-books. The movie rental market leader, Blockbuster lost out to its online counterpart, Netflix. The Walkman lost out to iPod. The laptop seems to be losing out to iPads. Data on local devices such as hard disks seem to be losing out to information on the Internet (which has a fancy name called ‘Cloud’).

Closer home, our age-old trusted kirana store owner is truly facing difficult times. A good part of our groceries for the month get bought in bulk at what are known as modern-trade-outlets. Only some select few items then get bought through the old kirana store – and that too with the expectation of a near-immediate and free home-delivery. Old CRT-based televisions are making way for LCD/ LED ones. Tailors are making way for readymade garments. Landlines getting replaced with mobiles. Mobiles getting replaced with smartphones.

Lots of changes. Yes. So what?

Here’s the thing: We all know that sooner or later things have to change and the new world order comes in place of the old. It becomes imperative for organizations to anticipate correctly and realign their businesses to capture the market that is coming up in the future. And, do it decisively.

McDonaldsFor instance, if we are to think in the context of the recent ‘health’ wave around the world, some real questions that some brands may be facing right now would be: Should McDonalds get into healthier foods and to what extent? When should Pepsi invest serious advertising monies in fruit-drinks and related food products? Let me pose these questions in relation to my favourite joint: Should Sardar Pav Bhaji reduce the butter dollops he generously adds or add salads to his menu? Should Pizza Hut start serving whole-wheat pizzas; or would Subway quickly overtake them otherwise? Should Cadbury’s launch sugar-free chocolates?

 

There’s another similar – yet far more serious and wider problem – which almost all Indian brands are currently facing and that is: Do I get on the digital and social media bandwagon and, is it relevant in the Indian context?

digital marketing

Is this digital marketing and social media thing for real? Does it impact the real India, which goes far beyond the cities? Is it beyond the tipping point in India? Is it going to totally change the landscape of India – not just Indian advertising? Or, has it already! And, do I have to take my brand up there or should I wait and watch for some more?

Let me attempt an answer: As per a reasonably reliable report from the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), five months back in Nov., 2011, India crossed 10 crore claimed Internet user base. Now, this constitutes about 8% of India’s population. Is this a small percentage of population enough to take Indian advertising over its tipping point (in favour of Digital/ Internet/ Social Media)?

I believe, yes it is.

India undoubtedly comprises a vast rural populace with relatively little access to even basic amenities such as potable water and electricity. However, we now have about 65 crore active mobile connections in India (more than half of our population). To cater to this evolution of sorts, mobile companies have worked out smart solutions to enable easier ‘charging’ of mobiles. Micromax launched a mobile with a battery that doesn’t need charging for a month! And just yesterday, they have launched a mobile with a solar charger. That’s how innovative marketeers have found solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems. The price points have been pulled to dramatically lower levels than ever before. So, now India is ‘connected’.

mobilesLet’s look at what people do with these mobiles: they are downloading songs, listening to jokes, horoscopes and more. And here’s another excellent innovation where consumers can listen to jokes, without having to pay for it: Sponsored jokes! One could now give a missed call on a 1-800 number and get a call back which is an ad followed by a joke.

 

The urban landscape too is changing. Haven’t we ‘urban dwellers’ in India gotten far more comfortable using our credit cards on the Internet than ever before? Marketeers on the other hand have done their bit by providing options of cash on delivery. One only needs to look at the sudden surge of Internet businesses in India – almost reminiscent of the Internet boom during the early 2000s. Flipkart, Snapdeal, Flickr… to name a few. Payments of utility bills have moved online. Banking has made deep strides in the online world. One cannot forget the success of online travel businesses. And Shaadi.com. The Indian Government has also done its bit in relation to online options: railways, tax payments and a host of other services.

The digital world is, therefore, all around us and there’s no escaping that. And so is the need for digital marketing, including the new social media universe. And if that be true, there’s no escaping the fact that marketing has no other option than to move in that direction. We are a reflection of what transpires around us in the society, aren’t we? (In fact, currently, media seems to be ‘driving’ social change. But that’s a different story altogether. 🙂 )

social mediaLet me also share my two bits on the key question that a lot of all-India brands face: would social media be worthwhile even for brands which go far beyond urban India – Lifebuoy, Nirma, Dettol, Colgate, etc.? In my view – admittedly with limited experience – it would. The urban India is connected with rural India through places, which act as connecting bridges. Also, with increasing education you are having smart kids from villages who build ‘connections’ between their houses in a remote village to a villa in San Francisco and no less. Lastly, with a slow but surely steady increase in penetration of electricity and Internet in India, there’s a lot that consumers will expect from the brands. They will expect to be a part of conversation with the brand quite unlike the unidirectional communication approach of the traditional media.

So, all in all, the Internet is here to stay. So is Digital Marketing. And Social Media. I am placing my chips there. Are you?

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