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Hyper-competition, globalisation, inter-connectedness driving mktg: Sharad Sarin

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Sharad Sarin, senior marketing professor, XLRI

Sharad Sarin, senior marketing professor, XLRI

Differentiation and distance are two major challenges for marketers to position their brands differently in the market. In an interview with Pitch, Sharad Sarin, senior marketing professor, XLRI Jamshedpur shares the three mega trends of marketing and the dominant tasks that a marketer has to perform to develop an integrated marketing approach. Excerpts:

What are the latest trends in marketing today?
Three mega trends are driving the world. These are: hyper-competition, globalisation and inter-connectedness through IT technology. They are driving both individuals and organisations. These trends are also driving the marketing practices of all the firms, irrespective of whether they are in B2C, B2B or services domains.

Are you happy with the 4Ps of marketing? Do you think that there should be another theory to marketing?
There is no grand theory like 4Ps. Like several other concepts and ideas, this is just one, though very helpful idea. These are the dominant tasks that marketers have to perform to develop integrated marketing efforts around the target customers. The only ageless and universally applicable theory, not only for marketing, but for the entire organisation, is to create and keep customers by providing superior value to them on a sustained basis.

Which brands have made a strong presence in marketing and what are the reasons? Could you name a few of them?
The Indian brands in B2C domain are Amul, Rin, Nirma, CavinKare, Shree Leathers, Promise toothpaste, IndiGo Airlines, Haldiram, ICICI Bank, Hero Bicycles, Café Coffee Day and Taj Group of Hotels. From the MNCs side, some of the B2C examples are Johnson & Johnson baby products, HUL’s Lifebuoy, Rin, Surf, Fair & Lovely cream, Dove, Lux, Samsung, Sony, LG, Maruti, Toyota, Apple, GE products and services are some handy examples.

For B2B markets, Larsen & Toubro, Tata Steel, and Sintex tanks are handy examples from India. The better Indian companies reflective of good customer orientation are IndiGo Airlines, L&T, Infosys, Amul, Tata Steel, Tata Motors, Tata Consultancy Services, Tata Chemicals, ICICI Bank, Maruti Motors, Hero and Bajaj Auto.

How can a brand position itself differently in the market vis-à-vis its competitors?
Brand positioning, if done with imagination and creativity, can do wonders. An example is “Minto Mein Chipkaye” (Fevicol). “Granny’s formula: the only toothpaste with clove oil” enabled Promise toothpaste to achieve 17 per cent market share in the very first year of its launch. When it was introduced, no other brand of toothpaste, except Colgate, had more than 10 per cent market share. At that point of time, Colgate had a market share of nearly 70 per cent. The beauty of the positioning slot was that whereas all toothpastes have some clove oil in them, but no one was using it. Promise found a vacant slot and used it to its advantage. There are several positioning stories of companies using the vacant slots to their advantage.

“Fill it, Shut it, Forget it” was the positioning of Hero Motorcycles when it entered the market. In a few years, the bike brand’s performance surpassed all the major competing brands. Similarly, till date the “Utterly, Butterly Delicious” positioning of Amul has found no competition.

Which medium is better in terms of brand reach and recall – print, electronic, digital, radio? Which is a better form of marketing – ATL or BTL activities?
‘Context is the Concept’ – is my favourite quote for taking decisions when there are several alternatives. Further, in many situations of B2C marketing, it can never be the only one. It’s a combination and synthesis of many media alternatives to achieve the final objectives of a brand’s communications strategy. Both ATL and BTL have a role in brand communications.

Being a management guru, what advice would you be giving to the corporate world as far as marketing is concerned?
No matter what you market, be it a simple product like a soft drink or a complicated and hi-tech product like mobile phones, always remember that you only exist for the customer.

What advice would you give to marketers to manoeuvre through a slowdown period or whenever there is an economic crisis?
The slowdowns are good opportunities to have a critical review of your performance and activities. Though your cash reserves would be needed to overcome the bad patches, remember that your intrinsic strengths alone can help you to manage the rough rides and bad roads.

The internet has changed shopping patterns across the globe, and consumer expectations as well. What’s your view about the fast changing nature of buying behaviour and how marketers can cope with it?
I have very limited knowledge and experience about e-commerce, but the success stories of Shaadi.com, Flipkart, Makemytrip, mjunction (a B2B portal), eBay, and Amazon are pointers to the increasing influence of digital marketing.

How would you compare the Indian management with the international style?
Globalisation and real time connectivity via the internet are leading to convergence and harmonisation of work cultures in different countries. Like working for a multi culture MNC with presence in several countries, Indian managers are also evolving and changing very fast. Over the last 15 years, the local style of management is getting fused with global styles. Today, I sense very little difference.

What’s your advice to managers?
Honesty always pays. Delegate, develop and be courageous to be transparent. Begin your day by reading a few thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi and a few Dohas of Sant Kabir (read in your school days!). Tough times do not last, but tough people do.

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