Marketing needs more representation in company work: Ramanujam Sridhar

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Ramanujam Sridhar, Founder CEO, brand-comm

Ramanujam Sridhar, Founder & CEO, brand-comm

The positioning of a brand is focused on ‘how’ you say it, rather than ‘what’ you say. It is advertising that is expected to provide the difference as not everyone can have the first mover’s advantage in business. In an interview with Pitch, Ramanujam Sridhar, Founder and CEO, Integrated Brand-comm talks about the importance of being innovative rather than being repetitive by identifying a differentiating factor in the offerings. Excerpts:

How is the world of marketing changing? What are the new trends in marketing?
Marketing has constantly endeavoured to produce something ‘new’ or ‘exciting’ since the early days. That is the very nature of the beast. So, rather than landmark trends, such as the ‘era of positioning’ or 360 degree communications that have ruled the roost for some time, the last few years has seen the emergence of the ‘digital revolution’ that has dominated marketing discussions. India, which traditionally follows the West, will see this as the next continuing trend. Related to this trend will be the desire to ‘engage’ the consumer rather than to lecture her.

According to you, which brands have made a strong presence in marketing and what the reason? Which, according to you, are some of the best companies in our country?
IndiGo airlines, Micromax and Volkswagen have made a prominent place in the Indian market. When the whole aviation industry is facing a downturn, IndiGo is the only airline that is making some money with their focus purely being on customer services and arriving on time. Micromax entered the Indian market in 2008 and within this short span it has become the third largest handset manufacturer in India. Initially, it had focused on rural markets and became a leader in the same. Now the focus of their marketing efforts has shifted to the youth. With some good products and striking advertising, it looks like they are here to stay. To me, the best companies in our country are Tata Motors, Titan Industries, Maruti Udyog, and Hero Moto Corp, to name just a few.

How should managers develop a strategic understanding? What is the lesson that you would like to give to brand managers?
Which brand manager has ever stood in a queue for hours just to get his/ her passbook filled or collect his cash? It is delivered in his cabin. So, he does not know the customers’ problems. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and observe them using products and watch for frustrations they may not even notice. This will help you develop a strategic understanding to recognise the actual needs of your consumer and also help you develop your product or services to the best of your consumers’ requirements. You will not be able to discover a consumer insight till you walk in the consumers’ shoes.

Are you happy with the 4Ps of marketing? Do you think that there should be another theory to marketing?

I grew up with Kotler. All of us who went to business school did the 4Ps and thought they were the gospel truth, and perhaps they were. Yet today, as I am older – if not wiser – I realise that Kotler’s definition is a manufacturer- or marketer-centric view of life. Today, the focus has to be on the consumer, and from that perspective I would like to believe that any definition of marketing, which does not include the customer or her experience, is just a little bit wanting.

How can a brand position itself differently in the market as compared to its competitors?
Not everyone can have the first mover’s advantage in the business, so it is very important to be innovative and to identify a differentiating factor in your offering. For instance, brands like Muthoot Finance have created a differentiator for them by offering a gold loan in three minutes.

However, today most positioning is focused on “how” you say it, rather than “what” you say. It is advertising that is expected to provide the difference.

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?
Each brand caters to a specific audience, and the choice of the medium should be based on the media consumption habit of the target group. The medium that has better penetration to your segment is the best.

Before deciding on the form of marketing to go with ATL or BTL, you need to identify your target group appropriately. Once that is done, the next step would be to identify their media consumption habit and then decide which one is the best to reach your target group.

So, TV works for Surf Excel, while Fastrack does great work in the digital medium.

Being a management guru, what is your advice to the corporate world?
A goldsmith can only work on gold or other precious metals, expecting him to build you an iron frame is just having false hopes. Same is with marketing. Most of the bigger organisations are headed by people with finance background and hence, the scope of marketing, product or service innovation is reduced.

I would like more CEOS to be marketing people. Marketing needs more representation in company work.

What is the advice you would give to the marketers to manoeuvre through the slowdown or whenever there is an economic crisis?
In a situation of a slowdown or an economic crisis, a company typically starts cutting down its marketing, training and research & development expenditure. This isn’t the best decision. On the contrary, research has suggested that the companies who keep their marketing efforts going at the time of economic downturns are more probable to have a higher market share.

Rather than being negative and start making hasty decisions, the idea should be to treat this like an opportunity without discounting the fact that there has to be some cost cutting. The challenge is how innovative you can be with managing the right balance.

The internet has changed shopping patterns across the globe and also the mindset of consumers. What’s your view about the fast changing nature of buying behaviour and how can marketers cope with it?
E-commerce is believed to be the means in which most businesses would be conducted in the future because of which it will be easier to reach to your target audience. But that is just one side of the coin. The internet has equally equipped the consumer to voice his or her opinion about the services. So, you cannot get away with a bad product or service.

As a marketer, you have to be watchful about each and every product or service you deliver, because their can be a huge outburst by your consumer which can go viral and you might end up losing your prospective consumer.

Is there any unique Indian management style as compared to the international style?
There is no unique Indian management style as such. We enjoy the best of both worlds. Organisations like Tata have retained their values, but have adapted a lot with changing times. These days you have to treat your employees as equals and see that they are motivated at the work place. To a great extent, the work environment you create for your employees define his/ her performance, the best Indian companies like Marico realise this.

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