Question: Why did the copycat fail even though she copied studious boy’s answers in a test? Answer: Because she had different questions. Running a business is a bit like this, only more so in today’s cacophonic digital marketing frenzied world. Ads on the internet? Check. Social media platform presence? Check. Launch an app? Check. TV campaign? Check. Newspapers and radio? Check. Check. Beat competitor’s social presence? Check. Use endless hashtags? Use more hashtags? Use so many hashtags that the content is lost? Check, check, check. Right? Wrong. Because the consumer is not following a process of exclusion based on either the brand’s or the competitor’s marketing. The consumer wants to be engaged by the brand and experience it, in a way that is uniquely gratifying to her.
What works for your competitor may not (and most likely will not) work for you. Every brand has its own, unique imprint in a consumer’s mind and every time it is relevant to the consumer, one can expect some interaction between the two, which may or may not be transactional. The more differentiated the brand, the stronger the imprint. Hence, your competitor’s differentiator that is enabling it to resonate with consumers, isn’t necessarily the same reason a consumer will relate to your brand.
Maggi, India’s beloved noodle brand, is Swiss company Nestlé’s product. Ever wondered why other brands couldn’t catch up to Maggi? One would think any noodle brand originating from China or Japan is bound to be the most authentic. Well, Maggi had the first mover advantage, sure. It also had two minutes. That’s the imprint Maggi has in consumers’ minds, which no other brand can ever replicate. It did what many new entrants have done in the past and continue to do. The brand simply focussed on the latent needs of the consumer — a quick fix meal and flavour suiting the Indian palate. It didn’t fall into the standard trap of ‘getting one foot in the door by making the existing product-service value proposition better’!
So uniquely ‘brand’
The consumer is king. But we knew that. Then why have we forgotten it? Dramatically changing consumer patterns, digital disruption and diminishing attention span of customers have rendered many long used brand models/paradigms and strategies obsolete. Today’s consumer is spoilt for choice. Rather than shoving ads down the browsers of unwilling consumers and trying to beat competition at its game, brands today need to make themselves relevant to their consumers. What is the consumer looking for? How can my brand respond to that need uniquely in a way that others cannot? The larger that sweet spot, the more successful the brand is. And as a fallout, the sweet spot will be so compelling that the competitor will suddenly not matter! Today, companies need to pay less attention to their competitors; rather, they need to have the ability to listen and comprehend with insights and imagination.
End channel obsession
Brands continue to view channels in isolation and brainstorm on how to interact on that very channel. But does the isolated channel fit into the consumer’s life? Brands need to identify their customer’s journey, starting from the initial contact and continuing through all interactions via different touch points. Marketers then need to be able to successfully use all these points where the consumer engages with the brand to its hilt.
Imagine a consumer journey that started online, then moved to the customer care executive (owing to some tech glitch), eventually materialised at the physical retail store and let’s say eventually moved back to the online channel post purchase. How many brands have today the ecosystem already in place created to track this and have an Omni channel view of their customers? Should they not focus more on the same consumer interacting with them across channels than look at what the competition is up to? Shouldn’t the power of any brand be judged by looking at how easy and seamless the buying process was but more importantly, how empowered the consumer was while sharing her feedback or grievance?
If a brand manages to successfully engage consumers by being present in their world at every stage of their journey, be able to inspire, inform, entertain and empower, only then will it be relevant to the consumer. Age-old strategies are reasonably safe to operate within category codes, primarily set by leading brands in the category/competition, but they won’t take you anywhere close to your ultimate ambition of becoming the leader in the category. Just remember, competition does not matter. All that matters are the three Cs — consumer, consumer and consumer…nothing else!
The author Prashant Gaur is chief brand officer, Pizza Hut India