Between content, emerging trends and technologies, big data, analytics, and ever evolving strategies, there are a lot of things pulling businesses in different directions, making it challenging times to be in. Alan Iny of Boston Consulting Group speaks with BrandWagon’s Shinmin Bali about everything from the influencer disaster YouTube personality Logan Paul has wrought on brands to United Airlines and the more recent Apple controversies, and the importance of vision. Edited excerpts:
What are the major changes in the Indian market that you see since your last visit in 2017?
On the one hand, I see the infrastructure evolving at a faster pace than I see it happening in the United States or Europe but some things are quite similar to what I am seeing in other markets; say, digital revolution and how new technologies such as AI are starting to impact every sector directly or indirectly to some degree. Such advancements are impacting Indian businesses and consumers in a dramatic way even though there is still a lot more to happen.
What are the main concerns of businesses today?
The single biggest concern clients have is, “What’s next?” We can accept the world is changing faster than before. There is plenty of data showing that there is more volatility in every industry, more uncertainty and complexity. So for the typical business, innovation and creativity becomes more important than before because the life span of a good idea has become shorter. Businesses are constantly thinking about what’s next and when is the right time for it because if you are too early for something, it is not going to work. Start-ups have experienced this around the world. For example, there were plenty of start-ups for video sharing before YouTube but not enough people had access to high speed internet and so all of those initiatives failed.
What do you think are the stress areas for businesses in India?
There is always going to be uncertainty. If the right path is very clear, that the company has to make a particular choice or the company has to arrive at a particular decision, then my claim is that they are already too late and other companies have beaten them to it. Strategy guru Michael Porter said, “Strategy is deciding what not to do.” Companies will always have these decisions to make irrespective of what stage they are in. In India, in particular, when you have so many things changing, so many trends interplaying and so many possible combinations of what could happen, the idea should be to plan but also to be open to surprises for a range of things to improve your chances of winning in multiple future environments.
How do you see the recent Logan Paul issue? What effect do you think it will have on a marketer’s approach to influencer marketing?
This is a beautiful example of what wasn’t even on the table some years ago — everything from influencer marketing to a President tweeting. None of this was even remotely relevant to anything five years ago. When we think of influencer marketing, we don’t yet know if you have a company whose reputation is in crisis because of some ad campaign or a Twitter debacle. We don’t yet know whether those types of crises will be a lasting problem or something that passes within the week and people move on. And we see both the scenarios happening. Incidents like these shake people’s confidence in the traditional way of doing things.
The recent iPhone battery slowdown/obsolescence issue has shaken consumer trust in Apple. How long lasting will the effects of this issue be?
The whole issue with Apple is that consumers have always had this hypothesis for a very long time that when a new phone comes out, theirs gets slower. People have always felt that way and they are actually feeling vindicated because now they have an admission from Apple about there being a rational (or what Apple says is a rational) explanation of how this came to pass. For some consumers while this was reassuring, I do not actually think it changed people’s perceptions about Apple very much. Maybe it has a short-term impact but not something that will extend for a long period of time. People will move on to what Apple is bringing out next.
United Airlines also had issues of their own last year…
United got a little bit of a bad deal for this because it was the Chicago police that pulled the man out of the plane. Having said that, of course there were things that United should have done differently and it suffered a huge hit to its reputation in the short-term. It also affected its share price in the short term. Did it affect it in the long-term? I don’t think so. Because if you look at the typical US consumer, if United was $8 cheaper than anyone else, the very next day of the incident, consumers will definitely book with it.
It is one of those examples where consumers, if asked for the purpose of a survey, will surely say they hate United, but if they are $8 to $10 cheaper, people will book. There was a huge cry about it in the media and online, and the brand did improve its procedures to handle overbooking. It possibly relooked its PR strategy to handle crises better.
Do you think crisis handling is as much about marketing as it is about PR?
In simpler times, brands had the luxury and time to estimate how the media would react or how the shareholders would react but now if your instinctive immediate reaction is not spot on, there will be people who will trash you incessantly. Even if your immediate reaction is spot on from a shareholder perspective, it might not be for some other segment. It has become very much a marketing issue but also an investor relations issue and an employee engagement issue. Because you cannot just try to get away by saying that your employee messed up and that it will never happen again. It is going to be impossible to please every constituent, let alone instantaneously, so really thinking about a strategy for where you want to prioritise, for which the stakeholders can afford to alienate someone, is probably the way to go.