Head Start For A Business

Updated: May 26 2002, 05:30am hrs
Here's an idea for marketing people: Let loose a virus to push products. I don’t know what you do when an ad break happens along. I quickly rush to the fridge for a refill. The wife hurries to the kitchen to check if the microwave has been switched off. Then, as the serial restarts, we re-group in front of the TV set. But you can’t always dodge the ads. The same commercial will come on again when you least expect it. Sometimes you flick channels, sometimes you just endure the darned thing—drinking more lager than you planned to. I admit some of these ads were fun. The fare today is largely insipid, inane. Viewers are likely to develop ‘ad fatigue’ when the same messages are hurled at them night after night. Messages meant for ringing up sales end up dangerously putting off customers.

Probably, Ad agencies and marketing people should consider the old-fashioned way of communication, of feeding the grapevine—to create interest in new brands.

In the book, Unleashing The Ideavirus, Seth Godin takes this proposition to interesting new heights. He suggests ways to let loose a commercial concept among those who are most likely to ‘catch’ it—and then stand aside as these recipients become ‘infected’ and ‘spread’ it to others who might do the same.

“The future belongs to marketers who establish a foundation and process where interested people can market to each other,” writes Mr Godin. “Ignite consumer networks and then get out of the way and let them talk.”

In the winds of change sweeping the advertising business, it is just not enough to stick to the old and tried formula of figuring out your customer needs, developing products that satisfy these needs, and then whipping up interest in the brands through a media blitz in these cost-intensive times. “Today, most basic consumer needs have been largely satisfied,” says Satish Mahinder, promotion consultant, Hong Kong, “even in India. So it is tough for companies to come up with ideas for genuinely new categories of products. And even when they do, the spread of low-cost manufacturing technology, such as that from China, means any advantage is quickly lost by cheaper versions that work just as well.”

That’s a dilemma facing Indian companies. Instead of comparing the advantages of a given brand against its competition in expensive ads—which may not always work—it may be worth considering beating competition on marketing.

“Marketing is about spreading ideas,” writes Mr Godin, “and when other competitive advantages have gone, ideas are all you have left. In his ‘delightful, practical, concise’ book, Mr Godin cites several examples to substantiate his claims. In a world where people actively resist marketing, Mr Godin continues, you cannot go on interrupting them with unwanted messages: They have too little time and too much power to stand for it any longer. There is, however, an alternative. Instead of marketing at people, you create an environment where people market to each other. But in today’s world, Mr Godin continues, idea viruses are becoming much more powerful partly because the Internet is spreading them more quickly, but also because they help guide people through the growing cacophony of information and choices. Successful companies will be the ones that make accidents happen by manufacturing their own idea viruses.

Mr Godin suggests several ways to put the idea virus in circulation. The old and well-tried free sampling is one. Opinion leaders/peer groups are given samples to taste. Bangalore, for instance, has seen any number of parties where beer companies organise such events for select groups. Or offer members of leading clubs ‘one free for every one purchased’. Other tips in the book include public relations, product placement and sponsorship.

If you can’t get the hard copy of the book, read it online by downloading the e-book from the website, Ideavirus.com. It is the most downloaded e-book in history!

Unleashing The Ideavirus by Seth Godin; US$ 11.20