Marketing insights active in the competition for more sky share

Written by Suhel Seth | Updated: Nov 18 2004, 05:30am hrs
There is a certain sense of competitiveness in the skies in India, which makes me come back to my oft-repeated theory, that we may just finally have the glorious days of Air India back in our midst. The days when an airline out of India taught the world what it means to offer a grade of hospitality in the skies. A time when our Indian flight attendants trained the Singapore Girl, who, much later, became a great one to fly with. It was the service denominator of Air India, inspired by both the attention to detail and the hands-on approach of

JRD Tata, that gave Air India the edge then.

Having said that, there is a silent revolution in our skies that has escaped very few of us, but many of us are stingy with our plaudits for it. Take a look at what Indian Airlines has achie-ved in the past five years: an on-time service that makes it the best as far as punctuality is concerned, meal options that will leave many private players starved for recognition, a service orientation that is evident in the manner they have done up their lounges, as also the comprehensive manner in which they have used price as an aggressive marketing tool. Many of us had written Indian Airlines off. Especially when Jet Airways made the average Indian experience the joy of flying.

But then, to my mind, IA used precisely its inherent disadvantage size and converted it into a potent marketing tool.And not only maintained, but also captured, increased marketshare when the market itself was going through an explosion. IA proved to the world that public sector does not mean an inefficient business. And today, more and more PSUs are showing their true mettle.

We in India need to be proud of what these companies have achieved. Take ONGC as an example. The company today is the darling of the bourses, on every fund managers plate and on every investors list of things to buy. But it has not allowed size to become a deterrent in adopting a strategic focus. But how have these monoliths that were seemingly written off done what they have When did we ever imagine we would have oil companies that would put up world-class service stations When did we ever imagine that we could have ordered and got a Jain meal on board an Indian Airlines flight, or accessed the internet while waiting for the flight These companies have gone back to the basics of marketing, but even more so to the basics of acting on consumer insights.

Marketing is a great teacher, it forces us to think of the long-term. As a tool, marketing abhors the short-term. That is left for tactical organisations and tactical masters to enslave themselves to, which is why I have a lot of hope in what Vijay Mallya will do with Kingfisher Airways. It is in Vijays DNA to create moments of fun, create vistas of excitement. And that is how he has started going about building and preparing for the launch of his airline. My advice to him would be that low cost does not mean high pain and this whole concept of low-cost airlines is not going to work in a country where consumers are either pampered by domestic help, or by people at home. Hence the route that Vijay tends to employ is more workable, but what is more interesting is that it is anchored in strong marketing direction.

In understanding the communication integration between beer and flying, captured in the essential consumer motto that consumers ultimately seek delight from whatever they engage with: it could be a Patek Phillipe or, for that matter, Haldirams.

The skies will only get more competitive: I dont think for a moment that corporations like IA are going to allow private players to take away their marketshare on international routes. I do not believe IA will also buckle under the pressure of profit, once these players start flying routes such as the Gulf. My belief stems from the fact that more than ever before, organisations like IA have adopted the mantra that business is marketing. And not the other way around. It is not about who has a better mousetrap. It is about who invents the cat to scare it away. And for that, the orientation now visible at IA, the orientation now part of Mallyas preparation, tells us of the importance of marketing once the skies in India truly open up.

And only the marketing warriors will survive. Because they and they alone will continue inventing a better cat. A better shield for consumer retention and a finer display of exemplary agility.

The writer is the CEO of Equus Redcell Advertising and can be reached at