Schelling Points: the next consumer arena

Updated: Nov 17 2005, 05:30am hrs
If you are in Tokyo, take a train to the Shibuya station. Once out of it, look for a sign that says Hachiko. Rumour has it that in the early 1920s, Hachiko, a dog, used to accompany his master, Professor Ueno, to the station and would then wait for him to return. The good professor failed to return one day in 1925. Hachiko, however, continued to wait there up until 1934.

To commemorate his unwavering loyalty, the people built a bronze statue of the dog at that spot and even celebrate a festival there every year in March.

Hachiko is like the clock at The Grand Central Station in New York. Perhaps, even Princes Building in Hong Kong. Why, even Khan Market, closer home. Park Street in Kolkata. Even The Mall in Shimla.

They are all what one would call Schelling Points.

In his compelling work, The Strategy of Conflict, the noted sociologist, Thomas Schelling, spoke about the hachikos of the world: informal coordination poi-nts for urban population. Places that are an essential element of a citys life. Places where people assemble and part. Places that see a great deal of people synchronisation.

Hachiko is a tad stranger though. Every time, the lights change, 1,500 people cross from eight directions. Almost all of them are texting from their mobile phones while they walk. Schelling Points, in my estimation are the next consumer arena for marketers.

While there is no rule of the thumb that one can adopt; largely it can be deduced that Schelling Points are bays of young consumers. They are arenas of the technologically aware, if not advanced consumers. A case in point is Central in Hong Kong where each Sunday afternoon the street outside the Mandarin Oriental is transformed into one enormous Schelling Point consisting of Filipino amas (maids). It is known that Filipinos are among the most advanced texting tribes. Why, they brought down the Estrada government on the back of SMS.

It is my belief that after targeting third places, the attention of astute marketers along with the rapid strides that cellular telephony is taking, will move to Schelling Points and transform them to great stadia of seduction. As it is, shocking things are already happening the world over. Lovegeties is a service in Japan that gets your handset to blink each time a potential mate appears.

Imagine what that will do to dating services or even matrimonial classifieds. Imagine arriving in Crossroads in Mumbai and getting a flash from Patchi chocolates.

What else makes Schelling Points so consumer-comely

It is my belief that they are largely psychographically assimilated. Which works greatly for marketers of psychographically varied consumer products such as apparel, cellular services, lifestyle products. It would be plain stupid to try and flog a Toyota at a Schelling Point. But it would be damn smart to sell a cellular handset there. Maybe even music. And product with psychographically diverse consumer constituencies.

Imagine Shivaji Park as a great Schelling Point for fitness products. Or Khan Market, in Delhi for packaged foods and organic food. The possibilities are enormous. Hospitals, I would imagine would be great Schelling Points for insurance.

Indeed, one can go on and on.

So how do we take this forward

I believe that aside from on-ground shows that happen in these Points, the frontier will have to be technology. It will have to be a carefully structured marriage between moments and mobility. Products and people.

Think about the business you are in. Are there any Schelling Points in your consumer constituencies Can there be

The author is co-CEO, Equus Red Cell