Poor service, frontline staff, dichotomy of emotions and Munna Bhai MBBS

 

It is not uncommon for customers to grumble over poor service experience primarily caused by indifferent and sulking frontline staff. The irony of frontline staff is that they stack at the bottom of the hierarchy but from customer’s perspective they are crystallized essence of what an organization stands for. Through their close proximity with the customer, their interactions become a glass through which entire service  is looked at. They make the process by which service is delivered or enacted.

 HR Magazine (UK) reported that issues related to people like staff attitude and competence are responsible for the majority of (62%) problems eliciting complaint. A survey of customer service complaints on twitter (groubal.com) categorized them into seven categories: slow service, rude service representative, money related (hidden charge, refusal to return), uncaring staff, clueless staff, quality, and language. Note that majority of these complaints are related to service staff.

The complaints and their causes are axiomatic. But it throws  an important question as to why frontline staff fails in its  duty to please and delight customers.  To customers the inside working of either the person or organization is not a concern. All they expect is a satisfactory service outcome.  Is it that people facing customers by design wage a silent war on organizations that they work by adopting customer bugging acts? Do these people have revengeful personality? Or is it that there exists a gap between their job requirements and compensation which makes their job inherently annoying?

In a recent conversation with one of my students, Ruchi  Solanki, the topic related to frontline staffers surfaced.  She revealed the pathetic conditions that these people have to work under and how poorly they are paid (long working hours, continuous standing, noise, short break, stringent supervision, poor wages).  These aspects can be called job hazards and one should be prepared to cope with them.  But what is more spirit killing aspect of their job borders on a larger existentialist concern.  Imagine a person who earns Rs 6000 after working for 30 days and toiling for more  than eight hours a day is confronted with  shoppers  ( giggly, happy, superior, rich, with an air) who splurge sums often exceeding their yearly salary. Dealing with poise and contentment is indeed a challenge for them. Envy after all is an emotion, and a very powerful one.  Getting the body to respond (smile, courteous, helpful, gracious) contrary to spirit is  indeed a tough challenge.  Frontliners  are forced into living a dichotomous existence, the broken spirit often subtly manifests and at that moment failure occurs.

I personally had spoken with many shops and showroom managers including Costa and Woodland about the blue attired door man/ guard. I inquired as to why these people cannot be given a stoo to sit onl  or made to stand inside the showroom in sweltering summer temperature.  They appeared to be completely oblivious of what I pointed out to them. They took refuge in the practice- this is how it has been happening.  These people are often given a script to welcome and express gratitude for the visit. As customer we get bugged that their behavior- cold and disinterested. Look closely for they stand throughout the day and have no place to sit for a moment. The dichotomy of human condition confronts them every single time a customer walks in or out after spending money that often far exceeds their monthly or yearly salary (depending upon the showroom).  

I am reminded of  a sequence in Munna  Bhai MBBS in  which a cranky sweeper  is shown to be getting bugged at people walking over mopped floor.  Munna  walks over the shining floor leaving marks and undoing his labor only to invite his wrath. But then he continues to  walk up to him to give a magical  hug. The entire objectified exchange becomes human and emotions come alive.  In no time tears trickle down his cheeks- as if for the first time he met a human being.  He forgets the poor conditions that he is in and punishing existence cast by social hierarchy – a moment of joy is created.

The frontline jobs are punishing, people manning them are lowest in organizational hierarchy, and they are poorly compensated and go unappreciated.  For them customers come one after the other like an assembly line but for a customer each visit is a unique.  Wearing customer friendly behaviors and attitude is tough. The issue is how to make their job joyful.  The creation of joy is not always about   money guzzling initiative, a lot can be achieved by taking a humanized approach to people who stand on the edge. 

Love, joy, ecstasy, happiness, delight, satisfaction, commitment, Starbucks coffee and Macallan single malt.

On my recent visit to my brother in law’s home I discovered a live case study of how a brand can create an ordinary consumer into a brand fanatic. He had moved into a big spacious home and the family was keen to show me around. When I was being taken on a guided tour of the house, the conversations revolved around the construction material, equipment, lighting, flooring, faucets, hobs and hoods. This house had all the common accouterments of a decent metro house and I was not so keen on seeing them. The commonality is a great leveler. It is a big robber of identity and uniqueness. The windmills of marketing machine run on this unending cycle of unique-common-unique. In the commonness of things one thing that struck me was two Starbucks mugs on the top shelf of an expensive hand carved rose wood show case. These shared space with expensive crystal figures and bottles of single malts.

The curious learner of consumer behavior in me who was resting peacefully on this Sunday was suddenly kicked awake. The ambiguity that sat on the top of the shelf needed to be resolved. Why mugs made of common inexpensive porcelain sat on the highest level? Is there anything in common between single malts and coffee? Coffee is enjoyed hot, single malt  is best on the rocks. Coffee is common but single malt is uncommon. And it would be stupid to compare Macallan with Starbucks. My curious CB mind did not want to be left there. It wanted to delve deeper into the apparent incongruous reality. What was the method in this apparent madness? And upon being asking as to how much these mugs cost, he replied, Rs 750 each. It was quite a shocker to me.

And I could not resist pointing at the inaptness of Starbucks mugs that sat majestically on the shelf. To that my brother in law narrated an incident with his eyes gleaming and his smile nothing short of pure ecstatic joy. It appeared as if he had met God who blessed him with mugs to savor the drink of heaven. He narrated an incident of his visit to Austria. He told me that one very cold morning he was on his way to airport to take a flight. Half way to the airport he was alerted by the airline that the flight was late. He had checked out of the hotel and did not want to go back. Upon seeing a Starbucks sign board in one of the shops, he along with his friend thought of spending some time at Starbucks sipping hot coffee to kill time and ward off freezing cold. But as they moved near the outlet, it was unclear whether the shop was open for it was too early in the morning. Nevertheless they tried their luck and pulled the door. It was quite disappointing to them to see the coffee bar deserted except for a lady who appeared to be readying things. It did not take much time for them to realize that the shop was not yet ready for customers. But in curiosity my brother in law asked the lady if they could have coffee knowing fully well that it was an unfair and unreasonable demand and no way could they be entertained.

In response to their request the lady politely replied that the coffee bar started its business at six and serving customers before time was not possible. No business could be transacted before the bar officially opened as per rules. Reading the disappointment on their faces the lady explained she could still do something. She explained her predicament that she could not break rules but would also not like to let customers to go unhappy. Then all of a sudden she agreed to prepare two cups of coffee for them. This pleasantly surprised them and they did not want her to go out of her way to serve them. But then she insisted on the guests to have their coffee.  Before leaving the bar, the duo wanted to pay for their cherished Starbucks brew but she refused to take any money.  Upon insistence as to why she would not charge, she explained that as an employee she was entitled to some cups of coffee in a day free of cost which could be had any time of the day and she offered them two out of her share.  

Now I understand that these simple mugs were much more than simple coffee containers. They were reminders of the Starbucks experience which was etched in my BIL’s mind. It is not much difficult for a rival company to procure better mugs, brew a better coffee, create better environment but still they may not be able to deliver exceptional experience. It is difficult to capture how both animate and inanimate blended together to create a memorable experience. A brief encounter of my BIL with Starbucks has converted him into a brand fanatic who talks and talks frequently about how somebody touched his heart. A look at those Starbucks mugs with eyes other than his misses the entire reality. This differentiation here is impossible to imitate. Great brands are differentiated in hearts; they create unique highly personal memorable experiences.

This episode revealed to me how a person can get so possessed by a brand and he does things which appear incongruous but are actually not.  

In a book titled ‘The Starbucks Experience’ given to spelling out guiding principles, principle 3 goes as ‘surprise and delight’ and the chapter begins with a quote of Rabindranath Tagore:

“I slept and dreamt that life was joy.

 I awoke and saw that life was service.

I acted and behold, service was joy.” 

Apology, Satisfaction, Recovery Mangement and Marketing Services

In services zero defects is difficult to achieve. Uncertainty is inherent to service creation and delivery. To a great extent customer-provider interface in the service factory is responsible for deviations to happen. Two days back I had to go without dinner because a local restaurant failed to execute my delivery order and I was left waiting into midnight. The restaurant did not bother to apologize for this failure. I have written off the service outlet in question for all times to come. Feeling of hurt comes naturally in any incident of violation. But it is also natural for violations to happen in social or business conduct. One of the most powerful strategies to recover from failures is to tender apology and say ‘sorry’. It is makes both great spiritual and business sense.

Geetika Jain in one of the Speaking Tree columns wrote an interesting piece on the importance of apology.  We express an apology by saying sorry. But a sincere apology is to be distinguished from superficial one.  A superficial apology may reflect how well groomed and polite a person is but it is not same as a true meaningful apology. Apologizing for our wrongdoings operate superficial and deeper levels. When an act of apologizing is diminished to only uttering a word ‘sorry’ without accompanying a  deeper sense of  realization,  it becomes superfluous. The pretence may help the harmed/violated but harm the pretender. A heartfelt apology is real, and it works wonders for both parties involved.

An apology, on the surface is an opportunity to get out of a difficult situation but it should not be seen in this way. A mere utterance of the word minus sincerity, repentance and atonement render it hollow and futile. ‘To err is human, to admit one’s error is super human’. Facing the victim and apologizing is an act of courage. People in harmony with their life say ‘sorry’ with an ease.  The positive and conscientious achieve peace with themselves only after making amends.

Saying ‘sorry’ does not involve monetary cost but gives back in a number of ways. The mistakes are diluted, tepid and estranged relations come back life. ‘Sorry’ can dissolve animosity, bitterness and resentment. This dissolution of rancor sets stage for resolution and achievement of harmony. ‘Sorry’ is a powerful mechanism not only to appear the victim but ourselves as well. Harming or offending someone deliberately or by mistake makes us guilty whether we admit it or not. This guilt can sit deep into our subconscious unleash misery by robbing peace and harmony.  We can become prisoners of guilt. ‘Sorry’ is therefore liberating and cathartic. Deep seated guilt can cause psychosomatic maladies. Saying sorry and admission of mistakes is sign of evolved human being.

Going down the path to admitting mistakes and apologizing is not easy. Only evolved people are able to do so. The true pristine self rushes to say ‘sorry’ but it is ego which obstructs. It is the ‘I’ rooted in age, social hierarchy, money and status that prevent us to be in our true sublime self. ‘Age and social status can also thwart this sublime act’. It is then no surprise that prayers in most religions comprise of apology for transgressions and repentance for mistakes.

Political Parties, Competition, Positions and Strategies

Conflict is an inescapable aspect of business. The firms compete with each other when they target the same potential customers or employees. Competition is common to people, animals and companies. When a resource cannot be shared organisms compete. And the natural outcome of this is application of mind to outmaneuver or outwit the opponents. Politics comes very close to what transpires in a business situation. And there arises a need to craft a winning strategy in to action. One of the important starting points in strategy formulation process is analysis competition. Just as HUL fights P&G in dandruff shampoo space or Lenovo competes with Dell, Acer and HP in laptop market, political parties like BJP share the competitive landscape with other parties like the Congress, CPM, Samajwadi Party, JDU or AAP.

One of the important starting points in strategy formulation process is gaining a sound understanding of competitive landscape. This involves identification of players and their strategies. Logic demands that conflicts with the powerful must be avoided. And running into a conflict with a dominant player without a smart plan to dodge is an exercise in self destruction. Apple did not engage IBM directly in computers and Micromax did not create a conflict of interest with Nokia. Sun Tzu, a Chinese military strategist and general wrote that war is about planning and positioning. He emphasized the importance of knowledge: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself,you will succumb in every battle”. But he laid supreme importance to winning without fighting: “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”

There are many ways in which competitive landscape can be analyzed and competitors can be identified. One such method is framework looks at players based on their market positions and strategies as: market leader, market challenger, market follower and market nicher. This framework can be useful diagnostic tool in uncovering the competitive dynamics of political landscape in India. It will be a good idea to develop strategies based on this analysis.

Leader: this position goes to the firm that enjoys highest market share, for instance Nokia and Titan are market leaders in mobile phone and wrist watch market. Congress enjoyed the largest vote share close to 28% (182 seats) in the last elections. A good leader does not rest on its laurels; rather it takes to a higher level by attacking itself and reinvention. By leading it leaves behind the follower. A good example is Intel or Gillette. Congress is taking it agenda forward by not letting the discourse on minority (Muslim reservation), oppressed (possible reservation in private sector) and poor (NAREGA) die.

Challenger:  it is a position that goes to a firm that is next to the leader and enjoys strong position but not as strong as the leader. It is this reality causes this firm to challenge the leader. The BJP is the second largest party with a vote share of 19% and seat share of 116. Challenging is all about attacking the weakness or finding weakness in the strength of the leader. Jerry does not attack the weakness of Tom, rather converts his strength into weakness by shifting the place of fight. Nirma attacked HUL from the flank (economy detergent) and Ujala hit Reckitt Benckiser’s strong brand Robin by mounting a ‘by pass attack’ strategy. The current regime led by PM Manmohan Singh shows many chinks in armour of Congress led UPA which include inflation and corruption (governance deficit, trust deficit), which can be potential targets of criticism.

Follower: Like a challenger a follower is also a strong player but lacks dominance. As the name suggests its style of functioning is to join the ranks and not challenge the equilibrium.  Political parties that do not differ much in their ideologies with a dominant party (inclusion, secularism, backward and minority class considerations) come in this category. For instance parties like Samajwadi (UP) Party or JDU or BSP or NCP share political discourse with the Congress. 

Nicher: A niche brand or company is the one which concentrates its efforts on a space which is left out by major players for some reasons.  In the political context there are parties which focus on a small market segment (geographic or identity group). Some of the examples include TDP in Andhra Pradesh or BJD in Odisha or INLD in Haryana or Shiv Sena in Maharastra. Niche firms build their success on the basis of narrow specialization. For instance Rolex operates in super premium niche of watch market and Thorogood makes shoes for fire fighters. Anchor toothpaste occupies niche comprising of vegetarians and Creative Line woolens brand is aimed at women group of customers. Sticking to knitting is the best way forward for niche brands. Ambition to move on to a bigger market may come at the cost of their specialization which will have a corrosive effect on their core. For instance Trinamool’s active participation in Centre’s politics has shifted its centre to the periphery. Naveen Patnaik’s singular focus on Odisha exemplifies true niche strategy.

The battle for the next general elections is all set to begin and traces of minor skirmishes are becoming visible. With the Congress and the BJP pitted against each other in leader and challenger positions, the most obvious and move of least contemplation is to attach each other. But this is unlikely to yield outcomes significantly different from the outcomes of the last round of fight. The strategy does not lie in mounting more and bigger attack on each other, rather creating a paradigmatic change in the way people arrive at their preferences.

Customer role, Innovation and Value Creation

Things are changing.  And change is often so subtle that it shows up without any warning signs. Managers often discover its arrival when their performance metrics show deterioration. A late discovery can potentially erode customer and competitive superiority.

One of the important sides of marketing equation is market or customer. And no marketer can afford to ignore to check how developments are affecting customer. A change is both an opportunity and threat. It all depends upon how it is reacted to- whether it is seized and converted into customer value creating initiatives or it is allowed to depreciate value delivery. Consider how internet technology altered the value equation by enabling firms to deliver content (e.g. movies) directly to customers doing away with the need to buy or rent DVDs. Blockbuster lost to Netflix due to this. The web seems to be recasting the concept of market that can be targeted. The term ‘market’ now needs to be separated from the concept of location. The current campaign by eBay attempts to establish that shopping can be done sitting at home with an ease, economy, and convenience.

The customer side in a marketing exchange hides three roles. A transaction involves an act of buying, paying and using a product or service. This gives rise to three different sets of considerations. For the buyer ease (location, physical availability) of buying is important whereas payer role involves exchange of financial consideration like cash or card. The product or service is use or consumed and at this intersection point and benefits are delivered or extracted (user considerations involves what the product does and what benefits it delivers). Consider a simple case of Maggi noodles. The user often is a child (benefit-taste), the buyer may be the servant (ease or convenience) and the product is paid (price considerations) for by the parents.

In the old thinking, goods are produced by the firm to be exchanged with customer who ‘uses’ them to extract performance. This required for achieving satisfaction. Long time back Levitt proposed that people are not interested in drills rather their performance (holes). The user role can be complex which can deter people to buy drills. Recasting user role (simplifying) a drill marketer boost sales by creating do it yourself drills.  Earlier glucose monitoring systems made diabetes patients dependent upon doctors for reading blood sugar levels. New glucose monitoring machines have recast the space by transferring the user role to patients. Now they can monitor sugar level on their own, the skill required to do the job has been reduced. Washing machines intimidated many potential users for their usage required some kind of ‘expertise’ to press right buttons for right jobs. But now many marketers have launched smart models which on their own ‘read the wash requirement’ (fuzzy logic) create value by de-skilling the customer role as a user.

Apple’s current campaign (why wait?’) spells out how the brand can be bought and paid for in interest free installment plans. The company has adopted an open distribution model (not through mobile companies) and tied up with its distributors Redington and Ingram. This scheme tweaks the high upfront financial burden and places the brand within the reach of many who otherwise could not buy unlocking a hidden market potential. The new cab services launched by companies like Meru in metro like Delhi are based on altering the payer role. Now the cab service can be taken by distance travelled or time You pay for time you want to use a cab for or the distance travelled). This payment scheme allows firms to tap a new segment of customers. Earlier newspapers were expensive because they sought revenue from readers. But now newspapers make money not out of readers but from advertisers.  The ‘cash on delivery’ innovation has opened a huge internet based market in India.

There was a time when magazines could only be bought from newsstands or vendors. This subjected reader to ‘sold out’ situations and procurement inconveniences.  The shift to subscription based model by most of the magazines like India Today and Business Today creates value by changing buyer role. The inconveniences associated with buying things from markets and malls are throwing opportunities to new web based sellers like Jabong and India Times. Domino challenged the notion that warm restaurant food can only be ad in ‘dine in’ format by creating home delivery model.  Domino creates value by saving its customers from travel, parking, waiting, and weathering.

 

 

Pepsi, “Oh Yes Abhi”, Slogans , Resonance and Layers of Meaning

Two important routes to brand creation are visual and verbal. The visual (illustration, pictures, logo) and verbal (message, headline, slogan) elements are combined to create brand image. These elements engage prospects through two of the five senses, the sight and sound. Brand slogans assume heightened importance in present day time-short and over-assaulted consumer. Perceptual filtering and defense mechanisms are pressed into action to escape from incessant barrage of messages that hit consumer’s mind. Slogans for being short and mnemonic are effective tools because of being less stressful on cognitive system. Slogans can convey brand’s essence (what brand stands for) in an instance and simultaneously contribute to brand strength by building recall and visualization.  For instance a sign off/ slogan like ‘High performance delivered’ (Accenture), ‘Melts in your mouth not in your hands (M&Ms) and ‘”When it Absolutely, Positively has to be there overnight’ (FedEx), ‘We try harder’ (Avis), ‘Think different’ (Apple), ‘Solutions for a small planet’ (IBM) convey brand promise succinctly and position it in relation to competition by highlighting relative strength.  Ranbir,Priyanka And M. S. Dhoni Photo Shoot For Pepsi Oh Yes ABHI! Ad

In the quest to bond with its market, Pepsi has launched its new campaign ‘Right here right now’/ ‘Oh Yes Abhi’.  It is interesting to see how brands change gears in their negotiation of psychological space in their search for relevance and resonance. Brand is much more than product, in this case the drink.  And the drink  is likely to deliver the same kind of experience. But then why the campaign has been launched that seeks to alter brand’s meaning semiotic ally? This brings us to the question whether people buy brands only for the utility sake or their delivery extends beyond functional boundaries.  A campaign that aims to alter brand symbolism without any  change of its product is certainly an effort given to align brand’s meaning with evolving consumer psycho-social reality.

Pepsi’s communication campaigns provide an interesting case study on changing youth psychology and life style. The brand is quick to size up the psychological space and read its undercurrents. It seizes opportunity in hidden concerns, dilemmas, and aspirations of its young target group. Prima facie Pepsi’s slogans appear simple statements with a very definite literal meaning. The denotative meaning actually is superficial to all these communications. The brand actually engages with its consumers at connotative level.  Accordingly communication says one thing at express level manner but quite another at the unspoken form. One of characteristics of good brand is that it forges bonds which transcend the logic, reason and rationality. Consider the following slogans which Pepsi has employed over the time:

‘Nothing official about it’ (1996)

‘Yeh dil maange more!’ (2006)

“Pepsi ye pyaas heh badi” (2000)

“My Pepsi My Way”(2009)

“Change the game” (2011)

 “Oh Yes Abhi” (2013)

 

In an interview with ET (28/1/13) Justice Verma  said, ‘If the government takes time, they should make way for persons who are quicker. If, at 80, I am so impatient, govt should understand the impatience of youth’.  Philosophically life is a different phenomenon from what it used to be. The meaning of time, relationships, institutions, consumption and artifacts has changed. There has been a fundamental shift in life values, aspirations and goals: life is short, time runs fast, conflicting priorities, a lot to be achieved, now is when you exist, pleasure is fine, me is first, old is no wisdom.  The certainty (emanating from linearity of progression in everything) coupled with philosophy of abnegation (sense control) made contentment an easily realizable goal. When tomorrow is uncertain, the focus shifts to now, young seek instant gratification ‘ Cause time can’t wait then I sure can’t wait, I ain’t got no patience no I just can’t wait… ‘No time for procrastination’ (Now generation song). The dictionary meaning of ‘impatient’ is lack of patience; intolerance of or irritability with anything that impedes or delays/ restless desire for change and excitement. Impatience is fuelled by a desire to ‘do more’ (‘yeh dil mange more’/ ‘ye pyaas heh badi’) which proportionately reduces the time available. This is the reason why the new currency of trade has become time (do you measure distance by time or kilometer?)

The idea appropriated by new Pepsi campaign taps into inner psychological reality of impatient generation (psychology of instant gratification- no urge deferment).  The slogan ‘Oh Yes Abhi, does not urge you to drink Pepsi ‘right now’ as it may seem to suggest but seeks to give the brand a new consumer resonating identity.

 Prof Mitra, my esteemed colleague at FMS says that Pepsi’s slogans have a third layer of meaning which operate within the realm of sexuality. Read these slogans. They do seem to be laden with  sexual connotations.

Brawn, Brain, Strategy and Micromax

What do you call a company which manages to touch Rs 2000 crore revenue and achieves third position (volume) in an intensely contested industry in just five years? The answer can be none other than, brilliant.

When it comes to thinking about electronics space only giants of the world come to mind like Samsung, Apple, Sony, and Intel. And narrow this search down to the field of mobile phones, the mind does not stray beyond a small but firmly established brand like Nokia, Samsung, Blackberry, HTC, Sony and Apple. Try stretching the category further the list gets enlarged with more brands but only with powerful (in own way) like LG, Motorola, Philips, Dell, and Acer. Prima facie it appears as if the industry is only meant for big and powerful hence a simple ‘to enter or not to enter’ analyses would yield a negative result. Any entry in such a situation is likely to invite fierce retaliation aimed to prevent the entrant from getting a toe hold in the market. The battle could really be bloody especially when players are armed and have deep pockets. But then, the joy of winning is in outmaneuvering and outwitting the big. When physical resources can’t be matched, the fight should be shifted from brawn to brain.

An opportunity identification exercise normally fails to yield structure defying perception and hence hints at the most obvious clusters of customers. The ‘most obvious’ ways of looking at the market creates majority fallacy (the attractive segments get more competitors than what can be absorbed). So when everybody is going up, it may be a good idea to go down. When competition is about ‘value enrichment’, ‘stripping down’ may make sense. A fresher structure defying perception is what is required to apprehend an idea which has been escaping the attention. So what makes Micromax, an Indian start up take plunge in a market of ‘big boys’ and steal the thunder under their nose?

Consider the implicit and tacitly agreed code/ structure: quality and price are positively correlated, aesthetics (form) is for the top tier and bare functionality is for the lower ends, new and innovation take time to diffuse (or reach the lower end of the market, cautious buyer); brand building (customer pull) is meant for the top players, push is the strategy at the lower end; and post purchase care is the preserve of top end brands. The codes of operation in a market evolve after a complex negotiation between the structural impositions and market considerations. Now consider how Micromax’s strategy is based on the reconciliation of the irreconcilables. An appropriate brand name (unlike Lava or Fly or G- Five, right for the technology space), functionality fused with aesthetics, and brand esteem (sign off ‘nothing is anything’, association with cricket events- IPL and Akshay Kumar).

First of all is Mircomax a challenger brand? Probably not. The brand did not rub the established players the wrong way by choosing to target the customers left out by them (deemed unattractive). It is first phone was aimed at rural market packed with a huge standby time (X1i- to take care of electricity problems) priced affordably at about two thousand rupees. It hit at the uncovered flank. Then their strategy moved on to target lower end of the segmentation spectrum.

The common wisdom narrowly limits the concept of value to price if the brand targets the economy segment. Micromax recast the value equation and focused on the total value proposition (TVP) rather than price proposition. The brand focused on maximization of TVP by simultaneously focusing on price as denominator and brand attributes as numerator. Factor in qwerty pad, dual sim, battery life, built quality (touch and feel), operating system, processor, brand esteem and confidence with the reasonable price. This is true for their other products like tab. People tend to be value sensitive not price sensitive.

The brand managed to create a pull by shifting customer thinking away from the price to the’ form and functionality’. This imbued the brand with aspirational value within its class. Take a look at brand’s A70 ad which showed an i-phone look alike with a headline which read ‘i-phone with a scribble ‘can afford this’in between ‘i’ and ‘phone’ making a complete line ‘I can afford this phone’. This strategy of linking Micromax with the iconic ‘Apple’ brand (incomparable) cleverly makes it comparable (similar strategy was used by Avis once upon a time ‘we are number two … therefore we try hard’). Twinkle Khanna acted out as endorser for its ‘Bling’ range, especially designed to attract women customer. The ads using Akshay Kumar seek to transform customer experience by instilling pride of brand ownership (‘Hide anything but your phone’ and ‘If you have it, flaunt it’).

Another distinguishing aspect of Micromax is its branding strategy. The brand instead of putting all product variants into one umbrella has very carefully adopted sub branding strategy to clearly signify segments and their propositions (avoid confusion). Consider sub brands in its range include Bling (style conscious urban women ), Ninja (android phone for working professional), Modu (technology enthusiasts), and Superfone (people who want applications). The company has been creating a portfolio of brand that is sync with emerging demographics and consumer life style. As dividing line between customers get sharply etched the use of one brand runs counter to market reality.

Starting as a mobile instrument player, Micromax has moved vertically and horizontally in the market- space of its origin. Its quest of growth has found expression in its expansion into adjacent space of tablet market (Funbook). The company has met with fair amount of success in the tablet space. In its latest move the brand has been extended into television monitor and home theatre space. Tablet and mobile phone appear to be in close physical and mental proximity hence success in one category may rub off equity well in the other. It is worth watching how this plunge of Micromax works out in consumer electronics space.

Often success breeds its own seeds of failure. The move to create a ‘be all’ brand militates against the idea of market fragmentation. One of the oldest icons of consumer electronics has been Philips. The news that Philips is moving out of consumer electronics was painful reminder of the fact that one brand cannot hold it all.