Thursday, January 28, 2010

Shoe for a shoe

Jail term for a pioneer

Wiser counsel seems to have prevailed. Muntadhar al-Zeidi, condemned for three years in Iraqi jail for throwing shoes at George Bush is out in six months They pronounced a three years sentence for a brave visionary who tried to change the world through innovative thinking! If we need to put Al-Zeidi, the Iraqi hero for flinging his shoes at George Bush behind bars, why not put all the marketing gurus and most of all Philip Kotler in jail, whose text book of marketing management clearly describes the marketing strategies of market expansion and product extension.

Saviour of soles

The shoe factories in Guangdong province of China were reeling under the impact of financial crisis. The anguished migrant workers losing their jobs and dreading the prospect of being reunited with their families in their rural abodes were desperate. “Stimulate domestic demand as a substitute for exports” cried out the venerable economists, eager to give advice and bring succor to the lives of the affected poor in export reliant countries. But can even the 1.3 billion Chinese consumers match the demand created by Americans, who on an average used to buy 30 pairs of shoes in a year!

It was a remarkable demonstration of the innovative thinking that the Guangdong Shoe Export Association hired Al-Zeidy to throw a pair of shoes at George Bush and demonstrate a new use for the product to boost its sagging demand. Imagine, if people started throwing shoes as well as wearing them? With millions of appropriate and deserving targets and billions of potential throwers, the factories can open their gates again and the workers can get back to the task of stitching the uppers to the soles. The Chinese government’s buy-in and support was secured, and the Prime Minister Wen Jia Bao himself volunteered to be the spokesman and a target for shoes in Cambridge University earlier this year.

A whole new world

Special shoes will be designed for bankers, made from sub-prime materials and leveraged at the heels. The politicians will get thick leather shoes to match the thickness of their own hides. The insurance companies will get shoes, the risk of wearing which will match the risk profile of the assets that they insured. We could even get rating agencies to rate the shoe in terms of aerodynamics, the speed and distance to which it can travel, and how much it will hurt when it will hurt the target.

The market could be segmented both by the thrower and the throwee – stilettos for the highbrow, the humble canvas shoe for the amateur, sneakers for the nimble, athletic types and budget shoes for those on a shoe-string. Shoes could be color coordinated for maximum impact – black shoes for Obama, white for Bush, brown for Manmohan Singh and yellow for Wen Jiabao.

Shoe for a shoe

The mind boggles at the opportunity, if the principle of “a tooth for a tooth and a nail for a nail” could be extended to “a shoe for a shoe”. The great leaders and the eminent public speakers, would then come to the meetings equipped with their own set of shoes, to fling them back at any miscreant who dares to throw one at them. Imagine public meetings, in which shoes are flying like rockets in each direction and every swing contributing to the rescue of shoe industry in Southern China, and ultimately to the rejuvenation of the global economy.

“Let me make it very clear,” president Obama said. “White House will not abandon the view that a shoe is a wearable accessory, whose primary role is protection and adornment of the feet. However, if it can find additional utility as a saviour of the global economy, I am sure Secretary Geitner will welcome it with open arms.”

In Dongguan in Guangdong province of China, as the shoe factory worker Lian Ping uses his chopsticks to voraciously swirl multiple strands of noodles from his bowl to his mouth, he can be rest assured that his next bowl of noodles or rice is not imperiled by the lack of demand of shoes in the world. He has to thank Al-Zeidy for this - who would not have spent six months in jail for nothing – he would have saved our soles.

Written by Ashok Sethi

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What the current environment means for fine tuning marketing strategies in China

There is no time in China like today. On one side it is buffeted by the tsunami of global economic crisis, on the other side its consumer base is rapidly increasing in size and value. How can marketers make the best of this unique juncture in time and deploy the most effective strategies for establishing a firm position in China.

Presented below ten strategies that the marketers can consider to thrive in these times.

1. New strategies for new times

The changed economic conditions is affecting consumer behaviour and attitudes. Can the marketing strategies based on the understanding of the consumers in the prosperous times still hold water now. Consumers are changing their behaviour in several different ways and various underlying attitudes and values govern these changes. It is critical for us to re-look at the consumer and refresh our understanding to fine tune the marketing strategies.

2. Segment and decide

Not all the consumers react to the environmental changes in the same way. Different consumers have different reactions to the financial challenge – ranging from an extreme tightening of the purse-strings, to a nonchalant continuation of the current indulgences. Tightening may be reflected in different tangible and psychological ways. Manufacturers also need to offer a range of different solutions and propositions to meet these changes in behavior.

Additionally, different consumer segments may be affected to different extent – and growth may vary from segment to segment. In luxury goods, for example, connoisseurship and indulgence segments may grow more as compared to the pure status segment, as these consumers’ relationship with luxury segments is not only emotional but also very tangible.

3. Find new pastures

In these times, growth may be easier to come about through geographical expansion, than competitive fight in the current markets. The impact of the slowdown is more pronounced in larger cities – though the smaller towns and villages are also affected if they relied on export based industries. Hence while growth may be challenged in the larger cities, it may be a good time to set forth and explore new markets in county towns, townships and villages. These are the markets which are growing at a faster pace and offer greater return for investments.

4. Emphasize value – re look at your brand portfolio

It does not take rocket science to conclude that in these times the consumers will look for value. The challenge is to offer value without compromising the image. There are different strategies to deliver value – some are appropriate and some ill-advised – some will damage the brand equity permanently, some will keep the image intact but still help adjust to the times. Research shows that direct price reductions are likely to damage more than temporary discounts, and decreasing pack sizes more harmful that increasing pack size at the same price.

5. Look at your distribution channels

A strained economic situation not only changes the consumer, but also changes the shopper. Consumers are normally more attached to the brand than the retail store, hence their first choice is not to change the brand, but try to locate the same brand at a cheaper price at another store.

With more time at hand and greater incentive to economize, more consumers are likely to shop at hyper markets than the more ubiquitous but pricier supermarkets and convenience stores. The search for value and bargains will also turn the shoppers to internet shopping–the only channel that will grow even faster than hypermarkets

6. Help the consumer – teach her, train her, comfort and reassure her

Research indicates that Chinese consumers’ response to the economic challenge is cerebral. When opportunities are fewer and the competition more fierce the Chinese consumers will want to further enhance their skills and knowledge. Clearly it is very good news for companies teaching English or computer programming. But the opportunity is not confined to these firms – the FMCG industry could also take a more educative communication stance - wine makers could try to educate the consumers about appreciating fine wines, cosmetic companies could offer lessons on skin care and food companies could coach on diet and nutrition.

7. Family, home and security

When the going gets tough, the consumers tend to take comfort at home and in the arms of the loved ones. Recession is the ideal time to catch up with friends, take the children to the park and visit the parents, and in the process enjoy emotional warmth to compensate for the coldness of the economic climate. The children are likely to pay a heavy price for this, with parents having more time and inclination as well as a renewed determination to help their children with their studies. This offers opportunities to promote in-home consumption, rather than out of home consumption – which in many categories such as alcohol, is much more expensive.

8. Communication

It is not just the product but also the message which needs to reflect the current consumer mind. The communication messages of today needs to reflect sentiments of care and protection, rational and considered behaviour and performance and value These tones of communication, which always appealed to the Chinese consumers, are likely to find even greater resonance in these times.

9.. Go digital

For the largest internet population in the world, internet has so far been a tool of entertainment and information – less so a tool for commerce. However the initial barriers are being overcome and consumers are discovering the joys of internet shopping. The attributes consumer associate with internet shopping are variety, enables detailed evaluation and comparisons and competitive prices. These are the attributes the consumer will be looking in the times of economic slowdown.

10, Keep a permanent hand on the pulse of the consumer

These are dynamic times. Things are changing at a phenomenal pace. As a result, so is the consumer mood and sentiment, which will have an effect on her decision making and the brands and products that she buys. If marketers don’t feel her pulse all the time, they could go wrong. One can not just listen to the consumer once a year - marketers need to put their ears firmly on the ground and listen to every change of beat, every nuance of the consumer mood and continue to fine tune the strategy.,

Published in South China Morning Post, July 27, 2009
Written by Ashok Sethi, TNS China