From Cold Calls to Customized Offerings --- How Marketing has evolved over the years

We have all read in our textbooks about the different strategies of marketing --- from Product Concept to Production Concept, Marketing Concept, Sales Concept & Social Marketing Concept. The Marketers have tried different kinds of tools over the years like highlighting USP (unique selling proposition), offering price cuts,free gifts and bundled products; creating interesting ads and promotion campaigns; and also disguising sales as a social initiative.

But the two particular tools that many marketers have been fond of regularly using are making cold calls to customers and doing door-to-door sales. And both have been so irritating and disgusting that many customers have even hurled abuses at the hapless sales people. No wonder, most of the students studying in B-schools literally dread to take up a “sales job” even if they are lured with lucrative remuneration and incentives. And I have actually come across housing societies who put up boards “Dogs and Salesmen not allowed”.

However, the one thing that every person in an organization accepts is that it is the salespeople who bring in the cash to the organization. And hence it is an integral part which no organization can dispense with. On, the other hand, most of the marketplaces today have become customer-driven where push strategy no more works.

Customer are looking for specific products and services that are likely to provide solution to their problems and are slamming the door on the salespeople who try to fool the customer with deceptive offerings. In this regard, it has become more imperative for marketers to thoroughly understand the need, want and demand of the customers before they design or launch a product or services.

CK Ranganathan, the owner of CavinKare, found that people in the rural areas of Tamil Nadu, wash their hair with soap. When asked why they do so, they replied that it was too expensive to buy a bottle of shampoo. With this insight, he launched Chik shampoos in sachets at a price point of One Rupee, which started becoming more popular than the shampoos of HUL and P&G. Very soon, these multinationals also started selling shampoos in sachets to get a firm foothold in the personal care market.

Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal, the founders of Flipkart, faced an impediment while trying to sell books and other products online. Customers would come and check the products in online portals but buy them from physical stores. On probing why they did so, they replied that they were apprehensive that their credit or debit card would get hacked. With this insight, they introduced COD --- Cash on Delivery --- and their products started getting sold like hot cakes.

Nissin in Japan observed that people were so busy rushing for their work in the morning that they mostly miss breakfast. With this insight, they launched cup noodles, which became a big hit among commuters. The Swiss Watch industry made a spectacular comeback, after having been mauled by the Japanese digital watch makers, when they understood that a watch is also used as a fashion accessory, apart from being a time keeping device. Coca Cola, Pepsi, McDonald and the international food and beverage makers have understood that people are becoming more health conscious and have come up with low calorie beverages and food items. Kellogg’s understood the obsession of women to remain slim and came out with Special K for weight loss.

Now, the marketplace is being dominated by players who understand the customer needs and provide customized offerings. Flipkart, Amazon and Snapdeal do not make cold calls to any customer; neither do they send any direct selling agent to customer’s homes. Instead they use high decibel advertising to pull the customer towards their site, offer customized products and solutions and give them mouthwatering deals which they simply can’t refuse. All this is done using technology-backed tools like SEO (Search Engine Optimization), Recommendation Engines and Market Basket Analysis (MBA).

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of maximizing the number of visitors to a particular website by ensuring that the site remains high on the list of results returned by a search engine. This is done by using smart keywords that are likely to be picked up quickly by search engines, building relevant content in the website, conducting high powered link building campaigns and providing the accurate meta keywords and meta tags. SEO is basically a way to remain on the top of the heap in Google searches and ensure that the brand has a higher visibility than the competitors.

Recommendation Engine is a software tool that analyzes data available about a particular customer and builds algorithms to make suggestions to him/her based on his/her choices and preferences. The recommendation engine is both collaborative and memory-based. It identifies the customer based on the IP address, and throws in propositions that might interest him/her, based on the earlier interactions or transactions that the customer might have done on the site. One of the reasons why Google trumped over Alta Vista was because it had a more powerful recommendation engine and gave more relevant search results to the web browser.

Market Basket Analysis (MBA) is another powerful predictive analytics tool being used by Flipkart, Amazon, Snapdeal and other online marketers to motivate the buyer to go for higher volume of purchase. This is a data modelling technique which recommends a set of products or services which has close correlation with the product or service that the customer is currently looking for or has made a purchase. For example, a customer looking for a flight ticket on from Delhi to Mumbai is also given offers on hotel stay and cab services in Mumbai. And often, Yatra and MakeMyTrip bundles the offer on Air Ticket + Hotel+ Cab and throws in an attractive discount which becomes a tempting deal for the customer. By using market basket analysis, the portal ensures that they increase the basket size of customers as well as prevent the migration of the customers to rival competitors.

Last year Diwali, Flipkart surprised their competitors by announcing a Big Billion Sales day. Although their site crashed and there were numerous customer complaints, the brand did make a splash and created a distinct identity. Very soon, Amazon and Snapdeal also followed suit and announce their Mega Sale day.

But the company who stole the show this year has been Paytm. This company has a mobile wallet service with which customers can do shopping. For most of the shopping done on Paytm, the company gives cash back to customers which is stored in their mobile wallet and can be used for future transactions. This gives absolute delight to the customer who now gets motivated to buy more and is a master stroke for the seller who gets a bigger order. The combined effect is a win-win proposition where both the buyer and seller both getting satisfied and forming a better bonding. This is in stark contrast to the tele-callers and direct sellers who make life miserable for the reluctant customer.

To succeed in the market place, it is now imperative for the brands to move over from cold calling to offering value to the customer by customizing the offerings as per his or her needs. And technology, in the form of data analytics, is always there to help the marketer refine his or her strategy to suit the needs of the customer.