In your own words, how do you describe a `hot’ brand?

A Hot brand in my opinion, is a brand that exudes tremendous energy and excitement. Passion & innovation are the cultural building blocks that make this possible and hot brands are always a result of those qualities being alive and well in the companies/promoters that own them. As a result of this, these brands lead categories and therefore customer expectations and set benchmarks of quality, performance and service for others to follow.

What can be few steps taken by brand owners to keep their brand stay-top-of-mind?

In a world of tremendous clutter, media costs & data overloads, the key, is increasingly becoming a marketer’s ability to be top of mind at crucial moments of consideration or “moments of truth” rather than trying to own mind space sans relevance/need.

Some suggestions to do this:

1) Segment the market smartly and ruthlessly to sharp focus on your ideal target segment & market, then develop your marketing mix to best find/reach them
2) Be easily findable. Physically and online – effective SEO, SEM, SMO, service listings, Google maps , Social Media etc
3) Listen and act based on customers feedback – because they want to be heard. Interactive feedback, open house feedback etc.
4) Customers want to OWN the brand – let ownership transfer happen. Ex. Apple Vs. Sony, Coke’s FB page being managed by fans etc
5) Most importantly – focus on delivering superior value for the customer’s time and money. Not lower price, but higher value – at every level of product/service delivery.

Is rural only a state of mind? What can marketers do to benefit from the new, inclusive India?

It depends entirely on your definition of rural and the context. Rural earlier in the Indian context – was used largely to distinguish urban concentrations from others. Rural earlier also pre supposed poor infrastructure, undependable connectivity, dependence on agriculture, lower disposable incomes, poor education, lower aspirations, media dark and poor retail & technology penetration/slow adoption etc. Increasingly – none of these are so relevant anymore. Geography is less important than incomes and smaller towns and villages have become the powerhouses of demand for everything from holidays (the biggest growth in % terms for Thomas Cook over the past 2-3 years has come from what we call Tier 3 towns) to Mercedes Benz cars! With the positive energy coursing through the Indian economy with the new political dispensation, aggressive investment friendly policies, the ambitious plans to transform over 100 small-medium towns into smart cities etc., the landscape and therefore the opportunities are transforming faster than ever before.
Physical reach via owned/partnered or franchised, online/mobile sales and other forms of innovative, cost effective sales, distribution and payment solutions are what Marketers will need to adapt to make the most of the latent opportunity.

New Rules of Engagement: Changing Expectations of Brand+Customer Interactions, your view?

The basics have never changed – and never been more important to stick to:
Do unto customers as you would like them to do unto you. Be straight, simple, fair, honest and effective. Don’t take the customer’s time, effort or money for granted and treat them as we would like to be treated ourselves had the roles been
reversed. Good product/service, process orientation for efficiency and finally strong customer focus. Keep pace – As customers consume more and better quality products and services, our expectation levels are constantly changing and yesterday’s “gold standard” becomes today’s “basic” and tomorrow’s “unacceptable” faster that we realize. Be willing to learn AND unlearn equally fast to adapt to the dynamic, impatient environment.

Profile: Abraham Alapatt is a Marketing & Brand professional with over 18 years of professional experience at senior strategic levels across the varied domains of Brand building/advertising, corporate communication, PR/media relations, Innovation, customer service & web-technology.
During this period, he has led teams at leading advertising agencies including Ogilvy, an international internet solution provider start-up, Reliance Mutual fund, DCB Bank & Future Generali (life + general) as part of its original start up team.
He currently leads the Innovation, Marketing & Customer Service efforts of Thomas Cook – India’s largest integrated travel services company.

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