Today there is a growing trend of consumers coming together to form themselves in communities. Whether it is the social causes like that of ‘Save Mumbai’ or ecological issues as in the case of impurities in Pepsi and Coke, these groups have today come to acquire significant power. Internet has facilitated this growth. Blogs, web, chat rooms are just some of the most commonly used tools for creation of these communities. Many firms like Hindustan Lever have used this medium to create virtual consumer communities. Here customers come together to share their experiences about the products and brands.
One of the most widely used such virtual communities are that of young girls called Gang of Girls promoted by Sunsilk brand of shampoo. Access to this club is restricted and one needs to register, have one’s own password and login id. Most important is that no body from the company can participate in his /her official capacity. Such virtual communities offer significant inputs in consumer psychology and consumption behaviour. There are other chats and blogs too like (an MBA student and aspirant websites where any student / aspirant can post their entry). Likewise MySpace.com is today the largest social networking site which features nearly 100 million personal profiles of users. Most of them are in their teens and twenties. These social networking sites provide an identity to their members. Here the user presents a structured profile of self to the world. Though marketers have not as yet used them, information on these blogs and web sites can be used for customizing the marketing mix.
A major problem of Indian market has been access to products and services were restricted mainly due to infrastructural constraints and lack of distribution network. Today given the power of information and communication technology, it is possible to reach out to smaller markets and customers even in the remotest area of the country. Outsourcing further enables firms to overcome the access problem. For example universities and management schools today have multiple campuses and use a range of internet technologies to reach out to their target markets. IIMs tied up with NIIT to offer multiple diploma programmes to working executives. ICFAI has campuses all over the country including smaller towns like Dehradun to offer MBA programme. XLRI, NMINS, MDI, and IIM Kozikhode use Hughes platform to offer long term diploma programme in management to students all over the country. Pathological laboratories like Ranbaxy, and Dr Lal have multiple labs within large cities and have a network of collection agent across India to collect blood samples and send them to their authorized centres for test. Results are available to the patient or his family on the lab’s website. The same is happening today in banking and other services and consumer products. Hence the marketer has to use technology, direct marketing and network marketing to overcome access problems.
Price is an important input in the consumer decision. But what is far more important is the value in the offer. Let us consider the cases of buying a direct to home connection (DTH) requiring the customer to either buy a satellite dish or a desk top viewing television programmes. There are multiple players in satellite dish marketing. Dominant ones are Tata (brand name Tata Sky) and Zee (Dish TV).
When x called the marketing agent, it turned out that the number has changed and that the call centre was not aware. Next x called a telephone number of an agent who had sent his flyer but he was again directed to a local electronics dealer. Tired of this search, he walked into another electronic store next to his house which sported the hoarding of Zee Dish TV. The dealer gave him a good service and sold him the Dish TV at a price lower than Tata Sky. Here if one were to examine this case, one would observe that value of service was important to price. The marketer will have to continuously examine how to create value and retain the competitive advantage.
Given the fact that the customer today is empowered with more information about brands and their ambassadors, brands have a much bigger task out of them. For example, they have to manage their credibility on an on-going basis. They cannot afford to sit on their laurels earned in the past. Any adverse news about them in some media vehicle can impact their image. An Indian idol today is young with a carefree attitude, assertive, confident, adventurous, not bound by conventional thinking and a highly performance centric Individual.