• Things Religions Tell Us


    If you think you know a fair bit about marketing, chances are one cursory glance at the topic would have you going – “Oh! Let’s see what this over-smart guy has to tell me about marketing in religion that I don’t know about.” Chances are you are right!! There is maybe nothing new that can be said. But it is this “I have it all figured out” attitude that people have towards religion no matter which side of the river they are on (atheists or “believers”) which makes me eager to put a few of my thoughts here.

    At the very outset again I would like to make it clear that I do not intend to hurt any sentiments here (I am writing one dangerous article too many these days). This is just a look at what marketing lessons one can draw from religion and through this I do not intend to make any value judgments. Please try to take an objective view of the opinions here but in case no matter how hard you try you fail to do so, I think that itself would prove what a good job religions do in harnessing “customer” loyalty.

    Religion is so vast that I am flooded with ideas just thinking about it. This is how I am going to do this –

    1) Do a quick 4 P’s of what I think religion does with Branding

    2) Present some insights I gained discussing religion with friends

    The 4 P’s of Religion


    Product – So what is the product here – people will give you various answers – belief, freedom from worries, and service to the divine. As I see it though it all boils down to “Happiness”! People want to be happy, get all they want in life and religion promises them exactly that. Bow to the Lord and get what you want. You can do whatever else you want in life (they don’t say that explicitly) except a few cardinal sins like murder – just run up to your nearest temple, pray, offer something to God and yup…everything is fine now. Most importantly you are promised a wonderful afterlife

    Price – The main price you play is living life according to a few rules – living a “religious” life, spreading the word of the divine etc. When it comes to money or cash equivalents there are two variations –

    a) Give what your conscience allows you to – This is excellent in terms of retention as anyone who believes he’s involved in an arms-length transaction is an assured repeat customer. And the lifetime value of his contribution may well be substantial

    b) Pay a premium – Very few get to demand such amounts. But these few assure you such guaranteed results that more often than not most people end up paying



    Place – Most (if not all) religions tell you God is everywhere – right from the insides of a nut to the vast open galaxy. But most of them will still have special places of congregation. These places are very important from the perspective of organized religion. It’s here that the message gets reinforced, the network effect makes you feel good to be a “believer”, many times there are these miracle stories heard here which makes you thank your lucky stars that there is a “good” God



    Promotion – There is one thing that religion does best – “Catching ’em young”! No one does it better. As the child grows up the messages are played out again and again and again through family, friends, society, movies, TV soaps, temples, religions groups, symbols and superstitions. So if you “catch them” at an age when they cannot yet rationalize religion is no more an option, it’s a matter of deep seated practice. Seeing need not be believing….believing is believing!!!

    A few more thoughts

    The million dollar stories – Religion has designed some of the best stories known to humanity. Ageless classics, extremely high on symbolism and basic human morality, these stories click immediately and stay with you for a lifetime. And this gives religion immediate recall.

    Fit – Religion has been brilliant in targeting and positioning. The characterization is always phenomenal and the social structure is always accounted for. So if you see the subcontinent our Gods will mostly be the Kings as we have always had a hierarchical structure where the King is our protector. Look at Christianity and you see Jesus Christ, who “lead” his people and sacrificed himself to teach all of humanity a lesson pointing to more flatter social structures (by and large) and an attitude of the people towards collective problem solving.



    Another thing to be noted here is that on the whole religion has done a great job of upholding the “differences” between human beings. So if you look at the complex Indian social structure you would find a resonance of it in religion – a kind of feel good for us who like to be the first among equals as our Gods themselves upheld the supremacy of one group over another. Again whenever there was a gap here – other religions like Buddhism, Jainism etc stepped in to create more equalitarian structures. Understanding the social fabric is religion’s forte!

    The best way to prove that religion has alway needed to account for the social setting to succeed is to take examples where religions failed to do so and got forgotten – case in point Akbar’s “Din-i-Ilahi”.

    The Best Solution – Most religions in an indirect way would tell you that your way of doing things is the best and the rest are misfits, even non believers who need to be shown the right path. This unflinching faith is necessary to not only avoid switching but also to produce network externalities and bring more people into the fold. There may be notable exceptions here but even they would tell you not to switch


    Sensory Branding – The final point I would like to showcase is the clever use of sensory branding. Religious institutions use all your five senses to leave a impact on you so that you do not forget them quickly. Chanting (sound), symbolism (sight), different objects like flowers, divine belongings (touch), food offered after prayers (taste), sandalwood, scents (smell) all add to the “religious experience” which constitute high recall. So much so that you can take out any one part of the “religious experience” and present it alone but people would still make out the symbol.

    Religion has always been a very good example for people to understand how to make immortal brands. Please do let us know what your thoughts are.

    As always ayes and brickbats are welcome. Just write in to themarketers.iimc@gmail.com.

  • Deal or No Deal

    Deal or no deal

    The title might have reminded you of a popular US Game show (And the Indian counterpart by the name of Khulja Sim Sim hosted by Aman Verma). The game was simple. Participants with imperfect information were made to choose between different numbered gates and other prizes. It was very much a luck based game. But are we talking about that game today? Not really, but we will come back to that reference. This is actually about the deals and coupons sites that have really caught the fancy of everyone around. You might recognize them with words like “Ultimate spa experience for 999;get services worth 5000” or “Beer and Dinner worth 1000 for two in just 199”.There are 500 such group buying sites worldwide and more than 20 in India. These sites enjoy more than 12 million users between them and the count is growing every day. This is a considerably high number when you consider that these sites only operate in select cities for now. In India, It started with sites such as snapdeal.com and mydala.com and has seen emergence of new players like Koovs.com, Crazeal.com, Timesdeal.com, Dailydeal.in, Dealivore.com etc. Coming back to the game reference, as a customer, you already know what is behind the gate. The deal is spelt out perfectly to you. You can weigh the costs and benefits of the deal and decide accordingly. However the other player, Business owner who is giving discounts or deals on his product/service is not in such a convinced position. There is a lot of promise behind that door but it can all be very disappointing too.

    sale deals

    There are obvious gains for the consumers who keep going back to these sites and receive heavy discounts on services and products but what about the business owners? These sites usually target the small local business owners. Is it profitable for them to associate themselves with these deals and offers? What are the short term and long term consequences? Are they going to lose their profit margins for short burst of temporary customers or is it a smart move to get new customers who might turn into loyal customers later? Well there doesn’t seem to be a single answer to fit everyone.

    So the best thing about these sites is obviously the fact that it advertises a new business. It helps them reach people who are unaware of their existence. It also attracts a lot of new customers, people who find inexpensive deals attractive. The idea is that they are going to like it so much that they will come back as repeat customers. Businesses should remember that these deals will get people into your shop but will not keep them there. There are other problems too. These deals are attracting customers who will only buy because the services or products are cheap. These customers will vanish as soon as deals are stopped. They will go back to the site and find the next service who is offering discounts. These deals also hurt the brand image. The product/service may not sell as well at the normal price anymore. Consumer cannibalism is another problem when most of the coupon users were the already loyal customers. So all you are doing is giving discounts to your existing customers. Your customers may like you more but you are only losing money.

    deal welcome

    There are a lot of pros and cons are for everyone to see and evaluate for their own business. Deals and offers can also be customized to suit own business. If you have high enough margins to consistently provide such deals then fair enough. Otherwise the purpose of association with such deals should always be kept in mind. There should be a proper goal and discount/deal should be designed in sync with that goal. Discounting your core product/service might not be a good idea. Once the customer is inside your shop, you will have to upsell your other products to take advantage of increase in customer footfalls and Upselling your core product/service will be comparatively easier then. Services with higher margins are the right contender for such discounts and bringing in the customers. Unforgettable deals are better bet than simple discounts which might be easily forgotten. Be innovative with your deals. It will make people talk about your company.The deal should always be about the brand and not about the product that is being offered to the consumers. Most important thing is to react quickly to the response that your deals are getting. Don’t be stuck with it if it is not working out. Every product or service is unique and might require a different treatment. These sites are a good marketing tool but should be handled with a sense of purpose.

  • The new age High-Fly Marketing

    The very first page of Kotler says “Dude, Marketing is everywhere” and then you ask yourself – “Really”? Once you sensitize yourself to your environment from a marketing perspective, you really feel that line Kotler threw was not that unbelievable any more. A recent air travel has prompted me to pen down some simple but interesting marketing observations. I call it “The new age High-Fly Marketing”. There are a variety of things to talk about. Let’s do them one by one discretely.

    You would expect marketing here the least – Inside the airport smoking room, accompanied by three people and silence, you hear of an excellent internet plan for your smart phone in a very faint but clear tone and it stays with you. This is more than marketing the service to your target segment. This is communication at the right time, directed towards the targeted segment when they are actually in the mood. Your consumer feels the need for it more now than any time and for all you know he will be looking for some brilliant schemes. This is of course an excellent illustration of mood marketing.

    Ah that is so obvious – A flight each of Air-India and Indigo gave me some insights into why our PSU giant is feeling the heat. Disclaimer- There may be a lot of things going on with Air India on various fronts. Their strategic decisions related to HR, Operations, Finance may have problems, but I am only sticking to my marketing glasses. At the Check-in counter there was a healthy line and all I could see was men of age of around 40 checking in the passengers. Taking this risk of being called a sexist, I seriously would have preferred pretty and dapper young ladies. It is a clerical job which doesn’t need very difficult skills, but the thing which matters most is how politely can u talk and how hospitable you can be. The world has almost everywhere put a lady on every such kind of server, because they seem more polite and graceful and you have to accept it. For marketing people this is nothing but the intangibility attribute of services which you do compensate by physical evidencing, physical evidencing of quality and good service. The Co-production of services with customers and the inseparability of the service also dictate that one should do what the above argument says.

    On an unrelated note, Air India, on the other hand has very good seats, food served and nice LCD screens (which can be improved by putting some updated movies into the system) as opposed to Indigo at prices which are the same or almost same (The flight I am referring to, was the cheapest on that route). Arguments that “these are the flights which are used for International flights as well and that is why the case” stays. Still nothing prevents them from advertising and communicating these differentiators in their service which at least I haven’t seen them doing.

    Hit them “Below The Line”- I found that airport is again a very good place for using Below The Line marketing. Again an interesting fact that popped up was that airports in general had more banks and NBFCs’ advertising different loan and insurance schemes. There were mobile operators’ adverts. Again all of them were focused towards the target segment- the “educated” people who can understand the communication, having money to invest. Some consumer durables’ and very less consumer goods’ hoardings are seen there in comparison to the above discussed ads.

    airportpicture in wall

    The last but not the least “P” of marketing – the place – also gave a perspective to my analysis of marketing in an airport. Idlis are a real delicacy and I would recommend you to have Idlis of the Idli factory if you ever get a chance. Idli factory is among many high end food joints and other outlets in Hyderabad airport. An airport works as the distribution channel of high end merchandise, apparels, magazines, watches,electronic items, handicrafts, books, food and high end services like spas, saloons etc. The marketers try to provide their products and services meant for the high end consumer in the waiting lounges during the “on an average 1 hour wait” that one has to put before boarding a plane. This is an excellent distribution “P”lace for some products which you see only/mainly at airports, clocking profits for the retailers as well as the airport authority. The data supports the case. A recent report shows that airport retail business has shown excellent growth with revenues zooming above $1bn in 2011 with 18% growth year on year. Not only this, they also make the waiting experience better, again a leaf out of services marketing, this time marketers are the people who run the airport.

    coffee shop

    So now you see the ever so ubiquitous marketing in its new avatar as the High-Fly marketing. It certainly is incredible what Kotler says -counterintuitive maybe – but it’s real.