Children’s Access to Internet: What It Means to Marketers (Part I)

Children’s access to internet is not a new topic. However, with the proliferation of smart phones and children’s access to smart phones, minors are having easier access to internet these days. Experts are of the opinion that while internet may harm minors, it could also be a great learning tool for them if used properly (source). Safety and privacy issues are also of great importance while minors are on the net. That is where the big question comes in– how do you define and ensure proper access to internet by minors? A report from the UK states , “Almost 30 per cent of parents allow their children to access the internet without any restrictions or supervision, with one in eight letting toddlers aged two or under go online. Just one in seven wait until their child is at least ten before allowing them access to the internet.” In the USA, the percentage of American teens who engage with social media multiple times a day has gone from 34 per cent in 2012 to 70 percent in 2018. Almost similar scenario exists in Asia due to its increasing coverage of internet, keeping in pace with the growth of their emerging economies.  For example, a recent report states that more than 90 percent of Chinese minors aged up to 18, can now access internet through mobile phone and over 64 percent of primary school children have their own smartphones.

Based on the internet access scenario for minors and teenagers, what are the challenges and opportunities for marketers? What do you think?

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“I will pay you…”

That is a game changer when you say it. This can trigger sudden change of mood in an unyielding conversation. Then you regret, why didn’t I say it in the first place? To the contrary, of course, some would throw a cold “no” on your face, perhaps not because they would not accept it, but because you failed to measure up their level of sophistication of receiving the message. It is not always in cash, it could perhaps be in kind. I am not talking about bribe, that is the crudest form of “I will pay you” with the most unethical way of gaining any favor. Sometimes, this could be really a well-meaning social gesture to a friend to earn his “like” so that you two stay as good friends.  There are reasons why cave people who hunted animals, let others skin the animal for food preparation. It is a social exchange of favors, well-meaning and balanced, really.

Then what do we tell our customers to woo them back whom we already have lost to competition? You tell me. Could it be special offers, discounts, buy-one-get-one sort of deals? Human instincts, most probably, did not change since its inception.

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Take Care of the Invisible “Bubble”

Branding is not magic, but its results could be magical! Wonder why people pay for brand names? It’s not only the product quality or features, it’s the psychological satisfaction, bubbles of which have been artistically created consistently over time. How about Lux, a brand older than hundred years, consistently promoted itself as a beauty soap with rose perfume? You would hardly find Lux in lemon fragrance, it wasn’t intended to be positioned as such. It is most likely that Lux will be consistently promoting the brand as it did for a long time in the past. But does it mean that Lux is competing based on mere quality? Is it competing based on rose fragrance? In fact, it is the psychological bubble that it has been able to create in its historical trail, with quality and fragrance, along with a mixture of “beauty” positioning through endorsement from actresses of different times. You can easily find actresses of the 1930s endorsing Lux as their “beauty” soap, just as you would find recent and popular actresses endorsing Lux in sponsored commercials.  Talk about consistency! Of course, the power of this consistently created psychological bubble is true for other popular brands as well. How about the psychological bubble of brands like Mercedes Benz, Coke, Pepsi, Nike or Adidas?

It appears that while quality and features are important, the core of branding lies in creating a positive and sustaining impression of distinctiveness in consumer psychology. Think about how you would be able to create this psychological bubble for your brand!

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Branding through Effectiveness and Efficiency

Effectiveness and efficiency of products are two important pre-requisites of performance. Performance is essential for a sustainable and unique identity of a brand. But how do these two factors play their roles in branding?

Simply put, effectiveness means whether something works for the purpose it is made for. If two different painkillers, X and Y, serve the same purpose quite well, they are effective. However, if Y works faster, it is more efficient. It is about classical input-output ratio. If bank A and bank B both offer banking services, they might be effective. However, if A provides its services with less cost and time, without compromising service quality, A is said to be more efficient.

In a competitive world, effectiveness must pre-exist to maintain even the existence of a product. It is difficult to establish a brand with mere effectiveness, since everybody is vying for it to be delivered to their customers. At the end of the day, the real difference is being made through efficiency. Can we provide better products that would work faster? Can we design services that would offer faster and quality services to customers? Efficiency creates value for customers, thereby plays the determining role in creating a strong brand. While both effectiveness and efficiency are needed, the final part of excellence is sealed through efficiency. What do you think?

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Standing with Consumers’ Concern: A Challenge for Brands Today

A recent study conducted in 14 countries among over 14,000 respondents reveals that over 50% of consumers are most likely to buy a brand that stands with consumers’ social, environmental or political concerns. Today, consumers are becoming more belief-driven as compared with consumers of yesterday. Does it mean that cause-based activism in social media has an impact on consumers’ beliefs that eventually pervades their buying choices? Probably so. Brands need to answer this call which has been evident among many global brands today. However, it does not mean that brands should intensively get into the quagmire of meddling into social, environmental or political crisis, but show a general concern that “it is a matter that we are not ignoring” without taking sides. Taking sides may sometimes prove to be alienating certain groups of customers and makes the brand controversial. It is about consumer engagement and getting into the conversation to keep the customer-brand relationship rolling. The situation is found to be more intense in the Asian context, particularly in India and China. Consumers in developing countries like India and China are among the highest percentage of consumers (65% and 73% respectively) who are willing to have their choices based on brands’ concern on social issues.

It is high time that brands started answering this call through their stories, engagement and getting into the proper platforms for conversation. This is a never-ending task to keep a brand rolling. So what’s your next step to address this delicate concern of your customers?

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Never Forget the Competitive Landscape

Branding should be put into perspective of competition. Competitors are always busy devising ways and means to beat the rest of the brands. While this might be true that putting too much attention on competitors could be myopic which might prevent you from being creative, it is also true that turning a blind eye to competition would force you to lose competitive stake in the landscape. For example, take the airlines’ customer satisfaction surveys. You would notice that by providing the same level of services, you might be consistently ranked lower than other airlines not because your services are bad, but because your competitors had gone far beyond where you are standing. A competitive distance is being created in the landscape for which you are appearing worse than others as time goes on. So the solution lies in not being complacent of what you are doing today, rather keep trying to excel yourself and rest of the brands in everything you do. Each time something new is offered by competitors, consumers’ expectation changes. Hence, raising your services to touch or excel that consumers’ expectation is the key in holding your breath in that competitive landscape. What do you think?

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Will FIFA World Cup 2018 Help Establish the Brand “Vivo”?

Vivo, the third largest Chinese smartphone manufacturer after Huwaei and Oppo, has been aggressive in branding itself through FIFA World Cup 2018 and 2022 sponsorships. It is of no surprise that Oppo and Vivo follow almost similar branding strategy as they are from the same manufacturer (BBK Electronics). Ever wondered why didn’t they adopt significantly different strategy for two different brands? Keep guessing! The fact is both Oppo and Vivo boasts about their selfie expertise, focuses more on offline sales through higher margin to retailers and keeps widening their distribution coverage by opening stores in rural or semi-urban areas. Oppo is an older brand (established in 2001) compared to Vivo (started in 2009), and already appears to be more popular than Vivo. Perhaps that could be one of the reasons why Vivo was chosen for a facelift instead of Oppo by its parent company (?). No matter what, the increasing reach of Vivo by expanding its distribution outlets is a sign that Vivo is getting ready to get a boost through FIFA World Cup 2018 (and 2022 as well).

It is interesting to know that almost half of the world’s population enjoys this seasonal exhilaration. No wonder that it is an opportune moment to reach a brand’s target audience. Vivo just did that by becoming the official smartphone of FIFA World Cups. The question is, will the result be sustainable for Vivo?

Branding is not merely about advertising and sponsorships, it is about letting people have the passion for Vivo in such a way that customers feel, think, talk and walk Vivo. Branding has to be from within the core of the passion, and not a superficial love story that plays like a full-length movie. Interestingly, if you search Google and find what people are talking about Vivo, you would be surprised to see the flurry of positive and negative comments they are sharing on their experiences. Most likely, it means Vivo has to work on its functionality and many other factors as customers are not unanimous on what Vivo means to them. Of course, there are certain popular models that are rated more positively than others, however, a unified stand of customers’ perception of Vivo appears to be missing. Prove me wrong if you are a fan of Vivo!

At this stage, beating a drum louder for Vivo may actually harm the brand in future, if they are targeting the global audience. May be, it is too early to comment. The interesting phenomenon of rapidly growing Chinese domestic market could be another factor that Vivo must have weighed in. With its expanding rural retail network in China, World Cup sponsorship would probably spark an uprise in Vivo’s demand domestically that could prove to be enough for Vivo to establish itself as the number one brand in China. The rest of the world can wait for some more time before Vivo can come up with better solution in 2022!

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Lessons Learned from the Closure of Toys ‘R’ Us

Finally, the giant toy-retailing chain store Toys ‘R’ Us is closing. Operating over 60 years across the US and Europe, nearly a thousand of its stores are now being closed as the company could not make enough money to continue its business.

A number of lessons can be learned from its retail operations that saw an end recently. First, it could be noted that the peak business period of the retail chain was seen during the early nineties, when brick-and-mortar stores (or physically located stores) were (still) dominant over e-commerce stores. The tide slowed down when other low-price retailers (like Walmart) started selling toys in the late nineties, along with increasing competition from e-retailers. Second, in this backdrop, the company ran into a sort of financial burden, as it has been paying about US$400 million in interest, accruing on its debts every year, mainly due to its $6.6 billion leveraged buyout in 2005. It appears that, at the end of 2017, it almost succumbed to its debt burden. Evidently, financial burden would not have been a problem if the debt could be serviced satisfactorily through brisk business.

The lack of brisk business could be attributed to two main reasons. First, other retailers, including small community toy stores, started selling low-priced toys that pulled the Toys ‘R’ Us into a tough competitive space. In addition to low prices, those retailers also ensured amusing experience for shoppers and children. Does it show that we need to care about customer experience to stay in the business? Of course, yes. How about e-retailers? Yes, they are the reason number two. The proliferation of Amazon and other e-retailers appeared to have caused significant blow to Toys ‘R’ Us’s business. It is not surprising that whatever can be bought from Toys ‘R’ Us, can also be bought from online stores at ease.

It has been surprising to see how Toys ‘R’ Us still believed that the brick-and-mortar business model could win business over e-commerce and small community toy stores in the long run!

 

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Branding using boundary-breakers

Most brands are stuck in their imaginary boundary these days. It means, in the name of consistency, they are “improving” upward within their boundary, but not going beyond where they are, being afraid that it might hurt their positioning. The notion of “core competency” could be another way to look at this myopia. While there are some theoretical truth that you must be consistent in your positioning, it is also true that boundary-breakers like Tesla and Apple are moving beyond where they started. The core competency of Tesla did not “pre-exist”, it was “created” through aggressive investment in R&D. And Space-X did not come from the space, it was a boundary-breaker beyond what was possible by the space industry. It is amazing to see how these boundary-breaking  thoughts could be the sources of your next innovative brand. Other than “vitaminizing” your dying brand, think about some boundary-breakers now!

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Inspiration and Perspiration: How Brands Make their Mark

It takes a lot of imagination to put a creative mark in your branding program. Subsequently, it takes a group of front-end soldiers to make a brand’s dream come true. Both are important, one cannot be achieved without the other. But it is the inspiration that ignites the fire to burn the trail. In addition, it is the hard work (perspiration) that executes the dream in the market. A creative plan can fail because of poor execution. On the other hand, a poorly designed plan can get away with a wonderfully crafted execution, although chances are there that it would most likely fail to put a significant mark. We often put less attention to execution whereas we put more importance on crafting a dream. For a successful brand, it requires the both. What do you think?

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