Every marketer has been told about the 5 Ps of marketing- Product, Pricing, Promotion, Place and People. There was a time when ticking these 5 boxes meant a successful marketing formula. Times have changed and the criterion for marketing success has also become more challenging and complex. The letter “U” has made its entry into the marketing lexicon and upended the traditional formula for marketing success. U stands for uniqueness. There were times when “me too” products could be made successful by massive advertising budgets. Those days are over. The consumer is no longer the naïve, gullible target who can be lured by fancy advertising. Unless your product can differentiate itself from others; unless it is “unique” it will not fly.
Before the dawn of the social media age, you could sell any product by spending enough on an advertising campaign. There was a captive audience who diligently browsed the pages of a handful of reputed newspapers every morning and in the evening remained glued to a limited number of television channels waiting for their favourite program. Watching the 10 o’clock news on television seemed to be the raison d’etre in every household. Such was the monopoly and dominance of the mass media that they could charge whatever they wished for the coveted column inch in their newsprint or the precious few seconds on their television channel. So effective was the power of advertising that businesses started competing with one another to get a slot in the prime time of major television channels and in the most viewed pages of the leading newspapers. The cost of advertising on the front page of a major daily shot up in leaps and bounds doubling every few years. Market research agencies kept churning out data updating marketers on the viewership and effectiveness of advertising in different mass media. FMCG companies selling anything from Anti-dandruff shampoo to Zero calorie soft drinks were scrambling to get a 30 second slot on the major TV channels during peak time. Advertising was the panacea for the success of the good, the bad and the ugly.
Times have changed. Today there are innumerable electronic and print media channels. It is impossible to get the attention of the target audience through traditional advertising. In the pre-advertising era of the early 20th century, products were sold by word of mouth. If you had a good product, satisfied customers became your ambassadors and spread the word. A hundred years on, we seem to have completed the circle and returned to the traditional formula for marketing success. Create a great product for a niche market, use the social media to target the niche market and then wow your niche target market with the unique excellence of your product. Then let your enchanted early adopters do the selling for you through word of mouth on social media. Social media is the most potent means of communication today. But one has to know the nuances of the use of social media. For starters, social media is NOT for mass products or mass marketing. In fact, I think the days of mass products and mass marketing are approaching the inevitable end. A product for everybody is a product for nobody. There are too many mass products in every conceivable category. Ergo, marketers face a challenge because whatever mass product they want to sell has multiple competitors. Making just another mass product and advertising your way to success does not happen anymore. Companies need to target a niche instead of a huge market. With niche you can segment off a chunk of the main stream and because the product will fulfill the specific needs of a specific group of people, they will be happy to talk about it. Instead of wasting money on mass advertising, it makes much more sense now to spend the money on making a wow product so that the word of mouth goes viral. A/B testing the product is the buzz word in marketing. Try different features, different designs, different combinations and see the results. If it is working do more of it; if it is not working then kill it. Push selling is futile and soul wrenching. If it is a product which is just ordinary and there are so many similar “ordinary” products then that product either has to be killed or reinvented into something that the market is looking for. It is always better to create a product that the market needs rather than force sell a product that is ordinary and the market is filled with clones.
In the good old days the product life cycle was generally much longer. Think of the invincible monoliths of yesteryear- Pan Am, Sears, Olivetti, Blockbuster, Circuit City, Thomas Cook. They lasted for decades and then suddenly they were gone. Nowadays no company is safe in its existence. Motorola was the pioneer in mobile telephony but is now nowhere in the horizon. General Motors was the undisputed leader in the auto industry but it looks old and jaded beside the upstart Tesla. The once feared Walmart is fighting tooth and nail for its survival against Amazon. iTunes killed the mighty record labels. Today the premium is on uniqueness and creativity. No business can assume that its existence is guaranteed unless it keeps coming up with new creative ideas to make it unique.
Big established companies are the most vulnerable in today’s business climate. They lack creativity and the customer today is looking for novelty. Something new; something unique. It is not that there is a shortage of creative ideas in the established companies. The shortage is in the lack of a will to execute those ideas. These archaic companies have achieved their success doing things in a certain way. They loathe changing. They are comfortable with the status quo. The biggest advantage of new startups is their uniqueness. WhatsApp, Twitter, TikTok, Netflix are virtually overnight wonders. They redefined how things are done.
Many companies want to play it safe by waiting till some other company tries something different. If the first company succeeds then these companies want to get into the action. While this may be a safe policy, such companies will never be respected as a “leader”. The brand will never have a faithful following of die-hard fans who sing its praise on social media. The brand image will not be exuding excitement. It will have a dull boring personality. A big price to pay for safety. But as pointed out by Jon Spoelstra in Marketing Outrageously, there is a catch-22 of this move. If times are good then why should you do things differently? And if times are bad then the risk can be so great that it could threaten the existence of the business. I think that the answer is obvious. Not bringing in new ideas will surely lead to the demise of the brand. Taking a chance with a new idea could mean serious damage to the company or even demise but it also offers an opportunity to become a very successful new concept which would keep giving profits in the days ahead. Of course there will be failures. But every great inventor, artist, businessman has had significant flops.
Ever since the birth of bti thirty six years ago, I have been paranoid about the company losing its creativity and becoming boring. We have constantly tried to be the trend setters in the industry. When apartment buildings were match box shaped walk-ups we first introduced lifts in our apartment complexes; we were the first company in our industry to get the ISO certification for quality and design of buildings; our project Park Plaza was the first high rise residential development in Banani; we were the first developer to start a brokerage service to support our customers who needed to sell their apartments in the secondary market. We have constantly tried new ideas. We have succeeded in some but failed in many more. As our industry becomes more crowded and our products become commoditized, it is ever more important to retain our company’s “U” factor. We are constantly working to that end. For every new development we now look at, our objective is to make it “wow” and target a niche market. We then let the loyal early movers spread the word about the U of that project.
Entrepreneurship is about creativity. One of the great challenges for the entrepreneur is to remain an entrepreneur. What normally happens is that with a stroke of genius the entrepreneur creates a remarkable business which becomes bigger and bigger with the passage of time and to keep sustaining this growth, the entrepreneur gradually morphs into a manager thereby killing the entrepreneur and the creativity of the entrepreneur. Fighting this phenomenon is something that still keeps me passionate about my work. Nurturing my creativity helps me retain the curiosity of my childhood.