24 February, 2020

Consumers & Advertising

In my new role at Levista Coffee, I have a dual role to play in Sales & Marketing. While Sales is something I have been on to almost every day of my 23 years’ in Retailing, Marketing is an even more interesting and close-to the heart subject which precedes my Sales experience. Right from college days (and even before as a curious consumer), I have always wondered why Companies market their products if it’s Sales worthy. In fact, it’s an old adage that a great product doesn’t need Advertising. This doesn’t hold good for any product or service in today’s context (and perhaps, even for people given how Mr. Trump & Mr. Modi promoted their agendas at Motera Stadium). So, any business needs Marketing and Consumer facing businesses need a tad more. A lot more rather, with the increasing and insane competition.

As I have been talking to Heads of various media businesses ranging from GEC Channels to Entertainment, News Channels to Spirituality, I have been able to decipher the needs of Media consumers and thought I should write about it briefly. In my opinion, Consumers have three key characteristics – Gossip, Anxiety and Greed. The programs with highest TRPs are Soaps (Tele-Serials), Reality Shows and News Debates. No wonder that they fit in to the three-key human characteristics.

Tele-Serials are all about gossip. The characters in the play gossip and play truant against one another. This vicious cycle goes on for weeks. Contrary to many people who think that Serial scripts are pre-decided and are usually written like film scripts, no they are not. Script Writers change the storyline every few weeks based on audience reaction as well as, wait “BARC Data” which ultimately announce TRPs! So much so, that Script Writers are even replaced by the TV channels / Producers should they wish to. 

As consumers (serial-viewers) love this “gossip” quality of others and themselves, they get hooked to the screens, small and ultra-small ones (almost all Tv Channels have OTTs now to view on Mobiles). So are the News Channels which have more debate-style programs than actual News Reading sessions. No matter how loud a motor-mouth he or she is, the audience love their Anchors! And that’s what raises their popularity and the program’s ratings, after all.

Reality Shows build anxiety, be it KBC-styled quizzes or Box-styled houses that prison inmates for 100 days or even Music Performances which have elimination rounds where even normal looking Musicians outperform their onscreen persona with inimitable hyper histrionics. So is it with Cookery shows or task based programs, especially ones that involve NCC-type arduous tasks in real life situations. Nerkonda Paarvai, the show hosted by Ms. Lakshmi Ramakrishnan began with a bang on 24 Feb. 2020, this time on Kalaignar Tv and is sure to rock TRPs. 

Lastly, greed. Media Consumers want more of what they already watch. With an estimated 10+ Regional General Entertainment Channels in over 10 top Indian languages and almost a similar number in mainstream Hindi, the audience is spoilt for choice with the need to make more time to watch these serials, even while on the move (on OTTs) or on YouTube rehashes. 

Surprisingly, spiritual programs such as temple information or horoscope reading have low TRPs, rather lower viewership. Maybe consumers feel God doesn’t have much to do with their greed, anxiety or gossip. Probably. But Advertisers like us have our customer profiles cracked. We know what and when they watch, so we feed them what they love. So, they ultimately visit a retail store or a website / app and order our stuff. I seem to have been in the most exciting part of my career which I think is yet to begin. Honestly. 

12 February, 2020

Heavier Crown, a Lighter Head is the Aim

Many of you wouldn’t know that I started my retail career in the food industry way back in 1997. It was the first outlet for Baskin Robbins in Chennai and only the second in India where I would scoop Ice Cream and sell then for ₹35 a cup while local brands such as Kwality, Joy and Arun Ice Cream would sell cones and sticks for ₹5 & ₹10 a piece. With plans to board an airplane for employment or to pursue higher studies sooner than later in the US of A, I thought this part time stint during the day (as I went to Evening College) with an American Food chain would be a stepping stone since this sort of menial jobs is something I would anyway end up with, while studying there for my pocket money or as an alternate income. I gave my best at the shop for a little over 9 months when my 18 month course at NIIT was about to end. I had learnt coding skills on languages such as C++, VC++, Visual Basic among others. 
Grocery Retail - Where my Retail career started. 

As my parents waited eagerly for me to complete my graduation, stand outside the US Consulate on RK Salai (Cathedral Road) in Chennai for 8 hours to get a Visa and head out abroad for higher studies or pursue a career in Computers, I had changed the course of my career meanwhile. A desktop was a little less interesting than interacting with new customers at a retail store everyday. Coding languages in an a/c room was a lot less impressive than conversations across languages on the shop floor with Guests. The lure of Dollars was replaced by the lure of learning something new daily with so many interactions with people around. Afterall, money cannot replace everything in the world. I prostrated at my parents feet handing over my NIIT Certificate and told them this beautiful artpaper doesn’t excite me anymore. 

After giving their hard-earned money for me to learn Software development, they were kind enough to oblige my request. I went on to pursue an MBA in Marketing, conferred myself the title “Retailer by Profession and Choice since 1997” and here I am writing this article from the lobby of Taj Land End, Mumbai as I receive a citation today - 12 Feb. 2020 that reads “Most influential F&B Industry professional in India” by CMO Asia in association with World Retail Congress. 

Humbled, is the least I can say as I receive my fourth such Award in 6 years. In 2014, I was conferred “Top 50 Retail Professionals in India”, “Young Achiever Award” by Vels University, Chennai in 2016 and “Top 100 Retail Professionals in India” in 2018. The crown became heavier today with this feather but the ego within got lighter, for I feel I have so much more to learn and accomplish in life. Makes me realise what a Responsibility this is (with a capital R) to carry such accolades on my shoulder and also makes me wonder how little I know about the Indian Retail Industry where I have played a minuscule role and who’s History which is yet to be fully told.

Over the years of my employment, I have worked in managing Store Operations in the Grocery Retail business at RPG Foodworld (2001) and thereafter set-up 140 outlets across India for Cafe Coffee Day (since 2009) as General Manager - Business Development. Had the opportunity to work with several iconic F&B Clients during my 5.5 years stint running my own Business Advisory firm “Miles2Go Consulting Services” until 2019. F&B remains my most cherished vertical within Retail afterall even as I joined Levista Coffee as Vice President earlier this year. A full time role of employment, I am responsible for the business P/L where our coffee proudly shares valuable shelf space at Grocery stores with world famous brands like Bru, Nescafe and Sunrise as well as several homegrown brands like Narasus, Leo, Continental, Cothas, to name a few. 

There were two frogs which were climbing a small hillock. Fellow brethren told them not to venture since there was danger lurking ahead. One frog came back to where it started while the other frog kept leaping ahead and finally reached the summit. There was no danger there, rather there was a bounty in the offing. While everyone wondered why the frog never listened to anyone, they later realised that the Frog was deaf (to their comments and feedback) and surged ahead with a clear goal in mind.

The path I chose 23 years back was the road less taken. Retail was not all this glossy or popular way back then. Not only was an employment in Retail a low-income opportunity, It was chided as a very localised job assignment which doesn’t suit MBA profiles and one that is confined to a certain social strata of the society including a profiling that is even linked only to a few specific castes. 

Looking back, I missed several buses in other industries and lucrative job opportunities, but do I have a sense of grief or regret? Not a bit. I am very glad I chose this path and shall always be proud of what this Industry has taught me as I look forward to contributing meaningfully to my Country. 

I have just begun and I have Miles to Go before I sleep.


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