Of Immortality and Reincarnation


September 20, 2010

Written By Devangshu Dutta

It is quite clear that retro is ‘in’. The movie business worldwide is full of sequels, prequels, re-releases and remakes. The music business is ringing up the cash registers with remixes and jukebox compilations. Star Wars and Sholay still have a fan following. Abba has leaped across three decades; Hindi film songs from 30-60 years ago have been given a skin-uplift by American hip-hop artists; while Pink Floyd is hot with Indian teens, along with Akon and Rihanna.

As copyright restrictions are removed from the works of authors long gone, the market gets flooded with several reprints of their most popular writings. Of course, we know that classic literature survives not just a few years, but even thousands of years. Examples include the still widely-read, nearly 2,500-year- old Indian epic Ramayana by Valmiki, the Greek philosophers’ works that continue to be popular after two millennia, and the Norse legends that have been told and re-told for over a thousand years. Spiritual and religious leaders’ writings are also recycled into the guaranteed market of their followers and possible converts for a long time after their passing away.

On the other hand, the basic premise of today’s fashion and lifestyle businesses is that silhouettes, colours and design cues will become (or be made) obsolete within a few weeks or a few months, and will be replaced with new ones. This principle is true not just of clothing and footwear, but is applied to home furnishings, furniture, white goods, electronics, mobile phones, and even cars. In fact, the fashion business (as it exists) would find it impossible to survive if customers around the world chose only classics that could be used for as long as the product lasted in usable form.

What Fashionability Means For brands

Other than individual styles or products falling out of favour, as fashions move and as the market changes, it is evident that some brands also become less acceptable, are seen as ‘outdated’, and may also die out as they lose their customer base.

Of course, that some brands become classics is quite apparent, especially in the luxury segment, where brands such as Bulgari have survived several generations of consumers, and continue to thrive.

However, the past is of relevance to the fashion sector because, other than planned or forced obsolescence, the fashion business has also long worked on another principle – that trends are cyclical.

Skirts go up and down, ties change their width, and the colour palette moves through evolution across the years. A style formula that was popular in the summer of a year in the 1970s, might be just right in another summer in the first decade of the 21st century.

So, the question that comes up is whether the same logic that is applicable to individual products, styles and trends, could also be applied to brands.

The answer to whether apparently weak, dead, or dying brands could be brought back to life is provided by brands such as Burberry, Lee Cooper and Hush Puppies. Sometimes, innovative consumers create the opportunity – as with Hush Puppies in the 1980s – while in other cases (such as Burberry, Volkswagen Beetle, or Harley Davidson), vision, concerted effort and resources can make the brand attractive again.

The question, then, is not whether brands can be re-launched – they can be. The more important question is: should a brand be re-launched? Using the logic of the fashion business, rather than being left to linger and then dying a painful death, could brands be consciously phased out and later brought back into the market as the trends change?

the brand PortFolio – diversiFying oPPortunities and risks

These questions are particularly important for large companies, or in times when market growth rates are slow, or when the

market is fragmented. Organic growth can be difficult in all these scenarios, and companies begin to look at developing ‘portfolios’ by acquiring other businesses and brands, or by launching multiple brands of their own.

The car industry worldwide has lived with brand portfolio management for long. Even as companies have merged with, or acquired, each other, the various marques have been retained and sometimes even dead ones have been revived. The companies generally focus the brands in their portfolio on distinct customer segments and needs (such as Ford’s ownership of Ford, Volvo and Jaguar, or General Motors with its multiple brands), and then further play with models and product variants within those. When things go right, portfolio strategies can be quite profitable, but the mistakes are especially expensive. Sensible and sensitive management of the portfolio is absolutely critical.

In the fashion and lifestyle sector, the players who already follow a portfolio strategy are as diverse as the luxury group LVMH, mainstream fashion groups like Liz Claiborne (with brands in its portfolio including Liz Claiborne, Mexx, Juicy Couture, and Lucky Brand Jeans) and Limited Brands (Limited, Victoria’s Secret, La Senza, etc.), and retailers such as Marks & Spencer (with its original St. Michael’s brand having given way to Your M&S, and also Per Una) and Chico’s (Chico’s, White House | Black Market, and Soma Intimates), who wish to capture new customer segments or re-capture lost customers.

Some of these companies have launched new brands, some have re-launched their own brands, and some have even acquired competing brands.

The issue is also relevant to the Indian market, whether we consider Reliance’s revival of Vimal, the new brand ambassador for Mayur Suitings, or the PE-funded takeover of Weekender. As the market begins to evolve into significantly large differentiated segments, branding opportunities grow, and so will activity related to existing or old brands being

resurrected and refreshed. An additional twist is provided by Indian corporate groups such as Reliance, Future Group (Pantaloons), and Arvind, which are looking to partner international and Indian brands, or grow private labels to gain additional sales and margin.

The issue also concerns those companies whose management is attached to one or more brands owned by them which may not have been performing well in the recent past, but due to historical or sentimental reasons, the management may not like to close down or sell them.

It is equally critical for potential buyers who would like to take over and turn brands around into sustainable profits. This is a real possibility in this era of private-equity funds and leveraged buyouts, where a company or a financial investor might find it cheaper and more profitable to take over an existing brand and turn it around, rather than building a new brand. This is already happening in the Indian market. More interestingly, Indian companies have also already acquired businesses in the United States and Europe, and the potential revival or re-launch of brands is certainly relevant for these companies as well.


Re-launch or acquisition of an existing active or dormant brand can be an attractive option when building a portfolio, or when a company is getting into a new market.

For the company, acquiring an existing brand is often a lower- cost way to reach the customers, and also faster to roll out the business. The company may assess that the brand already has an existing share of positive customer awareness that is active or dormant, and that the effort and resources (including money) needed to build a business from that awareness will be much less than that to create a new brand.

The risk of failure may also be lower for a re-launched brand than for a new brand. This is because the softer aspects, the hidden psychological and emotional hooks, are already pre-designed. This provides a ready platform from which to re- launch and grow the brand.

From the customer’s point of view, there is the confidence from previous experience and usage, and possibly also nostalgia and comfort of the ‘known’. ‘Age’ or ‘vintage’ is respectable and trustworthy. This is especially powerful during volatile times or

in rapidly changing environments, when there is uncertainty about what lies in the future, and makes an existing brand a powerful vehicle for sustaining and growing the business.


However, when handling brands, it is also wise to keep in mind the cautionary note that mutual funds issue: “Past performance is no indicator of the future.”

In re-launching active or dormant brands, there is also a downside risk. While the brand may have been strong and relevant in its last avatar, it may be totally out of place in the current market scenario. The competitive landscape would have shifted, consumers would have changed – new consumers entering the market, old consumers evolving or moving out – and the economic scenario itself may now be

unfriendly to the brand.

Also, the ‘awareness’ or ‘share of mind’ may only be a perception in the mind of the person who is looking to re- launch the brand, and the consumer may actually not care about the brand at all. There are instances where the management of the company has been so caught up in their own perception of the brand that they have not bothered to carry out first-hand research with the target segment to check whether there is actually an unaided recall, or at worst, aided recall of the brand. They are imagining potential strengths, when the brand has none.

It is also possible that, during its last stint in the market, the brand may have gathered negative connotations – consumers may remember it for poor products or wrong pricing, the trade may remember it for late deliveries, vendors may remember it for delayed payments… the list goes on. In such a scenario, a re-launch may be a disaster.

So, how does one know whether to resurrect a brand, or to reincarnate it in another form, and when to just let it die? The answers to that lie in answering the question: What is a brand? And then, what is this brand?


Even in these enlightened marketing times, many people believe that the brand is the name. They believe that once you advertise a name widely and loudly enough, a brand can be created. Nothing could be further from the truth. High-decibel advertising only informs customers of the name; it cannot create a brand.

If we put ourselves in the customer’s shoes, a brand is an image, comprising a bundle of promises on the company’s part and expectations on the customer’s part, which have been met. When promises are delivered, when expectations are met, the brand develops an attribute that it is defined by.

The promise may be of edgy design (think Apple), and the customer expects that – when the brand delivers on the promise and meets the expectation, the brand image gets re-affirmed and strengthened. However, these attributes are not always necessarily all ‘positive’ in the traditional sense. For instance, a company’s promise may be about being low-cost and low-service (think Ikea, or low-cost airlines), and the customer may expect that, and be happy when the company delivers on that promise. The promise may be products with a conscience (think The Body Shop), which may strike a chord with the consumer.

What that brand actually stands for can only be created experientially. Creating this image, creation of the brand, is a complex and step-by-step process that takes place over time and over many transactions. Repetition of the same kind of experience strengthens the brand.

The brand touches everything that defines the customer’s experience. The product design and packaging, the retail store it is sold in, the service it is sold with, the after-sales interaction, all have a role to play in the creation of the brand.

For instance, to some it may sound silly that market research or supply chain practices can help define a brand, but that is exactly how the state of affairs is for Zara. Changeovers and new fashions being quickly available are what that brand is about, and it would be impossible for Zara to deliver on that promise without leading-edge supply chains, or a wide variety of trend research.

Similarly, it may sound clichéd that your salesperson defines the brand to the consumer, but even with the best products, extensive advertising, and swanky stores, for service-oriented retailers everything would fall apart if the salesperson is not up to the mark. This is, indeed, a reality faced by so many of the premium and luxury brands.

Of course, brand images can be changed or updated, but the new image also needs to be reinforced through repeated action, a process just like the first time the brand was created.


Given that a brand is created over multiple interactions and repetitive delivery of certain attributes, it is only natural that the older the brand, the more potential advantage it would have over a new brand. Just the sheer time it would have spent in the market would give an old brand an edge.

An old brand can appear to be proven, experienced and secure, while a new brand could be seen as untested, raw and risky. An old brand may have had a positive relationship with the consumer, but may have been dormant due to strategic or operational reasons. In this case, reviving the brand is clearly a good idea. There is already an existing awareness of an older brand, which can act as a ready platform for launching either the same or a new set of products or services. Often, there may be a connection with the consumer’s past positive experience of the brand.

On the other hand, a new brand may appear to be fresh, more up-to-date and relevant, and vigorous, compared to an old one that may be seen as outdated and tired. Certainly, if nostalgia had been all that brands needed to thrive upon, then old brands would never die and it would be difficult to create new brands.

Clearly, there is no single answer to whether it is a good idea to re-launch an existing or old brand. If you are considering whether it would be a good idea to revive an old brand, or to acquire and turn an existing brand around, ask yourself this:

  • Is there evidence of enough customer awareness and support for the brand?

  • Are there positive connotations for the brand that can be built upon in the current market context?

  • Is there an opportunity to refresh the brand, so that it does not appear outdated, while retaining its core promise and authenticity?

  • Does the company have the resources and the inclination to be a ‘caretaker’ or ‘steward’ of the relationship that has been created in the past between the brand and its customers?

If the answer is ‘no’ to any of these questions, then one needs to think again. However, if the answers are all ‘yes’, then a resuscitation is just what the doctor might have ordered.

Devangshu Dutta is chief executive of Third Eyesight (website: www.thirdeyesight.in), a management consulting firm focused on consumer products and retail, whose clients include brand leaders and some of the largest companies in their respective markets. This article is written with the fashion sector in focus, but is equally applicable to other products and service sectors.

Source: Images Yearbook

Of Immortality and Reincarnation


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Sustaining the not so sustainable


September 15, 2010

From RETAILER, Varun Jain

September 2010

Vishal Retail is reeling under a debt of Rs 730cr; Subhiksha has already closed all their 1600 outlets; Wadhawan Retail’s ambitious retail chain, Spinach, ran out of steam in this competitive retail scenario; and Raymond’s Be: Home, a home furnishings retail format, is already a thing of past.

These are a few examples of big retailers who could not able to sustain their retail businesses, while other players struggled successfully to be on the road to recovery. Let’s do a reality check, as in what other players did right to be still in the game and what went wrong with the formers.

Faulty Expansion Plan

"Retail is a long term game, where there is no immediate success. For this a business should be capitalised keeping the long term investments and returns in perspective", opines Mr Purnendu Kumar, Associate VP, Technopak Advisors Pvt. Ltd. An expansion primarily with a debt can lead to serious troubles, and it happened with Subhiksha, he adds.

Many retail business in India, initially adopted an experimental strategy for their retail venture, in the absence of organised retail history. "It is important that for further expansion, there is a clear strategy in tune with the company’s vision. Retailers must understand the needs of their target or captive customers, and offer appropriate products through the right formats backed by appropriate services to build customer loyalty. There is a need for a strong back-end foundation in terms of merchandising and supply chain that is efficient and aligned to the targeted scale of operations", opines Ms Tarang Gautam Saxena, Sr. Consultant, Third Eyesight.

It is rather a paradox that discount retailers such as Subhiksha and Vishal Retail have run into difficulty during the business slump when they could have been thriving. Ms Saxena further feels that Subhiksha tried to do too many things for many people in its ambition to scale up rapidly. Its rapid growth across multiple product categories and through different formats clearly was not sustainable. Further, the scale of its operations (1,650 stores), making losses did not go down well with consumers. Vishal Retail may have experienced some difficulties on account of financing, but the main issue they needed to address was related to merchandising and supply chain.

Mr RC Agarwal, MD, Vishal Retail Ltd. also admits that and comments, "Coupled with the external challenge of global turmoil, our overambitious expansion plan and low consumer sentiment brought us in a challenging situation". Vishal Retail Ltd, with 170 outlets countrywide, is seeking to reschedule debt of around Rs730 crore. Café Coffee Day, the largest and the most successful café chain in the country, understand the market and its potential extremely well before taking on expansion, confirms K Ramakrishnan, President- Marketing, CCD. We gauge the catchment in terms of the number of footfalls that could be, and ensure that we can undertake conversions before we open an outlet, he informs.

Where Else Does the Problem Lie?

Wadhawan Retail, which downed shutters of their Spinach stores operating across Mumbai and Kolkata, has interests in real estate, retail, financial services, education and hospitality, and runs operations in India, the UAE and UK. They didn’t take their business too seriously, and if reports are to be believed, the caretakers of the company were busy looking after their real estate business and many suppliers backed out from their commitment with the company because of the non-payment of the bills, which were huge.

In case of food retailing, this is one segment which is very difficult to manage. "This is more so in the food and grocery business where the trade margins are lower and there is a very strong competition from the kiranas. For a retailer in this category, a proper value proposition with private labeling is the key to make the store profitable", quips Mr Kumar. What also drives a footfall in these outlets are the availability of the fresh products. Visiting many of the affected store, you will find the shelves empty with very little or nothing to choose from. Stock and supply chain were not in sync. "Having a sound supply chain and well stocked stores is an absolute must as nothing is more fatal for a retail business than disappointed customers who do not find products in the store. Having processes for the retail operation and trained store staff adhering to certain store operating principles are equally important at the front-end during the growth" explains Ms Saxena.

Be: Home which was relaunched in 2008, with the intent of selling premium fashion designer labels in soft furnishings at affordable prices, sourced from across the globe in large volumes, closed down all its four stores within two years of its operation. This can also be the result of venturing into the space which is already cramped up with major players like Future Group, Bombay Dyeing, Shoppers Stop and many more. The timing was also not perfect for a brand which is primarily an apparel retailer to venture into a new space. Thus, it becomes very important to evaluate the market before taking the plunge.

Economic Slowdown, A Spoilsport

Vishal Retail, which created history by creating 149 stores in a span of almost 10 years, bore the brunt of economic slowdown. "The recent global turmoil, which affected the Indian retail industry deeply, had implications on Vishal Retail also to some point. But Vishal Retail has stood through all the odds and managed 35% YoY Sales growth last quarter", says Mr Agarwal.

But then there are retailers who were extremely cautious during the slowdown and made very calculative moves to see the light of post-recession. Big retailers like Reliance and Spencer’s went on the back foot and let the rough weather pass. They slowed down expansion, started cost cutting and today they are back again healthy in the same old ways. For Lifestyle, recession was like a blessing in disguise and just by tweaking the price range to suit the condition, their business grew four times.

"To survive the lows in a business cycle, the retailers should have focused on its core strengths in terms of its product offers and formats. The retailers should have had a grip on the performance of various product categories and pruned down the non-performing categories", opines Ms Saxena, further adding that the retailers that survived the economic downturn took the market slump as an opportunity to critically analyse their operations, closed down non performing categories and stores, and made corrections in their back-end processes rather than amplifying the weaknesses through rapid expansion.

The complete coffee experience


September 15, 2010

RETAILER, Vrinda Oberai

September 2010

Initially, stocking additional merchandise was treated to be a tool for branding but nowadays the same has managed to become a source of additional revenue. Retail chains like Barista Lavaza, Costa Coffee and Gloria Jeans Coffees among others are witnessing an upswing when it comes to adding up to their sales by retailing a broad inventory of coffee equipments and related merchandise.

Products on offer

Some of the coffee equipments and other related merchandise that one can find at coffee outlets include plungers, thermos, coffee beans, mugs, coffee makers, jars, insulated and designer sippers. Thus, coffee shops can now be trusted for being one stop shop for all your coffee related merchandise!

Mr Saurabh Swarup, Head- Marketing & Product Development, Barista Lavazza says, “Our focus has always been to provide a differentiated offering. We do this by using a guest touchpoint model that focusses on the product innovation. The launches are based on global inputs from Lavazza team, international trends and guest feedback with the objective of creating guest excitement with relevant offerings.”

However, things at Costa Coffee are bit different! Mr Santhosh Unni, CEO, Costa Coffee (India) comments, “Branded merchandise does not form a part of Costa’s standard product offering at the stores. However we do offer our consumers, merchandise from time to time as a part of our store promotions and as a part of corporate gifting.”

Driving factor

Merchandising at cafes is known to be driven by two main factors. Mr Devangshu Dutta, Chief Executive, Third Eyesight avers the two factors to be – merchandise that is related (such as percolators, grinders, whole roasted beans) but which is not available easily outside the café and the desire to associate with the brand image even outside the café. The factors explain the purchase of mugs, T-shirts and other merchandise such as music CDs that help to carry the ‘mood’ even post the experience at the coffee outlet. Mr Dutta opines, “The first factor is more of a driver in India at the moment for brand-extending products, the brand itself needs to be extremely strong, consistent and desirable. This is not yet the case for the cafe brands present in India presently. However, the related products also need to be carefully thought as the profile of the customers at each outlet is quite diverse and not all outlets may be appropriate for the offering of the associated merchandise.”

The resultant sales

Merchandise is undoubtedly a tool for building brand awareness which indirectly has a positive impact on footfalls. At Costa Coffee, the addition made to the revenue generation by the additional merchandise comes up to be Rs 4 to 5 crore/annum. “The merchandise definitely helped us to increase the footfalls. However we do not look at merchandising as a way of increasing footfalls but as a part that helps complete the ‘coffee experience’,” shares Manish Tandon, President- Citymax Hospitality India Pvt Ltd. Mr Swarup adds, “All the coffee lovers who come to Barista Lavazza store for enhanced experience always pick up merchandise, showcasing their love for the brand. Barista Lavazza offers high standard and great quality merchandise. The café chain does see some additional footfalls through this category as well.”

Marketing strategy

Targeted and successful merchandise stays in people’s lives and minds for a long time. It is pertinent to bear in mind that the item in context does not only suit the company products but also builds a strong feeling of connection between the target customers and the brand.

Mr Tandon comments, “The most effective way of selling these items is through creating visibility. We keep the merchandise close to the counter to make it more visible. Also, suggestive selling works well for us.”

Mr Swarup adds, “Merchandise displays are an integral element of the overall merchandising concept which seeks to promote product sales. The recently launched open display cabinets help the consumers to see and feel the product while making a choice before the purchase.”

Perceiving the future

The merchandising business in India has already taken off in a big way riding on the ongoing retail revolution. According to the industry analysts, the business is set to triple over the next two years to an estimated Rs 900 crores. Mr Swarup comments, “When consumers purchase, wear or display corporate-branded merchandise, they’re demonstrating their brand loyalty and advocacy. It’s a brand manager’s dream.”

He also avers that character merchandising as a business is now booming in India. As per the internet data, the trade source estimates that Harry Potter merchandising sales were at a whopping Rs 1 crore. Following a close second with an estimated sales figure of Rs 60 lakh a year were the WWF characters. Krish made around Rs 25 lakh while Hanuman was not far behind, clocking around Rs 20 lakh in sales.

Mr Tandon opines, “We look at merchandising as something that adds value to the whole guest experience rather than just a source of revenue. We want our guest to remember us through our merchandise even when they are not in the café.”

Mr Unni shares that Costa is an aspirational brand within the cafe category and consumers want to be associated with the brand. However, merchandise will play a role in the coming years, but will never be more significant than the core product offering of these coffee chains, which is coffee itself.

The Hidden Cost 


September 12, 2010


Nalini Singh

A sales promotion or “sale” works as a branding tool. It is an effective way to stimulate demand. But to perform better and stay ahead in the competition, retailers need to understand the cause and effect relationship of sales promotion.

Given the growing importance of sales promotion, there has been considerable interest in its effect on different dimensions, such as the consumers’ price perceptions, brand choice, brand switching behaviour, evaluation of brand equity, effect on brand perception and so on. The concept of sales promotion in India is as popular as in any other Western country. But unlike the West, the number of retailers factoring the expenses of sales promotion is negligible.

In a country like India, sales promotion takes place at least four times a year. The approach and the strategies of an Indian retailer are different compared to the West. An average Indian retailer is only interested in the sales figures. Few look at the footfalls, conversion, average bill size, etc. during promotions. And even fewer measure profits by relating revenues to costs of promotions. Isolating the effect of different promotions in a situation of promotion overlap is not even considered.

So, we come to the question: Do Indian retailers by and large ignore or underplay the cost of promotion while assessing the success of a sale campaign? “It is a debatable issue. We at our level try to be judicious with our expense budget and the sale forecast. We never underplay promotion activities but ensure that there is no overdoing,” says Sanjay Arora, Marketing Manager, Chunmun.

Strategies affecting sales promotion
Today, we find marketers making use of the smallest of excuses to launch a promotional campaign. Father’s day, Mother’s Day, Women’s Day, you even have a Grandfather’s Day and Grandmother’s Day – name it and there’s a day to celebrate. These are largely gimmicks to attract footfalls and, if figures are to be believed, pretty much mimic a global phenomenon. “We are in the process of converting big days into properties and recently have done a few like Father’s day, Women’s Day and Mother’s Day, to name a few,” says Samir Sahni, Director, Ritu Wears.

The primary objective of a sales promotion is to bolster sales by predicting and modifying the purchasing behaviour and pattern of target customers. Not only that, it also attracts new customers while retaining the existing ones. With so much cut-throat competition, no retailer wants to lag behind in capitalising every emotion and sentiment of the consumer. Once one big retailer starts, it becomes a trend.

Today, the Indian consumer has more disposable income and is more inclined towards the higher-end brands. They wait for the time when brands offer the best discounts. Last year, retailers preponed festival sales or ran them for extended periods to be able to clear the inventory. Many brands went on sale before the usual last week of July. Moreover, stores are still stocking more discounted items than fresh merchandise.

A pertinent question here would be that apart from the “end of season sale”, do other campaigns employ the “push and pull strategy” during the year. “Yes, they do but not to a great extent because footfall during these periods are not as high,” says Arora at Chunmun.

Interestingly, Independence Day Week is becoming another popular significant event arousing interest among retailers in India. Almost all retail chains – big or small – have come up with special deals and drawn up ambitious sales figures for this event. However, these could be strong indications of modern retail in India. Indian retailers have successfully created newer shopping seasons to drive consumption by providing special deals.

This trend garnered 10-15 per cent incremental growth in sales. According to industry circles, an apparel store, during any big promotions, can easily achieve sales of Rs.50-60 lakh a day.

Growth through “end-of-season sale”
“Generally, as per collection, sales increase more than two-folds,” says Arora. On an average, a brand doubles its sales through the end-of-season sales. Samir Sahni at Ritu Wears explains, “The brand easily achieves 70 per cent of the top-line growth through this particular promotional mix.”

Studying the Indian retail market, we find that an average company in the country focuses more on top-line growth and decides the success of the brand based on the net sales which according to them automatically improves profitability. Typically, when a retailer plans an expensive promotion, he needs to hire extra staff and increases ad spends. On the face of it, profits are high, but actually short term. Competitors are bound to come out with better offers, better products and better features, and the whole effect will be neutralised. The hype may lead to more customers trying their product and services. In the process of attracting more customers, the retailers forget that these are fair-weather customers and are attracted only by the discounted rates. Meanwhile, when the customers find that the offerings are of much value they exit.

“Most of the time a promotion that offers a great price advantage to the consumer is seen as successful as it allows retailers to get rid of old stock. However, the cannibalisation of sales of other dull-price merchandise is not taken into account. Hence, it is not merely about what happened due to the promotion, it is also about what didn’t happen as a result of the promotion,” points Sahni at Wazir Advisors.

Cannabilisation of the product
Cannabilisation of the product could be one of the major drawbacks due to heavy sales promotion, but most of the brands try different strategies to avoid it as much as possible. “Since the promotions we run always have time tag lines, there is no question of cannabilisation,” says Samir Sahni, Ritu Wears.

“While there is a possibility that promotion of one category could cannibalise other categories within a store, a successful promotion would ensure higher footfalls and overall higher demand, to offset any potential cannibalisation,” says Devangshu Dutta, CEO, Third Eyesight.

Sales promotions effects are short term, unlike other integrated marketing communication tools, and also the strategies do not have everlasting impact on the brand. Increases in sales often last only during the period of promotions. After that no consumer loyalty is noticed because the majority of consumers in an aggressive promotion have tried the brand already. Sales promotion also leads to high price sensitivity; consumers try their level best to purchase the item during the time of sales only. This leads to reduction in the profit margin of the brand. Sales promotion is a calculated risk, but one that needs to be planned and handled carefully to be truly effective.

Business owners should recognise that sales gains from promotional campaigns often falter after an initial spurt. One may sacrifice the long-term brand equity for achieving short-term goals but that is a myopic way of conducting business. Moreover, too many discounts will dilute the image of exclusivity.

Having said that, it is also true that sales promotion could be a good opportunity to create a strong and loyal client base. Retailers can target a new segment in the market by focusing on demography and psychographics of users such as users with high and low purchasing needs.

Promotional overlapping
Promotional overlapping is another factor which could spring up due to two or more promotions taking place at the same time. This leads to confusion and delivery of fuzzy messages to consumers.

Some brands do successfully manage two promotional campaigns simultaneously. A recent example is Levi’s, who are currently managing their “end-of-season sale” with a “change your world” campaign in order to celebrate 15 years in India.

“How can one manage promotional overlaps?” Arora asks. “As a retailer we always ensure that there is no overlapping. If we have net price counters they don’t merge with the routine discount offer.”

Cost of a month-long campaign
“The cost for a store chain like us is in the range of Rs.60 lakh to Rs.85 lakh in terms of activities. We spend 70-80 per cent on public address media (i.e., newspapers, hoarding and FM radio etc.) and the rest is for in-house activities,” Arora reveals.

Typically, a brand spends 70 per cent of the total expense on above the line expenditure (ATL), with the balance being assigned for below the line expenditure (BTL). The reason could be that publicity vehicles such as media, radio or hoardings build up the top of mind awareness (TOMA) very well.

“We spend around Rs.70 lakh, wherein ATL is Rs.45 lakh and BTL is Rs.25 lakh,” says Samir Sahni at Ritu Wears.

The brands use ATL because they think this strategy works for brand recall. On the other hand, the brand incorporating BTL will provide hard numbers in terms of revenue increase.

Case Study: A Successful Promotion Partnership
On 19 August, “Groupon” the site known for its local daily deals often offered by small businesses including restaurants, gyms and spas in partnership with the fashion brand Gap launched the deal to offer $50 worth of apparel and accessories at a lowly price of $25. With a $1 billion valuation and more than 9.4 million Groupons sold since its launch, it has become one of the most recognised group-buying sites on the web. By the end of the first day of their launch, 441,000 Groupons were sold, bringing in more than $11 million. Groupon usually splits the revenue with partners, but declined to disclose its share. The discount on Gap items caused visits to Groupon.com to increase by 37 per cent on the day of their launch and 51 per cent after a week. Interested purchasers were also visiting Gap.com immediately after Groupon.com, and the share of downstream traffic from Groupon.com to Gap.com jumped to 4.18 per cent on the first day of there launch itself. This figure is strong from a customer acquisition standpoint because 53 per cent of the visitors referred from Groupon.com to Gap.com were new, meaning they had not visited the website in the past 30 days. Also aiding in the success of the promotions was high consumer awareness and shoppers actively seeking the discount. Searches for “Gap coupons” ranked 4th on the first day among the search terms driving traffic to Groupon.com. The discount was also being promoted via Twitter’s Earlybird Offers account.

Means of internal assessment
“Through the assessment of top-line incremental numbers, we define the success of sales promotion,” says Sahni at Ritu Wears. This is the major swing among retailers. Most of the Indian retailers judge the success of any sales promotion through the top-line growth they have made. Sometimes a retailer forgets the other main objectives of the sales promotion, in the rush to concentrate on only net sales made.

Now, the question is, apart from net sales, what all can be achieved through a sales promotion? Most retailers complain that customers only get attracted towards their brand because of the discount coupons or other promotional offers, and once they get it, they keep looking for it. This impacts the business negatively. The solution to this is (as we’ve said earlier) to concentrate on parameters other than just net sales.

Sales promotions must move the product. This usually means more sales, but not always. For example, if you run a scheme in which you are giving one product free with another, you may draw more products out of the pipeline, but overall profitability may nosedive. Also, increased product movement can generate deduction of sales after the promotional period. This is something retailers need to anticipate.

Finally, the question is how to assess the efficacy of sales promotion. The most common method is to examine the sales data before, during and after a promotion. Suppose a company has 10 per cent market share before the period of promotion, which goes up to 14 per cent during the promotion, falls to 9 per cent immediately after the promotion, and rises to 12 per cent in the post promotion period. It shows that the promotion has attracted new customers and also activated more purchasing by the existing customers of that particular brand. After the promotion, sales fell as consumers worked down their inventories. The long-run rise to 12 per cent indicates that the company gained some new customers.

“We have come across businesses where the sales and merchandising teams are incentivised purely on sales achieved. This only results in shelfstuffing, aggressive advertising and discounts. While top-line targets are achieved, the business is not really healthier at the end of the exercise. In Third Eyesight’s view ‘return on investment’ is a good method to apply to promotions, where ‘return’ is the net margin, and investment includes all promotional expenses. Good businesses with mature and transparent processes would evaluate the success of any promotion on the basis of margins retained by the business after all expenses of running the promotion have been accounted for. Costs of each promotion can easily be monitored separately, as can the sales achieved of the products being promoted. In more sophisticated data-driven organisations, analytics can play an enormous role in planning promotions and in tracking their success,” says Devangshu Dutta.

If the company’s product is not superior, the brand’s share is likely to return to its pre-promotion level. The sales promotion can only change the time pattern of requirement rather than the total demand. The promotion may have covered its cost but more likely did not. One study of more than 1,000 promotions concluded that only 16 per cent of the total expenses get paid off.

Holistically viewed, we can see that despite the cons, sales promotion will continue to play a growing role in the promotion mix and will continue to be one of the most important tools. To make it more effective, retailers need to define the sales promotion objectives, selection of appropriate tools and proper construction of sales promotion programmes. Every paisa spent should be accounted for. Only then will Indian retailers spot the cause and effect relationship of sales promotion.

DIG To Find Hidden Gold


September 7, 2010

By Devangshu Dutta

In the midst of extensive or frequent civil works, fluorescent high-visibility clothing contributes to the invisibility of the individual, and can serve as a superb disguise. Similarly, in the midst of extensive research and in-depth analyses, basic insights can go unnoticed.

Erich Joachimsthaler has plenty of examples in his book Hidden in Plain Sight to drive home the point that attention to stuff that is not so obvious to competition can lead to brilliant success such as Sony’s growth through innovative products (the WalkmanT, for one) that met unexpressed consumer needs. Conversely, an inability to spot this can bring even the leaders down, illustrated once again by Sony’s loss of leadership in mobile personal entertainment to Apple’s iPod.

The challenge for companies is to uncover the hidden opportunities by looking into their business from the outside rather than the usual inside-outwards view, and by accurately defining the ecosystem of demand. For most management professionals, this will be harder than it seems.

The exercise begins with the question, "Why didn’t we think of that?" This is intended to remind the reader of how the obvious escapes attention as we sink deeper and deeper into complex analysis and in developing ever more complicated scenarios. And Joachimsthaler sets out a framework that he believes can help larger companies to innovate in a structured way.

Of course, the reader may feel differently, and quote George Bernard Shaw who divided the world into two kinds of people, the reasonable and the unreasonable, and credited innovation to the latter. Or one may agree with Henry Ford who, apparently, felt that customers did not really know what they wanted. He is reported to have quipped: "If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said, ‘A faster horse’"

Yes, at the cutting edge, innovation may seem to be more about the innovator’s creative desire to do something different, and less about "meeting customer needs". Yet, it is the unmet and, more importantly, unexpressed customer needs, that offer the greatest source of competitive advantage.

This is why innovation seems to spring more from small companies, or companies that are started up around a specific idea that is unique or new. In such a small company or a start-up, typically the founder/innovator/inventor is drawn from the same pool as the target customer. Therefore, while they may be addressing a need they feel acutely, the innovators are unconsciously plugged into their customer’s unmet/unexpressed needs. There are seldom any silos; the whole team is generally focussed on the one problem to be solved.

However, as companies grow larger, functional specialisation emerges — division of labour based on skill-set is deemed to be a more efficient way of doing things. The design folk design based on "trends", the marketing folk market as they know best, and the manufacturing folk produce to specification and the "demand" generated.

With this speciality of skills taking over, there is a growing disconnect between their efforts to dig for insight and the gold that is "hidden in plain sight". While data is available in abundance, real knowledge is scarce, and insight just gets buried in well-structured processes and hand-offs between functional silos.

This trend has only accelerated in the past 15-20 years with pervasive information technology that enables the mundane operational process to the most strategic. Never before have management teams been so focussed on information and analyses. As businesses grow, data warehousing and data mining are defined as the competitive cutting edge, pushed along by interested parties (including IT solution providers, but that is another book!).

However, in reality, excessive information is increasingly passed off as knowledge. An inward focus on the management team"s own objectives is often disguised as insight gained on the customer or the market. Functional specialists analyse the market, the latent needs and the gaps in their own way, and if the company is lucky to have some generalists, some of those dots get joined to form a more complete picture. ERICH JOACHIMSTHALER , is the founder and CEO of Vivaldi Partners, a strategy, innovation and marketing consulting company.

It is in reminding management of this reality that Joachimsthaler"s book provides a tremendous service. It presents a well thought out model named, curiously enough, DIG, — short for Demand-First Innovation and Growth. The three elements laid out sequentially begin with a framework for defining the demand landscape, identifying the opportunity space within it, and then creating a strategic blueprint for action.

Joachimsthaler’s process to define the demand landscape requires managers to put themselves in the customer"s shoes — a process demonstrated with examples from Proctor and Gamble and Pepsi"s Frito Lay. Using the customer"s goals, actions, priorities (there’s the "GAP"), needs and frustrations, demand clusters can be developed and filled out with additional research. The strategic fit between these demand clusters and the brand can then feed into the next steps of identifying the opportunity space.

The filters, or lenses, as the author calls them, are the "eye of the customer", the "eye of the market"; and the "eye of the industry". At every step, assumptions and presumptions need to be challenged. Using these lenses, the sweet spot or spots and the growth platforms can be identified, and extrapolated into the strategy. On the downside, the book is clearly about a framework, which may have been best detailed in an article, rather than being stretched over a book.

The author does stress at one point that it is not about "brainstorming", but about structured thinking. However, he seems to do this in a tone that suggests brainstorming as something vaguely distasteful due to the lack of directional structure.
While examples from the companies studied keep the text alive, yet in places one struggles to correlate the examples with the framework. Indeed, there may well be too much structure to this book, and not enough examples of how inter-disciplinary thinking and functioning can actually produce sustained innovation.

Understanding the model itself can be a fairly involved process. The best way to tackle it may be to approach it as a project, and use the DIG framework as a how-to guide for a real problem. If you are a structured, methodical, sequential kind of manager and possibly work in a large company, the book could provide tools to put that thinking to work for innovation in a team. On the other hand, if you are more of a "people person", you may want to leave this book alone.

Devangshu Dutta is chief executive of Third Eyesight, a retail consultancy