Saturday 22 September 2007

In leaps and bounds…

“In India, we’re skipping technologies.”

“Forget everything. Everything’s changed.”

“Traditional advertising is dead.”

“Direct mail never took off and now it’s too late.”

It drones on and on.

Blanket statements with the surety of the sun’s rising in the east.

And what are they backed with? The ‘fact’ that we now have 147 million mobile subscribers in India. (

This one statistic is supposed to be symbolic of all that is good and great in emerging India.

Frankly, that ‘fact’ is dubious. I bet we neither understand nor report churn correctly. I guess that 147 figure overestimates the subscriber base by at least 1/3.

Even if it was right, and we threw in all the telephones and Internet connections and what have you, you get a tele-density of 10 to 12%.

Big deal.

Actually, big shame.

It’s like celebrating progress in literacy when every second Indian can’t read, or, for that matter, in economic growth, when one out of four lives below the poverty line.

But I digress.

My main point here is the absurdity of taking one statistic, no matter how impressive, as the basis of a universal judgement. One Indian company buys a western one, and India conquers the word. One Rolls Royse sells somewhere in the back of beyond and we’re all maharajas. One NRI author in English wins a prize and we acquire a voice, at last. The literature of our 25 languages doesn’t count. Never did.

You hear this logical pole-vaulting in meeting after meeting. If a Western person is present, the absurdity attains insanity.

Nobody asks, “What are the facts of this case? Can we see them first?”

70% are businessmen

I won’t have believed this had I not seen this.

One of India’s largest companies did a customer ‘survey’ for one of their new brands. The largest proportion in the finding was 70%: 70% of the buyers who agreed to be surveyed were businessmen.

The upper confidence level for that fraction (at 95% confidence level) is 90%; the lower confidence level is 50%; the figure is meaningless.

Yet this company will use this to take decisions involving tens of thousands.

Monday 10 September 2007

The new consumer?

Open any book on marketing and it will tell you that the consumer has changed. She won’t fit into stereotypes any more, has a mind of her own, is adapting technology, and the rest.

In other words, mother was a cardboard cut-out but the ‘significant other’ is a real human being. Or a hyper-real human being. Or is whatever inane that you heard in the party last night.

How did the ‘paradigm shift’ happen? Was the Web suddenly able to connect purchases to people and shatter stereotypes? Possibly.

Or are marketers waking up to something that direct mail people knew all along: Psychographics is nothing; demographics is nothing; list is everything.

Was there any reason to believe that consumers ceased being different and diverse and interesting and unpredictable and neatly slotted themselves into segments? Why did the segments exist? To describe neighbourhoods (for distribution) or media (for advertising) or markets overall (for planning products and fixing prices)? Which of these really confirmed to type? Niche B2B magazines maybe? Yet we thought in segments and profiles, never asking which ones we fit into?

Most probably we needed ‘something’ to think on, and the stereotype was that something, a comforting explanation not unlike primitive man’s lava demons and rain gods.