Retail is here to stay. Experience Needs Imagination

A social media update announcing the coming retail apocalypse is now a routine occurrence. News articles about this issue are relatively common as well. The impression created is that new players hungrier for success are stomping all over brick and mortar. At the same, these new companies are not just online but are also opening stores and designing unique data-driven experiences. 

If done thoughtfully, automated services and bots can be a nice convenience. People want to have a more straightforward experience. Besides, there is enough to show that people like to socialise. We crave company and connections. For a long time, it was convenient to go to malls and traditional stores. These places provided the convenience of everything under one roof. You could also spend time with family, friends and celebrate occasions. Technology has upended this equation a bit. It is somewhat more convenient to order or manage requirements via websites, voice assistants, apps and bot. The robot hotel did end up creating vast amounts of work for the few humans that were part of the project. 

Retailers, however, need to rethink the offer and experience. Traditional thinking about space optimisation needs to be reinvigorated, and customer journeys need to redesign. I am very optimistic about the changes taking place. New retail requires fresh imagination, and it can be exciting to imagine and implement this brave new future.  Store formats and services will go through a transformation primarily driven by the question, what can the store do more? A new connected customer experience that builds on a data-rich environment but brings the core values of human empathy in service delivery. 

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Thinking about the Unpolished Dal and FMCG Brand Experience

Many years ago, an engine oil major, a much-loved brand in India worked with us to answer an important question, ”What next?“ Why? Because each new car brand was endorsing their own or partner engine oil brands. Also, the experience had changed from one where a customer went explicitly to get the oil they wanted to one where the car company just changed the oil whenever the car went for service.

This company went out to create a very successful direct servicing connection with their customers.

It is now time for FMCG brands to think about customer experience of their products. The kirana (grocery) store in urban Indian markets is slowly disappearing. Indian shoppers are increasingly ordering online, driving the brick and mortar kirana store to rethink their business models. There are several reasons for this. First, the grocery retail in India forms 60% of the total retail market. Secondly, it is a hyper-local business.  Preferences for fruits, vegetables, ingredients and other goods vary according to locality, even in the same city. Thirdly, grocery has another added charm; these are essential purchases with high repeatability. However, there is more, it’s a high margin business for online retailers if they can capture the customer base and introduce private labels.

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Thinking about the Electric Vehicle Customer Journey

The electricity business worldwide is at the centre of changes brought about by new technologies and rapid merging of multiple business verticals. These changes are increasingly apparent in India as well. This transformation which involves substantial enhancements in renewable capacity, the push towards electric vehicles (EV), electrical charging stations, storage, new software-driven experiences and above all the changing face of the utility.  

Filling it up vs charging  

Most automobile companies have announced plans for EV’s and the market is expected to expand for these products. In the push towards electric vehicles, there is considerable excitement over the need for electric charging stations which will power these vehicles. There is much to be done since at present EV charging stations in India stand at just a few hundred. This space is likely to see considerable action in the coming years as the EV infrastructure will need charging sites for various uses. Offices, multiplexes, residential complexes are the possible places where these are expected to come up soon. It will change the current car fuelling paradigm where fuel is only available at petrol pumps. There will broadly be two kinds of charging, trip continuation charging and destination charging. Destination charging will be done at the end of a journey and will be at homes and offices and will utilise lower voltage AC charging to deliver energy into the vehicle. Trip continuation charging will be done at the service station and will involve fast charging. The more significant challenge though is behaviour change. How will consumers adapt to charging a car vs filling fuel?  

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Observations on Healthcare Marketing in India

A. India is unique in healthcare marketing. In most developed countries healthcare is insurance driven. In India on the other hand, hospital and doctor brands are largely driven by the direct payments made by individuals for procedures, services and care.

This leads to healthcare brands advertising in a plethora of ways such as

  • Newspaper inserts
  • Health camps in colonies
  • Radio ads
  • SMS promotions
  • Testimonials of patients
  • Doctor promotions via Ads and PR
  • Public health messaging
  • Social (Digital) platforms

B. Over and above all this, hospitals and doctor brands also attract a large number of international patients. A testimony to this is the fact that the lobby of almost every Delhi hospital is now full of patients from all across the world. Looking more like an international airport than a hospital waiting lounge. The above channels of outreach then have an additional aim of attracting international patients too.

C. In the past 10 years, Healthcare advertising has moved from reticence to over the top, endless stream of communication, where every disease is promoted as serious and significant, needing specialists and testing. World heart day, World Diabetes day etc are given extraordinary coverage as well as Mothers day where hospital brands suggest special women’s health packages. Healthcare services now come in all shapes and sizes – post operative care, emergency care, web platforms for everything, wellness brands – but what is missing is an integrated approach towards the customer. Many a times customers are left feeling that they are just a body for multiple testing and procedures but no specialist wants to speak to the other and patients are increasingly being left to fend for themselves.

D. Some hospitals have also started outsourcing important services like labs, dental care and IVF to external specialists which has its own set of customer experience issues. Hospitals are also setting up sub brands. Initially hospital departments such as Ortho, Neuro became brands and now increasingly specific treatments such IVF are being branded.

E. The big question though is, ”Does the customer trust the system?“ There is a recent book on this but you don’t have to look far to find cases that point to an increasing mistrust of the doctor, the procedure and even the hospital. You just need to search within facebook to find instances where patients trust has been broken. What are you doing to me? How much is it going to cost me? Do I even need it? – Maybe a Trip Advisor kind of customer rating system of healthcare is really what is needed now.

F. For the people who have health insurance, things are not any simpler. As things stand today, a Rs 24 lac insurance is roughly 1 month of ICU care. Where will this lead to? There is mistrust between the 3 parties – patients, hospitals and insurance.

G. The challenge with hospital brands is one of scalability. One can get funds to build buildings, buy expertise and instil processes. But trust, transparency and belief in brand are priceless. That’s really the challenge for hospital branding! The patient needs to be at the centre of decision making. The emphasis instead, is on procedure and increasing length of hospital stays.

H. It’s really not about buying the latest equipment but actually making information available to customers whenever they need it and providing them with integrated care pathways.

The Essence of Your Brand’s Digital Ambition

Taking a brand in to the digital space makes changes at the very heart of a business. It creates opportunities for growth or situations where market share is lost. The truth is ( and we speak from our experience in marketing, design, learning, services, technology, branding, research, consumer insights and creative ) that while consumers experience brands in an omni-channel environment – marketers and their agencies continue to work in designated, functional silos.
Nowhere is this more apparent in both client and agency organisations. Agencies offer almost routine solutions for e-mail marketing, web design, search, social media et. al. They may be specialists but they also work in silos. Is it perhaps a function of client organisations where digital or technology managers / heads also focus on specific areas with related KRA’s? Creating their own silos in the process?
Social platforms or tools such as software implementations alone, whether for say – a social media command centre or a delivery enablement feature in the ERP, are not going to create market leadership. A thought process and an offering, its differentiated positioning, business deliverables have to transform into functional enablement via a set of clear processes – where role alignment of everyone involved is crucial.
But somewhere, there is the beginning of a need. Manifesting in the fact that companies are facing business challenges beyond the obvious.
Consider this. A global brand was looking to create a social media dashboard to learn more about their current and new fans/followers across owned social media channels and produce correlations between their marketing activities and sales data with the social behaviours of their fans, to produce actionable, qualitative and quantitative consumer insights.Eventually the company opted for a conventional analytics platform and opted to track something simpler. Did they miss an opportunity to do some ground breaking work? Perhaps yes and therein lies the element of ambition for digital.
In conversations with managers, one hears the need to explore new frontiers but when it comes to acting on the plans, things tend to get a lot slower. Is it Lip service to the latest buzz words? What will nudge the decision makers to do more?
But where are the clear answers to basic questions? Where is the brand? What is it that we are really offering the customer? How is it being experienced and sustained online? Through repetitive product-centric content posts churned out by bright people starting out in their careers? Or via boring, clunky banner ads or pop-ups that lack imagination? Simply because digital or social is hygiene.
There is a need for a conversation on what it means to be Digital in the Digital Business and to figure out cross-functional solutions that are nimble and enable results. Based on consumer insights. And what value can a brand add to a consumer’s life. That is the essence of the digital ambition.
And there is a need to start this conversation. For there is a larger issue at stake here. It seems like a simple thing. Of getting the basics right. Even if the “˜ basics “˜ keep changing with time and technology.
When you think about digital we’d like you to put your customer at the centre of your decision making. No jargon, just clean, common-sensical stuff to drive business outcomes. Whether it is a clear thought process, proof of concepts and achievement of specific deliverables we’d like to work closely with you on your next digital challenge for your brand.

This post started as a twitter conversation with Riitu Chugh and has been jointly written with her. She is an Account Planner and a Social Business Strategist. We’d love to know your thoughts!