It was a hot summer. As a young management trainee, I was despatched to spend a month in Rajastan with the sales representative of Ciba-Geigy - the company whose toothpaste brand was being handled by the ad agency I joined after my MBA. I was told to write a daily report and send it by post (remember those red boxes?) to my boss who was comfortably ensconced in his air-conditioned office in Mumbai, then Bombay. Instead of writing a boring report on the number of outlets covered, orders booked and average value per order, I decided to make each report a little story about the market that I worked in - the people, the animals, the strange products I saw. When I returned to Mumbai, I was a little worried as to how my daily musings were received. To my relief, my then boss found them interesting. He commented, "I like your curious spirit."
Harish Bhat, in his book The Curious Marketer, argues how important it is to be 'curious' if you are to be successful in marketing. Early in the book he puts down seven easy actions that any young marketer needs to develop in order to become a successful 'curious marketer'. Be aware that you do not know it all. Ask questions all the time. Listen extensively, without judgement. Observe customers with a keen and fresh eye. Seek new experiences, meet new people, and embrace the unexpected. Read, read and read.
The book is a collection of articles that the author has penned over the past few years in the Hindu Business Line and have been nicely categorised into easy-to-read sections, namely Places, Products, People and Books, Festival and Events, Promotion, Packaging and Pricing and Consumer Behaviour. While some of the articles appear dated, almost all of them contain many shards of curiosity and lessons in marketing.
As we traverse through the fascinating collection of articles, we visit interesting places, from Vienna to London, and Kerala to New York. We also meet many fascinating people including legends like Xerxes Desai, the man behind Titan. We also learn about quirky new habits of senior executives (coloured socks, for instance).
Given the fact that the author has spent all his working life in the Tata group, we do get to meet many familiar Tata companies, brands and people. Not just Tata brands, the book features numerous other Indian and international brands, and the stories behind them.
The author, I observed, readily points out to other books and scholarly articles to build on the unfolding story, and make a stronger point. I only wish he had done that a little more.
The book has a lot of lessons for the young and not-so-young marketers on the importance of being curious in order to succeed in marketing. These lessons are all the more important today when we spend more time clicking 'like' on Facebook posts and not enough time on face-to-face interactions. No harm in spending time on social media and digital media, I suppose; there is definitely a lot to be learnt from there and the ocean called Google. But nothing can match the time spent in travelling around the city we live in and the country we call home. And for those who can afford it, there are many lessons to be learnt from foreign trips; if only we tried to become more curious and not just be vapid, empty-eyed tourists.
Harish's chapters on his travels are indeed the most fascinating of the 50+ articles in the book. It is great to see how the marketing man in Harish is able to distill interesting lessons from the most exciting cities of the world. It is here that most of us fail to rise to the occasion. While standing in the Times Square in New York, are we getting awed by the lights or are we keeping our 'curiosity meter' tuned to high alert?
The anecdotes in the book where Harish was either an active participant or observer are my other favourites. He lists key action points to become a more curious marketer. I wish he had also included a summing up chapter at the end that gave us a better way of measuring our curiosity index and also develop it as we start practising the art of being a curious marketer.
I wonder if there is a way to test the curiosity of a person to evaluate his suitability for a job in the marketing department. If such a test comes out as a natural corollary to this book, I won't be too surprised.
That said, the book is indeed a fascinating journey through the world of consumers and brands. It is a breezy read and, unlike a typical book, you can start with any chapter and hop along as you deem fit. In fact, if you do jump about the chapters you may indeed be on your way to being a more curious marketer!
The reviewer is Founder, Brand-Building.com