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India’s best marketers

Who are the country’s best marketers? What challenges did they have to overcome? How did they do so? And what was the outcome of their strategies? The fifth such Business Today listing answer all these questions and more.

Shamni Pande | Print Edition: November 16, 2008

Y.L.R. Moorthi Professor of Marketing, IIM-B
Y.L.R. Moorthi
Aamir Khan is known to be a method actor—and a perfectionist. He studies his roles, however small, in great detail and always gets into the skin of his characters. So, it came as little surprise when he dazzled the nation in 2002-03 in his avatar as Coca-Cola’s brand ambassador. As a paan-chewing rustic with kohl-lined eyes, he spouted “Paanch Matlab Chhotta Coke” in immaculate Uttar Pradesh idiolect. It was a killer dialogue.

The company had just launched a 200 ml “small” bottle of its iconic beverage for Rs 5 in an attempt to penetrate deeper into the market and attract new consumers on the affordability plank and also to get existing ones to, perhaps, consume more.

The killer line succeeded beyond its creators’ wildest dreams—the ad bagged an EFFIE Gold in 2004, an award instituted by The Advertising Club Bombay in partnership with the New York American Marketing Association, to measure effectiveness of campaigns—but almost killed Coke’s India dreams as well. “We simply couldn’t afford to keep selling Coke at Rs 5 and were soon awash in red. It could have worked as a one-time ‘burst’ activity, or something that could open up a key market area for consumption. But it just went on for too long and we had to pull it back,” says Atul Singh, President & CEO, Coca-Cola India—a classic case of a marketing campaign getting ahead of itself. The point to be noted here is that “marketing is not only about advertising but about its four Ps,” says Amitava Chattopadhyay, L’Oreal Chaired Professor of Marketing Innovation and Creativity, INSEAD.

Arvind Singhal Chairman, Technopak Advisors
Arvind Singhal
That’s a point that companies such as Coca-Cola India realise now and are being widely acknowledged for. That’s also something that others, who do not learn, will, willy-nilly, be forced to do the hard way.

The Coke campaign may have attracted new consumers, but the implementation of the strategy was a failure as, Singh admits, it was not executed with the care it deserved. And herein lies the critical difference: is the marketer conscious of the end that the strategy seeks to achieve? If market expansion leads to losses, is that a conscious decision?

Business Today’s annual listing of India’s Best Marketers features some players who did not have healthy bottom lines to report, but had still managed to expand their markets. Examples: Kingfisher Airlines in 2006 and Tata Sky in 2007. The intent here is to measure marketing success to the exclusion of all other parameters. We seek to not just acknowledge the success of individuals, institutions and corporations, but also present a sampling of players that have opted for different routes to prise open their key constituencies.

This time, we have an assorted list of marketers— some of whom have taken a detour from the brazen, advertising-led approach (nothing wrong with that, if it works)—who have, in several canny ways, successfully wooed their stakeholders and audiences into buying into their propositions.

India's best marketers (List in alphabetical order)

Rahul Bhasin Managing Partner, Baring Private Equity Partners (India)
Rahul Bhasin
This year’s list of Best Marketers in India has been short-listed from suggestions given by an eminent panel comprising Arvind K. Singhal, Chairman, Technopak Advisors; Rahul Bhasin, Managing Partner, Baring Private Equity Partners (India); Harish Bijoor, Brand Specialist & CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults; Amitava Chattopadhyay, The L’Oreal Chaired Professor of Marketing-Innovation and Creativity, INSEAD; Shripad Nadkarni, former Marketing Head of Coca-Cola India and now Director, MarketGate Consulting; and Sukanya Kripalu, former CEO of Quadra Advisory, former Head of Marketing at Kellogg India and now an independent marketing consultant.

Significantly, these marketers are being profiled at a time when there is a very real fear of the global slowdown rubbing off on the Indian economy and many experts are questioning the very relevance of marketing as a function. With mounting global pressure on growth, media heads across across different countries admit that companies are becoming cautious in their approach and many are cutting marketing spends as a knee-jerk reaction to the slowdown. So, how relevant is this function? And what should companies do to protect their turfs?

Harish Bijoor Brand Specialist & CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults
Harish Bijoor
Seth Godin, marketing theorist and best-selling author of many books, including All Marketers Are Liars and Permission Marketing, has a relevant post on his blog: “When times are good, buying things is a sport. It’s a reward. The story we tell ourselves is that we deserve it, that we want it and why not? When the mass psychology changes and times are seen as not so good, the story we tell ourselves changes as well. Now, we buy out of defence, to avoid trouble. Or we buy because something will never be as cheap again. Or we buy smaller items for the same sense of reward. Of course, the two different extremes can lead you to buy the very same thing. It’s not the thing so much as the story. Starbucks was the indulgence of a confident person happy to blow $4 on a cup of coffee. Starbucks can also become the small indulgence for the person who just traded down to a small rented apartment. The challenge for marketers is to figure out how to change the story they are living so that their customers can change the story they tell themselves. What you make, where you make it, who makes it, how it’s priced and sold... they all add up to a perception. If you change these elements, the story will change, too.”

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