Dr B K Mukhopadhyay
(The author is a Professor of
Management and Economics, formerly at IIBM (RBI) Guwahati. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Dr. Boidurjo Rick Mukhopadhyay
(The author, international award-winning development and
management economist, formerly
a Gold Medalist in Economics at Gauhati University)
Integrated Marketing Communication [IMC] keeps track of the everyday changes for the companies, given the multifarious channels of marketing that we are exposed to regularly. When people take selfies outside brand stores and post them online using hashtags, for example, not only promotes brand awareness and promotion but also increases consumer understanding and enhances conversion rates. Though a picture is worth a thousand words, yet, according to research by Forrester, one minute of video is worth 1.8 million words. The global marketing landscape is constantly shifting and evolving – in response to consumer demand, rapid technological innovation with AI and machine learning picking up consumer behaviour and demand patterns at a whole new different level supported by a deluge of content and platforms. Capturing the attention of the customer is one thing, but to what extent the initial novelty lasts is the immediate after. For example, when you are waiting for your favourite song to start playing on YouTube, but there is at least a 29 seconds compulsory advert that you must watch before your song, chances are you'll close the tab. If the ad is, however, skippable in 5 secs, you may wait until that point. Several research studies suggest that these are not the best marketing investments by companies.
A report by Microsoft shows that since 2000, the average person's attention span has dropped from twelve seconds to eight seconds. Research supports the so-called 'goldfish effect' of social media – 33 per cent of viewers stop watching a video after 30 seconds, 45 per cent by one minute and 60 per cent by two minutes. Another distraction – 85 per cent of Facebook videos are watched without sound, suggesting consumers prefer muted ads. On one hand, it is difficult for the companies to come up with an advert that will make the users pause the screen as they scroll along given the excessive volume of ad content, and on the other hand, it is equally difficult for the users to know how to select amongst very similar ads offering almost identical products and services. It certainly helps if we know exactly what we are looking for, but that's a different consumer category, otherwise, the real need gets buried under impulse and novelty purchases.
In Electronic-retailing or simply 'E-tailing', the businesses use web-space for creating virtual shops where intended products and services are displayed through images, listing adequate features, price, and above all the value that it creates for customers along with other businesses like suppliers and distributors to name a few. The e-tails thrive on customer satisfaction and review ratings above everything else. In China and India, big e-tails have certainly supported the growth of small businesses and established newer supply chain networks creating jobs that did not exist before.
When launching a new product on an e-commerce online space, target customer analytics and perception of the customers' product/ service engagement online is of paramount importance for e-tails. A huge amount of emphasis is given to ensure a rapid response rate from the customer on the 'ratings' and 'service experience'. Since customer needs change now and then, the new analytics should be able to understand the origin and nature of new needs. This is in addition to simply reading the data looking at demand patterns and frequency of consumption. At the core of all this, however, visibility is the most important requirement for the e-tails to be able to make data-driven, fact-based decisions that can potentially enhance market scale, sales, and consequently profit.
Most E-Tails also try to make the best use of omnichannel (i.e., a multichannel approach whereby consistent information and experience is provided to customers at both physical stores and online platform of the company) and working with innovative partners with their demand forecasting. This is topped up by information on customer analytics, identifying and acting on newer forms of demand and needs. Electronic word of mouth is essential in this scenario, as after the initial phase of product info is provided in ads, the customers will then read through reviews of other users and past customer experience and product ratings before deciding which 'online store' to go with.
Word-of-mouth marketing (or simply, WOMM) is essentially a process of influencing and encouraging organic discussions about a brand, organization, resource, or event. It can make or break a business that is further amplified by the toxic use of social media. If word-of-mouth marketing is done right, the business may not need to keep an exorbitant Ad budget; customers will share their stories (good or otherwise) across their social media and connections if they are happy with the customer service, quality of products or services, quick and hassle-free delivery.
Customers spreading the word about a business, particularly if good, is better than the stubborn, lifeless and overpaid billboard. This works heavily in E-Tails and online streaming platforms where the choice of product purchase is heavily influenced by 'recommendations' for friends and family which is further influenced by user reviews of experiences online. The business associated with E-tails also realises that, unlike the cliché Marketing 4Ps, the real power of marketing today instead lies in 3E - Engage, Equip, and Empower. Firstly, companies learning to directly engage with customers (current and prospective) by asking them to leave a #yesahashtag or tweet or post on Facebook to share a link with others, are some of the many ways how to target customers could be engaged. It is tricky to come up with an advertisement for a company that is not on popular social media platforms. Secondly, equipping customers with a voice or a platform to share what they think and how they feel about a product or service. From travel sites, massage and flotation centres to restaurants, leaving feedback online on a company's site – make customers the King. Finally, empowering customers in different ways to express and share their opinion and immediate reaction. So, the social media advert is then further boosted and supported by user reviews and promotions visible in their personal media activities.
The pandemic also offered new business opportunities, firms are expected to be socially responsible and to inform their customers and clients about the steps they have taken to ensure the safety protocols are met. Also, there are new businesses that have picked up well during the pandemic lockdown period, which includes the demand for products related to personal protection (e.g., disposable gloves), home activities, groceries or ICT equipment. These product categories have experienced demand that has skyrocketed over time while demand dropped for items related to travel, sports or formal clothing. Generally, however, the e-tailing industry did particularly very well due to and during the pandemic. For example, in the USA the share of e-commerce in total retail had only slowly increased between the Q1 of 2018 and the Q1 of 2020 (from 9.6% to 11.8%), while it spiked to 16.1% between Q1 and Q1 of 2020.
A range of barriers such as costly internet services, overreliance on cash, lack of consumers' trust, poor digital skills among the population and governments' limited attention to e-commerce do still exist in developing economies. There are also significant micro-level barriers to firms, such as in the case of emerging omnichannel sales models or new modes of delivery. These challenges are nothing new for some markets but the current crisis and the new role of e-commerce for individuals and firms calls for progressive policy action. The state commerce/ small business development departments need to identify the many benefits of supporting SMEs going into the e-tailing business, and the consequent effects on the supply chain and regional job creation. For firms in the E-Tail businesses, there are opportunities to use tools of AI and machine learning to better understand the nature of demand and design ads more strategically rather than only focusing on novelty aspects and repeated advertisements that lead to loss of value rather than creating it in the mind of potential customers.