[Guest article contributed by Shreyas Ghuge. This is second part of the series : What’s not right with ecommerce in India]

My previous article led to a bunch of interesting conversations and discussions with founders and stakeholders. A majority confirmed the problem of ineffective marketing being a standard in Indian startup ecosystem – the whole and not just e-commerce.

Some even attributed this to the failure of majority Indian startups in graduating to become strong, sustainable businesses. Most acknowledged reasons were – 1) Availability of good technical skills and hence overconfidence in product 2) Lack of understanding of consumers, hence leading to lack of awareness with marketing 3) Getting most things right in the text-book form which works with impressing the VCs/investors at initial scale (leading to further overconfidence that we are now used to seeing fail in long term).

These points do give rise to a very important question – In a market with potential that is so promising and is marveled upon world-wide, what can startups do to really scale up their consumer/customer acquisition?

Expanding it to make further sense – How do you make your product valuable for the consuming ecosystem and how do you communicate it most effectively?

Since I began this series with e-commerce (e-tail) industry as our platform, let us keep the context of understanding for now within the same industry. Most ideas are applicable to other sectors as well (with some tuning) because a startup essentially, is either about product innovation or about business model innovation.

The key is looking at approaching a consumer with an ‘innovation’ – your product.

Being conscious of the reality that you are giving to the world, to your consumer, something new, something they haven’t seen before or haven’t interacted with, something they’re not used to, opens your eyes to some stark reality – the fact that you need to illustrate the value your product brings to the consumer’s life.

The challenge becomes particularly prominent in a market like India where the consumer is coming of age not just in terms of technology, but also the possibilities surrounding it. But both happening parallel is a bit inundating for the consumer at times. This sometimes leads to confusion and most often to a total disregard of the product by the consumer.

Something to think about then – Are CoD, free shipping, EMI and product portfolio things that would appeal your possible consumer’s life, especially when they haven’t even experienced the virtues of what online shopping can really add to their living?

Read further only if you really see value in that one simple question.

So let’s rest those golden arrows you’re shooting around blind-folded with the extra VC money-load and see how we can focus your customer acquisition strategy to extract the best (lower CPA anyone..??) value.

Crucial stages in effectively drawing consumer interest in your product are –

1) Identifying your exact target consumer

It’s no more about defining your target consumer as “SEC A, 21-28 years old, males from Tier II towns”. With innovations you are not targeting a conventional mass, you are targeting a mind-set – A mind-set that will not just enthusiastically receive your product, but will also advocate it with just as much excitement.

So how do you know who to reach? Ever heard of Everett Roger’s Theory of Diffusion of Innovations? Well, now that you did, try and check it out. On the time scale map, you know the wisest choice will be to target the “Early Adopters”. Once they’ve tried your product, you can leave it to them to take your product to the next level adoption (which then forms a significant percentage of people).

They are the ones that will not just buy your product, but are also in a position to advocate it most influentially. I will trust your judgment to know the effects of word-of-mouth publicity that comes thereafter.

It’s not this simple though. I am simply giving a basic start so you can relook your strategies from a refreshed point of view.

You also need to consider other factors such as the stage and age of your product, the market and brand equity you built so far. These play a critical role in decision-making on who to influence.

Now, what do we say to the bunch that we selected to introduce our product to?

This is where –

2) Defining your core proposition

..comes in.

When you know who you are going to speak to, you modulate your speech content and approach accordingly. Don’t we always do that in real life? – Personal, not so much. Professional, a lot.

Once you’ve spent some real good time on defining your target audience, this part becomes a natural progression. It may seem easy to read, but in practice it is just as difficult as making your product market-worthy. And this, irrespective of how well you think you know your product and your market.

For e.g., if your “Early Adopters” are technologically savvy, then appeal to that sense of theirs to motivate them to shop online. Let them and their experiences with your product take on from there.

This helps form a single minded proposition for the consumer that fits the definition for the target audience of your product.

3) Translating that proposition into a communication your consumer connects with

Considering the above, now, do ads of screaming people because there’s another delivery at the door, or ads of cute kids in elderly getups (love the creativity) talking of distant (not of current concern to the consumer) issues (customer service, speed of delivery, CoD etc.) address the real consumer gaps?

How many businesses ever paused and gave a thought as to which consumer need-gaps do their communication propositions address?

As Sudhir Kakkar (eminent psychoanalyst, recognised among World’s 21 important thinkers of 21st century) rightly puts it in his book The Indian – Portrait of a People, ‘..the gratification does not lie in their being consumer in a global marketplace, but in being “somebody” in a profoundly hierarchical society’. You see this social and individual phenomena reflected everywhere around us – in pop culture (movies, ads); we see examples of everyone wanting to be someone, either by showcasing their opinion or by showcasing their talent – and this is constant through every rank of society – including you. Why did you start your own company? Remember, we are rootedly a society that is inherently narcissistic in our pursuits.

We are a large and the most diverse population. There are not many common threads, but for a few like the above.

Makes you wonder right? The point is, translate your proposition to communicate to a characteristic nature of the Indian consumer to get the most out of it.

How to do that? Well, it does take a mix of marketing and communication expertise to find the perfect balance, which sadly is missing in what startups are doing currently.

4) Choosing your medium of communication/bonding

A natural succession would then be to find a medium to communicate your proposal to your consumer. As I said previously, the answer to this question can exactly be found in the first step – identifying your target audience. You consumer profile will give you an exact clue to which media avenues they most frequent around.

Having a clear idea of this space can save you tons of money that is otherwise being wasted in random media spends.

This is an aspect investors should also focus and get justified answers to. Founders should have a clear response to “Why is money being spent on this channel?”

5) Interacting with your consumer

Yes. You want your customer to get really hooked on to your business. This part is about creating, building and managing a relationship with the customer. Helping them with their experience with you, checking on them after their business experience, letting them know of specials, discounts, offers – Most businesses have taken good care of this front. Some even manage to do this without getting too intrusive as well. Good going.

Just one element that I believe works real good – Showcase your business as a friend. Amazon does a great job of this on so many fronts that now their business is practically all about the consumer. The seller side is so subtle as almost invisible.

And you need not be as big as Amazon to be able to do this. Add character, life to your product and business experience –something that takes the business angle of your product to the shadows. Create and deliver a friendly experience.

In these dynamic, fast times, conventions don’t apply anymore. Even the 4 Ps have long changed –

Product – Is about evolving fast. Always be learning and building your product. It’s what your business as  a startup is about.

Price – Is not so much simply about money, but all about the cost that a customer pays – in terms of their time, their effort and their money. Always respect these.

Promotion – Both my articles covered that aspect in quite a load of detail. In simple words, promote the value you provide, not the benefits.

Package – Is about creating something seamlessly simple. Simple is difficult, but most effective. To quote Steve Jobs – “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough. It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities that yields us the results that make our hearts sing.”

Key takeaways? There are multiple marketing and communication theories and models out there that can help in sharpen your marketing. For a startup, a carefully planned, professionally led strategic approach towards your consumers should be just as much a priority as your product is. This will help you realize and create a product that your customers/consumers see value in, which to them, then goes beyond being just a trade – the essential key to successful and sustainable business.

What are your thoughts?

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