My Take on Marketing

Posted on 15.12.2009

Marketing is subject in today's world that probably has more gurus than students. Every author has their own perspective for the subject and different styles are in vogue. Nothing wrong I say, for currently the world is far more complex than it used to be with ample scope for every distinctive marketing strategy to co-exist. However, how does one explain Marketing? It will be difficult for me too, but let me give it a shot by taking you back to the illustrious history of the Dome and lebua.

The day was 15th May, 2003 when I stepped into State Tower, a 3 million square feet of empty structure, at the end of Silom Road, Bangkok. My task was to plan and execute the opening of a rooftop restaurant in the building. In other words, I had to translate dreams into brick and mortar only to initiate the even tougher task of competing with bigger brands in this segment. Contacted Gallup � did a focus group � results clearly told us �Don�t open a restaurant here, there�s no view�. By 2009, six years after Sirocco (the restaurant in question) opened; every premium publication has unequivocally declared that it has the �best view in the world�. What then is marketing? Does it always start from the consumer? We�ll see further into the post. But for now, Marketing seems to be the right combination of optimism, ambition and perception.

On 13th Jan, 2006 we took over Meritus suites in the same building (State Tower) creating the brand lebua. The whole market ridiculed us. I started getting phone calls with unsolicited sympathy on how I have just ruined my career! We did a research through Synovate to understand what our customers wanted, positioned the product accordingly and delivered to their expectations with a commitment to excel. The result of this commitment and repackaging was that lebua emerged as the most profitable hotel (with highest occupancy) in Bangkok for the year 2009, despite political and economic turbulence.

The astute reader must have realized by now that the examples are contradictory. In the first case we did not listen to customer opinion while in the second we abided by it. The answer lies in the sense of what to ask the customer. My take is, never ask a customer how you should be selling or packaging your product; ask them the reasons why they choose a product. An open-air rooftop restaurant with beautiful ambience resonates more easily with one�s emotions than a hotel room, the decision for staying in which is often the result of a thorough rational research. Hence the difference in our approach. I used the two examples to show how ideas in marketing can be contradictory. There is an old saying when it comes to wines �Buy on bread, sell on cheese�. For me the best marketing principle is to �build on design, sell on emotions�

The market today has moved far beyond the 4-Ps. The additional aspect of �emotion� plays the most important part in Marketing today. A product can become a brand leader only if it offers its customers a certain degree of emotional value. Translating that emotion to an experience is what comes next and ensures that the customer does not readily consider competing products/services as substitutes. Let�s take the example of Christian Dior. When it launched its ready to wear line, everyone in France criticized the brand. However, it did connect with its customers outside France offering them value and quality and was finally embraced within France as well.

In today�s market everyone talks about innovation, experience and emotion. Still success does not come to everybody. The reason is most people try to focus on what they do not have rather than what they do. Here comes the need to understand the brand, identify its strengths and build on them. Christian Dior�s ready to wear line was a revolution, so was Apple with its ipod, Red Bull with its marketing by not marketing strategy and lebua and the Dome with its unrelenting focus on creating experiential and emotional values for its guests. This is the time when only companies with passion will succeed. The challenge lies in converting this passion into tangible experience for the customer. Many companies still do not realize this and are just paving the way for the likes of Apple or Christian Dior.

Understanding customers also has sophisticated technical part to it. In my marketing meetings today, I ask for behavioral patterns, anthropology reports, motivational indices, which help me discover patterns and understand our top customers. Personally, I think it is time to move away from both qualitative and quantitative research and look more closely at motivations behind purchase decisions. This is further aided by research in social media domain rather than traditional media. Just to share an example, a person who drives a Porsche likes contemporary house, funky gadgets, social media and plain designer clothes. On the other hand, a person who owns a Lamborghini is looking for traditional house, bold dandy clothing, normal instruments and traditional media.

With all these illustrative examples, I think marketing in today�s world is more interesting than ever. Every marketing enthusiast today needs to better understand this fine blend of emotional and technical dimensions that is continually restyling the traditional concepts of Marketing. I too am learning by the minute and enjoying every bit of it!

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