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Marketing in a flat world

business Updated: Oct 18, 2009 20:58 IST

Jessie Paul is a leading figure involved in branding and marketing in the country’s darling IT industry. Currently the chief marketing officer at Wipro, the IIM Calcutta alumnus earlier worked at Infosys and recently turned her significant exposure to offer new insights on marketing in what her previous boss, Nandan Nilekani of Infosys, called a “flat world.” Paul argues in her new book, No Money Marketing (Tata McGraw Hill), that upstart companies with strong offerings can turn into global brands by smart low-cost marketing focused on academic rewards, executive branding, online promotions and social media. Paul outlines to N Madhavan the rationale of the new world of brand building, which is a far cry from the world of advertising blitzkriegs and high-profile spending.

You talk a lot about the unique offering of companies and brands. What has changed in the past 20 years? What makes your book different from original marketing guru Philip Kotler’s heyday?

The fundamentals of marketing have remained constant since the first caveman bartered the first bearskin rug — it continues to be about identifying and satisfying a customer’s need in the best way possible. What has changed is the complexity of the offering. Kotler deals primarily with product marketing that is rather different from services because you can usually touch and feel a product and compare the features. Also, the services industry is a relatively new phenomenon in India — we are still evolving the right model for it, and the marketing infrastructure to support it is yet to gain maturity. Services marketing is more complicated because the customer often cannot try out the stuff before buying it.

Your book talks of frugal budgets to build big brands. Does that mean old-fashioned advertising and branding is passé? Over?

Frugal is a relative term. If I have a million-dollar budget and my competitor has $10 million then I will have to be clever and frugal to succeed. In absolute terms, though, my marketing investment is not small. There are many upstart brands emerging which can initially be viable with a smaller audience, and can iteratively expand their reach as they are successful. My book is primarily intended for these firms. I want to help build the next Wipro, Infosys, Google, Twitter, Zappos or Hotmail, all of which were built with non-traditional, frugal marketing.

Social media, Internet, academic prizes, white papers, speaker circuits… all seem cool in brand building. But if all companies get into this, who’ll stand out?

Peter Drucker said that marketing and innovation are the true purposes of any firm. Marketing and innovation are two sides of the same coin — one cannot succeed without the other. The internet has made information very cheap. The big shift is away from a one-off big blast campaign to a meaningful, continuous conversation.

A lot of your examples and case studies belong in the new economy, with technology and IT services being the main ones. Can old-fashioned firms or regionally focused entities gain from your work?

The book leans towards services, and the B2B world because that is where much of my experience has been. Many firms have done a great job with traditional media, but not really looked at whether these non-traditional channels can be a differentiator for them. They should at least explore these channels, because otherwise a competitor could leverage them.