Four areas that need strengthening in Indian Marketing: Learning from Philip Kotler

There are eight areas that need strengthening in Indian Marketing. The first four are discussed in this article. The areas five to eight will be discussed in the next article. Through a number of different examples, we will focus on the first four areas and seek to highlight what exactly needs to be done.


The biggest names in every field come out with the best of insights. Philip Kotler, the Marketing Genius, had given an interview to Smart Manager, a very good Management Magazine, thirteen years ago. Aug-Sep 2006, Volume 2, Issue 5, pages 41-52. The first four areas that need strengthening in Indian Marketing are: a) Marketing is confused with advertising b) Advertising is hard to sell c) Sometimes ads before the product is in distribution and d) Some companies over-spend on advertising and go broke.

To further illustrate these points, we will also take a few quotes from his interview in the same magazine, and then anchor them in the Indian context. Here is one gem of them. "Marketing is no longer just about a one-time relationship with your customer. You have to move from transaction marketing to relationship marketing. In fact, it's moving beyond relationship marketing to what we call co-creation marketing where the customer is viewed as a partner." Now, let us take this and anchor this learning from some recent experiences in India.

Marketing is confused with advertising

Let us focus on one big successful experience. Havels. The big Indian company that is growing by leaps and bounds. This company wanted to market its fans that have very good quality. It chose the once famous Rock Star called Rajesh Khanna. The advertisement went on to talk about the durability and quality of the product. The campaign was a superb one and sales zoomed. After the actor's death, the advertisement is gone but the quality of the product is so good that the memory recall of the product is perfect. One does not need advertising the product on the same scale as before. Kamal Hassan, the superstar of Tamil cinema, who has a huge fan following, was intelligently roped in by Pothys, a big retailer of textile goods that cater to every segment of the market. The retailer also gives discounts, but since the product quality is so good, the repeat sales happen as a routine. Hence, intelligent advertising using Kamal Hassan as the brand ambassador was done to reinforce the image that Pothys, the retailer had everything for the entire family. The campaign was a huge success. Any marketing effort that recognizes the need of the customer and builds a relationship with the customer, as Philip Kotler explains, will always succeed. One more point. The same retailer gave away small saplings for each purchase and this was very much appreciated by the customers too. When the advertisement does not have a quality product, the customers go on to different products or services. Marketing, according to Philip Kotler, is a social process by which individuals and groups obtain what they need and want through creating and exchanging products and value with others".

Take the same example of Pothys. None who enters the retailer with such a huge space in the heart of Chennai city or Coimbatore would come out without buying anything. Feedback from customers is also taken very seriously. Reportedly, if any customer has a grievance with any product, that is exchanged immediately. KPN, the largest private Omnibuses in India, with headquarters in a small town near Salem in Tamil Nadu, offers a refund for tickets at any time. No questions asked. The quality of service is so good. The safety record is very good. When we anchor the aforesaid definition in the context of the experiences, we can easily see that everything falls into place. One also needs to note that KPN survives only on word of mouth publicity. It has no advertising cost at all.

Advertising is hard sell

Lalitha Jewelry is a big name in Chennai. It has now entered some other towns of Tamil Nadu as well. In recent advertisements, the owner of the outfit is seen talking directly to customers. He begins by stressing the fact that every single customer struggles so hard to save money. Hence, he offers the first installment free and also offers a discount on making charges. He goes on to invite the customer to save with his jewelry outfit. He was ( and still is) having terrific competition from Kalyan jewelers, which roped in even Amitabh Bachchan and has the fat hero called Prabhu, a Tamil actor, as its regular brand ambassador. He had to innovate the advertisement and appeal directly to the middle-class customers. The advertisement is based on relationship building. Exactly on the same lines as Philip Kotler has stressed in his definition.

Sometimes ads appear before the product is in distribution

What Philip Kotler had said, was perhaps based on his Indian experience so many years ago. Today, times have changed. When ITC advertised its new washing liquid for tiled floors, the product called Nymle, was available in the nook and corner of the country, or at least the State that carried the advertisement. Big players do not do this mistake. It may still be a mistake made by small manufacturers, who sell small brands in small markets. For example, the Rs.2 Bru packet is not available in some small retail shops. That is the very small Kirana shops. They prefer to sell only the Rs. 10 refill packs. However, this is not a big problem anymore. The customer can find it in the neighborhood. However, the Indian players do not keep on improving the product mix and cannot afford to play around with just one product. For example, even Cavinkare, the very successful company with so many brands, has now come out with "the new Meera shampoo," with a herbal space. This is a big hit in Tamil Nadu, as it resonates well with the usage of what is called shikkakai. This is not available in most parts of North India, as the customers do not prefer to use this product.

Some companies over-spend on advertising and go broke

Videocon is one example. Its televisions were heavily advertised. But when LG and Samsung appeared on the scene, the craze for Videocon was gone. Today, it is an "also ran" company and its products are not big successes. Another example was the Onida range of air-conditioners. The devil re-appeared. The market had changed substantially. Voltas very shrewdly came back with a vengeance, with the Mr. Murthy advertisement, which screamed the cost advantage and the functional aspects of the product. The "all-weather AC" caught the imagination of the customer. The product is also very good. It is relationship building at its very best.


There is always so much to learn in Marketing, We can learn from what we see all around us. The various experiments in relationship builidng, on the lines suggested by Philip Kotler. The learning will always continue with so many other examples as well.


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