Tuesday, September 29, 2009

True marketing is cultural marketing

I got the above image from here.

Marketers are driven by goals:
Objectives - both qualitative and quantitative - spur marketers to take up activities that increase consumption of goods and services. Goal setting depends on
1) spending power (or purchasing power) and
2) the culture of the target audience.

For example, a pork based food product will simply have no market in Islamic dominated societies. The consumption of pork based products is not a part of Islamic culture. The point is that even if there is purchasing power amongst the target audience, if the product is not a cultural fit, the consumption will not take place as per expectations!

Marketers have twin goals: Sagacious marketers have two marketing goals: one goal based on purchasing power of the target audience and the other based on the culture of the prospect population. Marketers not only try to influence the spend of customers they also try to redefine the tastes, consumption pattern, culture and lifestyle to favor the marketed product. Having cultural objectives of marketing is crucial for lasting success. In China for instance, the culture of using traditional medicine is more prevalent compared to Western Medicine. Thus, allopathic marketers need to do a lot of market building and market penetration activities to garner sales.

Identifying cultural strands: The shared set of values, attitude, practices, and beliefs characterize the culture of a group. These need to be understood by marketers before product selection and chalking out the strategies (or direction of use of efforts and resources).

Here are some cultural strands that work in Indian pharmaceutical marketing (disclaimer: these are not based on books but practical self experience) :

a) Use of English in detailing pharmaceutical products: As such, talking about pharmaceutical products in the local or regional language will not contribute to the process of increasing the perceived value of the product. On the other hand, it will reinforce commoditization and decreases brand appeal. To make a good impact with doctors, presentation of detailing, in English, makes the difference. The doctor will perceive the MR as well-trained, dependable and professional. However, there is a catch in this! The MR ought to use the local language to strike a rapport during pre- and post detailing discussions!! Or else the doctor may think the MR is snooty and rapport will not be established.

b) Use of a tie: Communication (ie., process of message transfer) is mainly dependent on appearance, body language, vocal tones (voice modulation) and facial expressions. In fact, nonverbal communication is 93% of the message transfer process. 38% of the 93% of nonverbal communication is through vocal tones. Voice modulation is critical for exemplary communication. The rest 55% of the nonverbal communication is through facial expressions. Hence, it is often said the face is the index of mind. Only 7% of the message is verbally communicated during communication process.

In this context, dressing is a powerful message transfer tool. When a MR wears a tie in an urban place during work, he or she commands better attention from the prospect doctor. This in turn improves message transfer process. However, wearing a tie may backfire when the MR works in rural areas where the doctor gets put off by MRs wearing ties and acting smarter than the doctor in the clinic (where the image of the doctor in front of the patients' may suffer). Hence, many MRs wear ties during work in urban areas while ties are avoided in rural areas. I have myself gone through such experiences during my field days of work.

c) Use of classy communication aids: A visual aid or leave behind literature creates a lot of impact in the doctor's chamber during product promotional activities. A doctor may not listen to the entire detailing of a visual aid page or may not read the leave behind literature completely, however, the few sentences he or she encounters, the quality of words, paper, visuals and presentation creates a quiet lasting impact. This influences prescribing habits significantly. Image matters a lot - it gives confidence. The entire sales building process is a play of confidence. If the MR is fearless or confident, and the communication aids contain information and data that builds the doctors' confidence, obviously the prescription flow will increase in favor of the marketed brand. Hence, use of classy communication aids makes a significant difference.

d) Remove the footwear please! In India, particularly in semi-rural and rural areas, many doctors do not want their patients and other visitors to wear footwear while entering the chamber. Simple, it helps maintain in-clinic hygiene! However, many urbane educated MRs or their field managers fail to appreciate the cultural sensitivities and go forth confidently with their shining boots on! Many doctors remain silent when this happens. However, it shows up negatively on sales!!

e) Caste, religion and prescriptions: Indians can be grouped on the basis of caste and religion. These social moorings influence the belief systems and behavior of doctors, chemists and MRs. When me-too products are marketed such social identities influence the adoption of products and prescribing behavior. This does give an edge or may act as a barrier. However, ultimately the medium to long term trend in prescribing behavior goes beyond these considerations. It is the professionalism of the MR and the company that finally wins the game. Caste and religious considerations may create some impact in the beginning, however, finally it is to be observed that pharmaceutical selling and marketing game is that of communication, innovation, service, quality, supply, safety, purity, patient acceptance and efficacy of the product.

f) Cigarettes stink, alcoholic breath is no-no! When MRs and field personnel promote products aggressively with a cigarette breath that puts off prospects, the prescription fortunes too go in smoke! Doctors also do not take kindly to the alcoholic breath of MRs/field personnel. In fact, in Gujarat, alcoholic beverages are banned. These cultural sensitivities need to be kept in mind while performing field duties.

Culture is a very important criterion of marketing activities. The cultural acceptance of a product or service concept is critical. If cultural sensitivities are trampled sales too get bogged down. However, in the mad rush for numbers do we have the time for cultural marketing aspects?

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