New Delhi: Terry Peige, managing director of Interpublic Group, was in India recently to unveil its proprietary consumer study “New Realities” in partnership with FCB Cogito, the consultancy division of advertising agency FCB. The study, which tracks seven countries globally, is being conducted in India since 2011 exploring how digital has impacted the purchase behaviour of consumers. In an interview, Peige talks about how the Indian consumer has evolved over the years, the role of social media platforms in providing brand information and the rise of micro-influencers in brand marketing. Edited excerpts:
How has the Indian consumer evolved over the last six years?
Indian consumers are the most passionate and involved among the seven countries that we track, including China, US, England, Brazil, South Africa and Russia. Indian consumers love to dig out information about products and services online through blogs and brand websites. They also have the greatest level of advocacy where they take the knowledge they have gathered and share it with family and friends.
Consumers in India are the most demanding of the brands around the world and also the most requiring of brand trust.
What kind of platforms do consumers refer to while procuring information about products and services?
Internet is one of the key information provider but they also get a lot of information from friends and family. Brand websites and social media platforms are the most common platforms consumers reach out to. Google-owned streaming platform YouTube, Facebook-owned chat platform WhatsApp and Facebook are the three most trusted and used platforms for accessing brand information. The platforms vary by countries. For example, Facebook and Instagram are more powerful in the US. In India, YouTube works because people like long-form videos from brands because it is an entertaining format allowing emotional storytelling. I would say that consumers love emotional storytelling videos, even as the screen size has shrunk from television to a mobile screen.
How crucial has the digital medium become for consumers when it comes to making a purchase?
People are walking into brick-and-mortar stores with mobile phones in their hand, they check products and eventually compare prices on multiple websites to buy online. It is frustrating for retailers because they have just become showrooms. Digital gives consumers instant information about product availability and prices. Therefore, retailers are becoming aggressive in improving the quality of service by training their sales staff to provide additional information to consumers leading to a purchase. Global retail giant Walmart has reinforced its offline business by building its online platform so that people can order online and pick up the product at their store. Once they have got the consumers in the store, chances are they will buy more. Another trend we are seeing is the use of employees as influencers. Cosmetic firm L’oreal has thousands of employee influencers talking about its products. The information coming from them seems more genuine and well informed.
What are the key challenges that marketers face today while connecting with consumers?
Consumers are demanding from brands like never before. Our estimate suggests that they are looking for greater performance, transparency and truthfulness from products. Consumers are increasingly asking brands to become upfront with them so that they can make an honest evaluation of the product in comparison to others. Consumers will forgive brands which are honest with them. They need to work on the negatives and communicate strongly to come back for good. US-based United Airlines was criticised after a passenger was dragged from its aircraft in Chicago after he refused to give up his seat, sparking a public outcry and forcing the airline to apologise. United did not handle the entire incident well leading to a dent in its brand image.
Do you think celebrity advertising works in India?
India and China score the highest in terms of faith in celebrity advertising. It is a celebrity-oriented culture with Bollywood feeding a lot of brand promotions. Celebrity advertising can work wonders for beauty, fashion, automobile and liquor brands. For categories like technology or smartphones, micro-influencers (people with a small yet loyal following) such as YouTubers and bloggers tend to work better because they come across as more genuine, passionate and well informed about the brand category they promote. Many of these micro-influencers are not paid or they get only product samples so they talk about products out of their love for the brand category. The only downside of working with micro-influencers is scale—a brand would need hundreds of thousands of them to get scale.