MADE FOR EACH OTHER

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Mehndiwalis, caterers, photographers, decorators, designers, dancers and of course those harried wedding planners...phew! The Great Indian Wedding has inspired a whole new breed of businesses...

What’s common between Subrata Roy, L.N. Mittal, Laloo Prasad Yadav and Sant Chatwal? They organised weddings for their children in a manner which left the world gasping! Not just business tycoons, even ordinary folk today want the moon for the wedding of their young ones. Right from the wedding card to the ‘thank you card’ everything is done in a lavish manner – opening the doors for many business activities.

The Indian wedding today is turning into a big industry. It’s currently estimated at Rs.50000 crore, and is all set to grow by approximately 25% annually. If you are a creative entrepreneur, this is one industry which is very lucrative to work in. The customer is in a spending mood. You could charge a ridiculously large amount – if you have something unique to offer. The wedding ceremony is one day when no one is bothered about ‘return on investments’. According to some, it is the only ‘recession-free’ industry in India, spawning a gamut of new businesses and new entrepreneurs. In fact, almost every industry is today looking at weddings to give a boost to their business. Be it hotels, tent wallahs, dress designers or caterers, every one is doing their best and growing and gaining from the ubiquitous wedding. Considering the fact that around 1 crore couples get married every year, there is a huge demand for all marriage related services, and a huge opportunity for one to churn out a great career. Let’s look at how so many varied businesses are booming as we go about tying the nuptial knot.

Online and marriages

Today it’s no more astrologers or priests or your aunty in Canada who are fixing up marriages. A lot is happening on matrimonial websites. Today matrimonial websites have become the best way to find that perfect match. Shaadi.com has 7 million members and gets 8 million page views a day. No wonder advertisers are flocking in to promote their goods on these sites. The users of these sites are highly focused – their specific purpose is to start a family and they are looking for information that will help them do it. Maruti Alto, IFB, LG and ORRA jewellery found how profitable it was advertising and promoting their goods on these websites. Not just Indians one can reach out to a large chunk of NRI’s through these sites (since around 30% of the users are NRI’s). So, in effect, it is profitable to start a matrimonial website and also to advertise on it!

Careers and marriages

Thanks to heavily promoted celebrity weddings, today every couple wants something new and different as they say “I do”, and the trend has opened up a whole lot of new businesses and careers. Back in the 90’s a specialisation in ‘wedding management’ was something to be smirked at. Today it is a profitable career.

Trousseau and gift packing is a profession where one can charge anywhere between Rs.50,000 to Rs.1 lakh!!

Wedding planners are the new breed of hot professionals who promise to give you whatever you want to make the D-day your most memorable one. They come in all shape and sizes – from J.Lo in the Wedding Planner to Dubey in Monsoon Wedding – you can choose whoever you want. Be it a beach wedding or a skydiving wedding or a fairytale wedding – you ask for it, they will do it.

Every wedding ceremony is a business opportunity. Rajendra Singh was a poor kathak dancer living in Mumbai a few years back. Today he is a ‘Masterji’ who jet sets around the world teaching nubile women to dance to Dola Re for sangeet ceremonies. Similarly, Chandraprakash Agle, grew up in a slum and today exports mandaps to NRI’s in UK and the US.

The Best Guests Centre, based in Jodhpur even supplies guests in case you are running short of them – to make the wedding look grand! £10 for fair skinned English-speaking ones and £6 for Hindi-speaking ones!

Even the real estate biggies are being lured by the grand wedding market. Omaxe Construction has opened a mega mall to cater to this insatiable consumer. Wedding malls and wedding exhibitions are growing at a very fast pace. Bridal Asia started as a small exhibition. Today it’s the subcontinent’s largest wedding exhibition and a one-stop-shop for prospective brides and grooms. Today wedding festivals are booming and are a sure shot way to boost business. Not just Bridal Asia, you now have Vivah, the Marwar Mega Wedding show and many more.

After all a wedding is the most anticipated event and everyone wants the best. So all you young & dynamic entrepreneurs – look around. As two people take the saat-pheras you too could be tying the knot with a bright future...

Tourism and Wedding

Kerela was once known for its awesome backwaters and beaches. Today it’s a popular wedding destination and Kerala tourism is planning to promote it as an exotic locale for wedding ceremonies, to attract international tourists. Udaipur is offering heritage palace-hotels for a memorable once-in-a-lifetime ‘Royal Wedding’. NRIs are a big market for these destination weddings, the most popular being Goa, Agra and Varanasi, among others.

Today approximately 5,000 international weddings take place every year. An average NRI wedding organised in India costs Rs.50 lakh and could go up to Rs.3 crore easily. Laxmi Mittal spent $55 million for his daughter’s wedding. From Elizabeth Hurley to Vikram Chatwal, everyone is getting married in India and all this has increased the Indian tourism earnings to $42 billion.

Cox & Kings saw a 15% increase in the number of wedding clients. In fact, weddings are causing crazy earnings for all associated with the tourism industry. Not surprising then that many tour operators are becoming wedding planners as well. According to experts, wedding tourism is growing at 100% year-on-year.

Marketing and Marriages

The minimum budget for a wedding ceremony is $34,000 and business houses have taken note of this. This is one season, when come what may people are most willing to open their wallets. So smart marketers are using ‘weddings’ as a sure shot opportunity to increase sales. Companies like Sony, Samsung and LG now time their discounts according to the wedding season. It is wedding time when couples buy electronics, household appliances as they start a new life. So Bang and Olufsen, the Danish entertainment giants decided to launch their new range during this time last year.

The mammoth size of the wedding market tempted ‘Bregeut’ the world’s most expensive luxury watch brand to launch in India. Rado of Switzerland too came out with a wedding package of two elegant watches for the bride and groom. Not just that, they even organised a contest where the lucky couple could win a 7-day honeymoon trip to Switzerland!

Titan, India’s leading watch manufacturer too launched its jewellery watches in 2004 in the country, just before the wedding season.

This is that time of the year when Indians have to shop. The favourite item on their wedding list is ‘gold’. So ICICI Bank has come out with 99.99% pure gold coins-which they launched just before the wedding season this year. India after all is the largest consumer of gold with 20% of global consumption happening here, and marriages are the perfect excuse to buy this favoured yellow metal. Marriages bring along with them a whole lot of business opportunities. From hoteliers to chefs to beauticians – all seems to flourish with the advent of the marriage season. Be it VLCC or Kaaya Skin Clinic – all have special packages promising to turn you into a beauty queen on your marriage day, only of course if you are ready to pay a bomb.

With marriage comes honeymoon – the most memorable trip of your life and many tourism departments have worked out special honeymoon packages to attract newly weds. From Australia, to Mauritius, to South Africa, all plan their promotions and advertisements around this time, so much so that Star Cruise has launched a cruise to Lakshadweep keeping those lovey-dovey honeymooners in mind!!

Bollywood Marriages

Is there more of Bollywood in marriages or more of marriages in Bollywood movies? That’s a tough one to answer. Today most Indian marriages are celebrated in Bollywood style – complete with the gloss and glamour of Bollywood movies. If marriages today look straight from a Bollywood flick, then movies and televisions serials are being made straight from real marriages.

The much-talked-about and one-of-its kind wedding of hotelier Vikram Chatwal and model Priya Sachdev has been turned into a television serial on Discovery Travel and Living channel named “The Great Indian Wedding”. The wedding boom also inspired Sony Television to launch a reality wedding show Kahin na Kahin Koi Hai. It was anchored by the gorgeous Bollywood actress Madhuri Dixit.

Not just television serials, a whole lot of movies have been inspired by weddings. Be it Bollywood or Hollywood this is one subject which never fails to attract attention anywhere in the world. The sheer joy, excitement, euphoria surrounding this occasion is unmatchable. Be it Hum Aapke Hai Kaun or Bride and Prejudice, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge or Four Wedding and a Funeral – all have been box-office smash hits and the aura of a wedding was the heart of all these movies. Seems marriages do make both, Bollywood movies and the box office, rock!

As the girl and boy look deep into each others eyes and proclaim their love for each other a whole lot of business houses too get a twinkle in their eyes. For along with the wedding bells they can also hear their cash registers ringing. The marriage industry is a “profit guaranteed” industry. As long as people will fall in love, the industry will prosper.

So pull out your thinking caps and see how you can grab a portion of this pie, for a smart entrepreneur knows that marriages and business profits are made for each other.

...The Marketing of a President

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Eye-popping celebrity branding, aggressive promotional schemes, astounding discount offers, unbelievable package deals... No, we’re not at all referring to some fabulous new product being introduced; rather, it’s all about...

They are gathering data – very detailed data on you. Things like, which car you drive, which magazines you read, are you married, do you have kids, how old are you, where do you live. They are not marketing whiz-kids collecting data to help their company launch a new soap, or plan a new marketing campaign for a refrigerator! They are the kids with Palm-tops and other gadgets knocking on people’s doors and gathering a whole lot of information, which is then fed into software. The software then helps the political parties figure out what issues would be of importance to a person with a particular profile. Accordingly, they can plan their political campaigns. Welcome to the modern way of tracking and monitoring potential voters. Yes, just like potential consumers, today political parties are keeping track of their potential voters and doing everything to woo them! The Presidential elections of USA have today become the biggest showcase of political marketing. The candidates are marketed in almost the same way as a shampoo or a face cream. The voters are pursued like consumers. The advertising campaigns are as glossy and slick. After all, we live in a fast food nation and our target is the Pepsi Generation. It’s about youth and fun and whatever your age, everyone is young. So if you want them to come and vote, you have to follow the advice of the marketing gurus who know this clientele very well.

The i-Pod crowd

Times have changed and the whole business of political campaigning has changed too. People are increasingly becoming more and more tech savvy. Internet has begun to play a very important role in framing people’s opinions. Thanks to the internet, information is flowing more freely – especially among the youth. They are becoming more and more aware of political issues. They are the ones who can tip the scales in your favour. Like any savvy marketer, political parties are realising the benefits of ‘catching-em-young’. After all, brand loyalties develop at an early stage and it’s easier to influence the younger lot. So in America, they started a campaign called “Rock the Vote”, which was targetted primarily at young voters, where pop-stars told the young generation to go out and vote.

It’s no more just long speeches that political candidates are using. They are doing much more to reach closer to the young generation. They now do phone polling, phone surveying and SMS text messaging to market their parties and themselves – things that the younger crowd finds cool and trendy.

Just as a brand needs to communicate the product benefits, the political candidate should be able to communicate something that the voters can understand and identify. He needs to work on a good sales pitch to increase his chances of winning. He needs to know what his target audience wants, and then he should sell that.

After all, Coca-Cola does not sell sugared water, Nike does not sell shoes and Starbucks does not sell coffee alone. What they all sell is an ‘image’, a ‘lifestyle’. Hutch does not sell ‘good connectivity’: It sells emotions. Emotions are the key word here. Our generation responds to emotions and a large part of the voters respond almost exclusively to the emotional appeal of the candidate. No wonder, when Rajiv Gandhi, a total novice, wept on his mother’s pyre, the whole nation wept and voted for him. He was the last superstar of Indian politics. He had the right image and evoked the right emotions.

If products need images to sell, then politicians need personalities to sell themselves. It all comes down to this basic fact, and Gallop surveys are a proof of the fact that time and again, in a Presidential race, it’s the personality factor that has played a critical role in deciding who would be the winning candidate. You need to master the art of knowing what is it that attracts the audience and reach out to them. A research has revealed that most of the people have no clue and no understanding of the candidate’s stand on issues. Most of them don’t understand the Presidential debates. It was said that people who voted for John Kerry in the 2004 elections believed in his health program and people who voted for Bush were concerned about the terror and national security and values.

On closer examination, it was found that hardly anyone understood the stand of both the candidates. They were all voting for the image that they liked. After all, all soaps clean germs, yet you pick up one and not the other – for no strong rational reason – but probably because you liked the model or the image shown in the commercial. The same was true for the Presidential elections too. Most don’t understand the rationale; and the few who do, don’t believe that political candidates would live up to their promises. So, if you have to win the voters over, you have to use your personality and evoke the right emotions to make them come out and vote for you.

The marketing battlefield

Elections are today nothing but marketing warfares! The mid-term election held in USA in November 2006 has been the bloodiest marketing battlefield. The media was splurged with ads of all kinds. According to Nielson Media Research, American TV viewers were exposed to around a million political ads between August and October this year. Compared to the last mid-term elections, there was a 31% increase in advertisements. Historically, America has always had a very low voter turn-out. As is the case everywhere, people don’t believe it’s important to vote, and don’t take it seriously. This time around, America went all out to reverse this trend. All possible marketing gimmicks were used to make the voter come out and cast his ballot.

If you have a five-year old at home, then you know how effective freebies are in selling a product. A packet of cornflakes assumes a whole new meaning if it comes with a free Spiderman projector. If free gifts attract a 5-year old, then they even attract a twenty five or a fifty-year old. So, in Florida, all those who voted, got free vaccination (which otherwise cost $25) against flu. “Vote and Vaccinate” worked quiet well. In Colorado, voters were given free rides from their homes to the polling booths in a limousine (A strech-limo rents at $500 a day!). If that were not enough, then in Arizona, Mark Osterloh had an irresistible trick to lure voters into polling booths. He offered a $1 million lottery. One lucky voter could change his fortunes!

A lot of gloss and glamour has been added to election campaigns nowadays. You now have Hollywood actresses featuring in advertisements and engaging in sexual innuendos – about the “first time” they voted – to Hollywood actors like Robert De Niro leaving messages on your answering machine to go out and vote for Hillary Clinton! During the 2004 Presidential elections, from music albums like Rock Against Bush to full length feature films like Farenheit 9/11, we saw them all being made to convince people to vote against Bush and his policies. If serious logic didn’t work, then humour was used to change people’s mind. Ergo, we had humourous ads like “Anyone but Bush” to humourous slogans on T-shirts proclaiming “No flip-flops in the White House” (a jab on John Kerry’s indecisiveness)

America leads the way. If these marketing gimmicks have worked in America, they would so in the rest of the world too. The fastest learner has been Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, who has given his people free riders on a new metro line, free tickets to a rock concert, and even an unexpectedly large bonus – worth three times the monthly salary – just before the re-elections. His opponent, Manuel Rosales, in retaliation gave away free debit cards to more than two million poor Venezuelan households, allowing them to withdraw around 250 pounds a month. Freebies have some kind of a magical pull. The exiled child king of Bulgaria, Simeon Saxe-Coburg, used lottery power to win the elections. The lucky ones won cars, holiday packages and televisions. Not just this, he even had an exciting slogan. He promised to change the living standards radically in 800 days. He and his young team of economists – trained in the city of London – sure had learnt their marketing lessons well! To encourage voting, Simeon even made the nation indulge in tambola through mobile phones to win exciting prizes.

After all, all countries cannot be like Australia where voting is compulsory and everyone who doesn’t vote pays a $20 fine. No wonder they have a 95% voter turn-out. Till it isn’t made compulsory, we all need to open our marketing books to pull out some new tricks, to make people come & vote for us!

It’s all about money
Today elections are a game of money. The ones with the deepest of pockets survive. In fact, it’s become the norm in America since 1976, that the candidate who has raised the most money by the end of the year preceding the election, has become his party’s nominee for President. Bush and Kerry raised a total of nearly half a billion dollars each for the 2004 Presidential elections. The battle between the Republicans and Democrats is fought primarily on TV, thus making it a very expensive warfare. During the mid-term polls held this year, some $2 billion were spent on the United States election campaign ads.

The fact is that it’s not enough being a good candidate, just as much as the fact that it’s not enough simply being a good product. You need to know your marketing extremely well to make it successful. The electoral marketing battle has to include all the tips and tricks strategically used while marketing products and services. From celebrity endorsements to malicious and attacking comparative marketing, direct mailers to internet campaigns, from emotional speeches to kissing underprivileged children, you need to do it all – and it doesn’t come cheap. That’s the price of democracy. The making of a President is actually nothing but the “Marketing of the President”.