Change or stagnate

Recent changes in consumer behaviour mean that marketers must adapt quickly or face the consequences.

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By  John Irish Published  February 4, 2004

|~|cap.jpg|~|The changing world means that high profile corporate firms must reach out to consumers.|~|William Shakespeare once professed that if you failed to defend your reputation, then you could bid farewell to the good life forever. In many ways the recent Gulf Marketing Forum held in Qatar reflected just this. Multinational and regional organisations are showing a distinct lack of foresight, bordering even on the lethargic when developing their brands across the Middle East, according to delegates. Sure, all the big names are plastered across the region’s billboards and magazines, but the socio-political-economic climate is still deterring marketers from trying new things. Why should they adapt to regional idiosyncrasies or change their traditional ways of working, when the pace of change within the government hierarchy is slow? Lack of transparency or poor judicial legislation is not the only factor holding back marketers. In an area like the Gulf, where consumerism thrives, there is little excuse not to change. In the view of delegates, too many within the marketing industry are treating this region as an emerging market that may never fully reach its potential. “I get depressed here [Middle East], when I see how they [companies] communicate,” says Jim Donaldson, regional manager, Gulf Hill and Knowlton. “Quite often they want little new work or innovation and would rather just spend their marketing budget on advertising,” he adds. The marketing conference emphasised just how vital it is for the regional industry to take stock of global marketing trends and implement change before it is too late. Several events that dominated world events over the last few years have also had an impact on the marketing industry. For one, 9/11 has increased global consumer scepticism and made it increasingly difficult to persuade them to part with their money freely. The lack of trust in corporate giants following high profile scandals such as Enron, have made customers more wary of big business. As the mass media continues to develop, finding a place to hide from the criticism is increasingly tricky. Likewise two years of global economic stagnation is also adding to general brand apathy. At no stage in history have consumer-spending patterns altered as fast as they have since the onset of the technological age. According to Professor Colin Gilligan at the School of Business and Finance at the UK’s Sheffield Hallam University, children, for instance, are aware and critical of brands as early as four years old. Adults, meanwhile, are staying younger mentally. One example is the Playstation games console. Originally, it was targeted at a teenage-mid-twenties market, but now the demographics have moved to anywhere between 12 to 45. All these elements mean that marketers can no longer rely on traditional age segmentation. Brand loyalty has also suffered as a result of the change in consumer behaviour. On the one hand, consumers no longer stick to just one brand, focusing more on price and image than quality. Consumers are tired of the never ending influx of new products. “There is far less brand loyalty and much greater brand and customer promiscuity, “ says Gilligan. “The reality is that brand loyalty has disappeared and inertia has set in, whereby the customer can’t be bothered to buy an alternative.” One such example is Nokia’s N-Gage telephone and games machine. While innovative on the surface, it does not appear to have captured the imagination of the consumer. ||**|||~|2174358.jpg|~|Cola Turka was able to tap into Turkey's national psyche.|~|“I’m sick of these new phones. Nokia has got me for life, because I know how the phone and the display works, but when they start changing things too much with the N-Gage, I began looking elsewhere,” says John Tabeman, regional director for a leading oil and gas pipeline installation company. The changing social role between men and women also needs to be considered when looking at the marketing mix. Recent research carried out by Nissan Europe indicates that women buy 42% of new cars. In the US, the fairer sex accounts for 55% of shares on the stock market. Paradoxically, companies still market primarily to the male audience. While these trends are outside the Middle East, it is clear that regional marketers are still working within similar guidelines. So how do companies go about adapting to these changes? One suggestion was for marketers to first convince their employees as to the virtues of the company. If you can do that then the brand sells itself through ‘word of mouth’. How many times have you heard employees criticise their companies? We all do it, but when your brand is supposed to be the best and your employees begin to say how bad your firm is, then your image undoubtedly gets off on the wrong footing. As obvious as it seems, in the Middle East, too many companies believe the solution lies in a quick change of logo to turn a company into one with a modern approach. Unfortunately, the vision that is required to convince your employees as well as consumers is simply not in place. “Your organisation is your brand whether you want one or not. It’s the way you make them,” says Eissa Khoury, business development manager, Landor Associates, Middle East. “In this region, people think the logo is a brand, but consumers will see that what you’re doing is just a cosmetic change.” Once a company has put realistic and achievable aims in place, the key is to reach out to the consumer by building relationships to create a mutual bond. The psychological change in consumer behaviour cannot be ignored. In Turkey, for example, the new Cola Turka was able to break the duopoly of Coke and Pepsi, almost forcing the latter out of the market. Within six months it was able to corner 15% of the market share, as it was able to tune into Turkey’s national pride. “Consumers are looking for an adult one-to-one relationship with brands, we don’t want to be told what we need, we want to know how each product is relevant to us personally,” says Christophe Fauconnier, vice-president, Synovate Censidium in Belgium. There is no doubt the region’s marketing industry is adapting, albeit slowly. The technology required for marketers to create the necessary market research and analysis to help the industry mature is slipping into place. More students are looking to marketing as a viable profession as opposed to favoured careers in medicine and law. But just as the Gulf’s shopping malls took over twenty years to rise from the desert, so will the marketing industry take time to come into its own. As one delegate at the conference put it, “marketing and branding at the end of the day is not rocket science, it just needs to be done well.” ||**||

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