My TEDx Talk on Heterogeneity

Brand strategy is deep rooted in consumer behavior… And collective consumer behavior takes time to change. 10 or even 20 years at times.

But the channels and modes of influencing this behavior are really expediting matters today. Especially with the help of technology.

I find that consumers are responding much faster to instant benefits like convenience. By convenience I mean when things come to us, rather than us going to them.Why should you hail a cab, when it can come to you? Why should you let cable decide when to watch game of thrones, when it can be on your iPad and you can choose to watch it even during your loo breaks?! Right?

So convenience is king today and is speeding up behavioral change immensely. It took Uber less than 5 years to change the way the world travels. And that is fast in my line of work!

Just to better understand the new pace in the world of branding, let’s look at the top 5 brands from 2007 and in 2017. As you can see the list has changed dramatically.

What’s even more interesting is that from 2000 to 2011, the top 3 brands were intact. It was Coca cola, IBM and Microsoft. Only in 2012 a change was seen. The 3 new entrants, Amazon Google and Apple are all brands that have accepted, understood and embraced the one thing that I wish to talk about as the new paradigm. And that one thing is…

I will cover three verticals to explain this. The consumer, the environment and media.Let’s start with the CONSUMER…

Ever wondered why big data is to big today? I reckon, heterogeneous consumer.

It’s becoming harder and harder to see patterns and say with certainty why consumers are doing what they are doing. Sure We have huge quantum of data that poses a challenge, but it is also the complexity of the data that adds to it.This is because we as consumers are leading multiple lives. One online and one offline. We are even exploring different facets of ourselves.

We have moved from making safe choices to experimenting. From trying to fit in to wanting to stand out. Products that used to be planned purchases are today impulsive buys. In fact it is harder and harder to stereotype people as well. One can be a doctor and a photographer and a marathon runner and a writer all in one. No longer can you paint people with the same brush very easily.

So this fragmentation has led to what I call Nano segments.

And this is creating problems in communication, because the fact of the matter is…

For brands it means better ROI and more predictable results. I recently wrote an article on why brands do not use friendship as a premise much in their ads? And the answer I think lies here. Friendship has many definitions and is a very heterogeneous relationship to portray. Where as, a mother son or husband wife premise, is much more predictable and standardized. Therefore brands use it a lot more for brand communication, with the hope of getting predictable results. Politicians do the same because diversity is harder to address and appeal to, so they try to draw lines and divide masses in groups to make them homogeneous based on religious grounds or economic factors.

But today, thanks to heterogeneity, brands are having to look at expensive one on one ways to connect- like influencer marketing, community management etc.

What’s the solution?

Brands need to open their minds to diverse and nano segments. They have no choice in the matter. As strategists and consultants we also need to be open to surprises and not have pre-conceived notions. I remember when a guitar brand came to us claiming to sell thousands of pieces online, I refused to believe them at first. How can people buy a 5000/- guitar online without holding one? But I was in for a surprise. And that is what makes us all learn in today’s consumer environment.

Looking at the business environment… We see that the heterogeneous consumers have led to a big boom in niche brands. And by niche I don’t necessarily mean luxury brands. I mean businesses that cater to the diverse and unique needs. For the longest time, nobody challenged the big cola brands. But today you find many alternatives filling the shelves at supermarkets. This confidence has come from the fact that… biggest is no longer the best!

If that was the case then brands like Patagonia, Lulu lemon, lush etc would not exist. Consumer have moved beyond price and availability. They are looking for a story. An idea. A belief. They want to know if you make products responsibly. In fact many are consciously shunning large brands and mass produced items. So things have moved from the tangibles to the intangibles.

The business environment is also seeing free knowledge sharing and openness to collaborate. When I came up with the Signtist game, I was clueless about the gaming industry. But yet we went on to make a game that got featured by Apple in 12 countries. This happened only because the community of gamers and developers helped me tremendously with their knowledge. I collaborated with a genius of a developer who I have never met till date, nor spoken on the phone with! The entire app was made via email communication. He was against SMS as well! So the environment is different. Yet very open to bringing businesses and ideas to life!

So there are clearly very low entry barriers for entrepreneurs. You don’t need an office or even a big team to start off. Nowhere is this more evident than in the app market. All these apps are vying for the real estate on your phone. And that is limited. So is it a case of over choice? May be. But it is a great testimony to the opportunity for creativity and innovation and brand building that these platforms provide to thinkers and creators.

The beauty also lies in the fact that in technology led businesses, one can test the product at beta stage. And decide if one should continue or not. So the exit barriers are much lower.

What is the solution for brands?

Listen more talk less. Hear what the data is telling you. What the reviews are saying. Acknowledge and adapt. Thanks to heterogeneity, it is the age of mass personalization. The future lies here. And with the help of technology, products are able to give a more personalized experience. Let’s take Fitbit for example. Or any wearable fitness device today. This category is a great example of personalization at scale. The consumer feels it is made for me. The same is done very well by Netflix. They create 5-6 trailers of the same series and show you as per your preference.

The ultimate frontier for brands today is to be able to pre-empt what the customer will want next. This is already happening but will soon become a norm to separate good brands from the great!

We first learnt how to use FB. To go from likes to comments to shares. There was just 1 channel to learn and communicate on. But now, there are so many platforms and each with a different positioning and value proposition. Media has moved as follows:


What’s new is…

We expect different things from each of the social media platforms today. Linkedin is for professional networking. FB is for known people. Insta is for showing your creative side. And hence they are very heterogeneous in nature. Each serves a different purpose.

Brands are exactly like people. And so are social media brands like Instagram, FB, Snapchat etc. They have a personality, image to maintain, have principles just like us. An intern once asked me to explain brand personality with an example. I said Instagram has the volume off as their default setting. FB has the volume on as the default setting. So there!

We as individuals customize content for each platform basis the brand personality of the platform, don’t we ? However, it doesn’t cost us anything except time. But for brands it is a different story…

I believe today…

They want to be on every digital platform and check the box. However, what this is leading to is them making customized content for each platform for 365 days! That’s a lot of time and money spent for something that has a…

What is the solution?

It is to rationalize. Choose the platform that is relevant and keep the content somewhat consistent. Prioritize one channel over another, just like brands do for offline/traditional media. There is no need to chase after all digital offerings, Because…

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