If I am to simplify all of life with a perspective that is distinctly marketing-oriented, there are just two types of people in the world
– a small set of marketing people on one side, and a whole large set of people being marketed to at the other end!
Peek keenly at any person you know. Either she is a marketing person marketing a product, a service, a dream, or even a desire to someone else, or she is a person who is being marketed to all the time by the marketer at large.
Marketing is, therefore, a people-centric process. And just as long as it remains that, and just as long as man loves living in a society of his making, CSR is going to remain a big buzzword for the future ahead. CSR remains a very relevant strategic marketing tool for the amorphous future ahead of us.
In these long years of being around in the great Indian marketplace, I have seen marketing morph in its ideals. In the beginning, there was the product and the service. Both had to be reached out to the customer in the marketplace. That was also a day and an age when everything was in short supply. The demand was big. The marketer performed his role as a mere transporter of goods to a point of arms-length convenience for the hungry consumer. Those were the days when you had to wait six years on a waiting list to buy a ‘Vespa’ scooter and in a longer-still queue to possess that sturdy black telephone instrument in your drawing room.
Marketers in this day and age have a simple goal. Distribute. Distribute with equity where possible. Be fair. And appear to be fair as well.
Life changed dramatically. The era of plenty had begun. Plenty of products and services, enough to come out of your ears and everywhere else! Competition is sharp. The marketer morphs from his old attitude in such an environment. He becomes consumer-savvy. He offers not only the product, but also a superior degree of service to go with it. He offers customer experience and delight that becomes the brand in itself.
We live in such a competitive marketing era. There are just too many marketing people around. Just too many with all the boring ideas around. Everyone has been to the same marketing school (if not the same type) and comes out with the same set of ideas to go to market. And everyone fails. Parri passu marketing does not work.
In such an environment, it is time to think different and time to think of a new tool to use. CSR is a great one, if used sensibly and with the sensitivity it deserves.
Three marketing formats
Let me offer a theory I propound extensively.
There are simply three marketing formats to follow in a society as it morphs. In the early stage, society is all about ‘I, me, myself’. At this stage in consumer societal evolution, the marketer gets away using the language of hedonism and pleasure. The ‘I, me, myself’ kind of product and service works well. The ‘Axe’ effect works here.
And then, there is the stage when the consumer has gone beyond that basic line. He is now concerned about the people around him
– his loved ones; his family of four; and his extended family of four more (mother, father, father-in-law and mother-in-law, the last to be included).
This kind of man likes brands to be inclusive in their language, tone and tenor. This kind of man wants products that are good for the entire family. Never mind the rest of society; just so long as his close-knitted family is taken care of, he is fine. The ‘Annapurna’ atta story works here.
And then, there is the man who is more conscious of more people around him. This is the kind of guy who is bothered about the good of his immediate neighbourhood and society. He wants his entire neighbourhood to be happy. The Lifebuoy ‘clean the neighbourhood’ story works here.
Next, there is the macro man. This is the kind of person who wants the good of his immediate society and his entire planet. This is the kind of guy who wants to use bio-based detergents that do not hurt the ecosystem. The Surf Excel ‘Do bucket paani bachana hai’ theme works here.
Finally, there is the cosmos man, concerned about the cosmos, much of which he does not know even. We are yet to get there! CSR works at every level. CSR is an inclusive process. It is a process that embraces the good of society in a very inclusive manner. This inclusiveness could start at the level of the immediate family and morph on to embrace the entire cosmos.
CSR plays a vital role in taking commercial brands out into the commercial marketplace with a theme that is appealing to the sense and sensibility of the modern consumer. CSR is, therefore, a valuable tool that marketers can use to market their brand of soap, detergent, sugar and tea with equal panache and commercial effectiveness.
CSR is not at all about running public hospitals and schools alone. CSR is not about sending Tsunami relief material to the trouble spots of the world. That is old hat. CSR is much more. The modern consumer understands CSR that much more intimately when you touch his life, with a wee bit of CSR in your soap. A wee bit in your shampoo! In your kids’ diapers and feminine hygiene products as well! The future of marketing is full of CSR, albeit of a different kind.
The author is a brand-domain specialist and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc., a private-label consulting firm with a presence in the markets of India, the UK and SE Asia.