Friday, July 13, 2012

South side story

The yellow metal holds a special charm for the South Indian. Inside a jewellery showroom in Chennai. There's no undermining the purchasing power of the small town customer. - K. Pichumani
The growth of brands such as Viveks, GRT Jewellers, and Indian Terrain proves that the southern market is a lucrative one with much to offer the marketer.

I am an unabashed fan of the South. I was born in Madras, live and work in Bangalore and have spent 95 per cent of my working life in the South. I did try to work in Delhi and returned back to the safety of Bangalore after six months in the city that spawned jaanta hai mera baap kaun hai much like Napoleon from Russia.

Instead of talking about the North and my travails there, let me focus on the South and the opportunities here.

My affection for my region grew as I chaired a panel discussion recently in Chennai (naturally) on the importance of the South as a market and the strategies brands from the South must adopt to achieve a national standing and role.

I had the benefit of sharing the podium with the builders of powerful brands from South India — Viveks, GRT Jewellers, Indian Terrain, Cholamandalam Insurance and Sulekha — all big names with strong roots and a way of life in the South and with ambitions to spread their wings. Let me share the observations of this group and the learning thereon.

North flourishes but the South?One of the favourite refrains and pet peeves of my growing up years was, “the North is flourishing while the South is decaying.”

I have no GDP comparisons of that time to check the veracity of the statement, but it was a well entrenched belief and many of us went to markets such as Bombay and Delhi for employment while several of my classmates flew the coop to the US and UK.

They studied in foreign shores and later stayed on to work in these markets, to return as NRIs often critical of the people and the place.

But the South is no longer what it was four decades ago. It is a force to reckon with for marketers and one of the first pearls of wisdom that I heard in the discussion was: “Don’t think of going national before you have exploited the potential of the South.”

I think marketers should frame this statement and contemplate it whenever they feel the urge to venture out nationally.

Mind you, I am a great admirer of brands that strive to reach out to other markets and make their presence felt, but sometimes feel that they are rushing out even before consolidating their presence and gains in the market that has given them everything so far.

And it is not just the metros that are interesting … in the view of Indian Terrain, “The metros give you top line while the smaller towns give you bottom line.”

I am reminded of my experiences at the golf course where there is an adage that says: “Drive for show but putt for dough.”

Don’t get carried away by the lights and glamour of the metros, the real riches may be elsewhere.

And there is no denying the fact that the South can and has been providing riches to brands and marketers who have got their act right and milked these markets.

Have money will buy jewels
The South is a phenomenal market for buying jewellery and every brand worth its name is here. People buy jewels for every possible occasion — birthdays, engagements, weddings, births and even deaths. People say they buy jewellery as an investment, but almost invariably buy it for adornment.

GRT, which was a single store in 1964, is a major player today, even extending to markets such as Bangalore, and no longer are its customers only Tamilians who have moved to Bangalore.

“We try hard to ensure that no one leaves the store without buying,” says G.R. Anand, the Joint Managing Director of GRT Group. As a customer (or one who pays for it), I can certainly vouch for the truth in that statement.

I admire these marketers because “every woman is different”. Of course, they are and who knows what they may be thinking?

Another interesting thought is about the middle class. We often dangerously oversimplify the consumer by classifying her as “middle class”.

And yet someone might be buying for Rs 2 lakh while someone else might be buying for Rs 2,000 and yet both are consumers with value and need to be catered to.

Advertising delivers sales
From a modest beginning in 1965, Viveks has spread its wings across 16 centres in Tamil Nadu and even to Bangalore. Viveks is an interesting example of the power of satellite TV in the South as it was one of the pioneers of mass media advertising, paving the way for several others to follow the early pioneer and leader.

Not surprisingly, the South believes and expects strong customer service. “Word-of-mouth about the brand travels faster than a news channel,” says B.A. Srinivasa, Chief Executive Officer of Viveks.

Yes, customer service is key and brands that realise the truth of this statement will make it to the top.

There is no easy route to success and the sooner brands realise this, the better it will be for them. And yet, when the brand is online like, advertising’s role can be different.

Often advertising can be a pain and an annoyance but can be a delight when a guy is actually looking for something. “I already know your brand, so tell me what you want to do,” says the online customer. The only question is, are you ready?

Sum and substance
Yes, old myths and perceptions can actually end up misleading you. The customer from the South is telling you something. He is saying the “Madrasi matters”. Are you able to see her potential? If not, you just might have to get your eyes tested! 


Rajendra said...

yes, true what you say abt metamorphosed South.
BTW, I am holding fort in the land of "Janta hai ...?"

Ramanujam Sridhar said...

Well you are more resilient than I am.