We Have a Lot to Learn from Each Other


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I have just settled into my seat on the flight back home from a week in India, the world’s largest democracy and, within a decade or so, the world’s most populous nation with the fastest growing consumer market. Think of it—a vast cohort of an additional 300 million aspiring consumers enjoying for the first time discretionary incomes adequate to allow them to participate in the promise of a better life offered by the global consumer marketplace. The world has never seen such a rapid appearance of such a huge new consumer market, equal in number to the entire populations of the United States and Canada combined.

I was in Mumbai to address the 5th Annual India Loyalty Summit and help announce the launch of COLLOQUY India—a new range of research, education, and media resources specifically designed and tailored for loyalty marketing practitioners there. In blog posts later this week, I’ll have more to say about that unprecedented and unmatched launch. For now, I want to thank my hosts in India for their gracious and enthusiastic reception of COLLOQUY India, and also to remind them to make use of its definitive (and free) databank of the lessons their loyalty marketing colleagues in the developed economies have learned since 1990 and before. Many of those stories and the principles that underscore them can apply to their burgeoning market.

Just as important though, I want also to convey to our readers in North America, Europe, and other “developed” consumer markets how much Indian loyalty marketers can teach us these days. We have a lot to learn from each other. As we said in the 2011 COLLOQUY Cross-Culture Study White Paper focusing on India, the country is a complex mosaic; its loyalty market is, as well. The airline and hotel sector programs are nearly as old and sophisticated as any others globally. In fact those two sectors compete globally with all the other frequent flyer and hospitality programs for the elite Indian business traveler, who is a global consumer. Meanwhile, the development of formal Indian loyalty programs in retail has lagged due to the highly fragmented, local, and “unorganized” nature of Indian retailing. But watch out; chains such as Shopper’s Stop Hypermarkets, Star Bazaar grocers, and Tanishq Jewelers all operate loyalty programs with world-class features.

The Indian Loyalty Summit brought together most of the operators of such programs with over 250 of the globe’s foremost thought leaders to share the state-of-the-art in “driving loyalty through customer experience management.” Several of the best presentations over the jam-packed two-day conference were given by Indian loyalty practitioners themselves. They offered street-level insights and pragmatic solutions for a chaotic and competitive retail environment lacking the so much of the infrastructure that we in the developed world take for granted. Here are a few of their insights that we can’t afford to ignore:

1. Manish Jain, Chief Marketing Officer for GE Capital’s SBI Cards Group, pointed out that the U.S. loyalty market may be a poor standard for Indian marketers to shoot for, in that three-quarters of us carry loyalty cards but the typical consumer business here loses 50% of its customer base every five years. He urged the audience to re-focus their efforts on getting business and brand fundamentals right, which is a function of seeing loyalty as an enterprise-wide operational strategy, not just a Marketing concern.

2. Vinay Bhatia, VP of Marketing and Loyalty at Shopper’s Stop, stressed the mission-critical need to see customer data as the lifeblood of loyalty marketing. “Consumers don’t buy your brand because of the card. The point is to use the data to drive actions that enhance the relevance and convenience of your brand.” He went on to say that while data analytics is vital to drive insights, “you don’t need a Ph. D. in statistics for loyalty. Besides, our focus should be on improved decision making, not merely insights.”

3. Kartik Jain, EVP of Marketing for HDFC, one of India’s large banks and credit issuers, made the case for advanced lifecycle management. At the same time, he was an advocate of keeping things simple. Since Indians typically have 3-4 savings accounts spread over multiple banks, loyalty in his case involves consolidation of those accounts with HDFC. By asking his customers to provide just their age and income, he has been able to build an effective lifecycle segmentation strategy for the bank.

4. Shubhranshu Singh, Marketing Director for VISA in India and South Asia suggested that many loyalty programs in India, while new, are already showing signs of undifferentiated commoditization. Without a real emphasis on soft benefits, many of these programs will fail to deliver the incremental revenue lift to justify their cost. In fact, Mr. Singh maintained that the missing ingredient in most programs that the best ones seem to embody is “love.” (Love as cheerful service reflecting the uniqueness of their brands for customers).

Does any of that sound familiar to us in the “developed” loyalty markets? Sure it does.

And speaking of love, just in time for Valentine’s Day, Sandeep Kulhalli, VP of Marketing & Retail at Tanishq, India’s leading jeweler, gave a tour de force presentation full of great insights about operating a winning program balanced with hard and soft benefits that deserves its own blog post. Tomorrow, I’ll mine the sophisticated relationship and recognition benefits of their Anutarra loyalty for pearls of loyalty wisdom.

Jim Sullivan
Jim directs the advancement of enterprise loyalty at COLLOQUY, an endeavor guided by his almost 30 years of managing in marketing, strategic planning, business development, innovation, and communications. Jim also assists with COLLOQUY's loyalty workshops, seminars and conferences, and serves as an academic liaison for colleges, universities and thinking institutions performing research on Enterprise Loyalty.


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