A new report busts marketers’ usual spiel
Suddenly, the auto world in India has woken up to the realisation that word-of-mouth is the biggest factor that influences a buying decision and this is something they do not have any ‘control’ over. Years of nurturing the established mainstream media and ‘motoring journalists’, at huge costs of time and money, now appear to have gone bust.
Until about the year 2000, nobody bothered about the few motoring journalists who were around. Writing and doing television pieces was more of an extension of a hobby; the Internet was still in its infancy and, in one of my early ventures called ‘cybersteering.com’, the owner’s review column was getting stronger by the day. But there was barely any money in running a motoring magazine online or in print, or on television, without aliging with public relations. In came junkets and gifts.
It was a waste. The recent Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu report on how consumers buy automobiles says it all; it brings out how independent word-of-mouth is now the single most important factor.
Several auto manufacturers entered India between 1998 and 2003. Each one of these was way bigger than Maruti-Suzuki, if you were to go by worldwide sales. This is when their PR/corporate communications push started becoming ubiquitous.
Starting from the Top
Maruti Suzuki has traditionally not used media junkets for coverage; even now, their media events are at their offices and dealer locations most of the times. They participate in motor rallies, aimed more at the four-wheel drive segment which is now seemingly moving into city specific events.
Hyundai has concentrated more on factory visits and driving experiences in actual traffic conditions in India. There is no involvement in motor-sports; on the other hand, their response to customer queries pre- and post-sales is now on the top.
Tata Motors had a chance with their Indica to take the number one spot; but it blew it with the Tata Nano where they appear to have paid too much attention to the motoring media instead of trusting their own instincts. A confused media policy, with a huge bias towards south Mumbai, when customers are nation-wide.
The global leaders, Toyota and VW, have also followed with high-intensity media and PR push; trips to Japan and Europe as well as circuit racing are a part of the corporate communication push. This has failed to yield sales for both car-makers which is the reason for their lack of market share in India.
For the rest, FIAT had the best chance, and blew it. M&M, Nissan, Renault and the others, again, lots of PR, but where are the sales? A special mention here of GM which had the best chance to break the Maruti monopoly with its recently acquired Daewoo line-up. This is one company which had decent products and could still break out. But media noise does not translate into higher sales. Solid hard work at the existing customer base does. The Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu report underlines this. Much of it is available online. Check it out.
Take a Bus, Not a Cab
Travelling to cities where airports are far away from the city centre, for example Kolkata, Bengaluru and Goa/Dabolim, I’ve increasingly felt that using taxi-cabs is not just a waste of money but also tiring, especially with the increasing number of speed-breakers all over India. However, using the option of luxury buses in Kolkata and Bengaluru, takes care of the bump and fatigue part, to a large extent, for 90% of the journey, at least.
The reason is simple—most taxi-cabs do not not get their suspensions re-worked after the first purchase. Luxury buses, on the other hand, are not just maintained regularly, but also have bigger tyres and longer wheel-bases, both of which swallow the worst that our roads can offer. I especially liked the options available at Kolkata.
(Veeresh Malik started and sold a couple of companies, is now back to his first love—writing. He is also involved in helping small and midsize family-run businesses re-invent themselves.)