Online Shopping portals sell various products and brands. But aren't they themselves a brand? What emotional need of consumers do these portals fulfil?Ramkumar R S
In an earlier article, we saw how consumer rituals can become a deep source of competitive advantage for brands, giving raise to the concept of Brituals.
In a subsequent article, we demonstrated with some examples, how consumer rituals could be used for brand building in a commoditised category like MILK.
Recap of the earlier articles.
What is Brituals?: Recap
Brituals belong to a paradigm, where products are transactional, but brands exist to fulfill an emotional need. The brand needs to build that emotional connection and long-term relationship with the consumer. If not, the brand just becomes another product with a name and logo. Brands that do not have a strong emotional relationship with their consumers, have more churn, low pricing power, lag behind on product innovation and have low profitability. In today’s world, it is also important for Brands to be authentic and have a social purpose or cause for which, profits are just a means.
Consumer Rituals are those non-religious habits of consumers that have a strong emotional core. Consumer Rituals are closely entwined with a category, product or brand (Walking-Footwear, Headbath-Oil, Watching Sports-Jersey). Studying, using and measuring these Consumer Rituals can become a deep source of competitive advantage.
Sample Case – MILK : Recap
In the socio-cultural context of India, cutting across religions, castes and languages, MILK is associated with “Auspicious Beginnings” and “Promising Start” to a new day, a new life in a new house, a new harvest year and so on. How this association can be used for building an emotional relationship with the consumer? What kind of ritual-ware could strengthen the association? What could be a larger purpose for a MILK brand? How could we align the brand purpose with the rituals and emotional relationships that we build with consumers? These and more were discussed in the sample case.
All consumer rituals have a socio-cultural and regional context. The examples given in this article are for demonstration purposes only. The approach to be followed for a specific brand in a specific region has to be thoroughly researched and thought through before it is implemented. Since the purpose of this article is educational in nature, I might have over generalized certain aspects. So, practitioners are requested to consider these ideas as “hypothesis”. These have to be tested and proven using appropriate methodologies.
Why I chose “Online-Shopping” as a category for this sample case?
Consumers buy various products and brands through Online Shopping portals such as Amazon and Flipkart (Now owned by Walmart). For these products and brands, online shopping is a sales channel.
But Amazon and Flipkart are also brands. Like how a retail chain (Big Bazaar for example), by itself is a brand.
This distinction is very important. "What people buy" are the "Product brands". "Where people buy" are the "Place brands". For this article, we are looking at the "Place brands" such as Flipkart. We can also extend some of these examples to offline retail chains like Tesco or BigBazaar or such other similar place brands.
Place brands such as retail chains and shopping portals, have traditionally differentiated based on low price, offers, discounts, great deals etc. But our objective is to build an emotional connection and long term emotional relationship with the consumers, we need to exclude price and convenience from the emotional equation.
The examples of how to apply the Brituals framework will vary depending on the context, the geography and the existing brand image. So to keep this article simple, we are going to focus the examples to apply to a new or emerging player in the "online shopping space", who wants to compete with existing ones.
Step 1: Identify a consumer ritual associated with the category: Online Shopping / Shopping
While a more detailed research might throw up more rituals and insights related to this category, for the purpose of this article, I would like to go with something that is immediately apparent and obvious:
a. Shopping by itself is a ritual for most consumers. Because, irrespective of (and independent of) the product or brand bought or consumed through the place brand, shopping by itself is an emotionally fulfilling experience. And this is true for online shopping as well as shopping at physical stores.
Step 2: Find the emotional truth behind the ritual
What is the emotional need that is fulfilled by the “shopping process”?
My ability to buy something, signals a milestone in my journey of progress and growth.
Even if there are things that I buy regularly, they still signify an achievement.
It validates my self-worth. Of who I am and where I have arrived.
In some cases, the purchase also signals my future potential.
Shopping makes me feel proud about myself.
This emotional truth, "Shopping makes me feel proud about myself", is slightly different from and overlapping with "I take pride in showing off what I have bought, to others". While the later is an emotional need after the shopping process is over, the former is an emotionale that is true, during the shopping process itself (even for those who do not like to show off).
Step 3: Integrate the Consumer ritual and its emotional truth deeply in to your brand (not just a campaign idea)
Both Amazon and Flipkart, use their enormous scale, to drive efficiencies across the supply chain, to deliver the best products at competitive prices, within the shortest possible times. These companies are obsessed with their consumers. They go to great lengths, to squeeze the maximum value from every step of the value chain, to deliver unmatched value to their consumers.
Consumers using these shopping portals, indeed feel proud about themselves; to be treated so special, to get such fabulous deals, to be able to access so much variety, to be able to stretch themselves a little bit and own aspirational products that were so out of reach earlier.
But if you are an aspiring "Place Brand" that wants to compete with Amazon and Flipkart, what can you do at the brand level? (Competing on operational efficiencies is still required, but this article is focused only on the brand building part)
How can you make the consumer feel prouder, when she buys from your place, compared to when she buys from Amazon or Flipkart?
How would you, expand, extend and embellish the shopping ritual, so that it enhances the pride the consumer feels about himself?
The answers to these questions depend a lot on Step 4 and Step 5. So, lets’ park them for a while.
Step 4 : Measuring Consumer Rituals
Research your target audience to ascertain what makes them proud while shopping and what else can be done to increase their pride.
Understand the emotional values that your target audience stands for / believes in.
Step 5 – What is the Brand’s Purpose of Existence?
Suppose you want to create a new online market place. What should be the core DNA of your company?
A heartless machine that is programmed to extract maximum value? Would you ruthlessly reduce a few extra seconds of handling time or a few paisa in cost, in the process of delivering maximum value to your customers? Is it OK, if some of your employees cry once in a while? What should your vendors feel? Should they feel trapped, with no choice except to sell to you, because they can’t survive without you?
You can argue that the purpose of your existence as a brand, as a company, is to deliver maximum value to your consumers.
Inherent in that argument, is an assumption that consumers are self-centric and they do really want to get the maximum value all for themselves. And they will always feel proud being so.
If you consider yourself as just a channel for other products and brands, you may be right to focus on “maximizing value and convenience for your consumer”.
But if you consider yourself as a "Place brand", that fulfills an emotional need of “Shopping” which is “To feel proud about myself”, then it automatically follows, that your online shopping portal that makes the consumer feel “prouder”, will have a competitive advantage, even if your portal is not offering the lowest price.
What will make your consumers feel prouder? This might vary, depending on the products you sell and the emotional values they believe in. It will also depend on why you want to exist as a company? What is your purpose? (Profits are just a means for that purpose)
Step 3 again
Lets’ look at some examples:
Example 1: "Feels Proud to support livelihoods"
People who buy handicrafts or people who buy apparel from Fabindia or Co-operative Societies, feel proud that they have come to a stage in life, where they can buy these products / brands and contribute to the livelihood of others.
A middle-class family may feel proud to buy from an online shopping space that integrates in to its business model, the livelihood of a local grocer or a push cart vendor. Even more so, when you transparently show them, that the price difference is a just a few rupees / percentage points. Because they know, that’s the additional cost of values they believe in, and they trust your brand to live by those values.
Continuing with the same example, how can we extend and embellish the online-shopping ritual to make these consumers feel even more prouder:
Mobile: A Technician from a local mobile service store can deliver the product, chat with the consumer for a few seconds, give his local no. to call just in case there is a problem with the phone. He can also demonstrate the product features to users if they are older and need help. After he leaves, you can deliver a WhatsApp message with his family photo describing how “he is taking care of his family / children with your support”
Grocery / Vegetables: The local push cart vendor can deliver the products and leave a Thank You note, which also doubles up as a discount coupon for future purchases.
Handicraft / Handloom / Apparel sourced from SMEs : The photograph of the people who produced it can be integrated in to the delivery package. The Consumer can accumulate them in his / her album after every purchase.
Mass manufactured Product: A Certificate with Photographs, from your company management that the product has been manufactured in a facility, that offers employee benefits and facilities graded on a scale of MINIMUM, GOOD, BETTER and BEST. This too can be accumulated by the consumer in her album after every purchase.
Example 2: Below the poverty line consumers
What if your consumers don’t have the time to think about others? Let’s take an extreme example. People below the poverty line. And you want to sell apparels to them. How can you make them prouder?
You could recycle clothes from more affluent people. Sell T Shirts and Shirts at Rs 50 or Rs 100. Use your consumers as part of your supply chain: for pick-up and delivery, for washing and ironing, for sorting and cataloguing; Let them provide services and accumulate money in their wallet; and then use that money to buy clothes from your portal. Will that make them prouder? Compared to giving them free clothes?
Example 3: Aspirational Consumers
What if your consumers are aspirational and selfish? They don’t think about others. How can you make them prouder?
“Financing aspirational products” could become your primary business. Online shopping will then become just another element of that business. You could build credit profiles of these consumers and extend credit, at terms and limits that are more attractive than what they would get from competing portals, credit cards and consumer finance companies. That would make them prouder, because you would have helped them get something better than what they would have got otherwise.
Example 4: Existing Brand - Flipkart
While the article is already long, I thought it would be incomplete without a few examples of how Brituals can be applied to an existing brand like Flipkart.
Flipkart, is known for its advertisement featuring children – the idea was to convey the simplicity of online shopping. In that process, the brand has taken a slightly more humane face, compared to Amazon whose image is closer to a very efficient robot or machine.
Leveraging on this difference, Flipkart could make its “customer touch points” more “humane” (does not mean more humans are required). The delivery and Cash Collection process can be a good place to make it more humane – which means we need to find ways and means to connect emotionally with the consumer during these few minutes of engagement. If these engagements can also make the customer prouder, all the more better. I am going to skip giving any examples here.
A partnership with the “Niligiris” brand of stores for purchase and delivery of groceries and gourmet food could bring interesting brand synergies – in South India. Because “buying monthly needs at Nilgiris” makes people proud of their “Fine living”. This will also improve the frequency of consumer-brand interaction.
Ritual Ware examples:
So, to summarize:
You need to find out what makes YOUR consumer prouder. What are the emotional values they live by.
With today’s consumers, you cannot wear a mask and get away with it. You really have to be authentic about why you exist as a brand and what purpose you fulfill. You and your employees, your business as a whole, your vendors, all have to live and breathe the brand values and its purpose of existence. Even your investors have to believe and support your purpose.
Since the core emotional need of the shopping ritual (feeling proud) is deeply integrated in to your brand strategy and purpose of existence, it becomes a source of competitive advantage.
Help me for my next Britual Article:
What kind of rituals do you see in your space. What is the underlying emotional truth? Share by email or comment below.