Posts filed under ‘Consumer behavior’

Does this smell ring a bell ?

About the link between fragrances, our memories and emotions, and buying behaviour.

Our last post described the phenomenon behind ‘petrichor’- that marvellous freshly wet mud smell, and why we love that smell so much. In this post, we intend to touch upon a few other such fragrances – natural as well as man-made.  But first, a few facts about our sense of smell.

Humans have five to six million odour detecting cells ; if that sounds like a lot, consider the fact that your pet dog has about 100 – 220 million, depending on the breed ! Multiple sources mention that the human nose can sense about 10,000 distinct scents ; though a paper published in the journal Science in 2014 stated that this number was closer to a trillion scents ! Incredible, isn’t it ? So how does our sense of smell work ?

When an odour enters the nose, if affects the olfactory epithelium that is made up of millions of nerve endings ; the nerve endings pass the ‘message’ along the olfactory tract to the olfactory bulb and it then enters the limbic system. The limbic system comprises a set of structures within the brain that are regarded by scientists as playing a major role in controlling mood, memory, behaviour and emotion. This is why fragrances have such a strong link to our memories, emotions, and moods. Hence the soothing influence of some fragrances (e.g lavender) and the energising effect of others (e.g lime).

This article goes a step further and mentions that smell sensations are relayed to the cortex, where ‘cognitive’ recognition occurs, only after the deepest parts of our brains have been stimulated. Thus, by the time we correctly name a particular scent as – for example – ‘vanilla’, the scent has already activated the limbic system, triggering more deep-seated emotional responses.

This explains the phenomenon often noticed in consumer research on fragrances ; even people who struggle to name a fragrance or to describe it in simple terms like fruity / flowery / lemony / woody / musky etc., can often describe how it makes them feel or what they associate it with –their first girlfriend, grandmother’s morning prayer rituals, a sun-dappled garden with rows of brightly coloured flowers, a hike to the top of the hill in the rain, cake baked by mum fresh from the oven, you get the picture, right ? This is noticed far more during consumer research in India than abroad, as our vocabulary for fragrances is not as developed ; everyone recognises sweet / flowery and citrus / lime, but few can tell a woody fragrance from a musky or a green one, making the act of decoding through associations even more important.

To return to the topic with which I began this post, apart from petrichor, which other fragrances are universal ones, that all or most of us recognise ? In India, jasmine would be one recognised by everyone – whether by the name ‘chameli’ in the North or ‘malleepu’ in the South; sandal would probably be another – calm, soothing, eternal. There probably are a lot of man-made fragrances that we all recognise too. For instance, some of the most common scent associations are those related to food. Ever stood near a shop selling freshly-made chhole-batoore and inhaled deeply before reaching for your wallet ? Or walked past Mysore Concerns in Matunga area of Mumbai and felt the fragrance of freshly ground coffee beans waft up to your nostrils and languorously beckon you to the counter? Maybe it’s just me, but I can think of loads more – fragrant biriyani, or cardamom chai (any masala chai, actually), ripe mangoes, the smoke from a tandoor, garlic naan are among the few that come to mind. Some of this understanding is used commercially too – noticed how there’s often a baking smell that you inhale as you walk past a cookie-shop in a mall ? That’s to make you feel hungry and tempt you to loosen your purse-strings.

But not all universal scent associations are food-related. There’s the salty tang of the sea, mild but still perceptible even in the polluted waters off Bombay, the smell of wet khus on coolers in North India during summer, the smoky smell hanging in the air after a lot of fire-crackers have been burst, the strong antiseptic smell associated with hospitals, the warm n’ fuzzy ‘awww’ inducing smell of a freshly powdered baby after a bath.

There are powerful stories and anecdotes about the way consumers’ relate to the fragrances of products and their strong connection with the same. For instance, consider Johnson’s Baby Powder, a product with one of the most recognisable scents in the world. Introduced in 1893 to soothe irritation on plastered skin, it was soon being used to help alleviate diaper rash too. The aroma of Johnson baby powder is so strongly connected to the image of a happy, clean baby that it is often identified as ‘the baby smell’. In fact, close to a decade ago, a baby products brand trying to enter India found this an impassable barrier and had to retreat – while young mothers liked their products and were happy with them, the grandmothers were rejecting them as ‘the baby didn’t smell like a baby anymore’. What the grannies were missing, in fact, was the smell of the Johnson’s baby powder on their precious grandchild, but their identification with it was so complete that it was ‘the baby smell’ to them.

 

fragrance - iconic products, some ingredients 2Scents are such powerful triggers to our emotions – thence to our loyalty, and commercially speaking, our purse-strings – that many iconic brands have kept the initially successful fragrance unchanged for decades or more. Examples of such instantly recognisable fragrances are Johnson’s Baby Powder, Pond’s Cold Cream, Dettol antiseptic liquid, Old Spice cologne, Pears soap etc.  Of course, a challenge faced by such brands is remaining contemporary and relevant to their audience while retaining the physical product attributes such as fragrance. But that’s another story, meant for another post altogether.

  • Zenobia Driver

 

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July 7, 2016 at 12:12 pm Leave a comment

The smell of the rain, and why we like it

rain pic 2

As the monsoon advanced across South India, Wikipedia shared an apt factoid on twitter last week, ‘The smell of rain is “petrichor.” ’ The oxford dictionary defines petrichor as ‘a pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather.’ No wonder most of us love that ‘fresh wet mud’ smell – it heralds an end to the sultry summer and the onset of cloudy breezy weather, but more about that in a bit.                      

The word petrichor is derived from a combination of the Greek words ‘petra’ meaning stone, and ‘ichor’, the fluid that flows in the veins of the Gods in Greek mythology. Petrichor was first described in a paper published in Nature journal in 1964 by Australian CSIRO scientists Isabel Joy Bear and Richard G. Thomas, and the process that gives rise to the fragrance we perceive is fascinating indeed.

During dry periods, plants exude an oil that retards seed germination and early plant growth, this oil is absorbed by clay – based soil and rocks (hence the words ‘petra’ and ‘ichor’). The smell itself comes about when increased humidity fills the pores of rocks, soil, etc. with tiny amounts of water. While it’s only a minuscule amount, it is enough to flush the oil from the stone and release petrichor into the air; this must be why we get that slight whiff of the rain smell before it actually starts raining. This process is further accelerated when actual rain arrives and makes contact with a porous surface; air from the pores forms small bubbles which float to the surface and release aerosols, such aerosols carry the scent and spread it. The article that I referred to for much of this information also has a super slow motion video released by scientists at MIT last year that helps explain this process.

So now you know it, Petrichor – that fresh fragrance that makes everyone’s spirits rise, is not the fragrance of the rain, neither is it that of wet mud, it’s actually due to an oil that’s released from the rocks or soil into the air just before the rain begins to fall. Did the description of the process in the last paragraph kill the romance of that fragrance for you, or make it even more interesting ? I hope it’s the latter, because more deconstruction follows – this time of why we find the smell of the rain so pleasant.

The reason petrichor makes our spirits rise may actually be hardwired into our memories, part of our collective consciousness – some scientists think it’s due to our species’ reliance on rain for a plentiful supply of plants and game animals throughout history.  This article describes some evidence that may support this hypothesis. Anthropologist Diana Young of the University of Queensland in Australia, who studied the culture of Western Australia’s Pitjantjatjara people, has observed that they associate the smell of rain with the color green, hinting at the deep-seated link between a season’s first rain and the expectation of growth and associated game animals, both crucial for their diet.

So next time you draw in a deep breath of that fresh wet mud smell and feel invigorated, think of how that reaction connects you to your ancestors from centuries ago.

Next post : Now that we’ve serendipitously stumbled upon the topic of fragrance and the collective consciousness, we’re going to take this thread further – look out for more examples in our next post.

  •  Zenobia Driver

June 11, 2016 at 8:09 am 1 comment

English-Vinglish, and all that jazz

Read this article about the English Dost app via a friend’s Facebook feed and was reminded of a few incidents that I’ve witnessed during the last year.

On the day a friend left Mumbai for Singapore, among those who visited her house to say goodbye was her maid. The maid had brought her adolescent children along too, and I was amazed at the difference between the maid and her children. Had the mother not introduced me to her daughter, I’d never have guessed how closely they were related; the maid seemed like someone one step away from the ancestral village, while the daughter seemed a native of a big city.

While the mother wears a sari, cannot speak much English and is rather diffident, her daughter prefers jeans and a shirt, speaks good English and is much more confident. While the mother is uneducated, she’s ensured that her daughter got a school education and learnt English, and encourages her to attend college; even though the young girl has to hold down a part-time job in order to meet her education expenses at college ,she’s determined to obtain a college degree that will get her a better job than her mother’s and a brighter future.

A few months later, I was at Bodh Gaya for the sales and marketing module of a Cream training program. The participants comprised micro-entrepreneurs from villages in Gaya and Muzzaffarpur district of Bihar. They could speak some English, but not much ; hence classroom sessions were conducted in both English and Hindi, with constant translation of any English sentence by an interpreter. All our training material (slides , hand-outs, question papers) had also been translated into Hindi for the benefit of the participants. Yet we witnessed an amazing zeal to learn new English words that pertained to their businesses, as if they saw these words as currency for garnering status in the eyes of their peers (remember that these were all rural micro-entrep[reneurs). There were participants who’d stop us mid-sentence and ask us to spell out ‘negotiation’, ‘consumer’ etc. and earnestly write down the English word in their notebooks.

English learning appsNo wonder there’s such a huge market for English learning apps and so many of them available now. There’re generic apps like Busuu through which anyone can learn English ( or another of a set of languages) by having conversations with native speakers of that language. There’re English Dost and enguru, both of which use a game with real-life situations to help users learn English, these seem to target those joining the corporate sector in junior management roles. English Seekho by IMImobile and IL&FS Education & Technology Services limited target a very different audience – junior level clerks, traders, unskilled laborers, frontline staff, taxi drivers, restaurant waiters etc. There’s also the British Council site that has several English learning apps, podcasts etc., and even an app to help Taxi drivers learn English to communicate better with their customers ! Clearly there’s a ton of demand from a large number of segments.

  • Zenobia Driver

December 10, 2015 at 1:18 pm Leave a comment

Updates

We’d run a series of posts on the population distribution of various nations a few years ago and shown the transition of the age-wise demographic distribution of many countries from pyramid to either kite, dome or cylinder (read posts here, here, here). This video from the Economist shows how the population pyramid of the world is changing with time, and here’s an article from the same publication that mentions that from now on children in schools and colleges will learn about the population ‘dome’ and not the population ‘pyramid’ ! Monumental change, isn’t it ?

We’d also looked at some implications of India’s so-called demographic dividend in two posts (read them here and here ). This article from the Mint offers a worrisome perspective on how the low skill levels of our young workforce may undo much of the benefit we hope to reap from it in the manufacturing sphere. It isn’t a very encouraging perspective, so if you’re already in a blue mood, read the article anther day.

Changing topics, a few links on interesting articles related to behavioural sciences.

This video on the Backwards Brain Bicycle is a rather entertaining look at biases – or neural pathways that are so natural we don’t even recognise them, unlearning the bias and then learning to think differently, and how much time it takes.

One article that’s about changing people’s behaviours and an experiment to test which works – facts, science, emotion, or fear.

An article on language, surprisingly on how the language you use changes your view of the world. Incidentally, bilinguals have a lot of tangible benefits, including protection against dementia – so that should be good for all us Indians who know English and Hindi and a mother-tongue, and often Sanskrit or French or some official third language from school.The last paragraph is especially interesting – ‘when judging risk, bilinguals also tend to make more rational economic decisions in a second language. In contrast to one’s first language, it tends to lack the deep-seated, misleading affective biases that unduly influence how risks and benefits are perceived.’ I wonder whether this lack of bias also manifests itself when bilinguals think of other subjective issues in a second language, say opinions of politicians, or climate change, or co-workers for that matter.

Collated By,

Zenobia Driver

November 7, 2015 at 6:06 am Leave a comment

From No-No to Yes-Yes

 

NanoTwist

I’m generally indifferent to cars and know them only as a system with four wheels, steering and seating that get me from point A to point B with minimum effort on my part; yet I’m eagerly awaiting the launch of the Tata Nano GenX. The journey of the Nano has such interesting twists and turns that it rivals a Bollywood potboiler, and as a student of marketing, I really want to see how Team Nano manages the tough task of making consumers warm up to the Nano Gen X. ( I’m hoping it succeeds and wishing the Nano Best of Luck, by the way). Meanwhile, in the run-up to the launch (until I have fodder for another post, that is), here’s the story of the Nano thus far :

Phase I: The people’s car The 1 lakh car

Launched in 2009, the Tata Nano was supposed to be ‘a people’s car’, the savior of the Indian middle class family which relied on a scooter or bike to transport all four members, offering them a safer and more comfortable alternative. To ensure affordability, the initial price was brought down to as low as Rs. 1 lakh per car through frugal innovation. Watch this ad to get a taste of what this brand was supposed to stand for and the role it was expected to play.

However, most of the hype around the car was focused on its cheap price and it became known as ‘The 1 lakh car’. For the middle class, both urban and rural, owning a car is a matter of pride and self-esteem. So, rather than gladly discovering that this fantastic upgrade from a two-wheeler actually had a reasonable price, Nano’s portrayed image put the product in the situation of being viewed as a compromise , not an upgrade.  “Ek prestige view se thodi down hai,” as one respondent expressed it during a transportation related research a few years ago, while another respondent termed it ‘the No-no’. Dangers of letting a low price be the defining feature of your offering!

Mr. Ratan Tata gives a crisp explanation in this article , “I always felt the Nano should have been marketed towards the owner of a two-wheeler because it was conceived to give people who rode on two-wheeler an all-weather, safe form of transportation, not (the) cheapest,” Tata said. “It became termed as the cheapest car by the public, and [also] I’m sorry to say, by the company when it was being marketed,” he added.

Another problem that the Nano faced was that of high expectations from those who did see it as an end to their transportation woes. During the same transportation related research mentioned earlier, we also found that the same Indian family that would uncomplainingly seat four people on a scooter or bike and balance their shopping bags too, somehow morphed into a demanding set that wanted adequate boot space in their car to keep luggage – just in case they had to drop a relative to the station.

The performance problems with the initial batch of cars did nothing to boost Nano’s image either. Soon after the cars hit the road came reports of some of them catching fire, which was seen as an indicator of low quality and a lack of reliability. While only a few such issues were reported, we’ve found that some people still mention these spontaneously when the Nano is mentioned.

Phase II:

Here’s where the change begins and the marketing team begins explicitly targeting a different TG –  young professionals in urban centers ; you can click on the links here  , here and here to view the ads and see for yourself  the distinct change in tone and style of ads from the earlier people’s car ads. By now, the no-frills car also had some add-ons such as the ‘best – in –class A.C.’ mentioned in the print ad shown below.

nano pic 3

 

Phase III :  Launch of Nano Twist – from ‘cheap car’ to ‘smart city car’

This is when an attempt was made to radically alter the Nano’s positioning in order to make it appeal to the new TG of urban professionals. The ‘you’re awesome’ campaign targeted  young urban folk and tried to showcase to them the new stylish Nano – new colours, better interiors, a car that could seat a couple of friends , a fun n’ smart car to hang out with. Did it work? I recall discussing this campaign and its effectiveness with a young colleague early last year and she felt that it was having some impact, two of her friends had noticed the ad and actually purchased the Nano Twist. Multiple news reports also mention that the customer profile for the Nano had indeed changed over the years, a heartening sign – the proportion of Nano buyers in the 24 -34 years age bracket had expanded to 40 percent, from the earlier 15 to 18 per cent.  Another interesting change happening in the Nano script is the growing base of women. Today, they account for 28 per cent of its customers, a substantial jump from 12 per cent in the earlier ‘people’s car’ phase.

That’s only part of the story though; take a look at the sales data for the rest – as per this article, in the April – December period of ’14-’15, Nano only sold 13,333 units, down 18.64% from the same period of ’13-’14.  

What could have limited the impact of such a high decibel campaign? NanoTwistWell, one reason could simply be that the impact of the initial launch advertising and PR campaign in ’08-’09 was so strong that the ‘cheap car’ story could only be over-written over the long haul , and it’s not a task that one ad alone could shoulder. Another could be that while the ‘You’re Awesome’ campaign did have a smarter , more stylish feel to it, there was no over-arching product story communicated about how the Twist was better than the earlier version of the Nano, neither about how it was better suited to city travel than other cars. While some shots in the ad did imply easy maneuverability, it was not explicit enough, and got overshadowed by the messaging on style and aesthetics ; the ‘smart city car’ benefits were explicitly mentioned only in print ads. When a repositioning as drastic as this one is being attempted, consumers probably need to hear that the car has improved significantly too.    

Phase IV: Launch of the Nano Gen Xnano pic 2

And thus to the eagerly awaited launch of the Tata Nano Gen X later this month! Now clearly aiming for the ‘smart city car’ tag, the Gen X has a host of improved features, see details here here and here

But has the 2013 campaign succeeded in erasing memories of the 1 lakh car launched in 2009? Will the Nano get to make a fresh start? Only time will tell…  

 

  • Zenobia Driver

May 14, 2015 at 10:57 am 8 comments

India – Internet Statistics

India-Internet

Since we’ve received some questions after the last two posts, we felt that it was time to share some more data on this topic. As this info-graphic is quite detailed, we may write a post or two on some of the implications of the numbers in this one , but you’ll have to wait a week or two to read those.

  • Ravindra Ramavath

 

September 9, 2014 at 5:52 am 1 comment

Internet penetration and the proportion that shop online – a comparison across four countries

After last week’s post on segmentation in the apparel e-tailing space, we thought we’d share some information on internet penetration in India and the proportion of the population that makes purchases online. To make this more interesting, we decided to compare the data across four countries, and represent this in an easy – to – understand graphic.

 

India-Internet-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Ravindra Ramavath

September 5, 2014 at 12:19 pm Leave a comment

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