Posts tagged ‘consumer behaviour’

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

 

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

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

Why Snapdeal sponsors Big Boss, and Flipkart / Pepperfry / Fabfurnish / Jabong / Amazon etc. advertise on mass media

The sudden surge in e-commerce firms advertising on mass media has surely not gone unnoticed by readers of this blog. While Flipkart has been advertising on TV for a few years now (read our posts on their ads here  and here) , in the last few weeks every e-commerce firm (with deep pockets and / or investors) has jumped on the bandwagon. Switch on TV and ads for Pepperfry / Fabfurnish / Jabong / Amazon etc. appear as often as those for soaps, soft drinks and biscuits ; drive on any major artery in Mumbai and alongside posters of political parties that contested the just concluded state elections you’ll find those for Pepperfry.com ; print media has been used extensively too with some players even splashing their ad on the front page.

Of course, with the Dussehra – Diwali festival season approaching, one would expect any retail venture to step up promotions and advertising, we see almost all brands and supermarkets doing so too. But what drives the young e-commerce firms to advertise on mass media ? Surely they’re masters of advertising on the internet and on social media, which are not only cheaper media, but allow the brand to fine-tune targeting their audience in a manner that mass media simply cannot match. So why spend big bucks on a (relatively) scatter-shot approach when you have a finely tuned laser at your disposal ?

Ah, take a look at the results of the same. As per this news report, Snapdeal’s sponsorship of the popular teleserial ‘Big Boss’ resulted in them recording highest ever sales. This article quotes Vikram Chopra, CEO and co-founder of FabFurnish, “During and after a few months of the television campaign, our traffic increased two and half times.” And I’m not even getting into describing Flipkart’s Big Billion Day sale, as the furore afterwards has ensured that everyone knows all about the record number of prospective customers that logged in on the day. Would advertising on digital and social media alone give e-commerce companies the same outcome ?

One simple fact can help answer this. Amongst the Indians who are active online, a low proportion actually shop online; we gave the data related to this in a post a few weeks ago. For instance, in Russia and China, almost half of the population that are active online also shop online ; whereas in India this proportion is a little less than 10%.

pic - infographic and e-commerce firms' logos

There are various reasons for this. Firstly, the number bandied around as the number of Indians that are active online includes even those who access the internet infrequently. As this post shows , in the top 35 cities which account for 42% of Active net users, only 54% access the internet daily. The All-India figure for percentage of active internet users who access the net daily is much lower.

Now, layer this with the fact that a significant proportion of sales for e-commerce firms are from tier 2 cities, and you see the importance of getting their residents transacting online. The best media for targeting these markets is still TV. As this article mentions Snapdeal CEO Kunal Bahl saying during a conference, “All e-commerce companies want to penetrate the tier-II market and Big Boss is a great medium for that.”

Hence, the necessity for e-commerce firms to advertise on mass media and attract more people onto online media, simply advertising on digital media just won’t suffice as not enough people are active online.

  • Zenobia Driver

October 20, 2014 at 6:36 am 3 comments

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

Beauty ‘saaluns’ in villages – a sign of change

A few months ago, during a CREAM (Certificate in Rural Enterprise Administration and Management) training session for micro-entrepreneurs in rural Bihar, we enquired about the professions of each. Turned out that each of the three women taking the course aced at multi-tasking ; apart from managing the house, each held down two other occupations. My first reaction was amazement at the amount of work that they packed into their day, but later I was struck by the fact that two out of these three women ran beauty parlours (or as they pronounced it, ‘saaluns’) out of their homes.

We asked these ladies which treatments their customers went in for and it was more than just hair-cuts – facial, eye-brow threading etc. In villages in Bihar ! So beauty consciousness is increasing not just in urban India, but in rural India too.

This article from the Mint also mentions this trend, albeit in passing. This article, from the Mint again quotes Mr. C.K.Ranganathan, Chairman and Managing Director of CavinKare, “The rural consumer has become more beauty conscious and is willing to spend more on personal grooming.”

Wonder which are the companies benefiting from this trend ? and whether they are using these ladies who run beauty parlours from their homes as influencers ?

We’ll try to dig deeper into this topic with time, so keep visiting this blog for more information on the topic.

  • Zenobia Driver

February 11, 2014 at 10:32 am Leave a comment

Desh mera rangrez hai babu

A few months ago, I was one of the faculty at a programme that imparts training in the basics of business to micro-entrepreneurs from rural areas (CREAM training programmes run by Tree Society). The audience comprised villagers running simple businesses such as a cycle repair shop, furniture making, honey collection and selling, beauty salon (or, as they pronounced it,‘saalun’), barber shops, a wedding decorator, etc. Most of them were between 20 to 30 years old, all but 3 were men.

During one session, we were trying to illustrate the importance of adding product / service features that consumers value the most rather than others, given the ever-present constraints of cost and resources. We’d made our point using several simple examples and the audience seemed to have grasped it too, however they seemed slightly somnolent after a heavy lunch and we wanted to wake them up with before we began the next topic which was math-heavy.

So we decided to use an example of a product that was ubiquitous even in villages and used by everyone, that was feature-heavy, and from a category where the fortunes of companies selling the product had gone through ups and downs. One product fit the bill – a mobile phone. We began by asking the audience to tell us what features they wanted in a mobile phone, and which of those were must-haves and which were nice-to-have. Internet and multimedia were amongst the first few mentioned by the audience, followed by aspects related to how long the phone would last – sturdiness, a warranty, good battery strength etc. Basic features such as call quality, sms etc. were mentioned much later, almost as an afterthought.

What almost every person below 30 in that audience wanted was to be able to access songs and video on his mobile phone; even if they didn’t know how to download them, they knew that they wanted to be able to store and listen to them or watch them. Many didn’t really know exactly what internet and multimedia meant, but they did know that such phones guaranteed them access to songs, clips, pictures and games. Many of these young men already had cheap smartphones, those that didn’t were quite clear that affordability was the only reason for not buying one. In hindsight, maybe I should have expected this given the lack of entertainment options in a village, and that a lot of these people ran businesses where they spent significant amounts of time just waiting for customers to visit their outlet.

This article from the Mint gives the results of a TNS survey on mobile phone usage in various countries across the world ; while the survey was probably carried out in urban centres, it’s worth a look anyway. Listening to music turns out to be the No. 1 activity that Indians engage with on their mobile phones, the next are playing games, sms/text messaging and taking photos / videos, in that order.

Clearly the villagers that I met reflected a widespread trend.

  • Zenobia Driver

September 17, 2013 at 12:47 pm 5 comments

Older Posts


Recent Posts

Categories

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 5 other followers