Analysis: Time to lift the marketing game

Posted on May 22, 2012


Debnath Guharoy, Roy Morgan Research | Tue, 05/22/2012 9:00 AM

In the last 100 years, life expectancy has more than doubled. Now we are listening to medical researchers talk about immortality, achievable they say in just 10 to 20 years from now. But instead of calmly debating the moral pros and cons of such a possibility, lunatics on the fringes of our societies will probably want to burn them at the stake for heresy.

Anybody in business who’s stopped to think about it knows that times have changed. More than ever before, change will be the only real constant in our lives. Science and technology will make sure of that reality. From a marketing perspective, our world of instant and constant communications means consumers are better informed, have greater choices. Brands and branding will remain important, but value, affordability and availability will become even more vital elements of the mix. Consumers will see through shallow “spin”, increasingly and with greater alacrity.

Marketers need to get real, now more than ever before. But all too often, the urge to hoodwink the consumer is still heard in too many boardrooms and seen on too many billboards. Bacteria are a part of life, we do not need to kill “99 percent” of them in our homes. Babies do better with milk from their mother’s breast than from powder out of a box. Children should not be exploited for coffee, chocolate or anything else. Nobody would argue with these fundamental truths, but the biggest names in business continue to hide them, twist them or simply ignore them. Spin is still the marketing weapon of choice for too many.

Let’s take the telecommunications example. It competes only with medicine as the most transformational, the most influential industry to impact human life in the last 100 years. In just a decade, Indonesia has witnessed that revolution. The market has settled down with penetration at 80 percent, but still growing. In a country this big, growth will continue to trickle in each year as sections of the population come out of puberty and poverty.

For at least another five years that “trickle” is likely to bring in millions of new entrants, albeit at a slowing pace. That annual group of first-timers could be as big as the entire cellular market in Singapore, but you won’t see too many marketers here acknowledging that potential.

Instead, passive journalists diligently quote CEOs talk of “120 percent market penetration”, the latter hoping to impress their shareholders and bankers. The market has matured but most marketers have not.

Switching has slowed down because consumers understand that costs are down, hygiene is up but call drop-outs are here to stay. But even today, the billboards are still screaming cheap rates in the hope that price will attract switchers. That stimulus still works, but primarily at the bottom end of the market where the low-spending customer resides. Network brands may cannibalize each other, “premium” losing to “economy”, but market-shares of the Big 3 operators have remained steady in the last five years, even more so in the last two.

Telkomsel still leads with some 45 percent of all unique customers, followed by Indosat at 25 and XL at 21. Bakrie’s Esia has lost the competitive edge that CDMA once offered and Natrindo’s Axis brand has roared into the Top 5.

But the main game will continue to be won with value for money, not by cheap alone. Innovation will become more front and center.

As operators move on from G to G, the promise and the delivery will change. Now we’re seeing “data” as the new focus for growth in network revenues, finally moving more Indonesians to embrace the internet. Unfortunately, the networks are only following their customers in their engagement with social networks. Other aspects of life, like education and healthcare for example, have seen little by way of innovation and partnership.

Banking is an exception, driven more by the banks and not the telcos. Branding a high-speed 3G connection as a “Hotrod” or some other “cool” new name isn’t innovation. Creating yet another brand is just another waste of shareholder funds, yet another expression of shallow spin.

The consumer has already arrived at, or aspires to arrive at, a simple conclusion. Life is increasingly revolving around screens. A small screen in the pocket, a medium-sized one on the table or the lap, and a big one on the wall or the bookcase. These screens are doing a lot for many of our needs today, and will do even more tomorrow. More and more, with increasing speed and diversity, these converging screens will inform, assist and influence us, not just entertain us. Steve Jobs wasn’t led by the consumer, he led them to possibilities beyond their contemplation. More innovation with networks acting as catalysts will engage entrepreneurs, a myriad of service providers and grateful customers alike. Good for business.

A single-serve sachet isn’t innovation in today’s world, it’s pollution. Cheap isn’t as wholesome as fair-trade. Consumer research isn’t a crutch to lean on, it’s a map to the future. The map itself has no imagination, but every marketer should possess more than a modicum. In every single industry, the time has come to shed the old urge to spin and get real instead. Imaginatively.

These opinions are influenced by Roy Morgan Single Source, the country’s largest syndicated survey. More than 26,000 respondents are interviewed every year, week after week. The data is projected to reflect 87 percent of the population 14 years of age and over.

The writer can be contacted at

Posted in: EKONOMI