What local trains and fish markets can teach Performance Marketing?

Shivaji Dasgupta, Managing Director, Inexgro Brand Advisory, talks about the 3 P formula that yields the best results

Shivaji Dasgupta
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What local trains and fish markets can teach Performance Marketing?

The tragedy with new age Performance Marketing is its obsession to be unconnected to real people doing real things. Perhaps, before it is a posthumous act, digital practitioners will learn a lesson or two from genuine customer behaviour.

To set the context, a bias towards numbers is genuinely a good thing as it provokes accountability. But when this affection turns into a blind obsession, one witnesses an encore of classical advertising-age follies, albeit in a mirror image. As in, pureplay Advertising folks were keen to judge outcomes on emotive responses while Digital Marketing dons simply refuse to look beyond ‘incremental’ and narrow numbers, not expanding the scope.

The focus of today’s piece however rests on the customer acquisition process, which in turn also becomes the default agency remuneration model, as ordained by a win-win equilibrium. This leads to a multi-step process wherein the customer must first click, then choose, understand and compare the pricing, ascertain the suitability of deliveries and then finally pay.

Unfortunately, this protocol is a function of the erstwhile limitations of technology and bandwidth, not a derivative of how flesh and blood Indians spend their dough. This is exactly why I must invite you to the fish market and the local train, two great crucibles of learning if one is willing.

If a single skill set was to define a platinum class fishmonger, it would be the ability to compress our decision-making process. The fellow will lure you with a well-manicured demonstration of his wares and when the faintest hint of interest is apparent, an intuitive ( celestial predecessor of AI) quantity is placed on the weighing scales, a seemingly-seductive price point is sealed and the bag is suitably embellished.

Quite expertly, the objective is to close the transaction when the mind is still operating at a fundamentally emotional plane and not allowing the barriers of rational evaluation to influence the equation. The emotions are triggered by multisensorial demonstration but more on this dimension as we go ahead.

My work of late occasionally takes me on local trains, an experience I thoroughly cherished in my early Mumbai days as well.

Salesfolks, en route, operate on a 3 P formula, once again executed in conjunction and not sequence. The Ps respectively are Presentation, Performance and Price, and this is equally applicable for the quirky range of products that are on offer, including fruits, local candies, home remedies, packaged munchies, clothes, shawls, books and so much more. Interestingly even the beggars who frequent such beats, physically handicapped due to grave misfortune, follow a version of this approach for their unavoidable solicitation.

Do permit me an illustration to drive home this point. A seller of paan-flavoured candies ( Jaipur origin) immediately plonks a lengthy flurry of his stocks to the passenger hand-holders, aided by an attachment hook. In brisk tandem, a deeply melodious and repetitive sales pitch gets underway, driving home the USP in a brief sentence, the flavour of paan in an easy lozenge format. Equally concurrently, the price offer is shared, with a clear incentive for a bulk purchase. This is a pattern that gets ably replicated across the portfolio of vendors.

A lungi vendor or handkerchief-wallah emphasising the exceptional dimensions carries a demo piece for rapid display while creatively unleashing the price and proposition. Those selling fruits and sweets offer meagre but meaningful sampling where possible, to aid the product spiel. A few in the business of sore throat remedies expertly enact the before-after vocally while RTE snack perpetrators, muri et al, play the limited availability card, claiming that next station onwards no valid equivalent will be available.

In every case, unfailingly, the 3 Ps come to the compartment in clockwork unison, never one after the other but conversing with the customers as an integrated pitch. Within a matter of moments, we know exactly what the engagement terms are and our decision-making is suitably compressed, just like the fish market. In this case, though, the abbreviation is a transactional necessity as vendors have a limited time span in the coaches but this works as a default advantage in buyer decision-making. No space for lengthy debates, discussions or speculations from either side.

So, what exactly can the assembly-line practices of Performance Marketing learn from local trains and fish markets?

A lot more than attending workshops most certainly, and I will only spill a few selected beans in this forum. Firstly, the art and science of assessing and compressing decision-making time frames, naturally segmented by category and behaviour. No sincere work is done on this dimension and it becomes especially important for digital transactions as our device times are usually fixed. Restaurants and hotels are usually the most irritating as after clicking on a ‘promise’, even for a simple lunch buffet, the gratification process is diverted to a messenger or an uneducated chatbot. Surely, simpler ways to close the deal can be easily unearthed.

The dimension of Time Frame Management can be stretched even more intuitively. For instance, grocery bundles which pop up without warning and must be purchased within 90 seconds, are sufficiently attractive to lure the emotions but denied the time to judge valiantly. Same for hotel bookings or airlines; right now, these categories work on Yield management rules, not customer-centric conduct.

On demonstration, the digital commerce category has done very little and is obviously at the mercy of thoughtless bean counters. If a portal is selling basmati rice, it will cost nothing for audio or even audio-visual stimulation of biryani being cooked with happy voices, this can be heard or seen in a corner of the screen. Same for holidays, which now appear as Geography Map destinations and can well be glamorised with the same approach, Goa with the Church bells and sorpotel, Puri with the Temple tunes and prasad.  On beauty, wellness, healthcare and so much more, this ‘local train’ approach of multi-sensory infiltration can work wonders.

Lest I forget, the third P which is ‘Price’ deserves to play a far more decisive role, not just being a sultry provocation or a well-concealed apology, the parallel tracks at present. For starters, comparisons can appear in pop-up mode, both from an intra-site or intra category basis. AI-led tools can lead to customised Happy Hours connected to buyer behaviour, and Wednesday evening discounts on Old Monk for the committed weekday customer. Inspiring consumption-driven bundling ( rice+meat+spices+mithai), which is occasion-based or behaviour-driven. The possibilities are endless once the manufacturers start talking to the aggregators and customers with thoughtful intensity, instead of operating from dangerously limiting data points. 

A great starting point for understanding the 3P formula will actually be regular interactions in local trains and fish markets, however, infra dig it may sound. The wise know that the future is not a Las Vegas destination driven by anecdotal tokenism but instead a carefully curated outcome of the past and present. Alas, performance marketers and much professing expertise in the digital domain choose to be oblivious.

Managing Director Performance Marketing Shivaji Dasgupta Inexgro Brand Advisory local trains and fish markets