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Amitava Chattopadhyay

Amitava Chattopadhyay
Emerging Market Multinationals - Amitava Chattopadhyay


An Unexpected Product Benefit Can Be a Powerful Marketing Tool

As companies test a new product, they often learn that it can deliver unexpected benefits. This very famously happened in the case of Viagra, a product originally developed to treat cardiovascular problems. During the first human trials of the compound, a study nurse reported that male subjects would frequently lie on their stomachs on the examination table, trying to hide their erections. The compound did indeed dilate blood vessels, just not where expected.

It is common for companies to discover unintended benefits to their products after launch, once customer reports start flowing in. This is particularly true in the health and beauty industry. Just read online reviews for omega-3 supplements and you will find people claiming the heart health supplement helped them with a wide range of issues, from brittle nails to weight loss. Similarly, Botox was approved for cosmetic use in 2002, but users soon started reporting that the injections improved their migraines as well. It was licensed for this type of treatment in 2010.

Research has shown that consumers value a product’s benefits more when they believe a firm was intentional about creating them. For instance, if a company launches a programme that accidentally helps the environment, it is less likely to get praise than if the programme was expressly designed for that purpose. In law, premeditated crime is punished more harshly than an involuntary act that led to the same result. Intentions matter, because they are associated with effort, and effort with value (whether positive or negative).

However, another stream of research suggests that an unexpected benefit can pique consumers’ interest and lead them to anticipate other potential benefits from the product. This has a biologic basis: Studies on mammals (from rats to humans) have shown that receiving an unexpected reward (such as a squirt of juice instead of plain water) fires up neurons in the regions of the brain associated with reward anticipation and seeking. In a way, a nice surprise is perceived as a sign of more good things to come.

Feel Busy All the Time? There’s an Upside to That

Imagine yourself at a restaurant, trying to decide between two desserts: a chocolate cake and a fruit bowl. You’ve been trying to eat healthier, but the cake just sounds so tasty… What do you do?

As it turns out, your decision is likely to be influenced by how busy you perceive yourself to be.

Busyness has previously been studied through the lens of time pressure. Researchers found that when people feel that they’re under significant time pressure, they tend to make decisions based on emotions. For instance, when consumers are placed in situations where they lack time to complete a task, they grow anxious and become more likely to give in to their impulses. They are more likely to choose the cake, so to speak.

However, that’s not the end of the story, as there’s a flip side to busyness. In recent years, being busy has become an unmistakable badge of honor in many Western societies. It’s quite common for people to humblebrag that they don’t have a minute to themselves. Feeling busy — that is, perceiving oneself to be a busy person — thus makes individuals feel that they’re prized, important members of society.

Earthspired: Building a Brand for Social Impact

Mrida (Sanskrit for soil), a recently founded social business venture, had launched the Earthspired brand a year ago to sell products made from high-value plants and herbs, which it sourced sustainably from small and marginal farmers in India, to  urban middle class consumers.  This was a key initiative for Mrida, and the founders had big ambitions. They wanted to grow the brand in India and internationally. To address this ambition, Mrida needed to address several interconnected questions: What should the consumer value proposition for Earthspired be and how should it be communicated? What was the most appropriate distribution channel – direct selling, retail, or on-line sales? What should be the business strategy to scale the Earthspired brand, given the limited resources available to a fledgling social business venture?

Johnnie Walker: Reigniting Growth

The debate of whether to be global or local has been an important strategic issue for the past several decades.  The case describes Johnnie Walker’s efforts to move from a multi-local product focused brand to a global master brand.  It makes the  point that global branding is a strategic business decision. It requires an understanding of a global customer need that the master brand can authentically speak to and position around. The brand then needs to manage the the standardization of marketing activities across markets, which requires significant internal changes in structure and process, to be successful.  The case presents consumer data confronting Johnnie Walker and asks the question: What should Johnnie Walker’s global positioning be? How should the brand be managed? What should be the key next steps to build the Johnnie Walker brand?


How Your Firm Can Reignite Sales Growth

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, the company’s annual losses were in excess of US$1 billion.  Bankruptcy loomed on the short-term horizon. One of Jobs’ first moves was to hire an ad agency to help him rebuild the brand’s status. It resulted in the famous “Think Different” campaign.

At the campaign launch, Jobs told the audience that to him, marketing was about values. “It’s a very noisy world,” he said. “We have to be really clear on what we want people to know about us.” Apple wouldn’t achieve much by talking about “speeds and feeds” or “bits and mega-hertz”.

Indeed, the campaign focused on iconic personalities of the 20th century. The implication, cleverly pointed out by Jobs, was this: If these inspirational figures had been born in the computer age, each and every one of them would have been Mac users. With its universal resonance, “Think Different” ushered the long-awaited return of Apple to profitability.

A brand beset with myriad problems

During the same period, a merger saw the birth of Diageo, the world’s biggest player in the alcoholic beverage market and the seventh largest food and beverage (F&B) company. As the merger benefits were slow to materialise, management was soon under pressure to revive sales of its Scotch whisky Johnnie Walker, the crown jewel in the company’s portfolio.

Why Brand Experience Failures are Endemic.

We live in the age of brand experience. Yet, again and again I find that brands the world over fail to create a strongly differentiated and positive brand experience. Three back-to-back brand experience failures makes me write this today.


The first experience was on December 3rd morning.  We were in Bangkok, where I had been on work, and staying at the Pathumwan Princess Hotel.  My wife had visited me for a few days during my stay and she was checking out.  I went to the front desk with her explaining that she was leaving but I was staying and would check out the following day as per the original reservation. Once my wife left I went back to the room to discover that my Internet connection had been terminated and I could not log on with my name and room number as I had done the past several days.  It took several phone calls and a full half hour before my internet connectivity was restored.  An otherwise pleasant stay was blemished.


THE next day, at Suvarnabhumi Airport, I spied a Jo Malone shop. As my wife likes their perfumes and her birthday was around the corner I went there.  As is customary at Jo Malone, tester bottles for all the perfumes we re arranged in a semi-circle on a table at the front of the store along with the paper strips to test out the perfumes.  I picked out a bottle and tried to spray some on the scent strip but nothing came. Looking at the bottle I realized it was empty.  Never mind, I tried a second perfume, same story.  When I looked at the display more carefully, the majority of the bottles were empty! I asked the store clerk what was going on and she said they had no stock! I was not only disappointed but annoyed.  Why oh why would Jo Malone spend money on a store at the Bangkok airport only to annoy customers with a wide ranging stock out?  Wouldn’t it be better to just shut the store when there was no stock rather than annoy customers? Or, if stocking was challenging, perhaps shut down the store permanently, rather than annoy potential customers who may have shopped for it elsewhere and now may not buy Jo Malone again.

Most recently, yesterday, December 5th, I tried to set up a data connection with Bharti Airtel.  I bought the device and the SIM card along with 1GB of data at the Airtel store at Gariahat in Kolkata. First, it took forever, including the  sales clerk 1) repeatedly trying to upsell me from a prepaid to a postpaid connection and then making a mistake in his instructions on how to sign on the application form, leading to it having to be filled out a second time.

Once that was over, he informed me that in about an hour I would receive an sms message and I would have to go through a set of steps to activate my account.  The sms did come and I went through the steps required to activate the account.  I received an sms message indicating I had been successful and that my account had been activated.  Pleased, I went off to sleep as I had an early morning Skype call.



In the morning, I connected to the Airtel WiFi and my computer showed that I had “internet access”.  However, tries as I might, restarting the Airtel WiFi modem, restarting my computer, reconnecting to the modem,… I couldn’t get online on Skype or using my browser.  All the time the internet connection showed that I had “internet access”.  When I went to the Airtel store again this morning after they opened at 11 am, I was told that they had to activate the connection from the store and that was done only when they reopened at 11 in the morning.  Thus, in fact, at 7 in the morning I did not have connectivity even though it showed I did and I had been informed by an sms generated by Airtel the night before that I had connectivity.  Again, a feeling of deep frustration and lack of trust or loyalty towards Airtel.


So what’s in common for all these failures?  It seems that organizations don’t understand that brand experience is not about what the marketing people do, but about what the organization behind the brand does as a whole to deliver on the promise made to the customer. For Pathumwan Princess the nice physical facilities, great location, nice restaurants, fantastic gym and pool were undone by either incompetence on the part of the front desk staff or the IT system which logged both guests out when one checked out but the other remained.  At Jo Malone, their interesting and distinctive fragrance product line was undone by a wide spread stock out.  In the case of Airtel, it was a failure of the automated customer response system that generated messages that set false expectations. In each instance the failure was on some part of the organization other than marketing.

Why does this occur?  The problem is that in most organizations, brands are managed by the marketing department and the marketing department does not have control over the various other organizational functions that are crucial in delivering brand experience.  It is time that organizations understood that managing a brand is an integrated organization wide activity and, thus, each brand needs to be managed as a business, cutting across functional silos, so that the brand head can orchestrate a complete brand experience. This requires moving responsibility for the brand from within marketing to the level of the business head.  Some organizations already do this.  Thus, for example, at Diageo, brands like Johnnie Walker are businesses unto themselves with all the business functions reporting in to the global brand director, who in turn reports to the Diageo CEO. More companies need to take this to heart and manage their brands from the C-suite.

When Advertising is Just a Waste of Money

Watching the recent cricket test match between India and England on TV in India, I was staggered at the level of advertising repetition I experienced. During one hour, I decided to keep track of the commercials aired. The brands and the number of times they advertised during the hour period are below.

As one can see, 17 different brands advertised during the hour. These brands covered a broad range of categories across products (e.g., Blenders Pride, CEAT and Panasonic) and services (e.g., Amazon and McDonald’s), as well as domestic (e.g., Idea, Fogg and Kent) and global (Axe, Google and Suzuki) brands. Of the 17 brands that advertised, 11, or a whopping 65 percent, aired their ads three times or more, with Gionee, the Chinese mobile phone maker showing the exact same “creative” a mind-numbing seven times during the hour!

Maintaining Market Dominance

Peter England, owned by leading menswear firm Aditya Birla Nuvo, has become a household name in India. As we describe in our case study, Peter England became the fastest apparel brand in Indian history to reach 1 billion rupees in sales and one of the most trusted brands in its category by providing aspirational apparel to India’s burgeoning middle class. When it launched in 1997, it focused on positioning its high-quality shirts for young Indian men at the early stages of their career, striving for success.

It was the first apparel brand in Indian history to leverage television advertising. Its messages centred on honesty, international quality and sub-premium pricing to court aspiring consumers who wanted to dress for success but found premium brands too expensive.

But despite meteoric growth, its performance in the second half of the 2000s slowed. Peter England had steadily expanded into new categories, especially premium apparel, under the sub-brand of Peter England Elite and party wear, under Peter England Party, to both cater to consumers who aspired to higher grade, higher priced apparels and those drawn to the emerging clubbing culture. But these extensions didn’t resonate. The brand was deemed by customers to be frivolous, forfeiting its original value of honesty.

Branding in an Emerging Market: Strategies for Sustainging Market Dominance of the Largest Apparel Brand in India

This case illustrates the key issues and challenges in creating and sustaining a successful brand in emerging markets. Peter England, India’s largest apparel brand by sales volume, was struggling to formulate a strategy to sustain the brand’s market dominance. Indian consumer tastes were changing rapidly, making it difficult for any brand to stay relevant and fashionable over time. Meanwhile, other domestic brands and foreign players were expanding and evolving rapidly, aiming to dethrone Peter England as the market leader. To devise a new strategy to sustain the brand’s dominance, the executive team has to dissect the forces that are shaping the market and develop a new positioning for the brand, a robust platform that can accommodate its broad portfolio of products and sub-brands. The executive team also has to develop an implementation plan for the brand positioning, entailing product development, advertising, promotions, pricing, and distribution.

Lying, cheating banks and bankers: The case of Standard Chartered Bank

I watched the movie “Short It” last night on my flight back to Singapore and was reminded about the self-centered and corrupt nature of banks and banking executives. Why do I say banks and bankers are corrupt? Both personal experience and research suggests that banks and and, on average, bankers are liars and cheaters!
Let’s begin with research. The Economist on 22nd November, 2014, in an article entitled “Lying, cheating bankers” reported on an experiment published in the highly regarded journal, Nature. In that research, according to the Economist, “128 bankers with an average of 12 years’ experience in the industry were split into two groups. The “control” group was asked a series of anodyne questions—for instance, how many hours of television they watched each week. The “treatment” group was quizzed on their work at their bank.” The bankers were then asked to toss a coin ten times, in private, and report the results. “For each toss they could win $20, depending on whether the coin landed on “heads” or “tails”. (If it landed on the wrong side, they got nothing). The bankers reported the results of their ten flips on a computer, and received payment automatically.” Thus, with luck or bald-faced lying, the participants could earn $200 in the time it takes to flip a coin ten times!
Bankers compared to those in other professions, e.g., pharmaceuticals, were more dishonest. Importantly, the control group was only slightly dishonest, as on average, they reported that 52% of their tosses had been winners (chance suggests 50% should be winners). The treatment group, i.e., those quizzed about their work, which the authors argued would put them in a more materialistic frame of mind, were significantly more dishonest, reporting they had got winners 58% of the time. According to the Economist, “a tenth of the treatment group claimed the full $200, despite there being a one-in-a-thousand chance of this happening to an honest flipper.”
Let’s turn now to personal experience and the case of my interaction with my bank in India, #StandardCharteredBank. I came home to find a letter from Mr. #ManishPathak, #Head-LIABILITIESOperationsStandardCharteredBank,India, which made the claim that “Despite our repeated attempts, we have not been able to establish contact with you and would be updating the same in our records.” Now the bank has both my email address and my mobile number and I haven’t heard a peep from them. The individual responsible for contacting me in line with #RBI regulation are just warming their seats, making no effort to contact their customers, and covering their backsides by issuing a form letter. I just thought it’s time to burst their lazy, lying bubble.

Standard Chartered Bank

From my experience with banks in general and Standard Chartered Bani in Particular, that there is absolutely no concern for its customers or for that matter it’s brand.  Sure, from my experience with running programs for banks, they pay lip service to it, but in reality, it’s all about self-centered money making without any real concern for customers as this experience as well as the research above shows. I’ve written an email to my relationship manager and to #BillWinters, Chairman of Standard Chartered Bank. I’m waiting for their replies. But, since, this is the third such letter from the bank, even though in the past I’ve pointed out their egregious lying, I thought I’d share my experience publicly. If by good fortune the #ReserveBankofIndia or Mr better still Mr. #RajanRaghuraman see this, even better.  I’ll keep you posted when I hear from Mr. Winters!

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