Experiments with Marketing

Posted in Marketing & Strategy Articles, Total Reads: 2000 , Published on 07 July 2013

Can marketing be taught? Or is it something which can only be learnt from experience? Or is it something which you either have in you or you do not have? I always believed that Marketing can be learnt from experience. In my eagerness to become a pro in Marketing, I set out to learn Marketing from my own experiences, even before I completed the first term of my PGDM. But the first hindrance that I came across was this simple question – “From where do I gain experience?”
Before being an MBA student I was a student of Animation.


The beauty of animation is that it cannot be taught beyond the principles of animation and the functions of MAYA (a 3D animation software). The rest is self-learning. One needs to sit and tweak around with MAYA for as long as it takes to figure out the right way to imitate life. The more your animation conforms to the principles of animation, the better an animator you are. This model of learning suited me fine because I had always believed in learning through experimentation. I call it – ‘my way of learning’. I simply loved the option of being able to practically apply anything taught in the class, right after the class.
I had expected a similar model of learning for Marketing. Needless to say, I was disappointed. So I thought that if the course doesn’t offer me a chance to learn through experimentation, let me create my own methods. After some contemplation an idea struck. Won’t it be a fine Marketing exercise if I make an attempt to increase the sales of the little Nescafe shop inside our college campus?

The idea felt good. In fact it felt very good. But where and how do I begin?

Often it happens that when an idea strikes, it feels very good at that particular moment. Sometimes they are so exciting that we get all charged up and sit up straight. If they are a little more than exciting, we might stand up and start pacing up and down. During my group assignments I have witnessed girls who squeal with delight and start clapping when an idea feels goods. But let us look a little beyond those few racy moments when ‘the exciting idea’ comes up. The problem starts when we start looking into the finer nuances of the idea. This is when the idea doesn’t look rosy anymore. Even if it looks rosy, we become aware of the thorns just beneath the rose.

My case was no different. What could be that fantastic idea which would propel the sales of the humble little Nescafe shop to astronomical heights? I considered various approaches and dumped them one by one. What surprised me was that all the fancy terms I had learnt from the Kotler book felt useless. How do you position a samosa to an aspiring MBA student?

What are the strengths and opportunities of opening a little Nescafe shop in SDMIMD college campus? Can the campus pose any threats to this shop? What would be the attack strategies if SUVIDHA (a student run in-campus general store) and DVH (the college canteen) are considered as competitors? I had questions but no answers.
Finally I decided to dump Kotler and use my intuition. I tried to break down my target into smaller parts. If you have to increase sales, you need to draw the crowd towards the shop. After a lot of thought, I considered the following ideas. If we stick the posters of the latest movies playing around the cinema halls of Mysore, along with their timings and the price of the tickets, on the front walls of the shop, it might attract people. If the shop starts selling Mirchi Bhajji, along with the samosa and kachodi already available, more people might come.

The shop could start selling bananas to cater to the needs of those who go out of the campus after dinner to buy a banana or two. Considering the fact that the shop operates for a much longer duration than SUVIDHA does, there is no harm in stocking some of the goods which SUVIDHA also does. Given the fact that SUVIDHA is farther from the hostel when compared to the Nescafe shop, it could end up giving some competition to SUVIDHA. On a rainy day it is just not possible to stand in front of the shop without getting wet. Constructing a little shed in front of the shop would be nice.
So, one fine day I walked up to the owner of the shop and started a little chat with him. He became very interested when I told him that I have several proposals to boost the sales of the shop. I had believed that the idea of putting up movie posters in front of the shop was the finest idea ever, and I started off with that. He dumped it immediately. The reason: the owner felt that SDMIMD is a very conservative college. Well, that was pretty discouraging, but I went on with my other proposals anyways. He listened attentively while continuously nodding his head.

I felt that it was a nod of approval. When I finished, he thanked me profusely for my efforts. He said that he felt my ideas were great and they would be implemented soon. I was elated. Oh, the joy of being a successful marketer. I felt like “YAHOO”.
Days passed by. I waited for any visible signs of my ideas getting materialised. But nothing showed up. Finally I realised that nothing will show up. My proposals have been rejected. What I do not understand is that why was the owner nodding his head. I thought that it was a nod of approval. In the end I congratulated myself for having learnt at least one lesson. A lesson learnt in the hard way: MARKETING IS CONVINCING.

I had failed to convince the owner. It was as simple as that.

The story of my failure is not over yet. I had always considered myself to be a creative and artistic being. The accuracy of this idea is debatable. I had always felt that I should find out a way to make some money from my creative and artistic skills. What is that immensely creative and artistic service that I could provide which would make customers come running to me? How would I differentiate myself if I were to produce a service for my fellow batch-mates? What would be that right price of my services which would feel just right to my prospective customers? After a good amount of brain racking I conceived a CUBE. Now, what is so special about conceiving a cube? Read on to know, my dear friends. A cube has a total of six surfaces. When a cube is placed on a flat surface, one face touches the surface and the rest of the five surfaces are visible. Out of these five surfaces, one is the top surface and the rest are four vertical surfaces. Now imagine if we use these four vertical surfaces as four photo frames. The user would have the option of rotating the cube on its axis and face any one of the photos of his choice. The top surface could also be used as a photo frame or to write something nice. This was the idea of the product that I thought I could sell.

I started with making some sample cubes. I stuck square pieces of thermocol back to back to create a cube. This was then placed inside a cube shaped casing created from chart paper. Finally the pictures were stuck on the surfaces of the cube. The shortcomings of this idea became apparent when I completed my first samples. The process was tedious and required very accurate measurements to be taken in order to make a perfect cube. This could be done if there was free time, but where do you find free time in the rush of project submissions, classes, quizzes and exams. However, I was determined. I said to myself that I should not be deterred by the fear of working extra hard. So I started to think about approaches to market my product. How would I introduce it?
I tweaked with the idea of launching a video advertisement for some time. Later, I stumbled upon a better idea. Well, at least I felt that it was a better idea. If I could place a sample cube in a location where there is a lot of student traffic, people would look at my product and get curious about it. They would perhaps ask questions about it and finally come up to me to get one made for them. I considered several locations like the front desk in the library and the front desk of the computer lab. None of them felt very apt.

Finally, I came across an idea that felt just perfect. I could place the cubes in the Nescafe shop. But, how do I convince the shopkeeper to place the cubes on the counter of the shop? I approached him and said that as a part of my efforts to boost the sales of his shop, I wanted to place something attractive on the counter. I said that I would deliver him two cubes where each face of the cube would depict the various food items available. The top face would carry the name of the shop. He looked very interested. Finally, when I asked for the name of the shop, he started to think. After a pause he replied “Student Corner”. Then he said that the shop did not have a name and it was simply called by the Nescafe board it carried on top.

I got to work. I designed two different cubes and delivered them to the shopkeeper. He looked visibly delighted. I told him to place the cubes on the counter so that the students coming to the shop would not only have a look at them but also hold and feel them. Everything looks good till here. But, things began to go wrong after this point. I had made the delivery in the afternoon. When I came back at night to check how things are going, I found that the cubes have disappeared from the counter. After looking around, I found them on top of the coffee vending machine. When I asked about the change in location, I was told that they were causing a little inconvenience if placed on the counter. The next day I found that the cubes have disappeared totally.
I pestered the shopkeeper for a couple of days and tried to explain to him that the cubes are meant to be held with hands. I urged him to place the cubes on the counter but he would not oblige. He was visibly getting a little irritated. In the end I was told that he did not want cubes on his counter and instead wanted something which could be hung from a hook as there is no place where he can conveniently place the cubes. A couple of days later I found one of my cubes hanging by a thread from the roof of the counter. I waited for some time hoping that people would come up to me and talk about the cubes. No one did. My idea of using the Nescafe shop as a launch pad for my product had flopped.

I learnt two lessons from this experience. First, obtaining space in any commercial space is not a joke. The term ‘shelf space’ is not to be taken lightly. Before placing a product in any commercial establishment, the space available needs to be studied in detail and analysed. All possible pros and cons needs to be weighed and only then a decision should be taken. The second lesson was a bigger lesson. I had made the grave mistake of assuming that my cubes would generate curiosity in people. Another blunder was assuming that people would figure out by themselves that the cubes could as well be beautiful little photo frames. I should have known that it takes a lot more than little cubes to generate curiosity among people. I should have known that I was expecting sales without even making a sales pitch. Today I understand that when a product or service is launched in the market, its sales pitch is not complete until the functions of the product and differentiating factors, if any, have been explicitly communicated. The customer should know what he is getting. The idea of using curiosity as a means to attract customers to a product could be a good idea. But the process of generating curiosity should give some solid clue to the customer about what is to be expected. If no clue is given, the prospective customer will never get the clue that we are making a sales pitch using the element of curiosity. Today when I look back at this incident, I feel so dumb. How could I ever imagine that cubes would generate curiosity among people?
In my case there was no curiosity generated. No one ever got the faintest clue that someone was trying to sell the idea of using cubes as photo frames. I became a big joke in my own view. This event left me highly dejected.

I sat quietly for a while after this. I spent my time in reflecting upon the mistakes that I had committed. It also dawned upon me that the idea of making cubes would have failed anyways because it would just not be possible for me to cope with this additional activity along with academic pressure. I also realised that the option of discussing any new idea with friends before planning an execution must not be ignored. After all, friends are a source of collective wisdom.
This was not the end of my adventures with marketing. I made new mistakes and learnt new lessons. I am yet to taste that ever elusive taste of success. But I am truly glad about one thing. I am glad that I could figure out a way to learn marketing in my own independent way where lessons are learnt from failures and experiments. ‘My way of learning’, as I had mentioned earlier.

The article has been authored by Sandip Chakraborty, SDM IMD, Mysore


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