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'One size fits all' no longer works


.....says Chitrang Dalal, AVP, Product Management at Credihealth and an alumnus of NMIMS. In conversation with Kalyani Majumdar, Chitrang shares his learnings as a marketing professional across industries, and provides insightful suggestions for MBA Marketing aspirants.


Q. You did an MBA in Marketing from NMIMS. Was doing an MBA always your plan?
While I was pursuing my B.Tech in Electronics and Telecommunication from Nirma University, I realised that an MBA would be necessary to move forward in my career and to excel in my core field. This was in 2008, when the job market was not in good shape. I wanted to get into a good business school, and I felt it was the right time for me to get an MBA degree. I took a break after completing B.Tech to prepare for the MBA entrance exams, and during my preparation, appeared for mock tests at IMS. I did quite well in the mocks, and in fact, I got an opportunity to work at IMS Surat. As I gradually got involved with operations and marketing, I started to understand the role of marketing in an organisation. I wrote the NMAT, got through NMIMS and started my MBA degree.

Q. What fascinated you about marketing and helped you take the decision to pursue an MBA in Marketing?
The first trimester at NMIMS was common for everyone; we were taken through the basics of Marketing, Finance, Operations and HR. But I was always partial to marketing because it had to do with bringing in business, understanding consumer behaviour, positioning the brand in a way that people choose you over competitors.
At NMIMS, we were taught how consumer behaviour shaped all the Fortune 500 companies. The idea of how consumer behaviour leads to new products, and studying that behaviour and reaching the consumer at the right time, and helping them to make a decision — these aspects of marketing fascinated me a lot. In fact, it excites me even today. Consumer behaviour is forever changing, and the learning never stops when you are looking at consumers. This fascinated me back then, which is why I decided that my MBA would be in Marketing.

Q. You started working with Jio when it wasn’t the brand it is today. Tell us a bit about your experience working there.
I think I was the ninth employee at Jio! It was pretty much in its start-up phase, and was called Reliance Infocomm back then. I started with market research, and honestly, I feel that was the defining moment for my career. It involved going and talking to 100 people every day, trying to assess the needs and wants of people.
We used to have focus groups in the office. Based on all our conversation and learnings, we figured out that there was a need for OTP services because voice was rather basic, there was nothing exciting about it. We often wondered what we would achieve with 4G. YouTube was doing considerably well. But to consume YouTube content, people had to go back home and switch on their Internet. But in cities like Mumbai and Delhi, people spend a lot of time travelling. So what could we do? These were our core areas of focus. That’s why we decided to create products like Jio chat, Jio TV and Jio music.
Back in 2011, big screen mobile phones were still not a fad. In fact, phones barely had any screen space, so who would want to watch TV on phones? So we started talking to manufacturers like Micromax, Lava, Apple and Samsung. And soon enough, these brands were making phones with bigger screens. People started to shift towards wider screen mobiles and were consuming content on the phone. And that’s when we realised that this would be our product for the next few years.

Q. You are now the AVP at Credihealth. How different is the marketing strategy at Credihealth from what it was in Jio?
The marketing strategy is a 180 degree shift from what we were doing at Jio! At Jio, we’re talking about a mass product in a cash-rich organisation, and hence, the market strategy is for the mass market and one strategy that fits all. But Credihealth is a start-up targeting people in need of medical help and support. Also, it wasn’t very cash rich. So the approach was to personalise the experience at a time when people would be in their most vulnerable state. Our aim is to help people in medical distress, and so, the marketing strategy here is very different from the general online space, which focuses on online transactions, cashbacks, discounts and so on. In healthcare, you cannot follow that strategy, since it is very close to people. In fact, if you provide offers and discounts, people will actually think you’re taking them for a ride!
So our marketing strategy has always been to reach out to people when they are in need, provide them relevant content, and personalise the overall experience. Our USP is that we provide medical assistance — we help people in their decision making. We give them the right choices. We use filters to help the patient and their family make the choices that make it a personalised experience.

Q. Given that digitisation is cutting across corporate India, how has the four Ps of marketing redefined itself?
The four Ps of marketing: Product, Price, Promotion and Place still exist, of course, but in the internet world, these Ps have redefined themselves. Let’s take an example. Earlier, the product was generic with mass appeal, but now it is personalised.
Now, the same product is available on multiple stores and those stores are available at one click. So the price has to be right and at the same time, consumers would like transparency in prices and discounts.
Promotion is not about giving discounts and expecting people to come and buy. Everyone is giving discounts, so how are you any different? Now, the promotions are more focussed on the branded goods that the consumer aspires for. Wherever people see aspiration and a good enough promotion is available along with it, they move towards a higher valued product.
Finally, place is no longer defined anymore. Everything is available everywhere. Everyone wants everything at the click of a button. The place now is not a physical place, it is a screen. And if a screen is available, you can make a sale. So as you can see, over a period of time, the 4 Ps have redefined themselves, and all marketing companies are moving with it.

Q. What do you think of management education in general?
I honestly feel that our management schools should redefine their books. Even today, we are studying the Philip Kotler of 1998 and not his book of 2011. MBA schools are focusing on business case studies. But I feel we need more and more industry leaders to come and give real case studies. If we get case studies from HBR and so on, most of them are relevant to that market. But the Indian market is very different from the Western market! For example, in India, Apple iPhone has only around 3% of the market, while Android has around 94%, whereas in the West, 97% of the people own iPhones. Indians are very price sensitive. India’s poverty line is about `30 per day, whereas the US minimum base salary is around $7.25 an hour, so you can’t compare! EMIs work well in India, but are not popular in the West.
Right now, we are mostly emulating what the West was doing in the early 2000s. I think that’s not something that we should continue. Business schools should especially focus on the present scenario in India while teaching.
I feel the last couple of trimesters should be more focussed on business leaders and industry experts visiting and talking about real life case studies and the kind of challenges they face today. Because what you are facing today is something no one has faced earlier. So when the current students graduate and start to work, they certainly won’t see those case studies that they studied in the real world around them. We need to change this about the present curriculum and move towards what is happening in the real world.

Q. Has an MBA changed your approach to life and work?
Yes, it has. Before an MBA, you study in a university with a more regional crowd, so there is little diversity. However, when you get into a good B-school, you realise that the crowd is very different; you realise the diversity in the market. One of my first learnings was that a one-size-fits-all approach does not work.
Secondly, you meet new people and realise that their ideas are very different and their approach to a particular problem is different from yours. The managerial skills start to develop when you are working in a group project. In MBA, when everyone is doing the same thing in a different way, it shows you how your MBA will help. Someone in the group has to manage it and get things done. This is the kind of managerial exposure that helped me.
Thirdly, an MBA helps you understand the basics of almost everything such as HR, operations, etc, and how they can save a lot of money, the parameters that a finance person is going to look at, and what a marketing guy would want and so on. These things are only clear once you have done an MBA.

Q. What according to you should a marketing professional fresh out of college keep in mind?
Staying relevant to the market is very important. The current generation must also understand that perseverance is the need of the hour. If you run only one promotion, you cannot expect to make a sale! You must reach out to the relevant people with all the four Ps again and again till everyone actually understands that you are meeting their needs, and that’s when they decide they would like to buy from you. You need that kind of perseverance, because as I said earlier, everything is available to everyone. You have to reach out to the people and show how your product or service adds value, and this cannot happen in one go.
Another very important point to remember is that people are looking for a very good consumer experience. So whether a consumer is buying a shoe or merely getting a haircut, everyone is looking for a good experience and after-sales service. Hence customer service and customer experience will be the game changers over a period of time.
Lastly, nowadays, people redefine what they want every day. So as a marketer, you will have to come up with strategies to keep meeting
their needs.