The Trouble With Large Numbers

The sheer size of the market in India and China means even small % changes lead to large numbers. Any  marketer competing in these markets need a strategy and structure that can handle such large numbers, failing which the promise of the profits of high volume will never materialize.

Here are some really large numbers on the mobile service market in India.

  1. The market is huge, 1 billion population and is  growing at about 1.7% a year.  That is about one Florida every year.
  2. About 500 million mobile subscribers, 66 million are added a year. That is two Canadas per year.
  3. Everyday the total mobile conversation minutes add up to 6 billion minutes. 1% change means 60 million minutes. That is 133,333 iPhone subscribers using up their 450 minutes.
  4. Prices are on the fall as service providers try to lure customers with low prices.  Prices stand at about 1 cent/minute, that is  $60 million revenue per day.
  5. 10% price cut means a profit loss of $6 million per day. If the price elasticity of demand is 1, the increase in load is 600 million minutes per day ( that is 1.13 million iPhone subscribers …)
  6. Everyday subscribers send about 1 billion TXT messages per day.
  7. Again price war is pushing prices from 0.6 cent per message (already a very low number) to 0.02 per message. That’s a profit loss of $5.8 million per day.
  8. Churn rate is 5-6% per month, highest in the world. That is 30 million subscribers, the size of entire Canada, switching subscribers every month.
  9. To support this large subscriber load large infrastructure investments are needed. Get on the roof of any tall building and look around, you will be amazed by the number of cellphone base station towers you can see.

What Job Will Your Customers Hire Your Products For?

When marketers narrowly define their product(service) and its end use it is very easy to declare that the product is unique with no competition whatsoever. True, there may not be a competition that offers a product that is similar to yours but the customers may have many alternatives that render your product useless. Customers could be more than happy to live by without your product.

Instead of looking for similar products and how to position your product features you need to ask the question, “What job will your customers hire your brands for?” (Clayton Christensen). Answering this question helps you see what you are truly competing against, be it competing brand, other unrelated alternatives or simple customer apathy. Your messaging and positioning should be defined to address this final job. This is true whether you are a startup with the next social media application or a giant like Pepsi with billion dollar global market.

Let us take Pepsi’s case. Pepsi’s messaging for the US and European market reads, “Refresh Everything”. The messaging is not really about thirst, or encouraging use. It is more at an emotional level and less at utilitarian level. Even their previous messages were all defined at the emotional level (Drink Pepsi Feel Young, The Joy of Pepsi etc). They are positioning their brand to serve the job of making the customer “feel cool/young/hip”. The job the US/EU customers hiring Pepsi for is not quenching thirst. For this job Pepsi is not competing with water or milk but with Coke. The competition is clear and everything Pepsi does in these markets is aligned to gain advantage over this competitor.

But take the case of Pepsi in India – a marker with billion people that promises so much yet where most global brands are struggling. What is Pepsi’s competition in India? Coke? Local brands? Coke is struggling and many of the local brands were bought out or do not have the resource wherewithal of Pepsi. So can Pepsi declare it has no competition in India?

Their current messaging is less emotional and more utilitarian. Plastered across billboards and all newspapers are promotional Ads from local eateries. All these Ads offer “Free 200ml Pepsi” with a meal. All these Ads have the tag line, “Food tastes best with Pepsi”. What is Pepsi competing against? It is competing against tradition and a really powerful alternative – Water.

Customers in India prefer just plain water during their meals over any other beverage. Pepsi is not trying to get the customers to hire its brand over Coke but replace water. It wants the customers to fire water and hire Pepsi because,  “food tastes best with Pepsi” (let us ignore the veracity of this claim for the scope of this discussion).

Pepsi did not get this right the first time, its initial messaging in India was just a slight adaptation of the emotional messaging that worked in developed markets. However, in India , its fiercest competitor Coke turned out to be not its competition but plain old water. As Pepsi realized this its messaging and promotions are aligned to fight this competition.

Do you know your competitors?

Do you know what job your customers will your hire your products for?