IS there a connection between Kashmiri tujji wallas (barbecue vendors) and Apple’s Iphones? On the face of it, this question is as bizarre and improbable as can be but probe deeper, a link- albeit tenuous- emerges. Both, in starkly different permutations and combinations, are about marketing and its corollary branding. The question and the issue thereof presented itself to me as I wandered and took photos with my Iphone along the foreshore road ―the link road that snakes around Lake Dal connects Hazratbal with Nishat, the region of Srinagar city that houses the famed Mughal gardens.
As I approached the end of the foreshore road , a tujji walla was fanning the embers of charcoal on his stall, a preparatory interlude to roast the tujjis, a popular food item among the youth of Kashmir. There are many stalls of this kind along the road but this guy’s stall was one that could not be failed to be noticed: the front of his stall was wrapped with plastic cloth with the words Ertugrul emblazoned across it. (Ertugrul is a Turkish soap wildly popular in Kashmir, among its youth).
To me this was a stroke of marketing genius: the tujji walla had recognized the popularity of Erturgrul, identified a market segment among which it was popular and was engaging in what might be called ‘pull’ marketing’. All this is well and fine but where is the connection with Apple and its Iphones readers will rightly ask?
Before I dwell on the question, a digression is warranted here. Apple is a company that has been among the pioneers of the smartphone revolution, itself a reflection of the Information, Communication Technologies(ICTs) and their convergence. This assertion might be questioned by many who would protest and posit that Apple is not a company; it is a brand. The protesting readers would be right. While technically Apple is indeed a company, as in being registered, having an organizational structure and a bevy of employees across the word, but pared to essence Apple is a brand into which there is a massive consumer buy in not because its flagship product, the Iphone is a smart phone that has many features that differentiate it from other smartphones but , in the final analysis, Apple’s Iphones offer and are prized for their experience, real or perceived.
This is the genius of Apple’s late Steve Jobs and this is what connects the Tujji walla and Iphones. Both are about marketing and branding. The difference is that of scale, sophistication and technology. However, it does not mean that experience or its prospects, and mere marketing and branding are the only factors upon which a product or service can be predicated upon. A genuine offering-product or service- has to be backed by substance. It is in conjunction with creative, deft and clever marketing and branding , and the substance of a product or service that it can not only take off but also be embedded in consumers’ consciousness.
There is also the question of ethics here.
We inhabit a world of images and even sounds. In the crosscurrents of either, consumers can, by virtue of very subtle and sophisticated marketing be taken for a walk along the proverbial primrose path. They can be deceived, that is. The fake (experience, product or service) can be made to look so real as to be mistaken for the real. At times, not even law or regulation and regulators can detect this. It is here that the conscience and the moral compass of business persons, markets and branding experts must kick in. But, we live in a flawed world where the temptation to make a quick buck at the expense of people or by exploiting the gullibility of people can override the ethical? Can this be overridden? Not entirely and not always. The slick are and can be slick than the rest of us. In the final analysis, it is ‘buyer beware’ that can potentially help avoid the snares of unscrupulous business.
All in all then , without marketing and branding, businesses and firms can succeed only up to a point. Scalability, scale, reach and brand recall embedded in the consciousness of consumers can only happen with marketing, branding and communication strategies. This is a lesson even countries are realizing and applying. As I wind up this piece, I think of the tujji walla on foreshore road , whose instinctive and intuitive approach to his micro business was a class act in marketing. Can he, if he would have been the beneficiary of modern business education, have done much better?
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