Passages to India

I’ve traveled to India three times recently as I became engaged in several jewelry marketing and promotional projects. These include rough diamond sourcing challenges and helping guild independent Indian jewelry retailers wrestle with pressure from chain stores, big-box operations, and competition from other luxury products.

The issues facing today’s Indian retailer are the same issues we grapple with in the United States. What follows are thoughts and observations I pulled together at the request of JCK India for their first AIM retailers’ conference and panel discussions.

The first point was to distinguish between marketing and branding. Marketing is composed of every element of your brand/business that reaches the eyes, ears, and brains of your customers and potential customers. These include advertising, public relations, event promotions, sponsorships, catalogs, billing statements, point-of-sale materials, storefront, lighting, sales cases, window displays, in-store sales experience (including staff sales training), Web sites, e-mail, phone calls, word-of-mouth, and thank-you notes.

Branding is consciously taking key elements of your marketing and deliberately defining, enhancing, and focusing your energies into a consistent series of messages, images, and experiences to best represent the products and services that distinguish you from your competition. Then it is telling them to your best customers (and best potential customers) with engaging and compelling marketing methods. Successful branding takes significant time, money, and commitment because it requires a deliberate, thoughtful, paint-by-numbers discipline.

A brand represents a cumulative image in the customer’s mind, and it is, for better or worse, what they describe and how they describe it when asked, regardless of what you think it is or have tried to project. Ideally, of course, the results of your local market research will mirror your own perception of your store’s image and reputation.

Here are some key concepts that jewelry retailers need to focus on today:

  • Understand that the threat is not directly from other jewelers but from global luxury brands and their boutiques and flagship stores that sell not only luxury goods but also the brands you carry.

  • Create a unique retail shopping experience.

  • Build added value to your customers’ buying/ownership experience of jewelry.

  • Exceed your customers’ expectations.

  • Provide innovative product selection.

  • Differentiate your products and services.

Only then can you sequentially increase inventory turn; build margins; increase profits; and gain greater shares of voice, market, and wallet.

We also discussed what makes our best customers tick and how to get ahead of them with the right product, messaging, and mediums of communications. American Express conducted research in India on the emerging affluent consumer, and it was striking how much she resembles the women—both single and married—entering the American workforce, creating new classifications of discretionary-income consumers.

Three key groups emerge that relate to current and potential jewelry purchasers: Early Adopter Gurus spread the word—verbally and electronically—about good and bad brand experiences; Indulgent Experts buy high-quality, no-flaw products and services along with relationships that cater to their desires and whims; Insecure Hedonists compare their brand experiences with those of peers to reinforce their understanding and appreciation and confirm that the experience provided the expected psychic rewards.

For these groups, luxury isn’t restricted to special occasions but has entered the realm of everyday life, a phenomenon known as the Starbucks effect. Emerging affluent consumers demand the newest, latest, and most modern technology from around the world to facilitate their supercharged, caffeinated, BlackBerry-enslaved existence.