Saturday, November 12, 2011

Venkatesh Shankar, Marketing PhD Program Director, Texas A&M University

An Interview with Venkatesh Shankar
Marketing PhD Program Director, Texas A&M University

In this month’s Vartalaap we have with us Mr. Venkatesh Shankar. He is the Marketing PhD Program Director and Colemain Chair in Marketing at Mays Business School, Texas A&M University. He is an undergraduate from IIT Kharagpur and has done his graduation from the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta. Dr. Shankar completed his Ph.D in Marketing from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management. Dr. Shankar's areas of specialization include Marketing Strategy, Innovation, International Marketing, Digital Business, Pricing, and Retailing. He has corporate experience in marketing and international business development. He has made over 150 presentations in diverse countries. He is a visiting faculty at the MIT, INSEAD and ISB, Hyderabad among others.

Q1: From IIT Kharagpur to IIM Calcutta to Kellogg Graduate School of Management- what, according to you, was the turning point in your career? What is your biggest takeaway from a long and illustrious career as a marketer in the industry as well as academia?
I had two career-changing points in my life. First, I was to pursue graduate studies in engineering at Rice University in the U.S. after my B. Tech. My original plan was to be at IIMC until I could get my US visa. However, during that short period, I enjoyed learning about management so much that I decided to continue my PGDM (MBA) at IIMC. Second, I was doing well as Business Development Manager at HSBC before I decided to do a PhD at Kellogg mainly to feed my intellectual curiosity. The biggest takeaways for me are: Pursue with passion what fascinates you; Be flexible and be willing to learn; and Aim for high impact in whatever you do.

Q2: In the Indian context, what is your take on disruptive innovation and marketing? Do you feel India is (has) been a pioneer in this field or a late adopter?
India has many ingredients that enable disruptive innovation—large and growing middle class, increasing aspirations, and low ability to pay. Because of the large customer base that needs/desires affordable goods and services, many innovations have to be developed outside the current customer mainstream (top end of the market), that is, they have to be disruptive. Many of the solutions are coming in the form of affordable/frugal/reverse innovations. GE's Mac 400 and Mac i, ultra-portable electrocardiogram (ECG) machines were made for India, all ground-up, to be sold at 1/3-1/6 of the price of similar imported machines.

Q3: How is international marketing different for a domestic company going abroad and a MNC setting base in another country? Does standardization of campaigns work or is it better to have individualized campaigns for each country?
Many principles are similar for both types of firms. All companies have to do a triadic market entry analysis (analysis of three dimensions: market attractiveness, competitive advantage and risk). Even a MNC must have started out as a domestic company at some point in time in its history. However, there are differences. Relative to a MNC, a domestic company typically has no international exposure, fewer resources, and little brand recognition overseas. The standardization vs. adaptation of product decision depends on a number of factors such as product and marketing costs, speed-to-market, brand equity and its transferability across countries, culture boundness, satisfaction of target segment needs, and competitive intensity. An iPad is standardized to benefit from scale economies, similar global needs (touch-based communication, entertainment, and bookreading), outrace competitors, and cash-in on Apple’s hip image. A fast food chain like McDonald’s store is adapted because what it sells is culture bound (e.g., hamburger in the US, Teriyaki burger in Japan, McVeggie in India), with differing customer needs and limited marketing/production cost economies due to localization. Advertising campaigns can be standardized if there is a global resonating theme, but are mostly adapted (at least in execution). Sales promotion campaigns are adapted. Consumers may clip coupons in one culture but may want to bargain in another culture.

Q4: Given a task of launching a new product, how would you proceed? What are the key considerations and parameters to keep in mind?
First, a firm has to be sure that the product should indeed be launched. To pursue a business opportunity, there should be both product-company fit (internal analysis of strengths and weaknesses) and product-market fit (external analysis of opportunities and threats). These fits could be assessed using the strategic window analysis tool. Second, the firm has to develop a strong marketing plan with the right amount of resources. Once a firm decides to launch a product it needs to consider multiple strategic factors such as scale, scope and timing of entry, likely reactions by incumbents, targeting gaps, positioning spots, etc.

Q5: What interests you the most in the field of branding? How can a brand stand apart, according to you?
I am doing research in brand equity and brand extension, working with companies such Allstate insurance and Colgate Palmolive. To standout in a sustainable manner, a brand needs to create a point of difference that resonates with its target customers. However, that alone may not be adequate in today’s competitive world. A brand should continuously build its value to those customers and should continuously measure, track and improve its equity and extension potential.

Q6: You are known for your expertise in digital marketing. Could you throw some light on its applications that we see in our daily lives?
Digital marketing is so interwoven into our lives today that it is hard to imagine life without it. Even a cab driver or panwala or dhobi in India starts the day reading his/her SMS or checking the voicemail. We all use digital applications---SMS, email, online search, social networking, online banking, or stock trading. Effective digital marketing comprises anticipating (not just understanding) consumer needs and touching the consumers appropriately through the right touch points (e.g., the Web, mobile phone, kiosk).

Q7: What is the most effective way of engaging the customer through interactive marketing?
Successful engagement of customers requires a deep understanding of issues of interest to customers, of the relevance of the brand to these issues, and the triggers for customer action. A sound interactive marketing strategy should continuously engage the customer through creative programs using multiple digital touch points.

Q8: What would be your word of advice to MBA students?
Dream big. Tomorrow’s world is full of opportunities to do be different. Follow your passion. Be creative. Embrace new insights. To succeed, be prepared to fail and learn from mistakes. Your learning of management principles and ideas doesn’t stop with your MBA. Fasten your seatbelts for a ride of lifelong learning.


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