Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Let's Market Trivandrum

We often say that refrigerators can be sold to Eskimos with the right marketing pitch. While that might be an extreme interpretation of how well a good marketing campaign can work, it is undeniable that a well thought out and laid out strategy can work wonders. Indeed, even if a product is excellent, it may never sell without potential buyers becoming aware of it. A well kept secret is the last thing you want in the sales game. The case of an investment destination is no different. Just as the world's most beautiful beach may as well not exist if it is not on the tourist map, a city needs to be "discovered" by investors before its true potential can be realised. So what can be done to put Trivandrum, one of India's most exciting investment destinations, on the world map of the investor community?

Kotler and co have made the science and art of marketing a lot simpler to understand but a city is a complex product indeed. It is huge and very dynamic, and composed of a multitude of components which often synergise or conflict with each other. A city changes over time and its attractions change even faster. And finally a city has a set of very diverse stakeholders, whose interests are even more diverse.

Investment Promotion

Cities are promoted formally and informally. The former strategy has been practised in many major cities, especially in the developed world for decades yet it is often impractical for smaller cities, especially in the developing world due to lack of coordination among various stakeholders and lack of resources. Dedicated "City Promotion" agencies are usually the best way to ensure a focused, powerful and balanced campaign and usually funded by civic bodies and private enterprise in conjunction. Interesting examples include "Invest in America" and "Visit Singapore". Promotion agencies identify the key attractions of a destination to various potential stakeholders, zero in on the USPs and make them as well known as possible through a mixture of online, print-media and direct marketing. Of course, such agencies need a clear mandate and an even clearer budget, which of course means that the results of the destination promotion have to be demonstrable. The initial outlay and the effort entailed in coordinating the efforts and inputs of so many agencies is a major obstacle in setting these organisations up in Indian Tier II cities like Trivandrum.


One form of aggressive destination marketing is to conduct roadshows and to attend key investor events. This enables direct contact with potential investors. The usual channels used to create awareness among investors - print media, the web and electronic media - are examples of carpet bombing, in marketing terms, and it can be considered lucky if even 0.01% of the audience are the actual targets - investors. Setting up meetings with them or participating in pre-arranged events ensures that all the effort expended reaches the target. The key requirements for success in such ventures is a good sales pitch and an equally good team. The Kerala Govt. has conducted quite a few roadshows (such as this one in Chennai or this much more ambitious but even less successful one in the US) and made annual visits to key industry events like CEBIT and GITEX, not to mention homegrown versions like BanglaoreIT.In The results have been uniformly disappointing, other than a few free trips for all concerned and even fewer expressions of interests from this firm and that, nothing concrete has ever come out of it all. Guess that says much about the effectiveness of the sales pitch and team, when investors are still flocking to Technopark without being wooed.

The Media

Another avenue of marketing is indirectly through the media. After all, much of the news in the media revolves around locations. Why not ensure that the right messages go out through the media? In the absence of direct information, organisations often take whatever is written in the popular press to be the gospel truth. Even in an industry as sensitive to the investment climate as real estate, major developers often invest based on little more than hearsay! Of course that lands them in very hot waters later, which is part of the reason that the honeymoon with real estate has ended in India. Being a part of the realty sector, one often gets to hear anecdotes of this nature, once I remember a doyen of the industry in Kerala trying to convince me that Wipro was planning to employ 70,000 people in its Kochi center, till I told him that was more than the company's total strength at the time! The poor gentlemen had been led to believe otherwise. But just as consistent media reporting can mislead, it can also help form and reinforce reality. In fact, the recent change in the reporting styles of a lot of the media with respect to Trivandrum has been noticeable, reports about major projects and their positive impacts have become more common. And the effect is already visible, names like "Vizhinjam" and "Technocity" are now far more familiar than they were just a year or so ago. Sadly, the vast majority of city news items continues to be about the machinations of State politics or the need to fix this pothole or that broken window than about the ways and means to take Trivandrum to the global stage. Personally, I have been able to make a couple of contributions in this regard as a guest columnist for The Hindu. (Two recent articles were about Integrated Townships and The Realty Hotspots of Trivandrum) I hope a lot of us can make similar contributions by writing for papers, after all who knows better about our city than we do. I am glad to note that of late, the content has become very positive and forward looking with a bunch of young writers and editors coming forward to see Trivandrum as a vibrant city and not as "sarkar-town" as a lot of the old foggies still do.

What We can do.

Finally, we can all do a little bit ourselves. I have heard many of our brothers and sisters deride Trivandrum when someone from outside the city asks about it. "infrastructure is bad" or "not enough shopping" are amoung the variety of poor opinions that I have heard being aired. Surely, many of you would have heard someone or the other say similar things. Not to say that Trivandrum is a modern Indian vision of Utopia, but I daresay, it is very decently placed. In terms of quality of life, costs, beauty, urban infrastructure, security and many other parameters, we are well above the average for a developing country like ours. Don't take my word for it, but the consistently high rankings our city as scored in many professional city comparison studies is proof enough. And as has been said ad infinitum if we don't speak up for ourselves, who will? So the next time, someone asks you, "How's IT doing in Trivandrum?", tell them "It's doing good, Technopark's growing fast and we already have Infosys and TCS setting up campuses here." Don't tell them, "Naaah, we are nowhere near Bangalore." Tell the right answer, the truthful answer. There is nothing to fear about telling the truth. (Apologies for sounding like a Washingtonian grandpa!)

There is much to be done in getting the message across. Everybody has to play their parts - Government, industry, civic organisations, NGOs, you and me! It is high time that a coherent destination branding and marketing strategy is put in place, because it is critical not just to stay ahead of the pack but even to stay afloat.

A First Step - TRIBIZ

Fortunately, there are a few initiatives in progress. One of them is by the NGO Trivandrum Development Front, which is a organisations composed mostly of young professionals that aims to promote developmental activities in and around Trivandrum. They have developed a website, TRIBIZ, the aim of which is to create awareness about Trivandrum's potential among the investor community and to provide an interface with them. Their latest initiative is a concise and comprehensive Investor Presentation, which outlines crisply Trivandrum's strategic advantages as an investment destination and potential focus areas for investment (It can be downloaded from a link on the home-page.) The website also talks about facets of the city like its key advantages, quality of life, tourist spots and provides an interesting list of studies on Trivandrum down by TDF and other agencies.

The website and its Investor tool could become the starting point for our own personal campaigns for our city. Passing the information, especially the presentation (s), on to interested people we know will help to create wider awareness about how attractive our city is to investment as to the tourists who flock here from across the world. And perhaps, considering how wide our networks are these days, it is quite likely that the information will sooner rather than later reach investors looking for the next hot place in India to put their money in. Get started, folks! Thanks!

(I am putting a permanent link to the Investor Tool on the sidebar, here so that anyone can easily navigate to it at any time.)

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post, this took me back to the gud old marketing classes.

    USPs- Our tourism sector has the best one - 'Gods own country'


Thanks for your comment, I will take a look at it and put it up at the earliest.