Over the years, Harish Bhat, chairman, Tata Global Beverages has carved a name for himself in India's hallowed circle of marketing thinkers. In an exclusive interview with Campaign India, on the sidelines of his recently released book, The Curious Marketer, Bhat underlines the importance of being curious in current times.
Can curiosity kill the marketing cat?
No, in fact a cat has nine lives. Curiosity can give a marketer a shot a nine lives. Curiosity enables a marketer to think of new ideas, it helps them innovate, expand into new categories, create new categories. Curiosity is a wonderful thing to marketers. It does not kill them at all. Instead it gives them new lives.
What are some risks associated with being too curious?
Curiosity lets your mind explore. Once that is done of course you have to validate the conclusions of your curiosity to see whether the brand or business that you want to create has strong roots and be a sustainable business proposition. To me curiosity is a method of exploration. But like any other method of exploration, it has to be tempered with reality.
The point that I make through the book is that most of us marketers are good with analytical and left brain disciplines, but curiosity and imagination are equally important for marketers. Humility and curiosity are the two traits that mark out great marketers.
Is there a severe lack of both?
I think so. The marketer can be far more curious as a species. As marketers we should also have the humility to know that we don’t know everything. Ninety per cent of all the data in this world has been created over the last two years. If we have really not been curious enough then we have missed out on what that new data can potentially tell us.
Curiosity is the desire to know. That desire comes when you know something but you also accept that there is a lot more to learn from. Can marketers be a lot more curious than they are today? Of course, they can.
On the other side most of the innovation that happens is incremental. Is the lack of breakthrough innovation because there are not enough curious people around?
Curiosity can lead to breakthrough innovation. There are several examples from both within and outside the Tata group. Tata salt, Tata tea, Tanishq and many of these brands were products of curiosity. It was Steve Jobs curiosity of calligraphy that led to him thinking about design and eventually he connected the dots to the minimalistic and sleek designs that he created for Apple may years later. Paper Boat has taken traditional Indian beverages and put them into new-age branding and packaging. Sony Walkman was also created out of curiosity. Curiosity is definitely one route to breakthrough innovation. I am not saying that it’s the only route.
Has the pace of change slowed down breakthrough innovations as companies are not willing to spend enough time fearing that the next wave of change might wash away all the hard work?
My view is that there are categories where breakthrough innovation is increasing in pace. There are categories where breakthrough innovation has slowed down. Not just because of the lack of curiosity but because of the lack of focus. We live in a world full of digital clutter. We live in a world where people check their phones every two seconds to find out what’s happening on social media. Now, that I do not call curiosity. Because you have to see and reflect. It’s fine to gp on social media and interface with your friends. But after you do that, are you reflecting on those interactions. Curiosity is not in just seeing something. It has to be followed with absorbing that into your mind and internalizing that with what does that tell. That I am not sure is happening in the midst of all the digital clutter. Curiosity requires exploration, but it also requires reflection.