Book Excerpt from The Curious Marketer
31 March 2017
Chapter: Curiosity and the Marketer: Steve Jobs, the curious marketer
Steve Jobs created Apple, one of the most successful brands on this planet. Apple is remarkable because it has married design and technology marvellously, time and again, generating sensuous products that millions of human beings across the world lust for. Jobs himself attributes a good part of this Apple magic to his curiosity.
In his famous commencement speech delivered at Stanford University in 2005, he gave an example of how, during his student days, he decided to take a calligraphy class at Reed College out of sheer curiosity. He said he learnt about serif and sans-serif typefaces in this class, about varying the space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography truly great. He called this learning experience beautiful, historical and artistically subtle in a way that science cannot quite capture.
He went on to say. 'None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Apple Mackintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it's likely that no personal computer would have them.' He added,'much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on.' The sheer beauty of Apple products, which is a huge contributor to the brand's success, owes something to its creator curiosity.
Brands and Curiosity
Just like Apple, so many great brands have their roots in the curiosity of marketers. Consider Tata Tea, the leading brand of tea in India today. This brand was born out of the curiosity of Darbari Seth, who was Chairman of several Tata companies in the mid-1980s. He wondered why tea could not be packaged in an airtight polythene pillow pack (polypack), rather than in the cardboard cartons that were the norm at that time. His visits to various Indian towns had shown that consumers were very happy with these flat pillow packs for another commonly used kitchen product: Salt. Seth had, a few years earlier, already launched the popular Tata Salt brand.
In addition, his own explorations into two very different spaces gave rise to some thoughts that he could toss around. From his numerous informal conversations with traders during the early days of Tata Salt, he had learnt that the strong smell of spices permeates all Indian kirana stores, which, in turn, taints various products stocked in these stores, including tea. Seth's explorations into the world of science-he spent many decades working as a chemical engineer-had left in his mind the clear impression that polypacks made from a laminate of polythene and polyester would be significantly better than car board cartons, ensuring tea leaves were safe from these strong spice smells. So, driven by these curiosity-inspired reflections, he went ahead and launched Tata Tea in laminate polypacks in 1987. This kept the plantation-packed tea fresh and untainted, and the brand went on to become a huge success.
I had the good fortune of working as a junior member of Seth's team in Tata tea during those years, and have seen at close quarters how curious he was by nature. I would accompany him on his visits to London, and I was often dumbfounded by the sheer number of questions he would ask me on just about everything. He inspired the creation of two of India's strongest consumer brands-Tata salt and Tata Tea. Interestingly, quite similar to how Microsoft copied the amazing typography of the Apple Mackintosh, hundreds of other Indian tea brands have copied Tata tea's winning polypack. You will find them available across the country today.
Many years later, at Titan, I worked with a small team that created Fastrack, India's largest youth brand. I observed, with delight, how curious this young (and cocky) team of marketers was about the lives of college-going youth-where and how they hung out, what messages they wore on their T-shirts, what language they used online and offline, what their sexual habits, non-habits and deep desires were, and what tattoos were cool and uncool during a particular season. Fastrack was marketing only two products at that time-wristwatches and sunglass-but the spirit of curiosity extended to every aspect of their core consumers' lives. This wide-ranging curiosity about a specific set of consumers led to the creation of several spectacular product collections and marketing campaigns, inspired by things as unconventional as XY sperms, T-Shirts and tattoos. On the back of such brilliant, curiosity-driven marketing, Fasttrack rode a very fast track to success.
Curiosity is a great virtue
Reflecting on these, and many other, examples of very successful brands, I am convinced that curiosity is one of the greatest virtues that any marketer can possess. Along with empathy and business acumen, curiosity is an essential ingredient in the secret sauce that goes into creating a great marketing recipe. Therefore, I suggest, marketers should train themselves to be curious. The fifty-odd essays contained in this book, on diverse topics ranging from the Berlin Wall to Banana chips, are the product of my own curiosity as a marketer. I am always curios bout everything I see and hear, and I hope reading these essays will provoke and enhance your own desire to be curious too.
Curiosity is defined in modern dictionaries as a 'strong desire to know or learn something'. A more evocative definition comes from the Roman philosopher Cicero, who terms curiosity as 'the innate love of learning and of knowledge, without the lure of any (immediate) profits'. In fact, in ancient Greece, the word curiositas, from which the English word curiosity is derived, meant the pursuit of knowledge purely for its own sake. Over the centuries, curiosity has often been perceived as a passion and an appetite, much like the sexual urge. To develop this appetite, you have to be inquisitive. Sometimes, this may translate into a formal sprit and process of inquiry, including structured research; and at other times, it may reflect in an informal exploration and even nosiness. Either way, curiosity occurs naturally when there is a gap between what we know and what we wat to know. If we always desire to know more than we actually do, we will always be curious and we will never stop learning throughout our lives.
(See interview: Curiosity skills the marketer )