Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Sustained India Shining- Skills and Human Capital development is THE Lever

Sitting in Delhi at the India WEF summit, currently listening to our finance minister, P.Chidambaram, who is amongst the most sophisticated speakers i have heard, i am struck by the broad fundamentals that mean that 7+ GDP growth rates in India are definitely certain- 1)fundamentals of India continue to be really strong; 2)India has been mostly unaffected by the rot in asset classes; and finally, 3)the resultant deflationary pressure- reducing price of oil, energy and commodities , reducing input pricing.

However, one point that the minister made really struck- the US in his opinion (that i completely endorse), will continue to be the most dominant economic engine mainly because it is a talent magnet- the best brains of the world want to and will continue to go there. Hence, a provocative question- as the first world continues to implode, and the government's worries about inflation wither away, but growth still continues to be at 7%, is it time for India to shift gears on human capital development, and move into a much more aggressive drive to create deep pools of talent?

India is already an extremely entrepreneurial and capitalist culture. Whilst financial capital is a challenge, i don't think India lacks money. However, what India desperately needs is technology and skills, both of which are directly linked to human capital. Also, given the entrepreneurship and innovation in India, i am pretty sure that the only help the education and skills sector needs is an unfettered environment- Deregulation, no governmental interference and stay out of the way.

Now is the time, in my opinion, to change the paradigm of education in India, to deregulate, to bring innovation and help create skills that create the 10 Million jobs we desperately need.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Nandan’s Book: Imagining India captivates imagination!

I am at the WEF India summit in Delhi, listening to Nandan talking about his book- of course, Nandan is a brilliant speaker, and it is always a pleasure listening to explore his ideas, but his conversation started to get me thinking- and in particular two of his safety net of 18 ideas that i am trying to do something with ( but i have mentioned the others he spoke about):

Idea 1: the importance of English- India has gone thro multiple convolutions on how it looks at English- our founding fathers liked the notion of hanging onto English because many of them had those backgrounds, from England etc. Later on the southern states, particularly tamil nadu vehemently opposed imposition of Hindi and gave English newer leases of life. Currently the outsourcing revolution ha s put English on a pedestral, making it the language of aspiration. In the 1970, we stopped teaching English in Bengal, Gujarat and UP- and they feel they have lost out- and things are reverting back to English - pressure from the bottom- change. English is a caste solvent, it eliminates caste.

Idea 2: education/ primary education- steadily education has to grow and will grow- because of the subterranean changes that are happening in society, including the aspirations of young people. We have a situation in rural India, where many students go to private schools, with parents paying a significant proportion of their wages to get their children educated, because the public education system is so dysfunctional. Typically, change works in 3 phases, 1 we need to recognise it is a challenge, 2- we put money/resources into it, 3) we tend to then focus on outcomes-the risk is evolution is slower than the pace of change, hence we have to accelerate it.

The way his book is structured is that he divides his 18 ideas into-

  • Ideas that arrived- are primarily Responsible for 6-8% growth
  • Ideas that need to be implemented- will sustain the growth rate
  • Contested ideas- are about accelerating this growth (bigger middle class/ accelerate)
  • Anticipated ideas- are about identifying the problems of prosperity- managing prosperity

2nd set of ideas: Ideas that are accepted but yet to be implemented:

  • Urbanisation
  • No concept of national market: Services- national markets, products- state level markets- and agriculture produce- only for local markets: thats the reason for different growth rates.

3rd Set of Ideas: Contested ideas:

  • Caste/ political system- ones left out of markets are going to use the political system to enter.
  • Higher education- no foreign university/ nfp/ regulated who they hire, how much they pay, what they teach etc- how do we fix this
  • Labour- 93% in the unorganised sector- leading to slow growth in the organised sector

4th Set of ideas: Anticipated ideas- look at what's gone wrong with prosperous nations and try and solve for them:

  • How technology can be used for transformation=- power, energy, poverty,. Etc
  • Health (from hunger to heart disease)- anticipate the health issue and go thro the problems of healthcare
  • Social insurance and entitlements- aging populations/ Medicare/ unfunded liabilities- 40 years from now, if we repeat the same problem- we shouldn't create a burden
  • Environment- destroy get rich and fix, vs harmony with the environment
  • Energy- to continue to grow at 8%- we need to fix per-capita income will growth 16 times, but per capita carbon consumption can only grow twice- break the paradigm between income growth and carbon emission

Newer models of Democratising Education

India has a problem-not enough people are getting the skills that allow them to learn, do more, and be more employable. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that most of the educational world as we know it is structured as a top down process, where the model is that the "teachers" push "learning" to students in traditional contexts, such as the classrooms.

However, , there are two challenges- teaching , even 50 at a time, cannot solve problems that have learning deficits that run into millions of people- so this is not scalable? The second challenge is that not all teachers are created equal, and the best teachers have an ability to get learning across much better than average teachers- so the challenge is that our "rock star" teachers must be able to reach the widest audience, and impart learning.

So how do we go about solving this? I think the answer lies in giving more power to the young, and in democratising education, because they will naturally leverage technology, and are already leading the behaviour change that is being driven by that technology permeation.

I lead an organisation that imparts employability skills, thro the medium of e-learning, to college students and graduates that are looking for a job or have already found one. There is an example that illustrate the point above , which relates to the usage of social networks in their urge to beat the system- we track user behaviour not just in our platforms, but also in the social networks- and their ability to come up with solutions to beat the system are uncanny-we have an entire group that is dedicated to keeping our tabs on how they leverage social networks and other web2.0 mechanisms to spread their understanding of how to beat the assessment systems.

Finally looking outside, there are some examples that have done a brilliant job of trying to solve the problem- one example is the Korean company "Megastudy" that makes rock-stars out of their best tutors, who are monetised on their popularity with the online audience.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

7 Things Obama is doing to leverage Web 2.0

When we look back at this presidential election, I have a sneaking suspicion that we will see web2.0 as having played a big role in the candidates' ability to create buzz, build traction and won significant hearts and minds in the race to the white house.

Enclosed are the few things Barack has done to leverage Web 2.0:

  1. Leveraging social networking to bag funding and votes- the key is around MyBarackObama thro which you can set up your own webpage to raise funds for Barack – nifty gadgets including a thermometer with a level of mercury that depicts how close you are to success- the socialsite allows you to send invitations and also keep track of invites- eg reminders etc- and, of course, there is a payment gateway
  2. Leveraging the YouTube channel which has close to 1600 videos to look at and many are added every week
  3. User Generated Content- eg individuals that have created video tutorials to help the activist community get traction and - example; example2,
  4. phonebanking1on1- a 1on1 tutorial focused on creating activists out of interested people that want to help
  5. Neighbor to neighbor: program to connect community activists thro ip calls, by giving them access to voter lists etc…
  6. Drive to register- leveraging community
  7. Viral videos- eg the obamasong by will.ia.m

This election, I suspect, will teach all of us new tricks to use in our own campaigns.


Strategic Positioning: Obama one up on McCain?

Allright, I admit it- I am fascinated by the US presidential elections and am devouring all information on what's happening there. That said though, for my craft (marketing), there is plenty of drama and stuff to learn from.

As I was listening to the podcast of the second presidential debate, I was fascinated by something. McCain's campaign positioning, at least after the Republican Convention, has been "why Obama is not the right person for the job". But, this is the interesting part, the more he tries to move the argument to Barack, the more the debate seems to be around him and his VP pick, Sarah Palin. The big challenge with this campaign for McCain is that now, he to move the debate away from him, and into Obama's camp, and he has 25 days to do it, and Barack is gaining daily…

So what are my 3 points?

  • McCain should have been true to his DNA- a "maverick" view, which John genuinely is, is a very self led, internally focused view- Mavericks generally do not care about what other people do, or think. However, his campaign is focused on going after Barack rather than focusing on himself???
  • If his game was to go after Barack, he should have done a better job of battening down the hatches in his campaign, with "extreme" picks like Palin, what he has done is to expose his campaign to serious cracks in his argument- you want the focus to be Barack, you don't want anyone to focus on you, right? How many of us doubt that the 70 Million people that watched the VP debate, amongst the most watched in history, came to watch Sarah commit gaffes after the Katie Couric interviews?
  • Finally, there is a serious amount of negative energy involved in going after someone. This negative energy is offputting, and turn quite a few people off, as well as take the focus of the campaign away from trying to get better, to trying to prove that the other person is worse off. I wouldn't do it.


Why Offense is better than Defense?

My dinner with Sriram Aylur last night at the Quilon Restaurant , a Michelin starred south Indian restaurant turned out to be very interesting. The conversation steered around his success at Quilon, and we ended up discussing a concept that I found insightful.

The concept is this: by playing offense , eg., going after competition first, you force them to respond, and, when that happens, more often than not, the responses are likely to be tactical "knee jerk". The idea is that as you force them to play the short-term tactical game, you continue to ensure your longer term important pieces continue to move.

This puts a premium on playing offense/ moving first.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Chinese Olympics: Leveraging “Soft Power” to build Brands

As the Grandest Show of the Planet, the Chinese Olympics drew to a close, i use this post to articulate the extremely effective display of "soft power" in building Brand China.

But first, a small semantic definition- It was Joseph Nye, who coined this term in his book, which contrasts the use of power of attraction vs the carrots and sticks based notion of hard power. In my assessment, China has done the following 3 things:

  1. As I watched Boris Johnson, the mayor of London take the flag in the closing ceremony, I could not but help think that China was at that point in time, very much a part of the global community- as compared to perhaps a sense of "them" vs "us" that seems to permeate some of the other conversations that include the Chinese (global trade talks, the credit crunch, the dollar weakness etc).
  2. In setting the new benchmark for how this event should be run, the rest of the world now has a viable and a valid powerhouse to emulate- if there was ever a coming out party for the Chinese, this was it, and what a grand party it was!
  3. The power of Sport as a unifier is perhaps another "soft power" force that has worked very well for the Chinese. Be it in swimming, or gymnastics or athletics, the sheer beauty of superlative performance leaves us breathless, regardless of the gender or the race of the one delivering this performance. And this event has given many of us beautiful moments to cherish.

I have articulated elsewhere that I am a big believer in the power of attraction as a way to increase brand relevance, and in the aftermath of the Olympics, the Chinese have a great tail-wind to consolidate on the goodwill and the attraction they induced in the rest of the world- will they be able to leverage this to get to the next highs in their prosperity?


“Hot, Flat and Crowded”: Tom Friedman and the art of Setting the Agenda

Just heard a review from the Scientific American
podcast on Tom Friedman's latest book, " Hot Flat and Crowded". By all accounts, this book looks to full of Tom's incredible ability to help us picture, in vivid colour, his insightful views on the implications of the three global megatrends of Climate Change, the Rise of the Emerging Markets and the Population Explosion- He argues that the country that will take a lead in getting into Green Energy Efficient game will be the next superpower of the planet.

However, this post is not about the book itself, but rather the timing of the launch and the release, and the potential implications. It was launched in End Aug/ Early September, sort of around the time the Republican National convention was going "Drill baby Drill", in their support for offshore drilling. Tom himself has, thro his conversations, positioned his ideas into the policy making and the political implications of this including in commenting on the "madness" of drill-baby-drill policy as well as in appearing on the NBC Meet The Press programme.

In launching this very topical book right in the final run-up to the US presidential elections, Tom has ensured two things:

  1. The insights from this book, in particular, the recommendations for the future are going to be a direct part of the ongoing debates, and perhaps more important, play role in shaping the presidential agenda going into January.
  2. He will sell a lot of these books.

Very Smart, Tom! Way to Go.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Mahatma Gandhi: my Epitome of Marketing Excellence?

Father of the Indian nation, the creator of Satyagraha (non violence), the inspiration behind Martin Luther King Jr, the man described by Churchill as the "half naked faqir"- multiple are the epithets given to this man, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, aka Mahatma Gandhi. and I am sure I join many more people ( including Aung San Suu Kyi, Nelson Mandela, Al Gore, John Lennon, James Lawson) in acknowledging his influence.

However, this post is intended to focus on his marketing genius in creating the cause, the path to the cause, and unifying a nation of extreme poverty and extreme illiteracy to rise in unison and win freedom, non violently, against the greatest colonial power – all this was done without money, without other resources that most causes can command today. The following are some of the underlying principles:

  • Extreme Simplicity of message (articulation, garb, appearance, lifestyle, diet etc)- in today's age of clutter and the need for the so called unique selling proposition, think about how he had to cut thro and get across to the masses of a largely illiterate and an unconnected India, and one perhaps starts to appreciate how beautifully that message is designed to penetrate and hit straight home.
  • He was the ultimate Pragmatist- I define pragmatism as the ability to take the prevailing trend and to ride on it to get to your destination (sort of how birds use rising columns of hot air – "Thermals"- to get higher). His support of the British during the World Wars, his acceptance of the need for partition, his timing of the big movements (Non Cooperation, Civil Disobedience, Quit India) , as well as the timing of their cessation all point to this
  • His brilliant use of evocative symbols- this is perhaps brought to life most through his "Salt Satyagraha" movement- Salt was and is amongst the more reasonably priced of the commodities, owing in part to its abundance. And yet, for someone to take something that was not really the center of Economic or political power, and yet so essential to life and important to the poor of the then india, and turn it into a symbol of liberation and freedom was a brilliant masterstroke, executed with precision.
  • His leveraging of religion- Pre independence India had deeply divisive forces, and religion, particularly differences between Hinduism and Islam was one of the dominant ones. However, through his lifestyle, embrace of other religions, and through multi-faith prayer meetings, he took the divisive issue of religion and neutered it enough ,though it refused to go away completely, that the masses rose as one for the cause.

Clearly someone to learn from.


Thursday, 7 August 2008

Paris Hilton, Barack Obama and John McCain: the fine art of seduction

Whilst the John McCain ad comparing Obama to Paris Hilton & Britney Spears ( I guess they were aiming for Obama to be painted as "inexperienced" and hence unqualified to lead) has been the subject of intense scrutiny- Meet the press last week led with this as a topic, the lady Paris has actually hit back with an amazing repartee- which has, in my eyes, put McCain completely in the defensive- fancy that- A seasoned politician with all the might of the best brains in the business being given an amazing response by a 27 year old who was supposed to undermine Barack by being compared with him. Fantastically amusing and interesting for sure, but I wonder if there is a deeper message here?

I believe Marketing is about "influencing" behaviour change, and hence, I propose that elections and the entire political process is the ultimate form of influence for behaviour change – as a candidate, one needs to take their people from point A (don't know/ don't care about you) to Point B (I like/ will vote for you). Hence I am absolutely fascinated by political processes and hence the presidential campaign.

The point I derive from the above episode, apart from the considerable humour, is this- the entire influence game is about seduction and creating sex appeal, not about logic. The coolest people/ gadgets/ brands are not cool because they have logically convinced us that we need to be associated with them. A sense of mystique needs to be created, and whilst what you say and how you say it is important, even more important is what you don't say!

Must say my respect for Paris Hilton has gone up a few notches!



Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Creating a Community Led Organisation

In the emerging WEB 2.0 world, the next thing since sliced bread is the leverage provided by your communities (users/ suppliers/ influencers) etc. The idea is to empower the community to contribute to product ideas/ innovation/ create content (the so called User generated content) etc. But the question is- how does an organization become community led, and how does one create a vibrant community in the first place?

Well, as it happens, there are entirely new models that are emerging out there that are entirely community led –the best examples I can think of are Mozilla and Wikipedia. Think about it- how can you create a community that is so engaged that it does work for you without getting paid? Mozilla is the creator of Firefox, the browser, which today has a marketshare approaching 20%- approx 1 in 5- which is truly amazing, because, unlike IE, Mozilla does not come bundled when you buy your laptop/pc.

So, what are the secrets to building successful communities?

  • The Cause has to be bigger than just creating commercial success - when you choose a cause to rally your community around, please ensure that the payoff to the community that contributes is beyond business- and has a big feel good factor about it. Mozilla's vision for the world is not a better browser, but a free and an open internet, which of course is enabled by the gateway to the internet, the browser.
  • The community has to be empowered- you have to delegate decision-making to the community- in other words, it is not enough to just tell the community- please do the work, but we will take all the decisions- in some cases this could be against the decisions in your organization, but so be it
  • There has to be sound leadership- a concern with large community led initiatives is that there are too many voices that might be pointing in different directions (classical Brownian motion)- hence there is need for clear lines of authority to ensure things happen
  • The guiding principles have to be very clear about what stays in and what goes out- it is really important to establish what the community will stand for, and more important, what it will not. These guiding principles/ or the constitution if you will, will perhaps be crucial to the community selecting itself, and ensuring that decisions taken are along the guidelines so established (eg Mozilla has taken a conscious call that it will not "sell" any of the browser real estate for commercial consideration, but will be happy to take money off search-engines by inserting those search engines into the functionality)
  • Define the core, but have plenty of peripheral areas- it is not always possible to take on all the ideas that the community is proposing. But one does not want to miss out on any cool ideas either. One way solve for this is to ensure that there are plenty of "sandboxes" where individuals can create stuff for the others to play around with, which, after a process of due diligence can be brought back into the core. This also increase inclusivity.
  • Think different about functions such as Marketing and HR-Mozilla wanted to put up an ad in a mainstream newspaper, they went to their community and raised $10-$20 from about 10,000 of their community, which paid for the ad.

Of course, the above is not to say that if all the rules are followed, the organization will become community led- but it is a start.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Recession Busting: Same Sales and Marketing Outcomes at 1/10th the Investment?

We are talking tough times here- and the intent of this post is to provide ideas to organizations on how to minimize their sales and marketing investments, whilst not letting go of the outcomes.

We are very familiar with the way businesses build out their customer outreach. They tend to invest in standard marketing vehicles (Events, Market research, Media relations, Direct Marketing etc) to build awareness, and once air cover is created, the Direct Sales-force gets after customers and creates revenue streams. In general this is a capital intensive, high investment model- all the above channels cost serious money.

However, this paradigm can be turned upside down in many industries, and increasingly in many geographies. Why? Customers are changing their behaviour and business need to adopt, and if they do, they save a truckload. Consider the following:

  • 3 Reasons why you don't need a massive advertising budget:
    • If you have a "cool gadget", all you need to do is to send that gadget to the leading edge tech reviewers (zdnet, cnet, gizmodo etc) who would be delighted to review the gadget and put up the video/audio reviews up on their websites. Witness the phenomenon of the apple IPhone (the 3G variant of which was launched this week). How much of the iphone information is coming to you from APPLE as compared to from some blog or some website or something else?
    • Your customers are predominantly searching for you online before they get to you- surely you should be able to leverage that behaviour by going after them in the online space? Target them through Search engine optimization/ through social networks etc?
    • Target alternative awareness generators- blogs, viral videos (youtube channel) which are accessible at a fraction of the cost.
  • Do you really need to have a big direct sales force?
    • If your product is mainly provided online, you can create "free trials" - a 30 day free trial of a software package can do wonders to increase adoption and awareness, and what more, you get to observe your customers using the products through analytics- halve your direct salesforce
    • Product design should be leveraged – entice customers to try with really simple user interfaces and processes, but once they are engaged, encourage them to get to try more complex features and functions, and increase revenues
    • Ensure that you make it very easy for your customers to compliment you and give you feedback (discussion forums etC), so they are selling to other customers
  • Slash all early stage awareness building events:
    • Given people are going online to find out about you, why invest at all in early stage awareness building through events?
    • Are those stalls, product demos, and the physical infrastructure that typically support events really required?

Typically, the above three tend to be the biggest drain on your costs, and hence any significant impact on the above are going to clearly flow to the bottom-line.


Customer forums: the need for “physical touch” in an online world

And yet, people buy from other people, and given that our evolutionary (Darwinian) pace of change much slower than the shift to online- how do we fulfil our need for physical contact? the need to kick the tyres, to get to know who we are buying from, to engage with others who have done the same? This, I would argue is emerging as a bigger reason to invest in a customer forum.

SAP does Sapphire, Oracle does Oracle World, and many organizations that operate in the B2B space tend to get their customers together for a couple of days during the year. There is a lot of organization resources that gets spent (money, management time, ops, etc). What is the value? The value is in creating stronger relationships, and the consequent cross-sell and up-sell opportunities- in short, a revenue accelerator.

Historically, (early 90s), events were perhaps the best means to increase awareness and access the customers that b2b businesses wanted to sell to, and for the customers to find the businesses as well. However, with the advent of the internet, the ferocious change in how businesses and consumers court each other has been breathtaking. Hitherto, a lot of money was being spent in events, and in field sales, the emerging paradigm is to leverage the website and online channels to in the early phases of courtship (google search/ store fronts / free trials etc). This has resulted in a lot of interaction shifting online, and consequently, a significant reduction in person to person contact.

If we extend this notion a bit further, we should be creating a community, which will share, exchange ideas, and create value by interaction- and the physical event is an integral part of that.But beware- the online world is surely creeping up on this physical world too- there is a fundamental need to integrate online capability to create a richer "community experience" even in the events.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Hype and destruction in product launches…

Remember Zoost? The video platform promoted by the founders of Skype? For all the claims including you-tube killer/ the "will change the way you watch telly" / etc, It has had an underwhelming response (atleast so far) from the marketplace and the community that was supposed to adopt it.

There is a lesson here for us! Excess hype can be bad, period. Thinking through, this seems logical- hype fuels consumer expectations, and the more the expectations, the more difficult that the product will match up. Add to all this the fact that hype cannot be controlled, and you have a situation where expectations could spiral out way beyond anything the product can actually deliver on. There seem to be two particular situations that seem to make for a particularly difficult outcome:

  1. When the hype is being created around a yet-to-be-launched-product. Since the actual product is not in the marketplace yet, the expectations can get very unrealistic, as it comes down to pretty much the imagination of people, and hence the possibility of reality exceeding expectations becomes very remote (For all his marketing savvy, Steve Jobs and the iphone came pretty close to this)
  2. In a "tech savvy" high tech product space, where blogs and other alternate non traditional media hold serious sway because more of them are created by "experts", and more of them are consumed by would be users, the potential for hype is huge- a rumour somewhere can, in no time, become a self-fulfilling prophecy, with a 1000 blogs writing about it in no time.

So, what can you do? Well, as someone who is launching a new product just be extremely careful about what you say or do not say about the product- the adage "under-promise and over deliver" might actually be a great way to go. IF your product is already in the hype territory, you are better off ensuring that you cool it right now- humility can be "cool".

Also, as a consumer/ investor etc, tend to take with more than a pinch of salt anything that is hyped

And how do you recognize the symptoms? If too many people are talking about a product yet to be launched, claims are being made of it being a mainstream product killer/ the miracle cure etc, you know you are in hype territory.





Tuesday, 17 June 2008

User 927: The new paradigms of influence and their risks

User 927 is a play premiering in Philadelphia, based on the infamous AOL weblog incident of 2006 – you may remember the 650,000 search weblogs that were inadvertently "released" by AOL and earned notoriety for the assault on privacy.

The play's storyline centres around tracing the mind of the "user 927" through his/her (perhaps a his, given the search terms) search queries over the 3 month period. I followed the conversation a bit- it is positively uncanny how much the search log reveals about the individual… for instance, about user 64,XXX who over a period from march to july, searched for the following- "fat calipers", "getting pregnant", "how to beat morning sickness", "looking good whilst pregnant", "wedding gowns for the pregnant", then the search terms take a different tack-"abortion clinics in place X", "can Christians have abortions" etc- as you can see- you get a clear view of what they are thinking- an individual's search terms, plotted on a timeline, can be used to build out a complete psychological profile .

Think implications search terms can be used for:

  • For the next level of micro- marketing- which of course means that precision targeting and precision focus is possible, and the benefit is that as a consumer you will not be hit by annoying ads, but will be targeted by messages that are absolutely spot-on not only for your interest, but also in timing. We are getting smarter about getting the individual's Interests right with the advent of social networks, but timing of the message is still a bit of a hit-and-miss.
  • There is a billion dollar industry around matching partners (personal and professional)- this could be very well used to enhance the quality of that match
  • Remember the Tom Cruise film Minority report and "precogs"? well, search log analysis and psycho profiling perhaps could be used to target crime-doers before the crime is committed.
  • Once the net goes mobile (which it already is, by the way!), locational and map based services are also an exciting opportunity to target

That said though, lets not forget about the possibilities that open up on the risk side?

  • We have Big Brother watching- given the sweeping powers by regulation and state authorities (eg the Patriot act, authoritarian nation states' -china), search terms could be used for illegal surveillance of individuals and unlawful targeting
  • Also, what goes around comes around- how do we ensure that privacy and security concerns are rightfully being paid heed to?

Haven't we heard this before? With entirely new set of tools that give us more power to profile, we are faced with the choice of that power being wielded both for good and for bad- so how do we regulate so that we maximize the good and minimize the bad?



Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Of technology, influence and presidential elections: Barack’s edge…

Did you know that in the volume of funding for his presidential campaign, Barack Obama has out raised Hillary Clinton , (now run this by me again? A nobody senator from Chicago is able to out-fundraise the invincible Clinton machine?) He gets more than $ 1 MM daily thro internet based funding mechanisms, and more important, this is not by accident, but by deliberate design? Well, I was listening to John Edwards speak at an event today and this is what I heard from him…

Interesting- I never thought I would be commenting about the US presidential elections, but hey, why not? All the candidates are needing to move a target audience (the citizens of the US)e from point A (don't care about you/ don't know above you) to point B ( will vote for you)- not that different from a marketing campaign's objective, right?.

The point I want to illustrate though is that Barack has harnessed the power technology to create influence today- and has displayed serious "marketing think"- think about it:

  1. By Design, Barack has avoided those "large ticket donors" which was the traditional way of doing things, and ,hence has retained the independence he needs to voice his views without worriying about hurting any of his big donors
  2. Any individual who has given $25 his campaign, has planted a flag on the ground, indicating that (s)he is a supporter, will vote Barack and will convert other folks to vote Barack- very impressive, given the steady stream of supporters that seem to continue to join his grass roots campaign
  3. An opportunity to sample/ research/ poll/ pass by a large base of voters and get their views before actually articulating them- and hence having a safety valve as well as a bouncing board for his policies
  4. An immense sense of "support" coming from a mass movement, rather than resting on a small group of hi-value donors- a big confidence building measure.

In creating online communities that have supported/ voted/ funded Barack, I have no doubt that the Facebook/Myspace and the deliberate on-line campaigns have played a very relevant role in Barack's upset of the apple cart of folks that were much more incumbent than he was- and we have a lesson to learn from the role technology has played in getting Barack to where he is today… the game of influence has been proven to be completely amenable to technology…

Friday, 30 May 2008

Getting Remembered : Leveraging “Thermals”

A thermal is a rising column of hot air, that birds use to get higher up in the sky, harnessing nature's processes to get to their destination.

In today's information overload environment, I argue that leveraging hot trends/ activities/ events (societal "thermals") is critical to getting noticed and remembered.

An interesting example- the movie version of "Sex and the City" is being launched this week. Best-buy's electronic repair division- Geek squad, has identified that many men (brothers, boyfriends, office colleagues) are going to be "skewered" into seeing the film despite not being too interested.

So the geeks of Geek Squad have come up with this movie-theatre promotion, running in select movie theatres, to hand out "creative excuses" to get them out of this movie ( also handing out alongside- coupons entitling you to discounts on best-buy games/ gadgets/ etc that go along with that profile)

Interesting- gets noticed, and leverages a "big event" in a very interesting kind of way- our way to mimic how nature's thermals are leveraged.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

GTA IV- Leveraging Gaming!

Last week, I am sure the news would have hit you- the biggest grosser of them all has been Grand Theft Auto IV. This game grossed $310 MM on Day 1 alone and $500 Million in Week 1. This translates to over 6 Million copies of the game sold in the first week of launch (about $ 60 in the US/ £45 in the UK).

To put this into perspective the highest- opening day grossers in the film industry have been ( Spider-Man-3 ($ 60 MM); Pirates of the Caribbean- Dead Man's Chest ($56MM); Starwars- Episode III- Revenge of the Sith ($51MM) data available in this link ). By the way, the second biggest grosser across all entertainment categories was also a Game, Halo3.

So what? Well, Gaming is interactive, extremely involving, has a fanatic fan base, and is massively big, and people are willing to spend big money on this. And if you have been on either of the consoles' online part (millions congregate to play with each other in multiplayer mode such as the Xbox Live) which is very engaged and very communicative ( there are headsets, messenger sets etc that you can communicate with whilst playing), you can clearly see that there are entire communities that are hangin' out together. Not too many other channels have the combination of interest, buying power, energy , community and sheer stickiness… The gaming companies are big into this revenue by the way- buying the game is only part 1, you tend to get a lot of revenue thro upgrades, thro enhancements (physical and virtual) etc

So, what are the options?

  • The obvious one is to look at delivering messages thro Game based strategies- move over boring old brochures and leaflets, think games/ think interactive ways of delivering messages
  • The less obvious one is to look at gaming communities as a way to proliferate messages and awareness, particularly for products and services that these folks consume, or have influence power around.
  • The least obvious one is to see how gaming changes the context of social networking and see how these two trends can be brought together to create influence, which I would suspect will be work in progress for awhile (the Wii is credited with bringing a whole lot of folks into the "gaming" habit, and both Xbox 360 and the PS3 are doing a truckload of recruiting new gamers into the mix, and everyone is going online)
  • And perhaps I am sticking my neck out, it is not beyond the realms of comprehension for one to consider entire business models built around specific gaming communities…

What this has made me do is to get myself a game console (I got an Xbox 360 a few months ago) ,games , go online, play and absorb. For now, I am focused on building my gaming points and doing a lot of downloading… and yeah, I keep getting massacred in 5 seconds of entering any multiplay game-but I persevere on… and yes, you should try it too…

Monday, 28 April 2008

Building Regional brands… lessons learned from India Everywhere- Davos -06

As a sequence to my earlier post on Regional brands, this post explores the "how to" of regional brand campaigns, and discusses lessons from the very successful "India Everywhere" campaign, at Davos 06, which I played an intimate role in.

As one of the co-creators of the campaign, I was very closely involved in India Everywhere campaign, which was brought to life at the World Economic Forum, Davos 06. To put into context, Davos 06 campaign around India was perhaps a high point in coordinated efforts to building the "India" brand, and sought to establish India as an equal competitor to China for world attention, resulting in increased energy and interest in India. The campaign was very successful in accomplishing that.

So, what were the things that worked well?

  • Sponsorship- you are sunk without it- imagine getting 8-10 of the largest companies (some of which may compete with each other) together to contribute a kitty that would be spent as an entity! You really need strong leadership back it- in this campaign's case, the business leadership was behind this, but there is no reason why political leadership cannot be the primary backer
  • Rally around "big ideas"- a ho-hum list of actions will not galvanize and get the group together- the need is to present a big vision, that everyone will buy into, and a set of "cool ideas" that can be executed to accomplish that vision- extremely important that the ideas come together
  • Focus on the region's natural strengths- India is known for its food, its costumes and the variety and for its culture- which were the primary elements of the senses, whilst the underlying core of the message was clearly business and economic
  • Governance/ Council- ideally, the campaign should not have one corporate leading it- the program management should be with an entity that is neutral. In this campaign, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII)) picked up the program management slack. That said though, the program team should report into a central council of primary stakeholders (the ones that have contributed to the kitty.
  • Plan early, and plan well- since there is a lot of communication/ to and fro-ing and back and forth involved in such a campaign, more time needs to be devoted, hence increased lead times
  • Execution is key- there will be a lot of moving parts in a campaign of this magnitude- these parts have to be knit together in one cohesive whole, and hence program management and strong execution skills become key to accomplishing this.
  • Ensure that the governance comprises the big guns, and they are engaged- the governance council, the government officials etc were the top guns in the region, which meant that decision making was instantaneous, and best of the resources were brought to bear.

The execution was done through a common "kitty" of resources, contributed to by interested parties (corporate and the government), creating a shared program management structure.

This campaign received very good media coverage and was the talk of Davos-06, and the traction from this campaign resulted in serious benefits to brand "India".

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Relevance of country/region brands

Did you know that Latin America has had the best 5 years since 1492? The economy is performing as never before, never mind the politics- according to the Opening Plenary at the WEF- Cancun.

And yet, Latin America perhaps may not command the same excitement or mindshare as compared to <say> a China, not withstanding the occasional references to the BRICs (which of course includes Brazil).

Pray why building region/geo/country brand is relevant, one may ask. I think it is relevant because the region would benefit from the "mindshare" of the rest of the world. Whether it be in terms of investment into the region, or global talent considering this as their next opportunity,new technology infusion and general "feel good" in the region – the last one in particular, itself could be a huge galvanizing force-I see this already happening in China and India.

However, what is changing now, that would make regional brands even more relevant, is that going forward, China and india have already changed and are changing the game- when you think of one nation commanding over a billion people, you think huge scale, you think huge markets, and you think huge opportunities. Smaller countries, with their smaller access, have to get together and create larger regional "identities" to compete for the same global mindshare, or they potentially could lose out.

What could be the benefits? I will not list economic benefits because those are perhaps more obvious (taxation, single market, negotiations etc).From a brand perspective, creating a "cool" region/ geo brand is going to give a serious boost up to corporate brands- I know how much easier it has gotten to introduce ourselves and our organization, because of our focus on building the "India" brand, sorta giving ourselves an instant "invitation to join" in any conversation.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Marketing is dead, long live Marketing!

This post is intended to provoke a view of where marketing will be 10 years from now. I argue that the focus will shift to an emphasis on product (marketing knowledge applied to creating sexy products) as compared to the current emphasis on communication vehicles (marketing knowledge applied to media, advertising, etc) – hence marketing as we know it, is dead.

Why? As you read this, the consumer is under a barrage from a set of forces that are going to change the way they behave, forever… those forces are

  • As consumers- we are deluged in information- tv, newspapers (free, paid), internet, email, texts, social networks, blogs, books, etc. This overdose has serious strategic implications for accessing consumers. They are actually switching off- think about the last time you looked at advertising and did not look "through" it? Extrapolating this trend, cost of access to consumers using unsolicited "media" will steadily escalate, reaching "unsustainable" levels in the very near future- so goodbye TV, newspaper, hoardings/ billboards etc as advertising channels…
  • Already, reluctant consumers are very unwilling to recommend to their friends, for fear of "spamming" them, unless they are specifically asked, or know for sure that their friends are looking out – what happens to our reliance on peer recommendations, "Word of mouth" ?
  • Most products/ services in mainstream categories perform their job reasonably well- resulting in declining interest to switch products/ services- how are you going to get them to try your new product/service out? Think about the last time you changed your bank? And the last time you changed your internet service provider? ( for the record I have been with the same bank and the same ISP for the last 6 years- and the switch only happened because we moved cities)
  • Viral marketing will live, but the virus vectors (the mavens that will propagate the product/the trend) will be from your own network, not a "hero figure" on television- your cues for what you will do will come from others in your network, not from watching someone do something on TV. My use of "Dopplr" & "bookshelf"- both are facebook apps- are clearly driven by my savvy friends who are using these apps.
  • Mainstream and "good" will translate to boring, and hence will have severely limited chances of being tried. How many new "GOOD" email apps have you tried in the last 3 months?

A marketing world that is dominated by Advertising, PR, Direct marketing, Word of mouth, etc is clearly going to be irrelevant in the world where the consumer shuts off, will not recommend to friends, will show lesser and lesser switching behavior and is not interested in just good.

So what does marketing do? Pack bags up and take an early retirement? Tempting though the idea is, I would say not yet- played right, Marketing could perhaps end up being the key role in the center of the organization (yes, I do mean the CEO )…

The answer is, perhaps, surprisingly simple- In my view, the solution perhaps lies in a shifting emphasis- the trick lies in ensuring that your product talks to the consumer, rather than getting someone else to talk about the product. Think more about how you embed "viral", "edgy" and "cool" into the product itself, rather than think about viral in the advertising/ PR/ direct marketing of the product. Technically, the key shift is to dramatically increase focus on g marketing into product development, rather than emphasis on marketing in propagating information about the product. I have two examples to illustrate:

  • Think Gandhi and Ahimsa (non violence) and the particular notion of Satyagraha -the product was beautiful- non-violence as a way to protest- it stood out, spread virally, made people sit up and listen, and attracted attention of the whole world as a result, and of course, brought India its independence.
  • In India, in the rather crowded field of "baby delivery" specialists, which is currently dominated by Gynecologists with "reputation", and large hospitals with a "medical expertise" cache, one unique facility stands out. This is Cradle, a 5star baby delivery specialist center. Through their unique product and facility design (which I must say is a marketing delight), they have succeeded in being cool and viral, and have been very successful as a result.
  • Internationally, there are a few examples, but perhaps the best one is Apple- think about their products, their "sexy" design, the fanaticism with which their user base embraces apple and rejects everything else- you will see how the emphasis on marketing in product design clearly takes out the need to focus on marketing the product to the consumer.


Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Marketing innovation- who has the edge?

I am listening to a technology panel at Davos right now, which has a group of large incumbent players (Verizon etc) and HTC, from China.

One insight that struck me was- how big businesses that have a vested interest in their businesses are all about trying to "incrementally" innovate on their existing businesses, whereas newer organizations (HTC), are willing to be much more open, because they do not have any existing interests they need to protect. This was particularly true in the way the biggies were trying to penetrate the so called "emerging" markets…

Extending that logic to marketing, I am wondering if having "established" marketing programs perhaps might be a liability? Wouldn't it be an idea (albeit a much unappealing one to my ilk) to start marketing plans on a zero base every 2 years ? I mean genuinely zero base, not a set of platitudes for continuing with existing programs. It would push people to ask and answer important questions on whether the business case for investment is there, and if it is, how best can it be leveraged.

Business would love it- because it gives all a chance to look marketing investment with ever-fresh eyes, doesn't allow spends and investments to ossify, and more importantly, forces the marketing group to continuously reassess portfolio allocation to channels- for instance, I believe that we will be spending magnitudes more on online channels of influence (web based/ 2.0 stuff) going forward…

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Differentiation in a Web 2.0 world…

The good news is, the web 2.0 world and the consequent democratization of content and channels has given everyone a voice. Has allowed anyone to set up their own newspaper (blog), tv channel (youtube) and radio channel (itunes podcasts).

But, a direct and a consequent problem is the huge increase in noise in the market place. You want to find an agency or an expert, go and search on linkedin, and look at the 100000 results and wonder how you are actually going to shortlist? And differentiation? In an age where the hottest music track of this week is something that the cat brought in the next, forget it…

So what can you do? Not sure if you can actually do too much -yeah sure, all the platitudes about being focused, thinking customer centric, being very good at it, etc are of important, but, are they enough? What would make you standout?

A thought provoking set of ideas was articulated by Seth Godin, at the TED conference in Monterrey, CA (http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/28). In talking of sliced bread and purple cows, he articulates the notion of being remarkable (in every sense of the term)…Happy viewing…


Innovation blowback- innovation from emerging markets’ that could come back to haunt...

I was in India for the WEF India economic summit, and was hit by the incredible amount of innovation the consumer space is seeing.

Walking down a street in Bangalore, i saw at-least 5 new retail formats, everything from speciality niche offerings to mainstream "catch alls". One example, for instance, is a healthcare outfit called "Cradle". Think of a 5 star birth care hospital, replete with leather sofas, exclusive care, beautiful facilities etc? Well, that's Cradle for you. (http://www.boloji.com/wfs3/wfs322.htm )Very focused, it only caters to birth and delivery (and is trying to expand into neo-nates and paediatrics)

Well, in the intensely competitive marketspace that's India today, I expect to see a plethora of new innovative formats, all of which will have a chance to succeed as a business, given the huge size of the market, and consequently the numerous niches that can be supported. Arguably, some, if not many of these formats will be applicable elsewhere as well (in developed as well as emerging markets). It will be fascinating to see how these innovations pan out in India, and as time progresses, how they come out of india. Watch this space...