Day 2 of #NoWalletChallenge

A very interesting start to my day. I happened to explore a bit and found that there is an option called Ola Share. Used that option to get a Maruti Swift Dzire to pick me up from near my home. The driver was a wonderful guy and I tweeted about it.

 

I ended up sharing the ride with a couple of interesting folks. One from the advertising industry and the other – a financial analyst.

The ride cost me Rs.50. But took almost an hour since it was a shared ride and had to wait / fetch the other passengers. Reached office on time however!

I had to make a slight lifestyle change. Had leave a bit early to get the shared ride. If I had left any later, I could’ve been stranded with no cabs! It gets progressively difficult beyond 8.30 am.

During the day, I wanted to explore using PayTM to transfer small cash and make any transactions for requirements without a Digital Wallet. I requested a colleague to get me some snacks using cash and transferred Rs.100 through PayTM. The transaction was virtually instantaneous and the experiment was a success! So gave me a bit more confidence of pulling this through for long!

And then came the evening… and the rains.

Similar set of events. No Ola cabs available. Uber was running at 4x surge and very few cabs in any case!

Ola Autos is a sham. No auto driver accepts rides. They don’t change I guess :)

I was virtually stranded. With the option of waiting it out, take Uber at 4x or breaking the challenge, I did what was unthinkable for me as a person!

I flagged down an auto on the road. I was on the verge of giving up. But wanted to give it a good try.

I lied! :)

I told him that I have forgotten my wallet and I have to pay him through PayTM or through some other mode. And I offered to recharge his pre-paid mobile!

After a fair bit of nagging and sweet talking the auto driver agreed! Yay!!!!!

Friendly advise for PayTM or for ANY Digital Wallet company. The Auto driver did not have PayTM because he can’t read English. He had a smart phone (Samsung) and he was comfortable using them. But had all his communication in Kannada. PayTM has not reached the masses as yet because it is probably not available in regional languages. If the Digital Wallet companies manage that, then we have a winner!

I recharged two of his mobiles – one DoCoMo and one Airtel Number through my PayTM & Freecharge accounts. And paid him digitally for the ride!

Day 2 was a success after all! Though it involved some pain! :)

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Day 1 of #NoWalletChallenge

The first usage of the Digital Wallet was booking a cab from Ulsoor (my son’s school) to my office. Used Ola app to book a Taxi for Sure cab. It cost me Rs.68

It was actually a quiet day since I spent most of the day at work. The real challenge would have to be faced only in the evenings since getting an Ola cab/auto or Uber becomes extremely difficult.

Uber typically tends to run at 4.0x for UberGo and 2.0+x for UberX. Uber black is really expensive and I have seldom tried it unless it is an extended family trip!

I didn’t have any small transaction to do as well on day 1 thus it was easy.

But the challenge began in the evening with a raining Bangalore. Bangalore – the IT capital of India – gets nasty if it rains. Traffic in the city is a challenge in normal days and on rainy days, it is nothing short of a nightmare.

Uber was running at 4x & 2.6x for UberGo and UberX respectively. A trip that typically costs Rs. 120 was hovering around Rs.450+ on both categories. I was in a fix.

Happened to hitch a ride with a colleague till Ulsoor Costa Coffee which is mid-way from office to home and waited for a while to then take an UberX at 2.1x surge pricing. It cost me Rs.270 to get home. Challenging but reached home without using cash nonetheless!

Day 1 ended with an extra spend.

Day Summary:

Ulsoor to Office in the morning through Ola (TaxiForSure) – Rs.68

Ulsoor Costa Coffee to Home – Rs.270 (typically this ride costs about Rs.140)

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The No Wallet Challenge

I just happened to forget my wallet (which is an integral part of every man’s trousers) on Tuesday. When I wanted to go back to fetch it, I was posed a question by my wife as to why I need a wallet. And so it began.

I am now trying to live my life without carrying a wallet, which means an absolutely cashless life. Details of the same are available on my Facebook Page.

I am now trying to document on a daily basis (the first set of posts being a little late) as to how this whole thing pans out.

I hope to get a lot of learning through this activity / challenge. I hope to see how my spend levels change. I hope to see how successful the Digital Wallet companies are!

And how long can I actually live cashless!

 

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The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Airtel recently released it’s second in a campaign series for ‘Video Calling.

They had released the first film in this series a few weeks ago. I would call it the ‘Successful Disaster’. Here’s the film for your quick reference.

The Airtel Boss Film

Here’s what I believe is wrong (and right) with this film.

  • Unnecessarily touched sensitive social issue
  • Bad story line
  • Very contrived thought process
  • Layered creative
  • A clean give-away of the so-called suspense somewhere in between. One can easily guess it

On the positive side

  • Generated a lot of discussion – However bad the discussion was on Social Media, it ended up getting discussed a lot
  • Nice casting & performance
  • Chic production

And then… Airtel followed it up with this second TVC for the same product offering… Video Calling.

Airtel 5 Star Hotel Film

  • Great performance
  • Simple & straight forward storyline
  • Nice believable casting
  • No overbearing social issues touched upon
  • Touches the right nerves… Emotive (Although, I tend to believe that the Thai Commercials lately are the best when it comes to touching emotions the right way).
  • Better product placement
  • Better production

From a communications perspective, although the second TVC is a much better offering, the first one was a better success primarily because it got discussed more in media than the second. In fact, the second one doesn’t get any mention at all, while #AirtelBoss trended for a few days.

Consumer Behavior

A recent parallel to this is the #IStandWithDeepikaPadukone issue. With all the ingredients of this entire issue being stage-managed, some really big people fell into the trap and started sharing their points of view and ended up trending a subject creating a lot of noise around what Social Media cutely calls – a ‘nontroversy’.

Similarly, Airtel created a nontroversy and let it loose on unsuspecting consumers who were only ready to jump at the first instance like a bunch of canines for a bowl of food.

1.4 seconds. 140 characters. And you have a half witted statement on SM.

Brand got what it wanted! People were discussing about them. What the brand could not achieve by a ‘good communication’ has been achieved by creating a nontroversy. Airtel handled it beautifully. Never responded to it. Never reacted. Continued running it and phasing it out the way it should ideally be done. Brilliant job!

Kudos Airtel! I see this as a case study on today’s customer.

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Uber Trouble – A Communication conundrum

Uber

There are people who swear by Uber. Get on to Twitter & Facebook if you don’t believe me. Within a matter of few years, Uber has reached out to many countries and has been very successful with their operations that has led to a lot of positive WOM. Impressive thus far!

But Uber seems to be hitting some hurdles in India. Nothing that cannot be fixed. It is what Sherlock would’ve termed ‘Rudimentary’. And this rudimentary issue has led to confused signals from the media to naive customers!

To begin with, read this article which appeared on on 8-Aug-2014 in Economic Times. And then read this article in the same newspaper (front page) on 9-Aug-2014.

When your business crosses borders, chances are that the different regulations from your home country could make you ‘illegal’ in the other! It is a very basic issue. Accepting USD and then paying the drivers in INR is definitely a ‘quasi-legal quasi-finance’ issue. This could have been handled by clever structuring which makes the entire operation and routing of the funds follow the law of the land.

Maybe they do it. But…

Letting something like this slip out in premium financial newspaper doesn’t augur well for the brand in India. It can even lead to consumers getting confused on whether their transaction is legal and would they end up facing the not so friendly folks from revenue department!

What now?

India is a market which has shown a lot of promise. With so many start-ups springing out of every street corner and non-existent garage spaces, the leading financial (and main stream) dailies are having dedicated spaces and sometimes pages for start-ups.

Media is a double edged sword.

Some rudimentary suggestions!

  • Have a dedicated media focus.
  • It is okay to be sparsely written with a positive tonality than be written about everyday sending out mixed signals
  • Fix the regulatory issue and go back to the media. It is important to speak with the people. And definitely not wise to get the unnecessary attention of a regulator!
  • Keep the media close. It is important to understand what they publish. As a brand, a lot of ‘crisis’ could be averted by being honestly smart!

Note: This article first appeared as a LinkedIn Post here.

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Introduction to Marketing – Sessions at ITM

I am currently conducting sessions on ‘Introduction to Marketing’ at ITM for the Executive MBA course. The PPT’s below are the slides I have used there.

Credits: I have borrowed content and concepts from Marketing Gurus. I have collated the thoughts, added some of my own and have put together these slides for the sake of the classroom sessions. Thanks to all the Marketing gurus who have taught me and still continue to teach me.

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Marketing – Support or Strategic Function?

Why do FMCG companies survive every single downturn and come out on top? Is it purely because an average consumer cannot ‘NOT buy toothpaste’ but can cut down on his eating out?

A simple question, which has a very complex underlying principle behind it!

That actually leads to the second question: Have today’s corporations understood the fundamental difference between Production concept & Marketing Concept?

For the uninitiated, Production Concept is ‘You can have any colour you want so long as it is black’. The classic line from Mr. Ford when he rolled out his assembly line Model T. We have progressed far beyond that to have product teams which will gauge the consumer requirement and comes out with products which will suit the customer ‘best’ without rocking the apple cart too much on the assembly line. Simply put, marketing concept has customer inputs in terms of needs and plugs them with offerings.

So what is the reason for today’s perils? Especially the ones of the economic kind?

The last few decades have seen the emergence of a key entity in every corporation. Finance! With this function at the helm, every organization is focusing more and more on investors, investor relations and shareholder value. Great idea! But somewhere this strikes an imbalance (at least in my mind) with respect to the raison d’etre of a ‘going concern’. Agreed everyone is in business to make money. But money doesn’t grow in trees. And for all those who thought it did, we have the results to see. Bad loans! Bad loans packaged as assets and sold to some unsuspecting customers (investors)! Asset (even if non-existent) re-packaged and sold to insurance companies and voila! No asset! No investor! No value! Just jingle mails and worldwide economic downturn.
(Though this sounds like a ‘rare emotional outburst’, I believe there is a grain of truth in the above paragraph)

Going back to the question about Marketing & Production concept, I believe a sweeping generalization would point to a simple ‘No’. Here’s why!

  • So long as an organization is looking at only the books and not the consumer, peril is staring from right behind their necks.

You can make cars, toothpastes, gold ornaments, provide mobile telephony or stitch footwear on the road. Customer comes first. LUMP IT! No two ways about it. If you are worried only about your books and your investors, you can find a good chef, cook them fine and then count bars. Be my guest! In the same vein, FMCG firms, which focus more on the fundamentals of the marketing concept – of looking at the customer – is the real ‘going concern’ and have always been the bell weather stock of every single market in the world.

  • Complexity of offerings

The man on the road is a simple guy. More complex your offering to understand and more difficult the usability, less successful your product / offering is. This is very typical of many industries of today. Again FMCG scores here. There will always be the ‘vanilla’ offering which is the chasis for products, product extensions and brand extensions. But the offering is very simple. A toothpaste is a toothpaste is a toothpaste. Though the paste becomes a gel handling an ‘inherent need’ to provide freshness, the fundamental job is to keep the dental combination clean. Simplicity is key! And it comes only from a customer facing function. Not that looks internally.

  • Broadening the pie

Looking internally narrows the focus of the organization. Remember the footwear soldiers who were sent to an island where no one wears footwear story? Though it is meant to change the mindset of the sales guy, here’s my take on it. The company that will send the man to the island with no footwear habit is looking at the customer. The one who is bothered only about their books will probably look at it as an expense.

Any corporation which looks at growing, must grow the size of the pie, unless you want to run into ‘competition commission’ and its equivalents. Agreed that it costs, but is it a cost really? Aren’t they investments, which will reap returns later? Agreed, one needs to be prudent with investments, but if there is only production concept, then such requirements of capital would be considered costs and if there is a marketing concept prevalent in a corporation, such an investment would either prove to be worthwhile or leave a failed marketer.

If you disagree, let’s have a friendly chat!

  • Looking beyond this (and probably the next) quarter

Marketing concept also widens your scope of time. An organization that looks internally ends up looking no further than this quarter or the next. Best case, the end of the year for the sake of annual reports and P&L statements. Organizations where the marketing function rules roost, ends up surviving longer than the ones which look at the books and no beyond! Coke, Levers, P&G and closer home, the Tatas & Birlas and someone from my home state, Sundarams. They have survived the test of time and have remained sustainably profitable over prolonged periods despite the many setbacks purely because they have taken ample care of their customers. They may have had rough patches, but have always been able to get back on feet like the Incredible Hulk, dusting themselves off to see another day, month, year, decade et al.

Does this mean that they don’t show profits every quarter? No way! They do. They may not show as much as the top profitable company in that quarter. But they are predictable. Slow, but certainly sure. Haven’t we read the rabbit & tortoise story folks?

So where do we look when we need solutions? Internally or externally? Who runs an organisation? What are the priorities?

It may not be the panacea for all ails that our world is facing today. Starting from large corporations to small ones, the fundamental thought should be at looking at customer needs. And so long as that is maintained, which will be from customer facing entities like Sales & Marketing, Customer Services & Products functions, the performance of the organization in the longer run will more often than not be met with success.

So a quick question to all the CEOs.

While Sales by virtue of being a revenue function has its share of the limelight, do you still consider Marketing & Customer Services to be a support function?

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Relevant experience – Seriously?

It is heartening to see that recruiters pore through piles of resumes to come up with that brilliant match of what the functional head has in mind.

I want 15 years of relevant experience in Oil & Gas Industry of which, preferably 5 years in senior management position

It is understandable if such a requirement is for specific function. Say, Medical Researcher. I can’t think of a medical research professional getting into the construction industry. Similarly, a fund manager will be a fund manager and the number of industries that would require a fund manager would probably be a handful.

But functions like HR? Sales? Marketing? Finance? I think it is time to wake up and smell the coffee!

By getting people only from within the industry for generic functions, India Inc is only making goats out of idiots. A professional who has done the same job for 15 years would not come to your organisation and create wonders! He will probably, purely by virtue of having been in a different organisations, bring in some process changes at best! That’s it.

For example, a marketing professional with loads of experience in the logistics industry (courier services), can bring in phenomenal amount of knowledge in FMCG or consumer durables. He (pardon me being ‘male chauvenistic’. It is easier to think this way!) would’ve seen completely different points of view which can be put to great use in Durables. After all, we are talking of a country which specializes in ‘jugaad’ and uses washing machines to make lassi. The key here is, ‘the consumer is the same and the wallet that each industry is fighting for has limited money and the fight is pretty much in the open’.

This is true even in some B2B companies. Guys selling oil machinery will not be recruited by a company that makes OEM engines for cooling towers! They would want ‘relevant experience’! Let’s face it! What they want is the pie from competition. No one seems to be interested in increasing the size of the pie!

By getting sales professionals from within the industry, the contacts will come along of course. But that would mean that you are just poaching business from competition and not getting new customers to your existing base or not even thinking of new things to do within or outside the existing business. While competitive information / contacts is important, it would prove to be a ‘short-term’ solution but would wither away in a few years time!

By doing this, the human mind gets tuned to think and do the same thing over and over again which leads to lack of great product ideas / creative ideas / solutions not coming out from many industries.

For example; a marketing professional has to understand the industry, gain working knowledge about the industry, understand the consumer and use his / her existing marketing skills to good use! Voila! Very similar for Finance professionals too. They need to understand the industry and the tricks of the trade will come with the understanding of the trade.

The search for ‘Relevant experience’ is an easy way out which will only create hordes of pigeons. Same set of people circulating within the industry is safe, but may not lead to progress. Radical ideas come from people who are from outside the industry. There are a few names that are passionate about an industry and have re-invented it over and over again. But great ideas have come from people who have jumped industries too. David Ogilvy for one! He was a kitchen equipment salesman. He turned around to become the biggest name in advertising!

I find this to be a very ‘Asian’ phenomenon. I know of European & American friends who have studied legal and are working in a financial services company in IT department. As bizaare as it may sound, they seem to have found their calling in a different industry in a different role. But in Asia, we would settle for nothing less than pigeons.

I am reminded of this great song… (A different situation, but similar perspective)

How long will our industry keep our eyes, ears and mind closed towards attracting new talent into our industries?

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What goes around comes around

Patient: Doctor! I have severe toothache
Doctor: Which one?
P: Molars, incisors, canines. The whole thing!
D: Ah! I can only treat you for your right molar. For the left you have to meet Dr. Blahblah, for the incisors you should meet Dr. Blublu

Aren’t we living in the age of specialists? I won’t be surprised when the above conversation becomes a reality. May be it already is!

Ok! What does all this have to do in a Marketing / Advertising / Communications site?

A seemingly innocuous tweet a few days ago by Mubin Khan triggered a small conversation and hence this post. The conversation is here and had participation from some senior industry professionals.

Conversation on Twitter

Conversation on Twitter

My two cents! Marketers are dogged by few issues:

  • The job of a marketer is not just handling communications. They have many other issues which are unique to each industry.
  • The job of ‘integrated communications’ which was once given to ‘one consultant’ has now become fragmented
  • The few who can afford to be and still are integrated communications consultants are too big for many marketers to afford.

What does this lead to?

  1. Marketers are trying to ‘in-source’ many of the activities and are trying to handle the ‘single message’ by pulling strings with many specialists.
  2. In the process, marketers tend to spend a lot of bandwidth trying to keep the one-ness of the communication pieces and find themselves at unease in handling the other pieces required for organisation growth
  3. Specialists come armed with ‘specific knowledge’ which probably is best for that particular vehicle (say SEM / SEO) and almost thrust it down the marketer’s throat leading to further fragmentation of communication.

It is true that we need to have specialists who know more and more of less and less. But there is something called the overall health, which is always at the doorstep of peril. In the process of treating the right molar, the overall health of the patient shall not get compromised. We are heading there, pretty much!

Full Circle?

When computing started, there was a central processor and thin / dumb clients. With the PC revolution, we had ‘intelligence’ transferred to the computer you were working on. The central servers retained / enhanced their intelligence, but were of limited use. And today is the age of cloud computing! Although the intelligence has now been distributed to the servers, the clients and the entire network, but still we operate from a client – a single window. At one level, it looks like we’ve come a full circle.

Maybe that’s something the advertising industry needs to learn from! It is great to have intelligence distributed and specialised across various media vehicles and marketing tools. But agencies (I’d rather use the term consultant-executors) must be willing to provide a single window to operate from. Any solution that is required can be achieved from the same window.

Even if there are specialist agencies as separate entities, the services can still be offered under a single banner.  This would ensure that ‘Integrated Communications’ is achieved without taxing the marketer’s bandwidth. That’s precisely what the agencies of the 90s used to do. The marketers loved it!

Few agencies have taken to that direction, but the problem is ‘it is few’.

Going a full circle and providing a single window for integrated marketing communications would certainly bring back the friendly neighbourhood marketer’s love.

What say?

Thanks are in order to Mubin Khan, Paritosh Joshi, Lynn De Souza & Ravi Kiran.

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Big Loser – A Social Media Community

An erstwhile ‘Grade II Obese’ man is now within the ‘normal weight range’, thanks (not just) to Twitter.

Ok. What is the connection between an Obese Man having reduced to ‘normal weight range’ and social media? Little do we realise the power of community building, cause marketing, social media and a huge mash up of all these three! Here goes the story!

Big Loser #bglsr

Around February 2011, a gentleman who goes by the twitter handle @b50 and is a twitter celebrity of sorts, probably felt that he had to lose weight and required motivation and started a movement called Big Loser (Twitter hashtag #bglsr). It is a movement where one sponsors another for weight-loss. By sponsor, it means that the person who sponsors will pay a pre-decided amount (say Rs.10) for every kilo of weight lost by the person who is being sponsored.

On February 1, 2012, the first edition of #bglsr closed with 28 contributors donating over Rs.1 lakh for a charity. Impressive because some donations came from people who have never met each other before!

The Social Media angle

The entire movement in my eyes is an awesome Marketing effort. Knowingly or unknowingly, the Big Loser movement seems to have touched every nerve with the right pressure and has built an online community only through social media!

There was a purpose. A purpose that everyone could identify themselves with! Healthy living married with charity. This is almost like Lagaan which mashed up Love, patriotism & cricket! Couldn’t get any better. Having identified the purpose and having put it out in the open, the role that the community builder (@b50 & his gang @chhavi, @sashg & @aalaap) had to play was just to channelize the energy. Regular offline meetings / tweet-ups were held and each person amongst the coordinators had a distinct role to play. And the best part was the role that each participant had to play. They all knew their roles and it was sufficiently made clear… only through twitter and the website built for this purpose (www.bigloserindia.com).

Sub-events like #BLOTW – Big Loser Of The Week were created to keep the momentum going for an entire year. Some kind hearted corporates (including The Bombay Store, Staeta Soy Milk, Placid Hairdressing & Skin, Popsci Magazine et al chipped in with goodies for #BLOTW winners.

Participants were motivated to update their data online. An application to track how much weight has been lost was built and could be accessed through Twitter credentials.

At its peak, the number of participants soared beyond thousands and averaged about 4-5 tweets every second carrying the #bglsr tag. People started tweeting about their morning walks and hash tagged #bglsr. The momentum was achieved. Spiralled / Viralled whatever you call it, what started as a germ of a thought had become a community movement and had followings from across the world.

A key point to be noted is that the only offline support that this movement received was through the bit of press coverage that they had. What was impressive is the fact that they got coverage from Forbes apart from Hindustan Times, DNA & Mumbai Mirror!

Result?

  1. Some really healthy individuals. Proof: https://twitter.com/#!/b50/status/166047187468435456
  2. A tally of Rs.104,750/- as donations to charities designated by the organisers.
  3. Some people who ‘sponsored’ haven’t met the people they were sponsoring. Either there was a sense of belief on the amount of weight lost or they just went by images of ‘before & after’. This was a strong message in terms of community building. The belief that was blindly placed on the ‘bigloser’ was nothing less than awesome.
  4. A successful community which is now on its way to starting ‘season 2’ a la the TV series’ of now.
  5. Clear vision on the events, sub-events, groups, the roles that each one had to play and a meaningful purpose that needs to be chased!

As @b50 says, “We didn’t have to monitor the number of people who joined the movement. The usage of the hashtag wasn’t restricted and was free flowing. But what mattered was the result. Healthy people and a healthy amount to support a good cause!”

The introduction of the book Community Building on the Web: Secret Strategies for Successful Online Communities outlines the following nine clear steps to build successful communities on the web.

  1. Define and articulate your PURPOSE
  2. Build flexible, extensible gathering PLACES
  3. Create meaningful and evolving member PROFILES
  4. Design for a range of ROLES
  5. Develop a strong LEADERSHIP program
  6. Encourage appropriate ETIQUETTE
  7. Promoting cyclic EVENTS
  8. Integrate the RITUALS of community life
  9. Facilitate member-run SUBGROUPS

And I have little doubt that #bglsr movement is an awesome case study in executing a very successful online community. A great lesson to be learnt!

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