Monthly Archives: October 2009

Brand equity in real time

Media Post reports that Yahoo’s latest campaign caused its perception among U.S. adults to fall steeply – apparently, YouGov’s BrandIndex, which tracks daily consumer perception of brands, found that Yahoo’s buzz score had tumbled from 35.4 on Sept. 22 to 25.5 as of Monday. Acknowledging India’s growing significance, the $100 million (global) “It’s Y!ou” campaign was rolled out in India too – y!ou couldn’t have missed the “disruptive” frontpage takeover of multiple mainstream dailies or the TVCs. My views on it were expressed in <140 characters

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Before you take me for some kind of Yahoo hater, I’m not. (Actually, I’m quite a fan of the Carol Bartz style of no-nonsense management – typified by the last few lines here) In fact my irritation with them stems from their relative disinterest towards a few tools that were original pathbreakers and that they’ve had for a long time – most importantly ‘delicious’, but I’ve written about that earlier, and some work on that service has happened since. So, anyway, Yahoo, this is not about you, you were simply a prolongued prologue, and a good example.

A couple of weeks back, when writing about Wave, I’d wondered  “is brand equity an excuse/surrogate for thin value, and exist only in theory, or until the last good product?” This entire activity above somehow reminded me of that. Brand equity, and the lord knows there’s no shortage of definitions. (ignore the newspaper brand references)  So why did I think brand equity is now a surrogate/excuse for thin value?

Every brand that enjoys good equity now must have provided ‘thick value’ at some point of time, to its audience. At some point though, did the ‘brand’ take over, and the focus become more on perception management, rather than as an aid to retaining/attracting customers. Is that the reason why brands in many industries cannot find a way past the disruption they’ve been facing – because they’ve been focused on creating brand equity basis communication and superficial value additions, and sticking way too close to the specifics, like competition, and not bothering about the generic fulfilment of a need?(classic example, newspapers and news delivery) Somewhere did brand and marketing communication start dominating the proceedings, at the cost of the basics – a product solving a need/a distribution that increases convenience/the factor that built the equity in the first place? And then did they shortchange consumers by putting a premium on the brand’s equity without delivering value? While trying to build the emotional connect and create a value perception beyond the commoditisation, did the means become the end?

Take Yahoo for example. By an unfortunate coincidence, last week, GMail replaced Yahoo Mail as the most popular email service in India. I can imagine why. Like many others, I have multiple Gmail ids, and a Yahoo id too. While I open Yahoo because of a couple of e-groups, GMail is my primary communication centre. It has never been static, features and tools have been added to a point where I wonder how I worked without them. (try operating in basic HTML for a while) I checked Yahoo out again, with as fresh a perspective as i could, and didn’t find anything that could make me consider a shift. I still use Delicious a lot, and it still has a lot of equity (in my mind) going for it. Yahoo’s brand campaigns have nothing to do with it.

Maybe the concept of brand equity had some merit when the audience didn’t talk to each other, but as WOM keeps getting bigger,  push brand communication is bound to become more meaningless. As consumption patterns change, needs change, distribution systems change, as real-time becomes the norm,  and exit barriers and costs for consumers come down, relying on a static and uni dimensional concept of brand equity is bound to be harmful. Also, with fragmenting media, fragmenting audiences, and an increasing importance for ‘my experience’, brand equity will be different things to different people at different times, and even the hazy setof objective measurements in vogue today, would be rendered ineffective. (Yes, it might have been the same before, but in an earlier era, consumers did not talk to each other, and it was easy to push the brand’s equity on to consumers). (Generalising, but) Take a look at the communication and taglines adopted by brands, their superficiality, the efforts that go into forcing the tagline’s emotion/value into the actual value provided, and thereby build/increase brand equity and you’ll see what I mean.

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Perhaps, product equity will be the only measure that matters, and brand equity will be earned and burned real time, as consumers share feedback and rely on their trusted sources for updates, and historic performances will decrease in significance. (when the Fail Whale comes out on Twitter, evangelists become bloodhounds, or whatever..you know what I mean) And so perhaps, from a brand perspective, its about time that meaningless communication took a back seat, and we went back to the basics of brand equity, that may mean redefining the roles and responsibilities of everyone associated with ‘brand’ as a function. Because if you’re good, they’ll talk about you, and if you’re bad, they’ll talk more about you :)

But you know what, I had more fun when i thought about a parallel. Thought leaders. Replace ‘brand equity’ with ‘thought leaders’ (or personal brand equity) and tell me what you think. :)

UPDATE: Yahoo hires a new agency, tells Ogilvy “It’s not Y!ou”.. Damn, that was fast!!

UPDATE 2 Meanwhile, a homepage redesign gives them 9% more page views and 20% more time spent.

until next time, equitable solutions..

Bonus Reads:

Braggarts take over the web

Almost unrelated, but an excellent read – Jerry Yang’s Advice in Interesting Times (via @mukund)

Arbor

Sometime back, when I’d written the post on Onam, I’d mentioned a story that deserved to be told. About an old school pal R who has composed a wonderful soundtrack for a recently released Malayalam movie. He’s been composing for over 2 years now, probably more if you count the non-film work he’s done, but when I listened to this soundtrack, I was glad to note that I was proud of him. No, not pride by association – of knowing him, but actually proud for what he’s done for himself. I was glad for him. And so, I was glad for myself.

R and I share a history, which starts with a shared birthday, so it used to be that our ‘color dress’  days in school used to be the same. He also used to stay in the university campus, which, in case you haven’t noticed, is a constant handle for my nostalgia trips on this blog. R was obviously a very good singer, actually he was a little beyond that grade too. I still remember the time when for some class talent show, R and I were asked to teach group songs to our respective classes. R did a fantastic job, while i just taught the class the song – everyone sang everything. The difference was harmony. I didn’t know it then, I understood it later. Meanwhile, like me, R also played cricket. My tryst with that bloomed late (high school) and lasted only a few years,  as far as official teams went. I wonder if he did something about it. Oh, okay, I just read through what I wrote. No, I refuse to make myself an underdog on my own blog. :D

The learning part of school life was obviously the most important, not by choice, but still….and as those primary/secondary class reports would show, I used to be the topper, modesty be damned. Add to that, the school junior hockey team, quiz, debate, Dumb C later, and being the quorum filler for things as varied as Malayalam recitation and News Reading (yes, we had that as a bleddy competition item, would you believe it!! Maybe I should sue that school, those certificates can be quite embarrassing) and you could imagine why my attention was spread thin. But wait, let’s not overcompensate. :)

Anyway, R and I parted ways when i changed schools, though we used to meet later for most of the inter school festivals, where on one hand, I’d be shouting out Dumb C guesses, and minutes later, would be desperately trying to remember the lyrics for the next few lines I had to sing for the music competition. Once I also noticed him in the Western (Group) music part of the competition, and I went WTF (the school kid equivalent actually) on why there wasn’t a Bollywood part, since the only English lyrics i knew then were …..erm, nothing. :| After school we completely lost touch, and a nice little music rivalry, in which he used to kick my a** regularly, except for stray upsets, ended.

A few years back, a nostalgia wave hit our batch, and a classmates e-group was created. Nice people that they are, they sent me an invite and I joined, even though I’d spent only 5 years in that school. That it remains my favourite school is a fact, though. Anyway, that’s where I heard the news that R had composed his first movie soundtrack, back in 2007. And now begins the role that R played without his knowledge – the reason for this post.

When i heard the news, a part of me was happy, but that was only a small part. The larger part was insanely jealous. This wasn’t like any of the stars/celebrities I regularly read about, I knew this guy, I had shared the stage with him and competed with him. And here he was, on the way to becoming famous, while I sat blogging about paths not taken!! That was when I looked at myself, and really bothered to take an objective look- as objective as i could be then. I realised it wasn’t the first time that this insane jealousy had happened. From wittier one liners to cooler jobs, the feeling had expressed itself many times, with different people. Sometimes fleetingly, sometimes for long stretches. Each time, it lasted till the mind gave itself a reason to stop being jealous, on why there was a flip side in their lives too. Bizarre ones sometimes, in desperation, but reasons nevertheless.

But from then on, I have been watching myself. It happens now too, in fact, on one front it is worse, because the proliferation of social networks means that there are more people I am now connected to – Twitter updates, Facebook statuses, vacation photos, all have the potential to get me launched into a ‘why is his shirt whiter than mine’ phase. All this, when on most fronts, I have nothing to complain about in my life, silly twist in my neck, notwithstanding. Initially, I tried to control the envy, give rational reasons – what I have gained and what i have missed on, and deliberately shut out things which would make me well, insanely jealous. From experience, the control is a myth, and the worst part is that it creates layers of denial. The massive risk is the day when it explodes in your face.

So these days, I don’t control, I admit to myself that I’m jealous, and wherever I can, i tell the other person too. Thereafter, the interaction is a delight. I get to know the hard work they’ve put in to reach where they have, I realise I can be genuinely glad for other people, and there is a sheer joy that can be experienced. Sometimes I am rebuffed by people too. I have also realised that the more i acknowledge, the lesser I get envy attacks.  I still get them sometimes, but I think the path is right. On a tangential front, I am also trying to leave expectations from myself open.

A strange thought occurred to me while I was writing this. Maybe its just me,  but with this sudden outburst of sharing and connectedness, are we increasingly living out a life that we want to portray to others? A “Hey look, I am happy, everything is perfect in my world” approach. Even the sad statuses are filtered, like the ‘negative things about yourself’ in job interviews. :) How much of the happiness is in the sharing, in the feeling that others might be envious? Are we going that way? If I don’t share and don’t expect any returns, but I can still be happy about something I have experienced/done, would that be joy? And as a next step, if I can  go through the same experience without the baggage of expectations, would that be the objectivity I seek? Each second a new life? Beyond conditioning? Possible?

R’s story loop needs to be closed, eh? On request, he has sent me a karaoke version of a song I liked in the movie. I have promised to sing the vocals… for myself. And a story that deserved a joyous ending. :)

until next time, R bit ends for now :)

PS: For those reading this on the blog, see that new thingie right below this. USE IT :p

Delicacy

There’s no dearth of tiny value-for-money Chinese joints in Koramangala. But we read quite some good things about Delicacy and decided to have Chinese for Diwali, though I’m still bugged about Arunachal Pradesh. And that’s how we landed up at Delicacy. Its right opposite Kolkata, and for the lazy ones, from the Sony world on Koramangala 100 ft Road, head towards 1st Block (i.e turn left when coming from Indiranagar) At the next junction, where you have a Liberty showroom (on your left) and Tanishq /Silsila on your right, take a left, and then the first left. You’ll find Delicacy on your, yep, you guessed erm right, on your left. Chinese, remember? :D

As all the reviews said, this is not exactly the place you’d go for fine dining. Its a place so tiny, you wouldn’t believe it if you saw it. But having said that, its probably the best space utilisation I’ve seen, they’ve managed to fit in half a dozen tables without making it seem congested. Quite comfortable too, actually. But its the food we came for. And they welcomed us with some fried wontons, with a sweet sauce.

The place serves a bit of Thai too, in addition to the regular Chinese. There are almost 20 soups, most of which have a veg (Rs.55)/non-veg (chicken Rs.60)/sea food option (Rs.65). In addition to the regular stuff, you can also find Pepper Lemon Soup, Laksa Kai soup, and the one we ordered – Delicacy Special Soup. We checked if it was a thick soup before ordering, and were told it was, but when it did land up, it turned out to be a thin soup. The person who’d taken our order apologised and took it inside to change it. It came back in a few minutes, ever so slightly thicker. Heh. Since it was quite tasty, we didn’t feel it was necessary to complain. :D

We didn’t actually plan for Momos, but having seen them on the menu, it was difficult to ignore. So we ordered a plate of pan fried chicken momos, and since there were more than a dozen options each of veg (Rs.65/70), chicken(Rs.80-110), and sea food starters (fish, prawns and crab at Rs.110), we had to try at least one, and that turned out to be Spicy Fish with Red Chilly. There was a flood of momos, actually a dozen of them, and quite tasty ones, especially with the sauce given along with them. The fish was awesome, hot and sweet kind, and I’d highly recommend it. We were almost stuffed by then, and we still had the main course left.

We’d ordered a Sliced Chicken ‘N’ Pickle Chilly sauce (from a huge list of veg, chicken and sea food options at Rs.70, 90, 110 respectively) and a Butter Noodles. There are about 25 options among rice/noodles/chopsuey with all of them having a veg/chicken/sea food option. (Rs.60-100) The Butter noodles was excellent, but we could’ve chosen a better chicken dish.

All of the above cost us just over Rs.400. Great food, excellent service, and absolute value for money. Even if you don’t want to do a sit-down meal, you should at least try the take away/ home delivery.

Delicacy, #971/C, Ground Floor, ST Bed, Koramangala, 4th Block. Ph: 41753636/7/25502233

Menu at Zomato

Social Inside

There’s quite a funny video that has got almost 50,000 views by now on YouTube. It is titled ‘The Social Media Guru’, and in case you haven’t seen it by now, you should take a look, though you might want to keep the audio levels down thanks to the language

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZKCdexz5RQ8

While the video does generalise and could cause some heartburn among some who work on social media and do good work, the reason I found it funny was because I see around me, a lot of what is shown in there – a preoccupation with the tools/platforms in vogue, and the lack of something as basic as an objective. As always, the tools are less important than the philosophy of sharing, collaborating, and 2 way communication that’s happening not just on social media sites, but across the web, though the former, because of their inherent nature, have taken it to a different level altogether. The combination of a client who has decided his brand needs to be on twitter, thanks to some article he read somewhere (or an even more vague reason) and the social media guru whose answer to any client is a templated Facebook page + twitter account + you tube, is quite lethal – to two sets of people – the agencies/individuals who are doing/interested in some genuinely useful work on the social media platforms and the brands who decide not to take the plunge basis the results of the poorly thought through/executed programs of other brands. It doesn’t help that the medium is still in its nascent stages and everyone is still learning.

While social media practices and practitioners might be fewer in India, as compared to the US, the challenges faced show very little such skew. I read two posts recently on the subject. Karthik wrote about ‘selling social media engagement in India‘, where, with the experience of working in a PR firm and pitching social media, he looks at the changes he’s seen in the acceptance of social media among clients over the last couple of years, and the key attributes for making the sale. He mentions how an existing communications partner has a ‘door opener’ advantage as compared to say, an exclusive social media agency, which helps them get the right  people from the client side involved in the pitch, and the need for proper articulation and simple guides which could be used by the client team to sell to their bosses.

In another extremely interesting post, Sanjay writes about “Advertising Agencies and Social Media: The Challenges“. He notes fundamental differences in the way an advertising agency looks at communication, and how communication actually happens in social media. The observations on ‘campaign’ focus, the obsession with perfection (copy), the mechanics of how communication is rolled out, are all spot on, and something that I too have experienced several times while dealing with creative agencies. He ends by mentioning that in the current scenario, agencies keep treating these platforms as broadcast media. That last thought is something I keep deploring regularly here, so I completely agree.

Now the thing is, while these are all perfectly valid points, I was looking at it from a different perspective. I wonder if, in the entire spiel, social media’s proximity to marketing/communication/brand as a function completely overshadows the cultural transition required by the client organisation. Does it get discussed at all? Even in my post rant some time back, I had only emphasised the usage of social media in the PR, research, advertising disciplines and the different stages of the product life cycle – including sales, customer care etc, and barely mentioned the culture change.

The subject of a shift in culture is something I have written about in several contexts – from basic thoughts on transparency in organisations and controlling employee communication internally and with the outside world, to the need for organisations to understand themselves and the value they provide before going overboard with listening and acting on consumer feedback, to whether the size and scale of the organisation dictates its culture and its internal and external communication processes,  and the necessity to tackle business problems and look at it as something that needs to be addressed at an enterprise level too and not just at a brand level. The Dachis Group presentation – ‘Social Business by Design‘ illustrates this extremely well.

I examined it further in the framework of the Awesomeness manifesto, which i regard as an excellent set of fundamentals for organisations, if they want to operate profitably in the evolving business scenario, and in all four of its pillars, I could see the need for a more holistic approach to social media. Its obviously easier said than done. It involves a vision, the zeal and guts to translate that into internal and external business practices- from environment to employee friendliness, training of personnel, readjustment of business goals, hiring people who understand this new design – like say, P&G’s technopologist, who can operate across functions to evangelise it and help apply it in different contexts. And that’s just a few things. Look at an application of this across your organisation, and you’ll see how massive an endeavor it is. Maybe only a few organisations are thinking about it now, but I think it might become an imperative very soon, decided by external forces beyond the organisation’s control. Whether this is spearheaded by the organisations themselves or an external agency would be a decision based on several subjective parameters. Maybe then, organisations will be able to figure out the ‘gurus’ better. :)

So while, it is good to see great social media efforts from brands, I wonder whether more needs to be done to integrate it more fundamentally within the organisation.

until next time, social nirvana :)

Bonus Reads:

Customer Twervice by Social Media Explorer (10 examples of companies using social media for customer service)

Social Media Policy Database (Via Six Pixels of Separation)

Why its time to do away with the Brand Manager :)

A lot can happen over coffee

Part 2 of last week’s post. Contrary to what the title might suggest, this has nothing to do with Coffee Day. Well, almost.

I waited outside Fresco’s for the next meeting and this caught my eye. Coffee, destinations and experiences.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oTYh6OSnAIY

And just as I finish erm, shooting the above, she zooms in and after parking the car, chides me for not responding to her first wave from inside the car, until I point out to her that from where I stood, I could barely make out that its her inside the car. I also tell her that it might be unwise to wave at people of the opposite gender when one’s unsure… I was meeting her after a few months, and was yet again, struck by the precociousness. She’d called me to discuss a website idea of hers. She is all of 22, and has a knack of making me feel ancient, though unwittingly. We agree that the place demands that we concentrate solely on the chocolate desserts, but then we compensate by (me) arguing that the Oreo’s cream in her pastry was just wasting space that should’ve been taken by more chocolate. I pointed out my unadulterated ‘Chocolate Demise’.

I ask her about her new idea, and out comes the story that its happening thanks to the money made from another business of hers, that’s apparently quite a success. She informs me that the idea for the first business came about from an earlier meeting we’d had. She explained, and when I heard it, I felt like a favourite character of mine – Forrest Gump!! Meanwhile, her book is already with the agent, she tells me its been 5 months, and maybe its time to check out another agent. I tell her that’s a hell of a lot of things to be doing at 22. She finds it worrisome that she might be trying out too many avenues, too many side lanes, which might take her focus off the main road, and i tell her about the number of posts I have written about the paths not taken. After we’re through with our chat, I tell her that I’m very happy for her, the way she’s handling her life, and not to stop.

I wondered about the stuff I’d been doing when I was 22. One week later, I watch ‘Wake Up Sid’. (I Saw, Puked, in case you like anagrams)  After the movie I tweet,

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Dil Chahta Hai was released in 2001. I was 23 then, close enough to 22 when one looks back now. Not then, of course.  Business management and beach bumming. There’s no comparison. :)

A thought on WUS vs Lakshya before we move on.  Both are ‘coming of age’ movies, and that’s where the comparison ends, for me. Lakshya had an individual who got himself something to focus on, Sid just becomes relatively more mature. Movies work differently for different people, in fact I identified more with Lakshya than Sid, but to me, the comparison itself is perhaps unfair, because it means equating coming of age to focus. In my book, they are not the same.

Though WUS did remind me of DCH, it was another comparison that gave me food for thought. Konkona plays someone who’s older than Ranbir, by about 5 years. She comes to Mumbai, focused about what she wants to do. Ranbir is barely trying to figure out what he wants to do. Two different approaches to life.

I wondered if the age difference explained it, or was it the individual character, or their different circumstances. In many posts, I have explored each of the three separately. I have wondered whether today’s generation has many more choices than I had, and whether that’s the reason why I am constantly thinking about roads not traveled. I have wondered whether people are just made differently, in terms of aggression, risk taking mentality etc. I have wondered about how one’s circumstances, and the people one is surrounded with, influence one’s destiny. I have even wondered  about the combination – whether society has changed and has helped the young of today by giving them freedom to experiment, to make their own responses to choices, and thus made them smarter along the way, and helped them build confidence.

And then i remember the coffee choices I’d seen as I stood in front of Fresco’s. Choices have always been there, maybe lesser, but there. I could have the coffee on the roadside or inside the CCD. They’re completely different experiences, and any judgment of one being better or worse than the other is simply a matter of perspective, based on time, person, place and so on. It perhaps isn’t even about the journey, its about how  one sees the journey, and what one wants to make out of it. :)

until next time, ennui anyone? :)

Chalo Punjab

..for dinner, that’s what we thought, after D had spotted it on her way back from work last week. No, she doesn’t work in Punjab, this is version 2.0 of what used to be called ‘Dal Roti’ in Koramangala, located just before the Sony World junction, on the left, when coming from the National Games Village direction, opposite the IBP petrol pump.

Dal Roti used to be the value-for-money North Indian joint we used to frequent in our first round of stay in Koramangala. Coincidentally, I remember mentioning the last time we had been there, that it was time for a renovation, and that seems to be exactly what happened. So Dal Roti is now ‘Chalo Punjab’ with a ‘fine dining’ tag to boot. We reached there just after 8, and easily got a table. I think that can be attributed to this being the first weekend (I think) after the re-launch.

Though the seating arrangements remains roughly the same, the ambience is must better, with more Punjabi flavor thrown in, in terms of props. I still wouldn’t classify it as fine dining, though its definitely a couple of steps above the initial version.

The menu is more elaborate though, and if anything, we were spoilt for choice. You could start with sherbets/shikhanjvi/thandai/khatte aam ka panna or chaas/lassi or even an ice cream doodh sheikh (they’ve had  quite some fun with the spellings and the names), about a dozen options priced between Rs.40-80. If you’re the shorba kind, you could try ‘loveleen de tandrust shorbe’ – 3 veg and 2 non veg options, priced at Rs.70/80.

There are more than a dozen veg starters including the Rawalpindi Railway Gobi and Peeo de Cheesy Palak rolls, at Rs.130/140. The non veg options would be about double of that, most of it in chicken (Rs.160/170) and about 4-5 options each in mutton (Rs.210) and fish (Rs.220) and a couple of prawn options too (Rs.250). For the main course, the grass eaters get to choose from about half a dozen dishes each of dal and paneer (including Major Patrick da paneer tiranga!!), in addition to over 15 other dishes, like ‘Simple di subz keema’, ‘marie memsaab di ishtew’, and ‘garima di gajjar methi malai’, priced between Rs.120-160!! There are about 8-10 options each in chicken and mutton (Rs.230-270) and 3-4 options in fish, prawn (Rs.230-270) and eggs (Rs.130-160).

To go with that, you could have paratha/roti/kulcha/naan, priced between Rs.35-65, or biriyani/pulao/rice (like the Punjabi Times Chicken Fry rice!!) They also have thali options on weekdays – Rs.140/180 for veg/non veg. Now, you get what I mean by elaborate menu. Phew!!

We skipped the shorba and started with a Chandigarh Chicken Cake (C3) :D That’s “generously spiced minced chicken cupcakes shallow fried served with a dash of coriander and chat patta masalas”. Its a perfect starter, complemented  well by the mint chutney, though 6 pieces in one portion meant that the stomach was filled a little more than we’d liked, especially when a glass of lassi was also used to wash it down. For the main course, we ordered a Kartarpuri Kajuwala Kukkad Kadi, “chunks of tender chicken simmered in a rich cashew gravy mildly spiced”, a Mardaan di Meat di Feast (!!), “a delicious recipe of tender juicy cuts of mutton slow cooked in a rich onion yoghurt & tomato, enriched with steamed spicy mutton koftas swimming in mouthwatering minced mutton gravy”, and to go along with it, a wheat naan and a cheese chilly naan. The chicken dish was more brown than white, but simply awesome, and I’d recommend it very highly. Thick and mildly spicy, it was done extremely well, so much that the elaborate mutton dish was reduced to second place, though those koftas were quite good.

I’d have liked to try some dessert too, but was completely stuffed. I think just reading that menu fills half your stomach!! There are about a dozen dessert options (Rs.50-120) – the regular North Indian stuff – phirni (though this is Pammi ji’s!!), kheer, kulfi, rabdi, gaajar halwa, gulab jamun, and even a Mango Dolly ice cream!! Mind it!!

All of the above cost us just over Rs.800. The service was excellent, and except for a tiny delay in bringing back my credit card (hmm), it was extremely prompt. The price may perhaps not be justified by the ambience, but its more than compensated by the tasty food, great service, and the phenomenal amount of choice.

Chalo Punjab, 906/1, GNR Plaza, 80 ft Road, 6th Block, Koramangala. Ph:41105666/777

Menu at Zomato

Wavering

My twitter stream over the last weekend and to a certain extent this week too, was dominated by Wave. People asking for invites, writing about their first impressions, cracking one liners and so on. The entire activity reminded me of how brand custodians try to create ‘virals’. From making ‘viral’ a part of the strategy, to announcing on the day of the release that they have ‘launched’ a viral, there are stories and stories. For me ‘Wave’ was a viral. Google has done this before with GMail. This time too, there was hardly any advertising. It was banking on the brand and product equity of Google, and the (potential) awesomeness of the product. It made me think on both fronts.

Google’s brand identity has been dominated by search. For most people, it is their starting point on the web. But its not just that. From the iconic, simplistic, patented home page and the doodles it exhibits there, to its attempts to disrupt the real time conversation domain that is dominated by Facebook and Twitter with Wave, Google is many things. GMail, Orkut, Picasa, Blogger, YouTube, Maps, all operating on different domains, and brands in their own right. And they only make up one part of what Google is today. (link to an informative analysis of Google) Currently valued at $100 billion, and rising. Though wary of it, the brand has my respect, and for me, Google has been awesome.

Awesomeness. Umair Haque had an extremely interesting post about awesomeness recently. He wrote that innovation is passe, that it is ‘what is commercially novel’, doesn’t create anything fundamentally new, and that awesomeness is the new innovation. He lists ethical production, insanely great stuff, love, and thick value as the four pillars of awesomeness. Arguable, right from a semantics/ new buzzword premise. But I tend to agree, especially when I see the stuff being passed around as innovation.

Now, some of you might be aware of this, but for those who don’t, Google has a ten point corporate philosophy. An extremely interesting set of things, which you must take a look at.#10, I thought, was related to awesomeness. It goes “Great just isn’t good enough.” Google believes that great is just a starting point, and their “constant dissatisfaction with the way things are becomes the driving force behind everything we do.”

They obviously felt that the entire domain of real time communication, search, sharing and collaborating could do with some disruption, that would explain Wave. And from the time I saw the video, I’ve thought that it would be a game changer, and wrote as much. But the feedback so far has been less than encouraging. From productivity killer to RSS, The sequel, it has been called quite a few things. The opinions are from guys who know what they’re talking about.From the little I have tried it out, I’ve to admit it can totally knock off productivity, but then again so can Twitter. Its less fun if there aren’t many around. Twitter in 2007, for me. Most are still learning, because it IS quite different. Seth Godin called Twitter a protocol (yes I keep saying that because its absolutely apt), I still figure that Wave has the potential that it showed in the video, the potential to create its own protocol. After all, there must be a reason why they call it a preview.

But it did make me wonder about Google and awesomeness. Is Wave awesome, as opposed to an innovation? What if the idea is too advanced/difficult to provide ‘thick value’ now, does it still deserve to fail? Does that mean that sometimes innovation is better than awesomeness? How does ‘failure’ feature in the awesomeness manifesto? What does this do to the overall brand equity of Google? Or is brand equity an excuse/surrogate for thin value, and exist only in theory, or until the last good product?  But maybe Mitch is right when he says that we’re killing it before it begins. More after I play more with it.

until next time, a wave new world

PS: a few of my Wave tweets below ;)

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Tea and multiplicity

We sat in Infinitea, sipping green tea and munching fried momos. It was her first visit to Bangalore, and as my contribution to her introduction to the city, I had given her the experience of navigating the one ways of the city on a two wheeler. It was less than a month since we’d been first introduced to each other, and that turned out to be the subject of the conversation, at least the lion’s share of it. Of how technology had reached a point where one could perhaps land up in any city and have such conversations, because of the connections that pre-exist. No pre-exist for years or even months, but just a few days, thanks to the people we trust, who connect us. We perhaps have nothing in common culturally, but we can still relate to each other in terms of ideas and thought streams. Communication protocols are changing, and with that, relationships too. We discussed the subject of my post a fortnight back – evolution, and she told me the story of a guy who had a camera fitted into his glass eye!!

She’s traveled a lot and shared anecdotes of places and experiences. Her stories reminded us of how destinations have become like trophies, simply to be collected as part of a journey which we no longer appreciate, much like the beautiful sights that nature has created. We compared notes on clicking images versus capturing it in the mind’s eye. I could totally relate to that as I remembered the Leh trip from earlier this year and told her of how I paused before I took the step into the plane that would take me back, knowing that it perhaps was the last time I’d see the place. After all, there are so many places to see, never mind the trophies, because there may be some I haven’t even heard of yet.

I think that I might have come across as an absolute anti-capitalist, because at least twice I said that the only thing that stopped us from enjoying life fully was money, because it tends to become an end in itself, and we make the things it can buy, the things that hold value to us. If money wasn’t a constraint, I’d travel all over the world, write about the things I saw and be happy with the five odd people who read it. But it is, and so one has to save up, and choose from destinations, and hope one has made the right choice.

We debated a bit on what I thought was a paradox of sorts. She said that many people felt lonely when they landed in an alien city (work,not vacation), and they yearned for a taste of their own culture. I said that, with increasing connectivity, we were all moving towards global citizenship, where the individual cultures had blurring boundaries, or rather, the differences seemed to be becoming less important. Typical example being how we were able to converse on a range of subjects without getting bored. (though we have only my word for it) And how with each passing generation, traditional customs were getting packaged to suit lifestyles…until they will become ‘user agnostic’. (much like the platform agnostic technologies) But yes, that is more futuristic than present, though I may have more in common with a London based Twitter user, than my next door neighbour, on several fronts.

We spoke about the great divide that technology was creating, and how the human race has perhaps yet not identified that as one of our greatest challenges. A real time battle against time. Which made us realise that both of us were getting late for our (respective) next meetings.

I drop her back at the hotel where she’s staying. We have to take a convoluted route, thanks to the one ways that dot Bangalore. Its funny because in terms of actual distance its really close by. I wonder if the roads are a good metaphor. We bid each other goodbye. Its easy to remain in touch, connected. After all, geographic distances don’t really matter. Sometimes its the divide in the immediate vicinity that is more difficult to bridge.

until next time, a lot can happen over tea too :)

PS: The day had two wonderful conversations, and as I start out to share the other, I realise I am trying to short change the next one and crunch the content. That’s unfair, so we will do a Part 2 soon :)