Monthly Archives: January 2014

Brand Agility

One of the movements that I’d mentioned in the drivers for brand/marketing in 2014 and beyond is agile marketing. In my mind, there are various factors that are contributing to this eventuality like fragmentation of media platforms and the phenomenal amount of data being created and consumed to begin with.

Simulations, testing, analysing data, and quickly adapting are the basics of this approach to marketing. In terms of ‘ingredients’ to play with, I’d still go with the traditional 4Ps of the marketing mix- Product, (includes packaging) Price, Place (I include the internet with Platform) and Promotion, with Purpose being an umbrella addition. The input and the output, I have categorised into business dynamics, using the other favourite marketing letter – C. These are consumer, competition, channel, content and context, and the cohesive narrative that is created. I’m trying to evolve a framework from these, while watching brands actually practice it – with or without a theoretical structure to the approach.

One of the brands I’ve noticed doing a good job using many of these ingredients and the I/O is Uber. That’s despite the recent surge pricing bad press. In fact, I’d see this as an example of their ability and willingness to adapt. In the US, they’ve been honing their craft for a while – free rides for students during the Boston school bus driver strike was the first occurrence I noticed, and then soon after, the delightful hat tip to pop culture on National Cat Day in a tie up with Cheezburger.

They launched in India recently, and true to form, wasted no time in launching the UberSLEIGH during Christmas in Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad –  a tie up with Goonj. From a critical agile marketing evaluation perspective, it would be easy to argue that Christmas is a recurring annual event that brands plan for. But auto-rickshaw strikes are relatively less predictable. A fortnight later, on January 6th, Uber slashed rates by 75% in Bangalore in response to a strike. What is easy to see is the anatomy of an agile strategy. To me, it seems that they are well on their way to developing a flexible marketing framework that helps them take advantage of any variations in the ‘input-output’ factors I’d mentioned earlier – in this case, pricing product and place in response to consumer and context.

Newer brands might have an advantage in developing these frameworks because of minimal ‘baggage’ in their brand philosophy. But then again, the advantage for existing brands might be their existing role in a consumer’s life. Traditionally, brands have attempted to build a unique/distinguishable/identifiable ‘idea’ of itself in the mind of the consumer, with different forms of the promise+identity+attributes+personality framework and (relatively) limited broadcast media options. Iterations cycles were lengthy and included brand tracks and insights which resulted in large campaigns. Several things have changed now. Consumers have shorter attention spans and are increasingly fragmented in their consumption habits. Social platforms have caused brands to cede control over the conversations – any consumer’s experience can potentially create the perception for millions of potential customers. Platforms for reaching the consumer are exploding, and each have their protocols. The potential amount of data from all of this is huge! The challenge for brands is to stay relevant across contexts and create a cohesive narrative, and this requires an evolution in marketing processes. Like I’ve written before, if technology is invading marketing, then perhaps agile – which is a popular approach among that kind – is the way to go!

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until next time, sprints and marathons

Ruler of the World (Empire of the Moghul, #3)

Alex Rutherford 

The third in Alex Rutherford’s ‘Empire of the Moghul’, and the one that focuses on the greatest Mughal of them all – Jalal-ud-Din Muhammad Akbar. The first Mughal to be born in Hindustan (technically Pakistan now) and crowned emperor at the age of 13 on the death of his father Humayun.

His early years were lived in the shadow of his trusted advisor Bairam Khan, who as time went on, Akbar began to resent. This was probably the first of Akbar’s failed close relationships – a theme that comes out in the book quite clearly. Except for his mother, and his aunt, Akbar’s relationships – be it with his milk mother and brother, sons, wives were cordial at best. His early experiences made it difficult for him to trust people, but that did not deter him from creating an empire that stood the test of time, and gaining the respect and admiration of his subjects. The only exception to this mistrust was Abul Fazl, who though has been shown in a slightly negative light himself, should be thanked for elaborately chronicling the details of everything that happened in Akbar’s life. This assumes greater importance because it was an important period in India’s history, in terms of trade, relations with neighbours, Christian missionaries arriving in India and so on.

Indeed, it was probably due to Abul Fazl that Akbar’s relationship with his eldest son Salim became as strained as it did. The book explores this relationship between father and son quite well. Feuds between brothers had been common in Mughal succession, but in this case, Salim felt his father was blocking him from inheriting what was rightfully his. It was only thanks to his grandmother Hamida – Akbar’s mother – that things were always settled amicably.

Though displaying several vices, Salim is shown to rise above them, many a time thanks to Suleiman Beg, his close friend, but forever feels let down by his father – a mutual feeling. This would probably prove to be a hereditary curse as the end of the book shows a strained relationship between Jahangir (the name Salim adopts) and his son Khusrau.

The book focuses as much on Salim as Akbar himself. In fact, the military, political, administrative and other contributions that Akbar made have been underplayed a bit. Towards the end, Salim’s frustrations and Akbar’s mismanagement of his son cause many more fissures – the Anarkali episode, rebellion etc.

It also captures Akbar as a person – his failings as a father, a hint of megalomania especially when he goes on to start his own faith, his illiteracy, in addition to his sense of justice and fairness, his readiness to work alongside labourers, his love for his grandsons and so on.

I liked this book more than its predecessors, because though it probably doesn’t do justice to the greatness of Akbar as much as I’d have liked it to, (the author does note that he has omitted events and timescales) the narrative is gripping and never falters.

Notion states

My last post on the subject of home was in the context of the multicultural world we are creating, how in our pursuit of convenience and familiarity we might end up creating a homogeneous world, and whether the idea of home would change with time, as we begin to choose places that connect to our soul over the soil we were born in. (soul vs soil courtesy Pico Iyer)

One of my main punching bags in the institutional realignment line of thinking is the concept of the nation state, more specifically its relevance in a massively connected world. A simplistic view is that economics, trade and many other things might be better off without them, given how much of an enabler technology is turning out to be, and geo politics will anyway be a lesser phenomenon if there aren’t any nation states. Arguable, yes.

However, I had very little idea on the replacement concept. Geography (land) would exist and would have to be organised in some way. What way? In a wonderful display of appropriateness, Wired gave a possible answer – in the form of a post titled “Software Is Reorganizing the World“. I loved the concept of ‘geodesic distance’, and the mapping of not nation states but states of mind. (soul) The idea of (what is now) cloud communities taking physical shape is fantastic! While it might sound far fetched, it really isn’t – the post gives historical precedence and emerging patterns to back up the idea. As does Tony Hsieh’s The Downtown Project in the present day to transform the decaying and blighted part of the old Vegas Strip into the most community-focused large city in the world.

Around the same time, I came across this Facebook (official) note titled “Coordinated Migration“, (thanks MJ) which shows how Facebook is using ‘hometown’ and ‘current city’ descriptions to track migratory patterns across the world. Probably, in a few years, this would be a mapping everyone would take a keen interest in, to find kindred souls, and to be what they are destined to be.

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(via)

until next time, a state of bliss

The Tuck Shop

Since the rain gods had been monopolising Saturday evenings, we had shifted to Sunday brunches. That provided the perfect excuse, in case we needed any, to try The Tuck Shop. It’s located in the lane opposite China Pearl (map) Parking for two wheelers is easy, and you’re probably better off parking your 4 wheeler on the main road.

There’s nothing fancy about the place, including the seating, which is functional but comfortable. But the decor is what really brings out the character of the place. Every table has tiny boards with quirky, funny messages; there are board games available; the walls have hand drawn graphics pop culture representations, and overall, there’s something that brings about a lot of home made <3. That story continues in the menu through the names of the dishes.

Abundance of choice meant that we had to plan our meal a bit. We started with The Puny God (bacon, chilli, cheese omelette) and this was quite tasty with a bunch of flavours popping up. It came with toast and baked beans, though we didn’t much care for the latter. We then tried The Foghorn (hot dog) The chicken sausages in this were pretty good and thankfully the mustard didn’t really spoil the party. All of this was washed down with filter coffee and masala tea, with the former being good enough to warrant a double repeat!

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The next round began with the Oh Basanti burger which had minced beef with an Indian spice masala and a BBQ sauce. Splendid choice, and the taste was awesome enough for us to forgive the dripping grease! :) We also tried the Dhanno On the Run (which we later figured went well with the first dish in terms of names!) – crispy sliced beef with a coconut tinge. This was one dish which could have been better – the meat wasn’t cooked well enough, though the masala was quite good! Unfortunately we were too stuffed for dessert, despite that inspiring tailor made message on our table!

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All of that came to Rs.640. The service staff was pleasant and friendly though they seemed very possessive of the menu and kept taking it back! But that won’t stop us from visiting again to try out the other dishes!

The Tuck Shop, 98/A, 17th B Main, 5th Block, Koramangala Ph 088 61 335567

Social’s second chance

For context, I believe the first chance was brand/marketing. That potential has pretty much been converted into a banal, mostly campaign oriented, traditional media (with better targeting thanks to various contexts) approach, though thankfully, we have do some rebel strongholds. I can clearly see this within the Big Shift construct – the third wave is about how organisations/institutions respond to knowledge and the flow of information, and what I see now is the typical marketing organisation conveniently converting social into a media framework that it seemingly understands and has worked with for a long while. The big boys – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube – have all created advertising products that cater to this thinking. Viva la broadcast!

But I’d like to think that all is not lost. Social changed to social media when it approached brand in the same way its media predecessors did. I see this as a phase which will last until social media saturates itself and becomes just another standard media platform. That leads me to think – if each domain (HR, Product) treats social in the same piecemeal way, it is bound to fail across them all.  When this does happen, at least some organisations will realise that a larger structural change is afoot and the institutional response needs to be more strategic. “The Next Social Imperative” made me realise that social has been attempting to work on top of business processes, but it needs to work the other way to even begin this journey. (also, strongly reminded of Tac Anderson’s post in this context back in 2010!) The driver will be market dynamics but the good news for organisations is that many in the existing workforce have the potential to become navigators of this change.

How does the workforce systemically play a part? Stowe Boyd’s insightful “The Future of Work : 4 trends for 2014” has at least two trends (consumerisation of work and me-isation of productivity and performance) that clearly point to this shift and its harbingers. Consumer technologies (and more so, the philosophy behind them) and a different kind of workflow can actually make an organisation more consumer centric than the silo approach currently followed. Steven Sinofsky’s long but superb post on the theory and manifestation of this paradigm shift is a must read on this subject. A very interesting manifestation of this shift I saw recently is Zappos’ move towards holacracy – a comprehensive ‘operating system’ for organisational governance that focuses on purpose and accountability without a top-down, hierarchical management structure.

This could be the first step towards ‘social business’, and I’m thinking of social business as a platform. (a fantastic read on platforms) The organisation and its purpose would actually work as a platform to channelise and augment the connection between employees and consumers. This purpose would also convert a job into work than an employee is connected to, and on the other side, it would help the consumer get closer to a brand he believes in. This is also when epics happen. Social (and other) technologies would play enablers for a more fundamental change in the structure and nature of work, and allow organisations to harness data, connections and transactions towards a shared purpose. More a transition than a disruption. Different organisations, I think, would evolve differently – some would not evolve at all. This is more hope than anything else, but I do believe that social technology has it in itself to be transformational, and not just transactional.

until next time, back to a socialist, communist workforce 😉

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The Collected Stories: Paul Theroux

Paul Theroux

For a while now, I’ve been stuck inside my cocoon of Indian writing and travelogues, except for occasional forays. My biggest peeve was that I couldn’t identify with international fiction. And Paul Theroux, with this book, just laughed. :)
The book has 5 parts, the last 2 with an obvious connection, but the remaining stories spans geographies, contexts and webs that humans create with their emotions and relationships. The first three have troubled marriages, stagnant relationships, death, deception, love and separation, set everywhere from Russia to Africa to Asia. Some of them poignant, and some of them seemingly mundane. There’s even a story that seems to be set in the future – Warm Dogs, quite chilling, actually. My favourite from all these sections is ‘Algebra’, a wonderfully simplistic study in human relationships. The characters are people who I could easily identify with, not just because of the ways in which they have been etched, but also the excellent prose that made me ‘feel’ the settings they were in. Places and events are so well described that it’s easy to imagine the foreign locales that one has never seen. There are subtle twists, ones which require you to pay attention – ones that ‘reward’ you for it. :)
The next two sections are based on the postings of a fictional Foreign Service office, first in Ayer Hitam, a boondocks in Malaysia and then in London. The characters overlap in stories, even as new ones are brought to the fore and stories written about them. The Ayer Hitam section felt like a mashup of English August and Malgudi Days, if you can somehow imagine that. :) Over stories, the characters become familiar to you, and it’s almost as though you were there in the offices, the bungalows and houses and at the parties – a fly on the wall.
London, though more ‘civilised’, and full of potential, paled a bit in comparison (for me) to the earlier section. However, the office politics and the constant realignment of relationships (including the narrator’s own) kept me engaged right till the very end. In a way, the first and last stories are about coming full circle.
I like an author’s story collections, because it gives me a feel of the author – the breadth and depth, and I’m immensely happy to have discovered one, whom I feel will be a favourite. Someone who reminded me that in the end, a good story is essentially all about the human condition. The book goes straight into my favourites. :)

A long way away from home

The Global Soul’ is not my favourite Pico Iyer book (though he is a favourite anyway) mostly because I couldn’t connect to three out of its six chapters. I picked up the book because, in addition to it being a Pico book, it was about a subject that has fascinated me for a while now – the concept of ‘home’. This, in a multicultural world whose corporate citizens are rapidly making sure that ‘Everywhere is made up of everywhere else..’ I remember writing about this almost three years ago, in the context of another travel book and my visit to what I still consider home – Cochin. It was evoked by the presence of the same brands that I might see in a mall in Bangalore, the disappearance of familiar landmarks, and the residents referring to new landmarks that I really didn’t know of. It is perhaps unfair to expect that even as I changed, the idea of home would remain a constant. Maybe I will get used to that in a while too.

I had wondered whether, in our pursuit of convenience and familiarity, we might end up creating a homogeneous world. Now I wonder if we might be one of the last generations to live in a truly heterogeneous world, as, in addition to the corporate imperialism, culture also becomes the most exported and imported product, courtesy technological advances – real and virtual. Home is, as the t-shirt goes, where the wifi connects automatically, and I’d be able to recreate it anywhere, with all the props made available to me.

Every year, around this time, there is usually a home visit, and I would be chronicling it, this year there isn’t. Our regular visit targets are missing in action, and going there doesn’t make sense. I wonder if this is how it begins, and a couple of decades later, when I’m traveling, a bout of homesickness would hit me, and I would realise that it wasn’t Cochin I was thinking of. I’ll probably feel sad then, and guilty. But for now, I am closing my eyes, and recreating Cochin in my mind, with no props. I am able to, I can sense the wistfulness as I walk through the streets (without Google) and they haven’t changed. It’s heartening to know that while I have left Cochin, it hasn’t left me.

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until next time, homegrown can be grown?

La Tagliatella

First published in Bangalore Mirror

Something about the consonants in the name of the restaurant reminded me of The Godfather – turned out to be the Tattaglia family, one of New York’s ‘Five Families’ in the novel. The establishment on 100 feet Road, Indiranagar (map) obviously has no connection, and is actually named after a kind of pasta. Yes, there is valet parking. There is something about the façade and the view of the brightly lit interior from the outside that conveys opulence. This is only enhanced once you step inside – gold and yellow dominate the décor, with red thrown in for good measure, and the chandeliers and the framed pictures only add to the effect, though occasionally it tends towards gaudiness. But just when you begin to think you’re in the protective warmth of a palatial bungalow, the culinary illustrations, the display of cooking instruments, the pricing and the temperature manage to bring you back to the cold reality of a fine dining restaurant. There was a lot of chatter happening on our table – some of it was because of the menu, which had a variety of choices, and it took several rounds of discussions before we could reach a consensus, but most of it was courtesy the intense cold. When we asked for it to be reduced, we were given a central air conditioning story. It did seem that the entire air conditioning was centred on our table! The rain meant that we couldn’t use the alfresco option available.

The starter options consist of a couple of soups, half a dozen salads, and some antipasti. We skipped the first two and launched into a Focacce liguri and a Mozzarelletta. The flat bread and its toppings turned out to be quite picturesque, but even the collective presence of duck ham, parmigiano cheese and provolone cheese wasn’t enough to take the dish beyond ordinariness. In contrast, the simplistic combination of mozzarella melted with nuts and sweet tomato, though not very appealing to the eye, made a mark on other senses – smell and taste. It was totally melt-in-the-mouth, with the nuts offering a texture counterpoint. The wine list is fairly exhaustive on paper, but that is a common menu, and in Bangalore, they have chosen to serve only wine. They had run out of bottles of the white wines we preferred, so we settled for ‘pints’ of red and white wine, and were left rather unimpressed with both!

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The sheer variety of pasta choices is something to pay attention to – from spaghetti and ravioli to Sorrentino and Taglierini, I could count about twenty. Together with the condiments, there are potentially hundreds of combinations! Add to that pizzas and calzones! We began with a Tagliatella pizza – thin crusted and fairly large with pesto, mushrooms, taleggio cheese, turkey bacon and spinach. This is probably shuddh Italian judging by the relative blandness, and despite that consideration, it failed to impress. The Calzone Verde was a lot of hot air as they weren’t really generous with the mozzarella, mushrooms and pesto stuffing. We then tried the Gamberetti di Funghi which turned out to be an excellent dish with well cooked pasta and prawns. On weekdays, they have a ‘1111 for 2’ menu, in which we can choose 3 pastas from 9 options. That turned out to be quite a blessing and we sampled the Spaghetti Bolognese, Sorrentino with Vera Casalinga sauce and the Tagliatelle with Tremenda sauce. The spaghetti nosed ahead, though I thought if the Tagliatelle wasn’t a tad overcooked, it might have won, the cream sauce was quite good. I liked the Sorrentino as well, but the table was evenly divided on the parmigiano-reggiano and Iberian pork dish.

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There are plenty of dessert options, but as usual I got unlucky with the exact one I wanted! We tried the Tiramisu, which was phenomenally good and the best dish of the day. The Tutto Cioccolato seemed a little too similar to the standard lava cakes available around. Coppa Fior di Latte al Cioccolat oFuso – Mascarpone ice cream with hot chocolate cream – was also just average.

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For about Rs.2700, you could share a drink, a non veg starter, a non veg main course dish and a dessert. (Inclusive of taxes and service charge) La Tagliatella is an international chain and prides itself on the authenticity and freshness of the ingredients used. That probably explains the pricing to an extent, but somehow the experience itself didn’t really justify the bill. So, unless the gap between value and cost is bridged, the bill would make it very easy for a customer to suspect a Godfather like extortion!

La Tagliatella, 766, Amrest Bunglow, HAL 2nd Stage, 100 feet road, Indiranagar, Ph: 080 60506066/77

Brand, Marketing – 2014 and beyond

These are not really trends or predictions, it’s more a set of drivers and their impact on the domain of brand marketing.

Technology: Disruption is an abused word, but I think technology is the biggest disruption that marketing has experienced. Yes, it has been so every time a new medium cropped up, but this wave is special. In this largish bucket, I’m dumping everything from the Internet of Things (IoT, which, in addition to really smarter devices and spaces, will also, I hope, give the entire domain of social a reboot) to 3D printing (HP’s entry, scheduled for mid 2014, should push this further in the mainstream journey) to wearable tech/techsessories (Google Glass is the poster boy, though development is happening on various fronts) to Social TV. (a classic example of how social adds itself as a layer to existing media platforms and augments it)  I also add to this the advancements in devices – specifically mobile, which is already forcing marketers to quickly rework their strategy to adapt. The reason I used the word disruption is because by fostering a new kind of phenomenon like say, the collaborative economy, and getting ready to challenge traditional manufacturing, technology is going beyond its role as an enabler and changing brand experiences.

Marketing Technology: While the first point was about technology in a relatively generic sense, this is is about the application of technology and associated tools in the marketing domain. This is everything from marketing automation to web content management to advertising technology and so many, many more things which will probably make a move towards mainstream in 2014. This very popular image would give you a vastness of this domain. With the kind of data that phenomena like IoT and wearable tech will spew out, and the levels of customisation that customers expect, everyone, across domain would have to at least attempt Amazonian levels of efficiency.  Also, increasingly, technology will help us integrate offline with digital. (example)

We can scream buzzword, but big data exists, and we’re only taking baby steps towards harnessing it. I can already see the first levels of it in social media advertising, where intelligent tools and dashboards allow not just better and real time targeting but also better analytics on everything from planning to attribution, to aid decision making. Extrapolate this to multiple media platforms, devices, delivery channels within each and think of the possibilities. I think the domain will move much faster because of two reasons – one, the fragmentation of marketing channels and the impossibility of managing it with only manpower resources, and two, the marketer’s ROI obsession. To quote Scott Brinker, “software is the new fabric of marketing” I see the ‘big’ in big data moving on two paths simultaneously – qualitatively big that would help in personalisation, and quantitatively big that would help in scaling. (mass customisation for larger audience sets, better targeted)

Agile Marketing: Yes, we have borrowed it from the software development guys. No, it’s not really new, nor is it surprising because if marketing is getting a technology influx, it is only obvious that software processes might be a good way to approach marketing. Everything that I have written above will ensure that by design or not, marketers will increasingly be forced to adopt this methodology as the days of predictable media platforms draw to a close. In a dynamic business environment, where new platforms are popping up regularly, and even known platforms are changing their rules constantly, the only way to cope, let alone thrive, would be to run various simulations continuously,  iterate and develop incrementally, break silos and communicate effectively, and have flexible frameworks that can be more responsive to the speed of the change cycles.  What I hope to see this year – at least at an early stage – are software/tools that are customised to the requirements of marketing. But irrespective of that, get ready to sprint! (read more)

Promotainment: Roughly, the phenomenon formerly known as advertising. Thanks to everything above, creativity will need to be channeled differently. In YouTube’s top trends for 2013, three branded videos managed to capture a place for themselves. But this only covers part of the story. Mere entertainment will not be enough to bond with the consumer, for sufficient pull to happen, brands will have to define a purpose (business and beyond) that will resonate with consumers, and treat it differently according to contexts. These contexts could be platforms, locations, topical opportunities and a host of other things, with each experience adding to the perceptions of the consumer. Experiences and ‘content’ need to be created for each of these contexts, and brands need to reboot the way they handle communication. (The Making of a Content Brand) The other key player in this mix is privacy – everything from transience (eg. Snapchat) to the ‘negotiation’ with consumers on what information they share to get what benefit. Customisation as per contexts and audiences and yet cohesive within the larger purpose framework. Not an easy challenge. (A wonderful take on this, and more from Vyshnavi Doss – Brand Avatars)

Marketing Organisation: I came across the fascinating Big Shift concept and the three ‘waves‘ – foundation, flow and impact – only recently. The third wave is how organisations respond to the fundamental shifts in knowledge and the flow of information that are characteristic of the first two waves. While this is a larger institutional shift, its impact will also felt in the structure of the marketing organisation. Add to this, the transformation required for agile methodologies and a fundamentally different content marketing process, and the existing marketing silos have no choice but to evolve. Technologists, ROI drivers, specialists in different kinds of brand experiences – real time, real (offline) and otherwise, data wizards to analyse the tons of data streaming in, CRM folks, creative people and many more will be part of this new structure that realigns the marketing domain to fit the new business landscape dynamics. (a good illustration)

These subjects, and in my mind, one of its results –  social business – will form the majority of this blog’s content in 2014. We’re at the cusp of an extremely interesting era in brand marketing, thanks to radical shifts in pretty much everything happening around us – what I keep referring to as institutional realignment. Here’s to an exciting year ahead!

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 until next time, have a wonderful 2014!