Work

Stomp

First published in Bangalore Mirror, though I had no hand in that unintentionally hilarious USP! 

I whined when I was asked to do this review, because it was in Whitefield! The Koramangala snobbery in me called it a 2D/1N package, specially thanks to traffic. But it was a good thing that I finally visited. A visit to Stomp manages to bring out both the meanings of the word. I can imagine people stomping their way (angrily) through Forum Value Mall (map) trying to find the place. They have hidden it well in a corner! But once they manage to get in, I can understand why they’d want to stomp – dance with a rhythmic stamping step.

There’s a small alfresco section, but the rest of the ambiance immediately reminded me of Richard O’Brien’s Crystal Maze – this would be the Medieval zone, with some ‘Industrial’ thanks to the large pipes. Add to this a Gothic touch, and the picture would be almost complete. Almost, because music is an integral part of the pub’s character as well. I loved the church-like stained glass ‘windows’ featuring Ozzy, Hendrix, Morrison and so on, and the quotes by famous artists that pop up at a few places. With all of that as the backdrop, we were mildly disappointed when we walked into a James Blunt song video playing on the giant screen. But that was quickly redeemed with a blast of Floyd, Dire Straits, Guns N’ Roses, The Police, Bon Jovi and videos we hadn’t seen in a long time! A hark back to the days of my youth, but as the night progressed, the playlist became younger. Avicii woke me up to the fact that I was older and Icona Pop reminded me that “You’re from the 70’s, but I’m a 90’s b***h”! The food proved to be a good distraction, and I let the non-veg mafia croon ‘Don’t you worry child’ in their own comforting way!

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The menu is mostly Indian, and even when they do stray towards Continental and Mexican, there’s an Indian touch to it. The good news is that alcohol is relatively cheap and there are some interesting cocktail options. We tried the Purple Slurple, made from cabbage juice and white rum, and the strong and frothy Whisky Lass-y. The white wine Sangria was also different from the standard, apparently using a pulpy soft orange. The complimentary Guava Martini wasn’t bad either. Solid consumption began with the Beef Chilli Fry, which was quite tasty – well cooked meat and spicy. A house special – Ghaati Chicken Sukha was up next, and it reminded us of the coastal Sukka dishes. This was our favourite non veg starter with a mildly spicy masala and finely grated coconut for texture. Baingan Burani tha, in fact it was quite good and in appearance and flavour reminiscent of chaats. The Chilli Pork was the last of the starters to arrive, and except for the animal involved, was a replica of the beef dish we’d had earlier. But we had been  warned, so I wouldn’t really complain.

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Understandably, the main course section has fewer options compared to the starters, but what was disappointing was that quite a few dishes were unavailable. All dishes are served with Indian bread/rice variations. We had to go with the Dal Gosht because the Dabba Gosht, Maamsam Koora and the Sri Lankan Beef Stir fry were not available. Unsurprisingly, this bland dish proved to be the least favourite. The Prawn Chilliajo made up for it with juicy, brilliantly cooked prawns in a delicious onion and pepper based thick gravy. The only vegetarian in the group tried to interest us in the Pesto Penne, which was quite good, though heavy, according to her, but we were preoccupied with the superb Chicken Farfalle in Makhanwala sauce – thick, flavourful and an example of a happy cuisine marriage.

There are only four dessert options and the house special wasn’t available. The Gulab Jamun turned out to be quite good, though not extraordinary. The shocker was the Shahi Tukra. Though they weren’t stingy with the milk ‘sauce’, it wasn’t really rich, but the bread was the kind that could be successfully used for interrogations. You must pray that the tooth prevails!

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For about Rs.1800, you could share a couple of cocktails, two non veg starters, a non veg main course dish and a dessert. (Inclusive of taxes and service charge) The service is friendly, but occasionally careless. They also need to be coached on dishes. I had to wonder how many people coming to Forum Value Mall would be interested in this kind of an offering. A pity because once you find your way in, the only thing that could piss you off is the lack of a toilet – you have to use the mall’s common facilities. Despite all that, I think the combination of good food, excellent ambiance, and different and interesting meal deals through the day will help this wonderful hangout establish a stomp of authority in Whitefield’s pub scene.

Stomp, 12A, Ground Floor, Forum Value Mall, Whitefield, Ph: 080 49420000

The era of wearables

In the post on the Internet of Things last month, I’d mentioned two narratives on social products that I considered were working in tandem to shape the future of marketing, consumption, and living itself. Both using sensors – one on things (IoT), and the other on humans (Wearables, though I stubbornly use Techsessories!)  This post is on the latter.

Why I think it matters: Though nowhere remotely close to Chris Dancy levels, I have been interested in this for a while. As I mentioned in my Personal API post, I see it as an evolution of my lifelogging pursuit – from logging in experiences to sensors automatically picking up data – and something that is highly relevant to my area of work – brands. In the big picture, I also see this domain as a key player in the evolution of our species – from our persistent movement towards immortality (physical) as well as, what I hope will be, a more gradual steps towards mindfulness. (mental, emotional)

What is it? Smartwatches are just the beginning, and at a broad level, wearables can already be categorised into

(Some statistics, a primer, and a good classification to broaden your perspectives)

Where is all this going? For the scope of this post, let’s briefly look at the impact/deliverables from three points of view

Consumer: There are quite a number of views (read concerns) that wearables are probably the first step towards turning us into cyborgs. (what I refer to as the augmented human here) There is another line of thought that wonders if all of this is taking us closer to ‘sofalarity‘. I can argue the Hug Shirt both ways! I wonder if, as we race towards singularity, there is an unconscious adaptation that our species is going through to survive, or continue to thrive. Personally, I like to think that technology is giving me the means to first quantify, and then use that data (converted to information and then to insights) to consistently work towards being a better human. ( a qualified self, so to speak)  I have already taken the first step with Goqii. While there is no dearth of trackers, I found their ecosystem approach interesting. I also envision creation of personal APIs becoming easier in the next few years, allowing us to store, analyse and transmit data and information to others.

Ecosystem: At one level, there is going to be some effort in making wearables really mainstream. There is definitely going to be resistance. The answer, as always, is in using wearables as a means to address human needs. On another level, while devices are expanding in scope, quality and sheer numbers, as Chris Dancy mentions in the interview (linked earlier) interoperability is still a concern. (just as in the case of IoT) It’s not just wearables talking to each other, but talking to a larger universe of the IoT.

Brands: This domain has seen its share of brands – standalone ones as well as majors like Apple, Google and Samsung who want in on the action. There are fashion brands too, and I can imagine a near future when technology will be a hygiene factor in many kinds of apparel. While this happens on the device side, the data generated finds application across spheres – think, for example, how this can be applied in the health domain, (from medication to insurance) employment, sports and so on. Thus, there are many roles for brands – a standalone device and ecosystem with minimum connectivity, or devices and/or ecosystems that work in a complementary manner with another set and provide a product/service. As privacy concerns escalate, I believe the role of the consumer will be the key one to watch. This is the opportunity for brands to connect its business purpose to the consumer’s narrative. Brands should work towards gaining the trust of consumers early on and create seamless platforms for connecting devices, data, and users, working towards a common shared purpose.

Wearables

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From not believing that the world needed more than five computers (1943), we have reached more than 1.8 billion smartphones (source) that arguably do more than what a ‘computer’ can. So, a wearable (or a set of them) soon superseding a mobile is very much in the realms of possibility. As functions evolve, form factors will change – that’s inevitable, and on shorter cycles. The last decade in particular  has seen a massive technological evolution, but I think this is just the beginning – we’re at the cusp of a sea change in the way we live and work – about to push beyond the known boundaries of the body and mind. In the context of this evolution, Carl Jung’s profound statement would be a good one to remember – “Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.

until next time, wearabouts!

P.S.  If the subject interest you, do follow my Techsessories and Health boards

P.P.S. Need a #lulz worthy wearable strategy – Check this out!

Hoppipola

first published in Bangalore Mirror

My first Hoppipola visit was an experience I’m not likely to forget soon. They wouldn’t take reservations so we had to try our luck on a Saturday night. This is on the top floor of the Mainland China building immediately after the Domlur flyover when coming from Koramangala. (map) A bunch of kids were waiting in the ground floor lobby expectantly eyeing the lift every time its doors opened, for such was the crowd that only when guests left were new ones let in. We finally managed a place in the lift, and smugly assumed there would be a table waiting upstairs for us. The doors opened to a college fest, (or school – debatable) with alcohol, and standing space for just about four people. The only way to get a table was to have Spidey like speed and reflexes. Since we were barely on the right side of forty and had no special effects for support, we felt like people in the namesake Sigur Ros song and beat a hasty retreat before the sharp increase in the average age on the floor provoked an uncle/aunty comment. The second visit, on a Friday afternoon, was more peaceful and we could appreciate the quirky ambiance as well. Garden seating with potted plants and creepers for company on the outside and large tables and bar seating inside, exam pad menus with offbeat descriptions, board games, books and a happy wall whose doors and windows can be opened for surprise gifts, all add to the youthful vibe. Judging by the crowd, Hoppipola has definitely been successful in its endeavour to make people of all kinds happy!

We took quite some advantage of the ridiculously cheap alcohol prices. The Apples and Curry Leaves mojito was refreshing with the curry leaves adding that extra bite. If you’d like things to be a little less sweet, go for the Kafir-Lime and Lychees version. Even spicier tastes? Go for the Guava Balsamic Mary, served in a salt-rimmed glass and strong in flavours and alcohol! The red wine based Sonora Sangria is not bad either, with the wine quantity making up for the relatively lower overall volume.

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The Pimped Shrimp was our solid start, and in addition to the promised garlic and burnt chilli flavours, it also had a lime presence that added an excellent tanginess. The mildly spicy Sansho fish came a close second with vinegar and chilli flavours. We also liked The Mexican samosas – they chose to call it empanada – crispy exterior with a creamy corn and jalapeno filling. The Teriyaki Paneer, with a unique presentation style and gingery flavour, and the Chickiti’tah – grilled chicken with a whiff of tangerine and ginger – were not bad either. The Rasta Chicken came recommended, and though it was crisp-fried and tasty, it didn’t really live up the expectations.

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On a relative note, there are fewer options in the mains section, and it didn’t help that a few items were unavailable. We chose Captain Haddock to begin with – a carbonara pizza with ‘chicken bacon’ and though a tad bland, we still liked it. The tomato heavy Margarita was a thin crust pizza and even discounting our collective meat bias, this was not something we cared for. We tried two versions of “The Drinking Man’s food” – ‘Champagne Cream’ with a creamy cheese sauce and champagne with chicken and ‘Pesto Rum’ with shrimp. Both were excellent, though we could detect no trace of the alcohol mentioned’, and it took several rounds of debate before the Pesto Rum was given top honours. The last to arrive was the Coin Lamburgers – three mini burgers with mildly spicy and tasty patties.

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There is no way to sugar-coat this. There are no desserts! I am rarely one to rant about the youth of today, but is this what it has come down to? How can we be called a civilisation without a sweet tooth? What about those researches that correlate chocolate and happiness? Sigh. A minus point for that, though I was told that desserts would be added soon!

For about Rs.1350, you could share a couple of cocktails, two non veg starters, and a couple of non veg main course dishes. (Inclusive of taxes and service charge) The service is reasonably prompt, though they do tend to get hassled sometimes. If you can brave the challenges of gaining entry, you’ll find that the ambiance and the buzz do give Hoppipola the lively bonhomie it aspires to have. It also hits the sweet spot in terms of pricing, but c’mon, some desserts to sweeten the deal?

Hoppipola, 4032, (Mainland China Building – terrace) HAL, 2nd Stage, Indiranagar, Bangalore Ph: 080 25217070

P.S. This happens to be restaurant review #200 on this blog. Burp! :D

Mentoring Startups @ Microsoft Ventures’ Accelerator Program

When I come to think of it, my sales/brand jobs have all been on startup mode, though the organisations themselves were quite established – Dishnet DSL in 2002, WorldSpace in 2003, MidDay Bangalore in 2006, Bangalore Mirror in 2007. Myntra was still a startup when I joined in 2011. I really can’t remember when I first became interested in startups – perhaps Bangalore’s culture of entrepreneurship affected me soon as a landed here – in 2003. But it really started manifesting itself only during my stint at The Times Group. Muziboo was probably among the first I actually interacted with (in 2008) and I still remember sending feedback to Deap for Burrp’s mobile site in 2009.

It was in 2010, when I started writing the startup column for Bangalore Mirror that I understood why I probably had such a fondness for startups – in them I see individuals who have in some way connected to their purpose in life. That gives them a passion and energy that is amazingly infectious. After the column’s run ended in 2013 (at 97 Bangalore based startups!) I had no official reason to associate with them any longer, though the connections I’d made early on – Zomato, for example – gave me an occasional opportunity to indulge my interest.

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All of this would explain my immense happiness when I was invited to be one of the mentors at the Accelerator Program of Microsoft Ventures last year. The Accelerator is part of a global establishment and helps entrepreneurs launch/scale their startup through a 4 month intense program that begins in January and July every year. At the accelerator, the entrepreneurs get access to quite a few things – a pool of mentors with expertise across various domains, (design, brand, technology, to name a few) office space to work from, and a ton of connections to help them gain funding and scaling opportunities. (FAQ) The other crucial factor they get, and I’ve seen it not getting the attention it deserves, is the Accelerator team itself. I have seen their diligence and their interactions, and they add an enormous amount of value in shaping ideas into executable plans.

I’ve now been part of the last two batches, mentoring a couple of startups in each batch – TommyJams and Tookitaki in the previous batch, and Imly and Voonik in the current. Respectively operating in the domains of entertainment, advertising, food and fashion, these four by themselves are enough to give you an idea of the diverse kind of startups that make up each batch. Though I’ve worked closely with these, I’ve also had multiple conversations with other startups and have been impressed by the sheer quality of ideas behind many of them, their willingness to learn and reinvent if necessary, and the tenacity with which they execute their plans.

My role may be that of a mentor, but I’ve learned quite a bit too. My learning has been in many forms – watching the startups in action, understanding at least a part of the intricacies of the domain they operate in, their approach to the challenges they solve, and most importantly, conversations with other mentors. Many of the mentors belong to the investor community and bring with them fantastic perspectives on a wide variety of things.

It has been an exciting experience for me thus far, and I’ve been planning to write about it for a while now. The immediate trigger came last week  in the form of an invite for the Demo Day of the current batch. I also learned that the Accelerator had started taking applications for the next batch. In my own selfish interest, I’d like to play a role in the life of some entrepreneur out there. If you think you are ‘D’ in the figure below, apply away!

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(via. Check the superb original deck here. Thanks @m3sweatt for p0inting out )

Disclosure: In case you’re wondering, mentors don’t get paid, not even to write this! :)

An Internet of Things narrative

Towards the end of last year, I’d written a post on the ‘social product‘. Its premise was that given social’s conversion to media, the opportunity for fulfilling social’s initial promise would fall on ‘product’ – using data, network effects, and relationships to connect consumers along a shared purpose. In the last few weeks, I have seen rapid acceleration happening on this front. I can see at least two narratives working in tandem, and I’m sure that at some point they will begin to augment each other really well. In this excellent post on technologies that are shaping the future of design, sensors occupy the top slot, and they are at the basis of both the narratives – one on humans, and one on things. The official classification, roughly, translates into Wearables and Internet Of Things respectively for the scope of discussions here.

This post is about the second. So, what is the Internet of things? The wiki definition is simple, but effective –  “The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to uniquely identifiable objects and their virtual representations in an Internet-like structure.” The best primer I have come across would be this infographic, which has everything from a quick technology explanation, applications and challenges to market size, statistics, and interesting use cases. For a really solid perspective, look no further than this deck titled ‘The Internet of Everything‘.

How does it affect us? For now, it is about convenience. If you’re familiar with Android launchers, imagine an IoT version – it’s almost there, using iBeacon! There’s more – Piper, which works as an IFTTT for your home, the smart fridge that can order groceries from the online store, the smart TV that can learn preferences and help us discover content, the washing machine that can help order detergent, the egg tray that will let you know about the number of eggs it holds and their ‘state’, the automated coffee machine, Philips’ connected retail lighting system, Pixie Scientific’s Smart Diapers, the GE a/c that learns your preferences, the smart bulb that doubles up as a bluetooth speaker, (!) and so on. Some of the products are really useful and solve a need, while some others are more fads and probably not adding the value that reflects the potential of IoT. But that’s just the learning curve in progress, as the market starts separating needs and wants.

All of this also means that consumption patterns will begin to change, as more purchases become automated, and more importantly data-driven. In my post on the driving forces of 2014, I had brought up technology as the biggest disruption that marketing has seen. This is most definitely one of the manifestations.

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What can brands do? For starters, get interested. Think about the tangible benefits that can be offered to consumers. What are the kind of data patterns that devices (or products) can surface to help the consumer make better consumption decisions? What kind of contexts can be relevant? Instead of force feeding advertising on traditional channels and fracking social platforms, can communication to consumers be made seamless using data, contexts and easy processes? While ‘device’ brands might have an initial advantage, ‘product’ brands need not be left behind at all. As the washing machine post (linked earlier) suggests, a Unilever or P&G might subsidise a machine, because it’s pre-sold with 500 washes worth of their detergent. It could even be real time, with SDK, API systems telling a partner brand to push a contextually relevant communication to a consumer. As things start storing and communicating data, privacy will be a major factor that decides whom consumers will share what with. Unlike media, trust cannot be ‘fracked’, it needs to be earned over a time frame.

Where does it go from here? A common language/protocol/registry is a good start, as is a white label platform – both are trying to connect an assortment of devices and gadgets. While there is value in data at an individual level (more on that in the next narrative) one of the critical factors in the success of this phenomenon is the devices talking to each other – humans acting as middle men to pass on data may not be a smart way ahead!  Digital Tonto has an excellent nuanced perspective that differentiates IoT from the web of things. (WoT sounds cooler!) The difference is in connection and interoperability.

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Equally important is this phenomenon’s ability to solve human needs. (Internet of Caring Things)

Collaborative consumption is fast becoming a consumer reality. As always, brands (generalising) are bound to be a few years behind, but the hope is that the web of things will force them to start collaborative creation and distribution and more importantly, focus on consumer needs.

until next time, #WoTever

P.S. In a corruption of Scott Adams’  idea, I think #WoT is paving the way for robot domination. ;)

P.P.S. If the subject interests you, check out my Internet of Things Pinterest board.

A new medium

I haven’t taken you outside of the blog in a while, but here goes.

LinkedIn recently opened up its publishing platform, and since it’s a contextually relevant platform to publish my ‘work’ posts, I was immediately interested. Thanks to Gautam, I discovered this link, applied, and soon got publishing rights. It was a harder task to write something though! I have finally managed something that is a differently framed version of concepts that I have written on the blog already. Do take a look here.

The overhaul of currency

Back in 2012, in my first post on institutional realignment, I’d written this – “…my biggest hope is that the current currency of our lives – money – will have a better successor, one that will be better connected with our unique identities, and weave in contexts better.” In the two years since, this movement has not only begun, but is also figuring out its own dynamics. I had expected, or wanted, a disruption of money, but it will most likely be a transition. At this stage, I see at least three broad areas to frame this movement -the democratisation of finance, alternate currencies and marketplaces for value exchange.

Democratisation of finance: This is probably where it began, because the internet has a reputation for removing intermediaries who do not add value in this case, financial institutions. From projects in Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and GoFundMe to social investments like RangDe and Milaap, there are now many ways to mobilise funds for me and you from people like me and you, according to personal passions, interests and belief systems. I’ll add more to this in the ‘marketplace’ section.

Alternate currencies: Arguably, money as an institution has built a network involving processes, dependencies and establishments keeping in mind the dynamics of an earlier era. A civilisation connected by the www may find these tedious and irrelevant, and thus it’s only natural that it builds its own institutions. Bitcoin (a good introductory guide) is the one that made this phenomenon (relatively) mainstream, to the point that it even has ATMs. Bitcoin may or may not survive, it is probably the Napster in its domain, it has changed the game irretrievably. While on the subject, do read this fantastic tongue-in-cheek take on how it’d be if the roles were reversed – a cash based mechanism replacing digital currency. Meanwhile, there are other currencies similar to Bitcoin, and then there are completely different thoughts – for example, Pay With a Tweet. Which leads us to the various payment mechanisms that are being built.

Marketplaces & Value Exchange: While the other two are the dynamics, this is where the mechanics play a part as well. In the ‘democratisation’ section, I had referred to several platforms that aid both discovery and action. There are many more stories in this line – from AgreeIt, an app that allows crowdfunding from friends on Facebook to crowdsourcing for emotional advice, ideas and so on to selling one’s reservation at a restaurant/spot in a line through Shout to  a ‘new media company’ Ideapod that wants to “amplify the ideas that shape our world, create genuine and enduring dialogue around ideas and spread ideas that matter through new and traditional media channels.” to ordering food from neighbours, (Eatro in London and Imli – a startup I mentor at the Microsoft Accelerator- closer to home) there are various models of value exchange that are shaping themselves. In fact, the entire ‘social commerce via collaborative consumption‘ route is based on these marketplaces. (a few good perspectives and stats on its drivers here)

But, irrespective of the currency, every transaction requires (another) key element – trust. The social web is also building its own mechanics for this – from relatively generic clout mechanisms (Klout, Kred and the likes) to more context specific ones like LinkedIn or GitHub or even Wiki and review mechanisms. (from Amazon to TripAdvisor to Foursquare to GoodReads to Zomato) We earn trust through our knowledge and actions in these mechanisms. We earn social currency. That brings me to the final portion – how does all of this impact brands and what would be their role?

Brands & the trust economy: Across the ages, corporations have been built on competitive advantages pertinent to the economies they operated in. I found a fantastic illustration in this context here

Economies and competitive advantages

I think relationships are indeed going to be the major competitive advantage in the future, and if so, the currency that would play a bigger role than money would be trust. As in many other developments prior to this, there are opportunities here for brands to weave themselves into the consumer’s narratives and go beyond transactional relationships, and to earn social currency. Many of them are already on it, finding ways to earn consumer trust and helping him/her develop and change perspectives about various currencies and relationships between them. Since we’re talking of finance, let’s use an example in that domain. Fidor bank helps its consumers discover crowd sourcing options, staying true a bank’s generic commitment of excellent wealth management. Yes, it’s still money, but it understands that it can be deployed beyond traditional options. In the process, it also helps the consumer to belong to a community.

Brands actually have an option to join in wherever there is consumer spending. Nike+, as usual, did something back in 2012 – they allowed runners to trade in (running) mileage for Nike goods (I had shared the video in the institutional realignment post too) While this ties in beautifully with Nike’s business purpose, maybe some brands would have to lean a little more towards the consumer side and get into relatively unrelated narratives, and a relationship, before connecting it back to the business purpose. For example, airBaltic’s loyalty program Baltic Miles rewards frequent fliers who jog enough to burn off the same number of calories as miles they’ve flown. One of the aspects of agile marketing would be to enable identification of opportunities early. For example, imagine Coke getting into the act in Beijing’s first reverse vending machines that pay subway credits in exchange for returned containers.

In what might seem like a ‘changing of goalposts’, just as brands are beginning to vaguely realise that their currencies of engagement with consumers need to change, the consumer’s relationship with the common currency of transaction – money – is also changing. The two are very related, and brands need to tackle both to have meaning and relevance in a consumer’s life, because if (as Godin says) “money is a story“, we’re probably nearing a plot twist.

until next time, the end of money’s monopoly

P.S. For another detailed look at the subject, you’d want to read Gauravonomics’ post on ‘The Future of Money‘.

The Mirage

First appeared in Bangalore Mirror

I came upon The Mirage quite by chance on the web, and for a few moments, when I was hunting for its precise location in Koramangala, I did wonder about the name of the restaurant and whether it was literally that! Situated on the fourth floor of a building, it’s pretty easy to miss unless you’re specifically looking for it. At an eye level, look for the new Corner House. (map – though it has shifted to the other side of the same road) Parking on the street. When we visited, the place was relatively unknown because it’d been less than a month since it opened, and they hadn’t done much in terms of publicity. That probably explains why we were the only group there. Thankfully, the cliché of the service staff attacking as a swarm did not happen. In fact they actually seemed a little intimidated, especially when we ordered wine – they had difficulty finding it, and seemed confused on how to serve it! For now they are serving only wines, (though they plan to make it a full fledged alcohol menu soon) so it might be a good idea to train the staff on it. But once the initial fear of strangers passed, they turned out to be quite helpful and attentive! The décor is functional aiming towards lounge and there’s lots of ‘greenery’ – in the form of lighting, graphics and cushion covers. Marilyn Monroe seems to be quite an influence, appearing in various avatars, the most interesting of which is her quote “I don’t want to make money. I just want to be wonderful.

The menu is a mix of many cuisines – Thai, Chinese, Mexican, Italian and even a smattering of Vietnamese. From the more than a dozen options available, we began with a Sesame Potato Bites in Chili Sauce. On hindsight, we needn’t have ordered this since everything else came with potatoes anyway! There was something funny about the oil in this dish, and it wasn’t the kind that would make you look forward to the rest of the meal. The Fried Calamari served with Garlic Aioli and chips was up next. The squid was well cooked, the dip complemented it well and if you can ignore the general greasiness, it’s not a bad dish. The Highnoons Special Fried Chicken was the last to arrive, and was served with the mandatory chips and a ‘Mayo-Tard’ sauce. The chicken itself was decent, except for a couple of undercooked bits, but the sauce, which was already a cause of much mirth thanks to our juvenile vowel movement jokes, actually had a funny taste, most likely thanks to a mustard overdose.

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In addition to the standard menu, there’s also a ‘daily specials’ display. Since the idea was to pig out, we decided to try the BBQ Pork from this set. It came with.. Ok, this is getting boring, so imagine potatoes as bodyguards and that no dish arrives on the table without them accompanying it in some form! But the pork dish actually turned out to be the first of the fantastic dishes – a superb mix of spice, tang and splendidly cooked meat. To even out things a bit, we then tried the Veg Dumplings in Hot & Sour Gravy which was served with Butter Rice. This was not in the league of the earlier dish, but the hot and sour flavours were complemented well by the mildly flavoured rice. The Cajun Spiced Grilled Fish with Dill Butter Sauce was up next. The fish was cooked well enough, but it was probably our least favourite, mostly thanks to a strange pungency. The Chicken Roulade turned out to be the dish of the day, with an awesome spinach filling, a mildly spicy herb sauce and butter rice to complete the package. From the half a dozen pizza options, we chose the Pepperoni & Bacon. They weren’t stingy with the meat and the caramelised shallots added a nice touch to the thin crust pizza.

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There were plenty of interesting options but we were pointed to the Brownie Caramel Fudge and the New York Style Blueberry Cheesecake, and thus we had a new benchmark of how meals should end! The brownie was just the right texture and consistency – neither too dry nor moist- and had some wonderful dark chocolate! Good chocolate dishes are always a tough act to follow, and the fact that the baked cheesecake almost beat it is testament to its quality. I wondered whether we should have started with desserts!

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For about Rs.1350, you could share a couple of non veg starters, two  non veg main course dishes and a dessert. (Inclusive of taxes and service charge) The Mirage actually lives up to its name in the sense that the restaurant’s appearance doesn’t do full justice to the quality of some of the dishes. Considering the Koramangala location, it manages to deliver value for money as well. A little more attention to the overall packaging, including some good music (instead of piping Radio Indigo) and it could be wonderful and make money!

The Mirage, #61, 4th Floor, Above Corner House, 7th Block, Koramangala, Ph: 080 65333533/633

Brand, Journalism, Marketing

A few months ago, in The Future Of Owned Media and Can media become social enough?, I’d written about a marketplace model that would connect journalists and ‘buyers’. More recently, I saw an article about Contently raising a round of funding to work on its stated objective – connect freelance journalists and writers with nontraditional publishers, such as brands, agencies, nonprofits, and new media companies. These organizations use Contently’s technology to commission projects, such as sponsored articles, infographics, and blog posts.

Like I’ve tweeted before, journalism is definitely in need of a business model. Media (with advertising) is arguably not the best bet now, because of various reasons. Digital has allowed brands to create their own media platforms (blogs, websites) and social has enabled them to (at least) broadcast it themselves, without a dependency on traditional media. Frank Strong, in a post titled ‘Why Content Marketing is the new Branding‘, rightly states that content is currency. It not only builds perception, but enables us to transact with consumers, keep a conversation going, and at some point, achieve a certain business outcome.

However, except for campaigns, marketing collateral etc, brands have never really required/produced ‘content’ on a regular basis, and thus they are not wired for it. But content marketing obviously requires sustainable quality content, and that’s where brand journalism can play a part. I’d come across the term ‘brand journalism’ first on this post in early 2013 – ‘The Role of Brand Journalism in Content Marketing‘ – where it is defined as “research, storytelling and reporting for a non-media company, in that company’s line of business, with the goal of thought leadership.” (Erica Swallow) There’s a media vs non-media debate in the post, but my little tiff with the definition is that ‘thought leadership’ is rather limiting. There might be other business objectives/outcomes. Unless we’re talking of a leadership among the consumer’s thoughts. (share of mind)

Meanwhile, in addition to a structured way like Contently, I can see brands already doing other forms of brand journalism. (used loosely) I’d classify blogger outreach, guest Twitterers, all under this, because the brand is using a content creator’s contextual reputation to enhance its own standing. The latest example I saw was quite fantastic – teen retailer Wet Seal ‘handing over’ its Snapchat account to MissMeghanMakeup (aged 16) who has quite a social following on various platforms. (via) To note that this is not Miss Meghan’s only client!

I can paint a rather utopian win-win-win picture with this – brands with a purpose that has a social-societal perspective, journalists, who have created trust and a reputation of their own, who can identify with the brand’s purpose and who can write honestly (with disclosure) and consumers, who get to know more about the brands they align with through superb narratives created by these journalists. (among other storytellers) But I’d be surprised if it pans out this way anytime soon.

It will have its challenges, but most of it is when we try to fit this method into the ‘containers of the past’. Its potential to succeed is because it offers much for all stakeholders. Journalists will have the option to be authentic in their writing, and give full disclosure because they’re not tied to the (traditional) media aspect. (newspapers/channels with their own business interests) Brands can be transparent about who has been commissioned to produce their content, and can use paid, owned media to promote it. Consumers get an interesting mix of narrators. It is a shift because the players (Brand, PR, journalists, media platforms) and/or their roles (production, distribution) will transform, but I do think brand journalism (a type of content) + marketing stands a chance.

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until next time, to better brand stories

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