Manufacturer, Market, Media

Sometime last year at Myntra, we were having a planning meeting and everyone was asked for their take on the future of (fashion) e-commerce in a 5 year time frame. I confessed that I had no idea, and asked the group whether they had heard of 3D printing. Since this was before the hype machine went into overdrive, none had. My perspective was that if I could print branded merchandise on my own, what would be the role of an intermediary? (interestingly, I read something on a similar note more recently)   I have no idea how mainstream this phenomenon will become, but 3D printers are already being sold online by Staples and Amazon. eBay also has an app that allows users to buy custom goods from three of the top 3D printing companies. (via)

There are multiple themes which we can explore from here – the augmented human, the collaborative economy and social commerce - to name a couple. But since these are fairly obvious and have at least been kickstarted on the blog, I thought of connecting this to my post from last week – the future of owned media – in which I explored the possibility of a media marketplace which is tapped by businesses to create, curate and possibly even market content that is relevant to them. The journalism that brands want subsidising the journalism that society needs. I hypothesised whether Bezos’ purchase of WaPo was a vague start to this, given Amazon’s presence in multiple domains.

It’s interesting that Bezos had invested in MakerBot, probably the original poster boy of 3D printer manufacturing, (via) but thinks the digitisation of physical goods is a while away. It becomes even more interesting when WaPo publishes a story on the business case for 3D printing in the context of e-com players’ need to minimise delivery time. The long tail would explode even more! The article also mentions how “Amazon’s giant fulfillment centers could be another place where just-in-time manufacturing and delivery come together.

What role does media play in this? IMO, we’re increasingly moving towards interest based communities and our consumption of media is influenced by this. With Kindle, WaPo and several other components in the mix, Amazon could indeed be well placed to aggregate the long tail of not just creators and consumers of physical goods, but information (media) as well.

until next time, the Amazon of news

The Future of Owned Media?

Tech Crunch had a rather funny take on why Bezos bought the Washington Post, but the more thought provoking piece was on the Post itself. (via @nixxin) Its premise was that the predictive analytics perfected by Amazon could be used to provide Post subscribers with personalized news feeds based on where they live and what they have read before. People browsing The Post’s Web site or tablet app could be served ads tailored to their past purchases, and then could buy products with a single click. Ironically, the last paragraph actually ends up validating the TC post. :)

It reminded of an earlier post of mine, in which I had wondered about the future of media in a social era, and though I did not use the words, asked whether a ‘marketplace’ kind of model for news creators and curators was possible. To be honest, I was still skeptical whether a business model could be worked out on this line of thought. But the entire WaPo purchase by Bezos, the subsequent discussions on the web, and this fantastic article at Forbes that brings out the radical shifts in management required for a firm to thrive in ‘the creative economy’, set me out on a new direction.

Media and advertising, like I mentioned in the earlier post, have had an intertwined life. What if media cannot now exist as a business on its own – the primary reason being that the value it provides -news -is being disrupted by technological innovations including self publishing tools? Does it mean that  its role now has to be seen within the context of a larger business? We’re already well into the paid-earned-owned media cycle, and while paid is arguably on a decline, earned is now increasingly being controlled by the platforms. (FB’s Edgerank, for example) Does it not make sense for a firm to make relevant news part of its product offering, or part of a sales process? Of course, the dynamics would work different from a merchandise marketplace, but if news is a commodity, can’t its vendors be on a marketplace? Media corporations might not be able to sustain a business model with high overhead costs, but journalists could build a reputation and thrive, and the marketplace would decide their price!

The WaPo purchase is probably just another kind of vertical integration. Much like an e-com company India would build its own logistics or payment gateway and then even white label it, the far-sighted Bezos might have just taken the first step in evolving owned media in a scale and direction no one has ever thought of before. Journalism has mostly been subsidised by commerce – I’d say this is just another evolutionary necessity.

until next time, to each his own media..


This review first appeared in Bangalore Mirror.

Fenny’s is almost opposite Raheja Arcade in Koramangala, on the third floor of the building next to Food World. They have valet parking, and those with a more modest and lesser set of wheels can park in one of the many side lanes and walk it up. The map and menu are at Zomato.

The word ‘Fenny’ (though usually spelt feni) can mean different things to different people depending on what happened after they consumed it, but there would definitely be a Goa connection. So it is a bit funny that a restaurant named Fenny’s does not serve Goan food. But the owners clarified that the name symbolised a connection in spirit to Goa, further emphasised by a tagline “Happiness Everyday”. This was my third visit here, and I can confirm that the lift is most definitely a slice of Goa. It moves at its own pace, rocks, (though more in an effort to mimic waves) is mostly crowded, and starts and stops exactly when it wants to. But much like Goa, the niggles take a backseat as soon as you enter the place. The menu is a mix of Mediterranean and European, and is backed superbly by an ambiance and décor that’s probably one of the best around, and manages to easily transport you way out of Koramangala.

We began with the Basil Bell Pepper Soup – the tomato overshadowed the bell pepper, but we enjoyed it courtesy the spicy flavour and a dash of tang. The Crispy Ola Breads with Fenny’s signature dip turned out to be four standard and largely unimpressive dips including salsa, Baba Ghanoush, and Hummus. The Peri Peri Mushroom was easily a better veg starter – grilled mushrooms with a vegetable stuffing and mildly spicy Peri Peri sauce. The Devil Beef Chunks had tender meat with a spicy sauce that also had chilli flakes in it. We also found this sauce’s cousin in Fenny’s Paprika Chicken, but it was spicier, fairer in complexion, and tastier as well. From the drinks section, we tried the ‘Dom’my Gun, which was unfortunately dominated by a guava flavour that mercilessly gunned down any taste of the vodka or the Fenny’s Special Mix that might have existed. You are more likely to have a better chance of success with ‘Vicky Donor’ -the other cocktail we tried – with its good mix of lime juice, vodka and spicy green chilli. But the winner proved to be the mocktail – the creamy Strawberry Delight, which also had pineapple, orange and cinnamon playing support.

In the main course, the Fiery Hot Vegetable Pizza arrived first, and despite the double adjective, needed some assistance from chilli flakes to make it truly worthy of its name. But that didn’t take away from its awesomeness – crisp onion, bell pepper, chilli and mozzarella cheese proved to be a great combination. The Supreme Chicken with Mushroom Sauce gave us a sense of déjà vu – except for the abundance of mushroom, it was a near replica of the sauce in the starters. The rice that came with it was boiled a little more than it should have, and the dish was soon neglected. Another dose of déjà vu – though a milder one – appeared in the form of the Fish Grand Milano. But though it was reminiscent of the soup, its spicy, creamy nature soon stopped comparisons.

We didn’t have much of a choice in desserts – the only options were a Chocolate Mousse, a Brownie and a Sticky Toffee Cake with Butterscotch sauce. The last one screamed for attention and got it! Richly deserved, I must add. It was moist, with an excellent texture and the rich butterscotch sauce complemented it beautifully. If it wasn’t closing time, I think we might have ordered one more!

Fenny’s has managed to create a fantastic setting in the middle of Koramangala. The food is quite good, though in some cases, the portions are arguably small. They also have an interesting bar menu; all of this explains the increasing buzz about, and in the place. You’re better off reserving a place, especially on weekends.The music was a little louder than we’d have liked but is not really a conversation stopper. The service was prompt and helpful. The person who took our orders was really good, and the only spoilsport was another member of the staff who almost dropped our main course all over us and didn’t even bother to apologise! With a cuisine that’s not very common in this part of Bangalore, and an amazing ambiance, it’s probably only the lift that holds it back from reaching greater heights! (As you might have guessed, I did get stuck in it!)

Fenny’s, 3rd Floor, 115, 7th Block, Koramangala, Opp Raheja Arcade, Ph: 080 65658000

That’s the plan for now

This ‘what could have been’ post on FB Platform and the broader theme of ‘move fast, break things’ made me think about planning – brand as well as business, how technology is reshaping it, and the fine balance that is required to ensure business growth goes hand in hand with retaining the trust of the ecosystem.

Brand planning has always been an interest area, and I’ve had the good fortune of knowing a few brilliant planners, and learning what I could from them. Still continue to. A simple search would throw up a number of planning frameworks, and many of the fundamentals would still hold.  However, technology is throwing open more options in terms of manifestation/output. I found some good perspectives in this article which is about that CMOs can learn from technologists. The fundamental theme is dynamism. But such are the challenges that they remind me of We are trapped in our inadequate mental models ~ John Edwarrd Huth (via)

I’d think that brand narratives are (also) shaped by the story telling devices at their disposal. As Mitch Joel points out here, the nuances of marketing vs advertising need to be understood as brands struggle to transition from the mass advertising era. One-way media allowed a linear flow, but current platforms demand flexibility, and customised rendition across contexts and platforms. If consumers are the new media, the stories should be ones that they can identify with, fit into their personal narratives, and therefore inclined to share.

Many of the familiar narrative devices have focused on getting attention, but that is increasingly difficult. It’s not that ‘awareness’ can be ignored, but not only is it not enough, but attention for the sake of itself cannot work. I really liked this post (again by Paul Isakson) where he encapsulates the thought in the title itself Adding Value > Getting Attention. The > works not just as ‘greater than’ but also as ‘leads to’. Or, in other words, Be the Company Customers can’t Live Without.

In a highly fragmented media and consumption scenario, how does a brand/business know what to focus on and when to shift from it?A wonderful blog I have discovered recently is that of Paul Isakson. This post, for instance, throws light on the need for the brand to stay true to its own story, and therefore focus on specific audiences. Another of my favourite posts focuses on something that I have always believed in and liked – the back story, and its relevance for brands. What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow ~ Buddha

To get there involves a cultural change, and tectonic shifts. I also think that this will force brands to think about scale. In a mass media world, a brand could get ‘reach’ by throwing money. That can still be done, even on social platforms, but when attention is not the only thing that matters, the challenge is to build relevancy and scale it – across time. That requires new planning frameworks, and possibly means a



We started with FB, so let’s go full circle. Even as late as last year, there was massive skepticism around Facebook’s ability to adapt and thrive in the mobile space. In the last earnings call, they reported that mobile had contributed 41% to revenue. (read) It would seem that Facebook knew its story, what to focus on,  and stuck to it.

until next time, refresh

The questions in Big Data

In my last post that touched upon Big Data, I had mentioned how the seeming intent of Big Data is to synthesise actionable insights from processed and unprocessed information at touch points related or unrelated to the enterprise, and then use it to target consumers better. While this is probably true for the short-medium term, I read a wonderful perspective at GigaOm by Beau Cronin on its true potential – the path to building the equivalent of global-scale nervous systems. As I tweeted after I read it, it reminded me of something I’d written a couple of years back before I’d heard of #BigData – if we could actually use data to go beyond that to answer life’s profound questions. Before we go into the subject, here’s a nice video by OgilvyOne titled “Big Data for smarter customer experiences” (via) though it’s skewed more towards the experience rather than the data.

Beau Cronin has mentioned several possibilities this would give rise to, and the post made me think if something like the hive mind concept would mesh into it as well – a sort of hybrid neural network. He has also pointed out the hurdles we would face while we get there – gathering, processing and conversion into actionable insights, and how phenomena such as priming,expectations, and framing matter so much in how we perceive our physical and social environments. In essence, a fascinating read.

I was particularly intrigued by framing, and began thinking about it in the context of the unstructured data – tweets, posts, mails, videos – that is a major component of Big Data. The fundamental question being – is it unstructured because we’re framing it ‘wrong’? Based on the enterprise’ intent and not the users’? Ironically, I couldn’t frame the questions right until I met the ever-brilliant S, who has always maintained that the answer is easy to find once the question has been framed right. He has developed (Tulpa -to build or construct in Tibetan – is the concept he enlightened me on while we were discussing semantics) something that at a rough level mashes the MECE principle with Frame Semantics and the entity-relationship model. There’s IPR involved, so no more beans shall be spilled, but as always, I learned much from the conversation.

In essence, structure can definitely be derived from what we currently call unstructured data, provided we frame the queries right. I can intuitively begin to understand that in the era of data abundance, the only way we can make sense of all of it is by focusing on an intent that is derived from a common purpose, so that the sources of data (users) will be more open to help solve the challenges of data collection. The processing and inferences that follow would yield the best results when the right questions are asked. I have a feeling that the questions asked by a business in an earlier era might not cut it.

until next time, role models

Revisiting Social Commerce

It’s been more than 2 years since I wrote about social commerce on afaqs, and since then, there have been massive changes right from the definitions to the operations of social commerce. Karthik’s recent post on the subject led me to think about it again.

I’ve always felt that most of the popular definitions of social commerce have constrained its actual scope. Back in 2011, facebook stores accounted for most of the social commerce discussions. These days, it is mostly referral traffic and sales from social, and that too, in terms of last-touch attribution, as the Ecommerce quarterly (that Karthik cites) would suggest. While I’d not contest EQ’s methodology or assessment, I think it’s only fair to point out that there have been a great number of exceptions. (read; Disclosure: that list includes Myntra where I work) I’m not a fan of how Facebook has throttled what we used to call organic reach, but if you want to read about how Facebook helps target users at different levels of the funnel, Zappos serves as a good example. Facebook’s Custom Audiences and FB Exchange products allow different ways of targeting consumers. Twitter is a bit late to the party, but their products also have excellent potential from what I’ve seen, and they’re moving quickly! (already into retargeting)  YouTube is already a big bet for advertisers, and Pinterest is already being used by scores of Etsy users! (read) From small experiments, I also suspect that Google+ is a potential top rung player. Even if you’d like to leave the $ out and consider (for example) only organic (eg. Open Graph actions) there are case studies evolving. (example)


So, can commerce be driven through social channels – advertising as well as organic? An emphatic yes would be my answer. Yes, it might score low if one considers only last-touch attribution, but hey, many of Facebook’s strategic PMDs are getting a handle on multi-touch attribution. (Kenshoo is an example) One should also consider that other traffic channels like search, affiliates etc have been around for longer and have tried and tested models. The point is rather simple – if we judge social’s contribution on the basis of models created for an earlier version of the web, it would not measure up. We’re at a stage where both technology and tools are still evolving to help measure social on terms that balance its uniqueness with the needs of the business. The good news is that the little that I have seen of Facebook’s strategic PMDs has been inspiring!

(Image via)

But I think using social channels as sources of traffic/revenue for commerce is still not capturing ‘social commerce’ in its entirety. Though arguable and reducing in favour, I’d still label many group buying options as social commerce. (example) But to me, the elephant in the room is  p2p commerce. Though the collaborative economy is more vast in scope, I’d put it in the same bucket in this context. (do read Jeremiah Owyang on the subject) From Airbnb to RelayRides to Loosecubes to TaskRabbit to even KickStarter, commerce is now happening between individuals with everyone playing creator, buyer and seller as per context. While the $ is inevitable, trust and one’s network itself are becoming currencies. Yes, these also use social platforms for extended reach, but this is inherently more social than the pure commerce play of brands.

It is interesting to see social platforms working on these lines as well. Facebook’s Marketplace was probably a bit ahead of its time, but nothing stops them from bringing it back. I read recently that Google is planning to release Mine – a service integrated with G+ that allows users to keep track of “belongings” and then share those with friends in different circles. (via) Yes, there will obviously an Android App. It’s not just these platforms, I’d think that Amazon is slowly approaching it from a different direction as well. (read)

To sum it up, commerce has always been social, it’s only the dynamics that keep changing.

until next time, commercial breaks

Can media become social enough?

A few days back, it was reported that Facebook now had a million active advertisers, and that LinkedIn has 3 million company pages. I’ll let that sink in, in case you hadn’t heard. Despite all the social-ness, I realised it’s impossible not to call it media. The wiki definition for media is “tools used to store and deliver information or data” That, for me, is a smartphone now! I also wondered how many media behemoths could boast of a million active advertisers. And that’s when it really struck me how much the traditional media we were used to have been sidelined – yes, they still get advertising revenue, but from a sheer reach perspective. Google, Facebook, YouTube and many more platforms get anywhere between a few million to a few hundred million visitors every day.  To put it all in perspective, TOI – the world’s largest English daily has a readership of over 7 million.

Media and advertising have had a very intertwined life, unless of course the publication/channel has been on solely a subscription based model. I think the magic of Facebook (and Google, before it) and those that followed is that they have democratised advertising by not just making it something any small business could spend on according to their means, but also giving them the ability to advertise according to contexts – intent, interest, social etc.  Though Google, Facebook etc are still intermediaries, they never flashed their powers, though the latter has begun to, recently. As brands move away from a one-size-fits-all mode of advertising, these platforms give them more options of form and function, and changing the face of advertising. (Google’s exploits are known, here’s a pertinent read on Facebook)

In such a scenario, what really does a traditional media channel have to offer to its consumers and clients? I’m not saying that they’re all going bankrupt next Sunday, but it’s clear which way the wind is blowing. One way, of course, is to use their brand value, and replicate (and grow) their audience on devices and platforms which better serve advertising interests. They can hone their value offerings by offering various contexts and their combinations – local, social, interests, and so on, and build business models for each. The early movers are already making big deals. But that is the red ocean that everyone is fighting for. How really can a player differentiate?

Biz_Is_The_ArtI had a vague thought. Media’s original strength was its relationship with users and the trust involved. In the social media era, how can that be leveraged? Flipboard has already allowed users to become curators and create their own magazines. Is that the future, along with shared revenue on advertising? What if users can also curate the advertising their ‘subscribers’ can see? After all advertising is also news/information and has a certain value depending on the source. Traditionally, media  has been the middle man between advertisers and users, but what happens when everyone is media? Can media start aggregating influencers in every domain, including niches, provide them the material for curation, negotiate on their behalf to relevant advertisers, and share the revenue? Perhaps the next  disruption will be the platform that can handle the complexities involved. What do you think?

until next time, mediator

Brands and the Personal API

Lifestreaming and I go way back, at least 5 years. 2008 was when I wrote about it first, though the experiments had started earlier. Most of the services I’ve mentioned in the post are now defunct, but my interest in the subject never waned. From the perspectives of memories mentioned in that post to speciation to brands using their lifestreams to build communities around it, I have had several thoughts on the subject. That’s why I found this post at GigaOm, which was about Foursquare co-founder Naveen Selvadurai sharing data logs from his life (weight, sleep, activities) and hoping developers would hack his ‘personal API‘, very very interesting. There have been stories about people and the tons of lifestreaming data they have amassed, but I had never heard of an API, and therefore consider it pioneering work.

Pioneering, less because of the novelty, and more because I think it has the potential to become mainstream, and even, the default paradigm of creation and consumption. Since the engagement @ scale framework refuses to let go of me, I immediately thought of the personal API in that context. With technological advances, I think it’ll become easier to create one’s own APIs and you can see several companies mentioned in the GigaOm post that are working on it. So I’d hope that its evolution is as fast as (or faster than) that of self publishing (on the web) which about a decade back was a relatively complex thing to do. So, in essence, we’re talking about huge amounts of data that are being generated and captured by individual users, and this is only going to be accelerated thanks to phenomena like wearable technology.

The current way of looking at Big Data is to synthesise actionable insights from processed and unprocessed information from touch points related or unrelated to the enterprise. As I’d mentioned in my presentation (on engagement @ scale) this is then used to target users better or drive more efficiencies.  They don’t really operate at the higher levels of community/meaning/purpose. Now think of the personal API and the data it holds. What if we looked at this individual streams of ‘Big Data’ not from the enterprise’ perspective but from the user perspective? What if brands created platforms that  would allow people to upload data that they choose to so that the brands could solve their needs better? Like I wrote in my ‘maker’ post, with massive technology leaps happening in areas like 3 D printing, there are tremendous opportunities for co-creation. Brands could even aggregate data from these individual streams to find need gaps and package that for a larger market. In fact, I’d say that this is probably what Nike+ is doing already.

But the real story is that these personal APIs could give great insights into the individual’s purpose in life, his priorities – in short, his life’s narrative. It gives brands the window to latch on to the narrative that they can identify with, and create value and meaning in the individual’s life. I think that’s what brands originally strove to do!

Update: Thanks MJ, for pointing me to the Nike+ Accelerator!

until next time, AP”I”

PS: Over at Soylent, they’re creating the nutritional equivalent of water, an ubiquitous ‘meal’ that is customised for body types. Funding? Kickstarter of course! :)

For brands to make it….

At #SBS2013 Jeff Dachis posed an interesting thought, captured by Gautam in this tweet.

Both Gautam and Haroon then shared interesting links in this context – content from Jeremiah Owyang and Loic Le Meur respectively. (had not seen the first one before) The ‘lunch conversation’ didn’t really happen around this, so I thought I’ll share my thoughts here. :)

Jeremiah’s post also has a link that shows how fast this collaborative economy is growing. Recently, he also wrote a post on the ‘maker movement’, and his experiences at a fair he attended. It also had a short note on how brands could leverage the movement – become enablers, building a marketplace around themselves, and offer customised products directly to individuals.

At #SBS2013, as part of my presentation on ‘The Currencies of Engagement @ Scale‘ I’d shared a rendition of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to show how engagement should be scaled to (also) satisfy the needs (of a user from a brand) at the top of the pyramid. (slide 17 here) It had both collaborative consumption and co-creation listed as narratives because they traded in the currencies of community and esteem respectively.

At this stage, I thinks brands have a great chance of being a significant part of the ‘maker movement’ if they can change the outlook of their business processes – from production to marketing. After all, they’re makers too, except that when they attained massive scale, they moved more and more towards a one-size-to-fit-everyone approach, pursuing efficiency @ scale. Again, it is not as though brands who do not change will suddenly cease to exist – it’s just that their narratives won’t be strong enough for any affinity. As I said in  the presentation, there is a limit to the currencies of efficiency narratives – cheaper, faster etc – because once a better player comes along, a switch is imminent.

In the medium term, these brands will exist because not everyone has the same involvement with every category. Let’s take the example of an automobile. I still ride a two-wheeler, because for me the narrative is a very functional one – move from Point A to Point B. When I do buy a car, it will continue to exist in the functionality narrative, but I know several for whom the car is a reflection of their achievements in life. Just like the t-shirts I wear are a representation of my philosophies. For those several, a t-shirt might just be another garment they wear, or again, a representation of their material possessions – easily captured by wearing a costly brand with little involvement in the design. My belief is that in every domain, there’ll be enough consumers who buy a brand for the currencies they offer at lower levels, (price, convenience etc) and that will continue to be the short head. (in the long tail concept) But as time passes, the economics won’t work out because the resources a brand has to spend to keep its consumers would prove to be far more than the money it makes out of them.

At this point, all the narratives at the higher levels of the pyramid (co-creation, collaborative consumption) are in the long tail, but brands will soon realise that with evolving technology dynamics, it will have to learn to cater to the long tail, where the currencies will be different. This is most definitely an evolution and not a sudden shift. For starters, brands would have to learn the new dynamics of production and distribution and the impact on their balance sheets. They will have to learn balancing acts. Imagine a branded retail store that allows you to buy their regular products as well as make your own versions (which are also branded – hello NikeID) at various levels of customisation. In terms of economies of scale, the former would be better off with traditional mass production and the latter with a technology like 3D Printing. The online version of this store would also have both, and probably the ability to buy the materials and print it yourself as well.

It is not just the production side which will require a balancing act, think of what the brand stands for. It needs to speak different languages to different kinds of consumers – from the guy who wants a convenient off-the-shelf purchase to the guy who wants every-part-customised, so that both feel they’ll get value from the brand. There are nuances as well – sometimes my association with the brand is not because it allows co-creation or collaborative consumption, it is only because I identify and relate to other things they stand for – and my consumption of them deals with the currencies in community or esteem. In short, what does it mean for brands? Exactly what’s happening to everything else – massive disruption. The way to tackle it is to try and get a bearing of the narratives your brand should be part of, (oh yes, Big Data and predictive analytics can help) because no brand can compete for every consumer with every maker.

until next time, break first, then make

Bonus Read: Emerging Bets at the Intersection of Technology & Culture