The Entrepreneur and the Professional

A fantastic article in The Atlantic titled ‘The Case Against Credentialism‘ traces the social-cultural and academic  roots of America’s current business dynamics. The part that interested me most was what the author calls the tension between the two cultures – the entrepreneurial and the professional. While both are cultures of achievement, the basic tenet of the latter is that he who goes further in school will go further in life.

It gave me an impetus to write about this in the Indian context. Nothing as exhaustive, but a little note based on my experiences thus far, with much generalisation. My skin in the game is that it affects me personally and professionally. More

Clear Blue Oceans

The last week, I encountered a few ‘brand response scenarios’ – two of them in which I was directly involved, and one where I was just an onlooker. Since this is an area where I also spend considerable time, as part of my job, I thought I’d share some perspectives too.

The first one involved a hotel booking. After reading excellent reviews on TripAdvisor and skimming through a well made website, I decided to send them a mail. For 2 days I received no response. I noticed that they were on twitter, and send them an @ message. No response from there too, though they continued to update with promos and news shares. In the meanwhile, I also sent a mail to an alternative id given on the site. After more than a week, I got a response, by which time, I had already booked another place, which responded in less than 24 hours. A deal of about Rs.25000.

We bought a new television from a retail chain after seeing an offer in the newspaper. As the regular story goes, they delayed (from their committed time) by more than 48 hours and (uncharacteristically and quite reluctantly) I made a huge scene at their outlet. In the meanwhile, I also posted on their FB wall (as a response to the image of the ad which had lured me) and sent them an @message on Twitter. The FB response took more than 48 hours and asked me to send a mail to a certain id. The product had been delivered by then, and I told them that. The next day, a tweet response followed, asking me what the problem was. 😐 No deal lost, but no love lost either.

In ‘Who Cares?‘, Godin talks about exactly these kind of scenarios, and from there I quote, “Caring, it turns out, is a competitive advantage, and one that takes effort, not money.” The third scenario is an excellent example of this at work.

Much has been written about it already, so you can read the posts, linked to below, to understand what the Cleartrip Hurry Algorithm ‘controversy’ was all about. This isn’t the first time I have regarded Cleartrip’s approach with admiration, and for good reason. This time, not only did they thank @jackerhack who pointed them to a blog post that trashed the new initiative, they also responded to that post and wrote a post of their own clarifying what they were trying to do, not just on the post itself, but also in the comments section where many people raised questions. Cleartrip has set such high benchmarks in this regard that all of the above are now standard fare expected from them, and I probably wouldn’t have written a post. :) But once again, they went further. A week after this incident, a new post announced a redesigned feature that not only solved the problem the users had with it, but made it even better with more information. The result? An update on the very post that had complained in the first place. #win

Cleartrip was listening, but then so are a lot of other companies. The difference here is caring enough to respond (externally) and creating an organisational will (internally) that works on a user problem and solves it. Not one time, but as a process.

until next time, know response…

Coffee and brand stories

One of the best Indian brand stories I have seen in recent times is Chetan Bhagat. He has pretty much nailed the product, price and promotion, and gets better with each release cycle. Place? Bookstores, Twitter, Newspapers…… He has loyalists and haters, online and offline, and most people I know have an opinion on him. I religiously read every book that he brings out, not because I think he is a literary genius, but because he’s a reasonably good storyteller, and like it or not, he has the pulse of the nation’s youth, or at least a significant portion of it. I do avoid his columns because I can’t handle that brand of humour on Monday mornings.

I read his latest work Revolution 2020, and though it wasn’t quite the ‘Revulsion 2020’ that many made it out to be, I didn’t think it was a great piece of work either. (my review) But that’s not the story here. On page 108, a Cafe Coffee Day wove itself into the story, as the protagonist tells his father, “There is a Cafe Coffee Day opening in Sigra. It is a high-class coffee chain…..” I wouldn’t have thought more about it if I hadn’t remembered a story last year on how Chetan Bhagat had become CCD’s special friend, as part of their rebranding strategy. CCD makes another appearance in Page 116, and then several more later, as it becomes a routine rendezvous.

Inserting a product into a story is not a new thing. Product placements in movies are now taken for granted. I still remember the time I worked on a project in the early days of this phenomenon – WorldSpace (my employer then) and Lage Raho Munnabhai. But these days they are mostly a force fit and all the brands involved try to one-up each other through their own promos. No one wins.

But I haven’t seen a product placement in a book yet. To be fair, a few other brands like Frankfinn, Ramada, Taj also make appearances, but CCD gets top billing in Revolution 2020. Ah, billing. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, and it’s the author’s way of making the reader identify a little more with the story. CCDs are now, after all, ubiquitous. But if this is indeed an official tie-up, I think it’s quite a neat job by CCD. In the era of storytelling, when every brand tries to engage their audience via everything from TVCs to social media platforms, getting themselves into a guaranteed bestseller is a coup. CCD has always relied on its own stores than media campaigns for its storytelling, so this fits in. But if it’s indeed an official tie-up, and not a “what’s a few mentions between friends” arrangement, I’d have liked a disclosure from the author. It would’ve done his brand story’s credibility a world of good.

until next time, a plot can happen over coffee…

A Brand’s new story

Brands have always been storytellers, but new platforms bring with them opportunities and complexities that warrant a tweaking of the craft. Welcome to transmedia storytelling. And you can read the rest of my article on afaqs.  (Just this once, don’t mind) :)

Cause and Effect

My fandom relationship with the Pepsi Refresh Project has resulted in a few interesting conversations on this blog, this CSR one being the pick. As Surekha's comment says, this is the longest disagreement we've had. :)  That being said, I do agree with Surekha's point of sustainability, but my conundrum remains on another front. Aligning social responsibility with existing strategy/processes will make it sustainable and give it context, but would it create a perception that is not fair to its (assumed) good intent?

I was reminded of this last week when the news of Snapdeal's adoption of a village hit Twitter. Snapdeal was trending for 2 days of twitter on account of it. None of the comments on my timeline were flattering. I am guilty of contributing a couple myself, one of which was gamely retweeted by Rohith Awasthi, Head – User & Communities at (as I have said on Twitter on an earlier occasion, the intelligence and maturity he displays when dealing with 'crowds' is something I respect)

Snapdeal has also written about their intent behind this exercise on their blog, and it is heartening indeed to see that it also happens to be the village that one of their employees belong to, and that the entire idea started there. I also have to wonder why that never made it to the PR machinery. Meanwhile, as their blog says, their commitment is something that time will show. Ef

ficacy is another thing about which time will have an opinion.

I thought about this from the perspective of the earlier post – sustainability, alignment with strategy etc. Even if this were a marketing gimmick, I'm fine because the village gains. As Snapdeal says, maybe other companies will follow suit too. Now, if good intent is the only thing at work here, how is it measured with regards to their strategic objectives? As I've repeatedly said, it's the deal that drives my relationship with the brand, anything else is of little consequence, including this effort.

On the other hand, what if Snapdeal had tied up their CSR with their deals? It could have happened in many ways – a bottom up approach, polling people on what they should do as CSR and taking the story further, or perhaps a commitment based on the number/value of deals sold, or promising a certain part of the revenue towards a CSR initiative (both of which can use a wiki like meter to show transparency), or a matching grant scheme for a cause (you pay Rs.x, we put in an equal amount). All arguably aligned to strategy, helps build community, and can be counted as CSR. But as a user, I wonder if I would then have said they are doing it to increase their deal counter. Note that even for a seemingly unrelated deed like adopting the village, some of the reactions were pretty nasty.

So, dead if you do, killed if you don't, and that's my conundrum. Am I missing something here? If not, perhaps the only way is to organically grow a community that supports you, communicate clearly with them and show them through actions over time – not just in terms of CSR, but overall strategy as well,  that in  the commitment to a larger cause, you mean business. In a future era, when social business hopefully becomes more mainstream, and people see brands whose purpose ties in with the larger context of their lives, this won't be as difficult as it seems now.

until next time, cause tick or Groupgaon? 😉


Button Mania

Since the Skybags driven conversation on Twitter a few weeks ago (related posts by L.Bhat and Karthik) I have wondered about the presence of Facebook/Twitter icons in print ads. So I decided to do a little research on my own. For a week – from 13th – 19th May, I tracked the ads in Bangalore Times, particularly those which had mention of a social media presence. The results are in the presentation below.

Brand – Social Iconography
View more presentations from Manu Prasad

I would estimate that only about 25% (or less) of the ads carried these logos, so I can understand why brands would want to use this as a differentiation tactic, but doing so with just buttons (sometimes without a url/handle/name) and no worthwhile presence to showcase, defeats the purpose. Or maybe we can wait for the day when Augmented Reality will allow me to use that button and automatically go to the url. 😉 Meanwhile, I await the introduction of the Foursquare button into the mix. :)

until next time, button up for the social media ride

P.S: I'd like to make this an infographic, if you know someone who can volunteer, please pass the word.


Plead Blue

<context> I missed the Twitter debate, but it was still interesting to see the two perspectives shared by Karthik and L.Bhat on Nike’s ‘Bleed Blue’ campaign. Bhat’s initial post was a good summing up of the campaign, and what made it work. Karthik’s contention was that Nike did not deserve credit primarily because it was “tightly associated with the team’s performance” – an external occurrence. There were other reasons too, but I gathered that this was the crux of it. The contrasting example was Pepsi’s Hoo Haa – Blue Billion effort during the 2006 Champions Trophy. In a second post, Bhat also acknowledged a correlation (between the campaign’s and India’s success) and rightly (IMO) stated that the campaign’s intent centred around ‘garnering support for Team India….’ and ‘portraying a positive, confident attitude about Team India…’ Also, as he points out, it stayed away from any ‘player superhero’ association or a ‘we will win the cup’ stance. </context>

This debate was also interesting from the perspective of what I wrote last week – brand identity and real time. But before we get there, my 2 cents on the debate. I would also credit Nike for the same reasons Bhat stated – strategy, product integration and ease of participation (execution). That is what separates it from say a ‘Pallu scoop’, which is fun and pure recall, or a ‘Get Idea’, which still hasn’t given me an idea of how it’s keeping cricket clean.  [yes, they aren’t apples, but they were the other hugely visible campaigns]

Big ticket result-based events (including movies, which Karthik has mentioned) is a risk-reward game because there really isn’t any data that allows you to place sure-shot bets. But the way I see it, you can place a successful bet, and still not gain enough mileage (bad erm, ideas, bad execution etc). Nike got it right, and there was some hard work involved.

Come to think of it, I wonder if there’s any other approach Nike could’ve taken, especially since they were the official apparel sponsors. Look at the competition – Adidas had a Tendulkar ad and Reebok had nothing. It was a ‘once in 4 years’ opportunity and they seized it. India winning the cup was a key factor in the campaign’s success, but not the only one. Also, I don’t know if they had a back up plan – a “we’ll be back in 2015”, “thank you for giving it your best shot”, “bled to death”. Ok, not the last one, but you get the idea. Maybe they did and would’ve come out smelling like roses anyway. In any case, the efficacy of the campaign is probably best decided after it ends. In this case, it made Nike the buzz brand with other heavyweights in the fray, including the mighty Zoozoos. (Loved them though)

Meanwhile, by design or not, Nike’s approach was also quite a “Just Do it” one. (hindsight/retrofit) From the last post’s perspective, I wonder how much/whether that identity played a part in the design and success of the campaign. But on big events, celebrity endorsements etc, going forward, real time management of campaigns will increasingly become a requirement, thanks to the instant feedback tools that exist. Perhaps brands should formulate ‘what if scenarios’ and corresponding approaches when they plan large scale campaigns, especially when it’s linked to events that don’t offer much support in the form of data. The other way is to scale after the relevant data comes in, but that would involve quite an execution effort.

until next time, blue positive :)

PS: Nike, next time, stadium checkins and a Bleed Blue 4sq badge too please :)

Plugging In

Since I have been on streams and brands for a while, I thought I’ll take a break and plug you in on a couple of discoveries and connections. For those reading this in Google Reader or actually anywhere else other than this site itself, kindly step outside. No, the hands can still be on the keyboard/mouse but please drop in at the site since it’s contextually relevant that you be here.

One of the fringe benefits of writing this column for Bangalore Mirror is that I sometimes discover interesting startups that are useful to me as well. Now I am associated with two of them – one on each blog. And since we’re on discovery, and I don’t want to bore you more with semantics, allow me to introduce you to Dhiti, a content discovery engine driven by semantics. I first read about them at Pluggdin and then got a mail from  Aditya (at Dhiti) to try it out. I have, many a time, expressed my frustration about WP’s native search, the plugins I have tried to augment that, as well as the not-as-accurate-as-I’d-like YARPP plugin that I have been using so long. Dhiti arrived just in time and, from the short experience so far, has solved this to a very large extent. To see it in action, scroll away to the bottom of this post (later, after reading the post completely!!)

The Dhiti plugin, which you can download from here, has versions for, (thanks Ranjani) Blogger or self hosted WP blogs like mine. It provides multiple ways for you to get to more, and contextually relevant content in this blog – a ‘search’ function, a ‘Topics’ section displays the topics the post covers, a ‘Concepts’ section which shows the related topics, and ‘Nuggets’ which show excerpts from posts. Words in both Topics and Concepts are clickable and when you click them, the Nuggets show the excerpts of posts in which they have appeared and highlight them, so you can quickly understand the context and navigate to the relevant post accordingly. It functions just like a browser with ‘back’ and ‘home’ functions. You can even make it a pop-out within the page if that works better for you. Do play with it and let me know your feedback. I have asked for better customisation options and am also supposed to get some analytics from them.

So, Dhiti gives food for thought, and my new friends at the other blog give actual food. Ok, they help you find food, specifically restaurants. Zomato, formerly known as Foodiebay is now taking snippets from the restaurant reviews on my blog, and adding them to the menu and photos they already have. More than the hits that will hopefully deliver ;), I was really kicked about their Android app. If you have an Android, download the app right now from the market. It automatically detects your location, and then allows you to discover a random restaurant nearby, recommends a restaurant near you or just plain search. Pretty much all the website functionality is built into the app. There’s even a button to call! The showoff feature is the ‘Shake’ and though it doesn’t do the ‘slot machine’ like Urbanspoon, it still rocks! :)

until next time, scroll below for discoveries :)

While on contextual reputation…

Though I don’t answer much on Quora, I am quite a gawker and vote up answers too. One feature of Quora that I found extremely interesting and useful (and tweeted about) is the way Quora gives contextual ‘reputation’ (while reading answers) using the person’s topic bio. The interesting coincidence (because he also RT ed this tweet) is that I noticed it thanks to Mahendra‘s answer to a ‘Google Reader’ based question, and right next to his name was “Daily, dedicated user. Subscribed to over 200 feeds, followed by over 700 people on Reader/Buzz”. I must admit, before I realised that it was a topic bio, my first thought was why Mahendra was ‘wasting’ his Quora bio on Reader when he had such a huge list of phenomenal things he could say about himself. :)

But yes, coming back to ‘contextual reputation’, I liked it because it gives a lot of relevance and credibility and adds a layer to an answer – you can better understand where this  answerer and his response is coming from, for example. Another nuanced way of helping the reader weed out noise. I also thought this was a good way for brands/organisations to develop credibility in their domain, and involve their users, using function specific spokespersons, (brand, HR, operations etc) since “brands are currently not supported on Quora“.

And now we can go off on a tangent and check out a few brand experiences I had last week, all with oblique connections to contextual reputation, though lycra like they might seem :)

When Airtel changed its logo sometime back, though there were infinite debates on the need and quality of the new logo, their on ground management of the logo change was almost unequivocally appreciated. However,

To their credit, the ‘everything’ search, though has the old images, has the first link pointing to the new logo. But from an image perspective, ‘contextual reputation’ for logo change online gets a thumbs down.

Cleartrip, quite a favourite brand for their ‘no nonsense. clear talk and action’ way of managing their product and online presence, has a new campaign ‘Every trip has a purpose‘. But favouritism unfortunately doesn’t stop me from wordplay and I tweeted

Just as i was chided for provoking a brand, and was replying that I trusted Cleartrip to have a sense of humour, they replied with a ‘laughing hard’. Contextual reputation thumbs up. Hopefully they weren’t being sarcastic.

The last experience was from Tanishq, whose new Blush campaign I came across last week. Like I tweeted then, immediately after the Quora tweet, I found it quite interesting and worth an applause that a brand was experimenting with a Firefox/Chrome plugin. Instead of me explaining how it works, I will, in my new found enthusiasm for imagery, give you a screenshot.

As you can see, the plugin gives you, in addition to the ‘Like’, ‘Comment’ options you see after a Facebook status, a ‘Blush’ option, which when clicked, adds a comment with a link to the ‘Blush’ page. Hmm. I won’t get into a ‘app within FB vs outside website’ debate (there must be some reason, I assume). But unfortunately, boring that I am, I’ve never seen a jewelery that has made me blush. I can’t even see it in the Tanishq collection, assuming that I have the ‘where to wear it’ right. Maybe girls/women see it differently. So, why didn’t Tanishq just have a ‘Gold’ button, which would actually add to their ‘contextual reputation’ more than blush, and tie it to some sort of action that would actually get something tangible for all involved.

For example, I install the plugin and start using it just because of the ‘show off’ value. What if they tied in an offer linked to the number of “Golds” I gave/received on statuses, and then communicated that in the comment that appears after I have ‘Gold’ed a comment. Or how about virtual gifts, a way to showcase the gallery, and then an easy app to add the virtual gift to a profile pic? I have an inkling that women are likely to have a “nice earrings/pendant. where did you get it from” conversation. They could even make this Like based contest i.e. if you virtually gift someone and get them to add it to their profile pic, and they get maximum likes (make a leaderboard) we’ll let you actually gift them for free. Do that on Valentine’s day, and it just might work.

Meanwhile, I have a ‘reputation’ for longish posts, so I’ll just stop here.

until next time, add to the context?