Thursday, February 1, 2018

In these times of unethical proportions

A shipowner was about to send to sea an emigrant-ship. He knew that she was old, and not well built at first; that she had seen many seas and climes, and often needed repairs. Doubts had been suggested to him that possibly she was not seaworthy. These doubts preyed upon his mind, and made him unhappy; he thought that perhaps he ought to have her thoroughly overhauled and refitted, even though this should put him at great expense.
Before the ship sailed, however, he succeeded in overcoming these melancholy reflections. He said to himself that she had gone safely through so many voyages and weathered so many storms that it was idle to suppose she would not come safely home from this trip also. He would put his trust in Providence, which could hardly fail to protect all these unhappy families that were leaving their fatherland to seek for better times elsewhere. He would dismiss from his mind all ungenerous suspicions about the honesty of builders and contractors.
In such ways he acquired a sincere and comfortable conviction that his vessel was thoroughly safe and seaworthy; he watched her departure with a light heart, and benevolent wishes for the success of the exiles in their strange new home that was to be; and he got his insurance money when she went down in mid-ocean and told no tales.
This is a parable from an article I recently read.
English mathematician and philosopher William Kingdon Clifford rues, “Now what shall we say of the shipowner? Surely this, that he was verily guilty of the death of those men. It is admitted that he did sincerely believe in the soundness of his ship, but the sincerity of his conviction can in no wise help him because he had no right to believe on such evidence as was before him. He had acquired his belief not by honestly earning it in patient investigation, but by stifling his doubts. And although in the end he may have felt so sure about it that he could not think otherwise, yet in as much as he had knowingly and willingly worked himself into that frame of mind, he must be held responsible for it.”
“The confidence people have in their beliefs is not a measure of the quality of evidence but of the coherence of the story that the mind has managed to construct,” Nobel-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman observed in summarizing his pioneering behavioral psychology studies of how and why our minds mislead us
Most financial meltdowns in the last decade or so, leading to much human misery have their roots in ethical misdemeanors
We make promises which we have every intention of breaking and expect the other person not to feel bad about them because it happens, everyone else is doing it.
We make our service providers work for umpteen hours, let them wait for months on end, and finally reject their work on our whims and fancies without paying for their efforts.
We lie to our investors, abuse our partners and lay off hundreds of people while taking kings’ salaries ourselves.
We expect our vendors to give their services gratis because they are not products, after all, they are services, and intellectual services should not have a tab!
We plagiarize shamelessly and yet are outraged when another person undercuts our IPR.
recent survey by Ernst and Young provides an insight into the impact of bribery and corruption in India.
Some of the specific findings of the survey included;
Strain on ethical behavior: Alarmingly, a large number of respondents appeared to be comfortable with (or were aware of) unethical business conduct. These include irregular accounting to hide bribery and corruption, gifts being given to seek favors, etc.
Taking the easy way out: More than half of the respondents agreed that it is the lack of will to obtain licenses and approvals the “right way,” which leads to bribery and corruption.
Challenging times ahead: Around 83% of the respondents felt that cases of bribery and corruption can negatively impact FDI inflows
Need for greater enforcement of laws: Around 89% of the respondents felt that there should be greater enforcement of laws to curb the proliferation of bribery and corruption.
Be wary when you shake your head in masked admiration while hearing stories of dishonest entrepreneurs who became hugely successful.
Be wary when you dismiss favors being asked or given as the cost of doing business or even saving your job,
Be wary when you misreport funds and call it creative book cooking,
Be wary when you turn a blind eye to the subtle and non-subtle harassment of your female colleagues,
Be wary when you let things slide if someone made a mistake because he is 'one of the boys',
Be wary when you know your actions to be harmful to your customers or environment but profitable to your company,
Back home be wary when your kids are watching ‘Dexter’ or ‘Breaking Bad’ or ‘Game of Thrones’ because they are picking up subtle cues that being dishonest, evil and violent is full of humor (albeit dark) and being cool!
Be very wary, because you are lowering their and your own barriers to crookedness.
‘Just because everyone else is doing it’ becomes a huge enabler for unethical and unprofessional behavior.  
To quote a 2013 article in ‘Psychology Today’, by a clinical psychiatrist – “Denial is a powerful tool. Just like smokers who have a developed rationality on why it’s okay to keep puffing away, many parents/people will take the same stance on media violence with a plethora of reasons as to why it’s really no big deal. We often continue doing things we know aren't good for us, because it's the path of least resistance and heck, everyone else is doing it too, and so how bad can it really be?”
It is not the intention of this article to be ‘holier than thou’ or even to give you any answers to any of the above question/s.
You will have to find your own truth and shine your own light to navigate this dark, tangled maze.
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The Rise of the START-UP Era

It is quite interesting to watch today’s young generation struggle with fresh viable ideas, go-to-market models, financial sourcing, personnel challenges, etc.

It is opium, a drug you are reluctant to let go of- once you have worked for yourself. After that, it is next to impossible to work in a strait-jacketed employee role. The entrepreneur within will always rebel. The employee will not. Because you do not mourn the loss of what you never had.

But this piece is not about entrepreneur vs. employee. It is more about the success ratio of today’s start-ups.

Many would eulogize about the success of E-commerce marketplaces. However, do keep in mind that they are neither manufacturing, nor innovating on the product, nor selling their own packaged beliefs. Also - they are standing up for someone else’s product. Only the marketplace is their own. Rest of it is logistics. There is only so much you can embellish it with. Most of the startups today are facilitators, rather than producers. Most... not all.

Compare it with a scenario where a company, selling products or services, is set up. They invest in their product, innovate and research to keep making it better, have solid USPs, believe in their dream, and sell this vision to the buyers and stick up to their promises. Whether they fail or succeed is up to how brilliant and robust their product is, how sane their pricing, how intuitive their marketing and how consistent is their service.

The facilitator start-ups know how to bring their product to the TG’s doorstep. Even a child knows that he can bring a horse to water but cannot make him drink it.
They can talk the lingo of today’s Gen Next, but they are not selling entirely and only to Gen Next. We live in society, not in isolated silos.

So why are the food facilitators falling like nine pins? Because even if there are a lot of people, and they have to eat three times a day - eating out is an occasion, ordering in is a compulsion, and home-cooking is not always a drudgery. There are only so many cuisines available, and if you haven’t noticed, all momos from all same-class joints taste the same, as does the tandoori chicken. Well… mostly. If you don’t have quality control over the product you deliver, you end up offering sub-standard quality which will never be re-ordered. This is just one of the many things which facilitators and aggregators need to guard against.

Talking about quality, one has been reading a lot of negativity about a hotel rooms’ aggregator startup which scaled quite fast. If you know your TG, you should know that you are targeting a mid-class to the upper-middle-class frequent business traveler. Will he be happy with a room with peeling walls, stained bedsheets, and bucketed bathrooms? Well, then, why do you have such facilities listed on your portal? Who is responsible for the quality of the products you are selling to the customer? The customer will think you are! Though you may want to pass the buck, in this age, shooting the messenger is more common than you think!

In the old world order of businesses, there was the young generation who worked at the grassroots, some more youth who had grayed their hair dealing with people on Ground Zero, being handheld by experienced ones who had earned their laurels in the field the hard way and therefore respected within the organization. And then there was the leadership team, who sometimes had massive egos, and clashed, but never at the cost of the company. And finally the grey-haired patriarch kind of a CEO, who, with his wit, balance, passion, manipulation and passive aggression (pun intended!) kept all of these layers in check and kept the growth vertical. So many checks and balances – to ensure that what goes out in the field is worthy of all the man-years put behind it. There must be a reason the old world is still succeeding and continues to do so.

Now turn the model on its head.

And add in VCs for whom this would be an add-on responsibility, not their primary challenge, and probably shared with many start-ups, not one.

You need the one who can guide and step in when things escalate.

You definitely also need the one who is constantly motivating, pushing, managing hands-on and problem-solving 365X24X7 so that things do not escalate.

A lot more work and experience (in-house and at all levels) needs to be calibrated within the Start-up model, to ensure success in the markets.

Despite all statistics, human behavior and their compulsions - psychological and otherwise, should be studied before one goes ahead and unveils oneself in the marketplace. What a handful of people think inside a boardroom, with statistics on the board, could be entirely different from Ground Zero realities.

We should never believe that we are smarter than the people buying our products and services.

How Snapdeal could have handled it better

I read it everywhere nowadays that Startups are courageous, they are spirited, gutsy, and they have it in them to explore new dimensions, etc., etc.
Well, where did the courage go for Snapdeal, when they were questioned about Aamir Khan’s recent statement?
If you dare to explore new dimensions, and you are brave, then you should also have the courage to take a principled stance in standing by someone whom you have chosen as an ambassador of goodwill for your brand.
When you embark on the search for a Brand Ambassador, you identify the values that you associate with or would like to associate with your brand. And then find someone who reflects those values.
And if you have found someone and you believe in him/ her, then stand by them through thick or thin, as long as they are exhibiting those values.
Why let the courage fail in crucial times like this?
Professional or Personal – you have to stand by your partner. And not jump ship at the first sign of sinking.
People will admire you, not for your courage, but for your principles, your steadfastness, your ethics and your integrity. You will not need to advertise or send newsletters for these values. Your behavior will suffice.
After all this blows over, Aamir Khan will be back - to being a heartthrob, to make movies that sell a million tickets globally.
But one thing will rankle and stick out like a sour thumb. That Snapdeal distanced itself and did not dare to stand by its ambassador. This is called Brand Harakiri.
How could they have handled it better?
A carefully worded statement which stresses upon the need for forbearance and wisdom. Another line about not taking words out of context, and about patience. About the need for clear communication and about understanding the passionate nature of Indian voices.
Much was said about their own belief and vision which is good, but not coupled with ‘distancing’ oneself from someone who reflected those beliefs and vision until a day back!
Be Wise. Be Balanced. Be Fair. And your brand will never go wrong.

Everyone has a right to their Opinion

Overheard during a shopping spree last evening – “Adha desh Aamir Khan ko India se bahar nikalne pe tula hua hai!” (Translation – Half the country is bent upon driving Aamir out of India!)

It was a hilarious and yet a telling comment.

Are we so intolerant that one person’s views makes us take out all our swords and poison arrows? Twitterati has exploded in righteous anger, LinkedIn and Facebook are trending with self-eulogizing letters to the superstar.
Why is that so? So many drivers here:
  • I am a patriot/ nationalist and he is not?
  • I am an Indian, and he is a Muslim?
  • He has earned so much, and I don’t earn as much?
  • I contribute to his earnings, and he is ungrateful?
  • He is a Khan, and he should be grateful that I not only let him live in my country but become a superstar?
He is scared to stay in a democratic country where he cannot even openly express his views. Do you blame him?

Let’s consider another scenario. You are staying in Gulf, and you are not allowed to drive/ go without Hijab, etc., etc. You crib and curse within your four walls and hate the people who put all kinds of restrictions on you, and you are scared, scared to speak in public because the regime is ‘intolerant’ of you expressing your views openly.

Would you want India to become like this country?

What is the meaning of Democracy? And what is freedom?
It is the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants.

What is tolerance?
To accept unconditionally another person’s right to act, speak, or think as he/ she wants as long as it is not endangering the life or liberty of other people. 

By this definition, are you tolerant?
 What is being Righteous? And Judgmental?
It is the quality of being morally right or justifiable.

By that definition,
  • Hitler felt righteous when he wanted only to support the superior Aryan race? Was he right?
  • The US felt righteous when they bombed Iraq? Were they right?
  • Scores of stone throwers feel righteous when they feel the victim has committed blasphemy. Are they right?
In the words of Eckhart Tolle, a truly judgmental person is someone who doesn't know he/she is judgmental. They are so identified with their mind that they completely believe in every thought (judgment) that comes into their head.
Awareness is the key. Most judgmental thoughts are of a negative kind, of course. So notice as much as you can your negative thoughts (about other people, individuals or groups, yourself, a place, a situation you find yourself in, something that is happening but "shouldn't" etc.) Notice the mind's tendency to find fault with people and situations, to complain, to pronounce righteous judgment.

Righteousness stems from Ego.
 “Throughout history, humans have inflicted countless violent, cruel, and hurtful acts on each other, and continue to do so. Are they all to be condemned; are they all guilty? Or are those acts simply expressions of unconsciousness, an evolutionary stage that we are now growing out of?
Jesus’ words, “Forgive them for they do not know what they do,” also apply to yourself.
― Eckhart Tolle, Stillness Speaks
“Built into the very structure of the ‘Egoic’ self is a need to oppose, resist, and exclude to maintain the sense of separateness on which its continued survival depends. So there is “me” against the “other,” “us” against “them.” The ego needs to be in conflict with something or someone. That explains why you are looking for peace and joy and love but cannot tolerate them for very long. You say you want happiness but are addicted to your unhappiness. Your unhappiness ultimately arises not from the circumstances of your life but from the conditioning of your mind.”
― Eckhart Tolle, Stillness Speaks
“If his past were your past, his pain your pain, his level of consciousness your level of consciousness, you would think and act exactly as he or she does. With this realization comes forgiveness, compassion, peace. The ego doesn't like to hear this because if it cannot be reactive and righteous anymore, it will lose strength.”
― Eckhart Tolle, Stillness Speaks

In the end, all I can say is,
Everyone has a right to their opinion, as you do. 
They are as free or as restricted as their mind dictates, as yours does. 
They can judge as you do.
They have many biases and prejudices, so do you.
They can love; they can hate. So can you.
They are human with all their strengths and weaknesses, and so are you.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Holy Grail of Brand Management – Got an Idea?

I often run into conversations like this:

“I have explored all branding tools namely PR, Creatives, Blogs, Newsletters, Social Media, but somehow my brand is not taking off.  Can you give me an idea/ a strategy which can make my brand skyrocket?”

Well….. Yes, of course, we can. But hold your horses…..

We would like to treat the malady rather than the symptoms, as the famous Dr. House often repeated to his brilliant bunch of physicians.

The malady lies deeper.

You are obviously misreading your objectives to trend with the current times. It’s like painting zebra stripes to appear cool, but you end up losing your identity.

You are not a Zebra, you are a Horse, so why pose like a Zebra? Blaze your own trail folks!

Go back to your objectives- What are you offering? Why? To Whom? How will it make their lives better? Why should they care? Do they care? Do you know who you are speaking to? Really know them? Are you tying in your objectives with what appears to be trending nowadays?

If you don’t, you risk getting your customers falling off your saddle.

The most important thing you need is ‘Positioning’. Are you positioning yourself right? Have you positioned yourself in a manner which is clear, concise, creative and impactful?

Is your ‘right’ positioning being communicated through the so-called tools?

Positioning looks deceptively simple, it is anything but. You may think that if you can run a company, you can very well position it too. You cannot be more wrong. Even your mentors cannot tell you how to position yourself.

Positioning needs a careful analysis of a huge number of occurrences across your entire eco-system. It answers a lot of questions and solves brand challenges. Deducing the right positioning is not everyone’s cup of tea. It needs to be done well.

And it needs to be implemented well. You need to revisit your positioning at least once in six months, to keep yourself relevant. Rinse and Repeat.

You don’t need an idea or a strategy, instead you need to revisit your entire spectrum of brand communication.

One of my pet peeves is that most people are confused between ‘advertising’ and ‘branding’.
An Idea is what an advertiser will give you, maybe an ad, maybe a campaign, which will run and get over. Good for you if it sticks, but that happens rarely. Advertising happens in a microcosm. They are usually advertising a product or service. They are not advertising your company or its long term objectives or what you are essentially in the market for.

Ideas or ad-lines or jingles do not make a brand. A brand gets made over many years, through many efforts. Branding will help you find your inner strengths and leverage them. It is way less cool or glamorous than advertising. It is backbreaking work at a snail’s pace. But it hits the home run, every time.

However if you are in a hurry, the Gurus of advertising are very capable of offering you the Holy Grail, and take it with them when they leave. They will paint stripes on you. Hell, you will even start feeling and strutting around like a Zebra.

And then one day the truth will trot home. Hopefully, it will not be too late by then.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Are Not These, With Thousands Moe; Than the Courts of Kings do Know

A colleague, who I once had the good fortune to work with, had a peculiar decision-making quirk.

Any and every decision was taken in the context of ‘what the competition is doing’! Be that crafting a strategy, participation in a show, a new advertisement, presentations, new brochures etc. Competitors were the benchmark of his professional life.

Now these benchmarks can be beneficial to a degree, but are extremely restricting and non-creative at many levels. The yarn you knit should not tie you up in knots!

Another colleague I know, leaves his decisions to the last minute, thinking that the deadline will let him arrive at the most intuitive conclusion! He is probably unaware that ordinary intuition and strategic intuition sit on two opposite poles and expert intuition sits somewhere in between.

Moreover, as per Columbia Business School professor William Duggan, expert intuition can be the enemy of strategic intuition.

Now, why does decision making has to be so illogical and restricting?

Gretchen Rubin sums up the difference between two types of decision-makers in a post at the Happiness Project.

‘Satisficers’ are those who make a decision or take action once their criteria are met. That doesn’t mean they’ll settle for mediocrity; their criteria can be very high; but as soon as they find the car, the hotel, or the pasta sauce that has the qualities they want, they’re satisfied.

‘Maximizers’, on the other hand, want to make the optimal decision. So even if they see a bicycle or a photographer that would seem to meet their requirements, they can’t make a decision until after they’ve examined every option, so they know they’re making the best possible choice.

In a fascinating book, The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz argues that satisficers tend to be happier than maximizers. Maximizers must spend a lot more time and energy to reach a decision, and they are often anxious about whether they are, in fact, making the best choice. 

You’d think maximizers would at least feel content with their decision after all that work, but no! As anyone who’s ever researched a possible illness on the Internet knows, more information does not necessarily lead to peace of mind or better decision-making.

So, when you are in the land of a thousand communication agencies, how do you choose one?

Some people let the budget (or the absence of it) make a decision for them. Nothing could be worse for your brand.

Here are some broad parameters;

The agency knows about your subject matter and has sufficient knowledge about the same. They understand your Target Audience and have worked with them in the past.
Now, this can work both ways. The experience they bring to the table can be offset by the fresh perspective someone else can offer. The main yardstick should be that they understand you and the parameters you operate within & are innovative. In that case, look no further.

They understand branding and communication as a field and have a certain expertise in the area.
This can be ratified via myriad ways in the exposed society that we live in today.

They are willing to work with you in the long term and invest quality time to build up your brand. They feel your (brand) pain.
This is essential, as the empathy one feels for a brand translates into an enormous motivator for them to make a phenomenal difference. They (and not you) own the brand and will bleed for it. 

Brands are not built in days or months, but years; and once they are established they need to be nurtured to last over many decades.

How the paradox of choice will unravel for your brand, that choice is yours!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Engage or Disengage?

I do not know what your definition of marketing is, but for me, it is ‘building a community through continuous engagement’.

The big question that all of us need to ask ourselves, probably as a derivative of month-end financial reporting is -> “Are we doing enough to engage with our Target Audience?”

Do a snap profiling of your Target Audience (TG), and ask:

“Do enough of these people know me?”
“What can I do to keep myself in their mental space?”
“How often should I get in front of them?”
“If I do nothing, will they still recognize my company name or me?”
“How can I get their mindshare without spamming them or being intrusive?”
“Am I engaging with them enough?”
“Do I come across as a knowledgeable entity to them?”
“How can I not hard-sell?”
“Can I add value to their lives, processes, world in any manner?”

Can you?

Marketing should not be about ‘Buy my product, I make the best one’.
It should be about ‘How can I help you take the best decision and add value’.

I recently saw a TV ad in which a logistics company was extolling its clientele to go in for their services because ‘B’ stands for ‘Best’! Moreover, because their name starts with ‘B’!
Really? Is Alphabet advertising in vogue nowadays?

They are spending all those hard earned dollars making and rolling out a TV ad, and this is what they have to say? It is incredibly tragi-comic!

Whatever business you may be in, you can add value to your clientele. Do think from their perspective.

The different marketing tools and formats are just the carriers of your message.

If your marketing tools are 360 degrees complete with all the Ads, Videos, PR, blogs, mailers, newsletters and case studies in place; and yet you are unable to engage your TG, then you are eating an ice cream cone without the ice cream in it!

The structure is there; the substance is not. There is no flavor!

It is infinitely more important to understand and formulate what message you need to showcase before your audience. Distribution is secondary.

A few pertinent examples of companies engaging with their TG effectively are,
Vodafone with the following puppy, Fevicol ads, Idea Internet, Dove Real Beauty campaign, Five Star Ramesh Suresh ads, TBZ Wedding, Some Coke and Pepsi ads, Airtel with ‘Har Friend Zaroori Hai’ and their latest 4G Campaign, Hamara Bajaj, the opinionated Amul Girl, Chlor-mint, Centre Fresh, Mentos etc. spring to mind.

Unfortunately many organizations, even while doling out big bucks to hi-profile agencies and Gurus, are unable to make an impact because the engagement is off!

To create and sustain high engagement, you need to connect emotionally with your TG and convey a message that touches a chord or answers an unmet need imaginatively. Look at the big picture your industry brings onboard.

Please do not blow your own trumpet incessantly. Otherwise, your TG will become tone-deaf! 

Disengage from the non-value add approach. Engage with adding value. Today.