Archive for the India Category

Community Opportunities

Posted in India, Internet, Social networking with tags , , , , on August 13, 2008 by manuscrypts

While BBS and IRC could technically be called communities, I’d still consider my first major experience with a community to be blogging. It wasn’t the kind of social communities that we see now, this was more a set of people who frequented each others’ blogs, but used names like well, manuscrypts. Yes, it is a remnant of those days. 🙂 With the advent of the likes of Facebook, communities started getting built basis real world relationships. With a business network like LinkedIn, it became even more focused, in this case, a set of people who you dealt with (or potentially could) in a business scenario. So, why have I been giving you the nostalgia talk?

Well, I still believe that blogging is a good form of communities, though social networks and micro blogging are the rage. While I have a good rapport with my Twitter crowd, I have known several of the people who comment on my blog, for years now. Over these years, they have become good friends. So, the news that Live Journal, a major blogging platform, has made special plans for India,  was very heartening. Now I’ve never used LJ, I started with rediff, moved to blogger, and am using WordPress for this blog, but I’ve known several who swear by it. We’ll come back to their offering in a while, but there’s an interesting flash fiction contest they’ve launched in association with Caferati, you might want to check it out. I’d have loved Blogger or WordPress to give India some attention (or have they already?) since they are extremely popular here, but the WP guys, i guess, are busy with Buddypress, a social network based on the multi user version of WP. Its supposed to have all the stuff that a social network should have and is expected to be completely out by December.

Like I said, blogging still has the potential to build communities. In the case of LJ, I have always thought that they were for the constantly updating kind of blogger, not the constantly ‘upgrading’ kind. Let me clarify that, since it might be misconstrued. By ‘upgrading’ I only meant the tendency to tweak around, play with code (even if you don’t know s**t about it, in my case), test out new platforms, and finally get their own domain. So, the name fits, as does the contest idea. In the case of WP, it’s a great place to be once you’re comfortable with blogging, I’ve even seen people start with WP. And that starting up crowd will exist for sometime. As more experienced bloggers move on, there will be guys who discover blogging. A community will actually be a great way to encourage stickiness. Coming back to LJ’s action points, they are aiming at localisation (translation and multilingual interfaces), Socialisation, and Integration (accessible through many platforms). The first one is quite important especially considering that Orkut has made quite some strides in this area. Like I have said before, I can’t understand why Orkut can’t link with Blogger, for blogs + friends communities. Hope LJ’s plans make them think about this.

Okay, now that’ve you digested the LJ news, check this out. LinkedIn has got India specific plans too. They estimate the Indian market potential to be about 20 million users. To give you a perspective, their current global base is 25 million users, and India’s share is 1 million. They’re looking at a few strategic players locally, to help build their brand. If you notice, they already allow you to add contacts from Rediff and Indiatimes. A tie up with a local brand would definitely be a win-win. Imagine seeing a job on Naukri and being able to recommend your friend for it with his LinkedIn profile link. LinkedIn can have contextual listings provided from naukri’s base and share revenues. References are made easier with LinkedIn data. And a job portal/aggregator is not just the only kind of strategic alliance. An entity like Criticat, for instance, which lets you rate companies and share experiences would also be a great fit. There are indeed tremendous possibilities, which could result in increased transparency in at least the HR/Recruitment/Work Culture part of the business.

until next time, jobs ahead 😉

Leaps of faith

Posted in Advertising, Brand, India with tags , , , , on August 11, 2008 by manuscrypts

The new Samsung TVC, starring Aamir Khan has been airing for sometime now, and I’m still trying to figure out exactly what it means. I’m okay with a brand aiming for the best, and looking out for cutting edge technology, but what’s with the tagline – ‘Next is what?’ Is that a question to me? Are you trying to keep me guessing?

When I see AK jump in the last scene of the TVC, it is, to me, a leap of faith, something which I might be willing to take when its Nokia we’re talking about. But, at this point in time, Samsung has yet to prove to me, its technical superiority, its aesthetic sense or any of the other parameters like value for money that I consider when I make a mobile purchase decision. What Samsung has successfully communicated to me, with this TVC, is that they themselves are not sure what’s going to happen next, and maybe I should wait sometime before I pick up a Samsung handset.

When a brand reaches the zenith in whatever category it is in, it is sometimes smart to ignore the #2 totally, and start positioning itself to be beyond all the mundane new feature/market share/pricing strategy/tactic that it might have resorted to in the past. But, how smart is it when you’re a distant #3 in the market? It  makes me wonder if brands also should follow a tweaked version of Maslow’s hierarchy, find out where they figure (in the consumer’s mind) and design communication accordingly. Yes, i agree that brand and people occupy multiple levels at the same time, but at least there would be some method in the communication madness.

When I saw a ‘Next is the spirit of the Olympics’ ad, I couldn’t help but remember this wonderful article. I quote from it “Modern branding has evolved. From its roots creating detailed guidelines for enforcing corporate logos it has become a sophisticated effort to define the compelling and differentiated value that an organization or product offers its customers. And it aspires to create experiences of that value across all interactions. It goes beyond design, messaging, websites and advertising. It touches product development, recruiting, customer service, sales, and it drives and emanates from the very core of every business: culture. That’s where these campaigns miss the mark. They tell me who they are, but not why I should care. They provide an introduction, but can’t sustain the conversation. And I don’t have much attention for brands without substance.”

I’d have been less acerbic, if I’d seen at least a semblance of involving users in this entire positioning exercise. A developer’s community which takes feedback from users on what they want to see in the next samsung mobile model, updating consumers on what they are working on, building some interest around it, and so on. To be fair, they have done something, though the community link took me here. 😐

Tell you what, here’s a free idea, go ahead and sponsor the second season of Bigg Boss. The last season, I always used to wonder, ‘next is what?’ !!!

Which takes me to another premise, I thought a slightly more interesting one. If brands were really gutsy, they would do some product placement in Bigg Boss. From paste, soaps and shampoo, washing soaps to Real Good chicken, tea and coffee brands, apparel brands, exercise equipment, Veneta Cucine kitchens,  every damn thing that we use in daily life could find its way there (of course keeping in mind the rules of the show, so no TV, mobile etc) Yes. MDH Masala too!! In fact, the contestants shouldn’t be told in advance what the brands are, so no rigging. Have competing brands also. Yummy!! What you get is a real chance of ‘celebrity’ endorsement. Imagine Rakhi Sawant saying ‘Tide makes washing so easy that I wish I’d more clothes’. Ok, cheesy, but you get the idea 🙂

But that requires absolute faith in the product, and having the maturity to accept criticism and ensure you never make the mistake again. We still have a long way to go before brands can handle reality television, or reality.

Meanwhile, next is WAT too, who’ve got an absolutely cool new design. Go check it out.

until next time, WordPress has a ‘next’ button too 😉

Copy Paste

Posted in Advertising, Brand, India, Internet with tags , , , , , on August 6, 2008 by manuscrypts

There was an interesting piece I read about the way Cuil, the new search engine I’d written about earlier. In that post, the author compared Cuil to toilet paper, no offence meant because it has nothing to do with the engine’s features. It has more to do with how Google as a search engine is so ingrained in your head that there is no thought process involved when you have to choose a search service, much like the toilet paper decision. So the lesson was that if you’re challenging the market leader, you need to have some really strong firepower.

And while that insight involved an online entity, which provided a free service, it also got me thinking on purchase decisions regarding low cost ‘real’ items, like say, matchboxes or sometimes, even toothpaste. To justify the latter, I don’t make a decision before I go shopping, we check out the stuff available at the retail outlet, but within a set of brands we normally use.

And coincidentally, I saw the latest online effort from Colgate, via their Facebook app. The Facebook app is based on a game they have on the site – Kayak. You can read a review of the effort here. I will not get into  checkbox marketing, I’ve been doing that for over a year now, the earliest rant being this. The site is connected via a contest with the TVC that’s being aired currently (which also advertises the site) and stars Bruna Abdullah. As for the contest, if you win, you have a chance to get fresh with Bruna. Woo!! (okay, i made that up because i couldn’t resist the maxfresh name connection, but yes, you do get a date with Bruna) 😉

Someone’s got the right intentions, because this is not Colgate’s only attempt to rally the internet. I chanced to see this sometime back. (via Medianama). I liked the dental expert touch, and am happy for the efforts, though I have a different perspective. For example, though MaxFresh is a youth brand, the primary benefit is dental care and a cool Facebook App could very well be built on that parameter. But yes, while the net is definitely useful, very few brands have learnt to use it to their advantage.

So, what’s the way forward for ‘commodity’ brands? One is to pretend that the internet doesn’t exist and continue trying to shout the loudest and get the customer’s attention. Two is to include digital in the marketing effort, but as an adaptation of the Print creative. Three is to devise a digital strategy, that’s in line with the overall brand strategy but not an adaptation. I would love to see brands that take the last route, because I see a great sync with the way social media is working.

What if brands go back to Step 1 and start looking at the product? Isn’t that where the differentiation can be brought in, rather than from a communication that will stay in the consumer mind only till a louder one from the competitor or anyone else looking for the same consumer’s mindshare, comes along? Use the internet to gather insights from people who are interested in your brand, create stories around the brand, utilise those insights to make the product better, to make variations and satisfy the niches that lie hidden in the long tail, to make your communication more appealing. That’s what the internet allows you to do. Obviously, each brand would have its own criteria of critical mass that even a niche should have for it to operate in that space, but the good news is that we operate in India, and sometimes 1% of this market would be the population of a country. And while on India and retail, would love some info on what exactly these guys are doing – Blinkmagic. Everyone who i chatted with, among those who attended the recent edition of Proto only had good things to say about them.

Meanwhile, what happens when the ‘commodity’ brand’s variations start hitting the market? Obviously, existing retail space cannot handle all of this. And if the tail wags the dog, it could have really bad results as Al Ries has observed here. But where I disagree with the article is that the rampant flavour proliferation is a bad thing, or is a reason to junk the ‘long tail’ way of thinking. I see it as a challenge that retail and brands need to address. I’m sure someone will find a way to tweak the traditional distributor-dealer network to address the needs of the tail. After all, technology is definitely making its way into retail, in a big way, in India. 🙂

I wonder how internet brands will handle ‘commoditisation’ when it happens to them, I can already see it happening in a few areas. Will they need another media to help them out?

We started with a search engine, so we’ll end with one. Check out a new search engine I came across – Viewzi

until next time, be refreshingly original

Microlives

Posted in India, Internet, Social networking with tags , , , , , , , on August 4, 2008 by manuscrypts

I read a few interesting news clips about AOL today. While one was about Time Warner thinking of splitting up and selling AOL, the other two were more interesting to me – AOL’s acquisition of Social Thing, a lifestreaming site, and their introduction of Buddy Updates, which  lets you share and view your online activities with your buddies. They have a fairly good list of services supported – Twitter, YouTube, Blogger, RSS Feeds….

And that made me wonder on where exactly two other lifestreaming services i took for a spin around the weekend would fit in. One is Lifeblob and the other is LifeinLines. I have to admit that i spent more time on the latter since I found the interface a bit more ‘warm’ and easier to relate to. I guess I was also influenced by Ankur’s blog where he explained the reason for starting LiL, and his taking time out to explain things to me. 🙂

The best part about LiL is its almost exhaustive means of updating – email, Gtalk, SMS, Voice, or directly from the webpage. Very cool. The user interface is also extremely friendly, and it has layered privacy settings, which helps you to define different settings for different friends, thus retaining gradients of privacy within a social environment. It also allows you to choose your moods and do a bit of location tagging. In that sense, a few years from now, this is perhaps a great way to visualise what you were doing at 9pm on Aug 4th 2008. It could be text with mood, location or your own voice. 🙂 What I’d love to see is more connection with my existing favourites – twitter (which they’re working on), an FB app (yes, again), and a browser plugin (that’ll be later). I asked about the last one because my twitaholism started after I discovered Tweetr, and soon after, Twitterfox.

LifeBlob is more visual, connects ‘lifelines’ of people, and allows tagging other people, hmm, like Notes or Tagging in Photos in Facebook, as a rough comparison. It also allows you to import photos from other photo sharing sites and allows imports from blogs too. I quite liked the ‘Places’ and ‘Tags’ clouds on the homepage.

While both are lifestreaming services, the approach is quite different, and thanks to UI and features, they are differentiated. But I was looking at it from a user point of view, okay, my point of view, since I believe in the Long Tail. 🙂 While Twitter is always referred to as a microblogging service, its fundamental question ‘What are you doing’ makes it a lifestreaming service to me, which people have used to communicate just about everything, including @having !! I also have a few blogs, where my rants are in say, large formats. I have pretty active Facebook and LinkedIn accounts. In addition, there is Friendfeed, which I have promised myself to explore, the virtual worlds, so how many microlives am I expected to have??!!!

So you’ll say, “oh, you’re back to saying consolidate“, but no, that’d be so predictable, and boring. Remember the long tail I mentioned? Well, so, I forced myself to be a lil more objective before I made such sweeping rants. And I realised that this is only the beginning of the social universe, a big social bang if you will, there are so many ‘shiny objects’ out there, and more are being made as we speak. Nothing is defined yet, so spaces and uses and therefore users, are still debatable. In a country like Japan, Facebook and MySpace are yet to make a mark. Back home, in India, I have so many friends who just refuse to let go of Orkut. Most people I come across have not experienced the magic of Twitter. Perhaps, I will even discover a long tail of my internet media  usage – a large amount of time for some services, and smaller amounts for other services. 😉

What I’m trying to say is a very simple thing – in between the blogs, the social networking of Facebook, and the updates on Twitter, there are many worlds, and many parallel worlds. Also, the large players may not be able to provide great levels of service as they scale up (a good note here albeit on real world entities), and the ‘my’ kind of service that many users want. Perhaps that’s where the opportunity is, for Lifeblob and LifeInLines, and others like them. The threat, of course, is not being able to find that critical mass of users ASAP, for they will ultimately hold the key to revenues.

until next time, one life, many moments 🙂

PS. My dear 2.0 readers, do not be alarmed if you don’t find a post tomorrow. I’ve reviewed my strategic  long term intent for the site, and the scalability that I can offer. (I’ve always wanted to use those words, basically means that while I won’t lack the material to rant about, I may not get the time to do it) Keeping that in mind, I have decided to make it 3 posts a week – Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Update 05/08/08: Just read a very good case for Lifestreaming

Lose-Lose Situation

Posted in India, Internet, Social networking with tags , , , , , , , , on July 31, 2008 by manuscrypts

That, I believe is what Hasbro and Scrabulous have gotten each other into. In case you guys have been tardy and not playing Scrabulous on Facebook, Scrabulous, a popular app on Facebook, modeled on Scrabble – the board game, has had to remove its application from the US and Canada, (for IP – the intellectual property kind, infringement) and Hasbro, who hold th rights for North Americsa,  has done enough successful PR to be seen as the evil corporate monster. I hope Mattel is listening, as its case is awaiting resolution, and will affect the rest of the world. This is a worthwhile read on the finer legal points in this case, in terms of the American Copyright law.

I’ve been an avid user of Scrabulous and even joined the petition to ‘help save scrabulous’, which has about 50,000 members. I did that, then, on an emotional appeal level, without getting it into the right and wrong. The Agarwala brothers, who own the application had maintained that their intention was not to make money. Maybe it wasn’t initially. But, later too? Funny, considering that Scrabulous, at its peak had about half a million users and was generating $25000 per week from advertising. Funny also, that they didn’t just take the first payment agreement option that Hasbro had proposed. (rumoured to be around $10 million)

All this triggered a few thoughts. The makers of Scrabulous would definitely have known that they were on slippery territory as far as IPR goes, why did they have to do it. Yes, they did the world a favour by recreating a favourite game, and if, having realised their error, they accepted the Hasbro offer, all would have ended well. But perhaps, our democracy has also left us with a legacy of disregard for the law, of forcing grays between right and wrong, and turning a blind eye.

For me, it also brought to light a not-so-great facet of the crowd driven, transparency seeking, web 2.0.  The founder of the group I’d mentioned earlier, a 15 year old, has collected a list of 1000 people who have promised never to buy a Scrabble board if Hasbro forced Scrabulous to close down. A guy who tried to start a discussion within the group on how Hasbro was right, got booed out of the place, with an allegation that he worked for Hasbro in some capacity. There was a scare that Hasbro’s official app on Facebook had been hacked. Hasbro might have acted in the most stupid manner possible on this issue, but they were in the right. So, the question is, in the ‘crowd controlled world’ we keep forecasting, if there’s enough of a crowd that believes in a certain thing, irrespective of whether its wrong, unethical, does it still get done?  Mob Justice, isn’t that the term? It reminds me of India’s democracy, where technically the people rule, but we all know how that’s working. So, if the crowd controls the world, who controls the crowd?

As for me, I’m out of the group help ‘save scrabulous’, and have already started a game with a friend on this new application, Wordscraper, from the makers of Scrabulous. It looks considerably different from Scrabble, but is as enjoyable as the original.

until next time,”with great power comes great responsibility”

PS: Pacman has been there before 🙂

Comic Trip

Posted in Brand, India, Internet with tags , , , on July 29, 2008 by manuscrypts

Towards the end of last year, there was some frenetic activity in the Indian comic space. Since Amar Chitra Katha and Tinkle are among the wonderful things that are an intrinsic part of my childhood memories, I thought a post on the same has been due for a long time now. And the news that Chandamama has launched language versions was a good trigger. Chandamama had done a relaunch of the site sometime in December last year. I remember this interview from around that time, when the CEO spoke about the different platforms they were targeting – print, radio, mobiles, movies, television and online.

I think it was around the same time that ACK media picked up the controlling stake in Amar Chitra Katha and Tinkle. I thought Tinkle’s site was a fine effort, where kids can create avatars, play games, solve puzzles and crosswords, exchange cards. They even have a reward scheme for these activities which can be redeemed at the Tinkle Bazaar. While on that, i’d rate Chandamama’s website efforts fairly lower than that of Tinkle, but I’m sure they will improve. ACK Media has also acquired Karadi tales, which has some very good audio-video content.

I believe that both have a very strong future. (where exactly does Virgin Comics fit into all this?) Meanwhile, these brands are a part of every (current) late 20- late 30 year old’s childhood. They have a massive equity and trust factor among this generation. What I am intrigued by, however is how the communication for such brands will work. Who are the real target audience here? Mummy and Papa, who still remember Suppandi, Shikari Shambhu & co or the kids who, in the long term will be the final consumers. (after people like me finish a few rounds of nostalgia 🙂 ).Will my generation be used as a bridge to connect with the future generations? A sort of ‘mere zamaane main baap ke zamaane ke comics’. And that’s where my query lies.

While, during my childhood, these brands were built quite easily, thanks to lesser clutter and because the respect for the printed word was unchallenged, times have changed. Attention spans have now diminished to 140 characters ;). Competition is no longer just the printed word, but niche television channels and perhaps in a generic space, even something as out-of-the-radar as say, a McDonalds? After all, we are talking about the mindshare of the kid and the wallet share of the parents. So who will these entities speak to – ask parents to connect their kids to their favourite childhood characters, or directly to the kids?  Are these communication lines mutually exclusive, would kids not want to be interested in their parents’ childhood friends? Also, will the characters that we enjoyed satisfy the needs of today’s generation or will they be buried by an XBox or a Playstation. The answer, I guess, is in making these relevant to today’s kids. I also think, that, rather than try to build from print up, it might be worthwhile to try building the characters on say, television, and animated movies, a sort of re-creating the brand for a new generation on platforms that they are comfortable with, and then loop it back to the basic print medium.

The timing is a bit late, since characters from CN and Pogo have already made their presence felt in the Indian kid’s psyche (judging from the merchandise i see, and the kids’ craze for them), but  still salvageable. From a business sense (in addition to subscription), these entities, once successful will easily find their way into the budgets of all kid brands, which makes it all the more important to build strong brand equity among the current generation. This is a good read on the subject. Speaking of comics, check out this viral from makaan, it’s in context.

It is often said that the brands which tell the best stories win, there’s definitely no derath of stories, far as these brands are concerned. 😉

until next time, stop kidding around 🙂

Update 06/08/08 – ACK planning a website.

Any Ideas?

Posted in Advertising, Brand, India with tags , , , , on July 23, 2008 by manuscrypts

Reading this post today, on how Tata Sky and Dish TV have both partnered with matrimony portals -Bharat Matrimony and Shaadi.com respectively, in the space of a single day, I realised how fickle competitive advantages really are. It also reminded me of a much debated post on Scobleizer yesterday on tech blogging, and where it’s at. While the initial premise of that post was how focus was now more on the biz part of it than the mutual discovery of stuff, it then moved on to fleeting attention spans and the quest for the latest shiny object on the www. And how every tech blog out there is trying to beat each other in reaching the latest news first.

Which essentially makes news the commodity and ways to reach the audience first the competitive advantage. Pretty much the same game as what our TV channels are upto these days. When I look around, i see commodities happening all around, to all sorts of product categories, and brands ending up aping each other so that they don’t miss the bus. So whether its reality shows or strange four letter acronyms for shampoos or features in mobile phones, remove the brand name and you won’t notice the difference. And to me, thats a problem, because in a commodity led culture, quantity led factors like volume, reach etc take precedence, mediocrity tends to become the norm, and no one thinks that they should figure out a better way to reach the consumer than the bus.

And that led me to think of ways and means of how brands can fight it. While I’ve been thinking of clear positioning as an obvious starter, I also realised there were some brands that not only created the big idea and ended up making a verb out of it – xerox, google, to name a couple, they were so radical either in thought or execution that they never actually positioned themselves. And before I go further, I apologise for taking you on this stream of consciousness trip. Now, not all brands can be lucky enough to get a not-easily-copiable idea or a drastic new way of executing it.

And that brought me to the potential of a brand which has taken a great first step in leveraging its brand name very well in the absolutely commoditised market of telecom- Idea. I’m sure you must’ve seen the TVC by now. While the campaign is indeed good, what I’m more impressed with is that now that they can actually focus on the innovative uses of utilising a mobile for the betterment of the individual and the society he lives in, and do a lifetime’s supply of campaigns, built around different ‘Idea’s. It offers a way to create a positioning that’s beyond communication. I think that this approach has the potential to build a superbrand. From a new media perspective, and considering that the mobile is almost ubiquitous now, think of the conversations that this could create, obviously around ideas.

That said, any ideas on how brands can beat commoditisation?

until next time, an idea and change