Brand Manager 2.0

Posted in Brand, Internet with tags , , on July 24, 2008 by manuscrypts

Disclaimer: I promise to work on the 2.0 fetish -#7 here

I’ve always been a fan of this thought – ‘the tyranny of the big idea‘. This is also a great read on the same subject. The one line take-out would be that in the presence of the big idea, smaller ideas which might have had the potential to make the brand more interesting would get lost. I can safely say that I’ve seen this happen, with smaller, but good ideas being thrown into the bin because of the lack of sync with the prevalent communication theme. While these posts are around a couple of years old, in a world where conversations are becoming more important, the relevance of the thought remains as much as before, in fact more important.

So, continuing from yesterday’s post, ideas being non-commodities, it’d actually make more sense for brands to have the idea-buckets that the posts speak of. Which leads me to this post, which mentions that “a brand can, and should have more than one one proposition for itself.” For those who believe in the inflexibility of positioning, this would be difficult to swallow. But look at it this way, on any given day a technological or even an environmental change could deem your entire communication premise infeasible. Theory, huh? Okay, another perspective, what’s google to you? Search engine? Mail? IM? Office Tool? Communities? …. You get the picture? Meanwhile, the thing I’ve been wondering is, in this new way of brand diversification, how different should the different propositions of a brand be? Do they have to be related to each other so that the strengths of one can be used to help the other? Or can they be like Big Adda and Big FM and Big Flix, seemingly unrelated? And the last question, as audiences become more fragmented and individual niches become too small to monetise each separately, would it force brands to become aggregates of several similar niches along the long tail?

Which brings me to the point of my post. What does all this do to my role – that of a brand manager. The very fact that I’ve got my brand being different things to different people means that my audiences are differentiated and there’s probably no single animal out there who I could define as the brand’s audience. Its more a zoo. It also means that I’ve keep myself abreast of the conversations and the needs of different sets of people. That makes me more of a communities manager. Is this the natural evolution of the brand manager. Wait, that’s not all, I also have a human angle to this. When you’re dealing with communities, it works best if you are part of the audience itself in terms of interests. Itย  lends credence, and thus, in a way, the line between professional and personal interests start blurring. Which perhaps is a great thing, as more and more people get to do what they’d like to do. But given the fact that we’re still dealing with businesses and individuals here, how exactly can processes be evolved in this scenario, where there is so much of the individual in the brands he deals with? Bluntly, what happens when the person leaves, or something like this happens?

until next time, people management 2.0 ๐Ÿ˜‰

PS. All ye bloggers, check this out, blogger accommodation (via Indianweb2)

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

Marching to different beats

Posted in India, Internet, Social networking with tags , , , , , , , on July 22, 2008 by manuscrypts

I read an article today on LiveMint, which deals with creating UGC for TV and Radio. Well, for starters, I think its already being done. The polls, the debates etc on news channels, and more importantly, the reality shows, are all user generated content. Of course, the packaging differs because unlike the net, time is also a factor on these platforms. 24 hours vs what content to put there.

It also took me back this post, where I’d talked about the relevance of mass media to pure play internet entities. In a warped sense, I’d agree with the article that in a true convergence era, a medium like the internet, which has already absorbed user participation as one of its tenets, would play a larger role in shaping media consumption. So much so, that going forward, I’d bet heavily on an entity like Instablogs, which would find it easier to adopt to platforms like the television or radio. Yes, they got funded too, isn’t that just awesome?

Which also brings me to another layer of thought, something I’ve touched upon earlier, if mass media entities want to test out the wild wild web and the currently hot social media scene, and what it could do for them, what is the better way of doing it – creating their own scene or leveraging existing popular platforms. I came across examples of both kinds today.

While NYT is perhaps the best newspaper website in the world, it also plays a bit on social media (check out this facebook app). And today I read about the partnership it had entered into with LinkedIn. LinkedIn users will now get their industry related news from the relevant sections of the NYT site, and these news will have a share option. I think that’s an absolutely great way for LinkedIn to give a good value add to its users, and also stimulate conversations and for NYT, it creates a lot of relevance to the user, and will increase the website’s pull. That’s NYT’s way of leveraging a relevant social business network.

The other thing that I came across is Radio City’s new website. (thanks to @thej) I haven’t done a complete tour yet, but it seems like they are primarily aiming at build communities there – a section called ‘Friends of Music’ has blogging, groups, finding colleagues(?!) and catching up with others attending gigs. In fact, the profile is also very orkut/facebook, and shows options for picking friends based on geography/music taste/school/workplace. Yes, i cringed at the last two too! It also has a calendar with some events already updated, and even has a karaoke section.ย  There is also an option to upload videos (upto 20MB) In addition, it attempts a Yahoo Launch by allowing you to create your own station by adding tracks. But I think it is also a way to take ownership of the music space – there is a musicopedia, a lyrics finder, a music news reporter and so on, which aims at making this the one stop resource for music in India. Yes, you can also listen to popular tracks, and stations created by users/ pre packaged ones (eg. KK, Alka Yagnik, though the content in this is limted, as of now). In essence, a decent effort, for trying the music ownership strategy, though from a new media perspective, I’d have liked more focus and efforts on podcasts (like Big FM), a talk show platform, better forums etc, instead of all that work on the orkut style social networking.(classmates and colleagues)

While I’d usually go with leveraging existing social media, i thinkย  a part of Radio City’s route does have its benefits, given the popularity of music and Bollywood in India, and its potential for creating communities especially with the context that Radio City offers. What they do beyond this would be the really interesting part.

until next time, tuned in

One Stop Shops

Posted in India, Internet, Social networking with tags , , , , , on July 21, 2008 by manuscrypts

I’ve always had a soft corner for Rediff, perhaps because, once upon a time, it was the site that led me to new things on the internet. First it was email, and though I had the eudora and usa.net and a few other mailboxes too, this was the one most frequented and used. Then it was blogs. My first blog was thanks to Rediff again, they got me curious with the messages on the homepage, more than 5 years back. And though I did sulk with them later for taking away a favourite id of mine in an upgrade that happened a few years back, and switched to blogger because of the code wrestling matches they made me go through, like I said, Rediff is still special, a brand that I hold in high regard.

So it was wonderful to find that they’d done a :p to the strict media portal outlook and introduced Orkut and Facebook feeds inside their mailbox. Yes, it is a great bit of innovative thinking, but nothing stops it from being copied by others. So they can’t stop there, they have already taken steps to integrate iShare, I wonder if having newsfeeds inside the Inbox area makes sense, like perhaps an iGoogle. Rediff is also active on the mobile scene (they even , so if they can move fast, they can actually do a lot of innovations quickly, thanks to their numerous services, and oodles of content.

And it looks like they are moving fast – they have already invested in Vakow, an sms sharing site, and one that I know a lot of people are using to update on Twitter. Interesting. A mobile based microblogging platform should be fun. But the big news was at proto.in, when they announced their developer platform. What is great is not just the announcement, but the fact that it was announced at proto and not just as some PR release. Rediff is being sensible, and thats good news for the Indian internet scene. Ouch at this allegation though. (via webyantra)

Meanwhile, the guys who had massive success when they opened their API, had a surprise for me when I logged in today morning. And that was the new Facebook design. While the Home page is more a design reorganisation than anything conceptual, the Profile page is a totally different story. Well, its actually profile pages. From home, a click on your name (as opposed to profile earlier) takes you to the first of the four pages – Wall, where you can use filters for others’ posts and yours, and has your basic profile and friends as well. The Info page has all the details that used to be Information, Group and Pages. Photos are the next page and the last is ‘Boxes’, all the apps you’ve been adding, though I did see a few apps (common) on all pages. Are they Facebook’s own? I doubt that though.

The important part is that it looks like a deviation from the earlier social networking promise. Though that remains, this seems increasingly like a Twitter and more possibly Friendfeed like direction. This was something that was visible sometime back when a ‘+’ sign could be seen near all news feeds, encouraging readers to start conversations. That soon became a very conspicuous ‘Comment’ tab.

While I like all this, since it gives me more chances at conversations with ‘real’ friends, (there is only about a 20% overlap with my Twitter friends) I wonder if this is a regression as far as keeping the conversation within Facebook goes. If Facebook provides all the features that say, a Twitter and Friendfeed does, would you be okay with spending the lion’s share of your virtual time within Facebook?

until next time, the rise of socialism ๐Ÿ™‚

PS. This is the 100th post on this blog :D. Thanks, all the commenters and the silent types. ๐Ÿ™‚

Buzz Off

Posted in Internet with tags , , , , on July 17, 2008 by manuscrypts

Even after building an entire army of twitter tools, the mania still continues. Hopefully its only a matter of time before the tweeding happens ๐Ÿ™‚ Meanwhile, this is a fairly good top 5 list. And since we have a new player in the social scene, a bit of attention has been diverted there too. So it wasn’t surprising to read about Moopz, a tool that tries to reduce the noise in Friendfeed. And its not the first of its kind, there are already other entities, and I’m sure more are in the pipeline.

Now, as an (almost) twitaholic I’d always agree that any tool which helps reduce the noise would be a blessing. I haven’t used friendfeed as much, but from what I have seen, noise is an issue there too, though I have always wondered about the term ‘noise’ since we are free to choose those we wish to connect to. I think my views have not changed much since I wrote this. And since its difficult for me to categorise noise, I’ll only say that I am missing out on some conversations, and perhaps its more a question of subjective time management than anything else, and creating ‘algorithms’ that work for you.

And that train of thought makes me wonder whether it would be a good idea to have some sort of a shake up of current services, that helps us better organise our conversations. Something that filters the buzzย  conversations we are interested in from the random ones. I realise that it is a flawed proposal to begin with since each service has its own die hard fans. I, for one would love for social networks like a Facebook to be integrated into these social media aggregators, including friendfeed, because there are still conversations I have only on Facebook, since there is already a group of people there, who I have connected with over time,ย  and who are interested in the same things I am. So how about services that combine all existing ones and then provide some additional value? Well, there already are aggregators (will talk about a few in a while), but I’m not sure if they add to the noise or reduce it. Friendfeed was an aggregator, and now we have aggregators that include Friendfeed as one of the services. Is that an improvement?ย  So, is it better to just stick on to a couple of services and derive maximum benefits from the conversations that happen there. Yes, I agree that not all conversations need to happen there, but what about the ‘cost-benefit’ between the number of services used and the ‘noise’ you have to wade through to reach the conversations?

Meanwhile, I read another new entity that aggregates Jaiku, Twitter, Pownce, Friendfeed, and Tumblr. Its called Posty and seems to be interesting. (via The Inquisitr). And though I am yet to utilise it completely, this one – Swurl seems much more interesting, one because it includes Facebook, and two, because it also automatically became a follower on Twitter. Smart! Do check out the timeline feature, I could see what I was upto in 2003!! Wow. Yeah, i know my archive can tell me that, and there is no comment feature yet, but still Wow!! ๐Ÿ™‚

As the services increase, the conversations also do. But does the converse also have to be true?

until next time, fed up?

Tata Shy?

Posted in Advertising, Brand, India, Social networking with tags , , , , , , , on July 16, 2008 by manuscrypts

I saw an ad for Tata Sky yesterday for one of their in house channels – Active Darshan. That, coupled with the announcement of Aamir Khan being made brand ambassador for the brand would have made for a nice plain brand rant post, but try as i might, I have not been able to get hold of that particular ad.We will come back to that. Meanwhile, Aamir is not the first person to star in Tata Sky ads. Kirron Kher, Paresh Rawal, and even Hrtithik Roshan have appeared earlier. They have also used regional actors.

This pits Aamir squarely against SRK, in addition to the competition in handset manufacturers (Nokia vs Samsung), watches (Tag Heuer vs Titan), car manufacturers (Hyundai vs Toyota) and even biscuits (Monaco vs Sunfeast). Dishum karo ๐Ÿ™‚ Wonder when Reliance launches its DTH, Big B will be made the brand ambassador.

Now, back to the ad, I wonder why brands still don’t make the efforts to share their ads online. There is no one single source where you can be at least 75% sure to catch the ad. Afaqs relies on ibanklive, which I am yet to explore thoroughly. I have also tried the new entrant – Buzzar.tv, and the usually dependable YouTube, where at least a consumer usually loads the TVC within a couple of days of launch, but with no luck.

Why are brands so shy? Is it due to lack of knowledge or interest; or a deliberate policy of not sharing. Before you laugh off the last one, it ties in well with the lack of transparency i keep ranting about. I personally feel that ads are perhaps a very good Step 1 to encourage conversation about brands. The amount of facebook status messages I have seen of Sanjooo (of Max New York Insurance fame) and the kind of stories I have read (look at this one for example) means that there is an audience ready to even generate buzz. Of course, it may not always be positive. Is that what’s scaring away brands? But isn’t it better to experiment a little, learn the art and make some good use of it, before it gets relegated to a commodity status? The other point is that all this will happen with or without their assent anyway.

I’dย  go on and say Tata Sky shouldn’t stop with just their brand. They can actually build entire communities around serials. Maybe it can even be a tool to lure housewives on to the net. Imagine the amount of gossiping that could be done online, complete with links to trivia and news on serials. It can even be in hindi. Hell, there is already a family tree website (via Indianweb2) in India, so why not an entire social network in Hindi? And its not just housewives, lets assume I am a fan of Doctor Who on BBC Entertainment, there’s a big chance ( i am basing it on some personal experiences) that I am also a fan of Battlestar Galactica. When audiences get connected, they help each other explore new worlds. The channels are happy, because they get new audiences, and they wouldn’t mind doing some advertising here. So, isn’t it a win win model for both the consumer and business audiences? Oh, okay, laugh, but one day when you have a K Kliq that’s stronger than all the ‘I hate Balaji’ groups on Orkut, you’ll know that i was right. :p

The other vertical social network I see that has great potential is an entity like agencyfaqs. It is practically begging for more conversation. I’m sure they understand that conversations cannot be simulated by just having a comments box, though they are much better than exchange4media. It would make a great hangout for planners, creative guys, art guys, brand managers, media owners etc to discuss brands, ads, strategy and so on. But i guess, when agencies and channels are trying to be better and bigger rats, i am doing too much of ‘wish karo’ ๐Ÿ˜‰

until next time, don’t be santhusht!!!

Mass among the Niche

Posted in Advertising, Brand, India, Internet with tags , , , on July 15, 2008 by manuscrypts

An interesting post here sparked off an even more interesting discussion on twitter, which made me think about online entities’ relationship with mass media in general.

The above post talked specifically about the 2 gaming entities –ย  zapak and games2win and their contrasting styles. What interested me was the part about the surge that happened (in number of users) when zapak started using mass media for brand visibility, and the fact that a few months later, G2W is catching up, without having used mas media.

So, the question I’d like to pose is how relevant is mass media to pure play online entities, say an Ibibo or Seventymm for example. It is increasingly becoming a trend for offline entities whether it be media companies or cola giants or watches to have an online presence. While social media and the search for conversations have played their part in recent times, this need to be online started way back from the time that plain vanilla banners and site takeovers became available. This could be mainly due to the understanding that a filtered and discerning audience exists on the net, and this audience is quite likely to be an early adopter and an influencer in his peer group. But does it also work the other way around?

At this juncture, we have an internet penetration figure of 4.5%, but in absolute numbers it is about 49 million net users. ( Juxt Consult 2008 ) Thats quite a good number.ย  But yes, compared to the total population, it is fair to think that we miles to go. Perhaps that makes online brands look for offline brand visibility, to get the scale that they seek. But will it work the way it did for zapak?ย  A surge during advertising and then a drop, which clearly means that they got the ‘wrong’ kind of users, which necessarily means spillage.

Going forward, the net will become increasingly fragmented. Services and products would start catering to the niche and the long tail would really be exploited to the hilt, online. It would also become easier for new users to figure out how to get what they need on the net. In such a scenario, how relevant would a presence in mass media (in the form of advertising or content or any other association) be for a pure play online entity? As an awareness creator? But once the guy is online, wouldn’t he come to you anyway if you’ve done your work online well?

Having said that, it makes sense for say, a Holiday IQ or even a makemytrip to be present in say, an NDTV Good Times or a Discovery Travel & Living. There are great ways to work in sync. The other scenario is where you have a direct competitor and the service/product that is being offered is for mass consumption, so mass media gives you the additional advantage. The third and last option I can think of is when the service/product being offered has so much of potential that a no internet user is dragged online.

But in general, if the net is going to be conversation based with WOM and specific user communities playing a major role, then the efforts and money would be better spent online than offline. Would love to have your view on this, as always. ๐Ÿ™‚

until next time, organic offline and inorganic online?

Train of Thought

Posted in Advertising, Brand, India, Social networking with tags , , on July 14, 2008 by manuscrypts

Social media enthusiasts are often quizzed on the ROI that it delivers, and in many cases,ย  ‘conversation with customers’ is met with a lot of skepticism. which led me to wonder about the kind of ROI this activity would generate.

“Max New York Life Insurance has signed a Public Private Partnership (PPP) pact with the Indian Railways. From July 8, Chennai, Bangalore and Trivandrum Rajdhanis will sport Max New York Life advertising on its exterior.” It would provide upgraded services like high quality flooring,ย soap dispensers, tissue paper dispensers…. and so on. Great, I have always wanted that in those Harappan age railway compartments, though I always had a feeling Max was into insurance.

I can understand SBI having a co-branded card with IRCTC, Citi having a card for Delhi Metro etc, but the revenue/communication model that this venture of Max falls in, I fail to understand. Unless of course, Max will send an insurance advisor in the compartment. The ‘potential customer’ is trapped with him for the entire journey, and might buy a policy just to get rid of him.

Meanwhile, a couple of thoughts came to me when I read this post on Mumbai’s local trains. Every now and then, there is a horror story of how a gruesome accident occured in one of these trains. Doesn’t it make a lot of sense for an insurance company to do some contextual communication here? How about tapping this entire community which is so prone to such occurences?

The other thought that came to me was from a conversation on twitter on how religion is one massive social network. Unlike schools and colleges, which have a real life basis for networking, religion is spread across geographies with most users unaware of each other, and even has user generated versions springing up every now and then. Even the local trains in Mumbai offer a platform for a social network (no pun intended). I guess there are vertical networks like that all around, the only trick is to satisfy a set of needs and then be able to monetise it.

until next time, maximising social media

Better..Best..Bested

Posted in Brand, Internet with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 10, 2008 by manuscrypts

A long time ago, during those heady MBA days, a few of us had put together a theme for the batch – kaizen, a Japanese philosophy for constant improvement. I think it still holds a lot of relevance with regards to the way brands treat themselves. Google, while not the web’s knight in shining armor it used to be, still teaches a lot of lessons, and I remembered them when i read this article on how, perhaps the first killer app on the net – email is now being challenged by things like micro-blogging platforms.

Remembered them because, even though they were late entrants into the arena, the ‘invite’ marketing really worked for GMail, and though competitors matched or improved their storage space factor, GMail was so good, that I have never felt the need to consider an option. Thats also because while most other players stopped after they matched the space and minor additions, GMail kept improving, and still does – check this and this. And the counter on the GMail homepage continues to increase. Constant improvement.

Meanwhile, the proposed competitor to email, micro blogging, and more specifically Twitter also seems to be on a constant improvement mode. After being heavily criticised for their downtime, they seem to be getting that under control and now the rumour mills are abuzz with their proposed purchase of Summize.

On the flip side, I saw a video sharing site – Viddler.com, with some pretty cool features, like being able to add tags and comments right within the timeline. So when a scene appears, the comment appears right then. I haven’t seen too many innovations from YouTube recently. I also read a nice article recently, on how del.icio.us had perhaps lost the chance to become Friendfeed. Intriguing, right? Perhaps, Yahoo may be getting the message, and hence this radical move in the search space, where lots of new players like Yoozilla, Gloofi, Evri and possibly a dozen others are cropping up and doing amazing things that Google is perhaps missing out on. And while Google ups the ante in virtual worlds with the launch of Lively, there is Vivaty, which is ‘virtual world meets social networking’

So, is improvement a function of current size? When a player gets beyond a certain size (in terms of products, sales, manpower and so on) is it then tougher for them to improve constantly.? Does the growth curve plateau and newer, smallers start taking the shine off from the once nimble large player? If we stretch that and step back a bit, is that the reason why say, a traditional set of players like newspapers are having problems adjusting to the web (generalising here) while new entities like Instablogs or possibly soon, a Topix (a potentially cool site, you must take a look) increase in popularity and relevance?

In the future, will this constant improvement create a scenario where services will, in short time frames , change so rapidly, that they will bear only a slight resemblance to what they started out as, with only the brand name being a constant, a brand that stands for the cutting edge in that service category?

until next time, zen and the art of constant improvement

$ocial Media

Posted in Brand, Internet with tags , , on July 9, 2008 by manuscrypts

This is why I love the conversational web. It provides an excellent means to connect ideas, and er, write a post. I saw a tweet from @jowyang which was about a company looking for community managers. No, it wasn’t the job per se that interested me, but more the fact that companies are finally getting into conversations and hiring community managers. Before you harangue me about web companies having had community managers for ages, this one is a grocery review community. Well, at least happens in the US. ๐Ÿ˜

And then, I also happened to read a post that spoke about a wiki for brands that is created and maintained by the users. Thats already happening a bit on the Facebook fan pages, but I’m guessing the brand would have to have its official spokesperson acting as a moderator at least in the initial stages, that’s like a community manager.

And lastly, i read a post by Chris Brogan that talked about social media not being a replacement for marketing strategy. (I wholeheartedly agree) The takeaways he has mentioned towards the end not only provide a direction on how social media can finally pull its weight in getting revenue (possibly a beginning to answering this, a thought on everyone’s mind), but also roughly defines what a community manager’s role would be. It would not only be the basic answering of community queries and using conversations with them to evolve the product/service, it would also include identifying evangelists, nurturing them, helping a sales team to categorise potential customers. I am sure there are a lot of add ons possible to these brand communities.

Meanwhile, it might also help social media tools like twitter to figure out revenue models. For at the very base of it all, a Twitter is perhaps like a Hotmail, the difference being in community and the speed of conversations, but in essence a tool for communication. And like email, there are usages to be figured out – for example, what role they play in the brand communities discussed above. These usages will drive revenue models. And hopefully, that’ll make one happy world… until the next revolution. ๐Ÿ˜‰

until next time, tweet dreams