Archive for Strategy

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 😉

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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

Mark Up Pricing?

Posted in Brand, Social networking with tags , , , on July 30, 2008 by manuscrypts

It’s been just over a month since Facebook wrested the #1 position from MySpace in terms of unique visitors to the site. That’s in spite of being only about half of MySpace in terms of traffic and having to deal with Orkut in India, Brazil etc. This, plus the fact that Facebook’s international strategy of providing the same networking tool in other countries (the only occassional concession being language) is working better than MySpace’s game of ‘communities based on local culture’ in each country – check this out in  (in India’s case), made me do a double take when I read an article recently on how Facebook should seriously consider selling out now.

While there have been debates about MS valuing it at $15 billion, and I’d side with those who say that its a tag on the higher side, I really couldn’t agree on the selling off idea. The basic premise of the argument is that once the high school and college kids (the audience driving Facebook’s exponential growth) grow up, they’ll find better toys and shiny objects to play with, and will forget Facebook.

I’d have agreed with that, but or a few factors. For starters, the way Facebook is adapting. I’d written about the new design earlier, and how Facebook had kind of ditched the old social networking premise, and quickly changed to a Friendfeed/Twitter premise of conversations. That kind of flexibility, combined with the kind of apps that keep me engaged, should help Facebook remain relevant. What, for example, prevents them from doing a ‘Second Life’ twist if virtual worlds suddenly became an even bigger rage? The traffic and the apps, I’d think have a strong correlation which benefits Facebook. The more people use the site, the more developers would want to build apps there…

Another factor is that it still has miles to grow. It’s only #2 in the US, and in markets like India, where the internet itself hasn’t reached its potential, the kind of activity we’re seeing now is not even the tip of the the berg. And what’s the investment? Unlike MySpace, which has an office for India ops, Facebook just invests in Mark Zuckerberg’s flight tickets for his rare visits. (Its an interesting read..lol)

The third factor is Facebook Connect, which will allow the portability of our social identity on it. A ‘crude’ indicator of its impact would be how you can comment on this post and it would link to your Facebook profile. It means that Facebook knows and can keep track of the real you even outside the walled garden it used to be. And that, IMHO, combined with the MS association which keeps getting deeper, will really enable it to challenge Google and its plans for world domination.

And though I was mildly irritated by their inclination towards the BOSS (Build Operate Sell Stake) way, I remain a huge Facebook fan, as the tags on your right would prove, and still believe that Facebook’s biggest success is that, at a basic level, it allows me to connect with people, on the multiple interest points that i share with them, from Bollywood to F1 and quite a few others, and after they’re done with sending me virtual beers and throwing sheep at me, we can really sit down and have some great interactions on things we are interested in.

until next time, break the walls down

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. It  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 😉

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.  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 think  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