Archive for Strategy

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 –  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.  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?  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. 🙂

until next time, organic offline and inorganic online?

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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

Opacity

Posted in Advertising, Brand with tags , , , , on June 25, 2008 by manuscrypts

Read two interesting posts, seemingly not very connected, but actually so. The first one was here, (don’t miss the article it has linked to either) and it talks about brands including an RTI clause in their charter, and anyone from a stakeholder (thats including consumers) to competition being able to demand answers from the company/brand and more importantly, being able to get it. I wonder though, how an RTI clause could co-exist with competitive advantage (brand strategies).

The second post talks about Friendfeed being a great tool for brands since it aggregates the contents from blogs, microblogging platforms, photo sharing services, social bookmarking sites and most possible social media. The snag though is that a Facebook or an Orkut are not accommodated there, yet, and the crowds frequenting the two kinds of sites are not exactly duplicated.

But yes, the connection between the two posts is transparency, and i feel that in india, we have a long way to go before we reach that state. That’s because more than a certain set of processes, we are talking about a philosophy here. In the first digital (mini) wave and its aftermath, when blogs became a corporate mantra, how many companies/brands took it seriously and how many have persisted? For a transparent system to get established and flourish, it needs to start with a strategy thats consumer centric, a strong rationale for why x strategy was chosen over y to achieve a certain strategic objective, the wisdom to understand that we are human, and plans can go wrong, inspite of having backup plans running from b to z, and most importantly the maturity to listen to feedback, accept responsibility and take criticism, but learn from it, fix it and get better.

When i hear people ask for changes in communication strategy based on very subjective likes and dislikes (sorry, its not always purely subjective, i have also heard ‘my wife likes pink’ for a campaign theme color), and when i get this response from them when asked about consumer preferences, and when, on hearing that I blog, I am asked to write good about the brands I work with, irrespective of reality, and when FYI (F*** You Instead – courtesy ‘One Night at the Call centre) responsibility strategies are given more importance than the brand’s performance, and many many more such occurrences, it gives me enough reason to believe that transparency is a long way off.

On an aside, I read here that apparently the blogosphere was abuzz today with the Vodafone ad for iPhone. Interestingly, I saw three tweets today basically asking why the Vodafone customer service couldn’t be manned by people who knew about iPhone. 🙂

until next time, mind set

Ad-vanced Processing

Posted in Advertising, Brand, India with tags , , on June 20, 2008 by manuscrypts

No, don’t go away, this is not a tech post.  And stop sniggering, one day I will write a tech post.  Hell, if Laloo can blog…There’s been a spate of celebrity blogs recently – started perhaps with Aamir Khan, then Big B, Salman Khan and a couple of days back, Karan Johar. The fad, I think will soon run out of steam.

But there’s a very interesting twist I saw to the celebrity-in-the-internet space today, and felt it was very well weaved into a brand’s strategy. The brand is a processor – AMD, and it has chosen Viswananthan Anand as its brand ambassador. On a broad level, the processor-chess-intelligence connection is itself a good one. The TVC idea is a neat analogy, showing Anand try his hand at cricket, failing, and then saying that in a cricket crazy nation, he chose to pursue chess because he was good at it. From an analogy point, cricket is Intel, and the message is that one should choose a processor according to one’s requirements, and not because everyone else follows a trend.

Coming back, a site has been launched – askvishy.com. As the name suggests, the site gets Anand to clear perceptions about computers, and also offers help in choosing computers according to requirements.There’s also some kind of contest there, but didn’t participate because they asked for the address in stage 1 itself.

In essence, a well thought out campaign, that uses the brand ambassador well, but only a first step towards what should be a prolonged strike at the far-and-ahead market leader. Intel can’t afford to stay inside anymore.

until next time, AMD is no more wishy washy

Freescale?

Posted in Brand, India, Internet with tags , , , , , on June 11, 2008 by manuscrypts

Yesterday’s post made me think about scale- Air Deccan certainly had that, but it did not help them much in the long run as far as profitability goes, as the UB group with its financial clout just gobbled it up.

I also read a post yesterday on the evolution of service, which talked about technology making mass distribution of services easier, and the importance of personalisation of services. There was another interesting post and a discussion here, which was triggered by the launch of Yulop’s WAP site.

Yulop is essentially a Bangalore service, and I was wondering how important scaling up (in terms of other cities) was to them, in the long term. if personalisation and attention to details is increasingly becoming an important trend in products and services, could it be that even with a limited geographical spread and a set of users who are extremely happy with what they’re getting, a product/service can manage to be financially viable? The answer would possibly be quite dependent on the critical mass that the product/service requires.

To put the question in a different way, is it possible for a brand to retain its personalisation/attention to detail capability as it scales up? What are the brands that come to your mind when it comes to attaining a perfect balance of customisation and scale?

Meanwhile, I saw a new service which apparently is being tested in San Fransisco –  City Sense. You really must have a look…. and come back 🙂 The potential of such a service is, as the cliche goes phenomenal. The service would, over a period of time, be able to suggest hangouts for you, basis your history. And quite obviously, this can be applied to activities other than nightlife. Imagine its mashup with say, a local social network (of course privacy issues will have to be worked out) and basis a segmentation of interests, using it to bring in more people interested in the same things, and it would just keep growing, quite like a twitter way of following and being followed. Only, in this case, because its segmented by interests, it would be a powerful tool for brand communication and timing and customisation of offerings.

until next, measuring with scales

Dear Departed Deccan

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

There was an article in ET yesterday discussing the future of India’s first low cost carrier – Air Deccan. Inspite of the vociferous protests that I have made regarding its in-flight service and flight delays, its a brand that i adore, simply because of its intention – to enable flight travel for the average Indian. I liked the communication too- right from the first TVC ‘The Old Man and the Sky’ to using the ‘Common Man’ as a mascot.

Kingfisher’s thoughts on bringing Deccan under a unified Kingfisher brand would be a bit ambivalent. On one hand, they would want to go international by leveraging Deccan’s five year existence, and on the other, they would hesitate to kill a brand which is so dear to many indians, especially in the Tier 2, 3 cities. But its slowly moving towards the former course of action. In any case, I quite believe that Deccan is only a small step in Kingfisher’s scheme of things, which would be aimed at trouncing Jet, and then becoming a major player internationally.

Now, there are a lot of stories about how Deccan really needed money, because of some heavy competition it had been facing for sometime, and because any price rise would take it away from its original platform, and how UB came in, first as an aggressive takeover bidder, and than a strategic investor. This one is a very good read. Its almost like a Balaji serial 😉 . While Deccan kept murmuring about how UB was only a strategic investor, it was quite clear that a complete takeover was in the offing, and it finally did happen along with new uniforms, a new Simplifly logo and a bottle of water. And when those forever delayed flights started landing and taking off on time, I could only smile at the irony.

After yesterday’s post, i couldn’t help thinking about whether in a social media utopia, Capt. Gopinath would’ve been able to appeal to passengers to accept the Rs.500-1000 increase in fares to keep Air Deccan afloat, and the equity of the brand would be so good that passengers would help. Meanwhile, in the real world, thus will die a brand that defined the aspirations of the Indian middle class, and literally gave them wings to fly.

until next time, decadent

India and the Internet

Posted in Brand, India, Internet with tags , on June 4, 2008 by manuscrypts

I read a report by Akamai recently on the state of the internet. Before i start on that, I have to share the wonderful experience I had with Akamai. It didnt start out very well, because i was being sent around in loops of ‘check your email and click the link’. The link asked me to register, and sent me off to my mailbox. i stopped after some 5 attempts, and sent them a mail. Thankfully, got a reponse in an hour’s time, and not a link this time, but the report itself. And this level of service for a free download.

India doesnt get mentioned in too many places, so the JuxtConsult report seems to be the best source of data. ET had an article on that a few days back. The urban penetration of the net has reached double figures finally. While the metros still account for a large portion of the net users, a staggering majority (70%) prefer to use the net in regional languages.

As compared to the mass media that currently rule the roost in india, the net is a much more fragmented medium, even including TV, with its regional programming, and some niche channels. Perhaps because while language is one paramenter of segmenting, the net offers segmentation basis interests and has a more long tail view on the content front. That is unlikely to change, since I would think the costs of running a channel, and running a site would differ hugely, which basically means that there is a minimum mass that a channel has to look at – it can’t go too niche, that wouldn’t be too much of a problem with a site.

Even though internet penetration is still at a relatively nascent stage, does that 70% mentioned above clearly show the trend that the net is going to take in India. If so, India is again poised to change the way things function. I’m sure the global personnel of McDonalds would’ve asked ‘WTF is an aloo tikki and why should we have it in the menu anyway’. I’m also sure, there would be a case study on it by now. The answer is of course, is being implemented.

While the figures do show tremendous potential, it threw up a few questions for me. One, how soon will the numbers reach a critical mass for the niche players to emerge in large numbers and still be financially viable? Will these new consumers behave like a typical net consumer or a typical Indian customer or will we manage to create a typically new and unique entity? In a well connected India, how will this affect brands and their communication – will the categorisation of brands offline (as niche vs mass) be retained on the net, or will the sheer numbers turn this on its head. Consider a small example – A Tommy Hilfiger can afford to communicate the same way across India, its TG is comfortable with English as a communication langauge. In the offline space, it perhaps is a niche brand, but will the aggregation of users across the country on the net make it a ‘mass’ brand? A mass brand – Vodafone has two kinds of ads that I’ve seen for the ‘Dehradun didi’ – Irfan in Hindi and Prakash Raj in the South. Maybe it doesnt make sense for them to make one for each state now. But given the spectacular growth of mobile users, it might happen soon. Now look at it from an internet communication standpoint, in a later time when the net population is much more, because of the regional usage of the internet, would the (say) Kannada version of Vodafone be a ‘niche’ communication?

I think it is safe to say that the internet, its dynamics and its economics will get moulded to a uniquely Indian way of functioning. Considering India’s market size, the impact of this in the overall netscape remains to be seen.

until next time, the elephant and the web