Jessie Paul on Services Marketing For a FlatWorld

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Staying Up in a Down Economy: Eight Marketing-Strategy Tips from Best Buy and Wipro CMOs

Article by Ron Young in

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Obamarketer: Obama Wins the US Presidency

I am in Chicago, though not near the scene of today's excitement. Am parked in front of a large screen TV as Mr Obama makes his acceptance speech. Seen up close over the past two days, his marketing machinery has been very impressive. It validates my belief that when you are a upstart brand it makes sense to establish a bulkhead through word of mouth and new media, but once you have acquired critical mass, you need to mobilize those channels to expand your coverage and make it (a) immediate (b) broad-based. Getting over a million doors knocked in one week just through volunteers mobilized through a website is awesome. A half-hour commercial on prime time tv shows that the brand has arrived.

I had done a piece in March on the difference between defining yourself on who you are versus on what you have done The "who you are" camp has won. This is probably the first political victory attributable to a great extent to new marketing skills applied to projecting a personality. And shows how important these skills have become for any brand with mainstream aspirations. Take a look at this earlier map of the Obama electronic footprint ( ) and see how much can be replicated for your brand. After all it's time for a change :)
Picture: Flickr Creative Commons

Saturday, November 01, 2008

2 for 3 or 2 for 1?

"Two for the price of three". Sounds absurd? Perhaps you mentally translated it as "Two for the price of one" which is a far more common phrase. But 2 for 3 describes luxury branding at its simplest. The additional value is intangible - trust, pride, reliability. Intangible, but valuable. to the consumer.

You may be wondering why I am discussing luxury brands when the economy is pinching even these creamy layer products. (Though the really, really rich may decide that it's a good time to splurge on a second slightly-used mega-yacht for the family!) Well, that's because I think the philosophy of luxury brands - the personalization, reliability, predictability - can be replicated even for brands that aspire to address a broader audience. Everyone wants to be special.

I recently attended a case-study based training program organized by Dominion which had Professor David Bell from Harvard Business School speak on Strategic Marketing. It was more tuned towards products, but there was one big take-away for me - you are loyal to brands you are grateful to. And you are grateful to brands that deliver more than you expect or do something for you. For example, he cited the example of alumni contributing to their alma maters because they were grateful for what the education (or brand stamp) had done for their careers. I remember certain restaurants and coffee shops not because of what they sell but because of what they give free with the food. If a retailer takes back stuff even if you have lost the bill, you are grateful to them. Using a Mont Blanc pen renders a certain cache to the writer - you are grateful to the brand for establishing your credentials. Ditto luxury cars or green products or alternative clothing brands or where you live.

I think this is what lies at the heart of all classy brands, lux or otherwise. Going beyond the ordinary and baking that into the customer experience in a sustainable, scaleable way. And loyalty is a good thing to have when the world is uncertain.

PS: I have my husband to thank for the phrase "2 for 3"

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Frugal Marketing for Foggy Economics

Given the current economic flux, marketers are (or should be!) concerned about how it will impact their roles and industries. Ways in which it is likely to impact firms are:

1. Companies feeling the pinch because of the global credit crunch will look for ways in which they can limit up-front investment and capital expenditures

2. As consumers and companies are uncertain about the economy they are likely to postpone discretionary expenditure
3. Even consumers and companies not (yet) impacted by the crisis are likely to be more agressive in seeking value and in justifying the returns of any purchases. They may not necessarily ask for lower prices or trade downwards, but they will ask more questions and measure benefits more tightly.
While we are waiting for the economic situation to become clearer, should a marketer continue as business as usual? Perhaps not. Here are some ideas of what might be useful:
1. Postpone big bang, discretionary, brand campaigns that do not directly impact purchase behaviour. Better to do this when the dust has settled and you are sure of your short-term positioning in the new economic scenario
2. Focus on emphasizing the value delivered by your service or product. Provide data on why it is a good investment. Offer third party benchmarking and audits of the value delivered.
3. Structure options that lower upfront investment and spread the payments through the usage period
4. Emphasize services or products that will reduce the consumers' expenses
5. Structure service contracts into shorter time periods, with an option to renew

Instead of wringing its hands and worrying about its budgets, marketing can be very useful in identifying strategies for companies to deal with the new economics and emerge stronger in the long run, when this down cycle (like all other cycles preceding it) too has passed.
And while we are waiting for the fog to clear, it is a good time to invest in building high quality content. In times of uncertainty, customers look for information on how they can deal with the situation and what are potential services and products that can help them. Marketers can also help in restructuring services to address the customers new needs.

And all of these can be communicated at low cost electronically. As customers try to reduce their travel, many are going online to seek answers. So being active on LinkedIn Answers, Facebook, Twitter and in the blogosphere is not just frugal, it is the most effective method.

Photograph: Courtesy of Thomas Hawk at Used under creative commons, attribution+no-commercial usage

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Leadership 101 : Self-Realization to Self-Actualization

I was asked to speak on leadership at Cisco's Women's Action Network. I applied branding principles to career planning and came up with this ten-step program.



Life isn't about finding yourself.
Life is about creating yourself. ”
- George Bernard Shaw


“Be more dedicated to making solid achievements than in running after swift but synthetic happiness.” - Abdul Kalam


The middle of the road is a good place to get run over”
- Mark Kassof

“Every moment of your life is infinitely creative and the universe is endlessly bountiful. Just put forth a clear enough request, and everything your heart desires must come to you.”
- Mahatma Gandhi


“The highest manifestation of life consists in this: that a being governs its own actions. A thing which is always subject to the direction of another is somewhat of a dead thing.”
- St. Thomas Aquinas



“If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy and inspires your hopes. ”
- Andrew Carnegie


“If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. The more things you do, the more you can do.”
- Lucille Ball


“And I'm not an actress. I don't think I am an actress. I think I've created a brand and a business.”- Pamela Anderson


“If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants. ”
- David Ogilvy


“True happiness is... to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future.”- Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Let me know if you have any examples of situations where you have experienced the benefits of these guideposts.

I apologize if I have used your photos without acknowledgement. It isn't intentional, this isn't a commercial site, and I'd be happy to link to your site if you let me know.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Bangalore in 2025

Navi Radjou is one of most articulate ambassadors for innovation, and the title links to his recent blog post on Bangalore. That was an outcome of a WEF led discussion on innovation covering geographical innovation clusters, innovation talent, and collaborative innovation. It's a good read, but I'd like to put out my personal vision for 2025 - (1) Thanks to cheap and easy teleconferencing technologies travel will be a luxury for business (2) mobile, secure computing infrastructure will mean that you can work from anywhere - much as you can today make a phone call from anywhere in the world (3) with a wide variety of software solutions on tap, and supported by almost invisble hardware pipes, IT will be ubiquitous (4) large parts of enterprise systems will be user defined. (5) with a world which is connected electronically, but where travel is a luxury, e-networking skills will be a differentiator for success in business
What do you think?
Or is it just my 1 hour commute causing me to hallucinate?!

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Some websites have it, some don't

Bangalore already has local politicians putting up billboards wishing you "Happy Ganesh Chathurthi, St Mary's Feast, Ramzan". It's that time of the year when marketers start thinking about e-greetings and email signatures for the holiday season. What? Did I hear you say cards?! Ooh, that is so un-green. Well, maybe just a few. On recycled paper, of course.

Anyway, I researched the history of viral marketing. Hotmail, which pioneered this marketing medium, went from 500,000 users to 12 million in 18 months, just on the strength of its email signature which said "Get your free email at Hotmail". I didn't know that Hotmail wasn't the first free service, and that there was a competitor called Juno which went the traditional marketing way and achieved considerably less number of subscribers - 3 million if press articles of the time are to be believed. Hmm.

I found this cool post on the Top 10 Viral Marketing programs at There isn't a B2B service campaign there - can anyone point me to one? Is there more to viral for B2B than cutesy email signatures, widgets like calendars, competitions? Yeah, these work for awards and to drive event attendance, but certainly not on the scale of Hotmail. The google chrome cartoon was pretty cool, but it's still B2C.

I'm really grateful to y'all for visiting my website from the 176,748,506 vying for your attention. (Yup, those are the August figures). So why do people visit some sites and not others? I was looking at the alexa rankings of the top 10 sites in India vs the US, and apart from the obvious suspects of Orkut and Rediff being more popular in India, I spotted Blogger at #7. Isn't that cool? We've always been a nation that likes to talk, and now we're doing it electronically. So much so that today's newspaper had a whole piece on what assorted bloggers thought of the nuclear deal (they had the grace to name the bloggers though not their sites).

Oh, and the other interesting discovery I've made during my viral marketing research is that hardly anyone visits the homepage anymore. They key in their topic of interest into google, and then visit the relevant page directly. So all the fancy research we did on site navigation, homepage design is just a tad redundant now. We could just string up a bunch of useful pages and not worry about the flow and all that jazz. We could go back to those minimalist websites we had back in the mid-nineties. For a trip back in time visit and key in your favourite url.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

PR in the Flat World

Digitization and advances in communications have removed many of the barriers to communication.  This is causing changes in industries, like PR, which were built upon their skill at access.

In this new digitized paradigm, there are no gatekeepers – if you know the journalist’s phone number you can talk to them.  They may not listen to you, but then they couldn’t have read every press release that was faxed to them either.   Nor is it hard to socialize with the media – most news sites have places where you can comment on their articles and very often, if the response is valid, the journalist will respond to your comment and you can commence a dialogue.  Many journalists run blogs, and hang out on Facebook.  All this is making the old, treasured tools of PR redundant, as the table below shows:

Table 1: Transformation of PR tools in the new media

As this trend continues, PR mavens have to provide more than information.  They have to provide insight.  And that is going to be far more difficult, and from a client perspective, expensive.  I predict a lot of changes in the way this industry will transform itself.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Minibrand, anyone?

I've been to two of our premier acad institutes in the past month - IIM Indore and IIFT, Kolkota. I went to IIM Indore because Neeta Nagar, a former colleague, found me playing online scrabble and made the case. In the case of IIFT, they had partnered with NASSCOM and were holding a full-blown event on the topic of "Indian IT at crossroads". At both the places the students were earnest, well-organized and very interested in the topic of branding. Very different from the way we were.

Is it because the new media with its glut of information intensifies the competition for attention, and hence the need for brands? Or that it is now possible for everyone, potentially, to be a brand? Well, ok, being a megabrand like Paris Hilton or Pamela Anderson isn't for everyone, but a minibrand with a thousand followers is pretty doable.

I was researching Barack Obama's online efforts for my book,Marketing in a Flat World, and it is truly amazing what he has pulled together in terms of his social media presence and in connecting it with his offline activities. I did a mapping of the online instances and it could serve as a blueprint for anyone who wanted to build either their own brand, or that of their company.

There is a lot of good analysis including one in the MIT Technology Review on how the campaign went about doing this, and it is worth reading for anyone who wants to be a mega- or mini-brand.

Posts on any indian equivalents to this are welcome.

On another note, the interest in Second Life continues with two requests from the media this month for story inputs. Wipro also had its virtual SOA lab inaugurated by Srinivas Parthasarathy of Farmers Insurance, which shows that SL is now getting more business interest.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Second Wind for Second Life?

I got no less than 3 queries from the Indian media about Second Life last month. One resulted in this press article and another in a short tv clip on UTVi.
Wipro has been on Second Life for over a year now and our island has had 4000 unique visitors. It is very useful as a 3D representation of labs and other features, though I have to admit its user interface is a bit challenging for those who are not 'digital natives".
Now with Lively from google there is another virtual world to play with. I'd like some views on why virtual worlds are not experiencing the kind of fast business adoption that would be expected. And if you have an island on Second Life, what your experience has been.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Social Networking for a Social Cause

I am just back from a visit to my alma mater, REC - now NIT - Trichy. I went to address students who were planning to apply to my company. Close to 16 years since I went back, and it was very cool to see some old faces and also to see the huge amount of improvements that have taken place.

But that's not what this blog is about. Some time ago, there was a request on the alumni bulletin board trying to raise funds for a school for the children of the college support staff. I spotted this and used linkedin and facebook to propagate it. Almost everyone I contacted came forward with a pledge we rapidly raised enough money to fund a classroom. So social networking works really well for a good cause - mainly because there is someone vouching for the cause and pulling it together, and it's nice to do things as a group you know. (In the past religious organizations were the main coordinators of this sort of thing. Which makes one wonder - has facebook replaced the town square/churches/temples where people used to hang out not so long ago?!)

The catch of course is how to reach the money to trichy, particularly from those outside India. Wouldn't it be cool if there was a global portal which took care of electronic money transfers for good causes? with a button on facebook and linkedIn of course!

Friday, July 04, 2008

Listmania: Just say No

Since we’re social animals, we like to compare ourselves, passively or actively with others. Hence the interest in lists of “Most Powerful”, “Best Dressed”, “Richest”, “Kindest”, “Most-beautiful-American-of-Indian-origin-in-New-York”. Yes, the last one is for real. The lists which are easy to understand are those based on some publicly defined and understood dimensions such as wealth or quantum of philanthropy, and most debatable are those which are entirely qualitative like beauty or fashion. Even those who wouldn’t dream of participating in these lists are guilty of reading them and wondering where they stand. And if you studied in a regular Indian school you have been brought up in the belief that being “First Rank” is all that matters.

In the business world this translates to organizations comparing themselves with other organizations. Again, some of the lists are simple enough – those based on revenue or profits. Others are based on surveys and polls and depending upon how transparent the pollsters are with the methodology these are quite credible. Then you have surveys based on consulting “experts” or the Delphi methodology. These are more difficult to understand. And then you have some other lists which are clearly in the realm of voodoo, as they share no information on the methodology or panel.

Not so long ago, research was a very expensive proposition and very few individuals could afford to invest in it on their own. So publications conducted this research as a public service and recouped their costs through increased sales. In the pre-internet days these guides were often the only source of comparative information. Now the cost of conducting a survey or poll has dramatically declined, publications are in a very competitive space fighting for circulation, marketers are greedy for PR of the businesswire variety, and the combination of these factors has led to a rapid profusion of lists.

It is hard for companies to stand up and not be counted. And we are trapped in a vicious cycle of being silent even when we do not know the methodology that was used. We marketers encourage the creation of lists by celebrating when we are winning (and whining when we’re not). We rarely publicize errors either because we stand to benefit or we come across as sore losers.

One of the most prolific lists in the past three years has been the “Black Book of Outsourcing”. It is interesting to read the BusinessWeek expose on them.

It is time to consider whether many of these lists are an anachronism because with new media technology the cost of conducting a third party survey has dramatically dropped and everyone can customize the results. The methodologies vary so that it is impossible to compare two lists. And with social networking it is easy for anyone to bring together their private panel of experts whose opinions matter most to them. There is still a need for credible third party research which is in-depth, qualitative, and based on opinions not just data. But I think the day of the pure rankings is over.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Logo is NOT for life

Like all other design elements, logos too get outdated. Unfortunately, most organizations get emotionally attached to their faded logos and refuse to let go. Often, the examples cited to support the cause of the ailing logos are the same - IBM, Apple, Microsoft. How these logos are simple and such classics that they never have to change. (As though a logo that has to evolve is somehow flawed).
This article on the evolution of tech logos is thus very liberating. Because it shows how even these icons have had to transform and modernize over the years. Read it to know that the original Apple logo was actually a complicated illustration. Or that IBM has had multiple avatars, names and logos in its long existence.
I'm providing this for those who are in need of some data to bolster their case. But think carefully about whether your really need to refresh your logo before you plunge in. Or if it is just to bring some excitement into your life. Remember, the brand manager is usually the first to tire of a logo. Mainly because they spend their working hours staring at it. The average customer does not. Sadly.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Green is the new Clean

I haven't blogged in a bit. Instead I was doing that big ecological no-no, flying! (Wipro is installing Telepresence so maybe I won't have to travel as much any more)My team and I in marketing have been doing our bit for green over the past year - tried to cut down the amount of paper generated in the form of brochures, stopped taking printouts, religious recycling, using carafes at events instead of individual plastic bottles. As a company, Wipro is doing its bit to be green too . But it isn't until I went to Europe and US that I realized how big the green movement is over there. Thank goodness we had decided to make our customer forum, Mandala, carbon neutral. ( Awareness of this problem has just shot up in 12 months. Developing countries are rapidly adopting green philosophies too - the first event on Green IT I have come across in India takes place Friday

So much so that green is no longer a "nice-to-have" but a "must-have". On Earth Day, we did a little (electronic) release on Wipro becoming a member of "Green Grid" an initiative on the greening of data centers. I am a cynic who believes that hardly anyone reads press releases (though they do tremendously help with google ratings) but the green grid response has been very good.

What does this mean to marketers? Most companies have a long way to go to be as eco-friendly as they can be. But if you aren't trying -at least within the sphere of your own influence to be green - you will be left behind in the new wave.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Stumble on (yet more) information

Are you being drowned by emails? Bludgeoned by blogs? Choked by the information overload of websites? Hounded by people following up on their emails? Quizzed by yet another game show (Panchvi strikes this weekend).

We're going the way of the Ancient Romans.

They didn't have electronic communication. But they had poetry. And direct marketing. And publishing houses churning out copies. They held recitationes in all kinds of public places, homes and parties. They had competitions - the famous one in Naples ran for 13 hours and the audience was not allowed to leave. Even their emperors competed (just like Amitabh Bacchhan entering the fray with his blog!!) Perhaps their empire collapsed in sheer fatigue and frustration!

Now, if we don't want our internet empire of information to implode, we've got to have smarter ways to find relevant information in the sea of mediocrity. Or succumb completely to randomness. That's where steps in. It's a crowdsourcing or friendsourcing way to identify what's good on the web. You select your topics and then it takes you to sites which are heavily rated by other members. When you do a google search it has an icon to point you to the sites which have the best ratings from other stumblers. Thanks to siddharth nair for pointing me to this useful site. The difference betwen stumble and searches like google is that it brings the power of social networking to deciding the most USEFUL content as opposed to bots deciding what words are most relevant to a larger audience. And folks pls do stumble my blog too :)

To know that we are facing a crisis, you only have to read this desperate plea I received as an out of office response last week "Due to immense high workload there will be a delay in replying to your emails. Please refrain from telephone calls if you have already sent an email. I apologize for any inconvenience."

To know more about the poetry craze among the Romans, visit

I stumbled upon it.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Perform or I'll shoot you

I'm all for predictability of service. Say what you'll do, do it, then tell me it's done is the mantra for success. After some unhappy episodes with local dial-a-cab services I really do believe that there is no hope for those who cannot manage to achieve this. I am in exalted, if rather extreme, company. Jack Welch the legendary CEO of GE has threatened to "get a gun out and shoot" his successor Jeff Immelt if GE did not meet the promised earnings numbers. Now there's an incentive for performance excellence!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Cash for Headlines

In today's Mint, there is a story on DNA's ad campaign which has headlines like "Make the Headlines tomorrow. By paying for it." DNA itself has a private treaty firm which trades adspace for equity. Mint - adhering to good journalistic practice - has made it clear that its own parent company too has an ads-for-equity division. Until this article I hadn't realized that this was such a pervasive practice.

In advertising a decade ago, during a downturn clients paid in cellphone minutes, mangoes and even land. There are some obvious merits to this barter economy, but the transparency to the reader varies. An option is to allow these firms a certain number of regular ads and also a guaranteed amount of access to the editorial teams where they can pitch their merits. The decision of whether the pitch justifies an editorial mention would be solely with the journalists. And the publication could make available a list of firms in which it has a stake - much as stockbroking firms do when making a recommendation.

The online world isnt free from paid editorial either - there are sites which offer money for giving their products coverage in your blog. Advertiser driven programs on TV and product placements in movies are mainstream and don't attract the flak that the print media does. Interesting that print is being held to a higher standard of disclosure than the new media.

PS: Nobody paid me to write this piece and I don't own shares in any of the publications mentioned here!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

teach me how to dial

I'm too old for new media. I stumble around SL like a zombie. I now know that it isn't my fault. It's just my lack of education. In the 1930s they TAUGHT people how to use the phone using a giant sized model..take a look at this cool pic and post at So maybe what I need is a giant-sized second life avatar that will teach me how to be a cool networker. All those video tutorials that take hours to download just don't do the trick. I need a honest-to-goodness, certificate-giving, fee-charging Secretary of New Media School.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Personality or Persona?

Indira Gandhi, Dalai Lama, Vijay Mallya, Benazir Bhutto are exceptions in many ways, including their branding approach. They built solid personas for themselves in a way which is far more American than Asian. In Asia it is usually politicians and movie stars who make the leap, but very few business people. (Also why filmstars are able to become politicians).
European and American executives are used to working on their public profile with the full support of their organizations.
But in India, and in most Asian cultures, modesty is a highly regarded virtue. If you do well you say “Oh, it wasn’t me – it was my parents/teachers/colleague/team/organization”. And of course, inwardly hope like crazy that people won’t take you too seriously and ignore you when that next promotion is due (or worse, give it to that colleague you just thanked!). Well, in the flat world modesty is a handicap to your brand. How will that niche firm in Canada locate you or your organization if you don't show up on google?!
So, if you aim to be a leader in your field start working on your visibility as soon as you can. If you are 6 feet tall, athletic, photogenic and have a charming smile, congratulations, you have a head start in this game. If you’re not, you’re going to have work harder to achieve cult status.
Here are some tips for “personal” persona building:
1. To be an expert, you need expertise. Bright young MBAs (“Bymbas”) are usually the first off the block in identifying their need for public appreciation. Unfortunately, you need to achieve something before you can be an industry expert. The way around this is to pick a small niche which you can claim for your own and then expand as your career and knowledge broadens.

2. PR people are powerful. Most companies have guidelines of what employees can and cannot do in the PR realm. Please check with your PR team if what you are doing is ok. Speaking from experience, most of them are starved for content and will fall on your shoulder and shed tears of joy if you produce genuinely original content. On the other hand – again speaking from experience – incurring their displeasure with unauthorized views and publications is the surest way to oblivion.

3. Little drops of water make the mighty ocean. It isn’t essential that you be the keynote at a major industry conference to start with. (Though a lot of wannabe rock-stars do want that!) Build your profile by speaking at educational institutions and smaller roundtables or panels. Just let local colleges and your alma mater know that you like to speak and be willing to do it at short notice.

4. Blood, sweat, tears. Some people make the mistake of working on their persona at the cost of focusing on their real job. Bad idea. Unless you are self-employed, beware of becoming a dial-a-quote. You’ve got to keep the persona closely integrated with your job and do the extra work like publishing in your spare time. And for PR that is purely personal without any benefits for your employer avoid using company resources.

5. Trademark Appearance. It helps to have a feature which is easily recognizable. Indira had her unique hairstyle, Mahatma Gandhi had his shaven head and round glasses, Kiran Majumdar Shaw has her scarf, Govinda has his white shoes...

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Sizzle or Steak?

I am just back from Mumbai where I ate at an amazing Bandra restaurant called Soul Fry. It's got mismatched furniture, a few ink drawings hung on the walls, and generally has an air of decrepitude. Yet, I go there whenever possible because the food is so good. Another Bombay (it predates Mumbai) institution is Britannia which serves excellent Parsi food. The paint is peeling, the ceiling crumbling and it's only open for lunch. It has a queue waiting to get in. (We used to persuade a friend travelling from Mumbai to pack the berry pulao in a box and fly it to Bangalore, it is so memorable.) In Bangalore, Pecos is one of the few pubs that has survived from my early days of Brigade Road bingeing. They did switch from tapes to CDs a couple of years ago, and even gave it a lick of paint, but it still looks as dingy as ever. It's jammed every evening.

I have friends in the restaurant business and they completely obsess about positioning, decor, cuisine. But in an age when everything is spanking new and glitzy, are we seeing the emergence of a counterculture of reverse snobbism where, if the food is fantastic, the worse you look the more "character" you acquire? It's worth thinking about in Bangalore where so few restaurants and pubs survive three years. And if you aren't paying huge amounts for space and overheads, you can pay your cook so much more. Success of the restaurant also seems direct proportional to the rudeness of the proprietor. There are two famous restaurants from my dissipated youth in Bangalore which are run by stereotypically cranky old men. They've both since moved to swanky new premises but that has not improved their humour. I dare not name them - like Jerry Seinfeld in the Soup Nazi episode, I swallow my pride to eat at these restaurants!

Is the marketing moral that if you have a good product and not a great deal of money, flouting every customer-orientation philosophy will have clients beating a path to your door? Worth thinking about this as an exercise in reverse psychology. Particularly if you are starting a restaurant.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Is Tech Branding a respectable profession?

Ten years ago, IT services marketing meant making a pretty brochure. And if you were really adventurous, a video! Oh, and guided tours around the campus. And some PR. We've come a long way as the article which appeared in Hindu Business Line today shows...We are now using almost the full suite of marketing tools. Isn't that cool? And two of the firms quoted in the article have achieved nirvana - they are running full-fledged campaigns.
Yet, services marketing in India is still not recognized as a separate specialization. It's assumed that anyone can do it. I guess it's possible but only with the help of some expensive specialist consultants. Is it really that simple? Can anyone do a good job of marketing or do you have to specialize?
Here's the full article:
IT’s all about branding
Business Line
Archana Venkat

Technology branding comes into its own as companies find the competitive edge has begun to matter.
Technology branding is coming into its own; (Above) A Wipro-branded bus in Davos, Switzerland
Archana Venkat
Every time someone from my team meets a prospective client, I ask him to avoid the ‘low cost-quality-efficiency’ talk. We have branded India enough and now it is time to focus on branding our company,” says Deepak Khosla, Senior Vic e-President and Head – APAC and Japan, Patni Computer Services.
Khosla’s statement reflects the change in the mindset of IT companies that until a few years ago were content toeing the ‘world’s IT hub’ line. Little wonder then that IT brand campaigns were full of ‘trust’, ‘confidence’ and ‘quality’. As clients began asking “what have you got that your competitor does not?” companies were forced to review their branding. The result — most companies today are evolving their unique brand identity and ways to market it to stakeholders.
Prior to 2004, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) did not see the need to build an external brand. Changes in the offshore landscape necessitated it. Not only did strong Indian players emerge, some global players too started emulating the TCS model. “Today if you don’t say who you are, somebody else will decide who you are and reposition you,” says Jayant Pendharkar, Vice-President and Head of Global Marketing, TCS.
A brand recall exercise on “who were the top international brands” held the answer. “After IBM and Accenture, there was no clarity on the third place. So we put ourselves to occupying that place,” says Pendharkar. After a few years of coming up with varied taglines, the company felt a single message was essential to promote itself. In came a Madison Avenue-based brand consulting firm, Siegel & Gale (USA), for brand positioning, and DraftFCB+Ulka for advertising. Last March, the company launched its global brand line ‘Experience certainty.’ The company now differentiates itself on its core competencies – business consulting, outsourcing and IT services – being delivered to clients in time.
HCL, possibly the oldest Indian company engaged in the computers business, took to advertising in spurts, first in the Eighties and then the late Nineties featuring various aspects of its business. Then came a long break. “We wanted a consistent branding message but there were three major challenges confronting us,” says Saurav Adhikari, Vice-President (Corporate Strategy), HCL Technologies.
HCL operated in the hardware and the software segment, which are two ends of the spectrum. Secondly, the group was 30 years old while the software company was only 10 years old, which left one wondering whether to position the company as a veteran or a young Turk. Thirdly, the hardware company’s focus was domestic while the software business catered largely to overseas clients. Should HCL leverage itself as an India-focused brand or one that is global? “It boiled down to finding the common thread running across all these businesses which was our personality and value system,” says Adhikari.
In 2005, the company came out with a campaign underlining brand uniformity featuring qualities such as guts, courage and risk-taking abilities. All employee e-mail IDs were changed to one domain - - and then the logo underwent a change. Soon HCL’s technology capabilities were reflected in its ‘0&1’ campaign. More recently, its ad featured a young man talking of HCL’s pan-industry expertise en route to his next assignment.
“We focused on values inherent to HCL and not the Indian IT industry. We are not a linear company. We believe we are mavericks, and this shows in our advertising,” he says.
Since inception, Polaris was clear on its employer brand message, ‘Live your dream’, with the company’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Arun Jain as a role model. Jain grew the company from Rs 10,000 to over Rs 1,000 crore today. But branding for customers is quite a different kettle of fish. “Creating a software product came to us more easily than developing a branding strategy around it,” Jain says. Polaris had two products, Intellect (banking product suite) and an India-focused human capital management product called Empower (later christened Adrenalin) that was owned by its subsidiary. “Creating a software product came to us more easily than developing a branding strategy around it,” Jain says. That is when FMCG industry veteran V. Balaraman was brought in to head Adrenalin. He invested a couple of crores in Adrenalin’s branding and his understanding of the emotional aspects of buying the product was clear in its marketing. Today Adrenalin has been implemented for over 300 customers and is expanding to Asia Pacific and West Asia.
“We took the learnings from Adrenalin branding and have tried to apply some of these to Intellect,” Jain says. The company also set up a speciality centre called ‘The Capital’ for solutions in the investment banking space, clearly indicating its niche amidst competition.
MindTree Consulting too chose to focus on the solutions it developed for its portfolio of Fortune 500 clients. “Also, the intellectual properties we have developed in some of the futuristic technologies are stories we take to our markets,” says Manoj Chandran, the company’s Marketing Director.
Wipro Technologies chose ‘Applied Innovation’ as its brand theme last year based on a study involving 200 clients. “As we look to do high-end work in future, it was important to bring out our key differentiator,” says Jessie Paul, Chief Marketing Officer. Wipro will add strategic business components to it such as Green IT and service-oriented architecture. Wipro has taken space on a US media site and partnered with an advisory firm to sponsor poll surveys. Besides organising a large customer forum for the North American market, it also branded buses in New York and Davos and airports in the US and Japan. “We plan to deploy about 70 per cent of our spends in these pure branding activities,” she says. The rest will be used for basic branding that includes brochures, Web sites, media relations, events, direct marketing and influencer relations (analysts and other agencies).
24/7 Customer, a client lifecycle management firm, too put out stark differentiators starting with the message that they were not a BPO or a call centre. For prospective employees the brand promise was faster growth, while for clients it was over-performance. This was backed by data such as 50 per cent of the company’s agent population getting promoted in a year compared to the industry average of 18-24 months. For a prospective customer the proposition was: we will beat your existing centre by 10 per cent (margins), says Bharathwaj V., Chief Marketing Officer of the company.
With six centres outside India, the company is forging relationships in these regions to increase brand visibility. It has tied up with the University of Michigan to facilitate guest lectures. “We were featured on a BBC series on outsourcing, in Thomas Friedman’s book The World is Flat, on Discovery channel and BusinessWeek,” says Bharathwaj.
Patni engaged AC Nielsen to figure out its differentiators before going in for a brand revamp. The company got listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange to gain visibility and be seen as transparent. After changing its logo (to a red and grey spiral design depicting growth, maturity and end-to-end service capability) it requested the media to refer to it as ‘Patni’ and not ‘PCS’ (as was the practice then) as PCS was another company.
“People see us as mature yet approachable and our branding reinforces that,” Senior Vice-President Khosla says. Starting with two marketing professionals, his team today has about 50. “We have increased spends towards public relations and analyst relations in recent years,” he says.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

PR - the marketing miracle tool

In 1957, the much respected Panorama program of the BBC broadcast a documentary on the Swiss Spaghetti Harvest. It showed a Swiss family harvesting spaghetti strands from trees and laying it out to dry. At the time, spaghetti was an exotic dish in UK and many viewers were fascinated. They called the BBC asking where they could get their own spaghetti bush. This is a good example of how positive coverage in media can help to popularize new products from overseas.

In 1977, the Guardian newspaper of UK ran a special supplement celebrating the tenth anniversary of San Serriffe, a small republic in the Indian Ocean. It consisted of several semi-colon shaped islands, with the two main ones named Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse. The capital was Bodoni, and the people of this beautiful country celebrated unique festivals such as “The Festival of the Well Made Play”. The article carried testimonials from well-known people who had holidayed in this idyllic location. The phone rang through the day with readers seeking more information on this ideal vacation island. Another example of how good media coverage can popularize even the most unknown destination.

Both were elaborate April Fool's spoofs. Yet they worked! Think how powerful PR is (or can be) for a product that actually exists and does good things :) Yet companies continue to invest in advertising.

(More famous spoofs are at )
If you're considering something special for April 1st, time to start planning now!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Obama or Clinton? Who or What?

From a marketing perspective there is an interesting difference between the communication campaigns of Obama and Hilary Clinton. Hilary has always emphasized her qualifications and WHAT she has achieved. Since she was a public figure long before the presidential race, her record is well known. On the other hand, Obama always emphasizes WHO he is - a child of mixed parentage, someone who has lived in different countries, and is keen on change. He is relatively new to public life and his record is both shorter than hers and less commonly known. Yet they are both neck-and-neck in the race - a clear indication that approaches have their appeal.

Personality branding is a big feature of building a corporate brand - more so when it is a challenger brand. The CEO's personality and values can be the sole differentiator for the company when the product is either too complex for the average user to understand or is basically commoditized. A services buyer - who cannot experience the service without purchasing it - looks for shorthand symbols of trust. And while some buyers will look for the CEO's track-record to arrive at this assessment, others will decide on the basis of whether the CEO has a firm handshake, looks them in the eye, and shares their values. So if you want to address the wider market, you have to figure out a way to talk to those who buy with their head AS WELL as those who buy with their heart...
Sounds contrary to rational economic behaviour? In Australia, there is a popular slogan "Be Australian, Buy Australian". Goods made in Australia are prominently labelled and retailed next to far cheaper imported goods. Yet, there are patriotic Aussies who pay the premium to support the local goods. Voting with their heart. The spouse of the senior politician wins the election after the politician has been assassinated - this is usually not because of what the person is, they rarely have a political track record - but because of who they are and what they symbolize. This is also the basis of stock indexes like the Dharma Index which research out companies with "good" values as defined by a certain cultural context. What you see happening here is that a qualitative layer of values is being added on top of the functional excellence of the service or product.

Many marketers tend to focus on the rational reasons to buy ignoring the softer ideological reasons. But in a mature services market, the basic competency is taken for granted. As the general quality of services rises and the complexity increases, "who" will play a increasingly larger role in customer decision-making.

I can hear some of you thinking "It shouldn't be so. Customers should focus on the track record". Well, possibly. And many decision-makers do. But this mindset is as retro as the old adage "build it and they will come". CEOs have now realized that one must also build a path to one's door. So in the same way I see CEOs of the future being more forthcoming about their values and intent - some of the very successful ones already are. And marketing will need to work on the new discipline of "personality marketing" hitherto the sole territory of pollsters, psephologists and election campaign specialists.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Women's Day: Another Valentine's Day in the making?

The first valentine's card wasn't particularly lovey dovey. It was supposedly a note sent by St Valentine before his execution to his jailer's daughter thanking her for the food she had brought him. We've come a long way since then! Hallmark estimates that over 180 million cards are sold in the US for Feb 14th. The US has a population of around 300 million so that's over 1 card a head! And, valentine's is now getting popular in emerging markets like India too.

Closer home, Akshaya Tritiya, a festival hardly a big deal in the South of India has become closely associated with buying gold coins across India. I still don't know what the festival is about, but thanks to the advertising, even I have a gold coin launched for this happy occasion!

Five years ago, on Women's Day, I'd get a few chain mails from some girlfriends. A few hip male colleagues would send a "Happy Women's Day" e-card. And that was it. Around 3 years ago, the corporates started hopping on the bandwagon - we got flowers. But this year, it is showing symptoms of a full-fledged marketing phenomenon. Most forward-thinking corporates held special dos celebrating their women employees. And there were panel discussions on TV discussing women's issues. The papers had tons of women oriented stories. And a publication, SmartTechie hosted what it touted as the first big women's conference in Bangalore.

Me, I love a soap-box, and I was on the panel. It was good to meet with other women in the industry and share our views and tips with the audience. For many of us it was a focused networking opportunity. For others it was a chance to discuss career and life issues with people they considered role models. And it was the first women's conference I have been to in India with a large and balanced audience.

But why all the hoopla about women just for a day? Very few of the initiatives have a longer term agenda. And some of the issues - like safety, skill upgradation, women's literacy, work-life balance - are ongoing and require changes at the grassroots level.

Given the number of well-packaged initiatives for Women's Day this year, I suspect that it is well on the way to becoming a marketing feeding frenzy for HR recruiters, beauty products marketers, and employers keen to establish their equal opportunity credentials. It shows the power of marketing to cause social change, and introduce new occasions to the festival calendar of a country already choc-a-bloc with them. As a woman I hope it triggers social change and doesn't become yet another token social obligation. As a marketer, I too will probably succumb and hop on this bandwagon.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Is a TV a product or a service?

Did I hear you say duh? Hear me out. Any complex product today has a large service component built into it. So if you buy an iPod, you also hope to be able to use iTunes which is a service. (different matter that iTunes can't be used in India though people buy the product anyways). If you buy a car, you hope that they will do a good job of maintaining it for you, which is again a service. If you buy a credit card, you expect that if you lose it or it gets stolen the card company will ensure you don't get robbed of your money, and will replace the card quickly. And if you buy an apartment, you expect that if the roof leaks it will be taken care of immediately. And, coming back to my original question, if you buy yourself a $4000 TV with all the bells and whistles, you sure expect that if it conks it will be serviced in a day or two.

But today, not many manufacturers are selling their goods on the basis of their superior service. Read any car magazine and while it will drill with agonizingly nerdy detail into features such as torque or mileage, it will spare barely a moment on how long it will take for you to get a servicing appointment, or get a spare part. Similarly, when you buy a TV there is a whole bunch of gobbledygook on the virtues of Plasma vs LCD vs HDTV but nothing on how long it will take the company to replace the PCB when it blows two years down the line. Contrast this with a "pure service" company like say IT or BPO. It has to clearly define its after-sales offering and set up things like Service Level Agreements (SLAs) which determine how long it will take to rectify a bug. Or even hotels - they are up-front about the services they offer - 24-hr concierge, room service, valet parking etc in the same breath they talk about their rooms.

Of course, part of the reason manufacturing firms don't yet think like service firms is because the consumers are not forcing them to. And I am as naive as the next person. When I bought an LG Plasma TV a couple of years ago, we checked out picture quality and features and never thought much about their service lead was truly a surprise to discover that they need constant follow up and can take a week to replace a faulty part. Ditto with our 5 year old GM car - but their authorized service center moved considerably faster and replaced the defective part within 3 days. Faber took just 2 days to replace a defective part. Of course today Annual Maintenance Contracts are available for many products, but even they rarely have time-based SLAs. But wouldn't the industry landscape start looking different if customers demanded SLAs for product services before buying?!

I think that as services become an ever greater part of products, this could happen. And then along with energy ratings and eco-friendly certifications, there will be "customer-service" ratings posted on every product! This is all the more important because products have an ever shorter window of being unique so what matters more is its survival rate in the home. Yes, the replacement rate of products is considerably higher, but this makes it all the more important that a company supports its products through its considerably shorter lifespan, so that customers will continue to upgrade with their brand.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Green is the Colour

That was the name of the first apartment my husband and I owned. It is of course also the name of a Pink Floyd song, and 10 years ago, when you said green, people just expected green paint.

Now, with the eco-movement going mainstream, google green and you get a whole bunch of environmentally friendly products and how you can reduce your carbon footprint. But today, green is still a bit fuzzy. When a company says it is "green" it doesn't always specify whether the organization itself is going green or whether it is enabling others to go green. For example, just because you sell wind turbines or solar heaters you may not be a green company yourself. It is quite possible today for you to produce the goods with fossil fuels and still qualify for a fuzzy green tag. As more people get onto the green bandwagon (solar-powered, of course), this will change and consumers will demand greater clarity.

The other curious thing was that when you google "green marketing" the bulk of the hits are about how you can position yourself as a green company as opposed to turning your marketing department more eco-friendly. That's a rather head-in-sand approach, because we marketers are one of the biggest discretionary consumers of paper around. Designers who will cheerfully airdry their hands in the cause of saving a tree, will insist on a 32-pages of glossy paper for their one-time-use brochure. I love the feel of paper. And I am loathe to give it up. But this year, by pushing e-cards and pricing the traditional greeting cards which used to be handed out free to employees to distribute to their clients we cut our consumption by half from the year before. Should we make that zero next year or leave it to the users to decide?
The issue is that there is so little standardization or a templatized green process in the marketing space. We used recycled paper for the few cards we did print. But the only paper which matched the quality we needed was imported. It was an eco-conundrum - should we use regular paper (and cause some trees to be chopped) or use recycled paper and consume fuel in flying the paper to India? (Since we weren't very good at the math, we consoled ourselves that the plane would have flown anyway so our paper did not add to the carbon emission!!)
But this little episode highlights the challenges of being a green pioneer. Any comments on how marketing can go more green are very welcome.