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
http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/catalyst/2008/03/27/stories/2008032750010100.htm

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 - hcl.in - 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 http://www.museumofhoaxes.com/hoax/aprilfool/ )
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. http://www.siliconindia.com/events/women.html

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.