Jessie Paul on Services Marketing For a FlatWorld

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Soft power: Why India needs a Brand Plan

Nye defined soft power as “the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than through coercion.” He also noted that soft power “could be developed through relations with allies, economic assistance, and cultural exchanges.” Joseph Nye spoke about the impact of soft power on a nation’s political strength. And this was also the topic of the TED Talk given by Shashi Tharoor (@shashitharoor) India’s Minister of State for External Affairs.

In his talk Mr Tharoor cites the example of the European racing towards an Indian in a foreign airport pleading “You’re an Indian, can you help me with my laptop?” In my book I talk about how complete strangers in the US now approach me with “You’re an Indian? In IT? You must be smart!” This, when just a decade ago, even Indian-origin in the US cabbies sweetly declined tips from me because they felt I wouldn’t be able to afford it.

The above two examples show the symbiotic relationship between country brand and seller power - when Indian IT started out it was battling a negative country image which it overcame by sheer technical excellence and a dollop of savvy marketing. Now, anything IT from India benefits from the country’s reputation in this space. The TATA Nano did wonders for India’s automotive industry, again by raising the world’s awareness that we possessed engineering excellence.

Undoubtedly soft power helps with political influence, but it also helps with economics. People pay a premium for stuff from countries that they admire or aspire to belong to. The US is of course a leader in soft power - Apple says “designed in California” because across the world this connotes hipness, tech-savviness. American movies are big cultural ambassadors - many of us know a lot about US though movies, serials etc. When we go into a McDonald’s we’re going in for a taste of that culture, not just the food.

You might argue that US is not just a soft power, but also political and economic. True. But what about little (pop. 300,000), bankrupt Iceland? I was recently there for a vacation, and they did a fantastic job of marketing their culture, green credentials - geo-thermal power, green data centers, design excellence and natural attractions. Right from the moment you got on the plane there was a not-so-subtle message of “Iceland isn’t that cold - we just got misnamed. New York in mid-winter is colder!” Right. In a country where at -2C they are still waiting for winter. Whatever. The marketing push appears to be working - Reva has begun marketing its electric car in Iceland and is exploring opening a plant there. Oh, and they have an IT product firm LS Retail that looks like it is doing pretty well in India.

In the Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brands Index (NBI) of 2008, India came in at 26 - one step ahead of China and below Brazil (20) and Russia (21). This is a survey of 20,000+ interviews across 20 countries including India. We didn’t make the top 10 in 2009 either. The release cites improvement in the rankings of US (possibly due to the election of Mr Obama) and China (possibly due to the Olympics).

India, for its wealth of marketing assets, hasn’t really put together a marketing plan. I have a lot of respect for our ministry of external affairs (my father was in the Indian Foreign Service) but I think we are letting Bollywood and private business shape our external perception way too much. They are doing a good job within their limits and commercial ambitions, but it is tactical and not held together by a common theme or plan.

The criteria used by the NBI rankings are:

People: Measures the population's reputation for competence, education, openness and friendliness and other qualities, as well as perceived levels of potential hostility and discrimination.

Governance: Measures public opinion regarding the level of national government competency and fairness and describes individuals' beliefs about each country's government, as well as its perceived commitment to global issues such as democracy, justice, poverty and the environment.

Exports: Determines the public's image of products and services from each country and the extent to which consumers proactively seek or avoid products from each country-of-origin.

Tourism: Captures the level of interest in visiting a country and the draw of natural and man-made tourist attractions.

Culture & Heritage: Reveals global perceptions of each nation's heritage and appreciation for its contemporary culture, including film, music, art, sport and literature.

Investment & Immigration: Determines the power to attract people to live, work or study in each country and reveals how people perceive a country's economic and social situation

Those of you familiar with India can decide for yourselves how we fare along each of these parameters. I think that there is sufficient content here to put together a very decent outreach program. And it must be an outreach program - not just an ad campaign.

Some of the obvious first-steps are:

  • Set up a cultural outreach center like Alliance Francaise, USIS, British Library, Max Mueller in key countries ie our potential trading partners. This will help educate at least those who are interested in our culture, language, and educational opportunities.
  • Either set up a world-class English-language media channel and take it global, or encourage the existing Indian media to do so. CNN, FOX News, Al-Jazeera, CCTV (China), BBC, Voice of America, all do their bit in promoting their country’s point of view to an international audience. This is a good channel for our thought leadership.
  • Create a vibrate online presence to promote India’s interests. This is a modern tool and India, with its technological expertise should be able to leapfrog the others in savviness, relevance and content. We can also tap into our highly-skilled graduate pool to run a great twitter presence and blog.
  • India is seen among certain countries as a source of excellent education. Combine this with our technology brand and use this to push for international students to study in Indian institutes, and also for Indian centers of learning to set up shop outside the country. Currently, neither is easy, but it should be as this fosters the right kind of immigration.
  • While, yes, televised proceedings of Parliament are a PR-disaster, we do have some very articulate, sophisticated politicians. We should get them out in front of the right audience through, well, a GOI Speaker Bureau. The MEA website lists the PM’s visits but just 14 of them. A little known fact is that India’s big IT CEOs spend upwards of 200 days outside the country at meetings and events. Sure, one doesn’t expect the PM to do that, but surely the others can chip in?
  • Lastly, promote India as a Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Events (MICE) destination. This will help bring in prospective business investors as well as tourism.

This isn’t a comprehensive list. I am hoping that if more people raise the need for India’s soft power to be built in a more structured manner the current government, which has very brand savvy folks like S M Krishna and Shashi Tharoor in a position to make a difference, will do something. It could be their lasting contribution to India, one that will outlive them.

(For those interested in knowing more on how country brand can be a marketing lever, there is a chapter on this in my book, No Money Marketing.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Ok, what the heck is Paul Writer Strategic Advisory?!

My belief - reinforced by my recent attendance at TED India - is that India has an amazing amount of innovation. Often the product of a constraint driven economy, we come up with fabulous ideas. But, as per Peter Drucker, innovation is just one face of the coin, with the other being marketing. This is where we sometimes lag - due to a combination of resource constraints, lack of marketing infrastructure, absence of common marketing knowledge. More so in B2B services/hi-tech which is a relatively new space in India.

My book, No Money Marketing, is an attempt to provide common marketing knowledge particularly to those working on challenger brands. Going by initial feedback (and sales) it seems to be helping entrepreneurs and young marketers.

Now the time has come for the next step. After 4 1/2 years in Wipro and over a decade (since 1998!) in IT services, I’ve decided to leave my rather cool job as CMO and try to do more in building India’s infrastructure in the B2B marketing space. Am launching a firm called Paul Writer Strategic Advisory, and broadly, intend to focus on three areas:

  1. Strategic Advisory & Marketing Management: Provide positioning advice, go-to-marketing strategy and marketing program management & execution for challenger firms
  2. Marketing Crashers: Crash courses and collaborative learning opportunities for those who want a marketing primer on topics such as Positioning, Executive Branding, Social Media etc
  3. Networking: Construct a networking platform for B2B marketers

And for those curious about the name, “Writer” was (and still is) a term used to refer to the manager of a tea or coffee estate. A trusted executive and steward of the estate-owner’s wealth, this person was in charge of operations including maintaining accounts, managing the estate, and taking the crops to market. I intend to become the trusted advisor to those who value brands, and thus function as their “Writer”. And there’s a personal connect - my grandfather was a “Writer” around a century ago.

I’ll be with Wipro till Jan 8, when I step off into the great unknown. What I want to do continues to evolve, and feedback is most welcome. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Hard Times: How should marketing evolve?

The current downturn is, according to many, a reset. Things will get better, but the marketplace will not be the same. It is a restructuring and a reset, so marketing has to adapt and evolve too. In this article I discuss four approaches that are likely to be helpful in this new, digital, global economy.

1. Think Flat:

Harness globalisation to treat

the world as your potential marketplace and potential supplier base.

You and your customers are no longer constrained by geography and communication resources; she can be anyone, anywhere and buy from you at any time that she chooses. Similarly, you can be based anywhere and sell


Emerging economies have proved to be resilient, and are likely to exhibit growth in the long term. The current economic situation may provide great opportunities for growth in these new economies for those who are not already present there. Conversely, the current market disruption provides a window of opportunity for firms from developing countries to establish a toe-hold in the lucrative G-7 countries.

This period may also be a good time to re-evaluate whether you are actually doing work where it makes the best sense to be done, and redesign your global value chain accordingly.. Your supply chain can be infinitely innovative and flexible. Instead of rigidly applying off-shore supply or on-shore proposition - why should someone choose your offering and not buy from the competition.

It is very tempting to position an offering as serving many needs, but it is hard to communicate so many benefits on a limited budget. Look for the reason why 80 per cent of your clients choose you, and go with that.

This will change over time as both your product and the business landscape evolve so you must keep revisiting it. But being focused here will simplify your communications and enhance word-of-mouth, referenceability and memorability - all big money-savers.

The client always buys the holistic experience. But the main driver for purchase can vary depending on the customer’s mindframe. Understanding what is the key driver can help you optimize the experience. For example, in the current economic climate, for many buyers, price and ROI become far more important than other factors which they had considered important, such as after-sales service or loyalty points. Building a solution around their key purchase drivers would allow you to minimize cost even while improving customer satisfaction.

2. Think Collaboration

Communicate to all elements of the eco-system, not just your key buyers. Buyers can hear about your offering from different parts of their industry, and some elements (for example media) may have a higher level of influence in their decision-making process, and are often lower cost than other, traditional channels.

Moreover, a service really takes off when it acquires a critical mass of knowledgeable people who are willing to endorse it. Broadening your eco-system and facilitating cross-communication can speed up this process.

Often, there is no cost to contacting the members of an industry eco-system, though you will have to put in the effort to identify them and create relevant, custom communication. But you can save a lot of money by avoiding the mass media required for a direct contact with the buyer.

With the advent of social media, distributed marketing has become an important tool. How can you get customers to become brand ambassadors? Is your entire value chain promoting your company? If customers spot something nice, have you provided a means for them to share it? Customers recommending your firm is the best possible sales channel, and in most cases it is low-cost or free. Enabling it can be a big boost at any time, and during hard times can even be a life-saver.

3. Think Frugal

Constraints can force you to be clever. In general, the easiest way to reach your audience will be the most expensive. That's because someone else is doing the thinking behind creating that opportunity and also bringing in the audience for you. But if you were to create the opportunity then the costs go down.

Here are some suggestions for frugal thinking:

Avoid Waste:

If you have defined your target audience tightly, most mass media vehicles will be too broad for you. But today with some savvy negotiation you can bring down the reach (and thus the costing). This is true not just with the Internet - where tools exist for IP-level targeting - but also in print media. And online, and in social media, you can pay on the basis of results. The old saying of John Wannamaker that “I know one half of my advertising is wasted, I just don’t know which half”, is no longer true.

Be Interesting:

There are many things that we do as part of our business - hiring, training, signing up suppliers, going green, selling, producing, customer service. Make each of these things interesting; seek opportunities to do them differently or uniquely. This can catch the attention of both customers and influencers at a very low cost.

For example, all listed firms have to manage their investor's relations. But, some of them have raised this to an art-from and have been recognized for this through various accolades. Providing food to employees is an old practice - but Google took it to another level of sophistication and used that as a differentiator.

Consciously think about whether what you are doing can win an award or be covered in media, even while serving its functional objective. Be insightful: Thanks to the Internet, information is easily available. What customers and prospects value today is insight. A good way to stand out amongst the clutter is to have a good point of view, and provide insights into the industry.

This will generate word-of-mouth buzz and free publicity, in addition to creating a loyal base of customers. Providing insight is also an excellent way to trigger viral communication - people tend to forward insights to their friends.

Conclusion: Savvy marketing can reduce costs and increase market-share during a downturn. What is important is that firms revisit their marketing strategy and organization structure so as to reap maximum benefits.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Is Marketing the new HR?

I was inspired to write this after a recent Gautam Ghosh post which refers to the possibility of HR being the new marketing. HR folks want to rule the world, of course, but I will concede that there was a bit of logic in the idea. Social media puts employees up front, and as I say in my book No Money Marketing, anything an employee says is way more credible than what the company says. What social media has done is given employees a free, global, soapbox. If the employee is a good communicator, their reach can rival even traditional media - Padmasree Warrior, the CTO of Cisco, has 1,093,430 followers today. Employees and employers should be geared for this “employee-as-newscaster” scenario.

Here are some of the broad trends which I think bring this into high focus:

Old Economy New Economy

Lifetime employment

Lifetime employability

Managed careers

Enabling careers

Faceless corporates

Corporates on Facebook

Feature sales

Experience sales

Top-down marketing

Social media immersion

From an employee perspective, if there is no implicit contract of lifetime employment , then it is in their interest to keep themselves employable by building up their professional image. If you are expected to manage your own career (as opposed to having a paternalistic boss do that for you) then you have to engage in marketing, just like any other product manager.

Ok, that’s for the employee. What’s in it for the corporates? Well, social media, in its current format, is about people interacting with people. It amplifies the good things that employees do, and puts the bad things into extreme magnification too. ( A good post to read is Tom Fishburne’s Corporate Twitter.) The initial reaction

of marketers was to try and enforce a gag order - “thou shalt not tweet”. That was supported by the CTOs’ “thou shalt not access social media within the firewall”. But I think we’re now all pretty convinced that this authoritarian model (a) is not enforceable (b) isn’t benefiting the company.

If a company is able to coach and enable its employees to represent it accurately in the social space, it can reap huge benefits - imagine 100,000 people engaging with potential customers in an unfettered environment! (Direct mailers seems soooo 20th century!) This has to be voluntary - one cannot have people interacting from a script. That may be the starting point but the person has to be equipped to improvise. All good companies say that their strength is their people - and for the good ones, it’s true. What social media does is what the open kitchen does to restaurants - it shows customers how their stuff is really made. Are you ready for it?

Here’s what I think employees can do to spruce up their brands and at the same time help their companies:

  1. Study the company’s published blogging/online policies. If you disagree with them or your company doesn’t yet have a clear policy, work with marketing and legal to get the policy changed. But don’t just ignore these guidelines - that could get you into big trouble.
  2. Find out your organization’s key focus areas. Offering to blog on these might allow you to piggy-back on your company’s established infrastructure, and extend the reach for your content. The company benefits by getting free content.
  3. Set up your Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter accounts. Try to get your vanity url to be consistent across all your online properties. In your profile, clearly state where you work - this will help your online followers understand your perspective on certain issues. Even in your personal capacity, avoid publicly opposing your company’s stand on business issues, unless you are taking it up as a cause/or expose, and are willing to defend it. This is because for your readers the logical question would be “If you’re so opposed to your companies stated vision/values/goals, why do you work there?” Many companies have an established online presence - link to them in your individual capacity, and when possible, help it by forwarding or endorsing content.

What can employers do?

  1. Publish a clear blogging policy
  2. Allow access to social media sites that are deemed appropriate
  3. Create an internal social media channel so that employees can experiment within the safety of the organization before venturing out
  4. Provide mechanisms in the official channel for employees to participate eg provide links to appropriate blogs, retweet good content from employees
  5. Conduct a social media workshop for key employees

And coming back to the title of this blog, no, HR is NOT the new marketing. But marketing might be the new HR!



Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Does David have to grow up?

My book, No Money Marketing, published by Tata McGraw-Hill will be in stores this month. It is mostly about upstart marketing techniques – how a David can leverage the flat world to beat the incumbent Goliaths. It is based largely on my own experience at two of India’s most successful brands – Infosys and Wipro. Both of these have experienced upwards of 30% growth every year to become $5bn IT firms competing with incumbents such as Accenture and IBM. Since we couldn’t have competed like-to-like on advertising, we used other means like analyst relations, PR, events etc to promote our brands.

People have asked me at what point a company stops being an upstart. It’s either when your growth rate slows (and you become a laggard or a niche player) or your now sizeable marketshare makes you a leader. But, and this is important, do you have to stop thinking like an upstart? Actually, yes. Because a company defending marketshare has to act differently from one that is busy grabbing growth. For example, a leader has to erect barriers to protect its turf. An upstart is usually good at tearing down barriers or finding a way around them. So I think that making the strategy transition from upstart to leader is a big inflexion point in the history of a firm, and can determine its future. How to stay hungry but play like the fat cat is an art.

And what about marketing? Does that need to change too? Can’t we just use those great frugal techniques that made us big? There’s this book by Marshall Goldsmith called “What got you here won’t get you there”. That’s about people, but it’s true for brands too. The frugal techniques are as valid as ever, but if you’re a big brand, you probably sell to more people, so you have to do more of whatever you did. And at a certain tipping point you may have to make the transition from one media to another because you need reach. For example, while PR may have been adequate from an awareness perspective on the way up, as a big brand you may have to invest in advertising to ensure adequate reach and frequency. Of course, if you can do it more frugally than your competition, that’s an entry barrier in itself.

I borrowed the cartoon from Tom Fishburne’s post on a similar topic, and thanks to @rahulnambiar for pointing me to this cool blog.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

When does marketing get a seat on the Board?

I’ve often been asked this question. Mostly, of course, by Indian IT services marketers. We eye with envy the elevated status of our FMCG marketing brethren. Things are changing now, with most marketing heads directly reporting to the CEO (unlike the past where they reported to Sales or Finance).

Here are my views of when marketing becomes important enough to get a spot on the Board:

1. When supply outstrips demand.
When the stuff is selling itself, ie demand is greater than supply, marketing isn’t important. What is important is the supply chain and managing delivery in order to fulfill client demand. The role of sales and marketing is ensuring that clients know of your existence and collecting the orders.

2. When the original innovation that the company was founded on starts to age
Peter Drucker famously said that marketing and innovation are the only to functions of the company, with all else being costs. In this case marketing is defined as understanding what the customer wants, and innovation is fulfilling that need. Most companies are founded to fulfill a newly identified need. So for the first few years the CEO/Founder is effectively in charge of marketing (and there’s no space for any other marketer on the board!). Plus the original product/service idea is the key differentiator for the firm. It is only when the need is either outdated or satisfied to saturation that the company needs to identify fresh markets and marketing comes to the fore.

3. When there are at least 3 credible choices for customers.
As the market gets more crowded, marketing’s role shifts from just awareness and communication to differentiation and product management. That’s when it gets closer to the heart of the business.

If you look at the FMCG industry you will see that all of the above conditions hold true. What do you think of my hypothesis? More practioner views are welcome!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Outsourcing Speeds, Standardizes, and Automates Routine Marketing

Outsourcing Center Wipro Voice: A Conversation with Jessie Paul, Chief Marketing Officer and Member, Wipro Council for Industry Research

Best-selling author Daniel Pink told participants at the May Gartner Outsourcing Summit that companies will continue to offshore work that is routine. Jessie Paul, Wipro's Chief Marketing Officer, agrees with the best-selling author of A Whole New Mind and Johnny Bunko. "Anything that buyers can reduce to a template can be done anywhere," she says. Wipro has a staff of 200 who perform routine marketing functions for Wipro clients.

"Don't fire your ad agency," she says. "If you want to build a brilliant ad campaign, marketing BPO is not for you."

Companies that send their creative work to local ad agencies and outsource their routine marketing work to BPO specialists get the best of both worlds, in her opinion. The BPO does work the ad agency isn't keen on doing. But the outsourcer is glad to have it. "We can improve the quality and the results by adding technology," she explains. Of course, marketing outsourcing also saves money.

Read full article at Outsourcing Center

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Is Twitter One Giant Virtual Tupperware Party?

The idea behind a Tupperware party was that you threw a party at your home, invited your friends over, showed them the product, and they bought. They bought partly because they liked you, partly because they owed you for the party, and partly because they liked the product.

If your’re on social media for business purposes, then you too hope that you will make friends through Twitter or Facebook, and then invite them into your parlour (or website) to close sales. Dell raking in $3 million in PC sales over two years ($1 million in the past 6 months) has shown that it is possible to make serious money through Twitter. And just as Mrs Jones raking in the moolah at her Tupperware party inspired all the neighbours to host their own (considerably less successful) parties, corporate marketers are rushing to Twitter to boost their sagging sales.

I predict that in the immediate future, many of these attempts, particularly by B2B companies are unlikely to show significant returns. Here’s why.

1. Twitter requires you to build a relationship with individuals. While it is indeed a broadcast medium, it also has interactive features, which demand immediate, custom responses. The equivalent of the call center or Interactive Voice Response system for customer tweets is yet to reach maturity so you’re going to have to do this on your own.
2. Most marketing departments were not set up or recruited keeping social media in mind. Truly adopting social media will require a huge disruption in the structure of the marketing organization. That’s because unlike media such as TV, Radio, Print, or even Adwords which are capital intensive (ie the more money you have the more successful you were likely to be), social media in its current form is labor-intensive (the more people you have the more personal and sincere can be your activities be online). Most CMOs will have an aha moment when they realize that they can’t actually take their entire budget and just “do a social media blast”. Though it is probably a small fraction of a company’s marketing spend, it will require a much larger percentage of the marketing headcount. That is a leap of faith in the current hard times.
3. Penetration of social media varies widely across geographies. In growth markets like India, despite the hype, numbers are still very low. For India, the analytics site, cites 2.29M unique users per month for Orkut, 6.92M for Facebook, 1.16M for LinkedIn and 963K users for Twitter. LinkedIn had the highest percentage of users (14%) in the higher income bracket, indicating a higher proportion of executive users as opposed to students. Until adoption is more widespread, it is going to be tough extracting real business benefits from these small audiences. (On the flip side it is a great pool for smaller firms who need a lesser number of customers and can afford to target them individually).
4. Among the available media today, Twitter is probably most likely to be the one amenable to doing business. However, today, a lot of people on Twitter are social media aficionados and early adopters. A lot of the stuff being retweeted in my network is about Twitter itself!

So, given all the above, why am I a Twitter-addict? (@jessie_paul apart from Wipro’s corporate presence @wipro) and active on FaceBook and LinkedIn?
1. Social media will be the way forward for marketing. It is the next big thing after the corporate website. I don’t know if any of the current crop will be the final tool of choice, but it’s best to be an early adopter and understand the medium before it goes mass.
2. While conversions are still iffy, it is very practical as a broadcast medium. In some ways corporate tweets are what newsletters used to be till around 5 years ago.
3. Social media gives B2B marketers a chance to be in direct contact with customers. That is very hard to get in any other media, and is worth quite a bit of experimentation to achieve. This one benefit alone would justify the investment in a Twitter handle.
4. It’s fun!

Photocredit: via Flickr

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Tweet No Evil?

I believe that blogs, wiki's, user-generated news sites etc are the way of the future. If the technology exists, someone will find a way to use it. Much like those nasty bombs and tanks.
Recently a hacker allegedly stole corporate internal documents of Twitter from their cloud, and sent them to publications. While TechCrunch has decided to do the right thing and not use all of it, they appear to have indicated that they don't actually see a problem in using the information. The content ranges from executive notes to financial projections to info on job-seekers.
Leaks to media are age-old, but they were usually rather isolated. Print and TV are still governed by old-world broadcasting guidelines, and self-imposed codes of conduct. Moreover, you probably did not want to enter into litigation with big advertisers, unless you were very sure of your data. But in the free world, only your readers matter. And it's a crowded market desperately seeking their eyeballs. So, the dilemma, if you don't print it, someone else who can set up a website for free, can.

This incident highlights that data is often not safe from either a dedicated hacker or a determined low-tech disgruntled employee. Which brings me to the cautionary part of this tale.

I'm a new fan of Twitter. It surprises me that people put so much of their personal information voluntarily into the public space. Search any organization’s name and you will find lonely singles, job-hoppers, frustrated 9-to-5vers. This used to be information that you would typically not share with your mother, let alone your colleagues, but is now being shared with anyone with an internet connection. Is that wise? Perhaps the generation that grows up with this huge amount of information sloshing about will learn to switch off and not let it colour their perceptions of a person or company. But neither socially nor legally are we there yet. So here are some tips on professionally-safe internet usage:
1. Everything you put onto a social site ie Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn can find its way to your present or future boss, spouse or bank manager.
2. Ensure that any public mentions of your employer are in the professional context. For example, don’t post “I’m with BoringCompany looking for a jump to FunCompany.”
3. Assume that any email you send could potentially be shared with a wider audience, unless you explicitly advise the recipient not to. People tend to forward stuff without deleting your cute one-to-one comments.
4. Any mail that is sent to more than 10 people could end up with a much larger circulation despite any requests to keep it confidential. One of the ten is likely to share it with another couple of friends also with a strict injunction to keep it confidential and so on.

Many years ago, when email was still a new phenomenon, a boss advised me never to put anything in writing that you would not like to see on the front page of a newspaper. That advice continues to be valid.

What if a bad apple deliberately violates privacy and confidentiality? Well, the law will of course take its own course, but we, as potential consumers of tainted information, also have to take a stance. Much as the paparazzi only take photographs to feed the public's lust for celeb photos, information has no value with no consumers.

Mahatma Gandhi’s three monkeys got it right – hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil! Or to use the language of social media, Tweet no evil, Read no evil, Retweet no evil!

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Free! Ok, sorry, almost free!

One of the hottest attractions in a trade show is the free popcorn. But it isn’t truly free. You don’t have to pay any money to get it, but you will have to barter something - a few minutes of your attention. Depending on how much 5 minutes is worth to you, the popcorn is either free or expensive.

Memories of that yummy popcorn were triggered not by hunger, but by Malcolm Gladwell’s (author of Blink and Outliers) review of Chris Anderson’s (author of The Long Tail) new book, Free: The Future of a Radical Price. Gladwell’s review starts with pondering what will happen to newspapers and journalists when information is supposed to be free. Well, they were founded on the premise of “news”, being defined as fresh information. When everyone newsworthy or in possession of information can “tweet” their own updates in real-time, clearly there isn’t much value for information. The role performed by newspapers, should then be closer to that of aggregators – bringing together material of interest to a particular target audience and exercising some judgment on its credibility. This is still a very valuable role, so why should it be done for free?

In the 90s, when India liberalized, the Iron Curtain came down in USSR, and China decided to be more market-savvy, over 1 billion people entered the global work-force. This exerted a downward pressure on real wages in many countries – more people vying for the same pie. Something similar is now taking place in the communications industry – so many people on social media like blogs, facebook, twitter, are competing for the same eyeballs that used to earlier be glued to the newspaper and TV. All these mini-broadcasters can afford to do it for free because they make money elsewhere. Given the ever-growing pool of such people, obviously it is going to be extremely hard to make social media a profitable venture. A very,very few people, those who can add either a lot of insight or aggregate really well will be profitable and might be fully employed by this business.

But as Seth Godin points out in his blog people will be willing to pay for souvenirs of news. So you’ll see a lot of these micro-broadcasters making money on speaking tours, books, consulting sessions. (Though, frankly, just because you’re a good blogger doesn’t mean you’re a good speaker or trainer!!)

Anyways, if the content is free, what about the hardware? Here, I agree with Gladwell that even a fraction of a cent adds up to a lot when there are billions of such transactions. Many of us are addicted to blogger, facebook, twitter, youtube and consider them as ubiquitous as the telephone. But phone companies charge and social media ones don’t. At some point the big money that is keeping them going is likely to want payback, and that is going to be the next big disruptor in this space. The monetization may not be in the form of money, but in terms of time. Like the good old booth popcorn.

Since stuff IS free for now, how can you benefit? Here are my fractional cents worth:

1. Think of yourself as a broadcaster. Understand your audience, scout around for stuff that will interest them.
2. Information is cheap. Try to propagate insights too. Otherwise your audience will not be sticky.
3. Look at whether social media is an end in itself or whether you can sell souvenirs.
4. Keep a back-up copy of your valuable content. That way you can switch mediums if the current one moves to a monetization model that you do not like.

My book is titled “No Money Marketing”. It’s about how you can substitute time and intellect for money and build a brand, even against much larger competition. Perhaps that’s the souvenir for this blog!!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Build Sticky Relationships with Stakeholders

In this interview to Alokananda Chakraborty of FE, Jessie Paul, chief marketing officer, Wipro Technologies & Wipro Infotech, discusses the strategies the Indian software industry can formulate to emerge stronger and more profitable when global spending on IT gets back on track. Excerpts below. Full interview
FE: The West associates India with outsourcing. Has that changed or does India still conjure up images of a low-cost back office?
JP: The West may identify India with outsourcing, but the days of India being seen as purely a low-cost destination are gone. Let me give you an anecdote to illustrate this. When I first visited the US, cab drivers would not accept tips from me because they assumed that I was poor because I was from India. Then after the dot-com boom, they assumed I was rich because I was in technology. Now, when I say I am from India, total strangers say, “You must be smart!”
This is because of two things— one, the outsourcing industry has moved into higher value areas such as consulting and business solutions, and two, India is increasingly seen as a profitable market by the global companies.
FE: In your book No Money Marketing, you’ve talked about your experience as a “challenger” marketer. What is your marketing advice for companies that are not leaders in their industries?
JP: To succeed, a company must have a superior value proposition relative to incumbents. It needs to focus on increasing market share and building sticky relationships with clients and other stakeholders. The window of growth available for the upstart to achieve a threshold market share is the time taken by the champion to successfully react to the new business model.
From a marketing strategy perspective, keeping in mind the relatively-low budgets, the best plan is to drive focused communication to potential clients and other elements of the ecosystem. Once a threshold level of revenue is reached, one should communicate aggressively to consolidate position and rapidly acquire market share. The brand levers I recommend for a challenger are price, executive branding, country of origin and sustainability. The channels that are most effective are thought leadership, media relations, awards and online marketing.
FE: But organisations seem to be using new technology to reinforce the old marketing habits...
JP: In old media, companies could buy the attention of the audience. The audience tolerated this interruption because it was subsidising their television or radio, which were expensive channels. The internet, on the other hand, is almost free and subsidies through advertising are not required. So now companies have to be interesting in order to get the attention of their prospects, and that is much, much harder. The newer channels also force immediate and personal responses—for example—CEO blogs cannot be outsourced. This is a big transition for marketers and CEOs, and yes, many will not make the leap.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Advice for domestic techs interested in India's market

My last few posts have been about trade not just between the traditional partners like US, UK, France, Canada, Germany, but about them and the emerging markets like Brazil, India, China. I've also made a couple of trips to Delhi and met with institutions like CII and NASSCOM that further such growth from an India perspective. I also came across others like Organization for International Investment (, a US Think Tank that documents the value added by non-US headquartered firms to the US economy. (They say around 5% of the US workforce is employed by such firms). Great stuff, but I still think there is lots of scope for more forums to promote such trade - a market opportunity, in fact :)

Meantime, I got interviewed by Sean Callahan of US-based B2B magazine on how challenger brands can use new media to enter new markets like India. Here's an excerpt:

ITM: What one thing can a U.S. b-to-b marketer learn from your experience as a marketing executive a Wipro and Infosys?
Paul: You should narrow your target audience because in a recession—or in any time—you know who exactly the buyer is likely to be. To give you an example, we rarely advertise. We don’t need reach. We go to media we think reaches our audience, and we’ll pay for a cover wrap and zone it so it only reaches the audience profile we want.

ITM: In your book, you talk about your experience as a “challenger” marketer. What is your marketing advice for companies that are not leaders in their industries?
Read complete interview.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Is intra-BRICs business the next big thing?

I saw this article in Financial Express today, quoting my classmate, Rakesh Vaidyanathan who now lives in Brazil and promotes trade on the Brazil-India-South Africa axis. It reminded me to put up a piece I'd written earlier (through Rakesh's kind offices) for Gazeta Mercantil. It appeared in Portuguese in the paper ( but I hope they don't mind if I offer the original English version here. I am curious to know if y'all see intra-BRICs trade as something that will considerably increase in the future.

Building Brands, BRIC by BRIC

When I traveled by cabs in California in the late 90s, the Indian and other Asian cabbies would often refuse a tip from me. They said they couldn’t possibly take money from someone who lived in India, and was therefore, by definition, poor. Then, after the dotcom boom when a lot of Indian firms became successful through technology, they said “Are you from India? Do you work in technology? You must be rich!” It’s changed now. They assume anyone from India is involved in IT and by definition intelligent. I’ve even had complete strangers in the US now say “You’re from India? Are you in IT? You must be smart!” The success of Indian IT has transformed India’s country brand in just ten years. It also mirrors the progression of the industry – from cost arbitrage, to disruptive business models, to innovators.

In many ways this shows the progression of the BRIC – Brazil, Russia, India, China. From being seen as laggards just a decade ago, today we are seen as economic growth engines, creating innovative business models that challenge the incumbents. From being just a market for the brands of multinational firms we have started to create world-beating firms ourselves. The global consulting firm BCG publishes the Top 100 Global Challengers from rapidly developing economies. India has 20 companies in that list, including my firm, Wipro. Brazil has 14 companies in that list. Other than the size of these firms, what is notable is the speed of their growth. How have they been able to achieve market salience so fast? How were they able to challenge existing firms on such a low budget?

I marketed products as diverse as tea, soap, mobile phones and magazines in India before I started marketing IT Services to the USA, Europe and Japan for Infosys, iGATE and Wipro. Building global brands for these organizations that have upstaged the existing IT services world order on a relatively frugal budget was possible by adopting the new trends in marketing and communications ahead of the curve. These trends continue to develop and evolve, especially as the revolution in communication and delivery channels make the world flat.

Increased communications, digitization of large parts of work and cheaper transformation have lead to the flattening of the world described by Tom Friedman in his book, “The World is Flat”. By removing intermediaries and bringing down the cost of communication to virtually zero, the flat world is also changing the marketing landscape, and a firm on a tight budget can leverage this. There are many relatively small firms with world-class offerings which can use the economic disruption to outclass the competition. During times of turbulence, larger, established firms can be pre-occupied with survival and maintaining profitability, providing a window of opportunity to others to capture market-share. The make or break determinant will be how well they are able to market themselves.

Each market has its own structure and history, and an understanding of that will help you beat the incumbents in these new markets, even if you are much smaller than them. This has been achieved by the likes of Wipro and Infosys, from the Indian IT industry in North America and Europe, and by Embraer of Brazil and Samsung on a global scale.

It is important for our sustained growth that not only do we create more world-beater firms, but that we also create global brands. Companies can either build global brands organically, or use funds generated through successful domestic operations to acquire them, or use a combination of the two. For example, Indian conglomerate Tata has acquired Corus a steel firm and the automobile firm Jaguar Land-Rover. Both these acquisitions gave it a larger footprint outside India, and also raised global awareness of its brand. Wipro has acquired a number of firms to give it scale in chosen technology areas eg Enabler a Portugal headquartered firm with operations in Portugal and Brazil which has expertise in the Retail industry.

Currently the world is going through economic turmoil and it is a good opportunity for firms with a large cash balance and operations in lesser affected countries to benefit. It is a good opportunity for acquisitions (valuations are low), geographic expansion (rentals and land prices are low), building market awareness (advertising rates are low) and hiring key personnel in potential markets. The investments you make in this market could determine the success of your firm in years to come.

Based on my experience with the Indian IT industry, I have some suggestions on how BRIC countries can build more world-class brands.

Think Flat – harness globalization to treat the world as your potential marketplace and potential supplier base.
You can look beyond your home country to sell your service or product. This allows you to broaden the potential pool of your customers. For example, while Wipro was present in the domestic technology market in India since the ‘80s growth was greatly accelerated when its focus broadened to include the US and Europe. Today Wipro has sales offices in over 50 countries and has a delivery center in Brazil.
It is hard to get a foot-hold in a new country, and if you can identify people familiar with your offering or company and market to them initially, you can build a good reference base. For example, when the Indian IT firms were unknown in the US, they started contacting Indians who worked there, as they would be more familiar with these firms which were well known in India.
The Indian firms also worked together to change the perception of India in international forums like the World Economic Forum, Davos. Consumers do associate country brands with services and products made there and it is important that the country have a reputation that enhances the brand value.

Think Narrow: Sharply define the brand value proposition – why should someone choose your offering and not buy from the competition
It is very tempting to position an offering as serving many needs, but it is hard to communicate so many benefits on a limited budget. Look for the reason why 80% of your clients choose you, and publicize that. Being focused here will simplify your communications and enhance word-of-mouth, referenceability and memorability – all big money and time savers. For example, when they first approached the international market, the Indian IT firms all entered with a single service line. Once they had built a base, they expanded their service offerings and became more broad-based.

Think Collaboration: Communicate to all elements of the eco-system, not just your key buyers.
Buyers can hear about your offering from different parts of their industry, and some elements (for example media) may have a higher level of influence in their decision-making process. Often, there is no cost to contacting the members of an industry eco-system, though you will have to put in the effort to identify them and create relevant, custom communication. But you can save a lot of money by avoiding the mass media required for a direct contact with the buyer.
Once you have built critical mass in that chosen space, you can expand the circle of potential buyers and eventually when you have sufficient money go mass market.
When we enter a market or launch a new offering, we draw a map of all the elements which could influence the buyer and develop a communication plan to address each. For IT services, a sample diagram of an eco-system is:

Think Frugal
Constraints can force you to be clever. We always look for new ways to reach out to customers. Usually when you do something creative it can also be cheaper. For example, we wanted to reach our clients, many of whom travel often. Instead of doing a mass advertising campaign, we placed our messages in airlines, business lounges and airports.

Be interesting: There are many things that we do as part of our business – hiring, training, signing up suppliers, going green, selling, producing, customer service. Make each of these things interesting; seek opportunities to do them differently or uniquely. This will get you lots of media interest which will help you gain awareness.

Be insightful: Thanks to the Internet, information is easily available. What customers and prospects value today is insight. A good way to stand out amongst the clutter is to have a good point of view, and provide insights into the industry. This will generate word-of-mouth buzz and free publicity, in addition to creating a loyal base of customers.

In the years to come I hope that the BRIC countries produce not just global companies, but many more global brands. Today, the Interbrand listing of the top 100 global consumer brands does not have any entries from Brazil or India, as most of the successful multi-national firms from these countries are in the B2B (business-to-business) space. As we become economically more powerful, and have greater consumer clout, I am sure that we will harness our marketing talent to achieve this.

Friday, May 15, 2009

How New Media Can Set Marketing Free

Digital communication channels ie New Media are going to be very significant in the future as internet penetration rises in India. The importance of this new medium is equal to that of radio or television in the previous century. Radio and television made reaching lots of people easy, convenient and cheap. Aligned with newer mass-manufacturing techniques and transportation, this led to the creation of mass consumer brands like soaps, soft-drinks, cigarettes. New media does just the opposite – it allows you to reach a small group of people economically. Coupled with increased digitization and reduced costs of transportation and communication, these media will drive greater customization and exclusivity in products and services.

The really big difference between new media (websites, blogs, facebook, twitter) and old media (television, radio, outdoor) is the cost. New media is often free. There is, of course, a slight catch. Two, in fact. You need to understand these issues in order to benefit from this free-for-use communication channel.

The first catch is that TV and radio broadcasts were expensive, so users tolerated advertising because it subsidized their cost of usage. However, because of the low cost of communication and even hardware, internet usage is very cheap. Since there is no subsidy involved, consumers see ads mostly as a nuisance.

The second catch is that in the past information was a powerful tool to attract audiences. In the pre-digital era, data was hard to find and audiences were grateful to those who provided it in an easy-to-absorb format. So if your communication was informative, audiences would flock to you. Today, we are flooded by information – almost everything you want to know is easily available online. What audiences want now is someone who will help them make sense of it, convert this information to something they can use. Information is cheap, Insight is expensive.

What this means is that if you can make your communication non-intrusive and insightful, you can market your stuff for free! If your target audience has internet access, you must have a new media strategy. If your target audience is unlikely to be on the internet, you may still find that you need a new media strategy to reach out to influencers like media.

New media requires effort to get it right. Here are some constructs that have worked for me in the past, and which you may find useful as you build out your new media strategy.

Adopt a “mall & main-street” approach. Retailers often have their company showrooms on the main street in addition to being present in malls. Similarly, a company needs to have its own corporate website (main street) in addition to being present on aggregators like YouTube. Aggregators give you a chance to attract audiences that are not familiar with you.
Dedicate effort to create insight – tips, trends etc. Not only should you publish these on your website, but also post them on other relevant sites like blogs, industry publications. This will attract audiences to your website, as well as increase your search ratings.
Eliminate human latency. Many web-users want everything instantly. So provide automated tools for them to get all the information they need in a self-service manner. Where possible enable online purchasing, otherwise enable a chat or phone model which allows 24x7 closing of deals.
Be connected and consistent. Ensure that all your new media channels are connected to each other and that the messages are similar

Which new media you should use depends upon your target audience and the time you can spare. Here’s a handy reckoner:

Adapted from No Money Marketing, Jessie Paul, McGraw-Hill India

Once you’ve got the hang of new media, you can communicate direct to your customers and prospects, for free!

Published in the May issue of Management Next. Visit to subscribe and get access to this and other great management articles.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Marketing for the Present

Happy families are all alike, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
—Leo Tolstoy in Anna Karenina

A slowing economy hurts everyone, but the extent varies. Each company is unhappy in its own way. The world is no longer the big flat smiley dreamt of by Tom Friedman, but fast reverting to the lumpy, grumpy, pock-marked soccer ball that it used to be. Though the technology exists to create a flat world, we still aren’t there in terms of the governance, economic and geopolitical systems.

There are various factors that determine the impact of the current economic crunch on a firm. First, how dependent is the firm (or its customers) on credit? Any credit-oriented industry such as construction or automobiles will be more affected than others. Second, how much of the firm’s revenue is derived from countries with high exports? Export-oriented countries such as South Korea and Taiwan are likely to be more affected than India, where exports are just 25% of gross domestic product. Third, which industry is the firm in? According to research by McKinsey, in previous recessions, consumer staples have been among the least affected; consumer discretionary spending on goods such as clothes, home furnishings is the most affected; information technology is usually first-in, manufacturing is often last-out; while energy, utilities, and health care remain relatively unaffected. Contd...
Continue reading this article at to find out how a marketer could respond to the current economic downturn.
PS: Does anyone know if it is ok to publish one's published articles on a blog? From a copyright perspective? Leave me a comment if you do, thanks!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Now that we're connected, buy from me.

“Hi , I want to sell you stuff , tell you how good I am and get connected to people who I don't really know”. This was posted as a joke by one of the members on one my LinkedIn groups. Don’t laugh. It really is what a lot of people on social network sites want to do.

And that probably explains why many people don’t benefit much from trawling these sites. I was reading up on the art of persuasion. I’d always thought that people bought from people they liked, but this research gave me another perspective – you have to like your potential clients. Intuitively, makes sense. We usually like people who like us!

I went through a McKinsey piece “When jobseekers invade Facebook” and another obvious truth leapt out at me – you should enter a social network as a giver, not a taker.

Sounds so much like what mama taught you – when you’re going to someone’s house as a guest, take a long a gift for the hosts. And in India, there’s a whole industry running on “return gifts” at kids birthday parties. So, all we have to do is figure out the online application of these ancient rules of etiquette.

Here are my suggestions – feel free to add yours:

1. Try to build a network of people you like.
2. It is hard for people to maintain a relationship with more than 150 people, so tier your network. You could consider keeping your acquaintances on LinkedIn and promote your friends to Facebook
3. The best time to build your network is when you don’t want anything ie when you’re happily employed or your business is in a steady state. This is also when you will have time to invest in your online presence.
4. Be a giver to your network. Help others find jobs, connect them to useful people, post interesting articles. Remember, do unto others as you would have done unto you.
5. If you feel things are out of control build a walled garden for yourself. Invite only those you really want to have a relationship with into your new secret garden. Facebook allows you to control settings for access, and LinkedIn allows you to form your own group.
6. Don’t assume that online relationships will thrive purely online. There is only so much that a status message can communicate! Phone or meet the ones you like.
7. Use multiple communication channels – Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, blog, website, YouTube so that you have a range of formats. This will also protect you if one of these falls by the wayside.
8. Stay interesting professionally – read up, conduct polls, go for industry events. Your network needs you!
9. Don’t go online – opt out! Use that time to invest in cultivating the few people you really want to know. I love doing business with a furniture store where the owner remembers my birthday without recourse to a birthday book or reminder tool. It’s a successful business but she still finds time to offer a cup of tea to every regular customer when they visit.
10. If despite point #9, you still want to go online, plan on investing half-an-hour a day to make it successful.