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Lessons From The Humble Shaving Alum

Published October 16, 2017 by vishalvkale

I don’t really know why I purchased that shaving alum; I was at a medical store, I just spotted it in the shelf top glass display. I just asked for it on a whim, as in  “dekhein toh sahi” types; and took it home. Started using it, aside from my regular after shave lotion. After a period of time, say a week or so, I began to notice that my after shave lotion doesn’t burn as much; that my skin feels real soft as I run the alum over it, and feels nice and relaxed. I shrugged the thought off – I mean, it was after all, just a piece of alum and I was doing basically a relatively unimportant daily ritual. Not worth doing any brainstorming, or so I thought.


Until that day the alum ran out – what lives must die, the immutable law of nature. Well, I mean – it was just alum, wasn’t it? No big deal. I still had that Lotion, nice perfumy in a decorative bottle, one which cost one hell of a lot {that is what it seems like now}, and one that I was used to. My skin, who happens to be a most independent and self-centered chap, had most definite and other diametrically divergent ideas though. It would have none of it, and revolted. It began to miss the calming soothing caregiving touch of the Alum… and drove me to the medical store again, to buy… the humble Shaving Alum!
Now that set me thinking – about customer demand, what influences demand, the entire customer experience, the product benefits & features, the entire marketable package – and about human behaviour as well.


HUMAN BEHAVIOUR
Let me first look at the human aspect – I was aware that the Alum had many benefits; not just shaving benefits. Yet, I in my Upper Middle Class educated punch drunk stupor, never thought of actually trying it out. Why should this be so? The thought itself did not occur to me. And when it did, I was consciously telling the Pharmacist let me try it out. Why this needless clarification? My ego – and my perceptions, which dictated that Alum was downmarket! I thought myself to be superior, in other words – and that perception had a defined marketing benefit, recognized by most marketers as such. Had I gone along with my perceptive biases – I would have missed on a great experience every morning, and that is too high a price to pay for either ego or choice or perception!
There is another deeper level here – many times, very probably, we do not observe the real good qualities in people, objects and the world around us, as our self-placed perceptive biases do not allow these to permeate to our consciousness. This means that we allow our biases, perceptions, images, thoughts to cloud our realization – leading to incorrect assumptions as well as missing out on some great people, great experiences, and great opportunities. Thus, it is vital that we, each of us – self included, actively make an effort to recognize these perceptive biases that cloud our vision!
These biases and blockages of perception not only prevent us from a richer experience, but they could also be hampering our performance, our relationships, our outreach, our values and beliefs; as Mukul Deva says – my reality is as real as his or her reality {approximation}. We need to see the other reality as well as the hidden aspects – some of which may actually have deep resonance with yourself at an individual level as well – as the Humble Shaving Alum taught me. For example – you may not agree with someone’s views; , or you may have higher achievements… in that case, broaden your vision – move ahead even if he or she doesn’t, look beyond! See the larger perspective of the personality involved in front of you – and spot synergies. Once you do that – hidden benefits will certainly emerge!


MARKETING AND BUSINESS LESSONS
Look at this entire business transaction from a Channel Perspective before we move into theory in the next article: A customer of a premium product has discovered an alternative for a core function of the product – each product has core and additional features. Scent, form, packaging, psychographic & behavioural factors etc are also critical – note that I still use the original product, which I find to be quite excellent by the way. Yet, I cannot but miss that in my opinion, the Alum does a far better task of soothing my skin. This is a direct attack on a core product feature. {Not only that, it is also a big learning-  the power of observation, inquisition, and willingness to learn. But that is another story, for another dedicated article}
How did this happen, arise? I saw the cheaper alternative in a channel display in a premium shop, one which is not a standard solution for such cosmetics, namely a medical shop. You would ordinarily not associate Alum and Lotion as competitors, and yet – at least one customer of Lotion has gone in for Alum. Where is the guarantee that someone else might not, and that scale wont build up? Now this may never happen – the point is that what we can learn from this as managers.
First learning – the power of the channel, displays, good old retail marketing, involvement of the retailer, POP marketing etc. This is the basic and easily visible level. Let us go deeper from here onwards. This anecdotal evidence hides something deeper within its womb – the second learning, which is the dynamics of customer choice, the role of the first semester marketing lesson of early adopters, innovative customers, {There is a small  chance my write-up may cause someone else to buy Alum!} as well as the vital importance of keeping in touch with the market at the bottom levels.
At this second level, the bigger question arises that how do we measure, judge, compare, study these interactions which  take place daily at thousands of retail outlets? Marketing says Marketing Research – which is basis, at the core, a defined sample. That is one method – granted. You have another readily available source-  two of them. One – your own sales teams. Find a method to reach out to these, and identify a method whereby minute-by-minute market feedback can be captured in real time, not on your smartphone gadgets you give to the FOS but through deeper methods at slightly higher levels, that is SO / ASM / RSM levels, wherein you now have the requisite education, experience to be able to summarise these trends into actionable formats. This will improve performance in terms of range choice, channel decisions at RSM level as well! How – stay in touch with my blog as I develop my thoughts further.
Second method – India has a management college in every single district. These students by and large have zero practical experience, and summer placements don’t help. Reach out to these colleges and formulate a methodology whereby students get hands on projects to complete, either paid or unpaid projects – real market research to implement; have it incorporated into the marking system – and use this resource to identify market and consumer trends. This wont cost much, and will be accepted by colleges so long as the project is designed well enough; is devoid of illegal / unethical perceptions, and is sufficiently broad in in core objectives – giving a win-win scenario, allowing colleges to mount original research into trends, creating a pool of talent as well as knowledge.
CONCLUSION
We need to recognize perceptive biases in both our human societal sides as well as our professional sides. Personally, not recognizing common ground in the middle of an argument can lead to losing a valuable relationship – and is thus a win-win scenario. A perceptive bias does not mean you are wrong; it only means that you recognize there are other views as well, right or wrong, and that you cannot force your choice even if it is correct  on the other person. The other person may value Ego, or scent – higher than a functional product core benefit; that is his reality!
Professionally, identifying, recognizing, and sorting out perceptive biases is not something that we should be doing just for self-improvement; it ought to be a vital and constant parameter of self assessment, done in a positive light, so that we may be a better decision maker. Being from Sales, I presented the Sales and Marketing side with a channel example; the point of learning is that we ignore the strongest resource we have in our organisations – our internal teams, which regard Market Data as something to be collated with minimum intelligence and effort. We need to be far more vigorous in ensuring we reach out to and connect with these people. And we need to, most vitally, be inquisitive in every professional endeavor, constantly open to new ideasThis is just one example – how many other areas can we re-look at & introspect so as to eliminate perceptive bias and find new superior ways?
NOTE:

I would like to give credit to Mukul Deva, whose book gave me the final idea that allowed this observation to fall into place, and Debashish Biswas Sir, CEO of SILC, a discussion with whom also gave me deep introspection…

Measuring Performance – An Alternative Systems & Technological Approach

Published April 20, 2017 by vishalvkale

MEASURING PERFORMANCE

Performance and its measurement is, at the best of times, one of the most complex tasks a modern organization can engage in; capturing all the small and big, vital and not-so-vital indices in the “chart” without rubbing too many people the wrong way and without causing heartburn is an impossible task. This is a task at which the best minds in this business have either failed, or had partial success at. Thus, let me at the outset clarify that this article is mindful of the above reality, and the enormity and the impact of the task I am analyzing.

ARE CURRENT SYSTEM ADEQUATE?

However, after a rather deep study and considerable mental mathematics that go along with it, I have come to the conclusion that while the current systems that I have seen are adequate, and do as reasonable a job as it is feasible to do under the given constraints and market realities – there remains tremendous scope for improvement. This scope covers topics that are increasingly relevant to the ever-changing ground reality,  and are now increasingly becoming vital to not just great & continued business performance – but in some cases, the very survival of organisations.

REAL EXAMPLES

I approach this matter from the perspective of my function – Sales, to drive home my points. All examples used herein are real, only names and precise details have been withheld for obvious reasons. First, let me establish a few examples from 2 industries that are critical to the further points being made :
1.  Company 1 had a sales loss of between 50-60% {estimated} in the space of just one year. That same company was saddled with huge inventories of finished products that had to be liquidated. Thus, new product introduction was slow in a market changing at a blinding speed.
2.  Companies 2 & 3 lost the confidence of its entire distribution in several states {5-6 that I am personally aware of}.
3.  Company 4 lost its marketshare by 14% over a period of time, as the two main competitors clicked in the market thanks to a series of successful new product launches, smarter distribution and accounting policies and a robust marketing plan
4.  Company 5 had inventories amounting to several months of finished products
5.  Company 6 came in with a revolutionary Sales Strategy – everyone laughed in the trade- Retail, Distribution, etc. 4 years later, it is a major player without compromising. This same company also had excellent but premium priced products in its portfolio
6.  Companies 1,  5 and 7, 8 and 9 lost their marketshares, which were eroded by huge margins as they failed to anticipate the trend.

MISSED WARNINGS

Look at the above examples; most of the people in the trade would probably put it down to the business cycle; but look again. It so happens, there were enough hints present on the ground in each and every example that should have given Managements a hint that something was changing, and that they need to adapt – and adapt as fast as possible. And yet, in each case, the warning signs were missed. I don’t blame them – the teams were too busy meeting targets, firefighting, ensuring continued market presence in retail and distribution to worry too much regarding overall macro trends, and mid-range threats.
Why should this be so? This is a complicated question to answer- and yet, this is the one question which needs to be answered. Quite a few people in my personal circle were aware of some of the parameters; we do discuss. One person I know very accurately noted the rise of a new competitor and a new trend in the market in one example above; another one – one of my reportees – noted a trend-shift, and bluntly said, what difference does it make? I am not going to worry. If things get hot, I will simply move on. We noted the shift in consumer preferences in another example, which grew into a tidal wave very shortly.

LEAD INDICATORS OF CHANGE

The point I am making is that in each of the above examples, there was knowledge, there were hints available in the staff and in the business partners and the channel that either the strategy is not working – or that the realities are changing. The first hints almost always become evident much before actual change; and yet – in each case, disaster struck as listed in the bullet points above. This clearly represents a straightforward gap in the overall Market Intelligence System of the organisations. Not only that, given that Managers were rewarded, {I myself have been awarded large  variable payouts} – and despite this, the company/s lost big-time. Now that, I respectfully submit – needs an explanation.

IS THE PMS REALLY TO BLAME?

Prima Facie, it would seem that the PMS is to blame. Now what if I make a paradoxical claim – that the PMS was not at strictly fault – and neither was anyone else? And no, it is not an issue of the Business Cycle either. Each cog in the system was doing the Job it was perceived as being designed to do. In such a scenario, you cannot apportion blame to any one function or person. What actually happened is the External Environment changed so much that it put the internal processes that run the organization out of sync with the market and the prevalent trends. The perception that the organizational processes achieved in the eyes of everyone was a direct result of this delicate imbalance : people forget that the market is dynamic; and thus, the processes have to be updated regularly!
Vital data points were not reaching the decision makers; the middle management and junior management was in fire-fighting mode; there was lack of connect between companies and the staff; finances were increasingly strained as it cost more and more to get the same sales and even lessening sales; in some cases it was an issue of survival for employees… this is par for the course when the external environment changes at too rapid a pace – or changes too much. This increases overall system stress, leading to the issues and results pointed out above.

A VICIOUS CYCLE

This created a vicious circle, as employees, instead of changing with the times, had no option but to keep on doing the same tasks in the same way, when the situation demanded a radically different approach. At this point the key question should have been – how to change this behaviour? In at least one firm, this question was asked; but the chosen answers taken were wrong. This again points to insufficiency of data in the system, leading to incorrect assumptions. Instead, the taken strategy paradoxically refurbished cynicism within the ranks, that the old methods are the ones that Management is looking for as the new strategy lacked depth and was not in consonance with the coming market changes on the field!

A POSSIBLE ANSWER

What is the source of the requisite data for decision making within an organization? One is the Market Intelligence Network, and the other is the Performance Measurement System. The first is amorphous in nature, not defined at the first 3-4 levels of the structure, and the second, which gives periodic status reports to Management on the company direction – clearly did not capture the trends, else the damage would obviously not have been so severe and so debilitating. You have to have a method in place to identify, capture and escalate these trends and events that can have serious import.
Unless the relevant market inputs are properly captured within the system & reach the decision levels in any organization in a clear logical format, change cannot happen. This isn’t easy to do; but such changes always have lead indicators, the precise nature of which depend on the industry. Identifying and tracing these lead indicators can generate actionable Market Intelligence. And that is the point on which, using Big Data, Analytics can be successfully used in the Sales Function…  Details in next part…

Its Valentines Day Again!

Published February 13, 2017 by vishalvkale


The Big Day is here again, at least if we are to believe some segments of our population. This day is one shining example of Marketing & of Western Culture and its pull in our society. There are some who may hold that this Big Day is only a marketing tool; then there are those who may hold that this is the perfect example of the pull of the West… maybe, just maybe, both sides are right! What is this Big Day I am talking, or rather, to read the minds of those who avidly follow it – as they will say to this post of mine, jabbering about?  Well, it so happens that I am Jabbering On About VALENTINE’S DAY

THE HISTORY
Just what is this day? What does it signify? And on earth do I have to set aside this day as an expression of love? What makes it so special? Let us look at it, and try and understand. As per website History.com, Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day in the 5th Century!  To quote infoplease website, The holiday’s roots are in the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia, a fertility celebration commemorated annually on February 15. Pope Gelasius I recast this pagan festival as a Christian feast day circa 496, declaring February 14 to be St. Valentine’s Day. And wiki states : It originated as a Western Christian liturgical feast day honoring one or more early saints named Valentinus. In fact, the entire wiki article is a series of events associated with Christianity

When did this become as big as it has in India? I certainly don’t remember it being as big an affair in my school days in the 80s! Wiki helps here : Following the economic liberalisation in the early 1990s, a new middle class emerged who could afford access to foreign TV channels and card shops. Valentine’s Day became popular among this middle class, but not much in the lower economics classes. So, I did a little bit more searching in my hunt for an answer, and found these two rather hard-hitting articles

Lately all of us must have come across those pop-up windows on our screens with roses and hearts drawn all over and a message informing about various ways – deals, to be precise— to express your love on Valentine’s Day. Was the scenario same 10 years back? No it wasn’t. At that time, only teenagers would secretly greet their beloved with a rose, probably stolen from the neighbours’ garden. – . Advertising Age, Feb 12th, 2016. This article details a lot more, but that is not our current concern; either is the size of the market, which, by an article I spotted on retail.franchiseindia.com, is around 22,000 Cr by some estimates – Article dated Feb 12th 2015.

CULTURE
A couple of questions here : Why are we celebrating this at all? I am fine  with setting days for events – if a day can help and be an aid to expressing love, I certainly don’t see it as an issue. But where is the relevance to Indian Culture here? This is far too clearly a purely imported concept, even without the religious background stated above. And if we do want to have a marketing gimmick-based celebration of love, where is the need to go for imported examples? Cant we find real Indian examples of love from our ancient past, and from any number of religions based here?

Why this surprising chase of a western concept with zero relevance to our culture? This has zero basis in fact, or seasons, or our culture, or even our modern history {let alone pre-modern or medieval or ancient history, I am talking of just 15-20 years here!}; this has zero connect with anything, except The West, and Marketing – pure and simple. I stated above I am not against marketing; but why do we Indians need to chase alien culture, when our own culture is full of days and dates that can be excellent substitutes for a celebration of love? Why are we chasing a chimera?

I see everyone and his uncle celebrating an essentially alien festival, alien to our culture at least; wishing etc – now why on earth do you need a day that commemorates something with zero Indian relevance is beyond me! What is sadder still is the fact that some people would not recognize our festivals if they jumped up in front of them, yet go ape over this Valentine’s day! You want to show your love on a day that has no religious connect? Then be informed that Valentine’s day is a Christian Festival. You want to show your love on a day, and you require a day for that – may I suggest your anniversary? Your love’s Birthday? Or any number of other occasions? Why go ape over this non-event?

MARKETING
To marketers, my hearty congratulations on building a completely useless day into something substantial in India; this should be a real live case study in all Management Schools in India. Well done, well done indeed! Now my question to you, all of you : explain to me, a corporate guy like you, why this same cant have been done as successfully for an Indian themed day? We have innumerable days for your choice, religious as well as otherwise! And yet, you forget all of that and chase after a Western day? Is that the best you can do? I have seen your quality in this case study, as well as other awesome case studies that are models of marketing; you have the skills; how about using those skills to good effect and create hype around an Indian Day?

You create a {shudder!} 22,000 Crore market around a totally alien concept; I am pretty sure you can do the same for others as well. Other examples abound : Friendship Day, remember? Unlike other critics, I don’t blame marketers – you cannot create a need, a want; you can only identify and tap into latent demand. If marketers could create demand, well, I need not say anymore than that! Life would be different to all of us.

BUT, and this is a BIG but, if you can identify and tap latent demand for something so alien, so frivolous as this, I am pretty sure you can do the same for other events as well. It is just a question of finding the right trends, and building on them. How about doing something Indian for a change – like the excellent one around Akshay Tritiya? Unless you {we?} as a profession regard Valentine’s Day as Indian, which is frankly a ridiculous idea, given I have no recollection of celebrations on this scale in my childhood – despite this being a Christian Festival, and I being educated in a CONVENT! QED…

References : 

ze: 21.3333px; text-align: justify;”>This is a realisation that came to me hard when I was doing my habitual morning reading of The Shrimad Bhagwad Geeta; my thoughts on my learnings of two verses are tabulated below. 


BE PRACTICAL, MY FRIEND – DON’T CHANGE THE WORLD
Don’t try to change the world… Change Yourself…
The headline of this article says it all; this is the most common rejoinder people get when they try to set an example, with one single refrain – aap duniya nahi badal sakte; be practical, this is the way it is, and many other variations along this theme. Hidden in this lovely gem of a statement, this remarkably ignorant statement is a litany of problems, all of which hover around one single tragic theme in our society today. Some critics of this habit call it apathy, some selfishness, some a lack of confidence while some others blame it on the prevalent atmosphere. 
CHANGE AGENTS
There are two aspects or parameters to this, in my humble view; the first is ideological, and thoroughly idealistic in both its intent and its wording. Simply put – if everyone thinks along these lines, then, ladies and gentlemen, the simple reality is that nothing will ever change in any aspect of human endeavour, be it society or be it science. Change is a constant, and it is the change agents who bring about that change. By discouraging the change agents, you can only delay the change, with all its attendant effects good as well as bad– not cancel the change
In any field of human endeavour, it has been the change agents who have brought about defining change, despite the fact that they were all, without exception, ridiculed and even called fools, to put it bluntly.  There is no change agent I am aware of who did not have to struggle to get the change in place. Even top scientists & famous leaders had to struggle, read their biographies. The choice is between selfish faceless mediocrity, and selfless service! And it is also a fact that only a small number of people from these change agents actually succeed – but isn’t the norm in any field, where success percentage is actually always a small fraction?
But the fact is that, as any biography will readily confirm, the successful change agents build on a series of previous change efforts put in my innumerable nameless and faceless people. That is why it is absolutely essential to continue to swim against the tide in a defined moral and/or scientific direction – you may not succeed, but you and countless others might {will?) become the cause of someone who does manage to succeed. This is true for any field of activity – Science, Trade, Society – any human activity. It takes uncommon courage to go against the tide – and my advise to those who do so is that you are special, a person of raw courage and guts. Never ever give up!
LEADERS
The others aspect is the one of leadership. Now we define leaders as business leaders, political leaders  etc – I am not referring to these. I am referring to any leader, which  includes the above and many more – society leaders, opinion leaders, role-models, teachers, etc. Anyone who leads or influences even one person is a leader. It is a known philosophical as well as scientifically established reality that people try to follow and emulate those whom they see as leaders. I refer you to this verse from our Holy Book, The Shrimad Bhagwad Geeta, Chapter 3 Verses 20 & 21 :
कर्मणैव हि संसिद्धिमास्थिता जनकादय: |
लोकसंग्रहमेवापि सम्पश्यन्कर्तुमर्हसि || 20||
यद्यदाचरति श्रेष्ठस्तत्तदेवेतरो जन: |
यत्प्रमाणं कुरुते लोकस्तदनुवर्तते || 21||
By performing their prescribed duties, King Janak and others attained perfection. You should also perform your work to set an example for the good of the world. Whatever actions great persons perform, common people follow. Whatever standards they set, all the world pursues. Leaders of society thus have a moral responsibility to set lofty examples for inspiring the rest of the population by their words, deeds, and character. When noble leaders are in the forefront, the rest of society naturally gets uplifted in morality, selflessness, and spiritual strength.
I have given in the links below 4-6 commentaries; please go through them. They all talk of the same interpretation, and the role of leaders in forming societal values and norms. And this what the holiest of our Sanaatan Dharmi books tell us, written thousands of years ago. My personal definition of the word leader in the societal context is thought leaders, intellectuals, journalists, writers, filmmakers and actors, political leaders, social leaders etc.
Do we demand these qualities of our leaders – any leader? Do we judge them on such or similar parameters – or do we judge them by their status in terms of power, achievements and wealth? Arent we, as a society, placing a premium on the means of achievement attainment rather than the methods and values? What message are we sending society, what role models are creating? In the modern world, we set store by money earned, goods acquired, power attained – not on the values portrayed…
The least we can do is stop ridiculing the tough hard fighters who are trying to bring about change for the good; no one is asking or forcing you to emulate them. Change, true lasting change, cannot be enforced; it has to be embibed. It is a chain, wherein you add people one-by-one; it is inherently slow in the initial phases until it acquires critical mass.
Even our Scriptures, as also science, says the same; leaders have to show an uncommonly high standard of moral behaviour in any and all aspects. The least we can and should do is not discourage people who have the strength of character to be upright in these trying times. And the most we can do – choose leaders basis moral values, which,  as things stand today, is frankly a tough call…  
Agreed with the world – be practical, my friend. Dont change the world, but then, no one is trying to change the world. But you can and should set a moral behavioural example for the world. Now that is doable, isnt it? 


LINKS:
The Eternal Duties of a Human Beings – Geeta 3/21
Geeta as it is 3-21  
Holy Bhagvad Geeta 3-20/21 

JIO – An Analysis of Prospects and Challenges

Published January 15, 2017 by vishalvkale



JIO – An Analysis of Prospects and Challenges
A common refrain, question, discussion point among at least us Telecom Professionals {those outside Jio at least} centers around what it is doing, what it plans to do, what disruptive impact it will have on services as well as devices and whether it will achieve whatever objectives it has set out for itself. My humble submission here is one simple statement: the key question is not among the points being pondered above; the real question is whether it, or indeed we as a nation, can afford it to fail? Indeed, does Jio have a choice in the matter except do what it is doing?
Before we move into details, just look at the numbers involved: as per Telecomtalk & Economic Times articles dated January the 14th 2017, it has infused 1,71,000 Crore into this venture; another 30,000 Crore is being planned. That brings the investments to 2,01,000 Crore. Its current subscriber base is between 67-73 Million Customers as on date, and is expected to touch 100 Million subscribers as per the news articles above. That means Jio will have to rake in 600 Rupees per month per customer just to recoup this {what I think is} Capex assuming a payback period of 10 years for the same. This does not account for Opex and other expenditure, system ugdrades that will be needed in future…
But, increase this subscriber base to 100 Million, and the required ARPU rough estimate falls drastically to Rs. 434. At 150 Million, this falls even further to a much more realizable and realistic 289 Rupees, which is far nearer to what the current ARPUs are today. Thus, it doesn’t have a choice… and neither do we.
WELCOME COMPETITION
Rather than worry about the disruption – and there has been, & will continue to be, disruption – let us welcome it. It is a harbinger of better services to the customers. Yes – for the industry and the employees, it does mean a very challenging and yet rewarding time; yes – it does involve, pain in the short term, perhaps medium term for the employees into this industry as well as for some companies. But for the customer, the future is exceedingly bright, as this disruption and ensuing competition will not just depress prices {sadly}, but also, hopefully, unlock innovation and development of
DISRUPTION
Disruption is not always bad, though it is always and nearly without exception, painful. It forces industries to introspect, set things in order, cut the wastage and the incorrect steps, and move forward. Added to this is the impetus it gives on giving a better end-customer experience. Let us take the Jio example. I have not used Jio services, but have used others, and on 3 handsets. The experience is very revealing, if you consider from a customer usage experience
I have tested the 4G as well as 3G speeds for the past 2 odd years nearly half-a-dozen cities in Western India as well as on journeys. The average 4G speed I register is around 5mbps, and highest I have ever experienced is 14mbps {once only} and the lowest 4mbps. Now these speeds are 3G speeds or 3.75G speeds; 4G experience should be at least 7-8mbps, ideally or optimally above 10mbps for a superb 4G experience, perhaps higher. Let us not get too specific or technical here.
IMPACT
Now the entry of Jio will cause, or rather force the competitors to invest in upgrading their networks in order that the customer gets a superior experience; they need to do this – as indeed they already are beginning to do. This is the first positive impact of competition induced disruption. Second, it will expose customers to a superior service along with all its advantages, unlock greater uses and scope of usage, open up new usage avenues that the greater speeds will bring,. It will also further develop other nascent markets – like the online video and content space, as an excellent example. As market size increases – as seen above – prices crash, further creating new market space…
ONWARD HO!
This brings us to the core ground reality+: currently, 4G phones are available starting around 4K; how many customers can afford that range, given our per capita income? How do you pull in new customers? You have to give a value offering; thus – the focus on a 4G experience at cheaper rates of devices. This will open new markets, as well as improve viability for Jio.
THE COMPETITION
In one word – it has no choice either. Both in services and in devices, there is a felt need for new innovative thinking in terms of a variety of areas. Companies, though currently hamstrung due to earnings issues, will need to find the space and the capital to innovate and improve their offerings. Fact of the matter is neither wing of this industry is making bushels of money – services or devices. And I order to maximize stakeholder values, they need to solve this conundrum – Jio or no Jio… namely, how to get more customers into the 4G fold….

    


The Brand And The Channel – 2 : A Deeper Look At The Role Of The Channel

Published June 4, 2016 by vishalvkale




How does one create a Brand? Traditional Brand Management looks at concepts like the marketing mix, brand loyalty, awareness, personality, equity, positioning, attributes etc; all these and more are admittedly  core concepts with a range of practical ramifications and uses. The difficulty I have as a marketer in relating to these is due to the excessive focus on one element in the mix : promotion, and specifically advertising.
No Marketer can deny advertising its rightful place; it is through the medium of advertising that company products reach the consumer, and make the consumer aware of the same; it also helps build loyalty, creates differential & preferential demand, builds strong associations and all the rest of it; that is pretty much beyond argument. But the problem is that, in tandem with these steps, a host of other steps are needed to provide the base from which promotion can build. Further, these other steps provide the superstructure as well as stability.
Price and Product are most often considered in this set of “other steps”; what is left out are the organisation policy framework, culture, and… Place. The distribution network and its role gets most often ignored. I shall deal with the first two at a later date; this article builds on the previous article on Brand Creation, { Crafting A Great Brand : The Channel Perspective : Crafting A Great Brand : The Channel Perspective}
 I observed in the conclusion of the above article, “in my career so far, despite having covered in excess of 2000 retail points at a minimum, I can’t really say what really makes products move from the shelves. All I have experienced is that “Brand ” is only one among a set of factors, which I may pen in the due fullness of time and experience… that is, to me – the final frontier of Sales and Marketing” The question that jumps to my mind is simply this : Why is it that in over 16 years and more than 2000 retail visits, have  few customers come demanding a specific brand choice across Telecom, Durables, FMCG in my observation?     
Rather than compartmentalise this into the regular constructs of marketing mentioned above, it seems to me that we should look at this in an entirely different light : the relevance of the customer’s experience with the company as a whole : Brand, Physical Product, Customer Touchpoints, Communication, Usage Experience, Employee behaviour and Ethical Conduct, Process Orientation as well as the Channel and its approach. The customer runs into these aspects on a regular basis, and forms an opinion of the company and its products basis a series of interactions; the sum total of these interactions is what determines the customer response to the company offering, and a continued relationship.
This is a divergent approach from traditional marketing, which does not give as much weightage to these aspects, leading to dissonance in the customer’s mindset towards the company. There do exist companies that have bridged this, and built a solid rapport with its customers spanning several industries – but they are few in number. Not all the points above will be equally relevant for all products; for example, high-involvement products typically will be impacted by most, whereas low-involvement products will be influenced more by the Channel than the other aspects, although they will still hold relevance.
When a customer enters a channel location, it is the first face-to-face direct contact with the company; and what the channel says in Verbal and Non-Verbal  communication / interaction to / with the customer is a significant influencing factor; this is further strengthened by a comparison of the actual product or offering vis-a-vis what the customer has been exposed to through Advertising and Brand Building. When I enter a store to purchase a Shirt, or a Mobile Phone, or even a bar of soap – I have a clear set of product attributes in mind – in my observation, few customers have a Brand-Centric demand.
It is usually a case of having a consideration set of Brands to choose from. Thus far, we are in established Brand Management theory; what happens next is the key. The further ongoing interactions of the customer with the organisation in the purchase process, usage, and re-purchase is the single most-ignored aspect of Marketing in the modern world in my experience. The first three Ps can only bring a customer to the store, but beyond that, lies an entirely different and little-understood world, both in theory {that I am aware of, at least} as well as in practice.
The impact of unfriendly  channel policies, lax claim settlement etc are all well understood by most experienced sales personnel; these have the power to wash out sales from entire regions literally overnight. What is lesser understood is what makes the channel recommend one product over another, given equality in the basics mentioned above. If you have everything in place, it does not necessarily mean that you have all bricks in place. Everything that happens right from the first interaction to repeat purchase in an ongoing cycle is the Brand’s core business.
The normal course of interaction in my experience leaves this most vital phase of the purchase process with zero or near-zero control or even influence of the organisation. At the most, as I have observed by and large, the focus of attention becomes After Sales Service; that, though vital, is only one aspect in a rather longish list. The modal response usually hovers around the statement that the rest is not in the control of the teams. But is that really the case? And more to the point, what are the other aspects that influence the customer decision while in the channel location? And, how does the Brand building aspect enter into it? This is the topic of the next part in this series…

Crafting A Great Brand : The Channel Perspective

Published May 1, 2016 by vishalvkale

One of the most neglected and underestimated aspects of Brand Building remains the contribution and role of the 3rd “P” of the marketing mix : Place. The other 3 Ps have been looked at threadbare in any number of excellent case studies, books, researches, in both India as well as the rest of the World. But, on this, the   third “P”, a few selective articles, case studies apart – I have not read anything in my reading so far. Funnily, this is at complete variance with my own on-ground experience in Sales for 16 years.
The question is and remains, how to go about building a great brand? Sure, you need a great product that fulfils a defined need from a set of prospective customers; it should be at a price-point acceptable to the customer-set {segment in Marketing Jargon}; this price point should not reduce the allure of the brand; and it should be backed by a strong marketing programme spanning Advertising and Sales Promotion activities – this is what most pundits will expound.
The question that occurs to me is this : you can have an optimal product-range, backed by a pricing that is in keeping with market needs and realities; with a strong marketing programme. All of this is also executed to near-perfection. Does this ensure success in the marketplace? The answer, basis long years of observation and work experience in sales across diverse industries and geographies is a clear and resounding no. In fact, the answer is very nearly an emphatic “almost never”.
All of the above is of no use if you cannot place your product in the right channel; please note : not just channel, but the right channel. Basis experience, I am only too painfully aware that a strong brand with a top-of-mind recall and strong associations etc {all the Jargon here} is not necessarily the sole, or primary consideration factor in the mind of the channel. Sure you will get placement – that is a guarantee almost. But placement does not mean tertiary sales.
What moves and how it moves from the retail shelves remains one of the least studied aspects of Marketing in contemporary Marketing Theory; again, basis experience, the power of the Brand is but one factor among several. And the list contains several items that prove to be googlies for even top brands, as many a brand have found out. Despite this, it is surprising that contemporary theorists in the field of Brand Building and Marketing pay no attention whatsoever to this vital aspect.
An example from my personal experience. In a state I was once heading, the leading brand {it was leading, still is among the top-2, frequently no. 1} just disappeared from shelves smack in the peak season : vanished,  like vanishing cream. The  reason was widespread dissatisfaction among the retail towards the online strategy, pricing and product availability of that company.  Where is the power of the brand here, and all those lovely associations and recalls? Nothing could work, as the channel united as one, leading to mayhem in peak season.
Another example : a product was washed out from 4 states in the space of a few months, due to massive claim pendency at the distributor level. Third example : I once asked my distributor, you sell xty-x of my products, and yty-y of my competition {y being much larger than x, obviously} – while our product range is not that much outclassed. His response contained one little gem, among the other points raised : I will, in front of you, give you an order of one truckload, and the competition an order of two units. Stay here and see who delivers first. The competition delivered within hours, I wasn’t able to even in 2 days. This leads to better profitability at the channel level, translating to increased penetration and marketshare.
There can be other examples – inability to penetrate markets and shelves due to legacy issues, relationship problems etc; lack of the right logistical base that ensures proper service and replenishment right till the smallest shop shelves; speed of roll-out etc. The point I am trying to make is that the Channel remains the only place where the customer comes into contact with the company offering, and the complete absence of appreciation beyond the clichéd POP and Sales Promotional activities belies the vital importance of the Channel.
You can always state that each of the above are one-offs; and you would be right. Problem is that I have seen these one-offs happening repeatedly, again and again – so much so that they aren’t really one-offs. The repeated happenings that I have seen in my career is leading me to question the basic premise of Marketing : the importance given to the various elements in the mix. It is also leading me to a basic theory basis my personal experience
Crafting a successful brand isn’t the  responsibility of just the Marketing Team, or the Brand Management Team alone : it isn’t their sole deliverable. The success of a company, of a brand – is the responsibility of the entire company, of every employee, and not just in customer-facing functions alone. This has been said before by pundits; my base point in the article is far beyond this; and focuses on the channel functions at the core.
Crafting a market victory requires a deep understanding the dynamics of the physical marketplace, and and in-depth understanding of the micro-level functions and realities. Let me give an example – a brand once came in with a revolutionary premise : MOP or market operating price,  strictly enforced. This is an ultra competitive market. We all laughed and ridiculed, yes  – including oh-so-smart yours truly. Two years later, this brand has shaken the foundations of the market with its surprising results; it may not be the market topper – but its rapid growth has stunned everyone.
There were other reasons – the right product at the right price etc. But that fact that the company keyed into the eroding profitability in retail, and the mayhem that price competition was causing in that industry gave it a small, tiny space in the marketplace for it to exploit. Initially, it was hard going but, eventually, the market began to accept. It is still early days, but the strategy belies a deep understanding of market realities.
They were also very innovative in customer contact at the retail points, with product dummies and trials in every point almost; massive visibility etc – the works. But this was carried out across the board, and with flawless execution. That is the next point I need to make- that the execution brilliance has to be uncompromising with a uniform experience across all customer contact points for a truly great brand to be crafted.
What does it take for a great brand to be crafted? Apart from all the points of the mix and its comparative importance of each component – flawless execution of strategy, and a uniform customer experience across all touchpoints. Having seen this in 3 industries, I can theorise that this is not industry-specific. This, combined with the other points – supply chain efficiency, deep understanding of channel functions, wants and ambitions, accounts transparency etc, are all prerequisites.
That is why I have a fundamental disconnect with most Marketing Theory around Brands : the exclusive focus on one {or two} selective item from the mix, which is completely absent from the real world I have seen and experienced. It takes much, much more than that to craft a truly great brand; Branding should encompass the entire gamut of activities required from production right till the after sales service. Every component plays a vital part in the brand story. And trust me – most top brand are clued into this…

That said – let me reiterate, in my career so far, despite having covered in excess of 2000 retail points at a minimum, I cant really say what really makes products move from the shelves. All I have experienced is that “Brand ” is only one among a set of factors, which I may pen in the due fullness of time and experience… that is, to me – the final frontier of Sales and Marketing : decoding the retail in the new and changed market dynamic and reality of connectivity and seamless inregration wrought by technology… this is the subject of the next article, whenever I manage to get around to it…

Book Review : Storm The Norm – 20 Brands That Did It Best

Published April 10, 2016 by vishalvkale

STORM THE NORM

UNTOLD STORIES OF 20 BRANDS THAT DID IT BEST

By Anisha Motwani

BACKGROUND TO THE REVIEW

Image result for storm the norm reviewThis book is yet another milestone in Indian writing on our internal marketing and business success stories; for way too long we have been fed Western success stories in our marketing books and cases, virtually 100% of which have little direct applicability in India and consequently learnings from them. There is precious little literature on our own stories, of which we have examples aplenty. The complete lack of quality research on and writing on Indian cases is a major lacuna we face; one that is now being slowly bridged.

I recall reading only 3 books so far – one a book on Positioning giving Indian case studies, another a more recent book by Anuradha Goyal on Ecommerce companies, and this – the third one. And sadly, not one of these is available on book stores prominently; while I can spot an entire series of books by Western authors, Harvard and what not; as I mentioned in my review on HBR Case Studies book on Decisions, I can understand the concepts; but the setting is totally alien and inapplicable to the business atmosphere in India, rendering the much-vaunted HBR useless to me as a practicing business manager in the Indian Economy.



ABOUT THE BOOK

This book takes out 20 case studies from contemporary India – making it a treasure trove for all Business Managers. These are companies we have worked in, producing products we have purchased in a socio-cultural atmosphere we are comfortable in, and in a geography we understand. The chosen case studies are basis brands that have challenged norms, redefined markets or created new ones, brands which have been transformational in their impact and approach; all in all – brands which have done things out of the ordinary.


These brands can be categorised into 3 – Legacy businesses {Cadbury, Kissan, Raymond, Saffola, MTR, TOI}, Entrepreneurial {PVR, Makemytrip, Mirchi, Real} and Challengers {Tata Tea, Sprite, Axis Bank, Cheetah, Kurkure, Honda, Sensodyne, Idea, Ford Ecosport, Fiama Di Wills}. Challenger category represents brands which came from behind and launched an attack on the market leader/s; Legacy represents stories of old & established companies that have constantly reinvented and reinvigorated themselves to maintain contemporary relevance –and Entrepreneurial, representing brands that created new categories, and start-ups which defined a clear space for themselves in in emerging markets and product lines.

It is this varied approach, which attempts to cover most types of business challenges a brand can face in the market, that is the best part of the book. It also makes for a riveting read, as you are treated to an entirely different market, business environment and reality every few pages, breaking the monotony. It also gives deep learnings and fascinating insights for industry specialists like self, as it gives a peek into processes, best practices from other industries, which is a vital aspect.

I would not like to make any comment on the choice of brands; we are such a large and diverse market that a different author would like as not find 20 other cases as well; what matters is we are seeing a write-up on a wide spectrum of business cases cutting across industries – and this may just be a first. Earlier books I have read have been pretty much industry-specific. There is a crying need for more such quality research – I hope and wish Management Institutes and Top Professionals are reading this, and will in future place before us more such quality output.

THE REVIEW

All in all, rated 4.5 stars out of 5; it was a tough call – 4 stars or 5; and, as befits a man who has studied Decision Making in detail, I simply used elementary statistics to arrive at this scholarly evaluation. 5 stars for the reasons mentioned above, and 4 stars {minus one} for one case study that I found to be inaccurate both as an professional as well as a person, for reasons I shall withhold; as well as due to undue focus on what I perceived to be Urban Indian Case studies. Be that as it may, the remains that this book is one of the best I have read for practicing managers and educationists alike, unlike all those HBR Books which I found to be impractical and  theoretical in the extreme.

The approach that I liked the best was getting the companies that actually did the tasks to write about how they did it within a framework developed by the author and her team; while this approach may have it downsides, it does bring an interval view, a cockpit view to the entire matter, and gives a realistic vision and exposure to thought processes, analysis of business realities, and how they planned it out, what decisions and risks they took. This obviously comprises valuable insights; what I would have loved , and what would have elevated this book to the level of 5 stars overcoming all other objections is if each case had an external expert analysis as well, giving a complete view to the professional. I especially felt the need for more numbers, and industry analysis to be present. But what is there is way more than enough, that is also a truism.

The learnings one can glean from these cases are diverse, and stretch across the fabled 4 Ps of marketing, giving a full insight to the thinking reader, as well as the practicing manager. The impact of each decision, the way it was taken, the approach taken in each case and the focus of the leaders on the various elements are covered in detail, which is valuable. In reading all, one gets a deep insight from the level of importance and emphasis placed on each component “P” by each company. Given that they are from diverse industries, it becomes a valuable learning when in the process of reading each case, you attempt to place the decisions and the marketing mix in the context of the industry it is from; this is what actually furthers your own personal growth, imho.

The book is a fast read, written in easy simple language and thankfully devoid of any jargon. It covers a diverse set of industries and Sectors – FMCG, Auto, Banking, Ecommerce, Services, Telecom, Media, Entertainment. What I felt lacking was that a couple of cases exclusively focussed on rural India could have been used; having rural sales experience, I am aware that what is applicable in our cities is not applicable in the interiors in many, many cases. Then, I also realise that it is not feasible for one book to do all –  and given the relative paucity of such material, this is a really class book, all things considered…