About the Blog

This is my diary....what I make sense of, around me. You'll find short prose on contemporary topics that interest me. What can you expect - Best adjectives? …. hmm occasionally, tossed around flowery verbs ?…. Nope, haiku-like super-brevity? … I try to. Thanks for dropping by & hope to see you again

June 29, 2009

From Nano to Jaguar: the mindspace paradox

Yesterday when the TATA’s announced bringing the Jaguars & Land Rovers to Indian roads, what struck me was their price tags , the former at a whopping 96 Lakhs! One aspect of Jaguar’s positioning & its pricing has been a novelty by itself, something that Indians are not familiar with. The novelty part being its attempted audaciousness in occupying the Indian consumer mind space, which has largely been so far ill defined for such high luxury products, thanks to our socialist mindset of the past 50 years . The difficulty I was grappling with in my mind was making some sense of the price as a result of this dilemma, where it is hard to figure out how to place a value on something in relative isolation. This is a problem that I often face when doing some window shopping in a high street shop or an upmarket shopping Mall. Is it the Indian ethos that has always been steeped in frugality or the socialist model and its left- of- the- center policies of this country that has firmly put a psychological lid on the mindset for such material luxuries? In my previous article I mentioned about the fact that a whole generation grew up on a steady diet of Fiats & Ambassadors – thanks largely to the Nehruvian -Mahalanobis model where the state decided on the limited choices we made; like we usually wore Binny textiles, drank Campa Cola and drove around in a Premier Padmini. Even watching some dull & drab documentary from I&B ministry in Cinema Halls was mandatory before the actual Movie screening. Even though we traveled a fair distance from that past maybe the hangovers are still there.

The quirkiness of this whole episode is that the same company (i.e, TATA) anchored the Indian mindset to the possibility of a Rs 1 Lakh car very recently. Can the Co , by any stretch of imagination bring about a sense of price relativity (inferring the value of product from the prices of similar offerings)& yet differentiate its offering in the Indian consumer mindset? The answer to that I may get when I get to see the Nano & Jaguar sharing the same showroom space.

June 25, 2009

Fiat’n Caveat

The Fiat grande Punto is visible across Hoardings in Indian cities marking its entry on Indian roads. For someone like me the name Fiat brings in nostalgia, for a generation that grew on a steady diet of Fiats & Ambassadors and nothing much else, it evokes reaction. As a kid I used to always wonder about these ugly country cousins that we were used to owning while one got to see exotic cars only in the dark confines of Cinema Halls shows English films. First look at the Punto reinforces that nostalgic emotion, but with a twist. Here’s a fourth or probably fifth generation car that has all the trappings of premium hatchback but just take a close look at its Front Grill ; it sits on its front visage as some old appendage reminiscent of the car expressions of 1950’s or probably 60’s. Everything else has changed, the aerodynamic body contouring with its smooth edges, bright headlights that wrap around nicely and the rest of the paraphernalia. But the Front Grill, its upper half being prominent, just sits there in the front with a grimace or shall I say dreary look. It almost reminds me one of the smug emoticon on Instant messenger.

Now what baffles me is that the car has been designed by the famous ‘Fiat style centre’ & is a product of its chief designer Giorgetto Giugiaro . Traditionally every Car maker leaves his genetic imprint on his/her finished product. It could be a certain style of designing the body shell especially in the front or back, engine (including its placement), or chassis design (especially that concerning its clearance from the ground) etc. This list also includes front grill that more often than not bears the hallmark of its maker. Car designers , like others of their ilk in the design fraternity have a vocabulary that describes or explain their design. I wonder what Fiat’s designers had to say while designing the grille? Hope they are aware that when another Car maker planned to launch a model in India, they had to give considerable facelift to their front grill after extensive pre-launch consumer surveys & feedback showed that Indian’s dint like a Car with a frowning look. I am not sure whether Fiat’s choices of Grill design was driven by some ambitious plan to breakout from the current clutter and bring out its strong cult like image & following that it had in India of the past. That the car packs a strong emotional punch & ownership desire is in little doubt but this bit of grill trivia makes it doubly interesting.

June 17, 2009

Voila WoM!

Word of Mouth (WoM) has been a very potent tool in the world of Sales & Marketing. I realized that pretty early in my career when I was with IFB in their Marketing head office at Bangalore. It was the Year1994 & Manmohan Singh’s economic miracle was just unfolding on the market forces.

It was my first job in the Pvt Sector & I was enamored by all the lofty thoughts of Marketing I had learned during my MBA days. However this humble WoM made me realize the terra firma of the real Marketing world soon. This Company (then called IFB-Bosch due its collaboration with the German major) was in uncontested Territory but in a relatively small segment of the then washing machine market. But with relatively little or nil advertising & marketing spends, the Company commanded more than two thirds share of the fully automatic washing machine segment.

Those were the days when Videocon’s jingle had overtaken Nirma’s washing powder jingle on popularity charts. And Videocon made fully automatic washing machines, albeit top loading ones. Yet it among others like Onida, Godrej, TVS-Whirlpool etc stood nowhere near IFB in sales terms.

As an apprentice I was assigned to the Customer contact programme (CCP) in the Company & I used to churn out data based on consumer feedback that sounded almost unbelievable to be true. Day after day and months on end CCP forms used to flow to the Marketing head office from IFB branch offices all over the country and fed in a FoxPro Application. These were forms that service technicians used to fill up from IFB Customers at the time of machine Installation by enticing them with a small Co gift (Cuffs’n Collars). And it had one innocuous question that read something like this

Q:You bought an IFB washing machine because

• Newspaper Advertisements
• Dealer recommended strongly
• Product demonstration/Sales appeal
• Neighbour/Relative/Friend recommended
• Others (pls specify)

In what turned out to be majority of the cases (something like 70-75%) customers overwhelmingly bough IFB because of the positive reinforcement due to word of mouth publicity in their relative/friend/colleague circle.

The Company tried, rather unsuccessfully, to carry forward this concept by getting prospective referrals from these customers through the same CCP programme and marketing them directly. It did not succeed because the customer pull it generated was effectively cannibalized by the dealer through undercutting and realizing better price margins to consumer. That the consumer durable market was highly price sensitive and the dealers ravenously undercut each other on product margins helped.

However the fact that WoM helped the Company sell more than its competitors who were bigger brands and had much higher marketing spends in the market stood out. In the process I learnt a thing or two about database marketing from the Marketing Guru ‘A Ramana Rao or ARR as we fondly called him’ who made this concept the cornerstone of Company’s marketing strategy and took the Company to NumerUno position in the market. That crown went undisputed for many many years .

Cut the chase to today & brands have begun to look at measuring the efficacy of this communication & advertising medium in a serious and structured fashion. Consumer voices are now much more amplified by various communication technologies such as Blogs, discussion forums, social networking sites, RSS among others. You have companies like Toyota Motor Corp, J&J, Kellogs, Nike that have embraced WoM big time and helping them with WoM metrics are specialist Cos like Chatthreads Corp, Cymfony, Umbria, Trnd, Buzzador among others.

June 12, 2009

Chetan Bhagat's 5 Point ...& One Night....

My credit card cup was overflowing with points & I had to act fast n encash before the yearly redemption term got lapsed. So among other things I added to my shopping cart this book from Chetan Bhagat - ‘One night at the call centre’. I read his first book ‘5 point someone’ sometime last year and found pretty readable for its archetypal Indian humour of the college variety. It also had the backdrop of IIT campus which added it a touch of cerebral munificence and made up for a silly plot ( found it pretty ‘duh’ by IIT’ian standards -the plot revolves around 4-5 IIT guys who are a bunch of outcasts due to their poor scores. And they come up with an idea to hood wink the system -wonder whether somebody could have the audacity and get away with that in a cerebral system like IIT? ) . Anyway the characters & their interplay made it eminently readable though some characters like that of ‘Venkat’ sounded pretty cliched.

This book (One night at the call centre ) begins well but meanders midway through pretty listless past love sequences of its main characters. As someone who has seen the rough & tumble of a BPO shop floor, I expected a great deal of creative yarn & spin on the machinations of the Industry. Yet found nothing of it, there is this simple western appliances strategic desk which is kinda troubleshooting desk for Home appliances users in US, where a group of Yuppie youngsters deal with dumb oversized US customers(the author bolsters the point with the 35-10 equation meaning a 35 year old American has the same IQ that of a 10 year old Indian. Who discovered that, eh? ) . With a bit of ‘divine' help , they not only get out of their rut but also endeavor to put their lives in order. In the process they muster enough courage to kickass-their-jackass Boss & also help their company keep hundreds of jobs with some imaginative yet fancy plot. All in one night, Bingo!

If you are expecting a cerebral thriller of a “Corporate variety” like Michael Crichton’s Disclosure , Rising sun or Joseph finder’s Power play you will be pretty disappointed.In both the books Chetan Bhagat’s protagonists are the yuppie generation , in 5 point someone they get choked in a rigid and rather old fashioned education system while in One Night... they deal with a disgruntled workplace and messed up personal lives.

June 8, 2009

CDC - A nursery for budding flowers

Playschool has become a much bandied word today, thanks to the gross commercialization in this sector today. So I would prefer to use the word Nursery that we were looking for our 4 year old Toddler about a year back. And nestled in a quiet residential neighborhood of Indiranagar , this nursery (Child Development Centre aka CDC) was an ideal choice for us due to its proximity and good location. The Fees were quite reasonable too compared to other ‘branded playschools' in the area that we found to be in a ‘matter of fact’ speaking ;more hype than substance. Here we met the principal, Mrs.Roye who in a quite frank demeanor set forth about her playschool agenda and emphasized that along with fun & learning her curriculum involved a host of activities that made it more meaningful for the children. We were also gladdened by the fact that this 12 year old nursery belonged to a sister school called Sherman Oaks California with a branch school in New York. The teachers out here had to undergo a mandatory teacher training workshop – early childhood education diploma conducted by the Catholic society of Koramangala, essential for imparting quality preschooling education.

We found the nursery to be quite active throughout the year & engaged the parents quite regularly. It began with a ‘Orientation to parents’ interactive session with Ms.Roye followed by a number of parenting sessions that covered myriad topics like Nutrition (eating problems), clinical psychology, dental issues, meditation, preparation for formal schooling etc. The kids had their fun days on Daughter’s day , Son’s day, Children’s day etc while the grandparents got their day to celebrate with kids in school on 12 December. The teachers played with the children on the Children’s day on 14 Nov (wonder how many formal schools actually do this?) Other activities like outdoor trips, fancy dress parade, Christmas day , Annual sports day meant that the kids had a roaring time throughout the year. Another good practice that the school follows is Parents –Teachers meeting – a one to one meeting to track the child’s progress - done 4 times a year. On the academic side my son picked up writing skills (A-Z) and now has a sizable vocabulary in addition to being fluent in a number of rhymes.In the overall analysis it has been a pretty good beginning for him and he had his first day at a formal school (Baldwins) today.

June 2, 2009

Ba Ba Black Sheep

Ba Ba Black Sheep,Have you any Methane? ...is how the new jingle goes and it seems to be rhyming pretty serious paeans towards Global warming . Climate change through green houses gases emanating all the way down to a sheep’s stomach?  UN believes it is . Livestock like Sheep, Cows, Goats process the grass in their stomach with microbes known as Methanogens and in the process convert Hydrogen to methane. This gets released either through Belching or flatulence. Methane is among the most potent green house gasses and can far outdo the damage caused by CO2 emissions by cars to Climate change. Much ado about all that ‘hot air’ ?  
Maybe not but consider this, some serious threat to Human habitation is looming from the livestock industry. It started with Avian flu among chickens, then mad cow disease among cattle and now Swine Flu among Pigs. Every time it rings a global pandemic and the last one went to level 4. Is it high time to go Vegetarian, just for survival sake?

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