Tuesday, August 26, 2008

China halts even the Rains

China halts even the Rains

Experts agree that the recently concluded Beijing Olympics was one of the spectacular and finest Olympics ever conducted. China had poured in billions of dollars for the different events by building world class stadiums ,sports arenas and also for the opening and closing ceremonies

But what lies unknown is the fact , China had actually taken the next giant leap in achieving the impossible - To control the nature !

Rains and thunderstorms had threatened the closing ceremony in the Beijing Olympics.Yet ,China remained unflustered by it , and went ahead in firing rain dispersal rockets from the ground and huge planes to cover a large area
Around 241 rocket shells were fired in nine rounds from Beijin,Tianjin and Hebei to disperse the rain clouds ,
It is also believed that around 1000 rain dispersal rockets were fired for the opening ceremony

It just goes to show the advancement of technology and the power man has gained in these centuries , and a force that makes nature fear him

The concept of weather and climate control by man , as discussed in novels like Are you Afraid of the Dark by Sidney Sheldon and State of Fear by Michael Crichton
are almost becoming a reality .

If man conquering the moon was the first giant leap, then in my view controlling the nature comes a close second !

Next is what ?

Friday, August 22, 2008

IPhone : Too expensive for a Laggard market

The IPhone has arrived in a grandeur style in India with a hefty price tag of 30 k and 36 k for the two variants

The customer base in India , is basically dominant in the Late Majority and Laggards segment. The percentage of the Early Adopters and Innovators is a tiny one , and doesn't stand any comparison with the norms in UK,US & China.

( The Innovators are those who purchase the product at the beginning of the life cycle. They are not afraid of trying new products that suit their lifestyle.
Early adopters are those who are usually opinion leaders and naturally adopt products after the innovators )

The long queue of people waiting the entire night in US,UK to grab a copy of the IPhone (initially priced at $399 and $499) was clearly missing in India.
Reports suggest not more than a handful of people waited to grab the first set of phones .

Was it because of the innumerable "missing features" ?
The compatibility ,operator or operation issues ? No

There was only one obvious reason : The IPhone was way too expensive, even to those Innovators , who usually doesnt mind paying a price premium on products . The IPhone has joined in the list of yet another set of brilliantly designed products that failed because of the price tag.

[The Ford Fusion is a prime example and tops the above list. A wonderful car , perfect for the Indian roads, bombed in the market when people found out it was simply too expensive for 6 Lakhs]

Irrespective of its sleek design , 3 G,Gps,music player,touch screen etc, IPhone still faces a major threat from existing players like Nokia ,Sony and Samsung who offers more advanced features for just Rs.20000

Apple must have realised from their huge mistake of slashing the phone's prices by more than $ 100-150 after the first week, instantly causing irreparable damage of lost trust and faith from its early adopters.The people who stood all night along to buy the phone felt cheated at the price reduction ,though Apple gave them back talktime vouchers for the equal amount.The day is not quite far for Apple to make the same mistake here.

After talking to several people who already own the IPhone (bought from the US) ,a typical reply is "I can tell u 10 reasons why you should buy the phone. But I can also tell u 20 reasons why you shouldnt buy the IPhone

It's also quite clear that the phone is completely suited for the Indian scenario.
Peope can download songs only through the ITunes software (ur usual cut and paste stuff for normal multimedia phones doesnt work here )

A common pasttime for all Indian cell users is forwarding messages.
The innumerable "send this message to 10 people" sms's throughout the night is not possible in an IPhone.

You cannot share your pics with others through bluetooth

The phone comes only with a Vodafone or Airtel connection

Only Apple can change the battery

You drop it once and its gone ! Dead !

and the list goes on

Will you buy it ??

Monday, August 18, 2008

Design & Packaging :"Squeezing the right way ahead"

Design & Packaging :"Squeezing the right way ahead"

The key success for most brands has come from their way of identifying the customer needs and more importantly the their level of understanding and cognizance of the way their product is being used (not even considering the scenario of whether being used in the intended way)

History points out to several thousands of brilliant innovative products that is now down in the dumps, because the brands failed to understand how it was actually perceived or people find it complex enough to understand how to actually use it ,that they opt in for a simpler product.

A sparkling idea , from, HUL, the FMCG giants (once in a blue moon they do come up with smart ideas, believe me!) has questioned the entire long history of the way “Jams” were being packaged, designed and marketed .

After decades of research, Kisan Jam (a market leader in the “Jam” category in India), another radiant brand in the HUL portfolio, has realized that children, the main target segment for jams, are finding it difficult to take the jam out of the wide yet narrow necked bottle. Most of the spoons in the household do not go into the bottle and knives have to be used to take a scoop of jam. Obviously knives are a dangerous product to be used by small kids. Added to that ,the bottles are expensive, and is of no use to the customer after its finished.

Kisan Jams has now introduced the latest “Jam Squeeze”, where the product is packaged in the form of a tube, where all one needs to do is to squeeze the jam onto the plate or directly in the bread.
(They also have tied up with Disney to print several cartoon characters in the tubes to target young kids)
Simple, yet brilliant isn’t it?
Another prime example is Microsoft Vista. Microsoft spends thousands of dollars in understand the way users browse the interface and perform several operations. One thing, they largely found was Windows XP users found it difficult in searching for files in their computer using the find files option. Either it took a lot of time to search or it was complicated and most of the time the search returned with no results. People then migrated and installed the Google Desktop software which basically indexed the entire system, and with a press of few letters, all related files corresponding to the letters were displayed.

Vista, was immediately incorporated with an Indexing service in their start menu itself, that saved several minutes for users trying to find their old files
Another important change in Vista was their packaging. Windows XP earlier was released as a professional and Home edition.(99 % of the users ended up using the professional version only)

Vista is now packaged and sold in several variants such as Home Basic, Home Premium, Ultimate and Business. Their user segment clearly identified, targeted and positioned.Any advanced user might actually realize all these are the same. The only difference between a Premium and a Business is that in Premium, you get to play those small games like Chess, Pinball etc and while in a business you can’t.
But if one actually probes through the settings, one can find the same features in the Add Windows Components in the Control Panel. Be it a Fax Service in Vista Premium or a chess game in Vista Business, the customization is always available.
Yet people have a completely different perception for each of these variants.

My proposition is that, brands do not need to change their product altogether, if their sales or growth comes down. All they need to do is to identify the actually product usage method, change their packaging accordingly in a way that is easy to use, visually appealing and effective of all

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Big Bazaar, Waking Life, & The Secret

I guess people are wondering what on earth the blog title meant. Well for starters, it’s an attempt to link three interesting phenomenon I encountered in the past few days.

The first thing was a trip to Big Bazaar in Pondy Bazaar (Chennai, India) , a big ,fat and an ugly store that seriously stirs up a strong thought inside me and reconsiders the pathetic state of organized retailing in India

The second thing is about two people, who had expressed an almost similar thought in their blogs at the same time I had planned to write on an analogous idea.
The third one is the connector. A common philosophy and a strange event that happens in one’s life, being described in two movies:

The Waking Life: A brilliant thought provoking movie on dreams and reality. One of the things the movie talked about was, when people from different parts of the world, totally unrelated to each other, come up with the same inventions or a comparable idea at the same time. It makes one wonder, whether there is a thought process that travels across the world into minds, and strikes up a corresponding design

The Secret: Not really delving into the “secret” of the Secret, this one is an interesting point made by the author. When you are thinking about someone, say an old friend, the next moment they either see you somewhere or call you. Likewise, when you randomly think about a particular idea or subject, you suddenly get to read about it in the paper or TV or a website .A similar thought flow in place in the system of the world.

The Big Bazaar visit: A couple of days after opening of its new store in Pondy Bazaar, I visited the store with a mix of anticipation .It happened to be a damp squib after all. Here is why:
  • A five story massive retail store with a parking space for two cars?
  • A chaotic baggage counter handled by one person, with 50 people handing off their baggage at the same time
  • A discount sale, where most of the products are faded or defective or broken. Shoes that have worn out, or jeans that was manufactured two years back
  • A grocery/household division floor with no trolleys or carry bags near the entrance.
  • Not a single employee seen helping out any customer .They were busy cleaning the shelves
  • Employee at the “TEA” section doesn’t know that there is a product called Black Tea being sold in their store. In fact I pointed out to her to three different brands of black tea sold in their store
  • Some of the eatables and ready to cook items being sold even after expiry (A Kitchens of India readymade product had a manufacturing date of June 2007 and an expiry date of June 2008)
  • A product having a price sticker of Rs.299 being billed as Rs.399. Upon enquiring they say, maybe the sticker is wrong.
  • Not accepting Sodexho passes which are meant for a retail store only.
And the list goes on.

Yet, people come in by the thousands daily, Irrespective of the quality of products being sold, irrespective of a lack of professional order to run the operations, irrespective of the lack of knowledge in the employees, people do awe at these big stores and come for the “Everyday low price “factor.

As evident from the fact that, there is a queue of people jus waiting to entering the store, on a weekend, as if they were dying to buy the newly released Apple IPhone

Do we call them ignorant, or do we begin to understand that retailing in India attaining to this level is itself a big achievement, and people have begun to accept mediocrity?

The Third Phenomenon

When I started pondering over this topic, two popular bloggers suddenly came up with a similar thought flow. Though completely unrelated or unknown to each other , the three of us have come up with a common thread and subject,at the same time –

The audacity and shoddy nature of the bigger brands or hotels and their failure to look into finer details of their service , with a proud confidence that irrespective of their service levels people will still keep coming .

The first one is Ms. Chinmayi , a celebrity blogger/singer writes about a harrowing experience at The Park Hotel in Chennai.

She says
“I am glad we chose a-la-carte cos, though this is ewwwwy there was a small cockroach running across the buffet counter. There was also one more thing that I wonder about. 601 actually allows diners to smoke. But are there probably rules that say that the smoking and non-smoking sections should be separate? If someone goes to an upscale restaurant, as much as they are entitled to the ambience, service and whatever else that is assumed, clean air is also one of the things if you ask me. Why should I breathe in someone else's cancerous air and also pay a premium for it?"

The other one is Professor Ray Titus who says :

“That organised retail store shopping in India is an experience akin to a nightmare is no secret. From dirty stores to poorly merchandised goods to indifferent retail personnel, the list is endless. Yet most retail stores seem to draw consumers as the other choice available is a bigger nightmare called kirana stores. Even some of the leading retail stores fail to take into account customers’ preferences, as they are yet to get down to the concept of ‘retail designing’. On parameters ranging from accessibility, location, window display, facade, staff, packaging, decorative & props, ambiance, and interiors, retail stores do not consider the likes and dislikes of their target consumers.
Even if it weren't, a rupee here or there wouldn't make much of a difference to me. I'd rather pay for retail calm than gain a rupee and face chaos that gets to me."

My theory is that everything is connected. Be it a poor service in a five star hotel, or a pathetic state a store like Big Bazaar is being operated , it all boils down to the inefficiencies and lack of discipline in the entire system , and consumers inability(or even laziness) to oppose them ,or even to question them which has caused a major disruption in the Indian Scenario .If brand “India” should no longer be known for its traffic, bad roads and defective or cheap products ( a similar image that China has completely moved away from in the last couple of years ) , it can be only done , when people begin to become disciplined and refuse to start accepting mediocrity, (for the huge prices we pay to these big brands) .

It’s just not with the people. The entire society has to transform completely, a one similar to the United States, where there is complete transparency in the legal and consumer forums, and the public has a far higher voice than the companies, as evident from the fact that even a small man can easily sue a major brand for millions of dollars, if one of the products fails.

The same thing, if it happens in India, the guy remarks ,just a piece of my bad luck or this is all I will get for what I paid.
This scenario is only till Big Bazaar maintaining almost a monopoly in the hyper market industry in India.
If the likes of Wal Mart, Target or any other International brands arrive into the Indian Retail scenario, its gonna be a rude awakening for the people and realize the international defined standards for the retailers and definitely a big fright for the existing players
(The same pinch and shock Indian Airlines got , when the Govt opened to several private players. Their incorrigible food,worst service being a public outcry ,with the likes of Jet Airways,Kingfisher or Paramount providing world class service and outclassing them in every aspect)

The day when the big brands are more conscious and redefine themselves in way which offers the same standard of service even to the smallest of their consumers, and starts improving themselves to prevent mistakes and therefore any subsequent law suits and damages by the consumer,

then my friend , I accept Indian Retailing is organized or to that matter India is really developed !

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Can Katrina sparkle with the new Nakshatra?

The recent buzz in the celebrity branding , is that Katrina has replaced Aishwarya Rai as the brand ambassador for Nakshatra Diamonds , one of the most coveted diamond brands in the country

The brand Nakshatra (‘the brightest circle of light') stood for providing its connoisseurs, who are aware of, and can relate to special touch of a diamond, and an accessory that can truly make a woman sparkle and stand out.

Quoted directly from its brand owners , "It made one look good and feel good and stand out in the crowd with the circle of light. Diamonds have always had a very significant role to play in the life of women. Nakshatra Brand of Jewelery only emphasizes this and makes the customers believe in it."
The director of Diamond Information Centre ,says "The Nakshatra woman is mystical, ethereal and feminine – qualities"

Aishwarya Rai stood for all the brand values - simple yet classic, Indian yet contemporary , and an extraordinary beautiful woman . A Miss World , who stood out among other Indian women and made them gape in wonder,dumb stuck by her beauty , made every woman's dream come true and an inspirational role model.She was also the pride of India , along the lines of Sachin and Vishwanathan Anand , bringing India glory several times.

In all a perfect fit for the Nakshatra brand

Katrina may be the hottest sensation in Bollywood , with a huge no of movies stacked up. She's considered sexy, a ramp walk model etc.
But does she possess that uniqueness ,and grace that Aishwaraya has ?
Does any woman look upto her , as an inspiration for beauty or feminity ?
Probably Not.

Aishwarya Rai , may not have had a successful Bollywood(or even Hollywood)career, but she surely made heads turn , with her "grand" appearances in exotic dresses and jewelry in several films. Right from Devadas(the 50 Lakh Sari remember ?)till a Rajput queen in Jodhaa Akbar ,designers and jewelry brands have been flocking her throuhgout asking her to be associated with a brand .

Katrina has been known to portray the same , sexy and a glamorous heroine alongside a major star in a film .A role which anyone else, practically could have done it,much saner !

The reason Nakshatra says , they handed it over to Katrina , "She's the next hottest sensation ,and top in the list of the current Bollywood heroines"
(Maybe they are passing it over from Salman's Ex to his present girlfriend)

Whatever it is , hope those big bucks spending on Brand Katrina ,sparkles really well for Nakshatra

Consumer education : The right path to build a brand!

Brand Knowledge is a function of awareness, which relates to consumers’ ability to recognize or recall the brand, and image, which consists of consumers’ perceptions and of associations for the brand

A strange feature at a popular branded watch store made me realize one thing. When people at the board room, decide to come up with a concept of teaching their customers about usage of their products and brands , does it ever really trickle down to the store level with that same intensity ,enthusiasm or spirit .

Do their lower level employees see any value in teaching their customers , how to use it the right way ?

This particular watch store i was referring to , had a beautifully designed board , which read Do's and Dont's for a watch.A very useful and knowledgeable info , which can be immensely useful to the customer . Yet, it didn't serve its intended purpose , because it was hung inside the servicing room/storage area where no one else can enter and see.

Whats the point of hanging a information board inside the store room , to be read by the service mechanics and the employees ?

The "brandpower.in - helping you buy better" advertisements is a great initiative to start a concept called consumer education in India , but the the brand associations and the promotion of their supporting brands are so obvious and ends up like one of those typical Surf Excel ads , that people actually switch it off , or do not really register in their minds

Very few brands have adopted this concept and there's a major gap between the developer or the manufacturer's recommended way of using, and the way the buyer actually ends up using it .

Consumer education is not about teaching the interface , or operating the machine with the buttons , or giving a thick manual to read from. It's about reaching to the customer , helping them to ease things, teach them to use the product in a more productive manner , which can increase performance and longevity and thereby improving customer satisfaction

When a person uses a product in a wrong way , for example , he charges his Nokia cell the entire night with a charger , the battery life comes down drastically and finally goes off.The person , though , assumes that the quality of the Nokia cell or the battery is poor and advocates to people to buy something else.
Little does one realize , its not because of the poor quality that the product fails, but because of a wrong usage of it , that ultimately causes it to stop working .

If a brand new shirt has shrunk or the color faded , one does normally argue , that the store guy failed to tell me the proper way to wash this particular kind of fabric ?
The employee argues , my job is to sell , if he wants to know the method , ask him to read the tag in the product or read up the entire manual

Whose fault is that ?
The buyer , who used it in the wrong way or the brand ,who failed to teach the customer the recommended and proper usage of the product ?

Advantages :

  • Your clients turn out to be the biggest Product champions and end up doing consumer advocacy when they become comfortable with that brand , and know its way in and out, using it to the maximum efficiency.
  • The usage and usability of product increases which can increase longevity or performance hence improve the brand image
  • A huge brand loyalty following
  • Comfortable and ease factor while usage
  • Increased marketing communication effectiveness
  • Greater perceived differentiation and brand equity

Friday, August 01, 2008

Kuselan !

An off-the beat movie , with the Superstar Rajnikanth donning an entirely different role (every movie he does don a diff role ). Now its him on the big screen, as the actor himself.

Story though revolving around a friendship , actually ends up portraying how a dull mundane town awakens with a fresh lease of life , in a grand way , with just a small visit by the Superstar in lieu of his shooting .

Quite shocking and surprising to see the superstar in a small role like this , with more focus given to Pasupathi.(Definitely disappointing and irritating for all his fans including me). Yet , he manages to pull off with his spectacular performance, style and his impeccably dialogue delivery loaded with punch lines

Bordering on the lines of an art film , yet managing to draw in big crowds with the marketing based mainly on the "Rajnikanth " factor , the movie contains something for all.. Rip roaring comedy by Vadivelu , some terrific awe inspiring punch lines and style from the BOSS , sentiments,bits and pieces of glamour and some thought provoking scenes.Everything packed into one , but yet manages to move away from any Rajnikanth movie(A pardadigm shift indeed !) .GOSH ,there isnt even a fight scene in this movie , which so happens to be a Rajni movie.That takes some guts by the director !

As far as the music is concerned , the songs lack any life in it , though Prakash has scored well on the BGM ..The same goes with Nayanthara , who manages to stifle a big yawn...

Despite all of these , the movie is simply too good , and a must watch . For everyone .. not just his fans..

IS he the greatest actor India has ever produced ?
But of course..No exceptions !!

"Genuine Sale" - The best oxymoron ever invented !

It's that time of that year , when most retail stores in Tamil Nadu have announced major discount sale across the season. The discount ranges from 10 % to 50 % in several categories

So are they for real ? Or is it just another scam ,in the process of luring more customers to the store .

With my little research and mystery shopping , I have begun to realize that 14 out of the 16 "big" stores I have been to ,claiming to have big discount offers, are just an eyewash.There is no actual sale on branded products going on

The advertisers have clearly understood the power of the word "Upto" and "Flat" and have used it in several manipulative terms .
These sales offering "upto 50% off" are actually applicable only to a few products kept in a certain desk and not for all.
Levi's , a popular jeans brand ,joined in the bandwagon of this "upto 50 % sale"

A small visit to the store in Pondy Bazaar left me in a great shock. The 50 % off , is only for a few T-shirts kept near the front desk .These T-Shirts had a picture of a girl clad only in leaves , shirt stained all over, and manufactured 2 years before !Even the guy collecting old clothes would refuse to touch such a piece of trash. Yet Levi's proudly displays in the front and prices it at 750 , with a 50 % off !

A Flat Sale !

A flat sale is generally defined as a discount sale upto to a certain percentage, across any item being displayed in the store. Be it a shirt or a sock or a shoe ! No exceptions .

But in India, you do seem to find exceptions and people find a way to get around to something somehow.

The most recent flat sale was advertised by Adidas. It goes like this

"Flat Sale - 40 % off. - In selected items* . Conditions Apply"

Apart from the "selected items" criterion , you also have the inevitable "conditions apply" tag , that further hampers your belief.

Incidentally one of my previous posts was on Brand Promise , where I had said , brands have to offer what they have promised and manage to fulfill their customer expectations in every way.
It may be pardonable for small apparel retailers to indulge in such fake practices .
But when it comes to one of world's major brands like Nike,Adidas & Levi's , I guess its time for some tough disciplinary action on these brands, by the media watchdogs and the Govt , for deceiving ordinary people with false ad campaigns

Coincidentally, the previous week BBC network of channels was slapped with a hefty fine , after the British watchdog , had figured out that one of the contests in a show offering big prizes , was so manipulative that it can never be won by anybody in the public .

If that was for the media , I recommend there should be in place a similar group who could monitor these campaigns and work with the Govt ,to penalize these brands and retail stores for falsely advertising and campaigning

The only exception to all these false promises is Reebok , who is genuinely offering a 50 % sale in all items (though these products are worth only 40-50 % of these prices , added to their poor product quality )