Rationally Thinking

Stumbled on an idea? Well, good luck in fitting it through a logical process. Many people like to take the rational approach to make decisions and anything new makes us uncomfortable. So how do you break this down?

A neat website i stumbled on exploits all the logical fallacies that could be thought of. While you may enjoy the varieties, the one i could relate to was the “Texas Sharpshooter”. The fallacy states,” You cherry-picked a data cluster to suit your argument, or found a pattern to fit a presumption”. Now this could have anything to do with marketeers, research folks, business decision makers or even the police i dare say. Let’s figure the first one of the lot. You are in a discussion where the latest customer insight is being torn to pieces. Someone pops up saying that a variant of the new soap is doing well in some of the target markets and hence budgets need to be allocated to achieve more penetration. They drill down the data till it begins to please the quorum. Now there lies a sharpshooter. While the soap variant did do well is some of the markets, it was marketed across several others. The lack of data from other regions is also talking. A change in perspective would show that its not doing well in a majority of the regions. In that case, where does our sharpshooter go? Can he still paint a canvas sitting on a pile of budgets to put out?

Similar cases happen in several other areas. When it comes to creating new products, finalizing on target markets, to may spotting organised crime or figuring out patterns. Sharpshooters are going to be everywhere to give the pattern a voice. Will it be a rational approach or just another subjective take that is coloring decision making? I leave that to you for figuring it out.

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Aspire

To aspire is to simply have a greater ambition or an ultimate goal as per the dictionary definition. Once you have reached a specific level of expertise or stage in your life, you’re quickly looking out for what could be the next best thing. Marketeers too have tapped in to this particular set of our psyche from time to time.

Some of the most popular brands such as Apple, Mercedes, Louis Vuitton and others have successfully created that aspirational brand value for themselves. Brands have typically created an aspirational brand strategy in the following ways:

1. Targetted Advertising: Associating the brand with the nice to have features and showcasing a lifestyle that most people can only aspire to have is one of the key ways. High fashion brands have used super models, while in other cases certain brands have stayed off any celebrities and made the product the hero of their advertisements.

2. Build brand loyalty: One of the key initiatives has to be centered on making the customer aware of how the product can be put in to use everyday. Be it a high-end handbag or an SUV, the advertisement or brand collateral needs to highlight features for using the product for a wider number of applications. That ways they can build brand loyalty and further ensure that their customers recommend the product to others as well.

3. Keep it Simple: Brands need to be careful while positioning the product in the aspirational set since it needs to have a strong customer value proposition to deliver. Customers can clearly see past any over the top promises that are being made during promotions. Hence the message must be simple and yet powerful to drive the messaging across.

Creating a high end lifestyle is just one of the end results of an aspirational brand strategy. However marketeers need to steer clear and get the basics right, lest it turn in to a disaster.

Banking in a Jifi!

First off, this was one of my first Indiblogger meets in Mumbai. I have been blogging since the last 1.5 years, so thought i might as well venture in to the meet and see what’s it all about. Let me put it this way, if you thought bloggers are a bunch of nerds/geeks with awkward social skills, then you are wrong! This meet was a tri-city event and we were patched up with Bangalore and Delhi through a live feed. What’s more, they had Chetan Bhagat in the house who made the session interactive and joked about the upcoming movie Two States which is based on his book.

The event was basically organised to launch a  Kotak Mahindra Bank product called Jifi. Now i have worked in a bank prior to this and i must say they are breaking new ground here. Jifi is targeted towards the millennials and basically for anyone who is social media savvy. The concept is based on social banking. People who sign-up are free of balance woes, as they have no minimum balance requirement. The point i liked is that you earn lucrative interest for money above Rs. 25,000 as the bank automatically creates a term deposit for you. So for someone who doesn’t really care to invest and make their money work, this is a pretty good deal. The social media part is plugged in on Twitter. Basically anyone with this account can run a few activities like balance inquiry, historical statements and others. Some of the bloggers inquired about how safe this could be in case someone withdraws or transfers money from their account. To this Mr. K.V.S Manian (Head of Consumer Banking) replied that the services offered do not include transactions. So for the average user like me, i could tweet to Kotak asking about my balance and i will receive a Direct Message with the details, hence keeping my banking details private. Now, though the service is new in India something similar has been done abroad years back. American Express has a service called AMEX SYNC that lets people buy stuff using Twitter. However, from an Indian perspective this service from Kotak is a first. They also have a Kotak MoneyWatch service thrown in to help people like me track their expenses. Plus the more friends you refer, the more social points you stand to earn. These can be redeemed or transferred to friends later.

Adoption levels for a product like this will depend on how people approach social media in general. Many people are bogged down with privacy concerns, so i reckon it may take a while to catch-on. However for people like me who are pretty much online most of the time and breathe social, this is a pretty cool service to try out. I do hope though that they take care of two-factor authentication on twitter. One of the other issues, they should address is people having different email addresses when they sign up for twitter / facebook / banking.

All in all, this was a good event to be a part of. I met a lot of cool new bloggers and got some solid tips from them. Plus the event was hosted at Cafe Zoe which is one of my favorite places in Lower Parel. Now, let me get back to exploring Jifi !

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PS: Thanks to Indiblogger and other bloggers for re-tweeting and sharing the photo on Twitter 🙂

Facing The Music

Against all odds. That’s what first came to my mind when i had to get down to implementing a lot of things some years back at work. However, it’s just the approach that needs to be changed. Instead of all the odds, i began to think of all the opportunities that i could be on. That minor change in perspective made me believe in pushing myself against all boundaries.

So a deliverable at 7 AM? No problem.

4 hour commute. Can be managed.

Can you work on this aspect (something i’ve never heard of). Sure. {Factor in late nights spent awake in reading about how it really works}

Ad-hoc meeting, I just have to pull you in to this one. Sure, you can count on me.

Among many other such situations, i reveled in the pressure. After all, what is a day worth when you don’t learn something new? I’ve learnt to read up more than my clients do, understand more than the intern can throw at me and deliver more than i possibly could imagine. It’s said that we overestimate ourselves in the short run and underestimate in the long run. In my case, i would say overestimating actually helped me in accomplishing more than i thought was possible. Against all odds, it may have seemed to others. But to me, they were in my favor. Facing the music as many would think. In my head, i was loving the music and finding meaning in the rhythm. Isn’t life itself like that? I sure do believe it is!

 

Why are tech firms buying out smaller start-ups?

Consolidation in the technology space. It’s happening. Much has been said, heard and analysed when it comes to the recent Whatsapp acquisition by Facebook. Valuations were being tossed around and here’s an interesting graphic on whether it was worth $19 billion to start with. That being said, i’m looking at bigger forces at play in the technology space. As textbook economics will tell you, consolidation is a phase that kicks in mature markets when the big players begin to swallow the smaller and more active ones up.

Acquisitions have been happening for quite sometime now. But some of the interesting one’s in recent times have been Google buying Motorola and then selling it off to Lenovo. Microsoft buying out Nokia and they did give in to market pressures by releasing an Android phone just yesterday at the Mobile World Congress’14. Microsoft also bought Skype nearly a year back and killed its own messenger. Software firms have been increasingly snapping up hardware companies. It’s clearly about building capabilities to have more integrated software and hardware. Apple has been doing this for decades with a very closely knit user interface that has been winning customers over for years. Pretty much like them, the other companies are also trying to tightly integrate services to have the customers locked in for longer period of time. Look at Google, that is trying to foray in to nearly every possible nook of our life as it builds its inventory for the internet of things. You’re using maps, gmail, search and docs for starters. As any marketeer will tell you, its always cheaper to retain customers than to go out and acquire new ones.

Here’s a drill-down of what i think about the entire consolidation bit:

1. Customer stickiness: Companies want customers to buy a product and integrate it so tightly that they are unable to breakout.

2. Eat the competition: As start-ups have more breathing room and flexibility for innovation, let them build great products as the big cats will swallow them up to eventually kill the competition if any.

3. M&A industry: Who else is laughing all the way to the bank? Consulting firms. In fact software acquisitions made up nearly half of the deal value in this space as per PwC.

4. Increasing usage: Big tech players are always looking for means to increase usage and as Metcalf’s law says, the value of any network lies in the number of connected users on it. Hence you see why software services have been aggressively merging or finding new ways of driving usage for their platforms.

5. Start-ups don’t always need an IPO: It’s increasingly difficult for a small company to go public and put itself under the scanner. Investors and analysts will slice and dice not only excel spreadsheets but also any single move that key people make. By cashing out and selling themselves to a larger firm, they can avoid all the pain. All of this when they might have not even achieved the vision they started out with.

6. Hide failures better: The chances of a start-up making it big are rather slim. In fact, the odds seem to be against them. Once they have generated enough buzz and got a fancy valuation. The small fish can then afford to dissolve in the system and chances are if they were going to fail, little would anyone get to know about it.

With all of this in place, we can only hope for better products and services. While some of these partnerships may have benefited the firms, what remains to be seen is how innovative they can really get. For now, the entire space has become a playground for many small firms to pitch their products and see how quickly they can go to market or gain more funding. At the end, the customer stands to benefit the most from this!

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*Image source: Flickr (labelled for reuse)

Insight: The New Face of Marketing

I was excited to be a part of the thought leadership event organised by the ITSMA with InformationWeek as the media partner. Knowing that this one was positioned to give out insights on where marketing is headed had me more curious about what was the discussion going to be like. There was a good mix of representatives from several IT firms and its always great to be in a room full of marketeers!

The event started off with a session by Dave Munn, who elaborated on the top priorities for marketeers. Interesting stats shared indicated that only 9% of CEOs actually use marketing data. But, on the whole the perception of marketing has improved for this year as nearly 78% of the audience they survey voted in favor, 20% had the same view and only 2% had a lowered perception. Now, that is the challenge i see whenever i’m talking to any other function. Marketing always needs to emphasize on the value they are driving for other business units/functions. Some of the top priorities for marketeers this year are:

1. Building thought leadership & dissemination of the content created for this

2. Managing brand reputation

3. Aligning sales & marketing

In terms of the budget being allocated for marketing, content creation took the top spot. For digital marketing the priority of allocating monies was: Website, Search, Online Advertising, Online Communities & Social Media. Digital marketing was also one of the key marketing areas that saw an increase in budget allocation. Most of this was taken out of the cuts in sponsorship,  direct mailers, advertising or public shows. A remarkable point was that nearly 25% of the overall marketing budget goes out to external agencies as fees/payments. Dave also listed the 5 mandates for marketing this year:

1. Measure & communicate metrics: Its important for marketing to contribute to business outcomes & provide predictive insight.

2. Become data & technology frontrunners: Invest in skills, build omnichannel marketing, foster the potential of data & analytics and lastly increase awareness with the c-suite.

3. Improve relevance & personalisation for the customer: Track for insights, provide customised marketing and make use of personas. This involves rendering different treatment when you talk to CMOs/CFOs/CIOs.

4. Enable thought leadership selling: Use sales teams to provide insight about client needs, enagagements and discuss challenges with marketing. Marketing also needs to manage & train SME’s to increase the awareness of our offering.

5. Build adaptive culture in marketing: Marketing needs to be proactive & collaborate within the functions. Companies should build a reward based culture to value business contribution from marketing.

The later session by Ramkumar Ramamoorthy was also rich in terms of the takeaways from his experience with the sterling work he has done at Cognizant. The impact of investor and analyst relation teams cannot be discounted. The last session was a panel discussion with key members such as Jyoti Singh (Genpact), Lavanya Jayram (Zensar Technologies), Kulwinder Singh (Synechron) & Sujit Janardanan (Amazon Web Services). Key takeaways from this discussion was about how marketing ROI is being measured (metrics differ everywhere), value being added through marketing (engagement matters on social & business matters in place of leads), investments matter in place of cost as that can be used to justify customer retention value over time.

Overall, i think it was an excellent session as it refreshed some of my own learning to reinforce the same. On the other hand, we picked up some good examples that were good to know and i also bumped in to some people i worked with earlier! All in all the new face of marketing looks good to be worked with in the future 🙂

Flappy Bird Away!

This addictive yet frustrating game had me intrigued since i first saw it mentioned on Twitter. Not on to be left behind, i thought let me check this out. But tap, tap, tap its really hard to get a good score. Most of the time i kept thinking that “Darn, this is so simple.. How can i not crack this?”. That’s precisely where the hitch lies.

Flappy Bird was such a simple game (it kind of reminded me of 8-bit games). There’s a hopeless bird who can’t fly and all you have to do is to keep it flapping away. My best score: 1. Like, seriously! I could never get past the second pole. At times, i was seconds close to throwing my phone in some random corner. Only to pick it up & try all over again. Simplicity is the key to getting users hooked. People tend to think that its so simple, i have to crack this.

What was most surprising was the announcement by Dong Nguyen to take it off the app stores. His reasoning was that the game got him too much attention and he didn’t seem to like it. It’s baffling to note that the game had nearly 50 million downloads and the Vietnamese fellow made close to $50,000 USD a day through the game. Then why pull the plug? I reckon this is just another gimmick. Probably, he wants to keep people guessing what could he be coming with next. I mean, frankly if you have played the game, there really isn’t much you can add on to basic one like that. All you got to do is save the cursed bird who can’t flap. I think Dong is hardly done yet. He has amassed enough media attention to keep people guessing what the next game could be. Like all other trends, i sure hope he beats himself to whatever he come up with. If not, then well we can just pass it off as another trend. Like the harlem shakes or miley at the VMA’s or back in India, the number of times Arvind Kejriwal has threatened
to resign!
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[Book Review] Dogfight: How Apple and Google Went to War and Started a Revolution

The long drawn Apple vs Google argument is totally fleshed out in this book. Though i had read the Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson & I’m feeling lucky by Douglas Edwards, this read had more comparative facts to offer. It starts with Apple to point out that through iTunes, Apple controls almost 25% of all music purchased. They also have a sizable share in the $18 billion video market. Fact is that Apple spent nearly $150 mn in building the first iPhone. The initial parts of the book talk about how the employees were burnt out working 60-80 hour weeks continuously for two years & kept resigning only to join back in a day. It was such a high secret project even within Apple’s headquarters that there were secret walls built overnight to keep the entire thing a secret from its own employees. The first phone that Jobs unveiled was actually a prototype & the team had no clue how they were going to keep up with shipment orders in 2 months!

Google had a different approach in contrast. I think this was the best way they could keep services free. This is because Google would release a product when it was 80% finished. Like any Google service or product it would be free with a constant feedback loop from the users. That’s how they gained insight in to the later 20% of the product to build in the finishing touches. It’s also critical to know that since the products were free, user expectations were not high & therefore you wouldn’t see an outrage on the scale of Apple Maps or Antenna issues the way Apple had to face.

Its remarkable to see the way employees from both companies kept playing musical chairs with companies in the Silicon Valley at that time. Andy Rubin, the guy who worked on Android was an ex-Microsoft employee. Even before Google bought Motorola, Apple had a partnership with Motorola for iPods back in 2004. Some prominent Apple employees who quit to start their own companies eventually made big to only sell-off their company to Google. A good example of this is Nest. Fights between the corporations such as Yahoo! & Google for Adwords have been covered well, in addition to the big Apple vs Samsung trial and the Microsoft anti-trust campaign against Google. A good part of the book also covers the role Eric Schmidt had to play since he was at Google & the board of Apple at the same time (he was not a part of most iPhone meetings).

The last part of the book has a futuristic take on who is going to win the platform war. An interesting point to note is that Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook & Netflix are sitting on a cash pile of $300 bn which is enough to buy all the media houses & broadcast networks. With changing media consumption patters and device preferences, this battle is just getting heated up for now. As for me, i will say this a great and insightful read. Ditch the articles you’ve been reading & deep dive in to this book. For all you know, it will give you more facts & perspective to fuel your arguments!

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The New Digital Age : Book Review

The New Digital Age. The title promises precisely what the book delivers. I mean, what else would one expect when two big names unite to share their views and perspective on what digital holds for the world in the future? Eric Schmidt has been at the helm of the ever innovative Google and Jared Cohen who is a Rhodes Scholar and the director of Google Ideas. Cohen also makes it to the Time’s 100 most influential people in the world list this year. Being an avid non-fiction reader, there are many times i’m let down by some books when they really don’t get me as much information i’m hoping to seek. But this book had me glued. I mean, we google stuff so often and hear a lot about the changes that keep coming up in Android / Google Products. However, this book is more of an exploration of the information explosion that has happened over the past few years. Data is clearly the glue that will be binding a lot more than plain business or social media.
The book starts off with an introduction to our future selves. This part talk about education being the base for innovation and opportunity. We are already seeing this take to full force with children using tablets in schools which are aided by an army of apps that are simplifying classes for the masses. It goes on to talk about a better quality of life enabled with the high level of customisation that can be done using smartphones these days and how this will be pathbreaking in health care support. This is followed by the future of identity, citizenship and reporting which covers authenticity of profiles, the level of social uprising triggered via social media, government surveillance etc. We have already seen how several people and corporations handle their online image (reputation). I particularly found the idea of insuring one’s online identity against theft, hacking, fraud etc. I believe the time for this has almost come to try out and agree that online identity will be the new currency. They also go on to highlight the consequences of VOIP and P2P networks that can exchange data more privately (VPN). The AADHAAR program back home has also been cited to indicate the magnanimity of the UID initiative by our ruling government. I believe we know of quite a few scams in the recent times for this as well.
In the future of states, they have covered a variety of countries in the levels of censorship that are being dictated. Starting from China’s blocking of Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter to Turkey’s blocking of Youtube for 2 years over a debacle for taking down videos that were derogatory to the nation’s founder. Political & cultural censorship is taken up by South Korea, Malaysia and Germany which i think is a far more effective model.
We have all heard of the Arab Spring. The duo talk about how in riots, the internet lent a way for females to express themselves without being hurt. Also when the government blacked out the internet to avoid the spreading, the setting up of @Jan25voices handle helped in letting the world know about what was happening, albeit without any policy influence. They talk about a model where successful leaders will be able to address the concerns of both virtual and physical constituencies. I reckon this is happening as we speak in the Indian context where there are twitter armies for Modi (BJP) and Rahul Gandhi (Congress) battling it out in the trends and mentions everyday. 
Terrorism is another key issue that is detailed in this book. Activists, local networks, simple start up kits for them to propagate the hate would be enough. This will be a big issue for technology firms in terms of screening content due to the sheer volume of uploads per second across the web. Since most sites work on users reporting abuse / flagging content as abusive, the process will take time for them to actually block stuff. In the future of conflict, combat and intervention they address how a single post / photo/ tweet can be the beginning of something bigger on the lines of a revolution. A scary part talks about the “human flesh search engines” in China which basically means that there are scores of people whose objective is to search and track down the individual posting specific content that could be offensive. They go on to mention combat using robots and the dilemma of machines making an error during a highly targeted mission.
Lastly in the future of reconstruction they talk about how telecom in Somalia is so cheap that people actually drop international calls to call relatives back! In terms of community service, the HAITI campaign is mentioned where “text to donate” helped Red Cross to raise USD $5 million for relief campaigns. An interesting part talks of how crowd-sourcing will enable the culture of accountability. This is the most optimistic part where they go on to hope that creativity and bandwidth will be key drivers of innovation. All in all, i feel that even if you’re not working in digital this book is a great read to know what the frontier of technology looks like.
*image source credit: standard.co.uk

Why tagging is important for Instagram?

So you’re out for a jog and can’t help but notice totally distracted photo junkies like me on the lookout for a #photooftheday scene waiting to be snapped. Yes, we #instagrammers as most people would like to hashtag their pictures to are just waiting for that dew drop to fall, kitten to purr and flower to bloom. Add to that coffee shots, stills of my shoes and just about anything thrown is in the most absurd of formats. Cover it up with a filter (my fav is Lo-Fi and at times Amaro) and you’re good to go!

Now, Instagram just recently introduced its photo tagging feature. So earlier, i could tag my friends in the description. However, if you’re likely to receive a lot of comments then heaven help the friend in sifting through!

Coming to why this is important:

1. Users: Users can now directly tag friends in pictures that will make it easier when a group of people are tagged as the photo will then appear in their photos too. (Bound to make a lot of lives simpler)

2. Business/Brands: Brands can stand to gain here as users can simply tag them in photos of themselves. In a way they would also need to be cautious and keep a hawk’s eye out for any deteriorating content being floated around.

3. Crowd sourcing: As many would know, user generated content is the way to go. In this way for a business perspective, this move by Instagram could prove to be fruitful.

4. No Advertising: Facebook acquired Instagram, so changes on simmilar lines were foreseen. However the good part is that since Instagram is free of any form of advertising, users & brands alike will have to be really quirky and innovative with content to engage.

So, there you have it. Tagging will make it easier and increase the overall shares and activity on Instagram. Now, i got to go and grab a mocha mugshot!