Friday, 27 February 2009

The Fall and Rise of the CMO

A very interesting article on the role of the Chief Marketing Officer by Gail McGivern and Jack Quelch.(click title to read)

I enjoy reading John Quelch, who is a professor of marketing at Harvard Business School.

I would have liked more emphasis on the need for the CMO to strenghten his understanding and execution of 4Ps. Thats the basis of marketing executions. (specificaly the Pricing P, from which most CMOs remain detached).

A very holistic read for students of marketing.


Starbucks's Via

So Starbucks has launched an instant coffee branded Via. (click story title to read) About one dollar per prepare it by adding hot (or cold ) water... where ever you want to drink it. You can only buy the Starbucks Via packets at Starbucks outlets.

Interesting. But we dont think its a useful idea.

Starbucks supposedly attributes this idea to ensuring consumers are in touch with it even in these challenging economic times, as well as drive penetration of its coffees.

We ask the question... why do folks drink at Starbucks?
1. We dont think its the coffee. Maybe a lot of folks think its the best coffee in the world, we believe its the ambiance. The experience of finding a "third place" away from home and office.

Starbucks Via encourages you to make your coffee where you want to drink it, cheap. Unless you really really love the coffee flavor, why would you spend 1$ to drink it in your office cubicle or on the couch?

2. Its participating in a brand. This is drinking at a Starbucks or taking out a coffee in a Starbucks cup, you're participating in the brand. Connectivity with a sense of empowerment. (

Great brands do this. They allow you a duality of your personal space while giving you the freedom to connect to the wider community that uses the brand. think iPod/ Nike.... your iPod has your music...its personal...but when you carry your iPod around, you are making a statement to others.

Starbucks does this (did this?) with its coffee.

Drinking a Via in my IBM mug is not the same thing. We are not connecting with the brand anymore. We will not be able to justify the premium anymore.

Unless we really really think its great coffee. We dont.

If millions of people are drinking Starbucks for the great coffee flavor and really miss that, Via will work.
If not, we think this is a flawed idea. Great for short term sales, it will not work in the medium to long term.

If you wish to read more on this please head to link below.

Ritu and Venkat

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

What Luxury Brands Can Learn from the Oscars

We picked up the above note on the Harvard blog. Wonderful note and very appropriately timed. We have been thinking about this for a while. In a challenging economic environment, what should a Louis Viutton do? The list from Lisa Burrell (click above note) lists some points, we added two more.

1. Luxury brands should reset their expectations in these times. Fewer consumers are in the market for luxury goods. But behavior patterns are set early in life and unless this recession lasts half a decade, folks will come back to buying luxury when it gets better.

Until then accept that there are fewer buyers out there and sales will fall.

This expectation is important becasue it prevents the brand from doing something silly to "buy" artificial sales. Do not lose focus on segmentation- targeting- positioning. You lose this and your consumers will never be able to find their way back to you in the good times.

2. Stay close to consumers that want to buy. Marketing is about getting new consumers and/or getting current consuers to buy more. If you're not finding the new ones, stay very close to the existing consumers. Be relevant to them, keep them excited in new products (dont cut investment in R&D and marketing) and make them feel exta special (if you have not cut down your customer facing emplyees already).

We suppose there are enough luxury goods CEOs that would have seen several of these cycles...and wouldn't be in a panic yet. We would be interested to know what they're thinking about.

In any case, we would not count on finding bargains in the luxury segment anytime soon.

Ritu and Venkat

Monday, 23 February 2009

flagship stores.... your brand's playground for its consumers

Ok, so this thought came to us at a Pizza Hut restaurant in Bangalore.
But thats the point.

A flagship store goes beyond categories/ products. Its a MUST DO for a company trying to establish/ differentiate and most definitely educate itself in the eyes of the consumer.

The Cunningham Road Pizza Hut opened almost 10 years ago. It was back then a luxury / fine dining experience. Exotic food and pretty steep prices. Cunningham Road is also one of the chic streets in Bangalore, so Pizza Hut opening there was appropriate and exciting. The store was modern...sleek design and furniture and clearly consistent with an international brand.

We went to lunch there yesterday. The pizzas were great, service wonderful, but the store itself so run down. It was sad.

This is a product category still to establish itself. A flagship store for Pizza Hut would have been a great brand builder.

- weekend activities a pizza (and the best pizza gets put on the menu for one month)

- An exotic flavored Pizza..only for the weekend.

- Learn to make a pizza with our chef!

- Pizza making contest among our chefs (see it in the see through kitchen)

So much excitement can be built around a pizza/ or a coffee shop (Starbucks/ Coffee day?).... and it cant always be replicated at all stores..which is why we have the concept of a flagship store.

In how many ways can your brand engage/ entertain/ educate your consumer?

A flagship is a microcosm...a small world you can create for consumers to see the possibilities with your brand.

Go do it.

Ritu and Venkat

dont despair marketers, sometimes life stands still....

It happened with me twice.

I was stood still in front on an elevator for the umpteenth time in my life. But this was in a mall in Bangalore was different.
The elevator was fully painted with an advertisement for a property developer. In the 3 minutes i waited, i lernt of the various properties this developer had built in Bangalore, his upcoming projects and contact details.

Ritu and I were impressed by the use of my time.

Then, during an interval at the movies, i went to the rest room. Very clean (for a change). And just above the urinals, i saw more ads. In the two minutes i was stood there, i learnt about upcoming movies, thier plots and key actors.

And i asked myself why i would not advertise more products in this space. Especially products that were looking to educate consumers with information. I would have their undivided attention.

Ritu and I believe, if marketing managers need to find places where life stands absolutely still and they have their consumers undivided attention, lifts and well maintained toilets are not bad options.

Anything else comes to mind?

Venkat and Ritu

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Microsoft Retail Stores

(click on title)

Way to go MS.

Control over distribution is a very very important element in marketing sophisticated products.

Zune/ X Box/ Windows.

Are these sophisticated?

Perhaps not. But MS can definitely make them.
Ritu and I use maybe 5% of Window's capabilities. We are not alone. An MS store is a great way to link with consumers who want to learn more about a product. (even if it is not their first choice, but then most of us are forced to use MS anyway)
MS can use the retail environment to educate consumers.

How about X Box. A retail environment is a good place to bring in the enthusiasts. Demo some new concepts...capabilities...have some expert gamers show their moves. It engages consumers.

And the Zune. Like the Xbox, its also a great platform to get closer to consumers. Entertain with its capabilities/ song options.

MS can definitely use a retail environment to build a community of users. This move is long overdue. Good luck!

Ritu and Venkat

No Way- No How- Not Here

Click on title to read.

We find the International Herald Tribune a wonderful place for interesting and well written opinions.

This note by Thomas L. Friedman is on the sentiment among Indian muslims post the attach in Mumbai.

We are very proud of how India has risen against the attack. All Indians. The muslims who condemned it immediately and strongly and every other religion that stood up together against the enemy.

For once, Indians did not point fingers at other Indians.

Why did this not happen before? When the bombs went off in Delhi/ Hyderabad/ Bangalore... or at the time of the Babri Masjid incident?

Anyway, at long last, we seem to have found our voice as a nation. Lets not lose it.

The Shopper Of Tomorrow- Trading Down

(click on title to read) While the article is very provocatively titled, it does debate the issue with multiple perspectives.

The note poses a couple of interesting questions:

-Given the strength of the recession in Western markets, will the shopper of tomorrow really trade down?
- How do you define "tomorrow"? The next 6 months...the 2 years following a recovery?

Our stand on the debate is this:

Consumer buying habits, we believe, are established by the time he (she) is 18.
By that age, prpensity to shop/ save/ take risks are pretty well established. Only deep and sever (long term) shocks can then impact or change habits. We describe long term as not less than 5-6 years. This is our judgement.

Consumers in Western Europe and America have lived through a number of boom-bust cycles. No one in a boom cycle holds back expecting a recession. And pretty soon after a recovery, people return to their "natural state".

For example (and we pick this from the article) air travel and consumer spending pretty much rebounded after the dot com bust and the shock post 9/11.

Most people we have spoken to have decided to "postpone" purchase of the watch/ home or car they were planning. No one has yet spoken of downtrading to a motor cycle yet.

We believe marketers that plan for an economy to downtrade will be rather unprepared for the upswing.

On the other hand, and this should be interesting to observe, young people of the age of 12-16 in the US and Europe today will possibly behave very differenetly as consumers through their lifetimes.

"Marketers", notes the article, "do not ignite consumerism, but respond to the urge that comes from within. That comes from the interplay of society and the values and norms of the culture."

The great depression was long enough and severe enough for several generations to be impacted and be conscious of keep savings and consuming habits in balance.

In the absence of such a deep depression, we do not see tectonic shifts in consumer behavior.

Ritu and Venkat

A parallel note of interest: (Financial decisions are influenced by early experiences)

Thursday, 12 February 2009

The Pope Said Nothing- By Mario Kaiser Published: February 11, 2009 in the IHT

PLease click the title to read this very well written note.

Ritu and Venkat

Dido's news album- Meru Cabs and a lost marketing opportunity

Ritu received a complementary CD of Dido's new release Safe Trip Home.

This CD was sent by Meru Cabs... a taxi service in India.

We thought it was a brilliant idea for a taxi company to send a CD titled "Safe Trip Home" to its women customers, given that the security of lone women passengers in India is such a concern.

But here is the problem.

The lyrics dont really tie in with Meru's idea of linking the CD to a safe trip home in a Meru taxi.
What the package missed was some communication around safety for women when traveling alone.

- some tips before you get into a taxi...
- a help line to call in case of an emergency....
- some emergency self defence ideas....

By tying in concern for women passengers and demonstrating what it was doing to make their journey safe, Meru could have taken a very strong postion.

Sony BMG's cross promotional team did a great job in roping in Meru taxis for the launch. But Meru goofed up in not maximising this opportunity.

Great brands engage, educate, entertain.

Meru truly engaged and entertained us by sending this appropriately titled CD. An opportunity to educate the consumer was lost. A pity.

Ritu and Venkat

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

The Kindle 2

We're impressed with the thinking behind the new Kindle that was released on Feb 9.

Its an electronic you get to read books/ magazines/ blogs on a hand held device. You have access to over 200,000 books at 9.99 $ (its available in the US at this time, on Amazon).

Now what makes this unique? It has a wireless connectivity that allows you to subscribe to newspapers/ blogs/ magazines... and have all fresh content directly uploaded to your machine.

We read a lot on the move, think this feature is wonderful.
Wireless service integration into a device.

So from an electronic reader, the kindle is moving into an information service for the owner.

What business are we in? (What is the problem our consumer wants solved?

Fundamental question that creates opportunity.

Ritu and Venkat

Superbowl ad review (click title to see the slideshow)

Got around to seeing the ads...17 in all.

Here is what we think:
- If these are the best ads that were created for the Super Bowl, some folks in the communication and advertising business should find other professions.

- perhaps, we were very critical because these were made for an American audience and maybe we did not get the humor. Possible. But the ads sucked big time.

We list the three that stood out-

7. Cheetos - interesting idea, not sure how it supports the brand.

8. Coke - very creative execution - thats all

13. Pepsi Max- interesting concept

Nothing stood out as "Wow". Perhaps the creative folks are moving away from TV advertising?

Point to ponder.

Ritu and Venkat

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

The interview question you should ask
this note is built on the above note by Peter Bregman (in the Harvard Business Conversation Starter.)

An interesting write up which ties in with the 10,000 hour rule given in Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Outliers’. (tks for poiting that out Surya JVS)

What Peter is saying is that if you are passionate about what you do, you end up finding ways to pursue that passion outside work. The activites during and out of office hours then re-inforce each other to help you gain more expertise in your chosen field.

For example and I quote: "In Captain Sullenberger's case (he landed a pretty big plane on the Hudon river recently), the first clue that he would become Captain Sullenberger the hero is that, in his teens, when most of his friends were getting their driver's licenses, he got his pilot's license. What did he do for fun? He flew glider planes. Which is basically what he did when he landed in the Hudson River with no engines"

Peter indicates a few more examples to say that what we do in our leisure could (and he says COULD) tell us of our commitment to our chosen field and hence a good question to ask is what you do in your leisure time.

We're writers on Marketing and Sales. We meet a lot of people in this line of work. The truly outstanding ones do sales and marketing in their spare time. They're not at work 24/7. But they're working on their blogs...their favourite charities...helping friends in start-ups...participating in lectures on marketing and sales.... they practice their craft in different ways. Thats the beauty about them.

Sure, they dont have great stamp collections, or may not Salsa very well...but they're happy with a passion...its not their fault they are paid for what they are passionate about. And they are the best at what they do. Know the trends, know the new ideas, critique them...

We think its a good question to ask, and you have shown the relevance of the question beyond what we understood.


Sunday, 1 February 2009

Uneasy lies the head.... a short story

Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.

He knocked gently on the door, but got no response.

‘Son’, said the father softly first and then more firmly. ‘Open the door. Please.’

‘Go away !’ , said a feeble voice from inside. ‘I don’t want to see anybody.’

‘But you must let me come in. We must speak about this.’

‘No !,’ shouted back the voice. And switched on the stereo. The volume made his intentions very clear.

Aggravated, the father turned the door knob and found the door opening readily.

‘Son’, he said again, ‘be sensible. Let me help you.’ His son now reached for his headsets.

The father shot out his hand, grabbed the headsets away. Then, in a fit of rage slapped the stereo shut.

The son was taken aback. His father had seldom reacted this way.

Perhaps the father should have been more liberal with the stick. Now, his son, stubborn, was used to having his way with people around him and did not handle adverse opinions very well.

‘Son’, said the father again, bringing his rage under control and feeling very sorry he had not controlled himself better. He wanted to be seen as a good role model and it would not do to lose self restraint when dealing with his son.

‘Your mother said you poured milk over your jacket so you wouldn’t have anything to wear to school. You are making a new excuse everyday to miss school. Yesterday you hid your clothes away so we couldn’t find them. Today this. On Monday you said school had been closed due to the snow. All lies. It cannot go on like this. Be brave. You must go to school son’, said the father.

‘I will not’, was the immediate reply. ‘They all hate me. All the other boys and girls make fun of me. Nobody loves me.’

‘They do’, said the father, scratching his forehead thoughtfully, slowly. ‘They do. Everybody loves you.’

‘No’, was once the stubborn response. ‘Only you think so. Yesterday, I saw on the desk one of the boys had scribbled a drawing of me. With no front teeth, a geek hat, and pot belly. They make fun of me for my height. The call me Stiffy because I don’t smile and walk erect. I feel so different. I will never go back.’

The father nodded as in agreement. His son had been saying that for many days now, but always ended up going. This week things had taken a turn for the worse. He would need professional help soon. The attitude was not positive. The father felt frustrated at his inability to do anything.

‘Son,’ he said. ‘We are different. So is everyone else. Isn’t that the beauty of life ? You should be so happy to be with different people. You are so special. I am special. Be proud of that and share that feeling.’

‘Why should I be happy ?’, was the prompt retort. ‘I am not special. You keep telling me that. Tell me why I am special.’ He crossed his arms and sulked, staring angrily out of his window. There was a soft snow falling, but the ice in his bitter heart was harsh.

The father felt sad for his son. And tried to encourage him. ‘Remember’, he said, ‘of the time you set up the computer for me. I simply had no idea how to do it. And it was you who got mummy and me to use the cell phone. And DVD player. You are so intelligent. And you teach us so much at your age.’

The son looked up. His father saw he was making progress. There was good in everyone. Always enough to be proud of. He would help his son make it through this.

‘But’, continued the son in his attempt to hear more about himself, ‘that doesn’t impress people at school. They want to know if I can tell jokes, sing and dance and get drunk at the parties’.

‘Maybe you should do that’, said his father. ‘I mean, tell a few jokes, sing some songs, dance…It can’t be so difficult can it ? But keep away from the smoke and drinks. It is a bad habit.’

‘Ok…go on’, taunted the son, ‘tell me a joke. Let me see how well you do.’

The father winced. He was no good at this. Young Stiffy was a chip off the ol’ block. But he racked his brain to come up with something. ‘Well’, he began, ‘you could tell them that your father says your mother is an avid writer. She writes cheques all day long ! ! !’ He grinned feebly, hoping the son could see the funny side to his pathetic attempt.

Their eyes did not meet for a while. The father twiddled his thumbs restlessly. There must be a better way he thought.

He tried again. ‘I heard yesterday that there are national weeks celebrated in your school. Have you tried to participating those ? They must be so much fun.’

‘No’, said the son, ‘its only for the larger countries. Like the Indian students, the French, British and the American students. The rest of us just watch and enjoy the show. ‘

‘Isnt that good enough ?’

‘But I am sure you are learning so much. I hope you are associating with the Indian boys.’

‘What ? ? They are a nightmare. The dumbest bunch I have ever seen. I think they will all fail and the school will be held to some conspiracy theory for failing Indians. People worry about brain drain…..this bunch is a great example of drained brains. Please, don’t speak about them.’

The father bit his lip. Surely , he thought, there must be a silver lining to this dark cloud called school.

‘Ok’, he ventured again, ‘ but what about the French ?’

‘Je ne comprend pas ! ! ! ! Je ne sais pas ! ! ! ! Its all ‘n’est pas’ with them’, he said , his face contorted mockingly . ‘And most of them stop working half way through the day anyway…..supposedly some law that says they need work only 35 hours a week.

‘Ask me again papa, why I don’t want to go to school.’

‘Son’, said the father, ‘you must try and participate. You must cooperate. Every school has its challenges. You cant run away from them. I know how you feel.’

‘No you don’t ! You cannot even begin to imagine the exclusion I face everyday from the other kids. ‘

‘Surely you have met some challenging students here ?’, asked the father.

‘They’re all challenged’, came the irreverent reply.

The father gritted his teeth trying to kill the sudden bursts of anger this pointless conversation was building in him.

‘It seems my closest friends are Venkatesh, Devesh and Avijit. Much as I like them, it is so unnerving. Everyone now and then, these guys find empty seats near me and promptly sit there talking about themselves. All their worries. That’s all that matters to them. I nearly fell asleep on Dev’s shoulder last week. It is painful. I have had an overdoze of them. And no one else wants to talk to me.’

The father tried to change the subject of discussion.

‘What about the teachers ? I am sure they find you to be a hard working intelligent person.’

‘No. They hate me as well. The way they look at me, you would think they all think I am the cause of all their troubles. They ask me the most difficult questions and sometimes I think they ask me all their questions. One of them brings these post-it notes full of questions, tough ones.

Another ponders his questions rubbing his long grey beard. Looks at me like he can see into me and has decided I have a troubled childhood or something. Keeps saying I should meet him in his office after school hours. The other day, he was encouraging some students to drop eggs from the first floor windows. And one of the students looked at me in such a menacing way. I was scared father. The egg was going to become his weapon. Really scared.

The worst is the day after the teachers receive their pay checks. All I get is glares and snide remarks when I get the answers all muddled up. They act as if I am the cause of all their grief. What did I do?’

‘Maybe’, said father, ‘you should make friends with the security guards. Surely someone will talk to you on your level.’ That wasn’t a very bright thing for father dear to say. The son looked at him with a pained look.

‘How about the girls ? Are you interested in anyone ?’

The boy drooped his head further into his shoulders.

‘I could talk to Mansi if she stopped dancing. But I’m not very good at it you know. ‘

The father was aghast to hear him speak this way.

‘But you are learning are you not ?’

‘Maybe I should have joined the army. Should I look to become a priest father, he asked ?
Show me he way.’

With that he fell into his father’s arms.

The father gently patted his boy’s head. ‘I know things look bad. But they always work out. Happened to me when I was at school. But I slowly made friends. I just had to keep trying. I was stiff too. But I just being nice and helped when I could…..and finally I was accepted.

Then when I thought all was well my schooling years ended and I enrolled at university. It was the same struggle all over again. Only more painful because I had to move away from home.

It was always the same, young man. Be good and be helpful, and you will find your place in the sun. Why, I met your mother at university and never felt luckier in life.

Just be brave and do your best. You are a lovable chap.’

The son brushed away his tears and kissed his father. ‘Ok dad’, he said, ‘but not today. Just give me one more day and tomorrow I will be ready to go again. I promise.’

The father smiled feebly, knowing he could do no more than hope for a better beginning the next day.

‘Ok son’, he said, ‘I believe you will be ready tomorrow.’

He stepped out of the room as he saw his son reach for the Game Boy console. MTV, Game Boy, texting……maybe these toys were all encouraging solitude.

The father walked to the kitchen. Mother, unfortunately was not too happy to see him come alone. She guessed the mission had been unsuccessful and to show her indignation, slapped his breakfast before him.

‘I tried you know’, he said.’He will be ready tomorrow’.

‘It cannot go on like this forever. He must learn to look after himself’, said mother.

The father poked at his scrambled eggs in a curious way, perhaps hoping that the eggs would give him the answer.

The phone rang and woke him from his stupor. He guessed it would be the school and prepared himself for the interrogation. ‘I’m just the father you know !’, he wanted to shout. ‘Ozzy Osbourne has more influence on my son than I. Call Ozzy, don’t call me !’

‘Hello’, he said into the phone.

‘Yes’, he replied to a comment on the other end.
‘I understand’, he continued, ‘you are concerned, and thank you very much for your support.
I have just checked in his room …….Yes…….. Yes, he will definitely be in tomorrow. No……a medical examination will not be required.’

Slowly, the conversation came to an end.

‘Yes Isabelle’, he lied firmly and finally,

‘Dean Pekka is still suffering from a stomach bug. But I’m sure he will be in school tomorrow.’

The old man hung onto the phone for a few minutes before returning to his cold and scrambled eggs.

venkat, 2004.
Insead, the coolest plot on the planet. No hard feelings, dean.

SLEIGHT... avery short story (?)


If I stared at it long enough and hard enough, I could write a story about it. Or maybe fill a page describing it.

I could conjure its history. I could give it a life. A form- an entity- all imagined.

I could make it soar in the sky. Swim in shallow waters. Sing to its sweetheart. March onwards tirelessly. Row a boat gently over meandering waters. Blush. Savor the first rays of the rising sun. Reap a harvest. Devour mangoes. Play in the fields.

I could make it rest in its mother’s lap. Chat with its father. Be Superman. Tend cattle. I could show through it, the history of man. The futility of war. The grace of dolphins. Scavenging vultures.

Sailing boats. Screeching gulls.

The warmth of friendship. True love. Anger, jealousy, suspicion.

Truth and deceit. Valor and cowardice. Joy and tears.

If I tried hard enough, I could do it. And you would never know I was only describing a portrait of a steam train.

18th October, 2000.
In compartment C2 of the Shatabdi Express to Chandigarh.

what's your idea of protection? The National Insurance Company (India)

This ad in the newspapers caught our attention for two reasons.

1. it plays on a very Indian concept. Astrology/ numerology and such perspectives play a key role in how Indians plan for life/ marriage/ child birth/ careers.

Usually a "not so benign" planet in the horoscope casting an unfavourable influence is put right by a particular gem (precious stone) that seeks to mitigate the bad effect. Traditionally, this has been the notion of insurance in India.

The ad plays on this concept asking whether a life insurance policy will not cover a number of risks all at once. Our congratulations to the advertising/ marketing agency that identified and developed a creative around this.

2. The second reason was that while Ritu looked at the "thoda simple socho" (think simple) and "is this idea of protection" to make the connection to an insurance plan, i looked at all the precious stones on the fingers and believed this to be an ad for a jewellery shop.

Both of us agree that the execution of the idea could have been bolder,
especially a stronger tag line and more immediate focus on the National Insurance Company.

Still a great idea. And follows the principle of my marketing professor Mithileshwar Jha, that products for the masses must be built bottom up. So a product like insurance must be built upon how the common man looks at his current insurance needs and solutions, rather than look at what a good solution is and start explaining the same. (although both should lead to the same end result, the former approach faces lower perception barriers)

ritu and venkat