Saturday, 30 May 2009

Twitter for market research

Twitter should get more intelligent (Wolfram Alpha?). If we are putting in a query from India, the results should be sorted so we get more relevant "Indian" results.

Anyway, we wrote a while back on how new media is allowing consumers to learn more about products and develop their own opinions. So that the role of a brand manager is likely to change in the future from an "instructor" to a "facilitator".

We finaly got onto Twitter some weeks back and the first thing that struck us was :
- CHEAP MARKET RESEARCH! (Dip stick anyway).

We typed in a few brands...Nike/ Vodafone...and got a lot of twits that indicating what consumers were experiencing with each brand.

But most responses were "foreign" and we could not get an Indian feel to this. So we typed in a very well known Indian mobile services brand. And then things got very interesting.

People are twitting about its new services...its business plans etc. But mostly people are twitting about their experience of its products and services.

Mostly they are complaining. (we estimated 70% negative twits product/ services).

This is interesting, because the twitters are tech savvy, early adopters. They are passionate about technology and its usage. If they are complaining, its a good reason to look into why.

We are not sure if the brand manager at this company twits or even reads twitter. But he should.

But if Twitter could classify results relevant to the country of the twitter (India in our case), this would become a very interesting tool even for multinational marketing managers.

Ritu and Venkat

iPhone apps: Losing users within 30 days?

A very interesting note we read on (Please click title to read).

We are trying to conceptualise this but at this time, its just worth reading and digesting slowly.

Ritu - Venkat

From Spelling to Searching bee.

We take the spelling bee as an example to highlight why it is necessary to give up some skills of the past to learn new skills that will enhance the future.

Why do we celebrate the “spelling bee”?
Our children today have spell check on email/ on word/ xcel/ google and powerpoint. They complete close to 95% of their written tasks on these softwares.

Why do we celebrate the spelling bee? I am not sure we capture our surprise (dismay) at this. Infact we are surprised by the continued emphasis a lot of exams place (especially in India) on memorisation of facts. Perhaps in a country with very limited (PC penetration is about 5%) access to internet search tools, memorisation of facts is important.

But in the US, with a far higher degree of online search available through the PC or mobile phone, what’s the fun in continuing with a spell bee? (Wikipedia suggests this concept perhaps started in the 1700s with the emergence of reading and writing skills in the West).

Why don’t we have a “search bee” contest now for school kids? We ask them the most difficult questions, and the kids have PCs and access to any search engine (s) that they choose to get the answer in 3 minutes.

We take the spelling bee as an example to highlight why it is necessary to give up some skills of the past to learn new skills that will enhance the future.

We argued recently with friends of ours why the government should not incentivise the learning of ancient dance forms such as Bhrathnatyam and Kuchipudi. They were shocked.
“How can we lose our tradition like this? This is so irresponsible”, they said.

Our reaction was this:

- In the past 10,000 years, we have no ideas exactly how many forms of communication were learnt and forgotten(modified) as mankind evolved the complexity of his communication needs.

- In fact dance and songs, In ancient times lacking widespread reading and writing skills were only one way of recording stories and transmitting them. Now we have books/ photos and videos to do this recording and transmission. Why dance?

- What we know now is simply because we recorded in paintings or written form these cultural elements from the past 2000 years.

- But recording a cultural element itself preserves it for the future. Why force it to be learnt through incentives that can be applied to other educational and cultural needs.

- Why not create a museum for fine arts that has DVDs of every known cultural expression and detailed instructions on how to learn it in case someone wants to.

- But diverting resources to preserve a past in a country that lacks basic resources is a crime.

Anyway, we came back to this thought when the winner of the 2009 spelling bee in the US was announced on TV recently.

We are patenting our “search bee” idea. Its more relevant for the future.

Ritu and Venkat

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Bharti- MTN merger

Why? And why now?

Bharti (India's largest mobile service company) has announced plans to pursue once again a merger with MTN of South Africa. (click title to read more on this).

Bharti is a phenomenally successful company. WIth 100 million subscribers in India, revenues of USD 8 Bn and profits of USD 1.7Bn, it is by far the leader in the Indian market.

I am proud of this company which has set new standard in the business. It was the first company to completely outsource its IT infrastructure and hence reduced hugely its costs. Thereby giving customers prices of Rs 1 per minute of talk time (2 cents per minute).

Now, It wants to expand globally, and is looking at emerging markets as a first step.

I wish the company every success, but i am not clear why they should want to do this.
India has 300 million subscribers and this is expected to rise to 600 million in another 5 years. Bharti can double its subscriber base in India itself. Why go out?

If costs need to be reduced, they can be done in India, as the size of the company's customer base doubles. If this is urgent, why not merge with AT&T?

Is it about management resources? I dont think Bharti needs to look out of the country to get that.

In addition, i dont think the company has exhausted all sources of growth in India. Value added services are still in nascent stages, customer segmentation and customer service can be improved, there are new businesses such as IPTV where Bharti is making a play.

Surely the company is confident it has the resources to handle the demands of the Indian market as it ventures abroad. This is a very interesting and exciting move. And i repeat i am proud of this company and its ambitions.

The Indian press this morning is full of stories of how the merger will be executed and what the final company will look like. But take a minute folks, and help me answer two basic questions:

Why? And why now?


Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Titan FAST-TRACK Repulsive advertising

Marketers must use their common sense and judgment as they try to connect with audiences.

Titan (a well known Indian brand of watches) has a collection targeted to the youth called FAST TRACK.

We saw an ad for this brand yesterday with the tag line being "move on". Here a young boy and girl meet, have a one night stand (suggested) and then, as the girl tries to build more intimacy, the guy runs off (very fast)... this it appears is a ploy from the girl to drive the boy she wants to "move on".

Repulsive. This is the strongest critique we have done on this blog. But we are really offended by the treatment of young people (and if we may add, condoned) in the ad. Is this really what connects with our youth in India today? Or is this the best output an adman and brand manager keen to sensationalise in the name of connecting with youth.

We have not yet found the ad on the internet, but it appears that an add on the same "move on " concept has been aired before. An example can bee seen at

Here we cringe at the casualness of the break-up. Is this what "moving on" means to the youth today? Is this what it should mean to youth today?

Coming back to the "one night stand ad", lets assume this is what market research is suggesting connects with the youth today. The girl chasing away the with whom she has spent an intimate few hours? So that she can find the next target. If this is the case, something is wrong with our society. But the point is that a marketer must use judgment to decide whether he wants to build on this insight or he wants to transform this insight.

Is this attitude of young people correct? Would the brand manager want his children behaving like this? Is the answer is yes, he should find help. If no, then the marketer must use his ability and resources to bring positive transformation.

Why cannot young people "move on" from failure or success to take on the next challenge? Is that not a reasonable condition to "move on" from? Lets face it - unplanned pregnancies/ multiple partners/ teenage sex...these are all trends on the decline in the West. Are we saying, the very "internationally aware" youth of urban India have not plugged into the declining rates of these trends?
Wake up Titan, multiple partners have been declared passe!

"Titan" is a reputed brand name that in our books has completely lost dignity with the Fast Track ads.

Ritu and Venkat

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Indian Elelctions 2009 - Part 2

India has learnt to reward performance in civil administration.

A great great job by the Indian government in organising safely and efficiently this massive democratic exercise. A 1 billion strong country voted, and the results announced yesterday give a clear direction of a stable government for the next 5 years.

1. We will be investing in the Indian stock market tomorrow.
2. The results surprise us a little, but give us so much more optimism.

At preliminary analysis, the three national level parties (The BJP/ COngress and the Left) have put together returned with the same number of votes as the last election. The left, although touted as a "national party" is strong in the states of W. Bengal an Kerala..with a few pockets of visibility across the country.

So the Indian middle class, which votes basically across these three parties kept to expected lines. There was s shift from the BJP and the Left towards the Congress which saw the Congress emerge as the single largest party with 201 seats, its best performance in 25 years.

The BJP's right wing agenda was rejected and the Left's left wing agenda was taken down. The Centrist Congress collected handsome riches.

The total victories of the regional parties remained the same as last year, but we see some interesting trends:

- In states such as Bihar (tradionally very backward, but making economic gains in the last 5 years), the voters have voted for the incumbent's track record of good governance and development. In Bihar, the incumbent has gained votes across caste and community lines. We believe this is also because (and we will try to get some more data) parties have fielded candidates that represent various caste/ community and religious sentiments.

In the past, political parties could also be defined by a community as the majority of its members belonged to a certain community. This gave advantages in terms of winning votes of a particular community, but being closed to others. Hence the rise of fractured politics in a number of areas in India. The recent elections have shown political parties including within their folds, greater representation of the diversity of the communities they govern.

This means that:
1. if governance has been good, it makes it easier for the population to vote for the party through a candidate it is comfortable with.

2. That if the governance has not been good, the local population can indeed find alternative political parties tat are fielding candidates that represent at the basic minimum, the community of the voter.

This allows us to rationalise what has happened in another "under-developed" state- Uttar Pradesh, which is a close neighbour of Bihar.

Here, it has been widely felt that the state government was corrupt and inefficient, but has been voted in the previous elections on the basis of the caste and commnity equations it had correctly identified.

Lack of development meant that people wanted to find an alternate political party.

Each of the alternatives that gained (including the Congress) clearly had learnt lessons from the past and fielded candidates that closely represented the communities from where they stood.

This voting on community lines is what we are afraid of. But in this election, this issue was SECONDARY. The fact is that, largely the Indian voter voted for good governance. Where the local party had been governing well and developing the state, the party was voted for.

This bodes very well for the future. re-election will depend on good governance. At city, state and country level.

India has learnt to reward performance in civil administration.

We are hopeful and optimistic for the future.

Our broker will be a happy man tomorrow morning.

Ritu and Venkat

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Indian elections 2009

Its the day the results will be declared. The 1 Bn strong jury will of course come out with a split decision. Today we will know exactly what.

There should be no surprises. India will once again be governed by a coalition. In a note we wrote after the Nov 11 attacks in Mumbai we argued that politics in India is multifaceted with "national level" issues having a limited impact on elections and hence creation of governments.

The outrage after the Nov attacks took maybe 80% of Air Time on all news channels, but move away 150Km from the big cities, and people were already too far from Mumbai.

We believe, India votes on three philosophies.

A. The rich, well educated "elite" is largely a cynic. These folks have perhaps the lowest turnout. They don't care (anymore). They believe that any government formed will be just as inefficient. They want business to thrive and their well paying jobs to be secure. "Government, get out of the way" is the motto.

India will not go the socialist way anymore. The performance of the finance and commerce ministries are extremely critical for any government to have a semblance of functioning. Hence, no matter who wins, governments ensure that the F and C ministers will be the best available candidates. That's all the "upwardly mobile" Indian expects from the govenrment. "Get out of my way, make F and C work". The real work will be done by the bureaucrats of the Indian Administrative Service, so most ministers do not matter.

B. Then there is the middle class, which was made of mostly employees of the government sector. These folks, we believe always voted for the Indian National Congress, but found a choice with the emerging right wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The middle class voter (the ones we have known all our lives) rarely ever change their voting habits. It took the BJP many many years to enter the national debate. We do not see a third "national party" anytime soon. So the choice is one or the other.

C. And then , the rural voter. Largely farmers, but more and more people involved in the manufacturing and rural service economy.

These folks, mostly, vote by familiarity. Familiarity of community. There are about 3000 communities in India. Each community is seeking its own voice and this is causing extreme fragmentation of the vote bank at the rural level.

Indeed the two main parties- Congress and the BJP have been facing this vote bank fragmentation not in the cities, but in the rural areas- where community based voting has found a very strong foothold. Promises of more subsidies and fair "representation" of community leaders takes predominance over national level issues.

Caste and community, being seen as easier ways to get elected, means that the current lot of rural politicians does not have to focus on development. Subsidies will do. Perhaps, the trickle down effect- and increasing awareness will change this equation. But it will take time. The "minorities" have only recently found voice (maybe in the past 4 elections), so they will want to cherish if for a while longer, before giving up their interests before broader national issues.

The last Indian government was a coalition of more than 20 parties. We would be surprised if today's results threw up a small coalition.

But if the past 5 years have been any indication, we (of the cynical "government should get out of the way" class) should look forward to some robust growth in the next 5 years.

Ritu and Venkat

Thursday, 14 May 2009

the language of an organisation

Blog post 100. Its a milestone for us. We don't write for a living, but we see enough around us that merits debate and discussion. And we make some time to put out our point of view.

100 ..and counting....we're grateful.

The language of an organisation is a simple concept. Each organisation uses vocabulary which is very specific. Some companies use "we" more than "I"..others use "suggest" more than "lets do this". Still others use "lets discuss this" while others stick with "you can do this...or you can't do this".

Its been a long time since either Ritu or I changed jobs, but a friend of ours changed jobs recently. Moved from consulting to industry. I noticed that as a consultant he used certain words very casually:
- home working
- connecting on sametime
- "deck" to refer to a set of powerpoint slides
- "play" to refer to participation in a market
- "billable" hours

We spoke after his third day on the job and he referred to a conversation he had at work earlier in the day. When asked for his advice on a new project, he listed out his approach with numerous instances of "i think we should do this"...." i think we cannot do that..." etc.

I understood from him that in a consulting organisation, he could be as direct with his own team members (not with his clients, of course) and he extended that to the new company, only to get some very shocked looks from across the table.

The language of the orgsanisation.

Sure, most organisations have English as the official language. But "I" and "we" are both English words. So are " i believe we could" and " i think we should".

When you change jobs, do you try to figure out what language your organisation speaks? Are they direct? Are they consensus driven? Are they comfortable working on sametime? Are they comfortable working across functional silos? How do they show respect? Is it to hierarchy or to capability?

How much senior management talent is from the outside rather than home grown? How old is the company?

Without an effective understanding and usage of the language of an organisation, it is impossible to integrate into it. No great ideas will ever pass through an organisation whose language one has not yet learnt.

I remember a relative once telling me (almost two decades ago) why he had taken so much trouble to learn the American accent, when he relocated to the US.
"They just don't understand our way of speaking English", he said to me. " So i learnt to speak their way".

I remembered that today. When i thought of how groups of people develop their own language. You move to a new neighborhood, you have a new language. New country- new language. New school- new language. New project- new language.

So new company? Better learn the new language.


Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Advertising Jujitsu in India (Vodafone versus Airtel)

The #1 (Airtel, 85 million subscribers) and #3 (Vodafone 60 million subscribers) are dominating the airwaves with their ads for value added services. (VAS).

The Indian Premier League (Cricket) is on and this gives advertisers plenty of eye balls to target. With the wireless service provider business still growing (adding 8 million new subscribers each month), its this industry that has dominated the ad spots.

None more than Airtel and Vodafone. And here is where we see some serious JIJITSU

Airtel has two actors as its brand ambassadors...Mahadevan and Vidya Balan. Their ads can be found at

Vodafone, recently started using "egg headed" a puppet-animation format. They are called the Zoozoo ads
and can be seen at

We think Vodafone has outmaneuvered Airtel.

1. Its "zoo zoo" ads come at no "celebrity" costs. They seem to be created at very low cost.
2. Animation allows the storyline to be exaggerating- creating better humor and shock content. (as opposed to Airtel which has been relying more on emotional appeal)
2. Low cost of production is implying that for 3 of Airtels' VAS story lines, Vodafone has launched more than 20.
4. In the Indian advertisement market (usually seen to be fixated on celebrity endorsements) Vodafone has moved the conversation to content.

It has stood out. It has created a new reference for advertisement development.

We insist however, that neither company's approach is really encouraging consumers to try value added services.

Both companies are describing their value added services to the consumer. But their story lines are not compelling enough for people to overcome the price and uncertainty barrier. Consequently VAS penetration is less than 1%. (estimated from the Indian Telecom department's qtrly review).

Given that there are more than 300 million subscribers and 100 million phones capable of accessing the internet, this low penetration of VAs is a problem.

Our solution is based on the fact that the Indian consumer is clearly interested in "bang for the buck", and in India, the buck is very hard to come by.

Building up a new category requires marketers to define the role and relevance of the category in the consumers life, at a particular price point.

Trials are very key to building new categories. Value added services must entice consumers to try them.

1. Mobile companies must allow a few hours of "free trial time" while consumers get used to a service.
2. A call center that takes consumers through every step and only activates charges when the consumer confirms his interest.
3.Killer content.

It comes back to great brands being built on the promise of "engage, educate, entertain".

Else these ad wars and karate-jujitsu will only make for entertaining viewing...and transfer of wealth from shareholders to advertising agencies.

Ritu and venkat

Monday, 4 May 2009

The workplace... silos or collaboration?

We were reading a note on how engaging today's workplaces are for employees. It suggested that current work place structures are a turn off for the new generation of employees coming into the workforce.

The argument being that Gen Y employees, young, energetic, idealistic seem to look for more collaborative work places...technologically alive...and often get put off by silos and IT firewalls.

We thought about this and came up with a counter question... if all work places got re-designed for the Gen Y, what would happen to Gen X? Should we expect them to change? Should we help them to change? Or should we simply replace them? (not possible numerically, unless you are in India or China)

Should we simply ignore the Gen Y employee?

If you're working with a business unit that has been around 20 years or more, don't expect a dynamic flexible environment. Be ready to see around you a lot of folks that have been around 20 years. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it"....people have risen over time and doing a set of things that they expect will carry them another 20 years. Most of these units work in silos. With defined boundaries and control structures.

Find out when was the last time the organisation reworked its business process to keep in touch with its customers. Remember, you can do this before you join, and its your responsibility to do so.

Companies that are young, probably got created by young people who are more adaptable to "matrix" structures/ collaboration...or simply the lack of hierarchy.

But the surest sign of whether you fit in or not is to compare your work experience in years with the age of the business. If you've worked many years, be careful of joining a start up. If you're entering the workforce, be sure that established companies will work in established ways.

Re-organisations may lead you into silos/ or into collaborative environments. Unfortunately, what works for employee A, may not work for B. Be aware of this as you enter a workplace. Sure, you may want to change the DNA of your workplace. But the only way you will get to do that is to gain credibility by imbibing the current DNA.

Are you ready for that?

Ritu and Venkat