Friday, December 31, 2010

Adieu, decade of turbulence!

They made for much hype, agitation and excitement - the Y2K bug, the dotcom bust, the cell phone, big-buck brand campaigns, middling service notwithstanding ….

Writing a year-end column is challenging enough but to review the decade is a bit like landing up at the Centurion on a damp, murky day straight from the airport and finding Dale Steyn thundering in and suddenly realising that you have walked in to bat without your protector! On the lighter side I was trying to recall just what are the changes that have happened in my own life over the last decade and came up with a sensational discovery.

Ten years ago I used to painstakingly write my column on ruled sheets of paper and my secretary (who is now in Australia perhaps supporting the rejuvenated Aussies) would dutifully key it in. (I used to have a decent handwriting thanks to the plethora of loving and frequent impositions that my old school, Don Bosco Egmore in Chennai, so lavishly bestowed on me.) But today, as I key in my fortnightly 1,500 words religiously on my Apple laptop, my handwriting has gone for a toss. Of course, we could argue endlessly about whether my ability to write columns has improved! But let's move to more dramatic things - the economy, the consumer, brands, communication and life in India over the last decade. What has happened and what seems likely to happen in the near future? Let's take a look at the past before we venture our opinion on the future.

Y2K to Wikileaks

Do you remember the turn of the last century and the excitement, the dread around the Y2k bug and its impact on the software business at least? Well, things have blown over and the winds of change have blown in - something more sensational - Wikileaks. God, has the media gone to town or what, with every politician and statesman making more off-the-cuff remarks than Tendulkar's numerous centuries. The decade witnessed the dotcom boom and consequent bust. I remember (painfully) that our company that was called brand.comm became brand-comm as we went away to lick our wounds after putting all our eggs in the dotcom basket. Speak of the power of brand recall, many of our clients and well-wishers still refer to us as brand.comm. But the World Wide Web has taken over and digital is the medium to be in and everybody and his brother-in-law claims to have a digital strategy.

Of course, while many are denying that digital will actually take over the Indian markets, there is no denying its potential or criticality and the smarter, savvier brands are those that are showing the way rather than following the leaders. In a sense, India had been a follower of Madison Avenue earlier and is following in this medium too, as connectivity and security issues continue to dog us. But make no mistake, India is poised to fly and is just waiting to take off despite the blocks. But India has to discover its own new model which might be a marrying of offline with online. Consider a marriage site such as bharatmatrimony.com which has offline centres where horoscopes are printed and given to anxious and yet technologically challenged parents. India has traversed the mobile space with greater speed than several others and soon there might be a union of the two to move ahead. The future will have to do with harnessing the power of the mobile.

Roti, kapda aur mobile

No analysis of the last decade in India would be complete without the telecom and mobile revolution that has swept through the country. Even small villages in India discovered the pleasures of being in touch with their relatives in far-flung places thanks to the STD booths that littered the length and breadth of this country. Today, thanks to technological innovations it is possible for someone living in the villages to do a video call with family members he has left behind in his quest for employment and livelihood.

But I am getting ahead of myself and missing the mobile services revolutions. This is something India and Indians can be justifiably proud of. Today the mobile population is close to 800 million with 16 million phones being added every month. Mobile phones from China and Taiwan have flooded the market and new brands such as Micromax are giving the leader Nokia a run for its money. Mobile service operators continue to advertise heavily - and often produced outstanding advertising. Brands that readily come to mind are Idea Cellular with their “What an idea, Sirjee!” and the Vodafone campaigns featuring the now famous pug dog and the Zoozoos. There is no doubt, in my mind at least, that mobile services advertising has overtaken the colas in creativity.

The sad reality, though, is that advertising agencies continue to create ads that are independent of the quality of the service. Of course, this strategy is not unique and continues to apply to banks as well. But to return to the mobile services business, while it has continued to be driven by schemes, price offers and tremendous advertising expenditure, there has been a game-changing strategy too. I speak of the Tata Docomo strategy of per second billing which the competitors too had to reluctantly follow, to the delight of the consumer who continues to speak as rapidly and as needlessly as some of our TV commentators.

The retail revolution

It is difficult to discuss the last decade in India without the growth of organised retail as players such as the Future Group.

Trent and Reliance followed the Shoppers Stops and the LifeStyles of the world and went into the smaller towns and realised there was a completely service-starved consumer waiting for them there. Yes, the value format was here to stay and the consumer in the smaller town was growing in confidence and affluence. On October 15, 2010 no less than 150 Mercedes Benzes were sold on a single day at Aurangabad!

After that interesting titbit, let's return to organised retail which, though it may get media attention and interest, accounts for less than 3.5 per cent of the total trade. Not a figure to be sneezed at but nothing to set the Ganga on fire either! Yet, the decade has witnessed the emergence of private labels and the beginning of the tension between brand marketers and large formats, which are pushing brands to be on sale constantly. Brand values are being diluted by each and every sale and hardly anyone visits the company showroom as they find the well-lit, air-conditioned factory outlets a far cry from the factory outlets of yesteryear where you had to check your merchandise and could not exchange it even if it was defective. How times have changed and with it, consumer preferences!

Summing up

The consumers are changing, becoming more affluent and more demanding. They are used to quality, such as the new airports. Service and consumer engagement will be the key. How good is your service offering? Price is important as Big Bazaar has demonstrated. But how well are you positioned? The Nano is struggling as it is seen as a “cheap car”.

Agencies, in their quest to talk about things like “consumer connect”, are forgetting the importance and value of the big idea, fragmenting their resources and trying to achieve too much with too little.

The decade was easily the decade of crises – whether it was the financial crisis or scam after scam that India unearthed. The media too, which was busy playing judge and jury, suddenly found itself in the dock. Crisis management was key and few of the companies seem to have mastered the fine art of crisis management. And the next decade will see more of this. After all, we live in Kalyug, don't we!

Companies that pay lip service to social media and are experimenting with it without their hearts in it or getting their hands dirty are going to be hit, and soon. Companies that harness the mobile phone's capability will thrive.

Agencies continue to bemoan the lack of talent and yet steadfastly refuse to train their personnel. First we pay peanuts and then refuse to train the monkeys that we have brought into the industry, lest they be poached. Why wouldn't clients be frustrated?

Clients, even as they understand and appreciate the need for good creative, continued to haggle on prices even as they complained about the quality of service.

Brands changed their identities, often because they seemed bereft of other ideas to rejuvenate themselves. When will brand owners realise it is more important to get the essence of the brand right rather than merely tinkering with cosmetic things?

And finally, longevity will be key. Brands that endure will have clarity and consistency. In 1999 I was in England for the best World Cup to date and Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar had to rush back to India for his father's funeral. He came back to thrash bowlers all over the park and dedicate his efforts to his deceased father. Now he has scored his 50th test century and dedicated that too to his father. So that's one factor that has been consistent through the turbulent decade.

Consistency and longevity will continue to be key in the next decade as well. Here is wishing you a great year first and a wonderful decade later!


Ramanujam Sridhar, CEO, brand – comm.
Read my blog @ http://www.brand-comm.com/blog.html
Facebook: facebook.com/RamanujamSridhar
Twitter: twitter.com/RamanujamSri


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Small wonder or big challenge?

For all the excitement surrounding what was meant to be a Rs 1-lakh marvel, the Nano hasn't been having a smooth ride..

Whatever is happening to the Tata Nano? The brand which was touted as the greatest thing to happen to the Indian automotive industry and promised to transform the life of the middle-class consumer in India suddenly seems to have hit a speed breaker. Let us just go back a little in time to the pre-launch and the announcement of the Rs 1 lakh car which was actually made by Ratan Tata in March 2003 at the Geneva Motor Show. It was hailed as a triumph of Indian innovation and showed the disbelieving Western world as to how India was able to tap the fortune at the bottom of the pyramid and how India had leapfrogged to the forefront with its dramatic new offering. The media went to town. Airport book stalls were full of books on the car and its amazing journey — Small wonder — the making of the Nano was just one of the titles.

Along with the Corus and Jaguar takeovers, this announcement and consequent hype really put India on the global map and projected the Tatas as a name to reckon with in the international business arena. Then a few things went wrong. The company could not go ahead with its original plans of having a plant in Singur, thanks to a few well-meaning politicians, which set the project back quite a bit in time. Neither were they able to hold to the original price promise of Rs 1 lakh, which to my mind is a far bigger problem than it seems. To further compound the brand's woes, a few cars caught fire, leading to nasty jokes from the competition as to how the car is the first to have an external combustion engine! The demand tanked. If media reports are to be believed, there is an inventory of nearly 20,000 Nano vehicles and a very worrying order book position. The opposition secretly gloated, much as the rest of the cricketing world is gloating at Australia's current misery.

The company too seems worried as it must be. What exactly is the problem? Is it a case of hype overtaking the brand? Is it a case of an inferior product that does not meet the safety requirements of Indian conditions and weather? Is it a case of poor positioning as the much-touted people's car can easily be seen as a cheap car? Who is actually buying that car, is it an affluent Indian buying his third car that he had read about in the business press and could talk about it in his cocktail circuit or a middle-class Indian wishing to upgrade from his current two-wheeler? Neither Andrew Hilditch nor I have a solution to Australia's current cricketing problems, but I do have some thoughts on the Nano and what it can possibly do, so let's stay with the car that started to make history and yet seems to be going speedily downhill.

The great Indian consumer

Sometimes we get caught up in the power of our own rhetoric. We believe that we know everything about the consumer; after all we have built brands and businesses. While that may be true we sometimes miss ‘the blinding flash of the obvious' as Tom Peters would say perhaps when it comes to customers. Way back in 1987 (hope you were born then) I bought my first car. It was a second-hand Premier Padmini (23 years later and 15 cars later I still remember the number of the car). That was a special day in my life and if I may add, in the lives of my neighbours. Suddenly I was somebody. A hitherto unknown individual who zipped around in a TVS Suzuki with his child in the front seat, had grown in front of their very eyes, simply because a car had entered a middle-class home. It was a manifestation of my success in life. I know how proud my parents were of me that day.

Now here is my disconnect with the Nano: Has all the hype created in stereotyping the brand as synonymous with “cheap” devalued respect for the brand? As an expert asked me, “Who would want to be owner of el cheapo?” Let's spend a moment understanding the ‘social currency' of a car in our lives. It is about status, prestige, recognition and authority. Does the Nano, the way it is perceived now, deliver on these? I wonder.

Who is the customer?

The lowest priced car has certain advantages and certain disadvantages as well. The advantage is the price (even though it is not Rs 1 lakh) is affordable to a whole lot of Indians. I know a number of affluent Indians too who have bought it as their third car! Are they the core target audience? Or is it someone who is currently riding his two-wheeler in the dust and grime, breathing in the exhaust of the bus in front of him, who wishes to graduate to the safety and comfort of a four-wheeler, however small? This actually leads me to the next concern and that is the concern, or is the right word obsession, with space. Indians live in cramped conditions and dream of more space. They want more spacious houses, space for their children to play and space to park their commodious luggage in the boot. Have you seen any Indian travel light? While the Nano seems fine for two, how many families have two members and even if they are “dinks” (double income no kids) they would find another similar family to travel with. Consumers often do not state the way they actually feel and brands can get into trouble by ignoring what the consumer is not saying overtly. In many ways one wonders if the design of the car, though excellent, is anchored in Indian needs and will address our concerns.

Public relations and the brand

I am a great believer in public relations and have seen that a disciplined, strategic approach builds credibility and image. The media coverage for the Nano has been phenomenal; I am sure running into several hundred crores, if one were to do an analysis. But what has the coverage been about? It has been in the business press about innovation, Indian ingenuity, the people's car … A lot of this is corporate PR and coverage which has limited if any, relevance to the consumer, if he happens to be a middle-class Indian currently zipping around on a scooter with aims and hopes of buying a car. And the challenge of the cars bursting into flames or smoke has not been addressed adequately by PR. PR can handle crises, soften the blow and even shift the focus to actual consumer experience. I am sure there are enough satisfied customers of the Nano. How come I have not heard about their experiences while the accidents have been blown out of proportion?

Positioning — biggest opportunity,

greatest challenge

The biggest challenge, in my view, at least, is that the brand has not been positioned clearly. The corporate position of “innovation”, “affordable car”, have all been milked. Different people have formed their own opinions of what the car is and unfortunately many of these have not been helping the brand. In the early stages the brand did very little advertising as it probably believed that it had a healthy order book and a waiting period. But advertising clearly helps define and answer some key questions — who is the car for? What is the “reward” for the consumer and what is the “support” for what we are claiming? The problem has just gotten a little more complex now, but nothing that sharp strategy and smart execution cannot handle.

It's the consumer, silly!

I too wanted to buy a Nano when I saw all the hype and my family asked me a simple question that they often do, “Are you mad?”, and I promptly desisted. How many such conversations are happening all over India? Often companies forget that business is not so much about innovation, hype and media coverage but about listening to the consumer. What do people who have bought the car have to say about the Nano? Who is not buying the Nano and why? Is there some mental block? I also think there has been a serious breach of confidence in the inability of the company to deliver a car at Rs 1 lakh. I really do not know how that is going to be bridged. And there are some practical issues that need to be ironed out, such as finance. Car finance is more difficult and messier than two-wheeler finance and the company must address this problem if it wants the numbers.

In the final analysis, the Nano seems to be an excellent product poorly marketed and even more confusingly branded. It is in the interests of the Tatas to ensure that they do not end up with egg on their face and in my view, the problems of the Nano can be handled. “The small wonder” is going through a big challenge. But it is not insurmountable.

Ramanujam Sridhar, CEO, brand – comm.
Read my blog @ http://www.brand-comm.com/blog.html
Facebook: facebook.com/RamanujamSridhar
Twitter: twitter.com/RamanujamSri

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Are you missing the digital revolution?

In the eighties, some of my classmates went to the US to study further and I was a bit envious of them. The reason? The US was going through a “sexual revolution” or so one read and here I was sitting in India where even the green revolution was a flop. When they returned a few years later a little rounder if not much wiser, I asked them eagerly about their experiences and they said rather shamefacedly “I missed it. It just passed me by”. Now
when I see the digital revolution taking over the marketing the world over, I am reminded of this incident. Is our generation, which has its fair share of industry leaders, missing the digital bus? Now why am I saying this? Consider this. What is the greatest challenge that Indian marketers are facing. To my mind it is simple “Heads of marketing in companies are in their forties, Managing directors are in their fifties, while consumers are in their twenties!” Enough and more has been said about the Indian youth market, its size, its complexities and its obvious potential as a market. What does the Indian youth particularly urban youth have similar in broad characteristics to youth the world over? They are a plugged-in community and are either on the mobile or on the net 24/7. They can bare their souls to complete strangers unlike us who are tighter than clams. They have the attention span of nano seconds and are bored easily. They are not satisfied with what they are born with and what to equip themselves with to meet the demands of the world. If that means preparing for IIT so be it. If that means taking a year off from school to compete in Indian idol, then that too is par for the course! So where is the problem?

It is all in the attitude honey

Belonging to generation X, I believe we are different. We are unable to accept generation Y as our equals and peers, as my second son says quite succinctly “Dad, the problem with you is that you are a dangerous combination. You are both a teacher and a parent. Teachers lecture and parents advise. You do both!” So maybe it is time for us to do more introspection if we are to understand youth and their medium better. Are we still in the world of print and television while they are online? The other challenge is technology. Some, not all, of our generation are technologically challenged. I wonder how many of you have seen this commercial for R world, a value added services provided by Reliance communications. As it is a few years old, let me jog your memory. There is a class of young school children who are being taught. A parent of one of the children is standing outside the class, desperately trying to get his young kid’s attention. The kid desperately looks the other side. His friends draw his attention to the fact that his dad is outside and he comes out reluctantly from the class, only to be asked by his dad how he can see the score on his mobile. The kid looks at his father disdainfully says “Bus button dhabao” and gets him the score in a flash. As luck would have it, Dhoni hits a six and the father does a gig in the corridor, to the disapproving glares of two nuns who pass by. It is a brilliant commercial which addresses the consumer insight of how children take to technology like ducks to water while their parents struggle to come to terms with it.

Opportunity beckons

I was at a seminar recently where one of the speakers asked an interesting question to a group of Managing directors of PR agencies “How many of you have Facebook or LinkedIn accounts “I am not going into the answers here. But my question is simple. If the next generation is in a different medium, should we not try to understand and harness it, for our own good? How long can we keep talking about being “technophobes” and take pride in being “pencil and paper” types? The same challenge is with advertising agencies. Today’s agency heads have been reared on the picture tube.

To them life is one long thirty second commercial. They do not understand the online medium, much less create for it. Clients too are experimenting with the medium much like radio in the nineties, without going the whole hog. I believe that while there are changes around us that we can all feel good about, I do not wish us to have the Indian mentality- “Look how much we have achieved in sixty years”. Yes, but there is so much more to be done. I think, perhaps the best expression that comes to my mind when we talk of India and the online medium is that “we have miles to go before we sleep”. And if we do not traverse those miles now, we will end up having sleepless nights.

Ramanujam Sridhar, CEO, brand – comm.
Read my blog @ http://www.brand-comm.com/blog.html
Facebook: facebook.com/RamanujamSridhar
Twitter: twitter.com/RamanujamSri

Image Source : Social Media Vision

Friday, December 3, 2010

Another Logo Bites The Dust!

Brands, which really belong to customers, would be better served if they improved the service along with a makeover..

Change of face: Airtel gets a new logo as 3G services arrive. Sunil B. Mittal at a press conference in New Delhi to launch the new logo and signature tune. - KAMAL NARANG

On November 18, 2010 I was near Hampi and opened a newspaper only to find the newspaper carrying a jacket (on its front page) unveiling the new logo of Airtel, my mobile service provider ever since I can remember. Interestingly the new logo was malleable enough to be part of that newspaper's logo in the ad announcing the logo change, where the new stylised shape replaced the ‘o'. Of course, you could forgive my ignorance for thinking that it should really be cueing an ‘a', not that anyone really bothers about what I say or write. India's leading mobile service operator was going to town with new creatives announcing the new logo not only in the paper that I talked about but in several others and supplemented the burst with TV spots for the launch of 3G services with commercials shot internationally. Media reports suggest Airtel is spending a miserly (!) amount of Rs 300 crore on the campaign. Changing a brand's identity clearly means a big investment for the marketer and big business for the advertising agency and the brand identity firm that creates the logo. In the same breath I need to mention that in my view brands are taking the step all too frequently these days irrespective of whether such a change is necessary and for the better.

video

Is change the order of the day?

Suddenly brands in India seem to be diffident about their identities and are in a hurry to shed them for newer, sexier and (naturally) more expensive ones. Over the last couple of years I can certainly recall brands such as Shoppers Stop, Godrej, Ceat and Canara Bank changing their logos (may the ones I have not mentioned kindly forgive me) as they probably felt their logos did not represent their current standing adequately.

Why do brands change their identities?

“Our logo is dated and India is full of young customers. We wish to create a new identity that will be attractive to young customers.” (And what about poor old customers like us who patronised you, old logo et al?)

“We have changed our business focus and the new identity represents that.” (At least this time we hope you know what you want to do!)

“We are offering a whole new range of services.” (Are you now!)

And so the story goes on. In my view, marketers tend to be more worried about their identity than the image consumers carry of them. To clarify, identity is easily manageable, starting with a logo, a Web page, brochures, advertising – in other words all communication that the company wishes to convey. This in short is the company's view, the way it sees itself. The image of the brand, however, is something entirely different. It is how the consumer perceives the brand and that view could be substantially different. So in my view, merely changing a company's identity (and the logo is its most visible part), may not do much to change the overall image of the company if not accompanied by significant measures to improve its service or delivery.

The “new” and “improved” Airtel logo

I am sure many of us are familiar with the slogans “new” and “improved” that FMCG brands have been using. It is a strategy (?) as old as the hills and often consumers would be hard-pressed to figure out what was new or improved about some of these brands that they have been using since childhood. Of course, logo changes are far more noticeable, particularly when they are backed by huge media spends as in the case of Airtel. Now let's come to the key question: Is Airtel's new logo really an improvement assuming that change was necessary? Of course, discussions on design usually tend to be unresolved as design is such a subjective topic and everyone knows how volatile creative people can be when their work is subject to scrutiny.

The earlier Airtel logo had a boxed-in look to it, while the new logo has a free, unencumbered feel. As one of the analysts who commented on the design said, “It is without boundaries.” In a sense that is perhaps what the brand is attempting to do as it moves across geographies and straddles continents with its new offerings, not being satisfied with merely being the market leader in India. The earlier logo was red, which, one suspects, is a brand property and it is hardly surprising that the new logo continues to be in red. Yet the bone of contention is that the design element cues another brand, Videocon, which also is claiming to be international and which, incidentally, also has ambitions in the mobile services space. But the greater concern is that the new identity seems closer to Vodafone, a major competitor of Airtel and a global brand of repute in the mobile services space.

In this context, it is perhaps relevant to look at historic competitors in another category, soft drinks, where Coke and Pepsi have battled it out for market share and brownie points, ever since I can remember. Of course, Coke and Pepsi have strong brand properties; Coke owns the colour red while Pepsi appropriates blue. It has been said half jocularly that the easiest way to make a Coke salesman see red is to whisper the word ‘blue' in his ear! Similarly a Pepsi salesman would go blue in the face if you just mentioned the word ‘red' to him! But seriously, competing brands build properties that in no way cue their competition and on this count I feel that it is perhaps not the ideal strategy to change yourself to look closer to your largest competitor.

Have mobile, will change!

Let's keep aside the global markets for a second and focus on the Indian market where I can speak with confidence, not so much as an analyst, but certainly as a consumer. I believe I have been a loyal customer of Airtel for years now. I have been wooed assiduously by the competitors and have even flirted with some of them for some time and continue to hold a second line. I remember the citizens of Bangalore cribbing incessantly about the name change to ‘Bengaluru'. “We are the constituents, did you ask us before you changed the name?” they ranted. Of course, politicians have their own agenda, which is largely independent of public opinion. But shouldn't marketers be different? Was I or anyone else asked whether we were tired of the logo? Marketers should somehow remember that brands ultimately belong to consumers and not so much to marketers. If Airtel had asked its consumers, they would have complained bitterly about the clogging of the networks and the frequent call drops. If we had a choice, we would have said stay with the logo, mate; just use the money you plan to spend on the change on the service!

Portability is finally here!

Why don't consumers change their mobile service providers and their banks? It is lethargy, really, as it is too much of a hassle to change, or at least has been, so far. And heavy users like me have another problem. We never really know how good the competing service provider is likely to be. And if after going through the heartburn and hassle of changing your service provider and your number and telling the whole world you end up in a mess, you are unlikely to be a very happy man. It is precisely this fear which has held back people. But now I am not so sure. I think I will experiment and so will a million others, one hopes. I hope service providers stop focusing their entire attention on prepaid and remind themselves that customers like me too matter!

Yes, these are interesting times, not only for marketers such as Airtel but consumers such as you and me. Companies and brands would do well to focus on things that will really make a difference to the consumer's life that are perhaps more difficult to manage, like the coverage and the customer experience, rather than the more easily manageable but relatively unimportant aspects like identity!

Do you agree?

Ramanujam Sridhar, CEO, brand – comm.
Read my blog @ http://www.brand-comm.com/blog.html
Facebook: facebook.com/RamanujamSridhar
Twitter: twitter.com/RamanujamSri

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Business Leaders Penning Highly Successful Books On Various Subjects

Business leaders of India are turning authors and penning highly successful books on various subjects. The Business bigwigs of India like Raghav Bahl, Ramanujam Sridhar, Subrato Bagchi, R. Gopalakrishnan and of course Narayana Murthy & Nandan Nilekani have proven themselves over and over as visionaries.

Sunday Chronicles brings out an exclusive, highlighting the Indian business legends and what has aspired them to pen down their thought into books.

CNBC TV 18 Covers exclusively Airtel's New Brand Identity & Experts Opinion



Mohit Beotra - Head of Brand & Media, Bharti Airtel talks about the reason behind the change in the logo.

Experts from the field of Branding, Management feel that the heavy investment made by Airtel in re-branding was of no need. I felt that there was no need to have changed the logo, for Airtel did not bring in anything new for the consumer i.e., nothing significantly different is being offered to the consumer. Elsie Nanji feels the new logo resembles the logo of Vodafone & Videocon. Santosh Padhl feels that the logo could have been much better.

The consumer also feels that the new logo was not promoted enough and that the logo resembles other brands like Vodafone, Videocon.

Airtel is trying to push its new logo awareness by inviting users to suggest a name to the new identity.

Source: CnbcTv18

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Embracing Gen Y

...continuation from last week "Of older marketers, young consumers", how older marketers can communicate with their young target audience, a different beast altogether..

The average Gen ‘Y', if research is to be believed, changes its jobs an average of 29 times and the average time in one job is as long as 1.1 years!

With an eye on the future:Candidates line up for a written test and interview being conducted by top BPO companies. These jobs have brought about a sea change in lifestyles and mores.

People of my age on occasion have difficulty in remembering the names of their own children, so more for my benefit than for yours, dear reader, let me quickly summarise some of the key points we addressed in the last issue (November 4, 2010) on the subject of young customers. The biggest challenge facing marketing in India today is the fact that heads of marketing are in their forties, managing directors are in their fifties while the customers they are wooing are in their twenties! What is it that makes these twenty-somethings tick and how can marketers use this knowledge to woo them?

India's youth wants to improve itself by education and keeps attempting the IIT entrance and the CAT, even if the odds are stacked against it. Others wish to look better - an insecurity that the fairness creams market literally lives and feeds off. Older people wish to appear young too, mothers get tickled pink when someone says that they look like their daughter's sister and fathers go out to pubs with their young sons. The space, which was exclusively youth at one point in time, has now become more inclusive with older people too jostling for elbow space and attention to the chagrin of their younger wards.

Reality shows and attempts to acquire national celebrity status through programmes such as Indian Idol are common, particularly in people from smaller towns, and it is not uncommon for youngsters to drop out of college to prepare better for these shows and then they do go back reluctantly to their old, mundane lives. We also spoke about the ability of youth to multitask, their ability to be connected 24/7 and finally of how different their sleeping habits were from older people. Young India sleeps late, to put it mildly. But is every young Indian coming home with the milkman after a night of revelry or is something else happening?

The BPO revolution sweeps young India

The BPO brigade is a million-strong today and the people who work in this sector have no alternative but to synchronise their work timings with that of their counterparts in the US or the UK, if not Venezuela. It is not uncommon to find people working from 11 p.m. at night till 7 a.m. the following day. To confuse the issue, there are also some companies that call themselves KPOs. While KPOs claim that their work is not as mundane and dull as their BPO counterparts, it still warrants unearthly times and my limited understanding of the difference between these two ‘O's is that those in KPOs cop less abuse from their customers! Abuse notwithstanding, this sector like no other demonstrates the tremendous change in terms of the opportunity that presents itself to educated youth.

Of course, the word ‘education' has to be taken with a pinch of salt. It basically means an ability to communicate in English and it is not uncommon for household help to put their daughters into classes to help learn and improve their English.

It is not uncommon for people to start work early and significantly young India believes in the value of work experience even while in college as the fact that you have worked in events during weekends and in your spare time reads well in your bio-data and denotes a seriousness of purpose. It is not uncommon to find college students hanging out at golf courses handling the registration of old fogeys and providing them their high point of the day even as they make a few cool bucks. Yes, young India wants to move up in life, look better, earn more.

Of course, there are social implications as well. The BPO culture is something that has its own implications in terms of ‘thank God it's Friday', quick money and a lifestyle that is very different from what the average middle-class Indian is exposed to in his or her own home.

Rather than going into a needless harangue on the falling moral standards, I think it probably makes sense for us to say that the BPO pie presents an interesting option to the marketer of people who probably live at home and have a fair amount of disposable income with a propensity to spend and often experiment with risky stuff that people in more traditional jobs might baulk at.

Parents live in fear as they wonder what their children, who go to work after they have gone to sleep, do. Remember the Motorola commercial where the parents worriedly ask the kid who has a new flip phone whether he is doing something that he should not be doing?

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What is the big deal about change?

Old India was reluctant to change and often paranoid about it. It worked in the same company for 37 years and left it only because it was forcibly asked to at the age of 60! It might have hated the job, lived in dread of the boss but still had the hypocrisy to make a virtue of this fear of change. They lived with the same person not because they loved the person but merely because the possibility of leaving the person, while it certainly must have crossed their minds, was not acceptable to society.

While today's generation ‘Y' is not exactly the opposite, it certainly has a different outlook to work and relationships. The average Gen ‘Y' of today, if research is to be believed, changes its jobs an average of 29 times and the average time in one job is as long as 1.1 years! Of course, it does pose a counter question to employers whether they really understand this generation or are too willing to write them off as unstable and “like that only”.

Forget about jobs, people at least in the cities get into and out of relationships with the ease with which cricketers change from flannels to pajama cricket. My generation used to go into deep depression if the girl in the bus stop did not look at them at 8.15 and swear eternal love to someone who had the misfortune of smiling at them, while this generation wants to “move on”. The Fastrack commercial where the guy and girl return all the trinkets and gifts given by each other when they break up (without too much heartburn) is perhaps an indication of the times that we live in.

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They are unafraid too of showing their emotions and maybe the Fastrack bag commercial with Genelia and Virat Kohli where the saucy Genelia finds a new use for her bag is a newer side of generation ‘Y' that may shock the “oldest member” but I don't see young India caring too much about us.

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On a more serious note Gen Y does not seem to think that marriage is sacred either — marriages tend to break up a lot easier than before. They often seem to expect a lot more from relationships and people and have neither the patience nor the inclination to see things through. Who knows? Maybe they just don't have the energy to go through the charades their parents go through in front of them day in and day out!

So where do we go from here?

Generation ‘Y' is here to stay, rule and buy. So rather than merely accept them, let us embrace them! And here, of course, I speak figuratively. We do know that they have the attention span of nanoseconds and get bored easily. (At times they remind me of some of my clients.) So we need to engage them, not lecture to them. The communication principle of “be quick, be friendly, be gone” comes to my mind. And yet I find most advertising dull. Generation ‘Y' has a sense of humour and is willing to laugh at itself and most certainly at the older generation. The challenge for us is to entertain even as we sell.

David Ogilvy might have thundered “People don't buy from a clown”. But the only thing that we know today is that there are no rules, though you must certainly know the rules before you break them! Each young Indian is different - the student of St. Xavier's, Mumbai, is different from the student of Bishop Heber's College in Tiruchi even if they are of the same age and study the same subjects. The person in Ranchi is different from the person who lives in Boat Club Road in Chennai. Gen Y is saying “I am not just a bl***y demographic” and I do hope we are listening. Generation ‘Y' is saying “I am wired” while it secretly seems to be saying that we have our wires crossed! Generation ‘Y' is saying “I am not a scaled down adult”, “Neither am I your unrealised ambition”. But to me, at least, Generation ‘Y' is also saying “If you engage me, I could be your customer for life”.

Customer for life! What an entrancing concept! Let's view Generation ‘Y' not only as our future but the present and future for marketers. What we need is a change of attitude. But are we ready?

Ramanujam Sridhar, CEO, brand – comm.
Read my blog @ http://www.brand-comm.com/blog.html
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Twitter: twitter.com/RamanujamSri

Monday, November 8, 2010

Why Most Advertising Does Not Turn On A “Madrasi”

Ramanujam Sridhar was invited by CNBC TV-18 Storyboard to write an article on their guest blog. Please find the same article below.

It is festival time. Diwali is almost upon us. While Diwali is a festival that all of India celebrates with varying degrees of intensity, several other festivals are regional and not celebrated with the same fervor in all parts of India. Like Onam for instance which happened a couple of months ago, which to Malayalis (the people from God’s own country) is a big thing. Well a friend of mine remembered me on Onam. He is from Mumbai and really likes me (or so I believe) and he woke me up at an unearthly hour (it was seven thirty for God’s sake) and said at his cheeriest best “Happy Onam! Isn’t today a big day for you?” Whilst I grumpily thought that it might have been a better day if I had slept a little longer, I realized that this guy actually meant well. What the hell, he did not realize that I was a Tamilian; after all we are all Madrasis aren’t we? So what’s the problem? The problem is most (oh okay a lot really) of advertising that is created in the North of India (oh okay include Mumbai as well) has a similar haziness about the people of South India and consequently has little impact on people like me.

Can’t read, write or speak

I was born and brought up in the city (?) of Madras as it used to be called in those days. My generation grew up right in the middle of the ‘anti Hindi agitation’. Several of my friends favorite slogan was “Hindi down, down”. Now it is not that we felt strongly about the language but used the situation to just not learn the language. Many people of my generation don’t read, write or speak the language. Of course I am one of the few that can speak a sort of language that may pass for Hindi after you have had a couple of really stiff ones. Several others of my friends would not even try. And while the next generation may be marginally better, it neither shares the prowess nor the interest of my North Indian friends in that pleasant language. So here is my question to some of the best creative minds in India. How relevant is a lot of your advertising that is conceptualized, executed and released in Hindi to most of us? Of course I need to clarify that the problem is not as intense in Karnataka or Andhra as it is in Tamil Nadu or Kerala.

The real thing takes a bus to Chennai

I am sure some of you have seen the Coke commercial. Let me with my limited powers of expression try to explain the script to you. There is a young man who wants to go home to Delhi for Diwali and is stuck without a mode of transport except a battered down bus. The people around him seem from Shillong or thereabout look at him blankly. He opens his Coke only for life to be transformed. There is music, dancing, the bottle assumes magical proportions and the bus driver who looks a lot like Hashim Amla at the age of sixty, suddenly smiles and takes him to Delhi in the same bus which now looks like a golden chariot. I am sure you get the drift. Now I am hardly the target audience for Coke, so I don’t want to get into the effectiveness of the ad, but am only going to talk about the same ad in Tamil. Everything else is the same. The same cute kid stranded in the Himalayas, the same bemused Tibetan faces, the same Pathan driver and what is the difference. The kid wants to go to Chennai? From the Himalayas? Give me a break or better still a Pepsi! And mind you most Tamilians like me have seen the original and the translation (?) if you can call it that.

Is there a better way?

The average commercial conceptualized in Hindi and translated into Tamil is badly done. The translators must have been banished from Tamil Nadu in the sixties, so stilted are their expressions. It is compounded by Shah Rukh Khan speaking Tamil, or someone doing a passable imitation of him. The Khans mean nothing in our neck of the woods which Coke realized years ago. Our celebrities are different as are our aspirations, as someone said “it is a different country”. While that may be an exaggeration, there is no denying the fact that it needs attention. Asian Paints did a Pongal commercial over twenty years ago, which was created in Tamil for Tamilians. The same Asian paints did a wonderful translation of the Sunil Bhai commercial which became part of the local lingo. The Cadburys Dairy Milk Diwali commercial is a brilliant example of communication that is targeted and created for this market. Tamilians want to be spoken to in their language. Period.

I know enough about arguments about production costs and how Tamil Nadu is just another market. But a one size fits all, cannot work in this country with its diversity, complexity and language bias. Who said advertising was easy?

Talk to me in my language and I will listen and better still buy from you. Don’t pass me hand me downs or concepts created for the cow belt! There was a time when mobile phone manufacturers shipped those models that did not sell in other parts of the world. Now what do they do? They launch here as India is the happening market. Tamil Nadu could well be your happening market, if you are ready to recognize and more importantly accept it. On our terms! We are a very considerate people you see!!!

Ramanujam Sridhar


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Of older marketers, young consumers

How should the former overcome the age gap and speak convincingly to the latter?.

India's Gen Y is a complex kind that believes in self-advancement as much through education as through Indian Idol, is unashamedly self-absorbed, highly networked and lives life in a melting pot - how can marketers, usually much older, connect?

A few weeks ago I was asked to speak at the WAN IFRA conference at Jaipur on Gen Y in India, their hopes, fears, aspirations and on how marketers could reach out better to them. When my family heard of this opportunity to go to Jaipur, they asked me in their usual polite manner: “Do you do anything other than give speeches?” The Ramanujam family can never be accused of tact! Whenever I hear statements like this and it is quite often, I gently remind them that I am in the communications business and if delivering speeches and presentations isn't communication then what is! Personally, I learn a lot more from preparations for assignments like this.

Like in this case, I was able to look at several studies such as the Nielsen-India Today study on youth which was extremely illuminating and which has been used in this piece. Be that as it may, let us return to Gen Y and see if we can crack the code. I must, however, confess that I am perhaps not the best person qualified to understand this generation. Fifty-seven-year-olds are hardly the best judges of twenty-somethings, are they? My only qualification, perhaps, is that I have two sons aged 26 and 23 and my endeavour to understand them over the years has probably resulted in my only true sign of wisdom, a balding head!

But on a more serious note, is there a simple way to classify today's youth? In the mid-Nineties, Bajaj had done its second Hamara Bajaj ad which some of you might recall. Let me attempt to jog your memory. It has images of guys in motorcycles who drive around a rangoli so as not to disturb the pattern, guys in grungy T-shirts carrying sitars, a girl removing her hand from the boy's leg as she sees an older person on the road … The whole commercial, in my view at least, represented Indian youth of that time - traditional and yet modern, conservative and yet contemporary. In one word, the youth of the Nineties was being modern within the constraints of Indian culture and tradition. They would neither go completely overboard, nor would they rock the boat. Brilliant, I thought, and a nice depiction of young India.

In 2010, however, I feel that such a depiction might be an oversimplification of a complex breed of people. So what makes young India tick, what are their beliefs and what should India do to reach out to this generation?

The marketing challenge of India

At the risk of carrying coal to Newcastle we need to remind ourselves that we have the youngest population in the world and one-fourth of the world's youth population lives here. The good news is that 50 per cent of the Indian population will be under 30 even in 2015. But then what's the bad news? The people who are marketing to these people are much older. Vice-presidents of marketing are in their forties, managing directors are in their fifties and the customers who are buying products and services are in their twenties! And how old are editors of newspapers and magazines? I would much rather not answer that! Given this reality, what should companies do? I think they should start by marshalling their knowledge on Generation Y. What does today's youth brigade believe in?

The power of education

“A person who is better educated has more power.” The youth of today strongly believes in the power of education, even if on occasion, parents have to reinforce this belief! The success rates in IITs and IIMs are as low as 2 per cent! But clearly statistics like these do not prevent four lakh students from appearing for the IIT and a few days ago two lakh students appeared for the CAT (incidentally, a smaller number than last year). This desire to improve themselves through education is as old as the hills, but it is heartening to note that the vast Indian middle-class seems to have passed down this value to the next generation as well.

There is another new dimension to this desire for advancement, though. People believe that talent hunts like Indian Idol are the way to self-advancement. Indian Idol, for instance, had two lakh applicants and over 20,000 people were called for auditions. It is not uncommon for people to drop out of college for a year to participate in the talent hunt that will push to them to a completely new level of recognition and rewards. Young India does not believe that education is the only way.

The other important point of view is that today's Indian youth can no longer afford to “live with what he/ she has been born with”. The desire to look better is perhaps more in evidence today than ever before. An insight that brands such as Fair and Lovely have used for years and continue to do even today. Remember the controversial air-hostess commercial? Witness too, the number of fairness cream brands and cosmetic brands in the marketplace today compared to a decade ago, and the share of shelf, wallet and mind that these brands seem to enjoy. Today's youth too seems to be far more conscious of their physical well-being (if not their mental). On the rare occasions that I have gone to the gym I have been surrounded by twenty-year-olds building their bodies and toning their muscles. That's admirable but what is not is the fact that they keep referring to me as ‘uncle' despite all my attempts to look young and “with it”. Even as we speak of the younger generation we need to mention that older people are trying their hardest to appear younger. Mothers wish to appear like younger sisters of their daughters and brands such as Santoor appeal to this desire.

No longer chilled out

Our generation had its fair share of youngsters inspired by Woodstock. We talked of ‘discovering ourselves' and admired the backpack generation, though none of us owned backpacks unlike every second youngster of today. Yet some of us were chilled out, aloof and distant. Not so the current generation. Theirs is an inclusive life and unlike our generation that stayed exclusively and was friends with people who spoke the same language and belonged to the same socio-economic classification, this generation is networked. It is an inclusive group and has friends who speak different languages, come from different cultures and accepts all quite easily. It is perhaps in this context that the Idea Cellular commercial should be viewed. Have you seen the commercial where a Malayali goes to Mumbai and a Malayali lands up in Punjab … A brilliant execution of a powerful insight which must appeal to youth, certainly.

Are 24 hours enough?

How does Generation Y spend its time? Research from the Omnicom MediaGroup suggests that youth need more than 24 hours to a day. This generation has given a new dimension to multitasking. It wakes up (usually late) and reads supplements with the TV on. Continues to chat and blog with the TV on. Reality shows seem to fascinate them. Spend time at multiplexes (usually in class time), hang out in pubs and in Bangalore, at least, make their way to Café Coffee Day after the pub closes down at 11 p.m., organises and attends college fests and contests. They are plugged in all the time – either on the mobile or on their computer. If they have a quota of free SMSes that mobile service providers offer, that is usually run through by 9 a.m.!

Of course, as a parent, I wonder when they study or attend class. But this is not about how older people spend their time worrying, but about how younger people spend their time living! There is an interesting statistic about the younger generation that will have some relevance to marketers. Almost 50 per cent of the younger population goes to sleep post midnight as compared to older people who are between 30 and 45 years, where the percentage is just about 19 per cent.

Clearly (and sadly) the older generation seems to have things to do during the day like work! But this has interesting implications for marketers. Should the definition of ‘prime time' for youth be redefined to, say, 11p.m.? Newspaper owners have been keen to get their newspapers to their readers before the crack of dawn (never mind the fact that sleepy towns like Bangalore do not have such good fortune) as that was the time that the average Indian was at his brightest and most alert. What about Generation Y? When has it been up at the crack of dawn unless they are winding up after a party! So should newspapers come up with a late night edition only for this generation?

Interesting and yet incomplete … Read more in the next issue.

-
Ramanujam Sridhar


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Does the chaos around the CWG harm the Nation Brand?

Ramanujam Sridhar on the Common Wealth Games and how it might harm or enhance "Brand India"

Photobucket

Friday, October 22, 2010

Brandware - A Comprehensive 8 Weekend Brand Management Course

I am glad to share with you that I will be leading brandware3, a 8 weekend certificate program on brand management in Bangalore at our training facility. The last 2 editions were extremely well received with participants from companies like Titan, Nokia, Manipal Education, Booster Juice, Indus League, United Spirits and a whole host of others. I have also been fortunate enough to get some of the biggest names in Bangalore in marketing and advertising to be guest faculty for the program.

Click here to register for the program Brandware 3

Brandware



I am hoping you would support the program and spread the word.

The program starts on 26th November 2010.


Best Wishes

Ramanujam Sridhar

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Why Brand India should not forgive or forget

The glory can obscure the ignominy that dogged the Commonwealth Games, but learn we must from our mistakes..

K. Murali Kumar
Brand India, but at what cost? (Above) The closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games 2010, at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.

It was the 14th of October 2010. As I sat in front of the TV set, my eyes glued to the fantastic closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games, I felt a sense of pride. Surely the opening and closing ceremonies that we made happen were comparable to anything that the rest of the world may struggle to put together.

The Commonwealth Games ended in a blaze of glory for India. Our athletes did us proud by winning over a hundred medals including silver for hockey, the national game we seem to have forgotten. (It would be churlish to talk about the margin of defeat to Australia — it is much better to talk about how we brown-washed them in cricket). The visiting dignitaries were impressed with our handling of the Games and a few who mattered did speak of India having the capability to host the Olympics in the not-too-distant future. The media too, which had been extremely critical in the build-up to the Commonwealth Games, has thankfully turned its attention to the performance of the Indian athletes who rose to the occasion.

The spiralling Sensex, the medals, and the phenomenal performance of Sachin Tendulkar have all made Indians and the Indian media forget the heartburn and the embarrassment of the last few weeks. They have worn rose-tinted spectacles as India shines again and Brand India is again something to be respected and deified.

Indians are great examples of the statement that public memory is short. Anything will be forgotten and time will heal any insult or enable one to come out of it. But I believe India and Indians should not be carried away by the moment and not forget what happened or forgive those guilty, which is precisely why I admire social activist and actor Gul Panag for planning a protest on the day after the closing of the Games.

Let me jog your memory about what happened just a few weeks ago as India made a collective ass of itself and invited the scorn of the world. If this column were to have been written on September 27 instead of October 14, what would I have written? Here goes…

Blame it on the time

Have you heard the term ‘ Rahu Kalam'? Let me explain for the benefit of those from other parts of India. It is a dreaded 90 minutes of the day when no Tamilian will undertake anything important or auspicious. Most of us know these timings like the back of our hand and often plan our day taking this frightening time of day into our calculations. I have a sneaking suspicion that the Commonwealth Games, which is as big a disaster as one can imagine, must have commenced at the peak of Rahu Kalam! For everything that could have possibly gone wrong with it went horribly wrong. It has been amplified by the media and a critical Indian middle-class, with uninhibited support from our NRIs, educated at IITs and IIMs, who have used the Net to great effect to vent their ire.

I had resisted the temptation to add another 1,500 words to the megabytes already spewed on the subject till now. But then, I was reminded of what the RBI Governor, D. Subbarao, had to say about learning from crises — that they are too good not to learn from. There is a similar need to talk about the learnings from the CWG fiasco and the implications for Brand India and its image, which has taken a severe beating over the last few weeks, never mind how good the salvage operations turned out to be. So, what are the learnings for Brand India?

Brands need champions

Every brand needs a champion. Someone who is passionate about it and will ensure that it succeeds against all odds. Today, the Delhi Metro is something that we are all proud of and maybe the Commonwealth Games needed a E. Sreedharan to see it through. Who is the face of the Commonwealth Games? Suresh Kalmadi? What a misfit! It is like appointing Harbajan Singh and Andrew Symonds as moral science teachers!

Brands too need leadership in crises and if this was not a crisis, I wonder what is! India losing to Ireland in the cricket World Cup next year maybe? So where was the leadership of India? Where was Manmohan Singh and where was the “new, white hope of India”, Rahul Gandhi? He would have been better served making a few visits to the Games Village than to colleges in Bangalore. The Games and Brand India suffered from a lack of leadership and the absence of a champion and the leadership that finally surfaced was clearly a case of “too little, too late”. Who is Brand India's champion?

What's a minor glitch between friends?

Every student of public relations must analyse the entire CWG fiasco in the context of the need to be honest and come clean instead of attempting to sweep the dirt under the carpet. And clearly, there was a lot of muck that was floating around. When the s**t was literally hitting the roof, what was one to make of the statements about “minor glitches” and “Indian standards of hygiene”? When all eyes were on the debacle and the media was out to magnify even minor issues, the blatant misreading of the mood of the nation smacks of either complete arrogance or blissful ignorance, take your pick. Even a junior brand manager in a large, well-run corporation would have shown a greater understanding of the magnitude of the crisis. I daresay that this comes from the larger Indian malaise of “anything can be fixed”. Most things probably can, but not your image. Even if your image is fixed, it would take time, effort and hopefully some strategic direction. It is important for people in branding to gauge the mood of their target audiences and their consumers.

The power of the Net

Some old-timers talk of how the much touted Asian Games too was in complete shambles till the inauguration, of how public memory is short and how soon all will be forgiven and forgotten.

There is a difference. Today we have the Net, where errors of this magnitude are cast in stone and preserved for posterity, unlike 28 years ago. Also India's situation in the world has changed. It is no longer a country that no one cares or writes about. People are watching it and, if I may add, waiting for it to fail. And boy, have we given our critics enough fodder!

A time for action

Let me cut back to the present from the sordid past. I think whatever we have done now in terms of retrieving the situation has been more in the nature of fire-fighting. The damage has been done to Brand India, both in India and globally. Instead of trying to wish it away, I think the sensible option is to learn.

Yes, the focus has shifted to our performances on the field and on the glitz and glamour of the opening and closing ceremonies. But those concerned with India must introspect. If we still keep saying this is a minor glitch then we deserve every bit of criticism coming our way and forget any aspirations of being a brand that the world will look up to. What is more likely is that we will be a brand that constantly provides learning on “what not to do”.

So, where do we go from here? Brand India, learn and move on! And what about the rest of India that is watching from the sidelines? Remember how we almost made a mess of our opportunity to take a place in the sun. If nothing changes, change the custodians of Brand India to someone who truly will care for it, when we still have the chance!

(Ramanujam Sridhar CEO, brand-comm, and the author of Googly: Branding on Indian Turf.
Find me on Facebook: facebook.com/RamanujamSridhar & Twitter: twitter.com/RamanujamSri .)