Doomed to fail

Let’s face the truth. We all are doomed to fail. All the efforts that we put in towards what we call success in life, are nothing but efforts to delay the inevitable.

Let’s take an example. Example of life. Will death be considered our failure to live? If so, then since our birth till we die, all our efforts for a better health and life are nothing but efforts to delay the failure.

Business for example. Every business has a cycle. The ups and downs. A trajectory that almost always spirals downward. The attempts are made to stop the trajectory from flatlining.

Brands constantly reinvent themselves and make themselves relevant to new consumers so that they don’t disappear into oblivion.

Business and brands have a role to play hence they must keep on doing what they are supposed to do. What matters to me is life and living.

In our effort to delay the inevitable, we focus so much on all the effort that is required, we stop living. We are more bothered about death and afterlife that we don’t even realise we are putting this life to waste. What is the point of living to be 100? What are we going to achieve? If anything, we are putting pressure on the eco system and thereby whole lot of other people who have to work even harder to go on living.

Same thing with relationships. We all want our relationships to succeed. To end a relationship is to accept that it has failed. Hence we focus very hard on making it work. We don’t realise that the spontaneity that existed at the beginning, we have killed it by making an effort to make it work.

But I guess that is how we are wired by the social construct. We are not supposed to FAIL. The education system, the professional life… they all instil in is the stigmas of failure and we carry that into our personal life too.

This post is totally random and stems from something I read about failure.



Here we go again! people have found a new cause to attach themselves to. In my post about Causvengers, this is precisely the kind of behavior I had talked about.

Neutrality of internet. People just want to vent themselves on the net. I call them keyboard Kingkongs. I have a keyboard and I have an opinion.

I want to ask all these people. If tomorrow, Facebook, Whatsapp and Twitter charged you a fee to use, will you stop using any of these services? If you will.. why? After all, these companies started these businesses… they are in it for profit and if you want to use them, pay for them…if you wont then why bother with what telecom companies want to do.

People do not seem to realize that internet and all internet related activities are moving towards a monopoly.

Tim Wu has written a book called “The Master Switch”. Without getting into too many details of the book, will just key in the back page info here:

“The Internet Age: On the face of it, an era of unprecedented freedom in both communication and culture. Yet in the past, each major new medium, from the telephone to satellite television, has crested on a wave of similar idealistic optimism, before succumbing to the inevitable undertow of industrial consolidation. Every once-free and open technology has, in time, become centralized and closed, as corporate power has taken control of the ‘master switch’. Today a similar struggle looms over the Internet; as it increasingly supersedes all other media, the stakes have never been higher”.

Companies wait till the knife is deep in. You are addicted and then they twist the knife just a little to see how you react.. how addicted you are… Deep enough and strong enough, you start paying for your addiction…

And while I am not taking sides, let us look at telecom industry in our country. From 2003 onwards, we have one of the most cheapest call rates in the world. Same goes for data too. With mobile internet driving the internet consumption in the country (the government did nothing till then), it was but natural that a large population would shift from voice to data. Why pay for  a normal call when the same call costs fraction on Skype. So how do the telecom companies make big profits? they are not here for charity.. are they? And do we really believe that if some websites became chargeable, the telecom companies are going to pocket all the money? Have a look at the websites or apps that the telecom company wants to charge for. Obviously these sites, knowing how many people use them are aiming to monetize that.

And how come government is picking up cudgels on behalf of net neutrality?? We all know that at a hint of a controversy, they want to ban sites or apps or certain stuff (AIB roast a case in point)

And contrary to some tweets I have seen, internet is not free.. is it? Sure we have the freedom to voice our opinions on the net (that is free) but you pay for the internet cost to voice your opinion!

And coming back to causvengers, look at all the people who are tweeting about or writing about saving the internet.. their few seconds of fame!

This post flies against everything that is being said but hey people.. welcome to the real corporate world. They are all about making profits else why will you invest in their shares. Plus the fact that if more people need to get on the bandwagon, infrastructure is required and infrastructure costs money. You scream against these companies for asking money… how come you are not up in arms when governments levy surcharge and cess for various losing ventures??

Nothing is free or neutral in this world. it is just false sense of freedom you are living in… so wake up…

Arrogance or Head in the Sand Syndrome?

All relevant economic indicators are screwed. What should be up is down… what should be down is up. Standard & Poor downgrades India and what’s the reaction of this government?? Standard & Poor is not transparent! Seriously? I mean SERIOUSLY?

Who are we kidding? How come in the past no one ever commented on this transparency shit? How come when the rating was decent for India, nobody said that “hang on… this rating can’t be right.. they don’t understand our economic structure!”? Mr. T C A Anant.. why didn’t you say that earlier?  I bet somebody else will now say it is a conspiracy against India. Wonder who will it be? Vylar Ravi said it day before, so  some other minister now.

Is it absolute arrogance of UPA that makes them refuse to believe the reality? or is it the Ostrich syndrome?




ICICI – most trusted private sector bank… seriously??

So there is an ad in today’s papers. ICICI bank congratulating itself on keeping “Khyal aapka” and being the most trusted Private Sector bank. If you see the ad, it would sound like a great big achievement.

Wonder why the management took almost two weeks to announce this fact.

Could it be that the agency could not get the right copy for the ad?

Or could it be that the management kept wondering if they should really bring out the ad…. considering that they have actually slipped three places from 7 to 10 in the ranking as the most trusted service brand?? and HDFC Bank has moved from 16 to 14.

I think as a banking institution, which expects people to put their faith and money into their vaults, a slip of even one rank should be a cause for major concern. There obviously is a majority of people who have started feeling that “Khyaal Aapka” is just a tag line and it does not reflect in the way bank interacts with their consumers.

Instead of releasing an ad which doesn’t really tell the truth, the bank needs to analyse its functioning. Try and understand why its ranking has fallen. Why is it that consumers are losing faith in the bank.

Ms. Chanda Kochar needs to realise that conservative lending (there actually is nothing wrong in being conservative) and tactical cost cutting (we all know what that means) may make the books look good but in the long run, she is probably going to undo all that Mr. Kamath had done to take the bank to such great heights in the past. It is good to be conservative (after all I would not want my bank to be profligate) but it is not so good when a bank stops caring.

HDFC for instance, gives a very secure comfortable feeling. Their initiatives give a sense that the bank understands the customers and is doing various things to reach out and be a solution.

With the economy being the way it is and a global crisis round the corner, it is for the banks to choose the path they want to take… What is happening in US by way of  “Occupy Wall Street” movement, could happen in India too and all the brands that stand for money and financial services… could be in trouble. After all, the 1% rich don’t get rich by investing their own money. It is the money that they borrow from the banks and use it for fattening their pockets… is what makes them rich.

Reclaim your life

Since yesterday I been switching on the tv at 5.30 am in the morning to watch The Ashes (for the cricketically challenged population, it’s the series between Australia & England) and caught the Tata Safari Dicor commercial. It’s not a new one but one done year and half back… “what would you remember when you look back on your life”… Enough probably has been written about the campaign right from the first commercial in 2005. But this commercial linked with the conversation I was having with a friend yesterday. It was about the fact that when we grow old and we look back on our lives… what would we remember? would it be the many deals that made us a success in our professional life… would it be about how much money we made? would it be about how we manipulated at work to rise the corporate ladder? would it be about how many lives we trampled on to reach the top? We both agreed that nope we wont remember any of this… what we would remember would be the moments of joy which were not about professional success and would almost always be centered around the people in our lives… our family… our mother… our father… our wives… our children… our friends (that one friend who made a difference and not 589 people on facebook)… So then why do we chase everything that will not be remembered?

We chase them because we are driven. Driven by what society marks as success symbols. A degree… a job… a car… a house (make that the ‘right address’)… club membership… frequent flyer miles… business class… We are smothered by communication that tells us that if we don’t have any of this, we have not made it. Communication creates the pressure right from the time children become aware and follow what is going on around them. THE PRESSURE TO BELONG. But the point is… belong to what? the environment which promotes spend spend spend…. acquire acquire acquire…

Getting ahead is not about being a better human being. Getting ahead is about how much you got as compared to people around you. You must have the next big thing. The 3D LED TV… iPhone… connected lifestyle… how many followers do you have on twitter… Statistics about how many people would read this blog… Success is not a measure of what difference you have made to lives of people but what all you have…

Brands of today have a larger role to play. In the world of product parity, discounts and freebies, the product would always sell but empathy for the brand and thereby the ability of the brand to step out of the discounts and freebies and be bought for what it stands for would go further and stay lot longer in the consumer’s mind.

The brand should be bought for its beliefs and not the capriciousness it promotes. Of course in some cases… like Tata Safari… it has not been bought because users were reclaiming their lives but it was big and controlled the road.

“Reclaim your life” is a powerful statement and it should be continued because we are moving towards times when we would be craving to reclaim the innocence that has been lost… craving to reclaim the inner beliefs and values which we have let go.

There have been stray thoughts in the past and some new ones which are indicative of the changing Brand view…

AirTel back in 2002/03 about communicate… Asian Paints – “har ghar kuch kehta hai”… powerful communication. They evoked emotions which were not about “buy me now” but went deep into our sub conscious.

Idea Cellular with its continuing communication specially about language not being a barrier, is sending out a message… but is anybody listening in the flood of all the apps that can be used and the handsets peddling out ‘facebook key’?

Tata Tea with its Jago Re raised the consciousness to vote and while it probably did not make a difference in the current Bihar election but the return of Nitish Kumar is a sign that people are fed up of goonda raj…

Any brand which says that it is about pure technology edge or functionality has a very myopic view. Sure they will sell and will keep adding to the top line and bottom line but wont last because the world 5 years from now is going to look for reclaiming the life and it surely wont look at the brands which perpetuated all the reasons why the life was lost in the first place…

Brand evangelism is not a term which sounds good in advertising strategy presentation… it is what every brand needs to aim for. And evangelism is not rooted in the functionality of the product but a bond between the consumer and the brand. Would suggest reading ‘The Primal Brand” by Pat Hanlon.

And a coincidence… while watching cricket, I switched to VH1 classics and The Cranberries song – Zombies was on… and in the context of this blog sounded so apt. It’s just  that the battlefield has shifted…

Another head hangs lowly,
Child is slowly taken.
And the violence caused such silence,
Who are we mistaken?

But you see, it’s not me, it’s not my family.
In your head, in your head they are fighting,
With their tanks and their bombs,
And their bombs and their guns.
In your head, in your head, they are crying…

The first link is worth a watch again



700 million Telecom Subscribers and counting…

So read two days back  we have touched 700 million subscribers for telecom services. Strangely enough, one didn’t see any excitement similar to what was witnessed when the numbers were rocketing from 300 to 400 to 500 million.

I think the pressure has started telling on the Telecom Operators. To service such huge numbers, they need to invest in support infrastructure and ARPUS being what they are per subscriber… they would claim that they are not making enough money to invest. It is a warped logic though. After all. strengthening the infrastructure can get them ready for more subscribers and with close to 90% market supposedly being pre paid, it is completely a volume game. And whatever theory I read back in my college days, in a volume game… number of units sold matter because the price is low. Anyways, this post is not about me trying to analyse and give solutions to experts on how to manage their business. I am curious about these numbers!

700 million subscribers and from what I read in the article… we have no clue about them! There was someone who was quoted as saying that the actual user numbers would  probably be 40 to 50% less than 700 million because there are mulitple SIM card holders. PROBABLY?? We don’t know how many users have mulitple SIM cards??

From the time the TRAI or Government’s security regulation has happened, I am sure there is data available about users. Even if the Government cannot share the data with operators, surely it can be given to NCAER or another research body to do cross tabs and arrive at a number. Track incidence of dual or more than two SIMs per person and possible segregate areas where the number of single SIM users is higher. As usual, there is data but nobody is probably interested in analysing. And if that data can be tracked, it would probably make the term ARPU stand for what it really means – Average Revenue Per User.  The data can be cross tabbed to segregate revenue for multiple SIM care users and singe SIM card users.The data can also let us know how much a user actually spends across multiple SIM cards and the consolidated amount would be revenue for that user.

Actually if this available data can be tracked and mined, the possibilities are immense for Telecom Operators.

E.g. here is one cut of the data and it comes from my belief that a post paid user is probably giving a higher revenue as compared to pre paid.

If there is a steady increase of usage and recharging for a particular consumer… can he be converted to post paid? After all a post paid consumer than becomes a steady and fixed return instead of fluctuating recharge by pre paid. And earlier there used to be an argument about cost of servicing a post paid user is very high. But in this day and age of e commerce, these costs can be brought down so I don’t  buy that argument anymore.

And while the threat of MNP looms on the horizon, I do not think it is going to impact much… when it comes to service and connectivity, one operator is as bad or good as the other operator (after all they nowadays share the same infrastructure)

Also a post paid subscriber can be offered lot more value added services than a pre paid and it would hold true when 3G starts.

The second way of cutting the data would be – Like MHI (Monthly Household Income), can the data throw up numbers to give a handle on MHMR (Monthly Household Mobile Revenue)? If this can be done, there can either be 1. One operator giving plans that take the entire family into account or 2. This would be far fetched but a collaborative effort by the operators to give value added services to the family (when there is an incidence of more than one operator in the family.

Also more telecom operators today are interacting with a household in multiple ways – mobile telephony, broadband, digital TV or IPTV… Can a combined value added solution be offered? Me for instance – I have Airtel Digital TV, Airtel mobile connection and Airtel landline and broadband. Reward loyalty to a brand…

These are just my basic thoughts from my limited understanding of the telecom market. I am sure if one were to analyse the wealth of data that is now available because of Government regulation.. the possibilities are immense.

The Blackberry Boys

Simply superb is what I can say for the communication. Absolutely awesome also comes to mind. The strategy is very clear in terms of what Blackberry is trying to attempt here in terms of broadbasing the appeal of the phone. I do hope they reorient their features too to live up to the communication.

However, the success would depend a lot on they can address a market which has been the domain of Nokias and Samsungs of the world and a market which is increasing shifting to lower price points with high end features packed in. Plus also the fact that to use a Blackberry phone, a subscriber needs to pay for Blackberry services. But I think Blackberry would succeed because the brand is a Badge to be flaunted. There are enough smart phones in the market… I own one too and it is as good as a Blackberry but… a Blackberry is a Blackberry.

Innovation Culture

Yesterday while discussing something with a friend, the conversation veered to innovation and lack of innovation in India. Now this post can either be criticized for running down so many good things that India has done (and all criticizers are requested to name at least one Indian innovation to prove the point… I will actually compile the list and put it up as my acceptance that I was probably wrong) or people would turn around and say its a matter of perspective and how innovation can be viewed.

A quick hunt for definition on Webster’s Online Dictionary throws up the following:

1. A creation (a new device or process) resulting from study and experimentation.[Wordnet]
2. The creation of something in the mind.[Wordnet]
3. The act of starting something for the first time; introducing something new.[Wordnet]
4. The act of innovating; introduction of something new, in customs, rites, etc.[Websters]
5. A change effected by innovating; a change in customs; something new, and contrary to established customs, manners, or rites.[Websters]

I believe that over a period of time these definitions have evolved. To me innovation is a product or a service or even a custom that was introduced for the very first time.

The very first radio was an innovation. The first ever TV was an innovation. Walkman was an innovation. First automobile was an innovation (though there is a conflict in my mind if it can be so or the first ever horse drawn cart was the innovation). The point here is something that happened for the first time. Everything else that followed was an improvement on the initial idea. LED TV today is the result of constantly seeking ways of enhancing the experience. The basic benefit is viewing images on a screen.

Now notice all the above examples. None of them happened in India. While talking about innovations, my friend mentioned Mr Narayanmurthy and Mr Premji and I was quick to differ. Infosys or Wipro did not invent anything. They took advantage of changing global dynamics and a dearth of qualified people and started addressing the service economy of the west at a cost which was ridiculously low in comparison to what the western world was paying their employees. Did they innovate? Did they come  up with an idea that impacted a mass market? I don’t think they did.

Aamir Khan’s character in 3 Idiots makes a very valid point when he talks about our education system. Our education system is geared to churn out worker bees. It is drilled into our head in every class that we must follow what is being taught. Any deviation leads to deduction in marks. As an aside, in US, almost every year the spelling bee contest is won by an Indian because we are so good at mugging! I have caught snippets of the contest and I wonder if those kids would even know the meaning of the complicated words that they are spelling out. More important how many people would use such arcane words in daily communication. I have heard enough of people mentioning that the intellect level and knowledge of Indians in US is way ahead of kids of american origin. And how our syllabus in India is so complete. And the point being?? Where does it lead us? Education in India like I mentioned is about producing worker bees. Emphasis is on “job oriented courses” or courses that can get a person to become an engineer, a doctor or an MBA. Where is the course or emphasis for a student to explore… to try out things… to break the convention and indulge in independent thinking?

And it is no wonder that we carry this very blinkered and rigid thinking into our work environment (stands to reason after the education we have had). We follow company policy… rules and regulation… structure and working culture of the organization. Because we all want to succeed and move up the heirarchy. (That is the whole point of our existence… to move up the ladder). Any employee who dares to think different or go against the stream… well there would be enough examples that can be cited by readers of this post. Conventional wisdom is held up as the way to go and woe befell anyone who questions that in an organization. “Not on our time or our money buddy”

Conventional wisdom says that Unilever advertising would strictly follow a certain format because it is well reasearched format. Hmmm anyone has ever tried to see how things can be if the set pattern was not followed? Conventional wisdom says that a telecom company looking for a certain position in marketing would only look at a telecom professional (supposedly you want a person who would hit the ground running and would have knowledge of the market… but hell.. that person would be like frog in the well who would not have any new ideas!)

Prime Time on TV is supposed to be 9 PM. Thats conventional wisdom. Now how did that come about. I know there would be tons of research to support the fact. So there we have every channel vying for that time slot to put up there best programs. I say break the mold! If you are good enough as a program.. you will get viewers!

If India needs to truly be a global leader… then there has to be transformation of huge proportions that is required in our mindset. We need to innovate rather than peddling minor improvements in technology or a process that already exists. And we have to understand that an innovation is truly an innovation which can impact a large population. Getting businesses to perform better or improve efficiency of an organization are small ideas aimed at benefitting that particular business or an industry for making more money. Think big ideas… and more importantly run with the ideas. Failures, if they happen… they happen because the people around you have not removed the excuse of conventional wisdom from their sub conscious.

The Business of Education

In  country like India where quality education is a dream, where Government only makes allocation in every budget without the impact ever visible, the business of education is turning out to be a very profitable proposition.

The amount of advertising on TV, the number of courses on offer by various institutes every day in the newspaper suggest that there are enough people who have figured out education sector to be their gravy train. After all, when universities churn out graduates like a factory and quality educational institutions are so few, there would always be consumer (most cases suckers) who would fall for the “career oriented courses”, “100% placement”, “earn while you study” tag lines.

Education has become all about numbers… about filling up seats…

There is no institution which is really a brand (not talking about IITs or IIMs or some of the leading management colleges). There are various educations societies catering to every possible course. Admission is easy (money talks)… And we keep churning out average students who form the work force at lower levels… students who had joined the course with stars in their eyes… six months into the course, reality bites and they settle for finding jobs that would be just enough to pay back all the money that was spent on going through the course.

I believe that there is enough opportunity for some to create a brand in this sector. (and no the brand is not about having full classes)… it is about reputation, quality and ethics… We only have to look at the IITs and IIMs to know that they have  become world class institutions by being providers of ‘quality’ education. Getting in is tough… passing out is even tougher… which should be the hallmark of every good institution.

Now that private sector is getting big in education, investments need to be made into building infrastructure, by working hard on building reputation (having the perfect backend in place) and connecting with the entire gamut of stakeholders – students, parents, corporates… the eco-system should accept and vouch for the quality rather than self praise and promise of a great new career as a carrot. Simple Mantra – do not look at “profits” for first 3 years… create an environment where profit would become a natural corollary to the efforts put in. Like in any other business, invest in building a brand before reaping the rewards

Not only are lives of a whole generation at stake (and generations to follow) but also the well being of the country, if it has to become a global powerhouse of talent.

Brand Building is so easy!

Dunno what the fuss is all about. Building brands is so easy.

Everybody in the organization is an expert when it comes to brand, marketing and communication. Anyone can  do it even Geoffrey Boycott’s grandmother (as he so often mentions during live commentary)!

All who are in advertising would have gone through the scenarios mentioned below… felt the frustration and the worthlessness…

Pick a brand name… anything would do.. and if you don’t want to spend too much time.. shorten the owner’s name. Get his sign off on the font to use (never say typeface). Brand colors are of course to be finalised by his daughter… or the son… Of course some strange brands names or names that don’t really mean anything work too.. and there would be enough examples you can think of…

Having done that, either get a large agency (depending on how much it adds to the decision maker’s social currency) or get a small one who is ready to bend over backwards for any business. (this day and age, even big agencies are ready to bend over)

Spend a week on figuring out how the visiting card should look. Actually visiting card is a good starting point to discuss the larger business strategy – putting the names of the business verticals alongwith the corporate idenitity on the card would sharpen the business strategy.

That done, tell MarCom to spend a few thousand rupees to make the website (hell.. how much can it cost to make a website!)

Then comes communication.. If you are a B2B brand… get some brochures made… couple of canned presentations and you are ready to go around telling anyone who is interested, on how your brand is going to be as big as IBM or Google or whichever brand is being mentioned in the media currently.

In case of consumer brand, its even simpler.. All you need is  humor, no matter how nonsensical it is (it helps break the clutter and people like watching funny ads) and there are quite a few around who can pass off PJ’s as great humor that would make the brand big. And if you don’t believe me, you have not been watching enough of commercial breaks.

If not humor, then the age old crutch of communication… sex sells and nowadays it is getting better… baring a guy in a commercial works too and also would keep the ad under the radar of moral police who dont bother about naked guys.. but sure as hell come out in force if it is a woman…

And all of this can happen real cheap, if somebody in the organization claims to be good at writing scripts (and anyone can write an ad!… all those hours spent in front of TV)

All this done, the brand is up and running and some crafty work (patli gali) would ensure it gets award too… and trust me… even advertising effectiveness award is easy to get (numbers can be interpreted any which way you can)

Of course if there is someone with some knowledge about social media in the organization, then you will be getting someone to develop SEOs and tags and groups and communities on social media and go tweet tweet or is it twit twit?

Wonder why the hooplah about brand experts or strategy guys… We would soon be going out of fashion!

And by the way… all of the above holds true even for the so called professional MNC brands… its just that in their case everything is backed by hours and hours of consumer reasearch.

But at the end of it all… if only it were so easy…and the way the environment is changing, this whole mindset is going to change too because surviving in a market where consumer is more aware than ever before and seeks significant value delivery from every purchase… just brand stories will not be enough. Enough susbtantiation would need to back every story else the consumer will be telling the brands – “doobara mat puchhana”..(Don’t ask me again)

DISCLAIMER – The author of this post does not subscribe to the generally held belief that anything related to brand starts and ends with advertising