A sustainable thought for sustainability

image-source: janoschtroehler.medium.com

If we have a will there’s always going to be a way!

One glaring example is the #Deforestation. Even though it has been a growing problem over many years globally, as well as in India, it’s warm to note that the process has slowed down greatly in recent years, thanks to countries like Costa Rica and others. In a decade’s time we may hopefully see the trees claim a significantly larger proportion of our planet!

I feel India too is poised to play definitely a significant role in this global campaign. Going back to our ancient practice of living with the nature – thru protecting and planting trees, arresting erosion, cleaning stagnant water bodies, etc. – is not just a concept, it has the potential to awaken the latent power that we have within us, to restore nature through organic #lifestyle changes, at home, at work and at play!

Of course it doesn’t necessarily mean that we make #organic a fashion statement towards food, fabrics and farming, as a part of the mega-marketing drive of the #mncs – which is so common to see / hear these days!

On one hand, many grocery companies have rebranded themselves, utilizing the adjectives “natural”, “organic”, etc. (or their variations) as a part of their packaging and branding exercises. Some others have invested a good amount of creative and marketing resources in creating the so called “organic” or “Gaon ka” or “Ghar ka” or “Dadi ki” brands by repacking plain old vanilla / normal / natural produce, with a story-line to support the claim.

Also don’t forget the massive silent movement towards bringing the farmers into the supply chain, esp. the poor unassuming farmers who are just excited to get the double monies for their produce – totally oblivious of the fact that the promoter / marketer are actually maybe making 4 times their profits. We also see some smart startups creating small “organic mandis” in cities, again with the usual brand stories related to “natural” farming, “livelihood for poor farmers”, etc. that’s supposed to sustain the culture / heritage of organic farming in India.

I feel all the above examples are multiple efforts to make a quick buck out of a great movement with a (not so long-term) view of attracting an angel investor, thus making a kill! This is a sort of abuse to #sustainability programs worldwide

#BackToNature and #Organic are not just hashtags!

In India, they hold up a very broad umbrella; because we Indians are, and will always be mostly rooted to the petrichor of the earth! Perhaps we can also add to that, our natural inclination to have Jugaad innovations for agriculture, waste management, using and reusing things to the last points of usefulness, etc. These abilities and practices promotes sustainable living for us. So concepts of organic, back-to-nature, sustainability, etc. are in our desi genes… for majority of us born in various geographical locations in India. We don’t need hashtags!

As Indians we just need to consciously choose to adopt and practice that in-born practical philosophy that work towards building a #sustainable environment around us. A good way to start, is to carefully examine our waking hours and see if we can replace some or all parts of those hours into sustainable living alternatives… e.g. shopping carry-bags made of natural fibers, reusable paper bags for garments & cosmetics shopping, using rechargeable batteries, designing multi-storeyed apartment with a compulsory small garden area plus a compost-creator in each unit, reusing one-sided printed paper for rough writing work at home/office, etc.

Finally, we also need to closely follow a few Nordic countries like Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway, as well as some cultures of South-East Asian countries to identify best-practices they have adopted to live sustainably.

Importance of doing mundane jobs

“Here take this and bring back 4 Xerox copies of the leafed pages!” This was a common errand we used to get during our first paid job as management trainees. All of us used to complete this kind of errand silently, with a wry smile.

Those were the days when very few MBAs consciously chose advertising as a career. A few who did, were either very well connected or appointed by big agencies, thru campus interviews. And here we were, in a not-so-known “financial-ad-agency” destined for a PSU /IPO advertising career… obviously not a cool conversation starter, even today, compared to the “product-ad-agencies” like Ogilvy, JWT, etc.

But there was a silver lining in form of one partially silver-haired, be-spectacled, receding hair-lined, Sr. VP & Business Director of the agency.


On the face of it, he literally seemed to draw sadistic pleasures out of driving the so called “glorified peons” like us, run stupid errands like getting 4 Xerox copies for him. The pages were often from his underlined passages, or chapters of multiple books he had been reading at any given period. He used to share these Xerox copies with his immediate team members.

Curious to know more and read these passages (or sometimes chapters), each of us started getting one extra copy of the material, whenever we were running Xerox errands for him.

And surprise of all surprises! We discovered that these passages / chapters were actually from good advertising / marketing books… ones which we encountered only as references in text books. These books used to be either very costly or not available in India at all. Sometimes they were even bestseller business books too. Since he was a voracious reader, often his books were imported or bought during his travels abroad.

So we circulated this one lone Xerox copy among ourselves, to keep in tune with the “the big secret” being circulated among the senior “thinktank”!

Once, in absence of one of his team members I was asked to temporarily assist him on a project for a day. It was on a pitch he was preparing for Indian Oil Corporation. If I recall well, on his table lay a new book on the Oil Shock of the ’90s.

He had drawn some titled slide thumbnails on his beautiful imported spiral notebook. I was supposed to take notes and supervise creation of 1st draft of his slides thru our Mac operator on Adobe PageMaker. He started giving me a patient, methodical orientation of it.

After a couple of minutes into it I felt like (and started) pre-empting the points he wanted me to note down. It was easy, because some of these ideas were adapted from his underlined passages I had made 4+1 copies of, a few days ago.

As I got ready to leave after the briefing, he was curious to know how I had known some of these points. I told him about our ongoing secretive operation of making 4+1 copies, and reading them regularly.

He burst into a loud hearty laughter, which attracted a few others to his room too! And then said:

Ha ha ha! Young man! Now you know the importance of running Xerox errands! Ha ha ha!

Thereafter he started giving us more errands for Xerox copies but now entirely focused upon sharing knowledge amongst ourselves, leading us to self educate on ad-craft.

This was also how each one of us also got introduced to the trending ideas / books of the times… Confessions of an Advertising Man, Positioning: The Battle for your Mind, Marketing Warfare, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Offensive Marketing, Games People Play, Lateral Thinking, Scientific Advertising… the list goes on!

This person was the late Mr. Sudhir Lal – a thoroughbred advertising professional, responsible for launching some of the great brands in the country.

Apart from being an excellent Strategic Planner, Sudhir Lal was also an outright mentor, teacher and motivator some of us still cherish to have worked with! Much before the concept came into vogue, Sudhir Lal taught us the importance and practice of Life-Long-Learning.

Lessons we learnt from this:
1. Be Curious
2. Thankless jobs always have Silver linings
3. Every teacher teaches uniquely
4. Learning improves by sharing
5. First Deserve. Then Desire

Why exceptional talents may fail in India

source: forbes.com

One of the thoughtful questions that a professor of MIT-WPU (Prof. Ajay Nagre) put recently, touched upon EPRG framework among his students. EPRG stands for Ethnocentric, Polycentric, Regiocentric, and Geocentric. It was developed by Howard V Perlmuter and Wind & Douglas in 1969. It deals with the ways the companies view their international management orientations, and used during globalisation of the businesses.

Would the Indian leaders like Pichai, Nooyi, Nadella, etc. have lead Indian MNCs if they had practiced in India before?

The answer would be a mixed one, as there’s a complex mix of many factors for this…

1) Practice of EPRG framework is still limited in India.
Indeed it’s an area of learning and a part of curriculum in various measures in many business schools. However many of the top level Indian MNCs are yet to adopt it with heart and soul. Leaders like Nadella, Pichai, etc. would have got frustrated. Arguably, Vishal Sikka is an example.

2). Intense Competition within comparable talent across all levels.
Too much competition, chips off talent! On a global level hence, corporate talents have learnt to co-operate more (within EPRG), than competing within. “Coopetition” – a concept of the 90s – is what’s lacking in India. This is encouraging brain drain even now.

3). Average Quality of Higher Education not comparable to same available globally.
Even though IIMs and IITs have been accepted globally as exceptionally robust, very few Cos. actually offer roper incubators within company environment, for nurturing / handling exceptional talent. No wonder we see exceptional pass-out talents preferring American MNCs over Indian ones.

4). “Ethnic Indian” homogeneity exist within educated talents.
To a large extent it proves to be a barrier to promote out-of-the-box divergent global thinking. As such, “Jugaad” solutions may be found aplenty, but original solutions beyond that, are visibly limited.

5). Traditional love affair of many corporates for anything “foreign”.
It’s definitely not the case with Tatas, but many others do have it. These cos. are often seen to prefer adapting “off-the-shelf” foreign solutions for Indian problems. The most visible examples are perhaps found within the advertising business, where there’s propensity to adapt more, than invent.

I’m sure there could be many other factors including remuneration, HR issues, etc.

What are your opinions?

How to correctly define marketing target

Often you come across clients who would have difficulty in correctly defining their target audience for marketing. Except for a few FMCG clients – for whom I have immense respect for – majority of them either smartly avoiding it, or gave a vague outline for it.

As a result, almost always they face difficulties in justifying a marketing budget, or deriving the correct ROI.

We need to understand that the broader market where your product is selling, is NOT your marketing target-group. It’s only a proportion of that market, where your product could make an impact.

For example, for a machinery product like Diesel Water Pump, that finds immense application in the Rural and Semi-urban areas, it’s very easy to define your target audience as Farmers with 4+ hectare of land.

True, it sounds good, as they are the ones in real need of irrigation, given the unpredictable and often failing monsoons. RIGHT?


It’s not practical to expect your product to find a place among more that 75% of the farm population!

Perhaps it would make better sense to do the following exercise…
1) define your product’s probable acceptability to a certain section of those farmers
2) identify a group that’s more likely to be ready to invest in your pump.
3) explore the potential of such groups within the country, in terms of numbers and geographical presence
4) select a few stronger groups and their area of presence
5) prioritize intensity of marketing in these groups – primary / secondary focus

By doing this you’d arrive at a sizeable target audience for marketing.

The whole process becomes easier, if you start from the very broad goals, and tuning down each of the viable stages logically. For example a probable path in defining the target for the pump sets could be somewhat as explained in the graphic below.

Identify your target audience

There are 2 bonus you receive in this process:
A) a direct and easy understanding of your agency’s communication target, which by-the-way, is even a smaller target slice than marketing’s
B) a practical tool to arrive at a marketing budget and ROI

When traditional tools fail…

Ajay Nagre is a Professor in MIT-WPU. In one of his class, he put across an interesting question on BCG matrix, for discussion. The question was on the attractiveness of #Zomato as an investment, esp. since the brand has been high on buzz lately, due to its mind-boggling valuation in the IPO market.

The Co. / brand doesn’t seem to have any established revenue model and has been bleeding profusely in terms of cash. Yet it is making spectacular growth in the market!

So, which position would you find the company in BCG matrix? STAR or QUESTION MARK or CASH COW?

Original BCG Matrix

Majority of the students and LinkedIn members, placed Zomato under Star or Question mark. Interestingly, both the answers have issues, as the brand doesn’t qualify for either slot.

The nature of the business that Zomato is in (Food Delivery; Digital Aggregation), offers little/no long-term growth precedence whatsoever.

The probable answer therefore, lies in widening the 2×2 matrix into 3×3 or more. So there could be one more position each, in each of the columns and rows.

For example, Channon’s Market Attractiveness matrix (1993) could be a tool to find a solution to this problem.

Channon’s Growth Matrix 1993

Lesson for Students:
When faced with a business problem that doesn’t seem to have a readily available tool to solve it, then…
1. WIDEN your perspective / horizon.
2. MODIFY the tools.

…or simply, THINK OUT OF THE BOX.

A lesson in Global Communication

One of the most important aspects of communication is that both the sender and the receiver need to have a complete understanding of each other’s language and culture. Otherwise, a statement which creates an emotion or feeling perfectly in one language or country may have a completely different meaning and effect in a different country.

The difficulty happens primarily because a person’s language and culture are intricately intertwined. Just a simple translation of a message, most of the time may not have the ability to generate the emotion or feeling it was supposed to trigger!

There are many words in the world, which perfectly describe something in native language, but lose their full meaning and relevance once translated into English. For example, Hindi phrase “chai-pani” if translated to English, may be just “Tea and snacks”. However, the intent of using the phrase in Hindi could have been to suggest “money given to someone in the govt. to get work done”. Actually there’s no exact translation of this phrase available in English.

Similarly, the word “Fernweh”, which in German means feeling homesick for a place one never been to, doesn’t have any English equivalent. Here are some more.

How important it is for a global communication, was perhaps felt first during the early days of globalization. MNCs expanding to uncharted territories were faced with the intricate problem of devising correct translations or adaptations of their #brand communication / messages, as the local interpretation would almost always differ.

Initially, the solution adopted was to have a local talent deliver the nearest adaptation of the messages. For example, Samsung’s DigitAll global campaigns (2002) were at first just “adapted” into Arabic, for GCC and Levant / MENA regions.

The mid-term solution, during the later years, was to develop #communication strategies locally. It actually was a half-solution, as it carried more of “local” than “global”.

The final solution devised has been more strategic, and had a long-term impact on global brands. First, consumer and culture inputs were compiled from globally key regions of influence, in order to define a “global target profile“. The profile possessed the personality of a global citizen – with very limited or no skews at all to any one region. Communication strategies started getting developed and implemented worldwide with this global target profile as the focus.

This is perhaps one of the reasons why we are increasingly seeing the MNC consumer durable brands have almost similar target profiles. More often than not, regional flavors gain more relevance during festival seasons or regional events only.

Can Gut Feeling be a brand builder?

Gut Feeling for Business (photo: alchemyformanagers.com)

Many a times Marketing Strategy decisions are prone to be labelled as “Gut Feeling”. Perhaps most recent examples from 2020 would be the Tanishq’s Ekekatvam and Amul’s pandemic marketing strategies.

“Gut-feeling” is more of a colloquial phrase used for the word “Experience”, because the former doesn’t come naturally to a person without some sort of prior experience / exposure – not necessarily similar to the problem at hand, but consciously unrecognised.

So valuable and empowering is this feeling, that one celebrated author once wrote a 250 page NYT bestseller on the subject!

But can “Gut Feeling” build a brand in the long term?

Or simply put could every crucial marketing decision be based on “Gut feeling”?

If we know how decision making processes takes place inside the brain, it’s easier to appreciate the power of gut feeling. Decison-making is never a random process, even when it sometimes looks like so.

One of the crucial points often overlooked, is that current data (related to the problem or situation) plays the role of a trigger in “gut-feeling” decisions. This data, when connects to huge amounts of historical data with their own permutations, combinations, cause/effect relations in the brain, triggers it… a sort of Eureka moment… And offers a decision or solution to a problem.

Hence this moment is sometimes referred to as “Creative Leap”.

It’s this creative leap, which is often combined with superior confidence of the decision maker – sometimes directly cross-related by data, while sometimes just plainly backed by his conviction – that the gut feel decision is taken. But the funny part of this leap is that it’s a 50-50 game, which may or may not finally click on real-life situations.

Therefore, coming back to our question of whether Gut Feeling can build a brand, I would say that it definitely can, and often does! When it does, it’s driven purely by the vision of the brand builder, who has the ability to think through and drive the execution process as well.

After all, brand building a complex process, with many stakeholders holding the responsibility of giving it shape, character, vision, momemtum, and its myriad manifestations.

Five tasks to build Brand India 2.0

Brand India has till now been successful on one important aspect, i.e. harping on Heritage, thru Incredible India campaign.

Going forward, Brand India 2.0 needs to work on several other aspects too!

What do we Offer as ‘Brand India’ – We need to define what value does India propose… for Indians in India, Indians abroad and finally the non-Indians. Keeping aside India’s cultural diversity, currently we propose too many things for too many people without a one solid ‘reason-why’. Diversity could be one, but it’s important as a heritage story for the brand. But going forward, we need to create something modern and fathomable too!

Source: https://pixabay.com

What do we Talk about the brand – We need to carefully define what and how we project ourselves in our local and international media channels. Most of our AV media currently tends to hunt for sensationalism instead of pragmatism. Politics is not the only thing world is looking for. Developments in Culture, Science, Environment, Inventions (in India) etc. makes the world feel that India has arrived. Recent achievements like Mangalyaan was one such project opportunity that we are proud of. We need to add more to this kitty from various sectors.

What do we consistently Benchmark – We know that China offers too many comparable products cheaper all over the world – but with questionable quality! Indian product quality on the other hand, tends to get diluted in the race against matching Chinese prices. Cheaper and higher quality products is not a solution to tackle Chinese onslaught on our business. We need to achieve progressively better quality levels and benchmark against global standards each time. Only then we can hope to be seen “Made-In-India” become a formidable entity.

What do we promote or encourage – Most of the time, we see India’s Jugaad innovations either die naturally or get selective attention only abroad. Our brightest students get erased either by the system or by community, as it happened in the case of a recent topper-girl. We need to promote Innovation & Excellence Attitude across all levels of the govt. and society. Best of young minds do need to get immediate support of Education and Development ministries to nurture and fulfill their dreams.

How do we Attract attention to the brand – While the above aspects look into the internal aspects of Brand India, we also need to create icons that would showcase India to the world. Incredible India campaign showcased our natural and cultural diversity pretty well through existing heritage icons. We need to add to this diversity by creating newer icons that get attention from the global media. Mind boggling infrastructure, prestigious institutions and man-made eco-diversity parks are just some examples.

Brand India 1.0 was most difficult to organize but perhaps easy to conceptualize, as many things were ready, known and available; they just needed packaging.

Brand India 2.0 would not be an easy journey, as it would need far more commitment, involvement, investment, organization and resource allocation to make it successful.

5 Simple Truths to optimize your digital marketing

Truth is ot there

Over the last few post-recession years, Digital Marketing has gained immense respect. More and more businesses, whether or not prepared, are more inclined than ever to adopt digital marketing strategies. In some these cases, it’s more common to see businesses jumping into the Digital wave, just because “others are also doing so”.

It can be argued that these businesses are more likely to be eluded in their endeavors. A quick check into their efforts often reveal that most of these businesses fail to capture the simple truths of digital marketing.

The truths are driven by common sense, yet prove to be solid foundations for doing digital business. Here we go…

Truth #1 : Marketing Methods stay constant; Means vary.

Before you embark on your “digital strategy” stop and think: What would you have done to market your goods or services, if online / digital world was not there? More likely, you’d have still mapped your customers, addressed their needs / wants in a language they listened to, and delivered through a channel which they were familiar / comfortable with (not just media, but on ground channels too).

Well, the good news is that in Digital world, Technology has made it easier to do all the above, in lesser amount of time, and greater efficiencies. The only things that have changed are:

  1. The additional blue-screen window shops – i.e. the PC, Mobile, Tablets, etc. through which customers interface with the digital “properties” – to do your selling, and
  2. Plenty of real time technologies (in hardware & software) to convince your customers or make yourself heard.

If done well, your conversion rates have more chances to improve through digital efforts. So the Marketing rules are the same; processes and technologies differ.

Truth #2 : Website needs the respect of a Showroom

Many brick & mortar businesses, esp. the ones which are new entrants in the Digital world, often are myopic about the roles a website is supposed to perform – e.g. whether it’s information dissemination, or ensuring “online presence” only, or offering product experience, prestige / reputation management, e-Commerce. or even all of these together.

A website is almost an online equivalent of your retail showroom. Therefore, similar to the development of a brick & mortar showroom, there could be thousand different ways to develop an online showroom. As such a website needs similar kind of attention, if not more. The bonus is that once done, a website could go beyond the scope of retail showrooms, by aggregating endorsements or user experiences, which improve the image of the corporate brand.

Truth #3 : Free Experience leads to free Customers

A retail showroom can’t survive if it fails to attract customers. A higher store footfall increases chances of increasing customer conversions. And an important driver of footfall, is the window dressing. Many customers love “window shopping”. They love to spend time in front of the massively decorated shop windows, get interested in the products displayed, and consider exploring them inside – in terms of variety in designs, quality, as well as affordability.

The same is true for online / digital marketing. Many seasoned brick & mortar businesses often realize very late that it’s very important to generate high traffic for a majority of the website pages, organically. And, one of the simplest methods to do so, is to have a free rewards based activity on the website which would not only engage prospects with the products / brand, but also motivate them to revisit the site a number of times.

I came across a few stationery design services, whose websites maintain high page visits by just offering a few free templates. With the tools available on the site itself, any visitor can use them to create his own design – absolutely free! The templates are changed every few months; so the interest level is kept alive.

Truth #4 : Engagement is directly proportional to Acceptance

A visit to any jewelry showroom often reveals the depth of engagement the sales officers establish with their customers. It’s expected, because of it being a high-involvement category. Interesting to note however, design choice is very subjective; and so is the price one pays for it! Knowing this, the sales officers keep the customers engaged enough to keep their interests alive, which eventually translates into a sale.

The same is true for digital marketing, even though it may or may not involve a high-involvement category. Once of the important aspects of digital strategy is to develop myriad methods to keep the prospects engaged with the brand. Even though social media plays a major role in this, the website too have immense potential to keep visitors engaged, and navigate from page to page. Simple layouts, easy navigation, bold shapes, and overall a wider canvas often attract non-prospects to take interest.

More the interest generated on these pages, more is the engagement, and more is the possibility of adoption, when a product is offered.

Truth #5: “The only thing that’s changed is everything”.

One important truth about Marketing is that over time, consumers change, the domain change, products get updated, and even brands change, to make in order to be more relevant.

In many instances small businesses that keenly adopt digital marketing, considering it as a passport to higher business growth, fall short in their endeavors. They fail to recognize that every aspect of Digital Marketing is on a constant roller coaster ride to Change – esp. since technology changes every 3-6 months. Therefore, it’s important to take note of changing trends routinely, and plan in advance for the next 12-24 months.

This is perhaps where an offline retail showroom differs from an online one! While it’s okay to continue with the look-n-feel and presentation of offline retail for even 2 years, an online showcase may become obsolete in just 1-2 months! Therefore one needs to routinely keep on changing the looks, content, presentation, products, pages, etc. Each and every element of digital marketing is on a beta – always!

Keep Fresh! Keep Relevant! Keep changing… everything! And follow these five simple truths in your digital marketing.

Does your Design deliver?

Spectrum Eye B&W Macro

Does your Design deliver

In the marketing world, very often “graphic design” and “Design” are used interchangeably. The reason is quite simple – “graphic design” is one of the most visible faces of marketing, thru packaging, online, offline, etc. As a result, anyone driving his marketing operations from the commercial hub of any city, would come across numerous “Design” houses, offering everything in the name of “Design” solutions. What they actually deliver is just “graphic design” solution.

A few days ago, I was looking for a Design house to develop a new packaging for a cosmetics client. I met at least three “Design Boutiques”. My initial discussions revealed that they are just graphic design houses, offering Mac iterations / experimentations on some forms of random concepts. They pitched in by adding how their solutions “would attract various age groups, be easy to produce” etc. The whole rigueur of concept development behind Design was completely missing!

The core problem lies in our basic understanding of Design as a function, which continues to be limited. In our society, perhaps the word “Design” has been commoditized to a large extent. Design has become more of hype, and less of an enabler. It has also become an easy vehicle for newbie practitioners to make a quick buck early in career. And if those early rewards are handsome too, we have yet another bright talent losing an opportunity to carry forward the responsibility of Design.

Majority of the creative practitioners perhaps ignore the “accountability” part of Design. Hence while we have an explosion of “Designs” in our daily lives, we fail to see how yet another Design helps us more – even in terms of art or aesthetics. How many times we see “Design” playing a key / driving role in the creation of or aiding to the brand / product concept – esp. among smaller local brands?

At its core, Design is supposed to solve a problem, set in motion a certain feeling about the product or brand among its users, and be overall, simple in its every manifestation. Some good examples are Ikea, Ideo, Apple, etc. (in products) and Amazon, Google, etc. (in user experiences).

And in its ability to solve a problem, the practice “Design” has evolved into an independent faculty of “Design Thinking” – which, simply put, is the application of Designers’ orientation and approach to management processes. More and more societies and economies are utilizing this faculty to solve behavioral problems – be it on social, academic or even commercial levels.

Considering the deluge of designs and designers alike, I feel it’s the right opportunity for communication practitioners to re-look at our craft through the eyes of Design thinkers and solve the “perception” problems associated with our brands. Doing so would eventually develop newer attitudes and behaviors, which would in turn help our brands to be more meaningful to their adopters. It would also do well to liberate our static and limited consciousness associated with Design, into something more divergent and powerful.

Design can differentiate, not by creating yet another set of graphic elements or visual identity or even a new campaign, but perhaps by giving a solution to the needs and wants of consumers.

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