Monday, December 17, 2012

Words worth

Words mean nothing but matter much. More so in marketing.

To mean one thing and to say it with the right word or phrase is a challenge in itself. Finding the right set of words to express your brand’s offering proves elusive at best and counter-productive at worst.

Getting it right or just a wee bit off target could spell the difference between success and failure. Take the case of Horlicks. It once stood for ‘nutrition’; and targeted families. The brand was sicker than the users who were using it!

And then Horlicks decided to target kids and made one small change in the way it described its offering. It replaced the word ‘nutrition’ with ‘nourishment’. It’s been ipaang gupaang japaang for Horlicks, ever since!

Yamaha has been talking about ‘speed’. But sadly, the bike is fast and sales are not. If only they used a better word - ‘Thrill’. The word ‘Thrill’ encompasses speed, builds an emotional layer to it and thus adds more oomph to the brand’s offering.

See, how one word makes a difference!

It’s not just about English words in advertising; the same applies to our 14-major-languages-and-million-dialects nation as well. The problem and challenges of using the right word or phrase is even more pronounced.

Take the word ‘Love’. Think of an equivalent word in your mother tongue. You probably can come out with five words. But note that each of those words should be used only in specific contexts. The equivalent word for love that describes brotherly love is different from the word that describes love between friends. The word to describe motherly love isn’t the same as the one that describes the love between a boy and a girl.

A wrong word in a wrong context could alter the meaning completely. Yet, in English all those different words gets translated into one catchall word – Love!

Put simply, the use of words matters. The use of the right word matters more. ‘Father’ and ‘Dad’ mean the same. Or do they?

Read this: ‘Anyone can be a father; but it takes someone special to be dad’. Now, the two words don’t mean the same!

Here is another interesting marketing story that highlights the importance of using the right words to make the perfect difference.

A school in Virginia had trouble filling a course called ‘Home Economics for Boys’. Considering the title, this isn’t too surprising. First, the word economics puts off most students who consider it boring and bereft of bliss. Secondly, the use of the word ‘boys’ is demeaning. Once into their teens, no self-respecting boy considers himself a boy. He sees himself as a man in the making. So, it was to nobody’s surprise that the course ‘Home Economics for Boys’ found no takers.

The school tried everything possible to popularize the course but in vain.

Then they did what most marketers don’t. They put themselves in the consumer’s shoes and thought through the problem using the consumer’s viewpoint. The answer became obvious.

The problem was not the course. It was the title of the course – the words they had used. The school renamed the class ‘Bachelor Living’.

120 boys immediately signed up!

Words cost nothing. But matter much. Weigh your words watchfully. And watch it’s worth work wonders!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Holy Cow!

The College of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Pookot in Wayanad district of Kerala, has recently launched two products in the market – ‘Cow Urine’ and ‘Panchagavya’ – targeted at the organic farming sector.

The neatly packed ‘Cow Urine’ is, well, just that – cow’s urine. Panchagavya, though, is a cocktail of milk, ghee, curd, cow urine and, hold your breath (literally)…………….cow dung.

One can safely say the veterinary college now has two strong brands in its arsenal - no pun intended!

“Cow’s urine is meant to improve the plant resistance while Panchagavya will help the growth of favourable soil bacteria and thereby improve soil fertility,” said a college official. Apparently, the two products can help reduce the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers to a great extent.

The product quality is ensured by collecting the first urine of the cow every day. It’s not clear how one would figure out which is the cow’s first urine of the day. What if the cow gets up in the middle of the night to pee? Would someone be sitting backstage and monitoring the cows? The official promised to loo…….k into the matter.

The veterinary college seems to have worked out a marketing strategy for its flagshit brands; well…..I mean flagship brands. Starting with the 4 Pees!

The first pee - the product - is clear though. The colour might not be, but the product is. We are told it is to look like water. Looks like a clear attempt to segment without pigment.

The second pee – price – aims at the m’ass market. The maximum retail pee is pegged at Rs.5 per litre. Panchagavya, the milky shit, is to be sold for Rs.50 per litre.

Not much info has been provided about the third pee – place – how the urinal and shit are to be distributed. Dispensed directly from the source, probably.

The fourth pee – Promotion – is being worked out. The college doesn’t have sufficient money to advertise in the mass media and hence may resort to below the line promotion – in line with the product’s origin! Would the two products generate any word of mouth publicity? Doubtful with the all the stink.

As of now the college doesn’t have plans to export the two products. The urine isn’t going foreign; at least not yet.

If you peep (damn my pun again) further, you hear the college claiming that cow pee can be an important ingredient in many ayurvedic medicines. Apparently, it can be used in the treatment of major ailments like peptic ulcer, certain type of cancer, live ailments, asthma etc. It’s not clear whether those suffering from the diseases might prefer the pee over peaceful death!

But one thing is certain. Morarji Desai would have turned in his grave……and smiled!

However, the official warned that their brand - Cow Urine - cannot be used for pharmaceutical applications. Why? For pharmaceutical use, it has to be produced under the strict supervision of an ayurvedic doctor, the official added.

Supervised? I wonder how one could supervise cow peeing. Sit in a chair 24x7 and watch the waterfall?

We could keep talking about these two products till the cows come home but let me sign off.

You probably are pissed. I have to, too!

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Mind your own business. Define it deftly.

Bottlenecks are at the top, as the old saying goes. Most problems afflicting businesses start right up there – at the top!

I don’t mean the management or the entrepreneur who runs the business, though they are the chief captains of crime, in most cases. I am talking about how most businesses are defined, if they are defined at all. And how wrongly they end up being defined, when they do get defined.

The late Theodore Levitt said it so eloquently fifty two years ago in his path-breaking (and one of my favourite) article in the Harvard Business Review titled ‘Marketing Myopia’.

Pity most respected businessmen and revered MBA’s have the foggiest when it comes to defining what business they are actually in.

Last week I had to give a speech on Marketing at the Sivakasi Chapter of Young Entrepreneurs School, a unit of the Tamil Nadu Chamber of Commerce. A big chunk of the audience was entrepreneurs who owned match box manufacturing units. Sivakasi accounts for 90% of India’s match box production. It also accounts for 90% of India’s fireworks manufacturing. Reason why Sivakasi is affectionately referred to as ‘Kutti Japan’! (Little Japan).

Post the speech, during the open session, most match box manufacturers had a few questions to ask: ‘Why is our business not growing as much?’ ‘Why are we stagnating?’ ‘How do we grow as fast as we once did?’

I posed Levitt’s classic question: “What business are you in?’

The answer was on expected lines. ‘We are in the match box business’.

I then explained why the match box business was stagnating – increasing usage of lighters to light cigarettes, automatic gas stove lighters, induction stoves, lack of time, space and interest to light puja lamps, increasing use of emergency lamps that obviates the need for candles etc.,

Match box consumption is bound to come down though it might not die completely, is what I said. And then continued, “Get ready to face lesser sales and be prepared to take most of the blame.”

Obviously aghast, they retorted ‘How can we be blamed if the need for match boxes goes down due to technology and other reasons.”

I replied, “Because you have got your business definition all wrong. You guys are not in the match box business. You never were.”

Having got their attention, I espoused Levitt’s theory.

“Business should not be defined by the products that you make; but by the needs that you satisfy. You are not in the match boxes business. You are in the business of lighting flames. If you had defined it as such, you would have been the first to come out with cigarette lighters; you would have pioneered automatic gas lighters; you would have brought out innovations like ‘Home Lites’ did.”

“The product is just the means to satisfy a need. The need in itself had to be clearly articulated and should have guided the business that you were in.”

“Since you defined your business as making match boxes, you stayed put there. And failed to realize what was happening or foresee what might happen. So now that the consumers are moving slowly out of match boxes, you realize your business is stagnating. Even worse, you still fail to realize why.”

“Business must be viewed as a customer-satisfying process. Not a goods producing process. This is because product are temporary; but needs are permanent. A market definition, that’s why, is superior to product definition.”

“PepsiCo, for instance, is not in the beverages business. If they had defined it as such they would have stagnated long time ago. They realized they are in the business of quenching thirst. Reason why they didn’t stop with colas and came out with a range of thirst quenchers – orange drinks, lemon drinks, juices, mineral water and, amazingly though perfectly appropriate, vodka and wine!”

“They didn’t stop there. They moved into Quick Service Restaurants through YUM Restaurants – Pizza Hut, KFC, Taco Bell, A&E, and Long John Silvers. And for good measure they even moved into salty snacks – through Frito Lay.”

“Pepsi was in the business of quenching thirst. And the clear articulation of that definition led them to one success after another.”

When I finished, I was ready to face an onslaught of angry outburst from the entrepreneurs. Here I was telling rich, successful and experienced businessmen at their face that they were wrong.

But I was humbled when they nodded and said they accepted and were willing to take the blame. I was deeply touched by the applause when I sat down.

Did I light a spark in the minds of the match box manufacturers? I hope I did. Would they redefine their business and light up Sivakasi again? I wish they do!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Fast girls. Fast times. Fastrack.

I have a problem.

It all started with Fastrack; more with their latest ads. I saw two of them in the recent past. One, where a girl wakes up one morning from God-knows-where having spent the night with devil-knows-whom and wears her stuff on the way to who-knows-to-who-else!

And there is this other ad where a girl’s hand can’t but park itself on the wrong end of men’s spine!

I am not here to hold the moral candle and rant about the degrading standards of probity or the deplorable dilution of chastity among youth. No Sir. That’s not a subject I prefer to discuss in public; my views on the same notwithstanding.

Nor am I going to write about the falling standards of advertising and its blatant attempt at using sex and nocturnal overtones to titillate the viewers and arouse their interest in the brand; among arousing other things! This is a subject matter of another discussion. Though, I do recall having written about this in one of my previous columns.

This piece is about the advertising strategy of Fastrack. This is about the brand personality as has been portrayed in its advertising. This is about my views on the same; and my wish to get your comments on it as well.

Agreed there are quite a few flirtatious, frivolous and fun-seeking girls who are extremely promiscuous, highly inflammable, perennially resorting to offshore drilling and possessing a flesh fetish that would put a hyena to shame!

Agreed there might be a frightening few who, shall we say, take a more horizontal view of life, seeking the pleasure of vertical limits!

Agreed it is becoming more common nowadays to see a few girls who pledge their chastity and put their probity on ‘Aadi sale’ and not feel too worked up about it.

My point is this. Would a girl like to be seen that way by others? Would she care less about how others view her? Would she say ‘Yes, I am laying my cards on the table (pun intended) and yes I am a girl of low virtue and lower standards?

Wouldn’t a girl mind being termed that way in public even if she is one in private?

I believe a girl might want to have fun but not be in the spotlight for that reason. I think a girl might screw around but not have her name screwed for that reason.

By presenting the positioning in this manner, isn’t Fastrack telling its customers, ‘if you are that kind of a girl here is your opportunity to flaunt who you are’?

By portraying that personality, isn’t Fastrack telling the user, ‘hey, you are like this and go tell the world you are like that’?

Don’t consumers buy the brand’s image and advertising more than buying the brand? Isn’t the physical buying of the brand just a reflection of their having bought into the brand’s image? Aren’t image brands the badges customers wear on their selves to tell the world who they are?

When one wear a Nike, isn’t he trying to tell the world he has an attitude?

When one drives a Pulsar, isn’t he revealing to everyone he is stylish?

When one drinks Mountain Dew, isn’t he communicating to all and sundry that he is adventurous?

Isn’t this what branding all about?

If so…………..by wearing Fastrack wouldn’t a girl be telling the world she is frivolous, fun-loving and flirtatious? Wouldn’t she be telling the guys she can be outsourced? Wouldn’t she also be saying she is an FMCG product – Fast Moving Carefree Girl!

Maybe, I should go ask a few girls what they think about this piece. Maybe, I should pose these questions to a few girls who wear Fastrack.

If they take offense and fight, well that I can manage. But what if they construe it as an invite, and even worse accept?

You see, that’s my problem!

Friday, April 06, 2012

…and why not theatres?

Continuing from where I left……let’s talk about theatres now. Think of any theatre in your city.

Now……here is your question. What comes to your mind first when you think of it?

Nothing, right!

If you were the theatre owner, would you be worried? You better be. You just realized your brand means nothing to the consumer. Even worse, your brand means nothing to you!

The problem is theatres are not positioned. They lack a personality.

Why should theatres be positioned you ask? Isn’t the theatre positioned by the film that is running currently you argue? And because the films keep changing and there is a new movie all the time, should theatres be positioned at all you elaborate? Is it even possible to position a theatre, far less build a personality, you dispute?

In other words, what you are telling me and yourself is that you would invest crores of money building a theatre and spend lakhs of money maintaining it and let your fortune, future and fate decided by a stupid film that runs it. Isn’t that thought as much scary as it is stupid?

Wouldn’t you rather build a theatre keeping in mind the target audience you wish to attract by studying the location, the characteristics of the neighbourhood and the accessibility etc? And then follow it by playing only films that suit your target audience? Thereby telling the world, loud and clear, what kind of theatre you have; and what kind of experience they can expect?

Imagine this. You are building a theatre in a predominantly residential neighborhood. You position your theatre as ‘wholesome family fun’. Imagine every facet of design – from entrance to exit, from fa├žade to restrooms, from seating to parking – every little detail is conceived, created and caressed with your target audience in mind – the family. You play only family movies; seating is designed in threes, fours or fives – decided by the size of the family. Even the food and snacks are sold in combo or family packs. Special restrooms designed for kids. Maybe even nappy changing rooms; breast-feeding facility for moms. Put simply, a theatrical version of McDonald’s.

And when you do that, you are doing a few things first, and right. To begin with, your target audience knows who you are. They wouldn’t care much about the film since they know what to expect. Which means you depend less on the film you run to define your success, and depend more on your theatre to defend your fortune? A far better way of doing business, you would agree.

If you own a multiplex, it gets even better. Imagine you have a 3-theatre complex. Dedicate each theatre to a certain target group. Like a portfolio of brands that has made companies like P&G invincible. Pantene, Head & Shoulders and Rejoice – three shampoos yet addressing three different audiences with three different positionings.

Make one theatre target kids – play only animations, adventure etc. Have rough flooring to take the abuse of young legs; restrooms whose urinals suit the size of the user; small serving of food and snacks among other things; maybe even video arcades on the side.

Position the second theatre for, say, couples; screen only love stories and romantic comedies. Have seats for two; armrest that folds so one could freely hold their partner’s hands, among other things! Maybe, even sell Unwanted 72 tablets along with popcorn and Pepsi!

How about a third theatre for young adults – action movies, adult comedies and more. Have more legroom maybe; a separate smoking section…you figure out the rest.

Am sure you are getting the picture!

You would realize you are not only branding your theatre but building a strong personality for it as well.

And not just that. Theatres will then become the next powerful advertising medium. When you showcase specific audiences, marketers are bound to follow by pouring tons of advertising money - prior to the movie, during intermission and all inside the complex – to reach their specific target audience!

Theatres have ceased to be film-watching devices long ago. Today, they are seen sources of entertainment; providers of experience.

Owners have failed to realize this and theatres are a dying breed. Multiplexes have been, erroneously, considered a whiff of fresh air that has come to revive movie-going experience. Without a proper positioning and personality, they are just oxygen cylinders to prolong the agony.

It’s time to redefine things. In fact, it’s time to define things! It’s time theatre owners give themselves a new lease of life. Positioning theaters and building an appropriate personality is a good starting point!

Let the show begin!

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Preachers don’t practice!

There are doctors who don’t exercise!
There are policemen who don’t wear helmets!
And then there are B-Schools who don’t practice branding!

Why do the preachers of branding don’t practice it? Take the all-important facet of branding i.e., Positioning. How many B-Schools have actually positioned themselves? Here is a simple exercise. Think of any B-school; what comes to your mind when you thought of that name.

Yup, nothing!

Should B-schools position themselves? Why not? And why shouldn’t they? They are selling a product; they are trying to differentiate themselves from one another; with increasing competition and the fickle nature of their rankings that seem to change every year, they need to stand for something in the student consumer minds. Read positioning!

If everything in life – products, places and people – can and should be positioned, why shouldn’t B-Schools?

Close Up means freshness.
Goa means beaches.
Rajinikanth means style.

Isn’t the whole objective of branding to make a product positioned on a workable and ownable platform and make it preferred over the generic? Doesn’t this apply to anything? Then why not B-schools? Or for that matter anything that can be marketed and merchandised?

B-Schools have become just a glorified commodity. Like mineral water. A category patronized and purchased for its generic benefits. Just as it is in the mineral water category, the B-school category has varying image and price point levels. The top tier schools – the IIMs - form the first leg. Call it the Evian and Perrier club. What’s the difference between Evian and Perrier? As much difference as you can find among the various IIM’s!

Then you have the second-tier schools. Name them the Aqua Fina and Kinley club. How is Aqua Fina different from Kinley? The same way XLRI is different from a FMS!

And the bottom rack of B-schools is filled with dime-a-dozen - a la the Bisleris. One as good or as same as the other. How do you differentiate one B-school from the other on this rack? Exactly the way you differentiate one Chinese face from the other. You don’t; and can’t!

You might remind me about Engineering, Arts & Sciences and Medical colleges not positioned themselves either. You might ask why I don’t accuse them as well.

What right do I have to ask them to execute branding and position themselves, when the preachers themselves don’t practice it?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

It's payback time!

Hindu Muslim clashes be damned…for a while. For now, the fun and focus is the Hindu TOI war! Boy, is the Maha Vishnu of Mount Road taking the Times of India for a roaring ride or what.

No one expected The Hindu to react the way they did. Agreed the TOI sledged The Hindu first. The Hindu, surprisingly, reacted by making a few changes to their paper - content, style, presentation etc., something I even talked about here earlier.

But I didn’t expect The Hindu to come out with a hard-hitting campaign to retaliate TOI’s sledge. Damn; here is a brand that had never even advertised once in their 135+ year lifetime; far less taking a competitor head on.

Should The Hindu have reacted like this? Have they reacted right? And what next?

Before I continue, a few caveats are in order. I subscribe to both the papers. Though I admit I read The Hindu first. I am not a big fan of this paper anymore. I think it is left leaning, anti-BJP and Jayalalitha and losing its neutrality a bit, and shows a soft corner for Congress though not much of late. But when it comes to quality, writing style, use of the English language and depth of coverage, The Hindu stands tall and unrivaled. TOI is not even a shadow of an English paper, far less being comparable to The Hindu. Truth be told, TOI is at best a glorified vernacular; a daily film magazine; and a dignified porn pamphlet.

So, one day, the TOI takes on The Hindu accusing it of putting the readers to sleep – by their choice of news, the lush language they use and their aversion towards anything sensational. The Hindu reacted by adding a few new genre of supplements, adding a certain kinds of news that they had never covered earlier and eased their headlines a wee bit, without dilution of its famed richness.

And then, has come this Hindu Kolaveri!

My initial reaction, when told The Hindu has come out with a series of ads to counter TOI, was ‘disbelief’ and ‘why did they?’ I still believe The Hindu shouldn’t have even legitimized TOI with a retort. Maybe The Hindu’s research, assuming they did one, led them to believe seeds of suspicion being planted in the minds of young adults by the TOI campaign. Maybe The Hindu decided to react – lest they lose a whole generation of new readers who would end up growing with TOI. So, yes The Hindu probably was justified partly, am still reluctant to be whole hearted here, to take on TOI.

That aside, the choice of target audience for The Hindu’s campaign, I should say, was bang on. Young adults – who are increasingly being gleaned away by sensationalism and trivia at the cost of sense and knowledge. One could see a distinct degradation of the English language in the mouths of the young, the lack of depth of knowledge in their heads and a misunderstanding of what’s important for their jobs, careers and lives. I am the least bit being philosophical or judgmental. I am only worried these traits would affect the young adults’ chances of survival in these competitive times.

And therein lay the crux of The Hindu’s campaign. It is talking to a generation that’s growing up soaking nuisance masquerading as news and nonsense dressed up as current affairs, and choosing a paper that glorifies it. The Hindu’s campaign has been spot on. Readers of TOI are losers and hollow!

But then, one of the cardinal mistakes of marketing is to tell the target he or she is wrong. Even worse, term them idiots. The Hindu campaign, in a blatant way, does just that. Would that intimidate the TOI reader?

But then, I don’t think this Hindu campaign aims at weaning away the TOI reader. Maybe it shouldn’t either. The TOI audience is different from the Hindu’s. But what Hindu’s campaign does, and what I think The Hindu should continue to do, is to put the fear of God among the undecided and paint a picture in their minds the perils of preferring a newspaper that personifies hollowness and utter lack of depth. If that can be achieved, a whole new generation of users would feel cool and sensible to pick The Hindu. That would arrest the growth of TOI in the South. Which incidentally is where I think this campaign would have most of its effect. I doubt if the North, where The Hindu has been traditionally weak at best and non-existent at worst, would ever witness a shift in preferences.

Now what next? For starters, I expect TOI to take The Hindu to the court. The viewer could easily pick up the dumb characters in the ads mouthing ‘TIMES OF INDIA’; the beep sounds notwithstanding. It’s for the courts to decide if this can be termed disparagement.

And TOI will react. After all it’s the largest English daily. They might resort to statistics – how they are the largest newspaper, how they grown the most among the youth, how the who’s who is reading it etc. Such a campaign would be hopelessly weak to say the least. TOI, true to its true sensational style, would try and hit The Hindu below the belt. That’s the only place the TOI can ever be good at!

Also note that everyone in the ad voices TOI. So TOI can come out with a campaign quoting that and saying how they are the No.1 brand among the 18 to 35 or whatever. Feeble response, if it were to be.

At the end of the day, The Hindu has been provoked and woken up. As the old Tamil saying goes: The wrath of the quiet sadhu when awakened will shake the forest.

This Sadhu has gone one step further: He has brutally raped TOI and thrown it into the gutter, where it rightly belongs. And I love it!