Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I want to be part of the journey - not part of the scenery at the destination

While I have been focusing on writing a lot around marketing, there is merit in capturing my own beliefs and values as a professional. I realise that this is an area where definitions come through random thoughts and perhaps I keep thinking of stuff and forgetting in the conscious (while retaining in the unconscious). Beliefs and values built over a career may not be easy to forget or set aside - but I don't want to take that risk. Therefore, I shall capture what I remember today in this post - and possibly come back with a few more on this subject.
If there is one approach I have adopted - its the path of "enlightened self interest". I do not have much to say about this other than the three words - so I won't. Suffice to say it tends to the self centred - not the selfish. I very strongly believe we need to enjoy our work life - it is important to extract stimulation and enjoyment from what we spend most of our time doing. I also believe work is not about the number of transactions - but the impact created in each transaction. Each thing done has to be approached with passion and pleasure, to generate tremendous quality and impact in the output. Another value I hold very close is uniqueness - there is no point having a career being one amongst many. This may be safe - but it is not rewarding to the individual. Those who strike out in unexplored directions (typically the entreprenuer) create superb positions for themselves while having a ball at the same time. If this thinking goes into employment (i.e. uniqueness) - you can have the pleasure of entrepreneurship without the risk and the heartburn. Stress - a bugbear of modern professional living. I think it is overrated. Stress to my mind is more self induced - genuine stress only results when life is imbalanced. I think today's world makes it far more possible to find balance in life - as an example, I am genuinely stressed if I have to turn up at office everyday and cannot make exceptions for intrusion of personal life (child's illness, family tragedy or just a plain old holiday on an off day). In yester years this was difficult to achieve - work meant presence in the office. Today with automation and communication technologies our productivity has become location independent - this is genuine destress. The true aspect of stress we experience today is self induced - this is silly. You only agonise over missing a train if you are running to catch it - so chill for a while. Plan well and be prepared for the occasional roundabouts and you'll be fine.
When you start thinking like this - an automatic extension is the thinking on self sufficiency and the absolute scale. Two things here - I believe I can add value ; and I will. I do not require external sources to enable my journey to contributing in my professional life. Leading on from this - it is foolish to index own achievement basis other's - many other people will do better and worse than me; this should make no difference to me. Run the race against yourself.
I remember, when I left ITC to join HCL Technologies, a lot of my well wishers were aghast. According to many I was attacking my own career with a triple pronged assault. Moving from an established leader in the CPG industry to a fairly fledgling IT Service player (industry assault), that too joining the No. 5 player in this fledgling industry (company assault) and moving into marketing - seen as an also ran support function in this industry (functional assault). In hindsight I can say it was the best move of my life - you see; I want to be part of the journey, not the scenery at the destination.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Coldplay's Yellow - The Quest for Erudition ?

While driving into office in the morning I was listening to Yellow. 5 years ago a friend introduced me to the song and to Coldplay - and I admired him for his erudition. More so because I think of myself as a bit of a musician. The thought just struck me however - at this time Coldplay was already very big. My admiration was only account my not knowing them - if the same were to happen today, I would treat the incident with some contempt. I already know them - and you think it a big deal ?
Question therefore - what is erudition ? There is no doubt that human beings admire it - and the greatest brands in the world represent it. But is it about what the erudite entity knows or about what I don't know ???
The puzzle - I don't know; and you tell me. Now I know. In this lies the mystery of brands dying. There are two parts to this puzzle - in this world of hyper-knowledge how do I know what you dont and how am I supposed to keep ahead of what you know. I do not have answers - but I can hazard a guess. If brands have to be ahead and brands need to continuously reinvent (in a relevant fashion) the answers would lie in thought leadership and society.
Mere scholarly pursuit of knowledge (dictionary meaning) cannot lead to erudition admiration. Insight is key. I remember an article in HBR I read years ago that gave some meaning to this. The hypothesis - society continuously evolves in a certain direction in a mass fashion, but secretly desires a different state. If a brand spots this discontinuity and adopts it in positioning, brand character or world - it appears to create new thought while actually resonating with secret desire. Two interesting examples the article took related to post world war 2 America. This was the time the US start white collaring - and a society which till then was outdoor centric started heading into offices to earn livelihoods to good to give up. In this cusp - two brands were born. Marlboro with the iconic cowboy and Mountain Dew with the grassroot hillbilly picked positions that perfectly fit the discontinuity and became gigantic.
I know it is dangerous to attribute post facto causality to successes - but treating this as a mere intellectual exercise, I believe I have a similar example from my ITC days (not that I was involved in it). In the mid 80's ITC took the Wills Navy Cut brand to India's most powerful tobacco brand. This was a time when traditional India was emerging to modernity and beginning to question the current mores of the man-woman relationship (quite inequal at the time). The "Made for Each Other" advertising campaign broke with shots of a man and a woman reading "The Polish Joke Book" together and sharing a good laugh. I believe at a subconscious level - viewers understood that the demonstration of an activity we believe to be individual and personal (i.e. reading a book) suddenly being shared was a demonstration of intimacy and sharing in the relationship which was absolutely new. I did'nt know you could have that kind of relationship at that time - I admire the brand for this new thought.
Which brings me back to Coldplay's Yellow. There is no sustainable basis on which I can admire the mere posession of knowledge. To admire erudition - I need insight. Tough, No ?

Friday, November 02, 2007

Are'nt brands about Confidence

Just came across an interesting Gartner article on the "Confidence Index" in outsourcing relationships. While I explore this a little further in the context of my business - it is interesting to put this in the context of brands.
In 2001, a Gartner study on trust and business relationships asked IT services customers to rate the relative importance of "trust" in their business decision making. It became evident that, while trust was of overriding importance, there were no definitive views on what constitutes trust. Put simply, people know trust "when they see it" ; but are unable to define it. Sounds familiar ?
Gartner goes on to establish that the confidence both parties have in a business relationship is determined by the level of trust and the perceptions of how good or poor are the controls that govern the relationship. When this thinking is applied to brands - specially in consumer products, the results become interesting.
Lets take a look at trust first. Trust is acquired through a combination of right functionality, meeting expectations, consistency, meaningful communication, responsiveness, cultural fit and reputation. I am not very sure that marketers focus on all these parameters. Product development rarely understands right functionality from a consumption point of view, advertising typically raises (and mismatches) expectations, consistent quality is part of a sourcing / manufacturing process, communication touchpoints get meaninglessly used, few brands have customer service departments in place etc etc. A lot of thought and investment goes into cultural fit and reputation build. There may be merit in viewing the other aspects as part of marketing investment.
When we approach Control - it becomes a lot more iffy. Specially in mass marketed consumer goods - what sort of control should be presented to the customer ? - Wrong question / answer.. As long tail thinking has clearly begun to demonstrate - the customer wants , and will cast a vote for control. Some mix elements which can deliver "right control" to the customer / consumer would be feedback mechanisms (which are actioned), decision mechanisms (for rapid resolution), setting standards (and clearly communicating them as well as adherence), advance change management mechanisms (have you ever been through a packaging design change ?) , interactive loyalty solutions, financial clarity and responsibility, continuous improvement, benchmarking (visibly) and effective demand management. Once again a number of things that get done in bits and pieces.
If brands are about confidence - thinking on trust and control is a must in any marketing plan and budget. Arguably - its a cheaper and better area to spend than much of media.