Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Bivergence 1; Convergence 0

I have been hearing about Convergence since I was in my post-graduate programme. It has been over five years now but where is it? It reminds of the optical illusion created by the two seemingly converging but otherwise parallel railway tracks or better still the the horizon - where the sky and the sea seem to meet!
I am yet to come across any product that does it all. Many of us still say that there would be that one device that would do everything and it’s only a matter of time before it is made available & affordable.
I want to believe it. But till such time that convergence becomes a reality, Bivergence seems to be ruling. Bivergence is about a personal communication device or technology with two key driving features.
Most of the products that are available today are live examples of this. Most of these devices are best suited for doing one or at best two things. Look at i Pod (Music & or Movies, but still mainly entertainment), The new series of phones from Nokia boast of a twin feature - Mobile connectivity & Music which effectively communication & entertainment, Sony Ericsson with Cybershot is a Mobile phone with a Camera but it still continues to be predominantly a communication device. Even Blackberry - the iconic mobile business backbone - is fundamentally a mobile phone with arguably the best emailing application (connectivity).
Step away from mobile handheld devices & we see that IP TV continues to be micro niche and DTH platform persists to be predominantly a Television service.
Despite all the future gazing about convergence, we are still living with products that are at best a duet of two kinds of applications. One of these applications is primary and the other only an additional feature.
What is still not very clear is are we only a product innovation away from convergence or would we have to wait longer for a mindset change that would help us accept a more ‘universal’ convergence product. And thus give marketers a reason to introduce that one ‘product’.

Insights live in questions, connections & contradictions

My earlier post Monk Outside Maverick Inside (http://inquiringeyes.blogspot.com/2006/11/monk-outside-maverick-inside.html) that talked about a good qualitative researcher being very calm outside and a complete radical -iconoclast inside, missed one point.
A good qualitative researcher, actually not just a qualitative researcher but also anyone in the business of consumer needs and innovations, should ideally possess three key traits.

One, he should question things. What I mean by questioning is not random interrogation but an ability to look at the world from a different angle and try to break the status quo down and try to understand what lies behind what we see. In other words, going beyond what is or what can be seen.
Like the Sahlinsian lesson:
Notice everything and pay attention to things that puzzle.
Pay attention to things that demand your attention and then refuse your understanding.
Pay attention to the failure of attention.

Second, he should try to connect the reasons behind the seemingly unrelated occurrences. This helps build a better picture of what really is happening around. Connections help spin the web of possibilities around an unexplained phenomenon or a question

Third, he should be able to identify the contrasts & contradictions between things, people and across time or geography etc. Most of the ideas & insights surface through cracks of contradictions.
These three traits help in observing better, because now we are questioning things & not taking anything for granted . They help in analyzing better because we are trying to question and connect different phenomena. And finally they help in generating ideas and insights because the same contradictions help us explore new dimensions of a hitherto unknown phenomenon.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Coffee Machine Camaraderie

BMW did it really well. They identified the informal groups (friends) within the company and next everyone in those groups was working on real ideas for the next model of BMW.
This is a bloody good idea and a great way to break free from underperforming committees, sub committees & steering committees!
Companies can do a lot by identifying different ‘friend groups’ in the organization and then hand them a task or project. These tasks could be other than what all of them are anyway working on individually.
The logic is simple – these people meet often at and off work. They talk to each other about many things including work. They understand each other and most importantly like each other’s company.
There cannot be a better way of leveraging this bond than giving them tasks that they can work on together. It is a great way of stoking entrepreneurship, job rotation without any real rotation, helping people get a break from their formal teams or disciplines or departments and most importantly would lead to better results from the same set of people.
We can do this in any company, in any industry and at anytime!
Advertising anyone?

Careful-Carefree-Couldn’t Care Less

Avinash born 1972, attained puberty in 1985, was a youth in late 80s & early 90s. Avinash was one of the three kids in his family with one elder brother and a younger sister. His mother was a homemaker and his father was in service.
His parents always disciplined him and when they saw him misbehaving (at home or outside) he sometimes even got reprimanded physically.
It was only Avinash’s grandparents who indulged him.

Akash born in 1982, attained puberty in 1995, was a youth in late 90s and early 2000s. He was the elder of the two male siblings. His mother was a teacher and father’s an engineer working with a company.
Akash was groomed the soft discipline way wherein he feared his father but seldom took his Mom very seriously.
He was always told to be a good boy. Akash was at best shouted at but rarely ever got reprimanded and, almost, never physically.
According to his mother Akash was indulged, and even spoilt by his grandparents.

Aayush, born 1992, attained puberty in 2005 and is still a teenager. He is approaching his youth in late 2000s and early 2010s. Aayush is the only child of his parents. His father travels a lot and mother works from home. They have a full-time help at home that looks after Aayush. Both his parents and his grandparents, who come visiting once in 3-4 months, pamper
Aayush. Ayush’s mother believes that children who are brought up without too many dos and don’ts develop into a better and more balanced personality. She never scolds Aayush leave aside reprimanding him physically.
She once got to know that the one of the teachers at Aayush’s school punishes kids who do not behave in classroom. Ever since then she has been looking for an alternative school for Aayush.

Avinash (1972), Akash (1982) & Aayush (1982) represent three different kinds of child grooming techniques that typify many of the urban middle and upper middle class households from these three different eras.
I summarize these three child-grooming approaches into Careful (Avinash era), Carefree (Akash era) and Couldn’t Care Less (Aayush era).
These three grooming era’s also reflect the prevailing parental mindset. While 70s were typified by apprehension about the future and thus an extra careful grooming mindset that bordered sharp disciplining etc.
The 80s & 90s were more bullish. Parents of this era have age and money on their side and it is this that makes them carefree. The carefree attitude manifests itself in the style of grooming that these parents choose to adopt subconsciously. Marriages are getting delayed and so is childbirth. Linked with this is the fact about both mother and father being employed out of home and thus limited time for the kid. Double income translates into higher disposable income coupled with the parental guilt. Pampering the kid is a way of redeeming a lot of these guilt pangs.
It is this guilt-soaked parenting that is creating an entire crop of kids who couldn’t care less about anything or anyone including their parents.
What is more important for advertisers and marketers like us is, what kind of consumers would these three boys become. While on one hand Avinash would have been a more submissive child (at least overtly), Akash and more importantly Aayush would become more expressive and confident kids.
Though I am not aware of any Empirical study that suggests that there is a positive correlation between the degree of liberal grooming for a kid and the extent of the child being expressive & confident, but my observations suggest that there does exist a positive correlation between the two.
If that is the case then we as marketers and advertisers need to gear up for new breed of confident, demanding, expressive and fearless young kids who question and behave more like informed adults much earlier in their life than their predecessors.

The future of kid marketing looks more like marketing to teens & young adults.

K Serials could be ‘cheaper’ than History Channel & HBO

Today we pay a fixed amount every month to the local cable operator. These are called the monthly cable charges.
Enter Conditional Access System (CAS) and we would not be paying this way. We’d be paying only for the channels that we choose to subscribe to. Thus the monthly bill would be a sum total of the number of channels that we choose to subscribe multiplied by the subscription charge per channel. This is great!
Thank you TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India)!
I was discussing this with Rohit (my elder brother), who has nothing to do with marketing or the business of broadcasting. Rohit gave me a brilliant idea, which I do not think has been done anywhere in the world of broadcasting.
He said that ideally our monthly cable charges should come in the form of an itemized bill. Just the way we get our mobile phone bills today.
In other words we should only be paying for the duration that we actually watch cable TV.
He called it Hi Fidelity, I could not agree more.

Rohit’s simple idea made me wonder how much we as marketers, advertisers & business people can learn from some leading edge consumers. How I wish we were researching more among people like him.

Rohit’s idea also got me thinking that if we were to get itemized bills for our cable usage, who would be paying for the time that we are made to watch TV Commercials? After all we would not like to pay for watching ads! This gave me thought to take Rohit’s idea forward.

What if we could develop two kinds of programming content in the future?

1. Sponsored Content: This could be the content that is more or less like the content that we consume today. It has commercial messages interspersed with programming content. Presence of advertising on these channels would subsidize the subscription charges for these channels.
This is almost the way advertisers have subsidized newspaper printing. We pay a minuscule amount for those book-like newspapers today, thanks to advertisers!

2. Premium content: This could be the commercial-free content and could thus be priced higher than the sponsored content

The above segregation of programming would also take care of the itemized billing where in we could have with differential pricing for different kinds of channels. Channel content creators would be able to decide if they wanted to reach out to the Masses through the Sponsored Content or the Classes through the Premium Content Programming.
In such an event what would happen to the advertising of premium products and services? What media would they be using?
Well, most of the Class consumers are anyway migrating from mainstream TV viewing to Internet and Personal Entertainment (read home theatres etc.) In such a scenario it makes more sense for marketers of premium products and services to park their marketing & communication budgets with interactive media (http://inquiringeyes.blogspot.com/2006/09/screen-is-new-window.html) and rest could be spent on personal selling or better still in film marketing and public relations.

Monday, December 11, 2006


The proliferation of media has ensured that almost nothing can be away from the public eye. So Nike is not just what it advertises on TV or sells in its stores, Nike also is what happens in its factories.
Political parties are not just manifestoes and speeches but also embarrassments on spy cameras and revelations from tapped phone lines.
Brands are getting born (and killed) premature as the assembly line comes in the spotlight.
Network technologies like the one that is helping you read this text right now has ensured that people are able to know much more about companies than what companies are prepared for. It is not surprising that today, on the Internet, before you are even a product (solution), you already are a brand (image/perceived solution).
The power of collective thinking and personal broadcasting has democratized everything. Corporate thus need to do be a little (if not a lot) flexible. They need to accept the transfer of control to the consumers or at least accept them as a co-driver.
There are a lot of intelligent, constructive and enthusiastic people outside corporates and one of the first things that companies can do is to use the collective ‘wisdom’ and ‘influence’ of these folk for mutual interest.
Things like using people to test products in real life (not labs) - I call it ‘Podcasting the beta’ - are not ideas but imperatives in the future of business.

The future would witness the word secret acquiring an entirely new meaning and we would read about concepts like back-end in books to do with the historical evolution of technology & society.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Medicine not Mascara

The other big change that biomedical engineering could bring to our world is in the design of dressing tables that we have at home.
The future of cosmetics is about inner glow. It is more about internal beauty treatment and therapy and not as much about a beauty parlour or the many skin creams and packs. With the advent of medicines and medical procedures that help bring back & retain youthful skin and a lot more, we might not after all need so many things on the dressing table.
This along with the persistent desire to flaunt natural look would take people to beauty technologists and therapists rather than beauticians. (Read about multiple segments in medical care in the post ‘Is life saving different from life extending?’)
Beauty just might end up being more about what you eat and which medico-beauty procedure you can afford rather than what you wear or what you apply.

Is life saving different from life extending?

Is Spa a luxury and thus not meant for the ‘common man’?
Spas marry the ancient medical/healing texts from different parts of the world (Indian, Oriental, Western etc.) with contemporary symbols of comfort (a five star environment). What results is Healthy living wrapped in hi-tech hospitality, something that’s not for the ‘common man’.
But if you look at the kind of services that a Spa offers viz. natural oil ‘therapies’, Ayurvedic massage & ‘therapies’, hydro ‘therapies’, I would tend to think why not for the common man.
Most of these services are aimed at the stressed urban dwellers who are looking to relax their body & mind.
Does this mean that proverbial ‘common man’ does not get stressed?
What about the daily wage earners we see at all those construction sites or even an average office boy, an accountant etc who do not have a six figure salary? Do they not get stressed?
Well, I am sure all of us, no matter common man or individual extraordinaire, we do get stressed. But all of us do not get to go to a Health Spa to rejuvenate.
So what’s the big deal? Everyone can’t afford everything!
It is true that everyone can’t afford everything but it is equally important to define as to what qualifies as ‘everything’ and what is labeled as ‘something’.
Buying a very expensive dress or a sports car or perhaps a mansion on a island might be some of the things that could find a place in the ‘something’ list but could medicine be in the same list?
That precisely is the point.
I look at Health Spas and similar such rejuvenation centers as precursors to a new kind of medication. A medication that is natural, rejuvenating and an early sign of many more things to come. Like biomedical engineering.
It has been proven how a better health regimen, something that health Spas do, leads to a healthier life and more importantly a longer life span.
But can everyone afford a health Spa?
It would not be a surprise that in the time to come, despite the price control that govt. imposes on pharmaceutical companies, it would not be able to guarantee democratic medical care to the common man. Because in therapeutic concepts like biomedical engineering, where we would be synthesizing/cloning (and not manufacturing) cures like substitute organs for the aging, new skin for the damaged, better memory for that old man and fertility treatment for people marrying or remarrying late etc.

Today it is only Spas and some really complex medical procedures, tomorrow it could be life-extending procedures that would be available at a price.
Just like everyone can’t buy Sheseido, everyone would not be able to extend his or her life.

With the rise of super-expensive life extension medical procedures & multiple segments of medical care, life saving procedures and drugs would acquire an entirely new meaning.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Void of Belief

This is addendum to what I had written sometime back - ‘50 years of independence; 15 years of freedom’. Here is an ‘extenso-thought’ to it.
While India’s economic boom is filling many coffers - FDIs are up, we have a booming stock market, all the sectors of economy are showing vibrant growth, salaries are up (highest growth in whole of Asia!) and a lot more good is coming our way, there is another impact of this economic boom that is less talked about.
As a country, we have seen the demise of mainstream nationalism long time back -ask anyone other than the retired folk about nationalism or the national issues facing the country and chances are you’d draw a blank.
As a nation we can only vaguely remember Gandhain values as a distinct national philosophy.
Today, we as citizens are totally disjoint from each other for want of a shared belief. It would be difficult to answer if someone asked what is the contemporary concept of being an Indian?
As Peter Shwartz has mentioned in his work “Inevitable Surprises”, as a society we have been living with a void of belief.
India’s economic boom has filled this void to a large extent. This is especially true for the bigger urban centers where the fruits of economic boom can be seen and even tasted. As a nation a large part of our present day population is happy, hopeful and heading to the future with a belief that tomorrow would be better and there is a lot that can be done.
This is in sharp contrast to middle class India’s erstwhile ‘fear of future’ mindset. Our collective mental programming of yore was typified by an attitude that considered tomorrow a synonym for uncertainty.
India’s economic boom is a great example of the social impact of economic status of a nation.
May this new belief move from strength to strength and may the economy outperform the belief!

Ae meri Zohra-chubbi

The marketers love to see you FAT. I swear by French Fries!
Because fat women (and men) eat out more, have more medicines, consult more doctors, use more beauty aids than their not so fat cousins, work harder to not look their weight thus focus more on clothing and of course work hard to get back into shape.
With all these things going for marketers (and media), who would not want to have fat people around?
As India bloats (Add India today statistics here) the marketers are only too happy.
But why are we bloating?
Because we are eating the same that we used to in school & college but have stopped taking the bus (thus no walking to the bus stop), sit in air-conditioned environs (thus stopped sweating) burning, do not have the time to go home (leave aside a game of cricket or tennis), have more alcohol to consume (no need to pool for a bottle of Old Monk, just take a cab to the nearest pub & let the waiter be your saki) & eat more non-vegetarian fare than what our grand father would have ever imagined (over 65% of Indians are no-vegetarians today – Hindu state?).
No matter how much wellness is reported by media, the inches are not going anywhere yet. Statistics show that two thirds of working people joining a gym to lose weight, give up in the first 10 days.
While the nation ‘seems’ to be becoming a health freak the chances are that people are heavier rather than healthier.

Thin is in but fat is not out!

My Super Sweet 16

A look at the super successful primetime fare on the highly rated TV show My Super Sweet 16 throws open opportunity for TV programmers in India. If it can be tweaked for a little younger kids say between 8 & 14 it can work wonders.
The original show is about the excesses of privileged youths marketing the achievement of making through their 16th year. Parents sign cheques of USD 200,000 saying it’s worth it!
The parties, as the Time magazine recently said, are the equivalent of Hillary Duff’s MP3 videos. It is all about a celebration of self.
Growing number of urban middle class families, with fewer children at home, are already going overboard in ensuring that their kids get the best. I usually say believe that the socio economic classification does not apply to kids. Because every parent does more for his kid than what he can realistically afford.
Contemporary attitude towards parenting is like the average first date – we all go overboard!
What better way could there be to help parents see what really is the best that they can do for their kids than by showing them (and their kids) how people, who have the money, do it.
When the Mittal, Chatwal & Subroto Roy Sahara’s children’s wedding can give so many ideas to the Indian elite, why can’t a show for elite kids stoke middle-class aspirations.
Rarely would one have come across a kid who does not look forward to his birthday celebrations. A program like this would only make kid’s aspirations a little more specific and put parents under a little more pressure!
No matter how unethical or immoral it might make Television programming look, it would sure make parents, and more importantly kids, take note.

It sure is about self-centered greediness that gives infantile a bad name, but if people like it, let’s give it to them.

If the thought sounds rather too outrageous for kids it can very well be done for teens or youth. The idea is to make everyone in the program famous for a price and make everyone watching the program aspire for it.
There is a new industry taking shape that is devoted to re-creating celebrity culture for anyone who can afford it, fame is a commodity like any other. A show like this could gratify those who have it by helping them flaunt it & would connect with those who don’t by giving them what they love to read in tabloids and supplements of leading dailies.

Nu Uth One - Geography is History

Starting today I'd share with you learnings and observations on youth under the title - Nu Uth. You'd get Nu Uth udates regularly.

Here goes the first one.

For the urban youth of today, technology is an enabler and geography is a concept of the past.
This is manifested in their attitude towards of social networking websites like Orkut, MySpace etc. A quick glance of these websites indicates a sharply youth oriented user ship.
Most of these social networking websites are a life-sized illustration of the concept of 5 degrees of separation. Young boys and girls do not just interact with their offline friends but also get to explore a whole new network of offline relationships, online.

Apart from interacting with friends & friend’s friends and so on, a large number of young boys and girls registered on these sites are active members of multiple ‘communities’.
A lot can be understood about the Nu Uth from their community affiliations. Also, these communities bust the myth that Nu Uth is poorer in belief & is groping for a cause. Actually they have both and they are actively engaged in them too, just that the location of the community, cause & the belief has moved away from slogan shouting & striking down the classic broadways to scrapping and mass messaging on broadband data pipes.

For the Nu Uth, passion and principles are free of physical space.