Saturday, August 25, 2007

Structure Vs Texture

Meeting, workshops, research..lot of thinking and no writing makes me a restless man..

Here\'s something I\'ve been thinking about for past few days. Looking at planners and planning. Following are some observations and opinions on the way planners/planning work(s)..

Most of the planners that I have seen so far broadly fall in one of the following two categories:

1.The Structure Group:
The first and the larger group comprise the ‘method people’. This set is very logical, sometimes insanely driven by the process flow; they go by the different thinking and planning templates that they have been exposed to.
One usually hears them starting every project with phrases like
“let’s define the problem first”
“what research data do we have?”
“what is happening in the category?”
“are their any case studies available?” etc.

Closer examination of this approach reveals a distinct mindset - a kind of objective and dispassionate mindset. This planner type looks at most of the marketing and communication situations from a stranger’s standpoint. They always distance their personal experiences and instincts from the problem or task at hand. They believe that almost every problem can be approached best, scientifically. They are like the old wise men – who are dispassionate and thoroughly objective – sometimes detached from everyone and everything around. This is perhaps the classic adult behaviour.

Well this kind of adults are not the only ones who become planners there’s another group here’s what I’ve observed about them..

2.The Texture Gang:
This gang is smaller but is growing. Many of these planners have come from diverse backgrounds – beyond marketing management or advertising. They are more instinctive, intuitive and sometimes plain ‘biased’ towards a certain way of thinking.
Here’s what you hear them saying as they embark on a communication or branding task –
“what do you think about it personally ?,
“I feel that..”
“I have seen that..”
“you know, we need to make this candy a lot less sweeter than this.”
“come let’s brainstorm some ideas on this first..”

This mindset is almost opposite of what we saw with the structure guys. As an approach this is more personal and opinion driven.
The second group almost behaves like an opinionated young child in its approach to things. These people bring their strong likes and dislikes to the table and do not hesitate in questioning almost every existing paradigm.
Having said that it does not mean that this group is not thinking about the problem, it is just that this second kind of people believe that there is meaning in what they already know and that they should tap into the diverse personal experience as a starting point. And in many ways they value this more than any research – existing or potential.
Some of these planners are matured and look at a problem objectively. They take diverse opinions onboard as they move along their ‘intuitive path to problem solving’. But at the end of it all, this group is predominantly more ‘intuition’ oriented than ‘process’ oriented.

While two very distinct approached exist none of the two approaches is better or worse than the other – both of them are extremes in their own way. Also, as my ex-boss used to say – there does not exist any one formula; always ‘horses for races’. Thus needless to say, that it would not be precise to assume that a fixed pattern can be followed in addressing any marketing or communication problem.

This brings me to the relevance of the many marketing and branding templates that have been ‘set in stone’. I wonder if they were developed to:
1.Ensure that ‘personalities’ or ‘people’ do not take over the ‘process’?
2.Make everyone talk the same language?
3.Assumes that people working on different problems in different parts of the world can be made to think alike?
4.Assumes that the ‘doer’ is less important than ‘what needs to be done’ and ‘the way it needs to be done’

After all in a world of discontinuous change how long can we afford to be linear and predictable in our problem solution methodologies?
In times when human potential is almost redefining its boundaries every new day, how can we afford to chain the flight of intuition and ingenuity to prehistoric processes?

I believe its time we questioned many of our set ways of thinking and processes that we developed in times that had little semblance to the world we are living in today.

Here’s how it works best for me, I try to have the problem definition as the background to some totally disruptive questions, ideas, insights or observations. One of my friends and ex-colleague put it very well “define the problem in as many ways as possible and define the problem as ‘creatively’ as you can.” As we get the initial momentum to work we could add body to our thoughts our arguments and hypotheses by establishing cross-linkages with past research or category experiences or even commission new research. Many of the planning and management tools could come in very handy when we try and steer such a process.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Hey ma, what’s for dinner?

Have you ever asked Lay’s that?
Do other leading food brands want to be that?

Food and tastes are local, regional or culture specific.
But look at it - most of the food businesses are global.
We have learnt how cereals, grains, spices and condiments are adopted first by communities residing in areas where these are grown. It is true that some of the foods have traveled far and wide riding on good marketing and exotic taste viz. Burgers from Mc Donald’s, the Indian Curry Apple Pie etc.

Also, these seemingly global foods travel with a lot of tweaking. They are modified by the marketer (Mc Donald’s burgers in India) or by the marketer & the consumer both (Maggie noodles introduced Masala in order to suit the Indian taste buds and many Indians prepare their Maggie in many more ways - adding egg to it, putting cheese into it, turning it into vegetable Maggie, preparing it dry or making it more wet to get the curry feel in it etc.)
But it is important to note that most of these foods have not become staple diet in the new countries and cultures that they have entered. This is because many of these seemingly global foods are actually a great way to break the monotony of the regular local food that they have everyday. But in no way have these foreign foods become the norm.
Essentially a lot of what our taste buds are exposed to, is a result of nature (our place of origin) more than nurture (our exposure and experiences).
‘After all the ‘excursions’ we all finally come home to our own food!’

Despite all the population migration - regional, national & cultural culinary preferences still rule the globe. And this diversity of tastes is bound to be like this in the foreseeable future, at least as long as we do not see a new breed of global citizens dominating the globe.

‘Packaged food’ especially non-snack food is almost an oxymoron because food is synonymous with freshness, flavour and personal touch. This personal touch resides in the recipe, the feelings & all the emotions that go into making the preparation.

So how can we bring more of Mom into packaged and turn it ‘less packaged’ and ‘more food’?
In other words how can we bring the kitchen closer to the shopping aisle!

I guess there are two dynamic benchmarks to aim for
1) Your Mom
2) Chefs & Retail food services companies - both large transnational corporations and small local food outfits – restaurants etc.

The point that I am going to make might mean an entirely new way of looking at the logistics of food processing and food packaging. That notwithstanding, if it is done the right way it could have its own fruits in shape of better margins and greater volumes alike.

The opportunity lies in offering a new paradigm in packaged food marketing.
I call it the shopping aisle to kitchen shelf shift or the brand portfolio to menu card shift.
If packaged food marketers start looking at their product portfolios more like appetizing kitchen aroma being packed into hermetically sealed packs or start looking at their product lines like menu cards, where everything is modifiable and nothing is set in stone - it could open an entirely new world of opportunities.

Imagine walking to a shopping aisle and asking, “What’s there for dinner?”
Or if everything in a portfolio could be modified, new variants could be launched every year or every six months. Old ones could be phased out as fast as a stale dish leaves a customer table.
Packaged food marketers could gain a lot from this new way of approaching their business and customer their audience’s taste buds and ‘culinary emotions’.

Also, we need to try a lot many things, new recipes, new SKUs, new flavours etc. It is almost like making the transition from ready aim fire to fire-fire-fire! And while we do this we must know that many of these new experiments are bound to fail but that is the price we’d pay to get closer to what really makes our audience say “ Wow, I like that!”.

I confess that these frequent changes would surely take some (if not all) of the factor costs up, leading to perhaps more expensive packaged food but if the result is a product, I beg your pardon, ‘a dish’ that tastes better, then the customer would be more than happy to pay for it as well.

Kitchen shelf & Menu card mindset are not just white elephants – imagine the efficiencies that we could unlock by ceasing to spend disproportionately huge sums of money on dead and languishing brands and variants which just need to be preserved because they are a part of a sacrosanct portfolio.

Have you ever counted the number of taste buds on this planet or imagined what it would be like to have mom’s decide how to make packaged food for their kids!

The opportunity is to unlock the potential in the multiplicity of tastes, moods and culinary emotions and the way unsung experts like Mom’s and Popular Chefs in restaurants cater to them.
Food business is more about the range of tastes we know than range of food brands we have.