Thursday, January 22, 2009

Analysis Intuition Judgment Experience & Imagination


I was motivated to write this after listening to some of my friends and colleagues say – analysis is the most important contribution that one can make at work! I also believe that analysis is important – however there are more things that are equally, if not more, important.

In theory, analysis seems to be an important skill for any kind of work. However, from the applied skills perspective – analysis is the easiest thing to do. This is because it starts with some facts and information as an input, and in these times information and facts are not impossible to get as long as we are ready to pay for these (and many times we do not even need to pay!).

So, if information and facts are easy to get, that leaves us with analysis right? May be not. To me in any particular assignment, looking for some information, facts and starting the process of analysis actually come later. What comes first is to define the problem or the opportunity correctly or as we say in creative businesses defining the problem creatively. This is linked with asking the right questions. To me this is the biggest contribution that can be made by anyone.

Going back to why is defining the problem or the opportunity correctly, the most important activity in any assignment. I would say it is so because in real business (and life) situations – problems do not come to us in neatly organized packs. We need to ‘figure them out’. This is where our skills come into play. To be able to ‘figure out’ the problem requires judgment, intuition and a good dose of experience.
Having said this, I must also add that, every new assignment or situation calls for an open mind because there is a lot of randomness lurking in almost every situation that one finds oneself in. It is not enough to have all the judgment, intuition, analysis, and experience on one’s side. It is equally important to realize that every new situation deserves imagination, for it to be approached in a whole new way. This is because while problems can come in patterns, this pattern can break without telling you and me. It is our job to ‘figure out’ when that happens!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

5 Questions for 2009


It’s the start of a New Year – many trend reports, many forecasts, many personal resolutions and horoscopes too!

I have five questions that I am keen to find answers to and look I forward to watch these closely, in the New Year.

Geopolitics
1. Will China begin to engage in world affairs like the US (in some way)?
For example sending her troops to play a role beyond protecting its geographic territories?

Would China’s increasing engagement in Africa, lead to one situation when they would have to send a larger number of her troops to protect her business interests in far off lands and seas? Would this become more than the few naval ships that they have dispatched to protect the Chinese Merchant Vessels from the Somali pirates
What would be the UN (US) reaction to China’s increasing dominance of a greater region?

2. Would Iran get the bomb or start to become a great business ally of China?
The latter – China-Iran nexus could be a part of Obama administration’s grand plan to help diffuse tension in the middle east by bringing in China as a ally to negotiate peace and denuclearization. All this in order to secure economic stability for the US, through special trade & finance deals with China.
China gets a foot-hold in ‘the oil region’ while US secures a speedier exit from the downturn.

World Economy
3. Will we witness the rise of a substantive alternative to the US Dollar?

The financial meltdown that began its journey from the strongest economy in the world, also left the US Dollar in the cold. Would this trend continue & lead to alternative currency(ies) for global money exchange?

Global Security
4. Would the world really do something concrete to purge terrorism (of any kind) from the face of this planet?

Would the new & democratically elected government under the leadership of Asaf Ali Zardari be able to start the process of freeing Pakistan (and the world) from the clutches of Islamic fundamentalism? Would his administration be able to reduce the dominance of the armed forces in running that country?


Brands
5. Will Nokia be able to regain her global ‘image leadership’ in the mobile devices business?
Especially given the way consumer expectations have heightened in the ‘post iPhone era’?

Nokia has a slew of new (and exciting) products lined-up for 2009. But more importantly 2009 might be the year when the world would be able to see what Nokia has been working on for many months – mobile services. Services which made Nokia say that she is no longer just a device maker but an ‘Internet Company’!

This list of questions is not comprehensive in any way – however in true spirit of a short post I would keep the rest of the questions for some other occasion.

We’ll look back at these questions in the last week of 2009. Happy New Year!

Friday, January 02, 2009

Auto-Pilot?

I was recently sitting with some people as we were being told about a new methodology to research Shoppers in China. The premise that was driving this shopper research methodology was that shoppers in China are on auto pilot. What it meant was the most of the shoppers already have fixed preferences about brands and they are just ‘executing’ their preferences while they are inside the store. This is a big assumption. However, in my understanding of this market the shopper choice is not premeditated.

There are many reasons for this
1. For ‘majority’ of the Chinese (in some way similar to the way it is for Indians) the whole process of shopping (even if it is for seemingly boring things like grocery) is about entertainment. It is not a chore – they actually enjoy the process
2. This is also perhaps because the modern trade format (“so many shining shelves”, “so much variety”, “such a clean &comfortable environment to buy”, “attractive packaging”, “so many offers” etc) is still a new experience for the consumers – shopping is almost like going to a carnival.
3. Also, consumers are not very sophisticated to be able to discern the difference between 21 verities of Shampoos or 38 kind of soaps – they are still flirting and romancing with choice

Given this consumer context Autopilot is not the right assumption for the consumer yet (and please, I am referring to the average consumer – not people in advertising and marketing – who are, more often than not, on auto pilot and evading communication)

That brings us back to so where did autopilot come from?
Well, I believe that most of these shopper models are created in the developed markets and they are brought to Asia in their ‘fully built form’ – with least regard to adapt it for the local markets.
These models are very accurate when it comes to describing how people shop -say in France or UK and even US. Because consumers in these markets are seasoned in a way and do not process information in the retail environment the way their Chinese and Indian counterparts do in Asia.
Here is an example of how we as marketers and advertisers can go terribly go wrong by assuming that the consumer is very discerning and is looking for very specific things in those shelves. “Organize the shelves by product description (viz. for dry skin, for oily skin, for skin toning, for skin whitening etc) instead of organizing the shelves by brands (Dove, Nutrogena, Ponds etc). However ‘majority’ of shoppers in China and India still identify things from brand name, for they are not so sophisticated to discern their needs that well. Also, they want to try a few before they can settle on a certain brand. Needless to mention that choice is relatively new and they are still looking around.
So you see my point. We need to step back and let the consumer have a little fun while s/he is still enjoying the process of shopping – let us not assume that he is too bored already (like he is with advertising!)

Happy New Year (shopping)!