Friday, September 15, 2006

Getting Lucky in B2B Marketing

After a long break, I'm back! Getting a new job, new work responsibilities, getting prepared to get married and moving into a new house just took up way more time than I expected :) Ok now that the applause has died down [I wish], lets get down to business...

Has anyone wondered why the people in Online Marketing and SEO working for software services get their kicks on pathetic lead/prospect numbers? You know what I'm talking about - "We got a new lead today!" or "Oh look a whole *8* people clicked on our website today" or "Gee did you see that new trend in our web stats? We seem to have got 80% more visitors this week - that's 20 people more than last week!" or "Whoa! 40 people unsubscribed to our newsletter! That's bad!"

I've actually heard very similar statements in the recent past, and it has never failed to amaze me - I mean the guys who have "normal" consumer websites ranking in the 100,000 visits/subscribers range must be laughing their heads off at those puny figures. But then something happens, and people get luck, and it so happens that one individual of those 5 visitors actually ends up giving us a contract. And this led me to start questioning my belief in 100% rational marketing techniques. If you do everything right and you still don't get what you expect, then obviosly something's wrong with what you consider "right". This led me to a document on Tom Peter's website, called "The Pursuit of Luck" which has a list of 50 strategies to get lucky. It made fascinating reading...

Innovation is a low-odds business and luck sure helps. (Its jolly well helped me!) If you believe that success does owe a lot to luck, and that luck in turn owes a lot to getting in the way of unexpected opportunities, you need not throw up your hands in despair. There are strategies you can pursue to get a little nuttiness into your life, and perhaps, then, egg on good luck. (By contrast, if you believe that orderly plans and getting up an hour earlier are the answer, then by all means arise before the rooster and start planning.)

Want to get lucky? Try following these 50 (!) strategies:

1. At-bats. More times at the plate, more hits.
2. Try it. Cut the baloney and get on with something.
3. Ready. Fire. Aim. (Instead of Ready. Aim. Aim. Aim. ...)
4. If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.G.K. Chesterton. Youve gotta start somewhere.
5. Read odd stuff. Look anywhere for ideas.
6. Visit odd places. Want to see speed? Visit CNN.
7. Make odd friends.
8. Hire odd people. Boring folks, boring ideas.
9. Cultivate odd hobbies. Raise orchids. Race yaks.
10. Work with odd partners.
11. Ask dumb questions. How come computer commands all come from keyboards? Somebody asked that one first; hence, the mouse.
12. Empower. The more folks feel theyre running their own show, the more at-bats, etc.
13. Train without limits. Pick up the tab for training unrelated to workkeep everyone engaged, period.
14. Dont back away from passion. Dispassionate innovator is an oxymoron.
15. Pursue failure. Failure is successs only launching pad. (The bigger the goof, the better!)
16. Take anti-NIH pills. Dont let not invented here keep you from ripping off nifty ideas.
17. Constantly reorganize. Mix, match, try different combinations to shake things up.
18. Listen to everyone. Ideas come from anywhere.
19. Dont listen to anyone. Trust your inner ear.
20. Get fired. If youre not pushing hard enough to get fired, youre not pushing hard enough. (More than once is okay.)
21. Nurture intuition. If you can find an interesting market idea that came from a rational plan, I'll eat all my hats. (I have quite a collection.)
22. Dont hang out with all the rest. Forget the same tired trade association meetings, talking with the same tired people about the same tired things.
23. Decentralize. At-bats are proportional to the amount of decentralization.
24. Decentralize again.
25. Smash all functional barriers. Unfettered contact among people from different disciplines is magic.
26. Destroy hierarchies.
27. Open the books. Make everyone a businessperson, with access to all the financials.
28. Start an information deluge. The more real-time, unedited information people close to the action have, the more that neat stuff happens.
29. Take sabbaticals.
30. Repot yourself every 10 years. (This was the advice of former Stanford Business School dean Arjay Miller meaning change careers each decade.)
31. Spend 50 percent of your time with outsiders. Distributors and vendors will give you more ideas in five minutes than another five-hour committee meeting.
32. Spend 50 percent of your outsider time with wacko outsiders.
33. Pursue alternative rhythms. Spend a year on a farm, six months working in a factory or burger shop.
34. Spread confusion in your wake. Keep people off balance, dont let the ruts get deeper than they already are.
35. Disorganize. Bureaucracy takes care of itself. The boss should be chief dis-organizer, Quad/Graphics CEO Harry Quadracci told us.
36. Dis-equilibrate ... Create instability, even chaos. Good advice to real leaders from Professor Warren Bennis.
37. Stir curiosity. Igniting youthful, dormant curiosity in followers is the lead dogs top task, according to Sony chairman Akio Morita.
38. Start a Corporate Traitors Hall of Fame. Renegades are not enough. You need people who despise what you stand for.
39. Give out Culture Scud Awards. Your best friend is the person who attacks your corporate culture head-on. Wish her well.
40. Vary your pattern. Eat a different breakfast cereal. Take a different route to work.
41. Take off your coat.
42. Take off your tie.
43. Roll up your sleeves.
44. Take off your shoes.
45. Get out of your office. Tell me, honestly, the last time something inspiring or clever happened at that big table in your office?!
46. Get rid of your office.
47. Spend a workday each week at home.
48. Nurture peripheral vision. The interesting stuff usually is going on beyond the margins of the professionals ever-narrowing line of sight.
49. Dont help. Let the people who work for you slip, trip, falland grow and learn on their own.
50. Avoid moderation in all things. Anything worth doing is worth doing to excess, according to Edwin Land, Polaroids founder.

Now write down the opposite of each of the 50. Which set comes closer to your profile?*

In short, loosen up!

Notice that a lot of the points contradict each other? In many ways, this list does reflect things I haven't been doing - so now I'm off to court lady luck :)

Monday, June 12, 2006

Five Suggestions: Part 2: For Clients

Ever worked with a vendor/advertising agency or outsourced a share of your work to another company? For people new to doing this or experienced in doing this, here's a list of 5 things you should do to ensure you get the best service, get loyalty and nurture a high level of trust in your relationship.

  1. Clarity is Paramount
    Do you know your organization's goals for the year? Your budgets? Do you have a plan for what you want to achieve in the coming quarter? If you don't have the answers to these questions, you need to get them ASAP! If you do know the answers, the most important question here is: Does your agency know all this too? If they don't have the big picture, if they don't get the answers to their questions and if they see you as a client who needs to be constantly prodded for information and clarity, how can they serve you with the kind of efficiency and professionalism you expect? They'll respect you and your organization more if you confide and explain things to them in the most verbose possible way.

    Don't have a close relationship with your agency? Do you treat them as just suppliers of a commodity? Then you need to do one of two things: either take them into confidence and share all the information you have with them, or fire them and hire someone you can trust. The middle ground here is just too inefficient.

  2. Plan in Advance
    Always on the edge when it comes to demanding tight deadlines for deliverables? That's probably why the output from your agency is low quality - they haven't had the time to digest the situation and come up with better ideas. Remember, you are not the only client they have - everyone else is also demanding their time with unreasonable deadlines and its usually a case of too many things to do for too few people. Planning the bulk of your activities in advance helps everyone - forces you to make rational plans of what you want to achieve and why in the short term, and notifies your agency of the kind of work they can expect from you in the coming months so they can plan their resource allocation. At the end of the year, your plans will have changed significantly, but at least your agency will not have been completely clueless about what you wanted to achieve.

  3. Giving a good brief is an art form
    Well ok maybe it's not exactly "art" but you get my drift; you need to spend a lot of time on your briefs, explaining everything from the core reasons why you want something done to what you aim to achieve from it. The more you explain, your agency gets a better idea of what to do and what will help the most. Of course, there are some that argue that "My agency knows our organization so well, only a one line brief is enough". Well, in my opinion, even if an agency knows your organization well, you still need to give them a slightly verbose brief. It need not have a huge amount of detail, but simple objectives and reasons need to be there. Also, if you have any preferences for colors, logo sizes, shapes, database structure, code style or typography, please leave them out of your brief - leave that stuff to the agency, which is what my next point talks about.

  4. Why keep a Dog and Bark Yourself?
    Ogilvy's famous words say it all: You're hiring your agency/vendor to do something that's not your organizations core competence, they are probably the ones who've given a lot more thought to your communication/marketing activities, so why can't you trust their judgement? Sure, theres a fair amount of learning that has to happen if you've engaged a new agency or are at a very young stage in your relationship - but that doesn't necessarily mean that you need to direct everything they do. Making decisions through a "committee" is another thing that will induce high blood pressure for your agency's people. The more opinions they get on their work, the harder it is to maintain the original intended integrity of the message. I've seen several instances where agencies have distanced themselves from work they've done because the final output was completely different from the original idea. (bigger logo! change the typeface! change headline! change visual! um.. ok, now I'm happy - lets see what the sales team have to say.) You'll have agencies dumping your account the moment this seems to happen too often - however much money you're paying them. If you want so much control, why hire an agency? You might as well do it yourself.

  5. Nurture the relationship
    If you are satisfied with the approach your agency takes in their work and if they seem like the right kind of people you want to work with, don't just show your appreciation by praising them. Give them more work. After all, this is a business, and if their work is satisfactory and you're compfortable with them, what's preventing you from growing the relationship too? They have people, just like your organization does. they probably have targets, just like your organization's peolple do - The best way you can show your appreciation for good work is to give them more work, trust them more and start giving them access to various people in your organization so that they can know your company better. If all goes well, this can only help increase the quality of the work delivered to you, as people who respect you will always do their best for you. Also, remember another of David Ogilvy's famous lines: Pay Peanuts and you'll get monkeys. Be open to expanding the scope of your relationship slowly, and demanding higher quality work and interaction for it.

At the end of the day, you need to achieve your organization's objectives in some way - working with an agency or a vendor usually means a long term committment to the relationship - and like all relationships, you need to invest time and patience to make it a happy one.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Five Suggestions: Part 1: For Agencies

I've been on both sides of the client-agency relationship, and in a 2 part series I'm going to highlight the pain points of both clients and agencies, faced by both me and some of the people I know. In this first part, I've put down some basic client servicing expectations people have from their agencies.

How to NOT infuriate your clients

  1. Deliver on Time
    Sound simple, doesn't it? But in reality it is just an alien concept for most agencies. I've lost count of the number of times I've had to run around to get things done because my agencies have not delivered as promised. And it's not just me - everybody I know who works as a client in a client-agency elationship, from PR and event managers to good old marketing managers, have horror stories of how the only consistent thing their agencies manage to do is deliver late. Agencies that deliver on time not only get respect, they also get more business. That's simple too.

  2. Think before you execute
    I've come to believe that expecting this from agencies in Bangalore is asking for too much. After all, is it rocket science to do good work? How can you deliver collateral with headlines that a 10 year old child can write? Or design collateral that looks like it's for a client in another non-related industry? When you're given a brief or a requirement, please stop and think. Before you roll your sleeves up and dive into generating the communication collateral, take 10 minutes off to contemplate the big picture. If you're a designer or visualizer, this is extremely important as your work will be questioned and debated more if there's no apparent thought process behind it. Give it some thought, express that thought process while presenting the collateral, and your efforts will show that you've understood what your client wants to communicate.

  3. Quality Control is not "nice to have", it's "need to have"!
    You know you're in trouble here if your client gets back to you with proofing corrections of typos and tells you that collateral with your client's logo (which you created!) is in the wrong colors. Whether it's a first draft or a final deliverable for approval, please proof read it and check for design inconsistencies. Alignment of objects, print ready files (CMYK images, cut marks) are the norm, not something your client should ask you to do. The last thing you need for your credibility is for your client to point out spelling mistakes in a headline. (Which, unfortunately, I've had to do in the past)

  4. Listen, Ask Questions
    Listen to what your client's pain points are, and don't just draw up tactical answers. If you listen well, you can glean what your client really wants you to do. If you don't ask questions, you won't know everything you need to know about an assignment. As David Ogilvy once said "I prefer the discipline of knowledge to the chaos of ignorance". Find out more about your client's business, understand the markets they are in, ask for more information about deliverables and your client's intentions, question your client's decisions and come up with better ideas that promise better results. If you don't ask questions and just follow instructions blindly, then you'd rather work at a DTP Operator's shop and not be surprised why your client wants so many changes in the work you've delivered.

  5. Integrity first, your client's business second, you last
    Sounds preachy? Well it is - because nobody seems to like that "Integrity" word and agencies and suppliers usually interchange the last two bits. Evaluate if what you're doing is extortionate, or detrimental to your client's business. It's not always apparent, but even simple direct mailers with the wrong message could be a disaster for your client's brand equity. If you're on a retainer, sitting back and expecting your client to call the shots and give direction while you absorb the monthly fee is not only unethical, it's also not going to help you be motivated to do good work.

Doing all this will mean only two things: You earn respect and trust, which in turn means more business and more money. It really is this simple - do a good, professional job and that itself will make you and your agency stand out from the crowd.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Why do people look for "inner meanings" in Advertisements?

Coming from an agency and having contributed to creating a few TV commercials in the past, I thought I’d share my two cents on this topic because of a discussion at work:

  • One thing I’ve found incomprehensible amongst both agencies and clients is that people read too much into advertisements.
    1. The idea of mass media advertising is to get attention – get brand recognition. There is no other ulterior motive. Whether you like the Sprite or Appy or advertisement or not, the fact that you remember it, remember the brand and recognize the brand when you go shopping means that the ad’s purpose has been achieved and the advertisers, agencies and media companies have done their job.

    2. Advertisers do this in multiple ways, from boring off-the-track advertisements to humourous, entertaining ads. The idea is to gain mindshare – reading into how they do it, whether a crazy stunt or stupid looking character or sarcastic humor, is pointless because you’re not supposed to. At least, the people who create these ads don’t think you’re supposed to – they just want your attention for 30 seconds, and hope and pray that attention translates into sales indirectly.

  • Communication is one of the most subjective fields to work in, and therefore one of the most challenging...
    1. We don’t know the process by which these ads get on our TV screens – it could have been a collection of 15 storyboards with 15 different concepts, and out of all of them 3 might have been brilliant, but because the CEO/Marketing manager has ego issues or doesn’t understand them, he/she chooses the most simple, stark storyboard of the lot. Or because the sales guy thinks this idea is better than that, it gets chosen even though it’s the wrong message.

    2. Budgets: you’d be amazed to see some really amazing ideas and concepts shot down because clients don’t want to spend 10 lakhs creating a great ad, but will have no qualms about spending 2 crores on media spends on multiple channels for a crappy ad.

    3. At the end of the day, it’s all about perception – I see those ads and see an attempt to communicate with me through humour – some of it works, and some of it doesn’t because I’m either not their target audience or just don’t appreciate their communication style. But if I remember a crappy ad, and recognize the brand, then regardless of whether I like the ad or not, I’ll name the brand in a brand perception survey. And i might even buy it while shopping because I've heard of it and want to try it out. After all, have you ever not bought a product only because it has a crappy ad campaign?

  • As someone sensitive to advertising, I agree with the general view of people in the industry that Indian ads these days have better production values and are slicker looking. But ideas and "concepts" wise we’re wayyyyyy behind the west in terms of sophistication and subtlety.

    But while agencies compain and groan about clients choosing run-of-the-mill storyboards, they also need to realise that the majority of the Indian audience hasn't gotten any more sophisticated than they were ten years ago. With 80% of the Indian population still in rural and semi-urban areas, only a select few have the education background, IQ levels and exposure to good communication that will enable them to grasp a sophisticated metaphor or a subtle visual connection.

    The bad news? This isn't going to change anytime soon - the process of sensitizing the masses to great communicaiton is a long drawn one.

    The good news? With education levels rising, increased competition in the Indian markets and globalization exposing India's adults and children to international communication, the overall process will speed up. Hopefully.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Finally, companies in the IT Industry are spending on branding!

Over the past 20 years, the story of the Indian IT industry and their success has been quite phenomenal - the IT big boys got a lot of publicity and international recognition for doing the donkey-work outsourced here pretty well. They've all been riding this wave and haven't really needed to spend a lot on marketing and high visibility in the past. But it looks like all this is going to change:

The Economic Times reports that the Indian IT big guys want to take on their western counterparts - IBM, Accenture and others who get the cream of the contracts.

Also the brand recall at the CXO level of Indian IT companies is not at the same level as with global corporations like HP, Microsoft, Accenture, EDS, Cisco, Dell and others. Though CXOs are aware of India as a hot destination for offshoring IT tasks, they aren't able to easily recall names of top vendors including HCL Technologies, Satyam Computer Systems, Infosys, Wipro, Patni and others. This is what IT majors want to change now. So what is Infosys doing to get eye balls. The company's global marketing head Srinivas Uppaluri told ET that as routine campaigns may not help, Infosys is targeting a focused group of 100,000. We have to do community building and events to get a better mind share among CXOs, he said.

According to Global Services, "Branding" has now suddenly become quite important (on a different scale) to Wipro, Infosys, TCS and Satyam. So not only should we expect much bigger marketing budgets and more diverse media plans (Mindtree is projected to spend Rs. 5 Crores this year), we will also see the side effects of these campaigns on brand India; For better or worse? Only time will tell.

Is outsourcing finally getting commoditized? In that case, of course, price and brand are the only two variables that matter. Indian companies have so far played the price card, which, of course, has a lower limit. So now, they feel, it is time to do something about the brand.

My only concern is that if they start getting more publicly visible, then they'll also have to pull up their socks in the 'incompetence' and 'inefficient' departments. Too many people who don't have the experience, intelligence or capabilities to do what they're supposed to do already litter these companies like ticks on a dog. But other than that, this could only mean good things for the Indian IT industry - for by spending oodles of moolah on marketing, and brand building, the big boys will also indirectly help the other small and medium sized companies here who accept outsourced development work.

In other unrelated news, it seems that the "Database of Indian IT Employees" is going to happen after all. I recently wrote about a concern I had about a move by NASSCOM and the Indian IT industry to register the country's employees in a biometric database, accessible to companies worldwide. Well it looks like it's going to happen, and the employees in the IT industry are not going to have a say in forming the privacy policy.

... The Indian IT industry has declared that all employees will have to register on its biometric database, so it can assure its Western clients that their customers' personal data will be protected....
NASSCOM vice president Sunil Mehta said: "The SRO would subscribe that all members would have all their employees registered in the registry. Mehta said the rules governing the use of employee data had been drawn up in a joint effort by NASSCOM, NSDL and industry. He said it was likely the guidelines would not be published. Employees' considerations had been taken into account by consulting lawyers, he said. "They don't have a union, but we did focus group discussions to attain their views," Mehta added.

I think now is a good time for people working in the IT and ITES sectors in India to form a union. It's amazing that over 950,000 people in India seemingly don't give a damn about their personal information.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Rapid Cognition and quick decision making

I just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell's phenomenal and brilliant book titled "Blink" - easily the most enjoyable non-fiction book I've read since the Tipping Point. Yes, I know it's been around for quite a while and I've read it quite late, but I managed to make time to read it only now :P

Not only did this book give me a fascinating insight into the way we make decisions, it also made me think about some of the relatively important snap decisions I've made in my life so far - from important ones like choosing a house and a car to not so important ones like choosing a new unfamiliar dish at a restaurant.

What is "Blink" about?

It's a book about rapid cognition, about the kind of thinking that happens in a blink of an eye. When you meet someone for the first time, or walk into a house you are thinking of buying, or read the first few sentences of a book, your mind takes about two seconds to jump to a series of conclusions. Well, "Blink" is a book about those two seconds, because I think those instant conclusions that we reach are really powerful and really important and, occasionally, really good.

You could also say that it's a book about intuition, except that I don't like that word. In fact it never appears in "Blink." Intuition strikes me as a concept we use to describe emotional reactions, gut feelings - thoughts and impressions that don't seem entirely rational. But I think that what goes on in that first two seconds is perfectly rational. It's thinking - its just thinking that moves a little faster and operates a little more mysteriously than the kind of deliberate, conscious decision-making that we usually associate with "thinking." In "Blink" I'm trying to understand those two seconds. What is going on inside our heads when we engage in rapid cognition? When are snap judgments good and when are they not? What kinds of things can we do to make our powers of rapid cognition better?

Thin-slicing is a new term I learnt, which is a phrase in psychology - "the power of thin slicing" - which says that as human beings we are capable of making sense of situations based on the thinnest slice of experience. And this is what I found that I could really relate to - from complex and important decisions to pretty mundane ones, it's not always that we examine and logically disect the information in front of us and come to a decision - doing that just creates information overload.

To quote Malcolm Gladwell on his book, this is a paragraph that I felt really summarizes the intent of the book, and made my level of respect for the author go a grade higher.
"The Tipping Point" was concerned with grand themes, with figuring out the rules by which social change happens. "Blink" is quite different. It is concerned with the smallest components of our everyday lives--with the content and origin of those instantaneous impressions and conclusions that bubble up whenever we meet a new person, or confront a complex situation, or have to make a decision under conditions of stress. I think its time we paid more attention to those fleeting moments. I think that if we did, it would change the way wars are fought, the kind of products we see on the shelves, the kinds of movies that get made, the way police officers are trained, the way couples are counseled, the way job interviews are conducted and on and on--and if you combine all those little changes together you end up with a different and happier world.

There have been reams of blog posts, reviews and quotes on this book, all available on the net, but don't get excited over all the hype. At the end of the day, the book is just a perspective on an interesting, everyday phenomenon we've all experienced :) That said, even if you're not interested in marketing or information architecture or websites (in my opinion, there are far-reaching implications for all of those fields), go ahead, buy/beg/borrow/steal this book and read it, because you can infer implications from it that will affect your life and work.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Incompetence Everywhere!

Is it just me or have incompetence levels in agencies/retail stores/marketing teams/production houses shot through the roof? Where have all the people who understand simple directions/requests gone? Am I the only one who finds it amazing that companies in Bangalore are doing so well when 80% of their staff are inarticulate, lazy, never-on-time, constantly whining slackers who take their jobs for granted?

The angst comes from recent examples in my professional career that involve dealing with different vendors for marketing activities. Take for example a certain agency that needs to be spoon fed production and finalization details on their creatives. They never show up on time for meetings, they actually have the gall to ask their client how to make flash presentations go full screen, and better still, they need to be told that they’re using the wrong client logo in multiple places. All this after working with this client for over 2 years!

Or, take for another example a branded, well-known car dealer dealing in used cars. Because of a combination of mismanagement, lazy people at the lower rung of the food chain and incompetent staff in the finance department, it takes 1 month for me to get my new car – as opposed to the usual 5 days. And the icing on the cake here: I need an accessory for my car (a cigarette lighter) that’s not already fitted on the car. So I ask for one. And I get this response: “Sorry sir, we can’t fit a lighter because we can’t get hold of any in Bangalore – everybody is out of stock”. I calmly wiped the incredulous look on my face, grabbed my car keys and drove over to the road 2 kilometers away and got a lighter fit.

Another example: This time with getting minor changes to a certain website ready. I write a detailed mail with easy to understand steps - step 1: Do this, step 2: do that etc for 8 steps in total. 3 days and a lot of blood pressure rises, it still wasn't done. Its not like the person who I was coordinating with was stupid or uneducated - He actually has a master's degree and has been doing web development work for quite a while. But he still has comprehension issues with essential things like indenting code, understanding easy-to-read instructions and understanding how search engines work. At first I thought it might be my fault because my instructions weren't as clear as I thought they were - so I gave him a brief on the phone, in person and clarified all doubts over email. Did that work? Nope, so in the interest of my blood pressure and senior management deadlines, I just did it myself.

Interested in this phenomenon of how people like this get jobs (some of them are VERY well paid), I asked around with a few friends in Pune and Bangalore – and it seems I’m not the only one experiencing this wave of interactions with people who just can’t do their job.

Maybe this is one of the problems:

There are many incompetent people in the world. But a Cornell University study has shown that most incompetent people do not know that they are incompetent.

People who do things badly, according to David A. Dunning, a professor of psychology at Cornell, are usually supremely confident of their abilities -- more confident, in fact, than people who do things well.

One reason that the ignorant also tend to be the blissfully self-assured, the researchers believe, is that the skills required for competence often are the same skills necessary to recognize competence.

Never mind their educational qualifications or their backgrounds – that doesn’t matter as long as they can do what they are paid to do. Never mind if they can’t do it well – even “average” execution would be acceptable. But it seems even asking for “average” is quite an uphill battle for the average Bangalorean.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Designer + Manager - an endangered species

Well, more of a rare species than endangered :) Ever wondered by its so difficult to get a designer who’s comfortable with typography, contemporary design and reads and does research about design and also manages his or her work and clients?

In the course of my working life, I’ve come across a fair amount of designers – from my first job to my current one I’ve worked with web designers, print designers, interactive designers, people who do all of the above and even architects/programmers/civil engineers who’ve turned into art designers, and very few of them were good designers AND good managers.

It’s always a tradeoff – you either get a brilliant designer who’s on the bleeding edge of design and typography but has to be managed by someone else 24/7, or you get designers who are good at managing work and clients but very average when it comes to design.

Why is this? Is this a problem only in India? Or is it happening all over the world? I came across an article that seems to suggest people all over the world are experiencing this.

As hard as it is for designers to learn management skills, it’s even harder for companies to find truly qualified design managers to hire. It’s just a rare quality, because for truly creative types, the act of managing can often be a daily struggle between satisfying the sensibilities of the artist’s id, and orchestrating all the business factors that intersect with a design team. It’s an unnatural and often uneasy internal alliance of opposing agendas.

Some people may want to blame the design schools - not enough training on negotiation and management or maybe even too much of a focus on the subtle and artisitic. In my opinion, though it doesn't have much to do with design schools or with designers not getting enough exposure to management principles. Rather, it has a lot to do with their work environment and how they start off.

The designers/visualizers who start their careers as entreprenuers seem to be the only people who "get" managing their time, their work and their clients AND executing breathtaking designs. Of course, there are also the few exceptions of MBA grads with a penchant for design, but they are few and far between.

So is entrepreneurship the only way for designers to become good managers too? Seems that way to me - let me know if you have an opinion that's contrary.

Friday, April 28, 2006

The Top Ten Lies of Engineers

Guy is at it again! A hilarious read, this brings back a lot of memories!

1. "We're about to go into beta testing." This is a meaningless statement because it doesn't matter when you go into beta testing--what matters is when you come out of beta testing. (The only hard and fast deadline for coming out of modern-day beta testing is "before you run out of money.")

In the good old days, "alpha" used to mean "all features are implemented though not necessarily working properly." "Beta" used to mean "there are no more repeatable bugs." Nowadays beta means "we've gone as long as possible past the shipping date that we promised our investors."

2. "I don't know anything thing about marketing..." This is a lie of false modesty. The engineer is thinking, in totality, "I don't know a thing about marketing, but how hard could it be compared to what I'm doing? I should run marketing and engineering. I just hope that the marketing the MBAs come up with is worthy of my code." However, don't worry too much about this lie because it self-corrects as the engineer misses deadline after deadline and comes to realize that he has bigger issues.

3. "I'll comment the code, so that the next person can understand what I did." This is a lie of good intentions. Really, the engineer did intend to comment the code but as the schedule slipped, priorities changed. The question put to management became: "Do you want me to comment the code or finish it sooner?" Guess what the answer was. Luckily, the lack of comments usually doesn't matter because the code is so crappy that a total rewrite is necessary in a year.

4. "Our architecture is scalable." This is the lie that I enjoy hearing the most. Typically, an engineer who has never shipped a product says this after creating a prototype in Visual BASIC. The whole conversation goes like this: "Google's architecture isn't as scalable as mine. They can support 25 million simultaneous searches. We will be able to easily handle a billion."

Luckily, in most cases, the adoption of the product is slower than the CEO's "conservative" forecast, so scalability never becomes an issue. Yeah, those clowns at Google, Yahoo, Oracle, Microsoft, Apple, and AOL don't know anything about scaling compared to the engineer...

5. "The code supports all the industry standards." This is almost a truth but for a short omission: "This code supports all the industry standards that I agree with." The engineer has made a personal decision to ignore standards she doesn't like--for example, those promulgated by Microsoft. It's no big deal--customers will never know...

6. "We can do a Macintosh version right after we finish the Windows version; in fact, much of the Windows code can be re-used because of how we architected it." The truth is that version 1.0 of any software is an experiment. It can be a magnificent experiment, but it's an experiment nonetheless. Thus, Windows version 1.0 is held together by duct-tape. The Macintosh version is a copy of the duct-taped Windows version written by an engineer who just finished college and got his first Macintosh a month ago. How hard could it be to learn to program for a different platform? C++ is C++, right?

7. "We have an effective bug reporting database and system." Of course, the assumption behind the design of the bug reporting database and system is that there are no bugs in the code, so there's not much to database and report. Generally speaking, if the largest number of documented bugs doesn't ever exceed 1,000, it means that the company isn't tracking bugs carefully.

8. "We can do this faster, cheaper, and better with an offshore programming team in India." Rank and file engineers usually don't tell this lie; it's the CTO who does. Somehow we've got it in our heads that every programmer in India is good, fast, and cheap, and every programmer in the United States is lousy, slow, and expensive. My theory is that for version 1.0 of a product, the maximum allowable distance between the engineers and marketers is thirty feet.

9. "Our beta sites loved the software." In twenty five years of working in technology, I've never heard a company report that its beta sites didn't like its software. There are three reasons for this: first, many beta sites are so honored to get pre-release software that they don't want say anything negative. Second, most beta sites haven't used the software very much. Third, most beta sites don't want to seem cruel by criticizing a company's new product. Doing so is as socially unacceptable as telling someone that his baby is ugly.

10. "This time we got it right." The scary thing about this lie is that the engineer really believes it. Again. The problem is that "this time" occurs over and over again. I have great faith in engineers and believe that in the long run, they do get it right. It's just that in the long run, we're all dead.

And even the comments on this one just cracked me up! Go here to read the entire chain.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Nokia's planning to make your iPod, Camera and tablet PC obsolete

According to Business Week, this is Nokia's biggest attempt to disrupt the consumer electronics industry. Why, do you ask? Read on...

I normally don't post cool tech toys here, but this new phone from Nokia just made me drool a lot! Not only will the Nokia 93 let you watch TV, listen to music and take great pictures, it'll also record video at 640x480! Plus all the other cool stuff like posting to your blog, surfing the net using WiFi and a faster processor than the N91 and N92.


The Nokia N93 is packed with features that take the ability to watch mobile TV on your phone to the next level. Its planned to have DVB-H compatability allowing for the watching of broadcast TV programs on a cell phone. The N93 is also expected to pack a 3.2 megapixel camera with 3x zoom and a Carl Zeiss Lens.
It also has a QVGA screen, Bluetooth 2.0, GPRS, EDGE, UMTS/WCDMA and WiFi/WLAN. It will be based on the S60 third edition user interface and the Symbian V9.1 OS.

According to MobileWhack:

The Nokia N93 is based on S60 3rd Edition - the same as Nokia N91 - with 50MB internal memory and support for miniSD cards (expandable up to 2GB). This one's also a 3G phone, supporting WCDMA 2100MHz with simultaneous voice/packet data, and integrated 802.11b/g wireless LAN connectivity. What's more, with its TV-out capability, you can even browse the web, work on your office documents and even play games on the TV.

Update: There's more on the series at The Register

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Bastard Operator from Hell

In case you aren't familiar with the BOFH series, its a hilarious look at how a System administrator can completely screw your happiness and have a ball doing it. Its a very old series of articles that unfortunately have become very popular with system admins, but luckily there aren't too many of these guys :)

Guru first introduced me to this a few years ago, and I've kept reading them ever since. Go here to read the very first BOFH article and see why I got hooked :)

The Register seems to regularly update the archives with their own BOFH articles too, like this latest one:

BOFH: Interview with a CEO

It's late at night and I'm in the CEO's office rifling through his correspondence for evidence of the much-rumoured budget cuts in IT. Apparently, the powers that be have decided that the IT spend isn't reducing as fast as the board would like, so they're just going to hack out a major part of the annual budget and see how we cope with the pain. Or so the document says...

I'm midway through the re-edit of the document on the CEO's laptop (recommending increased investment for future growth, blah, blah) when the man himself walks in. And when I say walk I mean a drunken stagger, assisted by a couple of young women with the aura of professional services delivery about them.

"What the hell are you doing here?" he fumes alcoholically.

"Just doing some, uh, out of hours maintenance work," I say, touch typing the remainder of the sentence about one-off bonus payments for key technical staff and closing the document."

Yes, I know the BOFH series is old news, but it's amazing how I still end up laughing so much even after re-reading them!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

"Software as a Service" Myths

There are a gazillion buzz-words (or "buzz-phrases" if you must) in the software industry, and new ones get formed quite often. But one that seems to have hung around in the shadows for quite a few years and still not become completely mainstream is "Software as a Service" or SaaS.

A reader on Slashdot has a nice simple explanation of SaaS:

Basically they mean to say that businesses are becoming more and more open to externalizing anything that is not the core part of the business.* So, a company selling cooking grills no longer has an employee or department who handles email. They simply contacted 'Turnkey Enterprise e-Solutions Ltd.' and had them handle everything about email for the cost of $5 per address**, per month. After all, this company is in the grill business (core competency) not in the email business. Why worry about maintaining a server, or setting up users, or doing backups, or handling spam? The executive just wants to make better grills and sell them to more people.

So, let's say something like that (email) is proposed. Let's say our grill company (GrillCo) needs about 400 email accounts. Since they are not buying email servers or hiring spam gurus, there's no large initial investment for them. They can test it out with one department (accounting) and if the ten people there like it, they can expand to doing everyone's email that way. It eliminates risk for the buyer.

Now, is this a better way to go? The truth is anyone that will provide a definitive answer either way is off their rocker. It may work for some things, it may not work for others.

But the reason things like these are discussed, and possibly becoming more and more popular, is simple; for better or for worse, cost-cutting is being highly rewarded at the executive level. If you run a publicly-traded company and do not appear to be "cost oriented" then you raise suspicions among boards, shareholders and Wall Street.^ There's a whole crop of companies whose only goal is to cut costs for their clients (for example, ICG Commerce []). Of course, sometimes these pressures come other sources [].

So, by performing a buzzword-ectomy on the above, we result with something like this, "It has become fashionable to look at costs above other parts of a company's overall performance. Software-as-a-Service can sometimes help cut costs, so it is being considered more widely as an option."

Unfortunately for the tech crowd, it has less to do with AJAX and new whiz-bang applications and more to do with the business side (shudder) of things.

* Whether or not this is true I don't know, but that's what they are proposing.
** I'm picking a number out of thin air.
^ I'm not saying it's good, that's just largely how it is.

Business Week has an interesting article on 8 Myths of Software as a Service which is what started the discussion on Slashdot.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Web 2.0's Startup Fever

The Technology Review reports that a lot more people don't think the Web 2.0 phenomenon is going to last too long.

This explosion of new Web sites -- a phenomenon often dubbed "Web 2.0" -- is great for all kinds of Internet users. But how long can this new crop of startups survive without charging for their products?

The answer, in some cases, may be not long. Simply put, many of these outfits, much like their dot-com predecessors in the late 1990s, don't have business models. The most common revenue source in the Web 2.0 world is contextual advertising -- but, as some analysts point out, the nickels and dimes earned when visitors click on ads provided by the likes of Google's AdWords barely bring in enough to cover the costs of Web server hardware. Consequently, some industry watchers believe that a shakeout is likely within the next 12 to 24 months.

The winnowing of Web 2.0 won't be as bloody as the dot-com crash of 2000-2001, though, simply because these companies never accepted much venture funding and have far fewer employees. What's more, the underlying technologies won't disappear -- more likely, failing companies will be bought up by slightly larger competitors in a wave of consolidation.

So what else is new? ;) No really, there just are too many people out there vying for too small a target audience. Is there a way to survive instead of dying out? Other than getting bought by one of the big guys, apparently not.

Companies can survive the Web 2.0 boom, Ali says, by doing one of two things. They can attract the interest of larger companies, who buy a technology and bring in its developers rather than developing their own version. Flickr, Delicious, WebJay, Konfabulator, and Upcoming, for instance, have all been acquired by Yahoo. Or else startups must acquire so many users that they gain an insurmountable lead over competitors, as YouTube seems likely to do in the video downloading market. Or they can both, of course, like MySpace, which has more than 50 million users and was purchased in July 2005 by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

Also, I just read that apparently most people using a search engine expect to find what they are looking for on the first page of results, says a US study.

At most, people will go through three pages of results before giving up, found the survey by Jupiter Research and marketing firm iProspect.

It also found that a third of users linked companies in the first page of results with top brands.

The study surveyed 2,369 people from a US online consumer panel.

Well it still just a survey that's a little skewed towards only American consumers, but interesting nevertheless. I always wade through at least 6-7 pages of links with every Google or Yahoo or MSN search.

Monday, April 10, 2006


I learnt a new word today: Everyware.

Everyware is an attempt to describe the form computing will take in the next few years. Specifically, it's about a vision of processing power so distributed throughout the environment that computers per se effectively disappear. It's about the enormous consequences this disappearance has for the kinds of tasks computers are applied to, for the way we use them, and for what we understand them to be.

In a well written and articulated piece, author Adam Greenfield writes about an age old promise: computing from anywhere and everywhere, device-agnostic and a major part of nearly everything we do and everywhere we go.

Today, your gym membership, shopping expeditions, fuel purchases and even workplaces are already governed by digital technology - credit cards, swipable identity cards, mobile ticket booking and even mobile stock purchases.

Haven't you already thought of the day when you'll have just one identity? The one that will give you access to your home, your money, your car, your bank accounts and maybe even your workplace? Companies are already working on plans to build a system like this, which sounds amazingly ambitious but not impossible. Will it take a long time, see innumerable hurdles and have to deal with a lot of privacy issues? Yes. Will it make life easier for us? In all probability, also a resounding yes.

The stakes, this time, are unusually high. A mobile phone is something that can be switched off, or left at home. A computer is something that can be shut down, unplugged, walked away from. But the technology we're discussing here - ambient, ubiquitous, insinuative into all the apertures everyday life affords it - will be environment-forming in a way neither of those are. There should be little doubt that its advent will profoundly shape both the world and our experience of it in the years ahead.

Update: A List Apart has another article on Everyware

Friday, April 07, 2006

Where's the art?

Working with agencies, sometimes you just end up wondering where the traditional art skills have gone. With Photoshop, CorelDraw, Painter and Illustrator around, chances are that the next illustration or painting or random piece of 2D art you see has not been drawn by hand.

I just saw this article today and realised its so true even for people who are not inexperienced students. Take a look at designers/visualizers/illustrators in agencies here who have more than 5-6 years of experience on large campaigns. Do any of them still draw their illustrations themselves? Or NOT scan them in and touch them up in Corel or Illustrator?

Students are more comfortable manipulating computer graphics than doodling, drafting and drawing with pen on paper, and this has created a sharp decline in drawing skills in recent years, teachers say.

Additionally, tech-savvy students simply lack the initiative and persistence developed by drawing, resulting in uninspired work--at least work on paper.

What's even more astounding is that people (like in the article above) are complaining about students losing their drawing skills! In India, except for a talented few, that actually might be a good thing! Taught illustration styles at least 50 years outdated, most of the art school graduates and post graduates that get into agencies automatically realise that their drawing skills are nowhere near what the world has begun to expect in terms of style and quality.

And then tools like Photoshop, CorelDraw, Painter and Illustrator are brought into the picture, to help dull illustrations look more interesting, to edit out lines and mistakes and to colorize and close nodes. Is this faster than traditional drawing and illustration? Yes. Does it need as much skill? Not really.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Advertising's Past, Present—and Future

In a recent article I read, the CEOs of two high-profile ad agencies—the mammoth BBDO (Andrew Robertson) and the upstart Crispin Porter Bogusky (Jeff Hicks)—address the future of advertising in an interesting Q&A session.

One's from a HUUUUGE agency, the other is a small, agile upstart and they're both proud of some brilliant campaigns and creative work for their clients.

CMO asked Andrew Robertson of BBDO and Jeff Hicks of Crispin Porter + Bogusky to each talk about one of their favorite recent campaigns. Coincidentally, they both picked Internet companies. For eBay, BBDO created the "it" campaign to get consumers thinking about the site as a place to buy just about anything; for Google, Crispin created a mock SAT test and brain-teasing billboards to recruit top computer scientists.

The answers in the Q&A are not too surprising in some senses, but this one really caught my eye:

The Agency-Client Relationship

Robertson: What do agencies and clients have to do? Invert the order in which work is evaluated. People usually ask, "Is it on strategy? Is it saying the right thing?" Then they ask, "Does it have the right personality and tone? Is it part of a sustainable campaign?" Finally, they might say, "Is anybody going to pay any attention?" We need to make that the first question. If we’re sure people are going to get engaged, then we can ask about whether it’s on strategy or communicating the right message.

Hicks: We have a diagram that’s a circle. It has four steps: find out where you are, decide where you want to be, make a plan to get there, and then execute. As a brand, you’re always somewhere in this circle. If you believe the process is over, it is over.

Our goal is to be a place that continually attracts really passionate people. And we want to be engaged with clients that have great problems and are willing break the mold a little to solve them.

Oh and in case you're looking a nice place to get some good advice on email marketing but don't know where to start, this is a great article. Not only does it answer a fair amount of questions even some seasoned marketers are still clueless about, it gives some good advice that should be heeded:

Marketers must first establish an e-mail communications plan that meets its business goals by addressing user needs, and then optimize that plan with best practices. Over-e-mailed customers don't have inbox space for even the best executed e-mail programs that don't provide them value.

Wondering what your customers value? Ask them! Surveys, offline anecdotes, and, of course, tracking response to different types of e-mails tell marketers what e-mail content, offers, and even style users like. One large consumer goods company learned through surveys and e-mail data that its customers most value humor in e-mails. It took this insight to heart and now has a 0.5 percent opt out rate to its e-mails which incorporate tips and product information with cartoons.

This is going be be my last post for about a week, because I'm shifting to Bangalore and probably won't find the time. Please bear with me and come back in a week! Or bettter still, subscribe to my RSS feed. If you're new to RSS, go here for a quick explanation.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

When Virtual Worlds Collide...

I recently wrote about something most gamers have been predicting for a while: the emergence of a Metaverse in the near future, where we'll have one large virtual world similar in size to the Internet but with different realms.

Looks like my friends and I are not wrong - even a contributing editor at Wired agrees that virtual worlds will come together in the near future.

Within a decade, then, the notion of separate game worlds will probably seem like a quaint artifact of the frontier days of virtual reality. You'll still be able to engage in radically different experiences - from slaying orcs to cybersex - but they'll occur within a common architecture. The question is whether the underpinnings of this unified metaverse will be a proprietary product, like Windows, or an inclusive, open standard, like email and the Web. (The Open Source Metaverse Project is currently working on such a nonproprietary platform.)

The technology for such an amalgamation of worlds exists today - but a neutral platform will need to be built first. In my opinion, bringing it all together is a Herculean task not even someone with Microsoft's deep pockets will be able to do - it has to be a neutral organization, backed by a board of corporate stakeholders like Blizzard, Microsoft, Apple, ICANN, Sony, Nintendo and the other biggies out there who'll put this new world to its best possible use.

An open source metaverse seems to be the best way to go, with no clearly defined ownership - but the money needs to come from somewhere, as do the 'realms' or 'mini-worlds' and that can happen only if those biggies mentioned earlier provide support. A Herculean task, no doubt, but possible? Yes - with perseverance. If you're thinking of starting on this, let me know :)

Friday, March 24, 2006

Good management requires continuous learning

While reading an article titled "The Wisdom Fallacy: Why Management Is Really Like Math" I found myself nodding my head a lot - even though my skills in mathematics have a lot to be desired :) Robert May, the author of the article, says the only way to get better at management is to learn more about it, like maths. Its true; just like mathematicians, most managers don't learn all they need to be good managers on the job - they have to read a lot about management techniques, study different examples, study other managers (their peers and bosses), build on their people skills and store those "people interaction techniques" in memory and recall them whenever needed.

An interesting quote from the article:

Why will people accept advice on a subject, from someone that has studied it in depth, if that subject is programming, but not if it has to do with raising their children? Why, in some areas of knowledge, do we equate studying with mastery, and in other areas we don't? I'll call this the "wisdom fallacy" - that people believe wisdom has no correlation with knowledge for some subjects, when really it does.

In my work experience, I think most people lump management into the second category. I have never heard anyone say "I am not a very good manager," or even "I don't think I would make a good manager." Yet they will regularly opine on management, and explain their management theory in detail to you. But, by definition, some managers have to be the worst, right? And haven't we all worked for managers that we think knew very little about management? What is going on? Why is management something that nearly everyone thinks they do well?

So true. How many times have you heard a colleague claim he or she is good/an expert on a subject that they haven't spent years studying and don't read about? Or see designers and visualizers who draw illustrations and paintings for clients but don't read articles on the net or visit online portfolios and galleries or do some research on styles and typography?

Most of the managers I know however, are the "on the job" types - people with good instincts and good learning abilities, but they don't apply them to learning "management techniques" and rather depend on learning through experience and mistakes. Which is not a bad thing at all, but it tends to leave them with a false impression that they're always doing the right thing. I'm guilty of doing this myself - doing work I haven't been trained to do or even studied about, and learning on the job and then believing I actually did some good work to be proud of.

Our brains have cognitive filters for some things. We tend to automatically ignore facts that contradict our religious or political views. It's not intentional, our brains just have a lot of information to process so they throw out contradicting information subconsciously. Don't let that happen in your role as a manager. Seek out contradictory information. If you think you are doing a good job, don't look for evidence to support it, look for evidence against it.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Greatest Business Leaders of the 20th Century are American?

Apparently 7000 executives surveyed by Harvard Business School's Anthony J. Mayo and Nitin Nohria for their book, In Their Time think that the top 50 greatest business leaders of the 20th century are American entrepreneurs who built their companies from scratch. The list doesn't have any surprises, with the founders of some of the best known companies in the world there, including only one woman: Estee Lauder.

But what is saddening is that this is another example of people with blinders on - I know these companies have multi-billion dollar market capitalizations and probably have high brand recall among Americans, but there are no Asians on that list! So are these executives saying that Japan, Korea and India have no business leaders worthy of being on that list? Or are they just proving the alleged axiom that American people don't know anything of what's happening outside their own country?

I'm sure all these men are/were brilliant individuals and overcame huge struggles to achieve what they did. But I'm also sure there are others in the world who deserve to be on that list. I'd really like to know the survey methodology, because it's just unfair to call this the "Greatest Business Leaders of the 20th Century". It's like calling a sports event the "World Series" with only Americans playing.

This is the list:

  1. Samuel M. Walton | Wal-Mart
  2. Walter E. Disney | Walt Disney
  3. William H. Gates III | Microsoft
  4. Henry Ford | Ford Motor
  5. John P. Morgan | J.P. Morgan Chase
  6. Alfred P. Sloan Jr. | General Motors
  7. John F. Welch Jr. | General Electric
  8. Raymond A. Kroc | McDonald's
  9. William R. Hewlett | Hewlett-Packard
  10. David Packard | Hewlett-Packard
  11. Andrew S. Grove | Intel
  12. Milton S. Hershey | The Hershey Co.
  13. John D. Rockefeller Sr. | Standard Oil
  14. Thomas J. Watson Jr. | IBM
  15. Henry R. Luce | Time-Life Publications
  16. Will K. Kellogg | Kellogg
  17. Warren E. Buffett | Berkshire Hathaway
  18. Harland Sanders | Kentucky Fried Chicken
  19. William C. Procter | Procter & Gamble
  20. Thomas J. Watson Sr. | IBM
  21. Asa G. Candler | Coca-Cola
  22. Estee Lauder | Estee Lauder
  23. Henry J. Heinz H.J. | Heinz
  24. Daniel F. Gerber Jr. | Gerber Products
  25. James L. Kraft | Kraft Foods
  26. Steven P. Jobs | Apple Computer
  27. John T. Dorrance | Campbell Soup
  28. Leon L. Bean | LL Bean
  29. William Levitt | Levitt & Sons
  30. Howard Schultz | Starbucks
  31. Michael Dell | Dell Computer
  32. Robert W. Johnson Jr. | Johnson & Johnson
  33. James E. Casey | United Parcel Service
  34. Herbert D. Kelleher | Southwest Airlines
  35. George Eastman | Eastman Kodak
  36. Philip H. Knight | Nike
  37. James O. McKinsey | McKinsey & Co.
  38. Charles R. Schwab | Charles Schwab
  39. Frederick W. Smith | Federal Express
  40. William Wrigley Jr. Wm. | Wrigley Jr. Co.
  41. Gordon E. Moore | Intel
  42. Robert (Ted) E. Turner | Turner Broadcasting
  43. J. Willard Marriott Jr. | Marriott Int'l.
  44. James E. Burke J | ohnson & Johnson
  45. David Sarnoff | RCA
  46. William E. | Boeing Boeing
  47. Walter A. Haas Sr. | Levi Strauss
  48. Henry J. Kaiser | Kaiser Industries
  49. Walter A. Haas Jr. | Levi Strauss
  50. Clarence Birdseye | Bird's Eye Foods

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Branding Challenges for Enterprises

I came across several well written and articulate pieces on branding over the past few days, thought they are "must read"s for anyone even slightly interested in marketing…

The ABC’s of Great Brands
This talks about three defining characteristics of a brand (Attributes, Behavior, Circumstances), and how a little clever manipulation of them can result in amazing results. The article illustrates this with examples, so its not just theory and seems to have actually worked for a couple of companies. An excerpt:

What constitutes a great brand? By applying the concept of an Appreciable Brand Triad TM , we were able to define what attributes, behavior, and circumstances are, and if executed correctly, how they enable the foundation for brand greatness. We postulated this theory by citing two brands that have achieved both financial and brand success (SW and Home Depot). Although the dynamics of the plotted points on the Appreciable Brand Triad TM are in constant motion, their general locale suggests three things: an intelligently designed business model, proper positioning of ABC’s, and flawless execution. Taken together, the opportunity to formulate or re-design a Great Brand resides in the hands of business leaders each day.

What Branding Challenges Keep You Up At Night?

From CMO Magazine, this is a summary of challenges faced by Branding Executives from Fortune 500 companies, which they placed into six categories:

Creating relevance
The pendulum has swung from consumers valuing premium products to products that are simply "good enough."

Protecting the brand
Misbehaving senior managers. Poor product quality. Many marketers worry that the corporate reputation—and thus, the brand—will become tainted.

Reaching target consumers
Highly fragmented media and products such as TiVo are causing marketers to rethink old techniques.

Nurturing employees
Companies are only as good as their frontline people. Taking care of employees is paramount to creating a leading brand.

Competing and partnering at the same time
Partnering with mass merchandisers that have their own private-label brands while competing against those same merchandisers' brands can create a challenging business environment.

Implementation of programs
Marketers have little room for errors and virtually no opportunity to make a second impression. Everything must work well out of the gate.

Three Lessons for More Effective ROI
One of the acronyms I've had a love/hate relationship with over the years, Returns On Investment is something that every branding and marketing executive needs to fight with and continuously measure at all times; this is an interesting article which can be summarized in plain english to:

Prepare for a journey - Its going to take longer than you think :)

Focus on strategic insight - Approach ROI as a measurement tool to understand how strategies and tactics can be improved

Measure smarter - Make the testing and measurement of long term activities more important than short term tactical activities (So true! too often people just don't keep the big picture in mind when looking at ROI of branding and marketing efforts)

Get started with an improved planning process, some new analysis or testing, a pilot project or a shift in your approach to measurements. Basically, continually bring in improvements and new tweaks

An excerpt from the article:

There’s one fundamental principle that keeps ROI at the top of the agenda: Companies must make more money than they spend. Executives need to have greater confidence that marketing can deliver on this promise. It does not mean that every marketing dollar will be measured in terms of incremental profits. Nor does it mean that long-term profits must be sacrificed for short-term profits. It just means that the additional discipline in understanding how marketing initiatives ultimately drive profitable customer behaviors is key.

On an unrelated note, I also came across this article that kind of hit where it hurts:

Ten Reasons Young People Are Afraid to Start Their Own Business

  • Don't Have the Skills
  • Don't Have the Self-Confidence
  • Don't Have the Ideas
  • Don't Have the Money
  • The Deck's Stacked Against Entrepreneurs
  • Couldn't Handle the Failure
  • Don't Know the Process
  • Don't Have the Time
  • Couldn't Handle the Stress
  • Couldn't Handle the Loneliness

Guilty of a few of the above. The author of that article has really tried well to prove those points wrong (Do read the aricle), but a couple of them just don't get solved by his answers. Here's hoping I get started soon though :)

Friday, March 10, 2006

Entrepreneurship and Insightful Advice

Is it just me or is getting advice and help on starting your own business a whole lot easier these days? Maybe I’ve just been reading quite a few insightful articles and books :) Quite a few of the points I’ve read not only apply to young entrepreneurs but could also be very useful to middle and top management in medium to large sized organizations; at the end of the day they need to achieve their goals as well, but often lose sight of strategy when dealing with the routine of mundane daily activities.

Anyway, I thought I’d share a few of these great articles with you here:

Death by Risk-Aversion at

Ignore the strange typography style :) and the content of this article makes a lot of sense. After all, who hasn't been stuck in mediocrity during some period of their life?

So add one more skill to our career advice for young people: be willing to take risks! Perhaps more importantly, be willing to tolerate (and perhaps even encourage) risk-taking in those who are managed by you. Of course I realize that this is much easier said than done.

Do read the article, it gave me a perspective on my own management style and helped me realize that I've not taken too many risks in the past either, just because of thinking "If this fails it'll get us in a lot of trouble" and not looking at a proposed solution objectively.

Entrepreneurial Proverbs at

A bit too long, but this article cover starting out, paying attention to the idea, choosing the right people to work with, building a product or service and most importantly, money matters.

A few of the points that stand out:

Great things are made by people who share a passion, not by those who have been talked into one -- a corollary of the last; you can spark a passion in someone, but you can't do it without some fuel to catch. Better to wait, and find the person who is already inclined to believe in your cause. You may talk someone into co-founding a company with you, but will they stick with it through ups and downs if they had to be persuaded that hard?

and this one..

Build what you know -- this is the most basic advice of idea generation: scratch an itch you have yourself. To make a great company, stop and ensure that your need is broadly felt, and that your solution is broadly applicable -- not everyone spends their life in front of a computer, remember.

Even the comments in the one are great, don't forget to read them too!

Top Signals of Success for Software Entrepreneurs at

Also a bit long, this one highlights some of the common characteristics of successful entrepreneurs the author has encountered. My favorites:

You are a realist: You tend to look at most things objectively. You see them for what they are. You have ambitions, but not unrealistic ones. When in contentious situations, you’re usually the voice of reason. You keep things in context and tend not to over-react.

and this one:

You work hard: You’re an over-achiever. You’ve never been satisfied delivering the “minimum”. Though you understand the importance of work-life balance (you read about it in a book somewhere), you’re not frequently able to pull it off. When in a group setting where work is divided you somehow always do a disproportional amount of the work.

All of the points highlighted in the article are important, but in my opinion these two are the most.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Second Education

I'm going through another large change in my life, which involves relocation and a new job; feeling a little nostalgic I was going though the soft copies of the transcripts of some of the sessions I had as a trainee at Synapse - from being a Trusted Advisor and Managing a Project and learning how to Do What Needs to be Done. But the one that really got me a little nostalgic is this one, which Gourav handed over to us way back in 2002. This is just one of the brilliant sessions we had back then, which unfortunately the new people at Synapse have no clue about. Take a little time off and read it slowly, maybe it'll make sense to you too.

The framework of this essay is taken from an article by Madan Birla, the president of However, this essay has been altered, edited and rewritten significantly from the original.

We live in a complex, interconnected world, but where we find ourselves in our lives is not by chance. The relationships, health, job satisfaction, leisure- everything that goes to make the life we enjoy, are all a result of the choices we have made. These choices are inevitable. But since we don't have time to examine and evaluate every choice from scratch, we make choices that are influenced by a previous history of what we know, how we feel, and the feedback we get from our environment. We all have a script of internalized messages from the environment (what communication experts call a 'Frame of Reference') and we often live our lives based on that script. If society's definition of success is money and all the things that money can buy, then most of us are likely to internalize that definition of success and it will become the driver of our choices.

But we can choose to reject the definitions of society. And find a way to create our own balance of life. Finding the Balanced Life can possibly be thought of as a Four-Step Process:

  1. Visualize the balanced healthy state that reflects all human needs on the Physical, Intellectual, Emotional and Spiritual plane. Make this picture richer by gaining knowledge about yourself and the world.

  2. Become aware and Identify the root causes of imbalance in your life - internal and external. What is preventing you from living your life according to the picture you have in your head?

  3. Develop a personal action plan to address the deficiencies that prevent you from getting to the life you want to lead. Get abilities that you need to take you where you want to go, overcome shortcomings that hold you back, conquer fears and anxieties that plague your mind.. .

  4. Take action in the external environment to implement the plan. This will be the real test of your will ...

Most humans have the same needs. Recognition and Esteem 'I want to be known as somebody'. Power 'I want to have the money, social status and opportunities to be able to do what I want to do'. Love and sexuality 'I want to belong to somebody' and I want someone to belong to me. Mutual support, affection, shared experiences, group membership 'I want to be with people I like and enjoy spending time with'. Identity and Self-Respect 'I want to be somebody to myself'. Respite and relaxation 'I want to have fun and enjoy myself'. Spirituality "I want to have a sense of meaning and coherence in life'.

These are not a collection of isolated components, but one integrated whole. And expansion in one component cannot compensate for a missing component. The ceiling to personal happiness is set by the component of lowest satisfaction.

And Happiness will not result from what happens to us but what happens within us after what happens to us.

Apologies if this seemed a little preachy - but really, go back and read it again. Everybody I know has had quite a reaction to this essay, for obvious reasons. Let me know if you did.

Thinking in Web 2.0 - in simple english

I came across two very interesting articles last week, but didn't find the time to blog about them; the first is titled "Thinking in Web 2.0: Sixteen Ways" by Dion Hinchcliffe. In this very interesting article, he's discussed some of the basic things people who are looking to build or create a new web service need to do to be competitive on the web. Some of the are quite basic, but overall he's made it sound a little complex, which is why I've summarized what he's trying to say in plain english:

  • Set clear, measurable Goals; this one is pretty much standard for everything but its amazing how few actually do it.

  • Link Everything; make sure its accessible and 'shareable'

  • Let People Own their Data; loosen up permissions, let people do whatever they like with their data

  • Data is more important than looks and features; something I'm not completely comfortable with, but seems to be true - take a look at Craigs List (an extrememly popular site) to see what I mean

  • Share everything; encourage users to use your service in various ways, even ways you didn't plan on

  • Stick to the web; sure, you can extend the platform, but take good care that the Web is given foremost preference

  • Respect the Experts AND the Noobs; different types of people need different features at different learning curves - support both

  • Encourage collaboration; let people add, write comments, edit and basically tinker with whatever you provide

  • Take utmost care of personal information; your users will trust you with the info - don't abuse that trust

  • Use Standards; your application and data should be somehow compatible with everything esle out there, and adhering to standards is the best way

  • Keep it Simple. Let users control how they want to see data, let them share and tag and blog and do whatever they are used to doing on the web

  • Make the benefits of your service obvious and easy to understand. Personal incentive to use your service will be your biggest seller

  • Be Agile, use agile technologies; the last thing you need is a tool that makes you wait for weeks for a critical bug fix or feature addition

There are a few more points over at the original article, but this more or less summarizes the others too. Of course, as Russel Beatie pointed out, you also need to make sure you have a sound plan to make the money roll in :)

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

[offtopic] The BlankNoise Project - A salute

I read about the BlankNoiseProject a few days ago, and it got me thinking; not only is this a great medium of expression, it also will help women know that they weren’t alone when incidents of eve-teasing or harassment or lewd comments being passed occurred.

I’ve been told of various incidents so far by female friends, and I don’t want to go through the details because it’s just too aggravating; the more I think about them the more I get angry and despair that I wasn’t around and didn’t kick that guy’s ass. Also, I assume everybody else on the blog-a-thon must be writing about similar incidents. So, to make a little interesting reading for you, I thought I’d highlight a few triumphs of my friends who’ve dealt with such incidents and looking back even laugh a bit at them.

Maneesha Singh, in Mumbai: She was walking down a crowded railway station when a man pinched her. Not the one to be intimidated, she grabbed the guy and this is what happened next:

Maneesha: [One HARD slap!]

Maneesha: Kar kya rahe hai aap?

Guy: [quiet, completely taken aback, shaking a bit]

Maneesha: Samajthe kya apne aap ko, huh?

Guy: [quiet, cringes, pretend to be drunk, wants to get out of there immediately]

Maneesha’s hand is now hurting a bit because of the force she put into the slap and (as she tells me) she’s run out of dialogues - so she just leaves him there and walks away.

Maneesha Singh (again), in Mumbai: She’s at this disc with some of her friends, slightly tipsy and she sees someone who looks like her ex-boyfriend standing a little far away. So she goes up to say Hi, but the guy isn't her ex and is someone she doens't know. He says something... stupid. Well, Maneesha doesn’t remember what exactly happened next, but it involved a very hard punch and the guy bleeding from his nose.

Neeta Shenoy and friends, in Bangalore: A big band concert is happening, large crowds walking on MG road and some idiots are trying to take advantage of the crowds by touching and groping women they pass by. But, Neeta and her friends came armed: They carried safety pins in their fists, and went about poking every person who attempted to grope! After a lot of ouches, I hope those morons learnt a lesson.

Neeta Shenoy, in Bangalore: 17 years old, On a bus with her dad, Neeta's trying to get some sleep and a shady character next to her tries to get fresh. She catches him, slaps him hard and shouts at both him and the conductor. Loser gets unceremoniusly thrown out of the bus.

Neeta Shenoy, in Goa: She went to the market to pick up some fruit and a couple of village idiots started cat calling and whistling. Not to be bothered, she went up to the morons and asked them what their problem was. Then after a sound tongue lashing and public humiliation, walked away and got on her bike.

When she came back and told me I wanted to go back to the market to ..umm.. ‘talk’ to those guys too, but she said it wasn’t worth the effort, and that there are better things to do with our time. And I really admire that attitude – the ability to shrug off something as demeaning as this and put it down to the attitudes of a bunch of stupid men.

There are a few more I’ve heard from friends but don’t remember the details, will check with them and write more. Till then, ladies, remember there are simple ways to get back – from sharp retorts and rousing people around you to physical assault and pins. Better still, if you have a camera phone, take a picture and hand it over to the nearest police station. And talk to the men in your life – not only will they be there for you, they’ll also help you understand that all men aren’t the same, and the good ones usually outnumber the stupid.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Indian Call Centre Worker's Info to go into a centralized Database

The register reports that a delegation of European unions will tour Indian call centres next week to investigate an industry scheme to register the country's call centre employees in a biometric database.

Apparently this is a NASSCOM initiative to try and tell EU and other countries that outsourcing security concerns don't need to be worried about a lot.

Launched in January by an Indian trade body representing employers, the National Association of Software and Service Companies (Nasscom), will store biometric, personal, professional and educational details of workers in IT and outsourcing industries.

I see a whole lot of possible issues with this:
1) Privacy Issues! Not that I work in the BPO space, but why would anyone want their personal identification data be available to companies abroad? What happens if you quit the BPO industry? Does your database record get deleted? Who do you have to inform? Worse, what if the database gets leaked to unscrupoulus marketing people?

2) Take a look at this:

Indian call centre workers are cheap and poorly protected, which is why so much work has been given to them by European firms. The centres are reputedly characterised by high-pressure, long hours, and a high staff turnover.

Worse still, they have to put up with abuse and condescension from the customers they serve on telephone lines to countries in the northern hemisphere. Yet these call centre jobs are comparatively well paid and highly sought after.

It's bad enough that people at the lower end of the food chain in Indian BPOs have a comparatively hard life - aprt from everything listed on top, they also have to deal with camera all over the work place, intense secuity checks and stupid HR rules - do they really need more measures of security to lock them into an even more repressive workspace?

3) Take a loook at this excerpt from the article:

The Nasscom biometric database of workers was the Indian response to an international news storm initiated by Britain's Sun tabloid newspaper, which engineered a leak of British bank details from an Indian call centre last year.

Unions including Amicus shamelessly exploited the opportunity and helped whip the storm up to the point where Nasscom had to do something to protect its business interests. A biometric database seemed like the obvious solution*. Now this could be the single largest barrier to the unionisation of emerging Indian industries.

As for workers in Indian call centres, they have been lucky to land jobs that are considered luxurious, so telling them that their conditions are rubbish may not wash.

Unless their new-found wealth and power gives them the confidence to take on employers, the only way to help them unionise will be to encourage them to see their place in the global economy. That will mean treating them as comrades rather than enemies. ®

* The adoption of bureaucratic processes from the northern hemisphere has always been the clincher for most Nasscom members in deals for outsourcing business. They have signed up to anything they can, from data protection to formal methods of business.

Need I say more?

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Online Marketing in India? and it's set to grow by 300%?

A few years ago if someone told you that online marketing in India was the next big thing to happen to the economy, you'd probably laugh your head off and ask him/her to get a reality check. Well, surprisingly, it actually is.

According to research by the Internet and Mobile Association of India, things are looking up for online business this year.

Rs. 570 crores worth of E-commerce conducted online in India in 2004-2005, to grow to Rs 2300 crores by 2006-2007, an estimated 300%+ growth.

That's a good, healthy amount to hear; while it's nowhere near the amount of business conducted in other developed nations, it means we're getting there. Take a look at the research reports available at the research section on the IAMAI site; they cover entertainment, e-commerce, security and even cyber-cafe usage statistics in India, completely free of charge. Their sample size isn't huge at 3099 respondents for the "The Power Shopper: IOAI Ecommerce Report 2005" but I guess its a good enough indication for the average online marketer's general knowledge.

What also caught my eye was the demographics! Take a look at the image here:

1) 85% of Online Shoppers are Male; note that even a 15% female audience represents a 15 million strong market audience by 2007-2008 (IOAI Estimate: 100 million Internet users by 2007-08).
2) 37% of online shoppers are 'Unmarried' and 47% are 'Married with the kids'. That's something new as well - it used to be the "unmarried category" on top earlier.

In another recent study of online shopping habits in India and across the globe by AC Nielsen I came across more good things being said about the Indian online shopper.

"Online shopping in India is poised for greater acceleration as more manufacturers and providers integrate the internet into their sales model. As PC and internet penetration grows, the key to increasing online purchases will remain in the hands of marketers - instituting online mechanisms for sales and service and incentivizing consumers to use them by passing on the benefits of lower transaction costs to them" says NS Muthukumaran, Director at ACNielsen ORG-MARG and head of Internet Research at ACNielsen in India.

While the report seems to be focused on the retail consumer, I'm sure B2B marketers will find a bunch of interesting statistics there too. I did.

For people like me who've been working on the web and creating, managing and measuring Online Marketing campaigns for a living, I guess this can only be a good thing. Well I hope anyway - its a very nascent area of business in India, and not only is there a dearth of people with the know-how, there's also a dearth of companies who are willing to actually pay well for someone with experience managing both online and offline marketing activities.