Archive for June, 2009

Smart Cards and Citizens

I came across smart cards as part of a market study I was doing at work. It came up as such a large potential application that I could not but stop myself from looking up what are the end markets it addresses – everything from medical records to access cards to unique identification cards and intelligent passports came up in the analysis (of course, not to mention the super high volume mobile phone SIM card).

Now, in an economy where creating/converting leads as well as retaining existing customers is a huge uphill task, such a large recession-proof opportunity, especially in India, with large and small players like Infosys, TCS, Bartronics etc. in the fray, is sure to cause some high-wire drama akin to the 3G spectrum allocation.

What remains to be seen is whether the massive citizen database collection and technology deployment for UIDs, which has been planned to be completed in 3 years, is accomplished on time or results in another sham. Throw Nandan Nilekani into the mix and we have an interesting twist to the story.

However, amidst all this talk, what I never heard anyone mention is how will it affect me as a citizen? I mean, first during the collection of data, will I be re-checked and re-verified for all the different kinds of IDs that I have from the Government? If you don’t do this, how will you know you are not issuing a smart card to a fake identity? What if a person has three of the 5 or 6 which are going to be put on this smart card, will he/she get an upgrade? Can he/she apply for it later, will that be a one-stop shop? And, after the smart card is issued, what if I lose it – all my identities gone? Will I get a replacement quickly? Are we taking power away from several demi-gods and providing it to another one? I would definitely like to know the answers.

Quotes I like…

Nothing will ever be attempted, if all possible objections must be first overcome – Samuel Johnson

Market Research – Part 5

This is the 5th in the line of Market Research related posts and I shall attempt to cover market research methods used. (Note: These are based on personal experiences and learnings, so if I’m missing anything, kindly feel free to add comments)

So here we go:

Market research in my view happens in two distinct stages pre-product definition and post prototype stage (before mass production/final go-live).  Though, there are some industries which follow – create ‘em and they’ll come approach, but we will focus on industries where it is a necessity and a differentiator to do market research to understand the customers. I would also like to divide them up broadly as secondary and primary methods as below:

1. Secondary Market Research – When a company starts a market research project, first is mostly (mostly because some people like to start with a preliminary easily accessible primary sources of information and we will cover this in the next point below) a secondary research phase. Anything about the market, competition, customers, ecosystem, trends about the industry available online -articles, magazines, conference presentations, published research material, discussion forums, free/paid market reserach reports are used in this phase. The information is organized and presented, in the process forming/validating a few theses for market research work.

2. Primary Market Research – As I mentioned above, some marketeers prefer to do a preliminary primary phase first to focus and give direction to the secondary research process (believe me, there is a lot of information out there and one can get drowned in the process…and hence, this is a valid viewpoint). Initially, primary research candidates could include experts within the company/outside that one might get access to. There are perfectly valid reasons to start with one vs. the other depending on how prepared one is to ensure that the time of the expert is well utilized. The various forms of primary market research include personal interviews, focus groups, conjoint analysis, online surveys, forums/collaboration tools, alpha/beta product testing etc. These are then followed by detailed analysis of the collected data to provide insights on which features are important vs. nice-to-have, what will customers pay for, what kind of product roadmap should the company be investing in and what kind of channels to push the product through, even price point indicators can be obtained through the right mix of tools.

In the next post I shall cover some ground with a real-life example to wrap up this series on market research.

Third time is a charm…

Whenever I see Abhay Deol (cousin of Sunny, Bobby and Esha Deol, nephew of Dharmendra) on screen, two things come to my mind.

1. How the success/failure of a person as an actor, even before he/she acts, is determined in our minds. In fact it is the same with people, we make judgements in our sub-conscious minds that reflects an instinct that is dormant in us. All the same it is unexplainable and irrational and knows a star when it sees, we know when someone is saying untruth and all this in the “blink” of an eye (pun intended). Some people trust this more than any other proof that is given to them and a few others, use this as a starting point and change their judgements based on actual incidents around them.

2. The phrase “third time is a charm”, as was obvious from the title, of course! However, this third does seem to have worked his charm at the box office and hopefully will salvage the Deol image (beyond being food for comedy shows) going forward in serious cinema.

So here’s wishing luck to the “oye, lucky, oye” boy.

netbooks vs. iphone vs. kindle…war of gadgets

It is happening, day in and day out. How many of us really like to lug around multiple gadgets? I for one, don’t. That does not mean that I’m a proponent of give me everything in a ugly box and I will be happy. I do want convergence but a user friendly one in terms of usage, design and price point. This is what is giving space for the iPhones and the Kindles of the world. Otherwise, what is it that I can’t do on my laptop that any of these devices offer?

I spend most of my working time with a laptop, I take it with me when I travel and it can do most of my work, store/play music/video and e-book and do a whole lot more! So, if I have an option of buying a netbook at $250 vs. an iPhone/Kindly at $350 or more, what would I chose? In my mind, the answer is an uneqivocal “netbook”.

Now, I’m not the typical Apple customer who stands in front of the Apple Store to buy the iPhone on the day of realease and neither am I the kind who would download e-books, store them on Kindle and squeeze every moment when I’m travelling/otherwise to read. In my opinion, the war of gadgets will continue in our minds and our physical spaces, each has its specific segment of buyers and fans. However, netbooks clubbed with the current economic situation will definitely deliver a significant blow to the rosy sales projections made by Kindle..though, I wouldn’t make a prediction on Apple along the same lines.

Do share your iPhone/Kindle/Netbook experiences/stories…I’m all ears.

new customer vs. existing customer

I read a very interesting article on building a product that a customer uses daily vs. occasionally. Every once in a while a product comes by and becomes a daily habit of millions – like Google, like Twitter and many others with the same intention don’t make the cut. The visitor is curious in the beginning, interest wanes for sometime, it comes back or is sometimes just gone – most social networking sites suffer from this syndrome.

However, there are a lot of interesting questions that one can answer based on new vs. existing customers:

Acquisition costs?

There are definite marketing and operational costs associated with acquiring new customers vs. increasing mindshare with existing customers. You have to do a waterfall process of reach out, knowledge creation, pass the usefulness and trust test and of course, finally delivery, All this requires effort and is easily accomplished in the case of existing customers, because many portions of the process need not be covered, only reinforcement is required.

Keeping a customer beyond utility?

However, sometimes an existing customer just loses utility and is just occupying bandwidth or mindshare of your customer service reps, It is time to take a call on keeping existing vs. fishing for new ones or re-segmenting the market and re-positioning your product to address the right customer segment.

Annuity based businesses – Schools?

There are businesses which have daily use for a period of time and they remain a time-bound essential utility, like schools, in a person’s life. It is in serviing each batch of students in the most effective manner that they gain reputation, build a brand and serve several generations of families. Maybe, in the long term every product is a time-bound utility (essentialness is questionable assumption to make, so I shall refrain), just the time-frame is sometimes visible and sometimes too far out!

However, depending on the nature of the service, ease of reachout and cost of maintaining existing customers with newer or interesting features, a business may decide that it is easier to address few needs of new customers every once or so and it works for some and not so for others. Of course, should not be a deterrent for launching a new idea with potential.

Marketing in Recession

This is a topic I was mulling about recently and here are some interesting thoughts:

Reality Check

However, how does marketing get affected in recession? At the surface level, there are budgetary constraints imposed and as managers strive to cut costs you can clearly do a reality check if the function you were doing was important to the organization or a nice-to-have. Having said that, what are the takeaways, what are the golden opportunities that this generates for a marketeer?

Measure your “Customer-Effectiveness”

It is the right time to listen to the customers and figure out what they pay for, why and what you can do to improve your products and given your current products whether you are targeting the right customers. Create a strategy around this and prepare for implementation as the market conditions improve. This also could be the right time to test your web2.0 marketing channel-effectiveness, if already established and establish one, if your target customers are reachable through the medium.

Time Utilization

The company can utilize the spare time available with employees because of reduced projects and decreased new product efforts and channel it into creating new ideas for improving the products, service, branding, internal processes etc. The VLSI division of Wipro in India did this very well in the 2001 downturn. Instead of doing a round of layoffs, they used the manpower to create an internal knowledge database of projects, information, benchmarks, rules and guidelines on the intranet portal that was a wealth of information to new joinees and future projects alike once the economy bounced back.

Review Partnerships

It might now be the right time to approach those partners that were out of your league but would significantly help you save costs or improve quality. For one, they might entertain you as they might need the business and secondly, you could get a good partnership deal inked in the bargain.

Focus on Products and Costs

As a tight squeeze happens on the media and branding budget and consumer exuberance fades, it is time to focus on products and costs. Focus on areas to cut costs on the entire range of products and not just where you face price pressure.

All this requires man-effort but not extensive budgets and creating a marketing strategy, evaluating channel-effectiveness, understanding product requirements and reducing costs are invaluable insights that a company can gain during recession minus any “consumer exuberance factors” that the company does not control.


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