Archive for September, 2010

Wants vs. Needs

I was listening to Melinda Gates at the TEDxChange talk aired on Sep 20th on the Millennium goals. It was wonderful to hear all the speakers, but one thing she said stuck in my head.

She was narrating the story of the reach & success of Coke and comparing it with the success of the Millennium Goals. She said, as she travelled all over the world trying to spread the message of a life without disease and misery, even where there was no electricity, education or sanitation facility, there was COKE. For quite some reason, coke had figured out the secret formula that eluded the best of the international efforts at alleviating poverty, disease and lack of education!

She pointed out that it could be broadly ascribed to three things – they are very data oriented, they  tap into local entrepreneurial culture and create incredible marketing campaigns. In short, make you aspire to something you don’t even need in the first place! However, for some reason, she said, “We don’t seem to think that we should make people want what they need” when it comes to poverty, education and disease eradication. This results in colossal wastage of the best laid out aid efforts in the poorest of countries. Since, we don’t craft the messages with “sufficient aspirational value” they don’t seem to get through to the people and she gave some very interesting examples (Go watch the talk for examples, I’m not giving them away :)).

This is so beautifully said that I can’t add anything to it except for the fact that, what “they need” is generally a “perception” from an outsider’s point of view, for them  it is something in their core – a “habit”, “culture”, “religion”, “chore” – that you want them to change and instead do this “other thing” which they are not familiar with. Why should they trust you? Why should they put in the extra effort?

Inspiring someone enough for them to “want” to do something is the best way to create a “need” – marketers figured this out way long ago. But making someone want what they need, while making it available is the best way to reach out and make a difference in the society, probably the most exalted job for marketing there is to be!

PS: Seth Godin wrote an article on the same topic in his blog recently –Needs don’t always lead to demand.

Technology is not the panacea – Part 2

The next part of the puzzle has to do with the traditional “market ethos” of “why break something that ain’t broken?” If you haven’t read the introduction to this series, you can catch it here (you might want to take a quick look at it before reading this thread)

One might argue, “let’s make things better” or “this is for their good”. But, asking someone to put in any more effort than what requires to keep things going doesn’t ring a bell of happiness in most people’s heads, it rings a bell of despair/alarm. (Obviously, I’m not referring to the market of “techno-enthusiasts” here)

They either know that you right, but don’t want to be the first adopters and hence, a ring of despair or they are alarmed that you are out to get them.

Take the case of school teachers, they all agree that technology could potentially improve the learning capability in students, but why should they be the learning scapegoats? Why, for the peanuts they earn, should they put in any kind of extra effort without a social/economic benefit to show for it (no extra pay, no climbing the hierarchy, no awards – you know, the works)? The prevailing majority attitude then becomes, let it happen independently. That shows for the success of many online tutoring services and several other direct to student technologies. One might ask, what about the success of the likes of Educomp, Everonn etc. – that, for me, is a subject of another post. I’m referring to technology from the teacher’s point of view in this example.

Lets take another example, the nation’s favorite for technology advancement – farmers! All the incubation labs in the country are buzzing with activity around creating technology innovation for farmers. What is the story on the other side though? Alarm bells start ringing in their heads when you talk of any new technology introduction. They think that you might have a trick or so up your sleeve and hence want them to use the technology that you are talking about. Call it lack of knowledge, their hand-to-mouth existence that precludes trial-n-error or “been-there-been-tricked” experiences.

All this results in the best of the technology interventions not being met with the kind of excitement or implemented with the kind of enthusiasm that was intended. What with all the effort that was put into creating the “cool technology wonder”? Be it the lowest cost laptop, the simplest digitally controlled water pump – if the team doesn’t make an equally gallant effort (as for creating product) into delving and unifying the product experience with the market ethos – it is bound to just remain “a newsworthy cool technology”, nothing more.

Technology is not the panacea – Part 1

I know the title might seem clichéd to many, but for a technophile like me who has an eye (more say an affection) for products, a cool technology seems to open up a vista of opportunities (and more dreams) that can be tapped. I had to learn it the hard way to realize that technology is not the panacea, it is only a piece of the larger puzzle that needs to be solved to create innovative solutions that create an impact in the world.

Lets take a few examples, why is the penetration of information technology, internet and computer in substantial parts of India, say vis-a-vis mobile phones, TV, Radio etc. so low?

I’ve come to believe that it has less to do with technology and more to do with “perceived need” (and I mean a need and not a benefit – very difficult to convince people living on subsistence money on the “potential benefits” of your product when all they are worried about is their day-to-day life). This is the immediate, visible, “will-break-a-habit” – kind of need and not some random “wish”. So, if internet (or any other technology for that matter) has to penetrate further we need to establish and educate people of the “need” first.

This first step of establishing a need and educating people how to “elevate their problem” through the use of technology cannot be over emphasized. Skip the first step and the coolest of technology cannot win against “traditional ways”. Do the first step right and with/without technology innovation, adoption might skyrocket. Two real examples opened up my eyes to this:

1. I realized the importance of “educating” people on their problem when I came face to face with the “perceived notions” on technology in schools. At a deep rooted level most teachers believe that technology is an “attention grabbing” technique for today’s students (and hence, at best frivolous). Very few amongst them have the exposure/experience to use technology as an aid to help the students learn and explore the world around them in innovative ways. Without the right orientation and understanding of the need for change, the best of technology aids are largely underutilized in schools and any wonder the usage of technology remains so low despite the potential benefits?

2. Recently, I came across an entrepreneur at a Tie event who is selling “clean water” to the villagers in India. In order to accomplish this, he says the major challenge for him was to educate the villagers that the water they were using was “unclean/contaminated”. They didn’t know that many of the issues being faced by them and their children like bowed legs, deformed teeth etc had to do with something like fluoride contamination in the water.

Technology (no matter how simple or low-cost) cannot by itself make someone use it, there needs to be a larger momentum for that to happen – which can only be achieved through structured & mediated educational/training interventions to help the participants “be better”, “do better” and hence, “deliver better” through the right kind of technology aids.

In the next post, I’ll talk about understanding and working with the “ethos” of the market rather than pushing a technology-based solution that you consider innovative.

Blackberry boys (un)welcome change?

Truth be told the new Blackberry boys TV advertisement is cool (if you haven’t seen it, take a look here) and I love it.

You can clearly see that Vodafone is signaling (along with Blackberry) that it is not just for the “guys in suits” and the message is conveyed brilliantly. But, here is the million dollar question – it is a bold move and it takes Blackberry away from its corporate stronghold, is it a good strategy for Blackberry?

Even in the ad, you can clearly see the discomfort, confusion and alarm on the faces of the 5 “suited” people who were the only people in the frame originally. It could well be the case that Blackberry purchase decisions are made by “corporates” who don’t make it based on the image but on practical price-feature-network partnership parameters and Blackberry might pull off this brand extension exercise and come out all smiles (I hope that is what the research showed and hence they are doing this!).

If not, this could cost them their stronghold with the confused businessmen demanding to be given a choice of “iPhone/Blackberry/Nokia/Samsung” and the B2C market (in developing countries), being cost conscious that it is, opt for the local Blackberry rip offs instead!

It could well be that Blackberry has not seen the kind of traction with corporates in India that they generally see in other countries, in which case, this is a desperate move for them to expand their visibility and hence market share. Could they have done it with another brand name instead of extending the current one? What do you think?

Book Review: Starting Something

I recently bought this book called “Starting Something” by a serial entrepreneur called Wayne McVicker. I found it in landmark and it was the last copy available, kind of torn in the corners and some of the pages already turning yellow. Not the kind of book I wanted to purchase from a place like Landmark. But, I read a few lines and thought to myself, what the heck. The writer seems to be authentic, let’s go for it! In retrospect, it was the right decision.

He is an architect by profession and yet ended up starting the largest ever internet medical equipment distribution company, Neoforma. Apart from the simplicity and authenticity of experiences narrated, what I really like about the book is that it is divided neatly into chapters representing the months in the life of the company from start up, to their billion dollar IPO and down again, right up to when he left (the company still exists by the way, I checked it up!).

So if you are an entrepreneur, looking to start something and wondering what the real journey might be like, it is a worth a read. He captures the ups and downs effortlessly in the simplest possible of English without an attempt to draw conclusions or make judgments or pass on learnings in the process. It’s like life, you take what you want and leave the rest.

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GETrim needs a strategy

I’m sure many of you around Bangalore (especially the health freaks) might have seen a drink mix called GETrim, from a company called Satva adorning the shelves of major retail outlets. I’ve seen it around for more than a year and a half now and well don’t see it flying off the shelves at the outlets that I frequent (and over the past one year I’ve tried more than 10 of them already and that’s fodder for another story altogether). So, what’s wrong one may ask?

I’d like to start with what is right first – it is a health drink mix, crisply promises that one can lose 4Kg in a month and is very elegantly packaged (one ends up taking notice). So far, so good. However, it is priced at Rs. 600 per tin (that promises 20 meals), well Rs. 30/meal – not bad, but having to cough it up all at once without getting to try the product for at least one or two meals seems too much and that is the not so right bit of it. Maybe, they need to learn a lesson from the 50p Shampoo sachet in India that helped break the mental barrier of large shampoo bottle purchases in India.

I’m not arguing that people don’t buy costly stuff to eat, they do – take Olive Oil, Nutella, Corn Flakes and not to mention Frozen Desserts etc. But the initial hiccup is the first step to justify trying something and a price more than Rs. 200 for a large pack and more than Rs. 10 for a small one is beyond it. It could well be that they want to keep it high-priced and ensure it does not fly off the shelf – you know create some kind of exclusivity of sorts. Then, they have got their retail distribution chain wrongly mapped out for sure.

What do you think?

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Blinded by “Free”

During my last trip home, I happened to meet a family friend’s daughter who was doing her masters in US. She was on a vacation because she had not managed to land a “paid” internship in her industry. What with this recession and everything! She was almost at the end of her trip, so nothing could have been done about it. But out of sheer curiosity I asked whether she had tried any company in India/abroad for an “unpaid” internship. She made it very clear to me that she valued her vacation more dearly than an “unpaid” internship – where she would have to slog for no money as well as not get to take her vacation. I see her point of view but the irony of it all didn’t escape me.

Sometimes, the most valuable of “internships/education” are unpaid/underpaid and we don’t see the value of it until way later. I remember as a student writing articles for newspapers and for the kind of work I put in to write one article, I was really paid peanuts. However, what I learnt while doing the stint was how to do a thorough market research and write a professional article putting it together. Those hours of research, figuring out who to speak to, how to get to them and making a questionnaire (dynamically deciding what to ask/not), not to mention the intense exercise in listening and writing down the notes as fast as I could have been one of the best forms of “training” for a marketing job that I’ve had.

I also want to mention another incident where it kind of struck me real hard how we miss things when we are offered something for “free”. I was at a school in Chennai and talking to the owner’s son. He saw what I had to show him and calmly asked me how it would fit in with all the infrastructure that he was about to get fixed up by a “large education” company that had offered to especially “network” all his classrooms for “free”. I was stumped. Not only because the school was already built and that there will have to be considerable drilling and panelling work that will have to be done but also because the kind of state the school was in, it did not seem like it could take that kind of heavy weight infrastructure installation, not to mention the fact that he himself mentioned that his teachers will need enormous amounts of hand holding to use the infrastructure/simply go digital. What the large company was doing by giving them something for “free” was overselling them and leapfrogging them into a space where the “large company” had an upper hand in systems, content, installation and operation. It was a good move by the large company but a bad choice for the school, unfortunately they were not able to see beyond the “free”.

So, next time you are offered/get something for free, don’t forget to look at the fine print, well better still if you can foresee the writing on the wall sometime in the future.

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