Archive for the 'market research' Category

The art of “restrictive” gifting

Recently we received Pizza Hut gift vouchers from Airtel and Citibank. I generally don’t look at promo mailers. I was about to throw it when the picture of food caught my eye. I looked at it carefully, it said that we could get a medium “Tuscan singles” pizza free if we present the voucher. I had three such vouchers and wondered if we might just do a pizza today. Well, alas! turn the voucher around and there in fine print lies the art of “restrictive” gifting.

One cannot redeem multiple vouchers together, need to have a bill of Rs. 500 or more to be able to use the voucher and worst still – need to be a dine-in order to be able to use the voucher. Needless to say, I trashed the vouchers anyway. Why?

I don’t remember the last time I did a dine-in for pizzas. I don’t remember the last time my bill order went to Rs. 500 at a pizzeria (there are too many offers for meals for two floating around and we don’t do any pizza parties) and if I can’t use all my vouchers, then?

I understand that one of the reasons for launching the campaign must have been to push people to dine-in at pizza hut, raise the bill to Rs. 500 and come multiple times to redeem the multiple vouchers within the expiry date. But, isn’t it too much to ask for from me? What if, I’m not a big fan of Pizza Hut pizzas, then you need to induce trial and this is no way to do it. What if, I’m looking for the best value meal in pizzas, then you have just blown away your chance for a consideration.

Ok, I can go on and on. But the point I was trying to make is that the art of sending vouchers is not all about what you want it is all about figuring out why things are the way they are and then trying to address that through incentives (namely, vouchers – if that is the case). I’m sure to get into the mailers of Airtel customers and Citibank customers, they must have paid a bomb. What a sheer waste of money to do so on a “restrictive” gift that screams selfishness and lack of understanding of consumer behavior at its best.

Or do they really think consumers are that stupid that on the receipt of such a gift voucher they would go rushing to change their habits? Anybody listening from Pizza Hut’s marketing team?

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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.

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?

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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Tie-ISB Connect 2009 – Part 3: Taking India Forward and The Next 800 Million

I apologize for delaying this part of the post. This will be my last post in this series and I shall cover two panel discussions. Taking India Forward and the Next 800 Million Opportunity. I chose to club the two for the simple reason that they are, in my mind, related. You cannot take India forward without moving the next 800Million through opportunities and choices.

The panel consisted of Jayaprakash Narayan (Thought Leader, Speaker Par Excellence and Politician), Reuben Abraham (Exec Director and Asst Prof, Centre for Emerging Markets, ISB), Madhukar CV (Director PRS Legislative Services) and Siddharth (Actor, Rang De Basanti-fame). It was moderated by Karuna Gopal (President Foundation of Futuristic Cities). All of them you can check up at their respective LinkedIn profiles that I’ve added to their names :). There was an interesting discussion around “urbanisation” and the sheer obliviousness to the fact that, at the current rate of urbanization, if we are not careful we will need 300-400 more cities in the next 10 years. Are we prepared?

Siddharth was the surprise package (and I’m adding a paragraph on his talk here by popular demand on my blog for his speech summary). He was not only a fluent speaker but also displayed great passion and lucid thinking along with a no nonsense approach to the subject. He vociferously vouched against three things in India – our “rodent-like” memory to quickly forget the atrocities met to us, the habit of our media to sensationalize and the inability of a small fry in the system to stand up and make a difference due to the system. He cited personal examples of his visit to a CM to offer help for relief work and how he was shown the door without being allowed to utter so much as a word. His stance of, “If I as a celebrity could not make things happen, what can a small fry do to help even if he wants to. Moreover, why would he want to?”, had quite a few feathers ruffled.

In the Next 800 Million opportunity, the discussion was mainly around the issues and challenges faced by the markets and marketeers alike. Panel consisted of Sarath Naru (Venture East), Dr. Ashwin Naik (Vaatsalya Healthcare), Sandeep Farias (Elevar Equity), Manish Khera (Fino), PN Vasudevan (Finance India Ltd), Harish Moily (MYA) and MR Rao (SKS Microfinance). The panel was co-chaired by Vishal Vasishth (SONG Advisors) and S Sivakumar (ITC Agro). The best part was when the discussion centred around the fact that the rural people paid much more for a poorer quality of service they received across board! And, I couldn’t help compare the “so-called” Indian upper middle-class or “wealthy” section and the service they received vs what is available outside India. I think there is a huge value and quality gap there and I can’t even begin to imagine the negative percolation that seeps across sectors in the different parts of India and what poor quality of service and product offerings are given for the same/higher value to the “have-nots”. Talk about the system being unfair and the playfield being levelled? I think we should stop reading books written (with sponsorships, of course!) by foriegners and start looking at our own backyard. We will be shocked at what we find or, rather, do not find!

As next steps, so that the discussion does not end here. I would like to help create channels online and offline so that these thoughts can be crystallized into tangible actions. Anyone game for it? Thoughts on what we can do? How we can take the ideas forward and make a concentrated effort to drive action? Pls reach out to me.

When Entrepreneurs Came A-Pitching

I recently sat through a couple of business plan pitches at PES School of Engineering, Bangalore, thanks to Nandini 🙂 (catch her here – forstartups). Some of the ideas I heard were very innovative and can compare against the best of breed any place in the world(execution still remains to be seen – but comparing idea to idea), while others, lacked the determination to convert a “very” feasible idea into a business. As the process unfolded, some aspects were extremely intriguing while others were very disturbing and I can’t help but write about them…so here goes.

1. Students when asked to look for ideas somehow refuse to look within themselves, their own experiences, their own pain points and even their own strengths in technology/marketing/writing skills. Instead, resorting to secondary sources to fetch ideas. When your baseline (the idea) lacks passion coming from somewhere deep within, it will be hard to sustain on an entrepreneur’s journey. We found that those few who either built on their strengths or perceived/real personal pain points were much stronger with their business pursuing plans

2. Students not looking beyond themselves sufficiently – now this may sound highly contradictory to what I just said above, but hear me out. When I said the above point I meant about the idea for which one needs exposure, which in turn can either happen due to chance or can be created. So, if only students realized that the real world is beyond the four walls of their home and institute and the “coffee” shop they hang out at, they would know where to go look for the experiences that in turn can help them create valuable businesses. Does this point make sense now vs the previous one?

3. No “real” world experience shows up in their operational plans – students need to go out and get as many internships as possible. It is not easy, I know, but just go and get the job or do some freelance work, create opportunities where you are creating something real and tangible and you will know the issues you face when creating/scaling operations. I’m not saying one should talk like a business tycoon, but no matter what you are not ready until you are and that “readiness” comes with field experience of some kind. The next best substitute would be to talk to a lot of working people in your interested domain/industry, but, secondary experience can only teach you so much

4. Students not leveraging technology enough – most ideas that we heard, the students had not thought through on how to leverage all the hi-tech around them to get a quick and dirty prototype up and running in minimal time, while at the same time giving them enough time to do a u-turn on the idea while the investments are still really low

5. They are still thinking about “doable”, “non-utlandish” ideas – all I have to say is guys – it is ok to do a doable, non-outlandish idea, but execution will be key. If you innovate, you have a chance to survive. Also, almost everyone can do a “doable” idea, the top 1% in this country should be creating disruptive innovations (market, business or technology) for the “real” needs that the country is facing

6. This brings me to the “last” and the “saddest” point – all the technology entrepreneurs – awesome ideas in the domain of Augumented Reality, e-waste management, electronic bike etc. – walked in alone, while all the “doable” idea guys walked in, in large groups. If we are to create a large entrepreneurial culture, we need to create innovation through products and services and we can’t afford our engineers and MBA grads to be shy of technology and true innovation related risks. Pull up your belts people, the wave will wash you over anyway, you can either surf it or chose to let it wash over you

I’d love to hear comments and thoughts around this and looking forward to more bplan pitches and lots of bubbling entrepreneurial energy creating interesting solutions and businesses from India.

Tie-ISB 2009 – Part 2: Growth, Funding and Partnerships

This is the second part in the series on the Tie-ISB session and it covers growth, funding and partnerships. The panelists were Sundar Subramaniam (Cofounder, Dim Dim), Atul Phadnis (Founder, Whats on India) and Srinivas Pothapragada (Founder, Tidal Data).

Takeaways for entrepreneurs was:

1. Listen to your competitors’ customers very carefully 🙂 – don’t design features that you think is cool, design/make products/services that make the lives of the customers easier. In fact, one sure way to find out if that is the case is if they either pay upfront to get it developed or agree to pay on delivery. 

My take>> While, it is a good idea to listen to the customer, isn’t it easier when somebody has already developed the market through their efforts and now you are optimizing the pain points through your offerings. You can ask the customers what you like or dislike in a specific context very easily and much more objectively in a B2B than in a B2C market. Heck, your customers are so precisely defined that you know where to go hunt them. What if you are launching something revolutionary, innovative or game changing? Does it work that effectively if you were launching a completely new product or service in a market where the customers you might be tapping into a latent need? How do you ask the customers whether they want an iphone or a twitter, for that matter! Any insights? People who have done this inputs please?

2. Here comes the next point to the rescue – “Don’t solve a problem faster than a customer can create it”

My take>> An excellent food for thought and what can be a better example than Intel, here? They can go much faster down the innovation curve, but they stagger it and do incremental launches, giving people enough time to figure out problems that need to be solved, and lo, behold, there is Intel with the solution. However, I do think that, this tracking is easier done in the B2B market, like the previous point too, than in a B2C market. That is why we see many more failures like palm pilots in the B2C market. In the B2C domain, the intent to buy may or may not reflect a real need (for all you know, they might have been amusing you) and the nonchalance for an innovative concept, is not its death-knell either! Sometimes, if the cost economics work out, you just need to go out there and launch the product, right?

3. Ensure you are solving a large problem.

My take>> This is a repeated message from the last session too and you cannot overemphasize it. Find something that is big enough for you to solve and make space for competition. Counterintuitive, isn’t it? Who said competition was bad? In fact, if you are solving a big problem and you are in the right space at the right time, you will have tonnes of other people trying to solve it too and it just ensures that you are doing the right thing. Also, don’t forget, their pitches to partners, customers, VCs and all others – is “free market education” for you. Just know what you offer that is unique and different and strive on!

4. Know who your customers are and who are not – both of these are very important, it is all about being very clear about what market you are going after, whose pain points you are solving and spending your time and resources where it will get you the maximum returns!

My take>> I cannot say it better than Srinivas put it, “Sales in the beginning is closer to marketing and is like an art – in that phase founders themselves are playing most of the roles. But, in the later stages it becomes a science and it gives clear instructions on who a customer is, what pain points you are solving, where you stand vs a competitor and then it is about execution. If your sales person is not sure whether the person he is talking to is a customer or not, you are doing a bad job of targeting. If your sales person is coming back with repeated feedback about the product (assuming your product is solving someone’s problem in the first place) you are doing a bad job of marketing as a whole – so redo that piece and if required change strategy/the marketing manager. In the lattery stage, sales scaling is where your growth is and it is about repeatability, just like in science, if your sales person spends time thinking or on feedback, you are not having a very repeatable process, are you?”

5. When working on partnerships – for faster growth, industry knowledge/experience or access to markets – always let the relationships win

My take>> Actually, this is more of a question that I could not answer. Atul’s company works on Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) for the Indian TV media and he is bringing different kinds of content providers and channels on one platform, it is a tough job but the threat of one of these players wanting to take over what he is doing is not that large. What happens in a market where boundaries are less clearly established and people are integrating forward and backward? How do you work on the partnerships, develop trust and good working relationships. Any insights here?

6. Finally, the highlight of the session and the buzzword for the rest! “Startups are about figuring it out as you go along”

My take>> Well said! What can I really add to that? When you start, you think you know where you are going, but as you go along a lot of different forces pull you in many directions and it is in making those small and large decisions day in, day out, that you figure out what to do and how to do, to get where you are going and sometimes, even that is not fixed! A good team, goes at it together and that is why most VCs invest in a strong team. You can see here how Mark Suster (General Partner at GRP Partners) says that he invests in a team (70%) and the market space/idea (30%) about their investments in ad.ly.

Overall, great takeaways and lots of thought provoking content was put out in the session. I would love to know if you were there at the conference, what did you think of the points above? Did anything else stand out for you? If you were not, even better, do the points above resonate with you? Do you have examples to share? Looking forward to your comments!


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