Are you chasing the right goals?

December 15, 2017 Leave a comment

If you are at any social gathering in Bangalore, it wouldn’t be more than 3 minutes before the conversation turns to the city’s crazy traffic situation.

You can take an hour to traverse 10 kilometres.

The reasons are a few and in no order of priority they are

  1. High vehicle density: As more people enter the middle class, vehicle ownership is a matter of pride.
  2. No public transport: Metro is a nascent project and doesn’t really go where most of the people want to eg IT Parks/airport
  3. Uber/Ola: Arrival of these drive share apps has created a large new business opportunity for many people, adding more vehicles on the road.
  4. Poor condition of the roads
  5. Disobeying traffic laws: You will find people driving the wrong way, parked on busy roads etc


The Traffic cops have no control on items 1 – 4. But 5 they definitely can. So they are extremely aggressive on that, by focusing on.. 2 wheeler riders not wearing helmets and loud vehicle horns! Yes that is where they focus all their attention.

Result: Traffic jams continue unabated. In fact get worse, because now you have to also deal with the above offenders stopped by the cops.

If you run a restaurant and customers are not happy with the food, changing the logo is not the answer.

Also, gone are the days, you had to make wild guesses at the reason for a specific problem.

With the advent of digital communications, there is now a volume of data out there that helps you reduce, if not eliminate, guesswork from your marketing. Even if brands don’t advertise on-line, the consumers are already there spending time, asking, engaging, discovering, interacting and so on.

Parsing this information will tell you if you are talking to the right audience, about the right problem/opportunity at the right time with the right solution.

You can never over invest in a good listening strategy linked to a planning and optimisation one.Know what your customers want and what their ‘pain points’ are. Then appropriately craft your communications.

This is the ONLY way to ensure that marketers are aligned to helping consumers meet her own goals.

And that is the express way to ride the autobahn to customer loyalty.

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Living in silos

November 19, 2017 Leave a comment

These days it is impossible to be in any marketing (or indeed business) related conversation where the phrase ‘big data’ does not show up. Where there is big data, its best friends ‘Analytics’ and ‘Cloud’ are not far behind.

And of course with Internet Of Things we read about the Intelligent Elevators, Intelligent ContainersBrilliant Janitors and so on.


It will be a wonderful world, some day.

Yet our daily experiences are so far from reality, and I wonder if companies are really ready to take on the transformation needed to survive and win in the new era.

I give a few examples below from last week to illustrate my point.

‘ Dear customer, this is to remind you to pay your insurance premium/telephone bill/ school fees (choose your item) for Rupees XXXXX by November 18, 2017, failing which your service will be cut off. Kindly ignore if already paid’.

We had an issue with airtel last week when they cut off our phone connection as they did not have some documents from us. The previous day we got an SMS asking us to email the documents by end of day. Which we did. So when we called customer service after disconnection and mentioned the email, their response was ‘oh that will take 2-3 days to show in our system’

I took an HDFC insurance policy and they needed an id proof. I got a call from them asking me to send it to their whatsapp number. So ‘modern’ I thought. So I whatsapped the id proof to them. The next day I got an email asking me to submit the same document via upload, email or whatsapp. I did the upload and email as well. I still get an email everyday asking for the same document. While I have also got emails saying they have received the document.

As customers our reactions range from vexed to frustrated.

These companies are leading players in their field. Data is their currency. They are mean to be at the forefront of all the Digital Transformation we read. Yet at a very fundamental level they seem to work in silos. Driven by the data that sits in silos. Clearly there is a ‘marketing database’ and a ‘customer database’ and probably a  ‘commercial’ database which sits separately and, I imagine, there is some sort of weekly synch that runs across them all. But in the interim period it is all mayhem.

On the other hand my experience with amazon has been quite opposite. You call them, or chat with them, and they have immediate access to every email every chat, or call you have had with them, in addition to your financial relationship with them. This always makes for a very productive conversations.

Ginny Rometty, the Chairman, President and CEO, of IBM says often ‘data is the new natural resource’. Earlier this year The Economist carried a cover story on the same theme.


Extending the oil analogy for a minute, obviously the bigger and deeper the well, the more profitable it is to drill. The analogy with data breaks because, I don’t think, there is yet a way to bring together several small wells together to make one big well. But with data it is possible.

Rather than have data sitting in different silos, bringing it together, with appropriate security, ensures that the teams all have the same view of the customer, or indeed the business, forcing collaboration.

Curiously, if businesses have a single view of the customer, the customer also ends up having a single view of the company they deal with.

And who doesn’t want that?


Categories: Uncategorized

You’re always on duty

November 14, 2017 1 comment

Last week, media in India was agog with the manhandling of a passenger on Indigo airlines, a budget carrier in India. For my non Indian readers the quick summary is that a passenger got into an argument with the airline stuff which quickly escalated into a physical altercation and two airlines employees then held the passenger to the ground with the images of one of them, holding him by his neck being the one that went around all the channels.


The airline moved pretty swiftly by taking disciplinary action against the employees. A pretty simple decision, as the staff were on duty and there is a clear manual on how to behave in these situations. A manual that they disregarded.

A few weeks ago Juli Briskman went on a bike ride. As she was out the President’s motorcade passed her by, and for whatever reason, she flipped the bird. Another iconic picture that went around the world. Here it is, once more.https_blueprint-api-production.s3.amazonaws.com_uploads_card_image_648661_90a7d0f8-6a63-4aae-8d9c-5990f7198b1b

Seeing the picture, Juli spoke to her employers to state that the picture was hers (though the name does not show up anywhere) and shared the picture on her own social media channels. Shortly after, she was fired, for violating the company’s social media policies.

And another episode closer home, a friend’s colleague got into a twitter argument with someone. At some point in time the person she was arguing with, did an on-line search for the employer name and sent a complaint email to the company’s global HQ with screen grabs of the offending chat. As expected, when something like this happens in a global company, an investigation was launched and the employee was called in and strongly advised to rethink his on-line behaviour as it was not aligned with the company’s values. Interestingly, the only place this person’s employer was named was on his Linkedin profile. Not the twitter one.

What this seems to suggest is that the line between personal and professional is blurring. We saw this start with the advent of mobile devices. Email and work calls did not recognise office from personal time. It was all one amorphous mass.

The same seems to be happening with the concept of being ‘on duty’. It appears that one is, slowly, always going to be on duty. The values of the company one works for are going to be expected to be followed in personal time as well. Usually all is fine, but when things go wrong then social media amplifies it tremendously and then the juiciness comes from taking on Goliath. Not the offending individual.

If you get into an argument with someone in a public space, you need to be well aware that when things go South your company’s name is going to feature prominently in any sound bytes about the episode.

Celebrities usually have a morality clause in their contracts, where they can be fired for doing something that affects their personal brand value and thereby impacting the value of the contract.

I imagine most employee contracts have something similar buried in the pages and pages of stuff we sign when we join a new company.

We all carry that implicit expectation from our employers that we don’t act in a way that shows them up poorly, even in a personal capacity.

Not applicable to the Indigo story of course, as they were at work, in uniform.

But when we are out of the work space, or how we interact with people on-line is where we are susceptible to our own morality clauses and where companies will increasingly expect their employees to be brand-true.




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The Advertising Agency Challenge

This weekend I was having drinks with a well respected CEO of one of India’s top brands, and after talking about matters of mutual interest, we drifted to talk about advertising agencies.

In fact he started it by referring to a blog of mine where I had compared agencies with other professional services like doctors and consultancies.

What follows are his thoughts/comments:

When I go to a lawyer or a CA or a doctor, with a problem the expectation is that the problem will get solved. With an agency, I get the feeling that the problem is always mine, with the agency wanting an active say without the attendant responsibility.

Law, Medicine etc have codified principles which have SMEs who guide their clients. Does the advertising business have any such learnings that can be leveraged? At an execution level or a consumer behaviour level?

When he was planning a retail expansion, McKinsey was hired to advise them and they were to draw in a bunch of global retail experts including market visits to Europe and the US to learn. In the agency world it looks like the same person works on everything thereby not really having in depth knowledge on any one subject.

The agency business is very Creative Director driven so the agency with the best creative director wins the business. Makes the relationship very ‘campaign’ driven. This prompts clients to look at new Creative Directors every time they think of a new campaign. Hence, loyalty tends to be low.

As the creative business becomes more art and less science, senior management of companies start tuning out of the process, leaving it in the hands of juniors.

The pressures on business are very intense and those that come with greater knowledge and ability to tie in many disparate parts of the business get C-level attention. This is where Consultancies like IBM, Accenture etc tend to win. They start with a conversation around helping companies go digital..this leads to transforming processes and culture..leading to digital touch points..apps etc..and before you know it many aspects of related design get gobbled up by them. The linkage to business is vital.

I am sure none of this is new, but hearing it from an influencer in the industry was rather sobering.

I am pretty sure there is an agency POV, which would be worth hearing to balance this out. But rather than it being about ‘why clients are to blame’ if we are able to get to a situation of how the perception/reality addressed, we may see agencies winning the battle to get CXO share of mind and more budgets.


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A Programmatic Oops?

This week started with the horrific shootings in Vegas. Everyone’s timeline was awash with articles and perspectives on the tragedy.

Amidst this, a friend of mine shared this picture.


Crazy eh? amazon advertising for ‘mass shootings’.

Being of the suspicious mindset, I put it down to a photoshop. After all why would amazon be linking to ‘mass shootings’ and try to profit from it.

And I was so wrong, because I found this.


Something was going on here. What was it?

My initial analysis was

  1. Amazon has books called ‘Mass shootings’. So when someone searches for that ‘title’ then their ads get served.
  2. Someone searching for ‘mass shootings’ is more likely to be a ‘researcher’ looking for information about the subject than someone seeking information about the incident.

While the above was true, the context in which the ad was seen, was very sub otpimal.

Then I researched some more and found that there were other books like Hurricanes, Floods etc on amazon, but their ads were not served when I searched.

Maybe there was something else going on here.

And this is my hypothesis:

Bid for trending words in Search/twitter.

Trending words indicate what most people are searching for.

If amazon is able to showcase their range of books (products) in the context of that search then they are, literally, striking when the iron is hot.

So if US Open is trending, amazon shows their tenning products, books on tennis etc.

If Mars landing is hot, then amazon presents their books on Mars

and so on.

This is a pretty simple alogorithm to put together and run programmatically.

All works well till you hit upon a tragedy like the Vegas one. Then suddenly, what is trending, is not good news. And the brand gets seen in a bad light.

I expect amazon, and other bidders, would learn from this and build into their algorithm some sort of sentiment analysis to ensure that programmatic saves them dollars and face!!

Of course, the above is my hypothesis and I could be wrong. Hopefully, then, one of my readers can correct me.

Categories: Uncategorized

The Advertising Agency – Client Relationship

June 23, 2017 1 comment

When I was in the advertising agency business, which is not too long ago, it often was apparent that agencies valued the relationship they had with their clients far more than vice versa. Stories of many clients sending agencies on red herring projects, delayed payments, calling for needless pitches, continually beating agencies down on rates/prices were literally SOP.

Not true for all clients obviously, but for many. The paranoia of one day being put on review drove the agency to all sorts of weird behaviour as well as anxiety. Not good for morale or Quarterly projections.

This puzzled many agency people because we compared ourselves to other professionals, like lawyers, chartered accountants or doctors.

Publicly, of course, clients swore on their agency relationships.


Then this happens:

Recently there was news of Amex moving their business from Ogilvy to McGarrybowen. A client who was with the agency for 55 years did that without a pitch, just one fine day they upped and moved.

3 years ago Johnnie Walker did a similar thing. ‘Keep walking’ a BBH created campaign widely acknowledged as the best piece of work in the spirits category was not enough for the agency to retain the business. They put the business up for a pitch and moved it to Anomaly.

Clearly something is wrong with this equation, and it doesn’t seem quite like clients value their agency as equal partners.

And then earlier this week I saw this article. Publicis decided that they were going to pull out of Cannes and other festivals to focus on internal infrastructure.

Of all the responses, this one from one of their biggest clients tell you everything about the relationship between clients and agencies:

Diageo uses Cannes to get to know agencies it is considering hiring, said Mark Sandys, who oversees Diageo’s global beer business, as well as Smirnoff and Baileys. This week the company’s agenda includes a two-hour speed dating session with a group of agencies it is targeting.”Some of the agencies I’ve met, big and small, I come away from the dinners or meetings thinking, ‘Wow those are great people to work with, we should be thinking about them next time something comes up for a pitch.’

To my mind, this paragraph says it all.

What kind of business is this, where a client says openly that he goes to Cannes to meet other agencies, all the while having a happy relationship with his agency back home?


Should clients expect undying loyalty from their agencies till ‘death do them apart’ if the same level of commitment is missing from their end?

Clients don’t attend every lawyer convention to see what’s new out there. When you have signed on a legal firm you don’t call for pitches, or continually hold the threat of being fired. Same with CA firms. These relationships are contract bound and are usually terminated mostly for ‘malpractice’. There is value in these relationships gained over time which clients seek to leverage over the course of the relationship.

Somehow when it comes to agencies, it seems all bets are off.

And, obviously am not generalising but when you see names like Amex and Diageo in this sort of conversation, you got to wonder how wide spread this malaise really is.

Do agencies need some sort of protection mechanism against these seemingly whimsical behaviours from their trusted partners?

I don’t have Answers just Questions.

Categories: Uncategorized

What do you do when things go wrong?

June 12, 2017 1 comment

Over the weekend I was watching a cricket match. Australia vs England. Australia had finished their innings and England was batting. England got into a spot of trouble early on and the Australians were all around the batsmen hoping to make further inroads and win the match to keep them in the tournament. But things didn’t go according to plan and the two batsmen played England to victory.

Through the innings the camera kept showing the increasingly frustrated face of the Australian captain. One of the commentators said ‘ This is the problem with the team, they have no Plan B’.


While the story has to do with sports, we find the same situation replicated in real life.

At one extreme the storied situation United Airlines was in, where they had overbooked the flight (which happens all the time) and had to get a passenger to deplane. He refused (which they didn’t anticipate). And they called in cops to physically pull him out causing injury to the passenger and to the brand. While this is probably the rarest of the rare, brands nowadays often face similar situations and how they react makes customers decide whether they want to stay on with it or not.

Amazon, of course set the bar high, early on in their business, where refunds ‘no questions asked’ were just unheard off.

My experience with amazon has always been good. They don’t always get their delivery right but their ability to fix it, I have found, is next to none.

Flipkart on the other hand is a mess. (my experience) They seem to have no idea how to handle customer issues. And I have had two issues with two orders and stopped going back to them. (With great reluctance I just bought a phone from their site last week, because only they had the model I wanted, and this is an issue too.)

Some of the newer brands have been very good. A few months ago I ordered a shirt from the Bombay Shirt Company. As I was not in a hurry for it, I put it away to wear at an appropriate occasion. Some 3 months later, I pulled out the, by then, dry cleaned shirt and alas, the sleeves were too short. Unhappy that I had lost a few thousand rupees I wrote to them about the problem. Within hours I got a call from them. They said they would replace it. And they did.

I have had similar good experiences with placesoforigin and dunzo. Swiggy and bigbasket not so much.

The born on the web brands seem to understand, though, that customer service is a key aspect of their brand proposition. They have made some investments in that space and are at varying levels of excellence.

Offline businesses moving online that have traditionally not had to pay attention to this aspect of their business model need to undertake a cultural transformation to bring this to the core of their business.

When everything is going well, no one notices. It is when things go wrong that reputations get built.13d68adfcd0859ac00269d8b8403fa70

One of my bosses, the founder of Direct Marketing, R Sridhar, published a booklet titled, Life begins after the coupons come in. I think we can safely update it to ‘Brands get built when customer service kicks in’

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