Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Indian Post and the Internet generation...

Postal services across the world are fighting for their survival, under the combined impact of technology and market savvy courier service agencies. And many of them have made attempts at stemming this decline by doing a re-branding exercises to transform themselves and emerge in a new avatar...

Even Indian Post went through a similar exercise a couple of years back, but then the results ........

If one were to list the strenghts of Indian Post, number one is their reach and volume which is unmatched in the country, more so in the far-flung rural areas of the country. The next on the list would be their staff especially the ubiquitous post man who is their customer facing arm , who interacts with the customers on a daily basis and knows them by name and is more than a messenger. I am not sure if this holds true today in all places in the country. And then comes the range of product offerings from areas in Banking , Insurance, and of course the postal services.

If I were to pick-up one issue which needs to be tackled by Indian Post on a war footing would be how to attract younger generation post offices. I do not know how many of you would have been to a post offices in the recent times. For me today's visit to a post office came after many years, and one of the first things which I observed was we were among the only young people around, we totally surrounded by senior citizens (average age not less than 65), though it might also be influenced by the fact that we went there on a month end. But it was as if young people were not welcome to a post office.

I have identified this as the number one issue because it is essential that the younger generation is able to connect , associate themselves with a post office. I am still part of that generation which even till a few years back was used to waiting for the post man to deliver letters and have copies of many letter which I had exchanged with my friends, but the Internet generation which is used to sending IMs and sending updates on the facebook would feel as if they have landed in a alien land if they were to ever walk into a post office, and this is something which should worry the people at Indian Post.

As with many other things in life, it is easy to say that 'x' needs to be done , but then the moot question is 'How'.............

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Simply Fly - Captain Gopinath's Story

The story of Air Deccan is something which is close to many of us, it in a way symbolised the impact of liberalisation on the common man. It was with this curiosity of getting an insiders view into the story of Deccan Air that I eagerly picked up the book 'Simply Fly', though most of my expectations were met , then I wouldn't say I was fully satisfied. I would start with the reasons why I was not happy, then look at the positives, which outnumber the negatives.

First complaint is with the expected coverage on Air Deccan Story, looking at the length of the book, running into more than 350 pages , I was expecting more on Air Deccan , but then Captain Gopinath has devoted about one third of the book to that venture which might be ok looking at the number of new ventures he started from his farm , to hotel, to politics, to aviation , but I personally felt that he could have devoted some more pages to Deccan Airlines, and the abrupt end to Deccan Air story also leaves me unsatisfied with a feeling that he has not shared the story fully , which maybe prudent from his perspective looking at the fact that the story is too recent and some of the details might hurt his image or that of some of his partners. And another minor complaint was the lack of dates and timeline in the book , which makes it a little difficult to read at times.
But then looking at the positives, reading through the book gives one a very good insight into how an entrepreneurs mind works, and the sheer variety of businesses that Captain Gopinath started and succeeded. Through the stories of his various ventures he gives us an overview of the business realities in Indian market and the challenges which are there in the present context. His constant struggle with the bureaucracy is some thing which should serve to forewarn new entrepreneurs, but then he also share the incidents where he could get things done by sheer persistence.
I think what attracts most of the readers to books of these kind if the 'rags-to-riches' angle, but I feel there is much to be derived out of the book in terms of the variety and number of opportunities which exist in Indian market. And I think anyone who wants to do business in India should read this book....

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Save Our Tiger Aircel Campaign - Leveraging CSR

"Save our tiger campaign" is one more of the recent campaigns which has generated a lot of buzz . The interest is because it has managed to touch consumers emotionally on the issue of saving our national animal. My interest is more in the CSR angle to the campaign, as it is a campaign by Aircel in partnership with World Wild Life Fund. Actually there have been many more campaigns in the recent past which have tried leveraging social issues to work in favor of their brands, and the Tata Tea Jaago Re Campaign would top the list. Others which come to my immediate memory are, Idea trying to leverage issues like saving trees and 'walk-when-you-talk', Nokia and old mobile...

Though earlier I have been critical of the disproportionate benefit that companies are able to derive out these sort of campaigns, or as put bhat in his post on the issue 'advertising in CSR skin' but now with more and more companies adopting a similar approach, I think one needs to look at the situation more dispassionately. I have made an attempt here,

First and perhaps the primary stake holder in such campaigns would be the company, and though the direct benefits are difficult to pinpoint (which would be true for any ad campaign), but the impact on recall (as in the case of aircel) and awareness would the bare minimal expectations that they would have. For brands with high awareness, they can hope to build a positive brand association , as maybe the case with Tata Tea. Infact Tata Tea has reported growth in the market share across the last few years when the campaign has been running, but then how much of that can be attributed to the Jaago Re Campaign?

And next is the benefit to the cause which they are supporting , be it the tigers or corruption or saving water (HUL had a campaign where they spoke about saving water) . Specifically if one were to look at the save tiger initiative, with many initiatives over the years that have not yielded much results I see so no harm if some wants to make one more attempt, but then saving tigers maybe more of a operational/policy issue than some think linked to increasing consumer awareness . Though the idea would be that increased awareness would mean stronger policies which would help save tigers. But .....

If you look issues like increasing the awareness with regard to voting rights and making it easier for the younger people to register for voting is some thing more concrete.

One thing which is favor of these kind of campaigns is the ease with which these campaigns can be extended on to the Internet, through websites and communities and making it more interactive...

Coming back to the issue of why this sudden interest in linking your brand with a social cause. I think it is driven by the fact that today the traditional ways of differentiating your brand are becoming harder to sustain, and brands are desperately on look out for issues through which they are able to hang of consumers attention.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Rin Vs Tide ad, ethical ?

It took me some time to actually believe that HUL was directly comparing Rin with Tide. Digged the ad out of youtube to see it again and then today's ET had a new item on the same. Link

Not that sort of comparison has not been done at all , Complan vs Horlicks ad controversy is still fresh in our minds. Many years back it was pepsodent versus colgate ads (but even then no direct mention of brands), and it is said that it took the marketing heads of both the companies to sit together to end the money being wasted on comparative ads.

But at a very fundamental level, marketing as an activity which is 'relative', firmly anchored against competition , be it USP or differentiation the point of reference is competition. And what has been happening till now is that companies avoided directly naming the competing brand , but use a similar coloured or looking product in their ads. But in the Rin ad the line has been crossed and HUL has very clearly shown the competing product. And people like Harish B who writes a popular blog on Indian brands, observed that by naming Tide in the ad directly 75% of the time in the ad was devoted to Tide than Rin. Link for more on his post on the issue.

On the legal front praveen , points out the small disclaimers during and at the end of the ads, should help HUL's case in the courts, but then raised the question of why such an ad in the first place. Now that P&G has gone to the court against the ad, other resort would be to go to ASCI , the body which looks into these kind of issue, but it is more of recommending agency, with no regulatory authority..

On the issue of whether it is right or wrong, ethically yes, we question the ad, but then how right or wrong is it to use a similar looking product without actually naming the competitor? or other forms of comparative advertisements that we have been seeing. But as they say too much of anything is bad, even too much of attention or focus on competition is also bad as in the process you might lose focus on your own customer???

Lastly an observation on the maturity of the blogsphere in India, there are more than 5-6 blog posts on the issue , since the ad was aired, so I thought I should also jump into the discussion :). There are discussions going on the issue on facebook, twitter and other social networking sites ...

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