Monday, December 31, 2007

A tale of two bookstores - Crossword and Landmark

When I started as a serious 'serious book reader', I had only one resort - Crossword - to satiate my appetite for reading. I was young and I was relatively less knowledgeable about many things/subjects in life. The two things I had were curiosity and a past full of collecting magazines and story books. Wayne W. Dyer's "The Erroneous Zones", which I picked up from a second-hand roadside book reseller, got me initiated and from then I was regular at Crossword.

Starting with typical self-help-cum-psychology books I drifted towards reading more cross-disciplinary books. The more I read, the more I found Crossword inadequate for my tastes but I somehow managed to stay loyal until the time I went to Bangalore for some official work. I landed in Landmark for the first time and it definitely seemed to have more titles than Crossword. However, Landmark wasn't present in our town and that led me to look for books online. That's when I became a customer of fabmall.com (now called indiaplaza.in). And they've got some darn good business from me.

Tired of shopping (not really shopping, it's the waiting period) books online, I started visiting Crossword again. On a couple of occasions when I again didn't find the desired titles, I visited Landmark and bingo! I got the titles I was looking for. Yesterday again, I visited Landmark and got all the stationery and titles that I wanted but couldn't find in the local stores or Crossword.

Landmark is a category killer in books, stationery, music, toys and movies and certain gifting items. Crossword, though just a bookstore (at some stores stocks toys too) doesn't have the depth in its inventory. Looking at the store evolve all these years, it seems that Crossword just stocks the popular or run-of-the-mill bestsellers. Crossword is bent on increasing the number of its stores (it has a total of 45 stores nationwide) instead of the number of titles at its stores. Landmark on the other hand, has been relatively slow - it has only 9 stores nationwide - but stocks a great number of titles which makes it a great bookstore destination.

If the two bookstore brands keep to their strategies, Landmark will evolve to become the category-killer in books while Crossword will go on to be perceived as a corner bookstore with a collection of popular books. Who'll win? Landmark's depth in inventory will definitely appeal to amateurs (aspiring to build an image of serious reader) as well as bibliophiles (serious readers and book collecters). Any doubts? I don't have any.

Online Indian bookstores might outdo both. Search for the right book on amazon.com, then visit indiaplaza.in and order for the book; you'll get it cheaper.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Celebrity brand – Mr. Perfection, Aamir Khan

Watching Taare Zameen Par was an experience par excellence. What was the movie about? A little child’s struggle to grapple with dyslexia and as a consequence, with his problems at home and school. The child’s in deep trouble when his new art teacher comes in and helps him achieve the unthinkable; of course, by making him explore his unusual abilities in a suitable manner.

That’s been Aamir Khan’s success mantra through out his career. There have been diversions every now and then, but more or less he has achieved success with one formula – depict achievement of victory in adverse circumstances. Adverse circumstances often in a very specific context, often unforeseen, often compelling enough for a drastic and definitive measure.

Let’s go back to some of his earlier successful movies:

Deewana Mujh Sa Nahin – fighting all resistance to win the love of a woman who’s a big star

Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar – victory in a cycle race for which he prepares and participates in a very short time in lieu of his injured brother

Dil – fighting against parents to win his lady-love. QSQT was on similar lines, in which he wins but ends his life when he knows that his beloved was killed

Hum Hain Raahi Pyar Ke – overcoming a crisis in business for which he incidentally assumes responsibility after the death of his sister and brother-in-law

Rangeela – winning his lady love even when pitched against a superstar

Ishq – fighting all the status and wealth barriers to win his lady love

Ghulam – struggling as an aspiring boxer but wins a fight against an infamous but stronger boxer who also happens to be a goon and killer of his brother

Sarfarosh – solving an intricate problem of terrorism and the people who abet terrorism

Dil Chahta Hai – struggling to understand ‘love’ and his friend’s feelings but eventually fighting to save his love just before she’s about to get married and also winning back his friend

Lagaan – fighting to win an important cricket challenge thrown by the British rulers of the region and in turn saving a village from back-breaking taxes

Rang De Basanti – purposeless all life but determined and therefore, succeeds in avenging the death of a dear friend, an Air-force pilot, who dies in a dubious situation which arises out of the corrupt dealings of country’s top politicians

Aamir’s made some rather forgettable movies too. He’s made some pure comedy movies, some off-beat movies et al. But he is one of the very few actors in Indian cinema who’ve recognized and exploited (in a very positive and constructive way) a particular theme or pattern in movies and delivered smashing performances.

That’s the power of focus. Of course, if you’ve watched these movies, you know what I’m talking about. Aamir Khan can be viewed as a brand. He’s a perfectionist (in other words, specialist) and he uses it in a particular way – reflected through his choice of movies (victory in unforeseen, compelling and adverse circumstances) and his role (that of a hard-working, determined victor) in those movies. And that brings him success. Perhaps, he knows it!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Do you buy Hindustan Unilever Ltd.?

Do you like the logo? Oh, you do! These days it appears at the end of every TVC of every brand that Hindustan Unilever Ltd markets here in India. Why? Earlier it didn't happen. Perhaps it did. It was HLL (Hindustan Lever Ltd.) then. The logo was different too.

Well, whom is this transition meant for? End consumers or internal employees or HUL's business partners? Going by the TV ads, it does seem that it is meant for consumers? But the first question is, do consumers care? No. Consumers care about Fair & Lovely or Lifebuoy or Lux or Dove because they buy Fair & Lovely or Lifebuoy or Lux or Dove. They care about the products which carry these brands. For them, the brand is the company. They aren't bothered about whether the brand comes from HLL, HUL or P&G.

The management at HUL should've asked what do the consumers buy? If they think it's HUL that consumers buy, then they are sadly mistaken. HUL is for internal employees or perhaps business partners, if there's any implication of the change on them.

Showing HUL to the masses so prominently might only be taken indifferently or at best as a general knowledge/trivia input - simply academic. But on the negative side, it might leave the consumers perplexed and at worst, it might dilute the impact of the brands in question by distracting the former when it's not needed. There's no point in making the corporate brand all pervasive among the consumers when the individual brands are doing their trick. For consumers, individual brand is the corporate or the company or whatever. Leave it that way and focus on building individual brands.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Being first almost makes you a leader

Hero Honda recently launched another new bike called HUNK in the 150cc category. The name says it all - whom the bike is targeted at. And one look also tells you what it is supposed to do. Thrill and excite. In short, it’s a Sports bike and positioned for performance.

As part of its strategy Hero Honda surely has a serious motive behind introducing this bike. It wants to undermine the dominance of Pulsar.

Bikers would easily recall that when Pulsar was introduced some years back, the campaign said ‘Definitely male’. Not just the words, but even the styling meant just that. The bike was the first to come with a huge muscular looking fuel tank. That set the tone for Pulsar and set it clearly apart in the league of motorcycles. A few months later, bikers confirmed that the driving performance was good too. That established and confirmed Pulsar’s claim ‘Definitely male’.

Pulsar wasn’t the first bike in 150cc category. Hero Honda already had CBZ in the market for a couple of years by then. Though critics had applauded the bike, commercially CBZ wasn’t doing that great. Though aficionados liked it, among the general masses it was perceived as a fuel-guzzler, very contradictory to what Hero Honda has always stood for – fuel efficiency and reliability (remember the famous campaign ‘Fill it, shut it, forget it’ in the eighties and early nineties). Also, perhaps the conditions were such that performance bikes weren’t fitting the economic preferences of the bikers at large.

Everything said, Hero Honda was the first mover in 150cc 4-stroke performance biking. CBZ was the only bike in the category and therefore, by default, the leader. The campaign said, “Motorcycling Unplugged” and the ad also featured a guy flaunting the bike to impress girls.

Then the came the competitors, TVS Suzuki with Fiero and Bajaj with Pulsar. Fiero had very little to stand on. The name was good but the looks and the performance belied the name. Fiero was a disaster. As stated above, Pulsar was distinctive. It also had the best fuel-efficiency for a 150cc bike. The bike’s campaign was a clear departure in the opposite direction (from CBZ). While the CBZ campaign showed the rider in a ‘chocolaty’ light, the Bajaj campaign hit a raw nerve - it showed a guy performing a wheelie (read "for his own pleasure, not to impress girls") and conveyed the message ‘Definitely male’. Bajaj had taken a leap.

With 2-stroke bikes being phased out and, Yamaha doing very little to offer anything exciting in 4-stroke bikes, Bajaj captured the ‘performance’ (though I would prefer the word ‘exciting’) biking category. The situation also helped Bajaj – perhaps bikers had been waiting for the right bike and their economic conditions were also improving.

Bajaj firmed its grip with rapid innovation and with its higher end models Pulsar 180 and Pulsar 220.

Seen in this light, does Hunk stand a chance to capture the performance biking market from Pulsar? Pulsar is ‘Definitely male’ and bikers have accepted it. Can there be a second ‘Definitely male’? I doubt. Hero Honda was the first in 4-stroke performance biking but Bajaj was the first to focus on the category. It defined the category sharply and in that sense Bajaj was the first. Hero Honda is still economy and reliability. Pulsar is performance and exciting.

That's why Hero Honda failed with Achiever and CBZ X-treme. The failure was compounded by the fact that people knew Hero Honda was using Honda Unicorn engine in these models. Definitely didn't help matters when Bajaj was perceived to be innovating.

My verdict: Hunk is good, perhaps great. But it’s about creating a new category, being the first in that category and most importantly, focusing on it. Hunk might come second but won’t be formidable enough to threaten Pulsar.

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