Friday, March 30, 2012

The catch-22 of taking initiative

Entrepreneurs and owners of organizations often complaint that people around them, especially employees, lack initiative and don't do much for the organization and leave the organization without any compunctions.

If these people could really take initiative, would they be employees? Besides, what does a typical small/medium sized entrepreneurial set-up give its employees? A person who has sought employment in such a set-up is anyway very much insecure in many respects. And if entrepreneurship is a result of initiative, it would again fall on the entrepreneur to take initiative and lead and somehow instil a sense of security among the employees.

There's a belief among entrepreneurs that since they've taken risk, they deserve the huge rewards that might follow. Since they came up with the idea, the rewards are theirs. That nobody has a right to those rewards but he. And therefore, he builds and accumulates his wealth. If so, then how does the entrepreneur instil a sense of security among employees? By protecting his own wealth? Or by helping the employees partake of his wealth in some form (without losing the wealth really)?

If the answer to the last question is affirmative, then the entrepreneur has to take the lead in sacrificing his 'I deserve all the rewards' sentiment and share, until such time that employees' sense of personal well-being is taken care of and they feel gratitude towards the employer. Then is the time for the entrepreneur to accumulate and amass.

It's easier said. It's a tight rope. So much depends on a shared dream and general camaraderie.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Discounts! Hurry!

And people hurry. Chance to save money on good stuff. They like a lot of stuff. Buy a lot of stuff. But after buying, they've to use. Usage depends on habits. And changing habits is tough, no? For example, just because I have a lot of shirts doesn't quite mean that I am going to change shirts any more often than I do now.

So if discounts tempted me into buying more and if the rate of usage stays the same, a thing would serve me for a longer time. And since these days even perfectly 'good quality' products are also available on sale, they are likely to serve longer. To that extent my next purchases are pushed further in future.

This conclusion might not hold of course if my rate of discarding increases. But then, even that is a matter of habit. I suppose, Indians yet haven't cultivated that disposition of disposing things off any time sooner than they used to in earlier times.

Since the purchases are pushed further in future and brands continue to products on the expanded assembly lines, the likely result would be offer more discounts to lure the customers again.

In the shorter run, customers find value in buying quantities (coz of discounts), but since rate of usage changes rather slowly, there is a great likelihood that a lot of stuff goes waste or becomes outdated. A little common sense would bring them back to buying normal quantities, with or without discounts.

Brands' problems persist.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Discounts! Wow!

A couple of days back, I tweeted, "These days, people shop only when Discount is available. Discount has become the biggest brand." Some people seem to agree. In which case, there are huge implications.

I am quite intrigued by discounts. My interpretation of brands that go on discounts is this. Either the total supply in the category exceeds the demand. Or the particular brand's supply exceeds its demand in the market. Standard economics.

These are the possible layers of outcomes resulting from discounting. Layer-3 follows Layer-2 follows Layer-1.

All marketing happens to create perceptions which lead to the desired outcome, right? When discounts become a recurring and a quite-awaited feature of the brand, what can one say about the perceptions getting created?

If one looks at Layer-3, one theoretical possibility is "Image is intact" for both, brands making net loss as a result of the discounts and brands making net profit even after the discounts. Is there a hope that when a good number of sales happen and people really start liking the brand, they would start paying the 'normal' prices and forget the discounted prices? But is that a possibility in real? My judgment is that brand image takes a dip and people might not be willing to pay 'normal' prices once accustomed to paying at certain levels of prices.

Discounts are a downward spiral. What happens if the "image is hurt"? Since people would resist walking in, offer more discounts? And then?

If companies make a good Net Profit even after discounts then why discount at all? Reduce the prices across the board, so that customers are willing to walk in at any time of the year, if they like the brand.

I don't have hard numbers to substantiate the hypotheses or judgments in this post. Some numbers would help understand the phenomena better.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Red hot/cool Vivo Barefoot Shoes

Got my Vivo Barefoot pair a couple of days back. Have had a run and a couple of walks :) so far. Very very comfortable.

That grey shoe-like thing lying beside the shoes, is the inner-sock with a sole. This inner-sock makes the shoes 'puncture-resistant'. But the shoes can be worn without this also if one likes, especially in watery conditions I guess.


In this pic right above, I've worn socks as well. But they look sexy without the socks actually. My fascination with red continues. Head-turners surely :).

Live Ads

When I watched this TEDx video "Dance Your PhD" featuring John Bohannon & Black Label Movement, I was stunned.

Stunned by its impact and its simplicity. It absorbs the viewer. Not necessarily sure if the theories still becomes understandable right in the first go. But one just cannot deny its attention grabbing quality.

Would you pass by without watching such a performance for a few minutes?

Having worked on Brand Activation assignments for quite some time, it stuns me in that we never could think of something like this. Evidence to the effectiveness of such activation is for every one to see. Reality dance shows, song and dance in movies, advertisements, theatre, street theatre/play. Not in the sense of attaching a brand message to a theatrical or dance performance. But in the sense of actually acting or dancing out the message of the brand itself.

I call this kind of activation a 'Live Ad'. The memorability of such a Live Ad is undoubtable. I suppose, engagement is almost guaranteed. Of course, it needs a narrator/spokesperson of great ability.

The best part is it is a celebration of human form in motion. While it is choreographed, it isn't staged like an ad on television. It is felt in its immediacy and reality. It calls for great fitness on part of the performers, and therefore, most likely, the faces that lend themselves to the brand are going to be immaculate.

Any brand wanting to engage audience like this? We will make it possible. Write in to siddharthsoni at witvanwinkle dot com. Check as well.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

How much should customer service guys be paid?

Why not the same as paid to sales or marketing guys? I am talking about the guys on the shop-floor. The guys who carry 'Help' tags on their chest.

Marketing guys makes promises. The manner of making the promise or the promise itself captures the prospects' attention. But who fulfills those promises?

Let's say Mississippi Earrings advertises. So it makes a promise, implicit or explicit. When that advertisement pulls in prospects at the retail shop, who fulfills or tries to fulfill the promise? The person on the shop-floor. If this person behaves obnoxiously, all's gone.

It applies to hospitals too. After gathering attention, who fulfills a big part of the promise? Doctors? Ward-boys, nurses, helpers?

In an educational institute, who fulfills the promise? The ad that captures attention? Or the teachers in the class?

At Pantaloons? Ad or the shop-floor exec?

On most occasions, I see a massive difference between a typical marketing person and a shop-floor exec. Someone might say, "But there's a difference in quality/skills." True! In fact, people hired as shop-floor execs aren't necessarily the greatest talkers or thinkers or problem-solvers. And these are the people who fulfill a big part of the promise. So why hire people with such poor skills? (Standard argument, shortage of quality manpower!)

Having chatted with prospects online and stayed on the shop-floor at Mississippi, I reckon,  delivery on the promises carries equal weightage, if not more.

Assuming that similar guys are put in charge of marketing and customer service, who would get more? Why is there such a discrepancy between remunerations?

Guess, in the entire sequence of conducting business, capturing attention of prospects is the first activity. Then follows all other things. So, 'first' wins. But we've seen the tall claims and, so often, we've experienced the delivery against those claims.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Stark naked

There are times when realizations leave you stark naked. Ripped of not just your shield but your weapons and possessions and loved ones. Only words drop out of tongues. Only words linger around you. The best defense is to keep moving your body and dodge everything hurtled at you. Stop only when your body needs a little bit to eat to continue moving.

Too eager to sell?

Since the assembly line were set up quite a few years back and the greatest efficiency is when the assembly line keeps churning out stuff 24 hours a day, marketing men are also expected to work with greatest efficiency. As a result of which whatever gets loaded onto them to sell, they try conjuring up ideas to sell all that.

So an idea which was terrific and which initially helped sell a certain amount of stuff now comes under increasing pressure to sell more. So another idea gets added to the earlier genius-like idea, so that the two ideas combined start selling more.

Efficiency. Churn out more and more and more. Load. And explode. Either bend their backs or expand their tummies. Obesity and back problems are some of the most common problems among corporates, are they?

Social media has its origins in the desire to express and converse and create. Conversations flow in innumerable directions. Not just selling. Some brand marketers want to ring in the same message in response to every conversation and perhaps expect that every conversation converts into a sale. Sure, selling is their task. But selling is just one of the many conversations that can happen. You can't fill social media with just that kind of conversation. If you do, you become boring.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Adidas Adipure Trainer Barefoot Shoes

I checked this a few days back at the Adidas shop. I thought of them as 'barefoot running shoes' but they are promoted as 'training shoes'. Not sure what's the difference. They seem like you can run wearing them. You can find them online as well, here.

I would still suggest, if running is what you intend to do, go for Vivo.

Disclaimer: The author of this blog has no vested interests in either of the brands. :)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

50% Indians defecate in the open!

For this one reason alone, political parties should be voted out. Or perhaps, for this one reason alone, the 'right to reject' should be invoked.

And India's megapolis and financial capital, Mumbai, would put a lot of cities to shame when it comes to defecation in the open.

I am also sadly wondering, amidst everything - railway budget and this and that - this kind of information just goes unnoticed and untalked about.

Congratulations India!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Beyond SEO?

Since I've been trying to make people aware of for a while, I've come observe web-marketing efforts far more closely than I earlier used to.

I observe that SEO is touted as almost a magical strategy to get business online. Here's what the wikipedia entry on Search Engine Optimization has to say:
According to Google's CEO, Erick Schmidt, in 2010, Google made over 500 algorithm changes - almost 1.5 per day. It is considered wise business practice for website operators to liberate themselves from dependence on search engine traffic.
It goes on: has suggested that "search marketers, in a twist of irony, receive a very small share of their traffic from search engines." Instead, their main sources of traffic are links from other websites.
Now that doesn't mean SEO doesn't help. Great web-architecture and site-structure and the right words always help. But, if another observation that most (I understand this needs a good number) people do not go beyond the first 4-5 search results (at best, the first page) thrown by search engines, is true, then I wonder how all sites deploying search engine optimization will benefit!

In any given category, there are businesses in multiples of 10, if not hundred. Surely all of them can't feature on the first page. Even second page for that matter. So then?

People say 'link building'. So to get results in a hurry, some take it to the level of essay-spamming and perhaps even 'bribing' :).

I suppose link-building best happens through conversations. Not necessarily the kind deployed on FB by a PizzaHut for once. PizzaHut and big brands like that have ample money to make people aware of their presence online through mass-media and then translate that into some sort of conversation. No, SMEs don't quite have the resources to pull off a staged stunt like that.

I am talking about conversations of the kind that consumers get involved in. What do they do? They want information so they search in Google, visit the pages which seem relevant, read up and talk if necessary. For SMEs it could work like this... They want consumers so they search in Google, visit the pages where consumers have asked questions, answer them and lead them to their respective sites if necessary. If the conversation strikes the right notes, a lot more people might take notice and patronize the business.

What's needed to make these conversations interesting are not necessarily mass-media ads. But a sense of wit and timing and authenticity. Link-building will happen not just among websites and not just with URLs, but also between the business-representative and the consumer.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

If local trains are Mumbai's lifeline...

there should be more of them, right? Many many more of them, I suppose. Instead, what do we find?

The attempt to build wide wide roads. And then when wide wide roads get choked, build bridges. And then when wide wide roads and bridges together get choked?

Yesterday, for a change, I decided to travel by the local trains. I calculated that the space that a car which might typically carry 2 guys on an average occupies train-space which can carry nothing less than 12 people and, that too, very comfortably. And yet, what does the government do? Nothing. So around 20-25 odd people squeeze in that space which a car carrying 2 typically occupies. Rationally and economically, it boggles me.

It's incredible, how a thing so so so darn obvious isn't adopted and people in general are treated like fish. Those travelling in cars are no better. Ask them. Travelling isn't fun for them either. The roads are cramped. Just cramped. But one thing is, they don't get to bear the inhumanity of travelling by locals. They have some space in which they can sprawl!

Adopting cars as a way of life isn't just a problem on the roads. Buildings - residential and commercial both - require parking spaces. It is not so difficult to imagine what could be the alternative uses of such spaces. Children can play, adults can work out and in general the city can be much more open and visually beautiful. Commuting wouldn't take as much time. And if there are more bicycles, surely there are likely to be fitter bodies all around.

Don't give me economics and mathematics. Nope, this doesn't cut. To my mind, economics is only extending the cash-flow cycle. What's received in huge salaries is only going into maintaining bigger cars and bigger health checks and remedies, and bigger expenses to keep ourselves entertained since space-driven and fitness driven entertainment options are dying.

Barefoot Running Shoes in India (Post # 3)

I wrote a couple of posts earlier on Barefoot Shoes (Post # 1 & Post # 2). I wrote also that Vivo Barefoot shoes are now available in India.

A few days back I tried Vivo Barefoot shoes at SportXS. This is the one I really liked and might buy some time soon.

But what's wrong with my current pair of shoes, the Vibram's Five Fingers? Well, nothing really. Enjoying running in them. But I have to wash them very frequently. Almost after every second run. The thing is I sweat a lot and since, I can't quite wear socks in them, they start stinking very quickly.

In this Vivo model, one can wear socks as well. Very airy. Very comfortable. And though not as eye-grabbing as Vibram's Five Fingers, but fairly bright and attractive.

Even as I talk about shoes, the point is they are not really the shoes that make us run well. An obvious point this but often lost on us in our 'buying' driven frenzy. They are not the shoes, it's the running style. The technique. The form. This fabulous article talks more about form and technique and even about the shoes. If the form is not right, no shoe might help. But yes barefoot shoes force a runner into paying attention to the technique and therefore, improve it, resulting in lesser chances of injuries in general.

That said, the typical cushioned and marketed running shoes are definitely not appropriate. Time for you to consider if you are into running or developing a habit of 'running'.

Vivo Barefoot are still not available at a lot of places in India. If you've got the heart to buy shoes without trying them on, this is the place.

And btw, there are white ones too. Awesome!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

How to follow all "How to..." Strategies

Am observing a little phenomenon within myself.

Forget reading, when in a bookshop and browsing am ignoring (in fact, not picking) most books titled "How to...". Mind you, I've read quite a few of them in the past.

Since am reading a lot of blogs, I don't read stuff titled "10 strategies to...." or "101 ways how to...".

I've also started ignoring advices that begin with "This is how you...". Not all the time, but very often. Enough of listening to teachers, gurus, experts, heads, bosses, parents about "How to...". Almost makes me immobile. My memory's got limits.

The point isn't that we shouldn't know "How to...". The point is how people always keep using words to tell you "How to...". I also sometimes do the same; I tell people "How to...". Like this post. I hate it when I start doing it too often. There are limits to memory. And most often, memory builds through behavior. Through the actual doing of it. You can't first try to memorize all the things and then do them in the "How to..." steps.

More often than not it goes like this. Do. Face trouble. Find out "why". Find out "how". Do. Check. Find more.

My point is, don't just tell "How to...". Also show "How to...". And engage me when you demonstrate "How to...".

When people are interested in only telling me "How to...", sometimes I just go ahead and do it.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Breaking the Clutter Online Through Advertisements: A Perspective

The TV Screen, The Laptop/Desktop/Tablet screen, The Mobile Screen: the three prominent screens in our day-to-day lives. And marketers/advertisers have been, and are still, vying somehow to occupy space on all the three screens. While the TV screen was fairly well-captured long back, the confidence on other two screens is at best shaky.

How was the TV screen captured? You watching some drama, some action and snap... Bang. There's a new jingly wall in front. Yes, the one view was completely obliterated to show you another. All space gone in one go. Typical interruption strategy. After the ad's done, there's drama and action again. Action-Ad-Action-Ad. It's sequential.

So what's happening on the Laptop screen? There's some spot there, some spot here. The page remains for perusal, but some space is allotted to advertisements. Which means the content-for-perusal and the ad-for-interruption show up in close vicinity and at the same time. Advertising on Web Screen is largely space-sharing, unlike on television where it is largely sequential (one-after-another).

If researches on usability and eye-scanning-on-the-web are to go by, people develop blind spots when they become familiar with the web-page in question. It means certain spaces just don't register any more. Very similar phenomenon to your behavior in places that you are very familiar with. No matter how many obstructions or projections come in your way, after a while, your movement becomes smooth enough to dodge them.

This gives rise to an inference: if page-designs (especially layouts) remain the same/are standardized, ad-spots will typically become blind spots. Bling spots are always reserved for content, in whatever form. Whether marketers know this or not, that's the reason there is so much emphasis on engagement (or conversation). And engagement would only happen through content spots.

TV Screen erects ad-walls but Laptop/Web Screen cannot.

TV Screen uses dramatic breaks during dramas to drill into the consumer's heads, Web Screen allows great conversations to be soaked up by consumer's senses.

So what do ya got to talk about? Who's doing the talking? Does he know how to talk?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Three cocky men, one cocky conversation

Ana: Clado? Look, modern-age Tarzans!
Clado: Tarzan would eat that creature up!
Ana: How gastronomic!
Clado: Hey, seriously, what about the target audience for this one? The guys seem to be talking to each other and having fun in this Tarzan-like avatar. Chuckles
Ana: Gaaaaays!!!
Clado: Laughs out loud. Hmmmm, possible.
Few seconds later...
Clado: I suppose typically women buy inners for men, no?
Ana: Hmmm...
Clado: Btw, these guys have become stars... Six-packs, beefy arms, shapely legs! Look so cockeasy!
Ana: What! Cockeasy?!?! No Nooooo!.... Cockstars?!
Clado: Laughs out loud
Ana: Mmmmm... Cockkkkk... roaches sounds better!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Spelling trouble for corporates and marketers...

If more people started buying books as impulse purchases. Especially when the book's title is something like The Case for Working with Your Hands, Or, Why Office Work Is Bad for Us and Fixing Things Feels Good written by Matthew Crawford :)

In case, you are slightly lazy to check out what the book is about, am sharing a couple of excerpts from the book's preface. Read. That is also the spirit/reason with which I started Mississippi Earrings ( The entire shop, one can say, has been created and crafted with our own minds and hands. Of course, a lot of people pitched in the process. Anyway, here's the stuff. You might want to read...

Part # 2 now... (don't mind that the image is protruding out of the frame. The point is to share and ask you to go through in spite of an eye-sore :) )

A few days back, couple of friends from EDI shared their thought of starting a chain of bike-servicing outlets. I think the idea is great but what they need to do (and anyone who has such an idea) is learn to service a bike themselves, in and out. Then the game will be simpler and much more rewarding and satisfying.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

God's Eye View of Traffic

Just the other day, I wrote Oiler Spoiler. And now you see this in the newspaper ;). Terrific!

A well arranged ad! People buy it wholeheartedly.