Sunday 27 September 2015

What the Dog Saw - The Big Picture

I'm sure you're wondering what kind of a title this is - unless you're very familiar with the works of Malcolm Gladwell. This is one of his lesser known books (less only in comparison to Outliers and Blink) and it's a collection of articles Gladwell wrote for the NY Times. I just finished reading this one, and I think I need to get back to that phase where I keep the Big Picture from most of the books I read. Needless to say, this write-up is really for me :)

I'm going to be doing this article by article, so patience will be a virtue - both for the writer and the reader. And given that this is going to be a long affair - the post will come in pieces, or updates. I'll decide later.

1. The Pitchman: As the title suggests, this is about the art of selling - pitching a product to a client in a manner so convincing that the audience feels compelled to buy it. Do remember that this is an old article and we're talking about the time when people used to sell stuff through TV and these are more than just advertisements.

These are demonstrations and we still have some of these shows late at night where you call up the channel and place the order after watching the TV show. It's basically like direct-selling. But instead of going door-to-door, you go on to the TV and demonstrate. It's about making the product your star, and frankly some of the advertisements can learn from it. Instead of trying to make an ad about a celebrity, the marketing moolah may well be spent on making the ad about the usefulness of the product.

And these are not just people who are endorsing a product for money. They are aware of the product they're selling - in some cases they themselves have a huge hand in inventing them. A modern day version of this is Steve Jobs doing a keynote address to sell the first iPhone when it was launched.

2. The Ketchup Conundrum: This one is about how nobody had been able to beat Heinz at the ketchup business and how some people, who were inspired by the success of an usurper in the mustard sauce business, tried - but failed. It also talks about how Campbell came up with several different varieties of spaghetti sauce. His methods remind me a lot of the several market research techniques taught to us at ISB (No this one's not a brag) - where you collect enormous amounts of data based on the prototypes created. And you create the prototypes based on every conceivable difference you can think of.

According to me, the hard part is not collecting the data, but making sense of that data. The inference is there for only those who can see it and that requires understanding the consumers and their preferences really well . Another thing that struck me here was the fact that while trying to collect the data these researchers did not fall prey to what is the "too many options" syndrome. (I of course don't remember the technical name - this was a part of the Consumer Behavior course). They gave only 5-6 varieties to each person as opposed to asking each person to taste every variety. Even though it sounds like the ineffective way of doing math, the law of averages over a large sample size tells us that we won't be too far off the mark if we adopt this technique.

Of course, the problem we have today is not that of 'too few', it is that of 'too many'. A lot of brands need to step back and look at the range of products on offer. Revenue is a good measure of figuring out what sells and what doesn't. In fact, there was a brand mentioned as one which trimmed down its segments obliterating the non-performing ones. (I don't remember the brand - but I think it was some detergent.. Ariel?) Too many companies forget to do this, and drag the profit-eating products along for far too long.

3. Blowing Up: To me, this article screams "risk-taking". This is about investments and finance, not my strongest suit, but I am going to try.

The traders very often get into this business for some quick bucks. This is exactly like gambling. If you burn your hand early in the process, you are likely to be very wary and may not really return. However, once you taste success, your appetite for risk just grows - till one day it blows up in your face. It may not be something you can anticipate, it may even be something your wildest dreams can't dream of. But it can happen, and saving for the difficult times is what most of us are taught to do.

News however is not created by the slow and steady, that comes from "overnight" successes and failures. And it takes a mighty lot of discipline and self-control to ignore the famous and the instant rich and plod on at the pace you're comfortable with. Some people are okay with gaining a lot and losing everything, to get back on their feet and repeat the cycle. A lot of others are devastated, and this also stems from personal experiences.

Whether you've lived a life where you have squandered all you had, or whether you value all you have too greatly broadly decides your risk appetite. Of course discipline and self-control are attitudes you can learn but there is probably a starting point - hence what you've experienced determines which path you're going to take.

4. True Colors: This is about the war between two products and two companies - hair color products from Clairol and L'Oreal, and the two women responsible for creating the images of these two brands. Clairol was for the woman next door - a perfect superwoman housewife taking care of her family and her house and hosting parties for their friends, or a girl who wants a guy to whisk her off to her honeymoon. Whereas L'Oreal was about rebellion- about being the woman in a man's world. And their tag line - Because I'm worth it reinforced it in every possible way. Of course, the associations tend to change over time primarily because you realise that the consumer segments which are attracted to the two products could be significantly different and this does stem from the initial brand recognition created. Makeover of a brand is probably one of the toughest jobs because this is sticky, especially if it is well publicized.

This also brings out another interesting point I have often pondered over. Most people don't realise this, maybe because they are too used to, to it or maybe they don't think the way I do. But the portrayal of women in advertisements and even TV series is a great reminder of what the society thinks about them. I am talking about women because that is what I am talking about right now. And especially in the Indian context this is irksome to no end. The cause and effect is a vicious catch 22 situation - the TV serials claim that they show what exists and I claim that what they show starts affecting thoughts and opinions of those who are still at the stage of building one. Not an attractive prospect at all.. in fact it is not even limited to the Indian context. Take TV series like Mad Men and That 70s Show - it is an appalling experience to see how little the society thinks of women.

This one also again reinforces some more lessons from Consumer Behavior - marketeers are constantly looking for ways which make their consumers tick, things which people recognize with a certain product and its attributes - the name of the product, the packaging right from the size down to the color to the font of the label.

To be contd...

Saturday 26 September 2015

The Week ends

Almost three years since I wielded a pen on this paper. And yet the problem of today is the same as the one then- what to do on weekends.

Weekdays are normal- you commute and you work and you have fun in office (yes), you converse with neighbours and you seek advice from managers, sometimes you meet very interesting colleagues and you talk about the mundane. But what do you do on weekends? It's not even so much about the company as it is about 'where' to go, and so far as I see- it's not a problem unique to any city. You have pubs and you have eating joints, you have malls and you have the bazaars. But that's about it! I'm still trying to figure out what do normal people do- sleep, rest and brace themselves for the week ahead? Read and surf the internet and stay at home? Catch up with friends' circles in the pubs and eating joints mentioned above? Binge watch favorite TV shows? Or all of the above?

None of these seem like a path to growth though...

Update- Sorry.. Forgot the pic credits. The 25-year-old-me (OMG) with an MBA (Now I'm just bragging) understands stuff like copyright a lot better.

I found it here.