Friday, November 18, 2011



‘Slut Walk’ or ‘Pink Chadhi’ may or may not be the movements she wants to be associated with. But dandy and candy, cutesy and polished are certainly the adjectives the lady would like to reserve for the Omega man, not for herself. O.K. So men donning orange jackets or pink waistcoats may still not be found in India; yet the Über woman certainly thinks that the new age man must loosen up so that he can whip up an Espresso while she enjoys a post coital fag. Mythologically, Sita (Lord Ram’s wife) was an ideal woman – a chaste, uncomplaining, self-sacrificing shadow of her husband. But this year, The Ramayana at Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra and at Akshara Theatre caricatured her as the modern Indian woman. At Kala Kendra, she is an empowered woman with an identity of her own, while at Akshara, Ram and Sita were presented as two independent individuals and equals. Sita was no more presented as a victim or a meek character; rather, she is a strong woman who makes her own decisions and choices. And in the end, it is not Sita alone who descends into the earth – as in the original version; instead, both husband and wife merge to become a single entity. In the Bollywood flick Break Ke Baad, Deepika Padukone is a wild child knocking down drinks, puffing away, and refusing to be tied down in a conventional relationship. In Kartik Calling Kartik she makes the first move on Farhan Akhtar. A drunken Katrina Kaif is a beedi-smoking-hell-raiser, yet she is a ‘wild-but-nice’ girl in Mere Brother Ki Dulhan. A decade ago, such women would be portrayed as one with suspect morals. Today, such roles are supposed to reflect the boldness of the fairer sex and the gender equality in society.

Le Meriedian hosts an exclusive women’s whisky (not wine) club with a membership of sixty corporate honchos, entrepreneurs, artists, diplomats et al. The spirits companies are now reaching out to women who are charismatic, stylish, confident, assertive and independent. Welcome to the constellation where Mars and Venus are exchanging places, a world of Über Women, Omega Men. In this, admittedly niche, world gender equations are melting, merging, and are being rewritten. Though a predominantly urban (SEC A1) trend, now there exists an Über woman, assertive, tougher, and worldly wise. She is neither emotionally vulnerable, nor is she submissive. Rather, she is self-driven, selfcentred, domineering, knows her mind – be it in food, fashion, or fantasies of sex. More importantly, she has both money and motive to fill the coffers of the attentive marketers.

So Debenhams, the men centric department store has now transformed itself into a women-focussed one by skewing the merchandise in their favour. At Shopper’s Stop, while the same store sales are growing at 9% overall, the women’s category is growing at 25%. Three years ago, in total, the chain had three counters each of Estee Lauder, Mac, and Clinique. Today, the count has swelled to 30 for each brand.

Even malls are moving along the same path. One of New Delhi’s most-known and upmarket malls – Select City Walk Mall (Saket, New Delhi) consciously decided to target lady shoppers. To that effect, the mall’s promoters courted ethnic stores like Zardozi, Kalpana and Fab India, even as they signed-up global brands like Espirit, Mango and French Connection, among others. Today, almost 75% of the mall’s merchandise is women centric and 60% of Select Citywalk’s footfalls is accounted for by women. And why not? Today, there are about 10 million urban women in the age group 20 to 40 years, holding managerial jobs. And this number is expected to balloon to 50 million by 2020! These women spend 35% more on themselves than traditional home makers. Though not all, a significant proportion of this cluster would be those ‘who wear the pants in their household’ – those who dominate over the Omega Man. These are the women who make their own choices, are anything but sub-servient, are not constricted by their biological clocks, and unashamed of their libido. This lady is not afraid to be useless in the kitchen and retains the freedom to even reject motherhood. She is not a rebel; it is only that she makes her own choices.

The beginning of this trend can possibly be traced back to a redefinition of her priorities and financial independence. Morning-after pill on one hand and platinum credit card on the other have liberated her. She has become indulgent, and doesn’t mind splurging on herself. She pays by a credit card and buys from speciality retailers. She spends heavily on healthcare (supplements, stress, relievers, fertility control products), personal care (skincare products, beauty enhancers), eating-out (Risoto, Sushi and falafal), accessories (Clark shoes, Da Milano bags, and Longines watches), jewellery (diamond studded platinum pieces), financial products (fixed deposits, mutual funds), travel (all women trips), or whatever money can buy. Purchases have to be both branded and premium even if not luxe. She is qualified with a professional degree – in management, fashion, interiors, or even finance – under her belt. The household she belongs to is possibly DINK or DISK, since she decides about motherhood/parenthood. In any case, kids are no more mamma’s responsibility alone; the man of the house must find time for children too.

There was an Airtel ad in which the guy had organised a party while his wife was away. A big dirty stain on the tablecloth results. And who shows him how to remove it? His friend. Society Tea and Double Diamond ads had husbands trying to impress the wife with perfectly brewed tea, when she returns home, knackered from work. No more a depiction of fantasy for the crossover woman; this is how she wants her man to be. This woman mainly sees herself in the role of a manager, mediator, mate, and myself, me, and I. In the last role she can be portrayed in 5 unique ways (as shown in the table titled, ‘Needs of modern women’) in marketing communication, in order that she becomes a buyer.

Yin & yang qualities are being shaken up, yes. Still perhaps, even the society does not want that men stop taking the initiative to hold a woman’s hand in love. So essentially this ‘couldn’t-care-less’ avatar of the Indian woman is actually an auto-protection mode for a limited segment of the society. Notwithstanding, it has a great marketing potential, since this segment controls a disproportionately large percentage of purchasing power and believes in spending it. Only imperative is to understand them and their needs and motives.


Friday, October 21, 2011



On August 10, 2011 Apple became the most valuable company in the world with stock price at $364. If you had invested in Apple IPO in 1980, this would have fetched you a return of 13,300%. In fact, by this date more than 314 million iPods, 129 million iPhones, and 29 million iPads had been sold. The latest version iPhone 4S had 4 million confirmed buyers during the weekend of October 16, 2011; the number is rising every hour. All this because of the efforts (atleast visibly) of one man army – late Steve Jobs. Uber-secretive he built his devices without screws so that what was inside would remain unknown. He had the uncanny ability to ‘blend foresight, fashion, form, and function’ which he used to revolutionise music, mobile, communication, telephony, retailing, and of course computing. But more than that he transformed the way people used technology.

He, of course, had his share of ‘lemons’ in Apple III (1981, unreliable hardware), Lisa (1983, at $9995 too expensive), NeXT (1989, ahead of its time and prohibitively unaffordable), Puck Mouse (1998, would disappear in the palm), The Cube (2000, designer PC which flopped again due to price factor), iTunes Phone (2005, which could hold only 100 songs), and Apple TV (2007, half hearted effort born out of ‘hobby’). But against these duds there were revolutionary products that deified Jobs: Macintosh (1984, GUI and cheaper yet faster than LISA), NeXT (1989, even after failure its software provided the basis for today’s Macintosh and iPhone OS), iMac (1998, strikingly designed, easy to operate home computer), iPod (2001, first successful digital music player with a hard drive), iTunes Stores (2003, made buying digital music easy and cheap to access), iPhone (2007, foolproof mobile), and iPad (2010, most advanced tablet).

But, wait a minute! This piece is not about his regular creation of products that would disrupt many markets and marketers. For, every one knows how the Apple I and II forced IBM to enter the PC market,how iPod has almost killed the MP3 players and the personal stereo system, or how the iPhone has disrupted the smartphone market. It also does not wish to tell you that Jobs had a great propensity to take other people’s concepts, improve upon them, and spin them into wildly successful products. Remember Apple never invented computers, digital music players, or smartphones. It reinvented them for people who did not want to learn computer programming or negotiate the technical hassles of keeping their gadgets working. Reams have been written about Jobs’ incessant effort to delight customers by bringing to them the products that ‘they did not know they needed’. However, we have a different agenda, that of pointing at the Achilles Heel in the armoury of Apple Inc.

Apple, after all is not a particularly good innovator. Instead, it relies on design, functionality, and branding to charge huge markups for its products. It was the passion and patience, until he would get it right, of Steve Jobs that would motivate him to pursue an idea and commercialise it through a wildly successful product. But what about Apple of the post Steve generation? Even if millions have booked iPhone 4S over the weekend, by their own admission these people are buying the Jesus Phone because it is the last thing designed by the late ‘Michelangelo of the digital era’. Earlier Apple was known for maverick engineering. But the latest launch has invited mixed review. According to the detractor tech geeks it was a disappointment; it has blown open the doors for the competitors to come charging in. Besides, the launch presentation itself lacked all the aura, drama, and hype that one used to witness when Steve Jobs would orchestrate the launch. People now have many other options to park their money, to get more bang for the buck. Sea Ray from Nokia, Xperia Arc S from Sony Ericsson, Wave 3 and Nexus Prime from Samsung, Titan from HTC and many others from Motorola, Blackberry, LG etc. are likely to offer formidable rivalry to the incremental upgrade from Apple. At least until the release of iPhone 5.

Apple is what it is today because it marries cutting edge hardware and software to provide the user an experience he has not had before. However, this walled garden approach might prove to be its nemesis. Apple is applying its might to make the company experience of its users less free, more locked down, and more tightly regulated than ever before. All of Apple’s iDevices use operating systems that deny the user access to their workings. In an industry where innovation is commoditised, locking consumers into proprietary platform is not a good idea. Open source yields technological improvements on a scale no individual company can hope to match. Computer and cellphone makers have mostly burnt their fingers with home grown  software. Costs of keeping up with Android for mobiles and tablets can be prohibitive. No matter how brilliant marketing is, the iPhones & iPads will always be under intense pressure from the likes of Micromax (makers of iPhone lookalike) and Akaash (tablet at Rs.3,000).

Then, by Apple’s own admission, it has never proactively chased customers worldwide. It is only committed to employees, partners, and customers who spread the gospel about its products. But that still does not explain the almost malignant apathy of the company towards the Indian market, the world’s second largest for mobiles, having 600 million plus active subscribers. Apple, the world’s largest smartphone maker, has failed to capture a significant share out of this booty. The market for smartphones in India is forecast to grow at 68% per year, reaching 81.5 million units, by 2015. Nokia and RIM far outnumber Apple here. Apple shipped only 21,150 iPads to India during April-June 2011 (0.2% of its global shipments). iPhone accounted for barely 2.6% of India’s smartphone shipments in the same quarter. So, whereas Apple App Store has 5 lakh plus applications available for downloading, and Blackberry barely 36,781 (as on June 30, 2011), still RIM has won hands down because it got the right product, the right app for its target customer, and the right timing. Nokia commands 46% marketshare, Samsung 21% and RIM 15%. RIM’s BBM (instant messaging service) is popular because it was one of the first, and it functions well on networks a generation behind the speeds offered in the US and Europe. Apple has lost out partly because it thrives on 3G network which has very limited footprint in India. But there are other reasons aplenty.

In a highly price sensitive Indian market an iPhone 4 costs $705; the same handset is priced at a mere $199 in the US. Any amount of marketing chutzpah can’t face the onslaught of price warriors, especially in India, a market which incidentally also represents the new frontier of digital world. RIM entered India in 2004 and now wishes to expand its distribution to 80 cities from 15 in 2010. Nokia already has more than 200,000 outlets in India and offers 13 smartphones models. But consumers cannot buy Apple products from company stores (in fact, there are no Apple stores in India, only licensed resellers) or even its website.

Finally, Apple is known more as a retailer than an institutional seller. In the US between October 2009 and September 2010 it sold only $50.8 million worth of products to the US Federal Government out of a total reported sale of $65.2 billion. This partly stems from a fundamental mismatch in orientation. Apple revolutionised the markets it operates in by designing products people ‘did not know they need’. But government purchasing always starts with issuing detailed description of products it wishes to buy. Whatever, the fact remains that in India the government is a major buyer of all the technological products. No company can ignore it if it wants to do big numbers.

While Jobs’ creative genius has protected the company all these years, now when his legacy has began to wane, Apple will have to contend with sobering realities of a new marketplace which is swarming with hungry wolves and sharks out to attack a vulnerable soul.

Apple has learnt no lessons from the failure of iPhone 3 in India. It is high time it reviews its marketing strategy for the world’s second largest market.


Friday, September 23, 2011



Despite being known as a highly professional company offering very challenging work environment, an MNC (name being withheld) failed to attract top notch talent from B-schools. Research told the company that it was telling its prospective recruits what they already knew, thereby adding no value through communication. Besides, these freshly minted MBAs wanted moderate challenge, not the ‘fear factor kind’ of environment at the workplace. Tang kept on insisting in India that it was orange juice to be had on breakfast table, as in US. Instead it should have perhaps tested the hypothesis whether the brand would find acceptance on any other occasion, given that Indians don’t drink juice at breakfast table. A third company wanted to find out which flavour should it choose to lace its new introduction of glucose powder with – grape, pineapple, orange, or mango. This despite the common knowledge that in India the most acceptable flavours are mango and orange. Real was also introduced the western way – unsweetened. But research made Dabur realise that market preferred it sweet. Yet when Tropicana arrived in India it came in with sugarless juices.

Strategy formulation and execution without the benefit of consumer insights is as sensible as running on a minefield blindfolded. At times these might be intuitively obvious to the marketer. A tremendously successful cigarette brand – Charms – was introduced without any research input. Or, at other times while research may provide counter indications, a marketer, through sheer perseverance, may still make a success of a brand. Pre-launch survey for Sintex water tanks had warned against such a launch. So a manager should avoid making the business problem a slave of the research. But, equally he should avoid working on the strength of a mere hunch.


When R. Mohan thought of introducing Good Knight repellant mats (in 1984) the market was using coils followed by creams and sprays, with coils commanding 70% market share. Mohan wanted to introduce an electronic mosquito repellant,including the electrical mosquito destroyer (EMD) and the chemically impregnated mats. Focus groups were conducted among both non-users and users of repellents. The aim was to know about principal and peripheral motives behind the use, knowledge about the product, and the level of satisfaction enjoyed.

It was discovered that the basic reason to use the repellant was to enjoy peaceful sleep. Knowledge about electronic repellents was virtually missing, and those who knew disapproved of their high price and fluctuating quality. Families with children were frequent users of coils and creams, and they were reasonably satisfied. While users of mats disliked cream due to its perceived harmful effect on skin, cream users avoided mats since they emitted harmful gases. Pricewise, at Rs.5-10 both were affordable, easily available too. Briefly put no major dissatisfaction. Undeterred, Mohan decided to launch his high priced contraption through premium positioning. The product was targeted at dissatisfied cream and coil using parents with young kids. Communication aimed at selling generic product concept & induce trial by projecting a modern image, and ease of use. The rest, as they say, is history.

Learning: At times research about not whether but how the concept will work. Not decision making about strategy, but decision support system is provided by marketing research.


One of the top three multinational nonformal shoe marketer came to India, salivating over teeming millions as potential buyers. Logic deployed was simplistic, albeit daft: Everyone who could buy a Maruti was capable of buying the shoe brand. Logic so far was uncontestable. But how can you forget the simple lesson of Economics 101: What ‘could’ be purchased is not necessarily what ‘would’ be purchased. Need plus ability plus motivation plus opportunity combined together generate demand for a product. Another MNC, this time a contact lens maker, had gathered some data from published reports and estimated that the market had a size of 2,00,000. Indian middle class was spending huge amounts on branded clothing, fashion accessories, grooming products and so on. Besides, every unmarried, spectacled woman between age 18-26 was looking for alternative to spectacles (not true) since Indian men did not want girls with glasses (even if true). It refused to accept the researched size of the market, between 75,000-78,000. A third marketer, in face of declining sales for his product, had concluded that flat sales were due to the tactical price cut by the competitor. The brand manager wanted the research to answer: One, should he cut prices; two, should the cut be even lower than that of the competitor? The agency being wiser than the client found out that consumers were not price sensitive anyway, and only one third market had even noticed the Rs.2 price differential between the client and the competitors’ brands. So it tested other hypothesis. It found that penetration of the competitor was now deeper by 500 more outlets and it was paying better margins to the retailers. Hence, bigger sales.

Learning: Preconceived notions yield wrong hypotheses and faulty hypotheses do not deliver correct findings.


When Gillette introduced shaving gel in aerosol cans, where it could be sprayed directly on the face, it failed to find many Indian users. Research revealed that in India users associate shaving very strongly with brush and foam; they were uneasy about using gel directly. The company introduced a gel tube whereby the shaver puts gel drop on a brush and works up the lather. Cadbury found that with a positioning of Cadbury as a gift to a child on special occasions, and with 70% marketshare, the sales were stagnant. The parent would be the buyer but never consumer. The company repositioned the bar: eating chocolate is an everyday affair, and for adults; the sales shot up. Research surveys and retail feedback repeatedly pointed out that Barbie appealed to only those inclined westward. The company decided to launch ‘Barbie in India,’ a dark haired variant drapped in a saree, sporting a bindi. It worked.

Learning: To the extent possible, listen to the consumer & fine-tune your Ps of marketing. Give Real to those with a sweat palate and Activ, Zero sugar range, to diabetics. Both should work.


All over the world, Lifebuoy was sold on the body odour platform. Unilever (now HUL) wanted to deploy the same positioning here too. Lintas, their agency, did a dipstick and found that in India body odour was not perceived to be a problem. Lever pointed out that it was not perceived to be a problem in West either – until Lifebuoy campaign made people conscious about it. Lintas, unconvinced, pointed out that in West people lived in close spaces, not necessarily bathing everyday. In India people use open spaces and bathing is a daily ritual. So ultimately the platform chosen was Lifebuoy hai jahan, tandaroosti hai wahan (where there is Lifebuoy, health is assured). Today, while in West Lifebuoy sells no more, in India, volumewise, it is the largest selling soap brand. Hindustan Lever had initially rejected the Lalitaji Campaign for Surf. It was the agency again which wagered a bet and sought permission to go ahead with the campaign to counter the declining sales. Sony Corporation is on record saying that it does not make sense to talk to consumers anyway, because they don’t know. No pre-launch research was ever done before the introduction of ipod, iPad, or iPhone. But before you jump to the conclusion as to why then spend money on research, remember that the list of failed products from Steve Jobs is longer than the ones that worked. And Sony is losing its status of being an innovative company to Samsung which retains its faith in research.

Thus, intuition cannot replace research either.


Friday, September 2, 2011


A while ago as I ventured to select junior managers for a North India based conglomerate, I decided to put the hopefuls through a different grind: I quizzed them about successful brands in various product categories like bathing soaps, detergents, candies, soft drinks, etc. Sure enough this proved to be an easy one for them. They named the brands pronto, most of them being from the stables of an MNC. I followed it up by asking them about cash cows in the same category, but this time from an Indian company. To my consternation, though admittedly not surprise, many demurred this time. Ghadi detergent, Hajmola candy, Godrej No.1 were entities they were acquainted with but were clueless about how these brands were proving to be formidable foes to their MNC rivals.

Most B-School graduates have to work in Indian markets which have their unique DNA, team up with Indian counterparts who have a typical work culture, raise money from the Indian financial system which is highly unorganised, and practice production and logistics management even when supply chain management is an alien concept. The importance of the kirana store in the retailing business, existence of caste-based groups in factories, highly fragmented financial and capital market, impossibility of adopting JIT practices for inventory keeping, etc. are some facts that an Indian manager has to grapple with. Herein lies the significance of case studies steeped in knowledge about business as conducted in India.

How can pickles be marketed; what is work-life balance in the Indian context; why do incidents like Bhatta-Parsaul, Nandigram and Singur happen; why is Anna a brand in his own right? The answer to these and other similar questions are not available in cases drawn from Harvard, Wharton, or other Ivy League B-Schools across the globe.

While it may be interesting to learn how Hollywood studios are marketing a Spiderman or an Avatar, it will be more instructive and gainful to analyse how a certain Vishesh Films has been able to crack the consumer code and deliver 18 hits out of the 25 movies that it has released. Or, despite having small-sized farms, why peasants in India generally favour to purchase a 50 HP tractor, making mincemeat of the mythical ‘rational buyer’!

It is certainly not our case to claim that by arriving at classroom solutions to a myriad number of cases a management wannabe can hit the ground running, or he/she can replicate the real-life working on, say, Project Shakti. But learning about the success of the Scorpio and the failure of the Nano enables him/her to grasp the context better than if he/she solves a case on the Prius or the Mustang. The purpose of coming out with this publication, therefore, is twofold. Knowledge being a ‘merit good’ (invoking Economics 101, if you allow us!) we, the editorial team, have decided to put case studies developed by IIPM faculty members into the public domain so as to make them accessible to all managers, practicing and aspiring. All these cases will be the narration of stories as they unfolded in real Indian companies and institutions. A subsidiary aim, of course, is that we would like IIPM to be known as a knowledge creator and not merely a knowledge disseminator, especially when it can claim the unique distinction of being hyperactive in teaching, research, consultancy, training, and publishing.

Ciao for now.


Friday, August 26, 2011



“I present the spinning wheel on which depends India’s economic salvation,” wrote Mahatma Gandhi in Young India in 1920. More than three quarter of a century later, in 2001, Vasundhara Raje, the then Minister for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) submitted, “Khadi has fallen to disrepair. It has to be repackaged, upgraded, and cleaned up.” Khadi, which symbolised self-reliance and emancipation during the freedom struggle, has indeed lost its sheen over the years.

Khadi – the essentially handspun and handwoven fabric – first caught the imagination of the nation during the struggle for Independence when Mahatma propagated it as just not a fabric but a way of life, the self reliant way. Gandhiji talked of the khadi spirit encompassing simplicity, fellow feeling, and promotion of all things Indian so as to unshackle the country from British domination. Spinning yarn on the charkha (loom), Mahatma believed, inculcated discipline and dedication. And while khadi was meant to be fabric for masses by masses, according to him, it was also meant to be a great social equalizer, since it could sit well on the shoulders of the poor as, equally adroitly, it can drape the bodies of the richest and the most sophisticated men and women. However, over time, partly under the onslaught of mill made fabric and partly due to unglamorous image coupled with poor marketing, the freedom fabric has lost its mojo. In popular culture, khadi has come to be synonymous with politicians; and to a lesser extent, with journalists.


Khadi forms 1.5% of national textile production of around 15,000 million square metres. According to fashion designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee, use of khadi could be one of the ways for Indian designers to distinguish themselves and thwart the invasion of global brands. He has dressed up Aishwarya Rai (in Ravana and Gujaarish) and Vidya Balan (Paa) in the luxurious fabric that needs to be restored and preserved. For him, khadi is refined, sophisticated, individualistic, eco friendly & sustainable. But, the Indian buyer suffers from the gloss syndrome. Anything that is dull or matte is not easily appreciated. When Sabyasachi introduced bridal wear in khadi, it failed to take off. He tried to convince the upper crust that khadi is a sophisticated fabric with a quiet dignity attached to it, which is absent in mill-made products, the glitterati still declined to pay heed. Yet, a change of mindset should always be possible through an appropriate marketing programme.

Presently khadi lacks aspirational value. It is still regarded as a poor man’s fabric. Fashion diffusion generally takes place either through trickle down or trickle up. Trickle up for khadi is difficult, given its existing image. The best way then would be to follow the alternative approach.

The classically rich aspire to be like royalty. Royalty means culture. Those who have new money drip diamonds and buy big international/local brands; but they also aspire for culture. Khadi is in a unique position to be able to lend culture to both these classes. The rich woman may already own everything. By offering her ensemble in khadi she is provided a point of view. The contemporary woman in khadi is self assured, educated, and cultured in need for self expression, and not to prove a point. She is the one to be targeted. Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) can hardly be expected to rise to the task, though.


Bollywood in India has the maximum influence on fashion trends. But Bollywood actors are pinups for the glossy and the crass. They are besotted with big brands and money spinning styles. Instead of appreciating individuality, Bollywood encourages cloning. It is like juvenile American pop culture, an obsession with bling. If Bollywood could be made to get out of its polyster and chiffon, and drape into khadi, the followers will aspire to adopt too.

In 1985, Devika Bhojwani introduced the Swadeshi label of khadi ensembles. It was retailed through nearly 5,000 khadi emporia. In 1989, KVIC organised a fashion show in Mumbai in which 85 dresses of Bhojwani were paraded on the ramp. Yet, due to red tape and bureaucracy, the exercise proved to be still born. In 1990, Ritu Kumar presented her first khadi collection – Tree of Life – so as to help khadi arrive on the fashion circuit. In July 2002, a Bangalore based designer, Deepika Govind, displayed a collection of ensembles in ‘Tencel khadi’. And Sabyasachi Mukerjee has been successfully working with, khadi. He once introduced 90 odd lehngas in bridal khadi collection; all were taken up.

But while appeals to the heart can be successfully made through communications, problems exist aplenty elsewhere too. The designers legitimately complain that production of khadi is inconsistent while the cloth is prone to shrinkage and fabric stretch. Fabric colours are also limited. Khadi has very little to offer in terms of fabric performance. It looks attractive when starched and kept in showrooms, but it does not present the same look after one wash. Even finer counts and blends of khadi cannot withstand many washes and, therefore, cannot be adopted for daily wear. The fabric, thus, finds itself vulnerable against the high-tech, colourfast, wrinkle free mill made cottons and blends available today.


However, having said that, khadi is a versatile fabric with a unique property of keeping the wearer warm in winter and cool in summer. Unlike mill made synthetics no one can be allergic to the fabric. khadi silk provides a very royal look with a rich tapestry. Now designers are dyeing khadi with striking colours. Stylish garments like miniskirts, halter neck tops, etc. are made from khadi. Recently Arvind Ltd. has planned to market khadi denim (at nearly Rs.800-1,000 per metre) in Japan and Europe to high-end consumers.

In other words for the niche market the so called limitations of khadi can always be converted into its virtues which are unparalleled. As Ritu Kumar says, “The rustic, no machine look of the fabric is both sophisticated and bohemian.” Mukerjee, the die hard loyalist to khadi, thinks khadi is too intelligent to be treated. According to him, limited availability of khadi with its inconsistent quality makes it even more of a luxury product. Tradition, symbolism and a new found versatility can be glued together to promote the organic fabric in contemporary cuts and designs. On the other hand the traditional fabric can be chemically treated to make it softer and more pliable so that it can be adapted to more outfits.

This coupled with a judicious blend of other Ps (pricing, placement) should sure do the trick.

Khadi holds tremendous potential to be promoted as a fabric for dressing the upper crust. The need is to reorient, reposition, and relaunch our cultural heritage. Khadi is calling out for a second freedom struggle, freedom from the clutches of government’s pincer like grip. Allow it independence and see it blossoming.


Friday, July 29, 2011



In US, as early as in 1977 the Supreme Court had upheld the right of professionals to publicise and advertise their services. Although in India most professional bodies don’t allow their members to advertise, occasionally there is a clamour for such permission. The code of conduct for practising members of ICAI says that a Chartered Accountant (CA) in practice will be deemed to be guilty of professional misconduct, “if he solicits clients or professional work either directly or indirectly by circular, advertising, personal communication, interview, or by any other means.”

The issue of self promotional advertising rears its head from time to time. The rising tide of consumerism and the state commitment to the philosophy of laissez-faire have together fuelled this move. Those who support advertising by professionals proffer a number of arguments. Thus, the case for self promotion rests on points like; one, advertising will increase demand, innovation, and competition, particularly in the area of routine practice of the profession; two, advertising will make it easier for new entrants to a profession to establish a viable practice; three, advertising will increase the availability and quality of information to consumers; four, advertising will potentially lower the prices of professional services to consumers as a result of increased competition; and, five, inter-professional competition necessitates advertising. Practising CAs supporting the freedom to advertise, for example, say that nowadays the practising members undertake multi-varied jobs from project fi nancing to certifi cation of financial statements. And since this has led to specialisation on the part of the individual CA firms, at least informative advertising should be allowed.

In US when optometrists were allowed to advertise prices fell by about 32% for eyecare products. And no evidence of deterioration in quality of services was found. For routine legal and medical services also, prices in US have fallen since the date permission to advertise was granted. Recently the Parliamentary Committee on Subordinate Legislation in India has taken a serious note of exorbitant fees charged by lawyers, physicians, et al, and proposed to the government to introduce a system of transparency about the remuneration charged by them.

On the other hand, there is a growing feeling in the US that too many legal ads mislead clients by failing to provide correct information on how to hire a lawyer. Many ads, in fact, contribute to distrust on the justice system.

Let’s critically examine the arguments against advertising by professionals:  Mass advertising undermines the relationship of trust between a professional and his client: A related corollary thus is that such relationship should not be a result of high pressure advertising. Professional skills can seldom be evaluated by the client. Thus, he cannot ‘shop around’ like in case of  a commercially marketed product to get ‘best bargain’. And since advertising can simultaneously lead to increased supply (in terms of either increased number of professional or they serving more clients by increasing the speed) these professionals will indeed pass on the cost of promotion to the customer.

Second, practice of advertising may mean less incentive to introduce more efficient practices. On the other hand, restriction on advertising will promote non-price competition which in turn should promote innovation and efficiency. Third, a professional service is non-standardised, and so personal that there is nothing to inform except the existence of the professional.

The above arguments can be easily countered. There are two suppositions, both wrong, involved here: One, that there is no advertising information that can reduce a client’s search time, and, two, restriction of competition springs from a concern for the consumers rather than for earning higher profi ts.

In actual fact there are at least some services which are relatively standardised (filing of tax returns, getting uncontested divorces, termination of pregnancies within medically permissible time limits, et al). Besides, without intraprofessional competition innovation is likely to take a back-seat. And even if the services are somewhat non-standardised, while some clients may make a wrong choice, there cannot be an ex-hypothesis case to suggest that the number of clients deciding wrong will exceed these deciding right.

Professional advertising is inherently misleading: It is said that the professional services are so individual in content and quality that meaningful comparison is futile. Second, advertising by a professional does nothing to help the customer make an informed choice because it highlights irrelevant factors; advertising can’t really highlight the competence and quality of a professional service. Well, regarding the first argument, as said above, for routine services fee can be indicated in the ad. And as regards the difficulty of making an intelligent comparison, while the argument can’t be dismissed entirely, it would be really ironic if consumer is denied at least some of the relevant information – even if not complete information – needed to make more informed choice.

Some members of profession will abuse the privilege: They may come out with outrageous ads bringing the whole profession into disrepute. Again, this indeed is a real possibility. But the correct option would be to regulate, and not put a blanket ban on advertising. The regulating bodies already exist so policing such advertising should be quite easy and effective.

Advertising will be done by large players, leaving small firms somewhat maimed: While this charge has lot of a priori merit, evidence from the US (where such advertising is permitted) establishes its falsehood. It has been observed there that larger the firm, less is its reliance on advertising.

But when small firms will advertise, all others will feel compelled to follow suit: Well, if everyone advertises then is such a development necessarily bad or should it be encouraged since it is likely to increase the comparative information available to public? Besides, again taking a cue from US, more than three quarter lawyers don’t advertise despite the option being available.

Professional advertising will have a deleterious effect since it will encourage trivial or frivolous redressals: Empirical enquiries have not found any abnormal increase in unwarranted cases. Besides, in some cases at least, will it not be better for a person to obtain a solution rather than suffering silently.

Advertising costs will be passed on to the clients: As said earlier even if advertising is permitted, not all professionals advertise. So those who advertise can’t possibly afford to raise their prices to recover the advertising costs, more particularly for standardised services like preparation of a will, statutory audit, et al.

Advertising (particularly fee advertising) will lead to lower quality services: The premise here is that advertising will lead to fierce competition and encourage some professionals to cut corners. However, every buyer does not necessarily go for the most inexpensive offer. Of course, advertised product generally has a better image though not necessarily better competence than the unadvertised one. But this difference in competence will have to be marginal; else truth will come out in no time.

Advertising is beneath professional dignity: This, however, is a tenet of faith, and not really an assertion of fact. There are likes of K.Venkataratnam from the Bar who believe “a lawyer is a repository of his client’s trust. And you can’t advertise trustworthiness”. But you have also R. K. Anands from the same Bar who think nothing of this privilege of promotion and opine that regulated promotion will be in the interest of the clients.

Without advertising every profession is covered with a veil of secrecy. Sans informative advertising it becomes expensive for the buyer to sample the varied offers available in the market. Since cost may be high, less searches are undertaken, uninformed choices are made. Being unaware about competitive offers, a consumer will be made to pay up a high price. Besides limited demand in absence of self promotion would mean less probability of enjoying the economies of scale thereby further limiting the possibility to cut costs and reduce prices. Advertising will in fact segment the service providers into low price-low quality group and high price high quality one. The consumer can now exercise his own discretion. Finally, in the absence of advertising the early movers (into the profession) enjoy monopoly rent due to established brand. It is only through advertising that newer entrants can build up their practice and offer the oldies competition.

So, while a complete ban is not justified, some professional control over the content of advertising will protect buyer’s interests. Tightly organised professions have been able to appropriate consumer surplus derived from quality assurance (emanating from certification); this has raised practitioners’ income to inclusion of monopoly rent. Blanket advertising bans arise because of buyer’s weak bargaining power; the ban should be lifted. And big deities’ riches be moderated.


Thursday, June 16, 2011



Lady Gaga has become the flashiest and most ubiquitous pop queen of the 21st century. By her own admission she is a ‘show without an intermission’. The Fame, The Fame Monster, and Burn This Way, her albums have sold millions of copies in the US alone. Of course, she was not an overnight sensation; she had her quota of early rejections. But she never lost her ambition and drive; being always ‘in the boxing ring’ she is now at the pinnacle of success. She rehearses too in full make up – dark lipstick, elaborately lined and lashed eyes, blood red fingernails, and a jacket that barely covers her thighs. Even if initially people did not think anything of her talent, she is presently a goddess, a counsellor, and a cheerleader to hordes of her fans. The venerated magazine The Economist says that she is a leader in the same league as Mother Teresa and a role model for the corporate world.

Such is the stuff iconic brands are made of. Every marketer has a dream to develop and sustain powerful brands. Baba Ramdev to Rolex, Lux to Lady Gaga are other marketers’ envy. Brand equity – consisting of the differential attributes underpinning a brand which give added value to the firm’s balance sheet – has to be carefully built and nurtured for attaining this status.


Saif, Shahrukh, and Salman share one common trait in their recent flicks (Agent Vinod, Ra.One, and Bodyguard): They herald the comeback of stereotypical hero of yore. Post 1991 upper middle class and NRI audience, coupled with the advent of multiplex phenomenon, prompted the producers to release movies like Hum Aapke Hain Kaun (HAHK) and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (DDLJ), films which had romance and family drama as dominant themes. However, the burgeoning lower and middle class, patronising less expensive single screens, forms the lucrative “bottom of the pyramid” market. They demanded and have got back their larger than life iconic heroes. Even if later the trend may move in some other direction, right now Bodyguard, Ready or Singham are likely to top the box office collection charts. The marketer has to listen to the customers.

When a new brand is developed initially it can be described only through its physical characteristics. A marketer must get his product right. Multinationals, with their ignorance and arrogance towards Indian market, often get it wrong be it Reebok (no coloured uppers in their casual shoes, initially), Tang (no mango flavour!), or Kellogg (cold milk, routinely?). And pay a price for this complacency.


To convert a product (undifferentiated offering) into a brand (product with a distinct identity), its identity needs to be created and a positioning strategy has to be decided. First of all, the name of the brand has to carefully chosen.

Sam Gimignano, the Italian restaurant at the Imperial Hotel, is named after a pretty medieval hill town in Tuscany, Italy. Dakshin is appropriately named because it offers authentic coastal specialities (at Welcome Sheraton Hotel, Delhi) from the four southern states. However, the Zest had to change itself to SET’Z within a year. And need we tell you what happened to a lipstick brand which required PYTs (Pretty Young Thing) to ask for Kiss & Tell (the brand name!) from the shopkeeper?

Along with the name positioning plays a critical role in introducing the brand and carving out a distinct identity. DIVA by chef Ritu Dalmia refuses to serve ‘Indo-Italian’ aberration, while the menu is changed every three months. At Bukhara (ITC Maurya), serving the likes of Clintons, Obamas, and Karzais, however, the short and simple menu has consciously not been changed since its opening 33 years ago; the USP lies in being the same old place. Cocoberry has positioned its unique frozen flavoured yoghurt as a healthy lifestyle brand. This has helped it etch out a unique identity quite different from other FMCG players like Baskin Robbins, which has a pure indulgence orientation.


When a brand is launched three objectives need to be achieved: attainment of brand awareness (through recognition and/or recall), the development of favourable associations, and involving the customers to the level of purchase and trial. At times a brand is already known and tried by the target customers at another physical location. When it is introduced in a new more convenient location to such customers, acceptance should come relatively easily. Hakkasan, the originally London based top-end restaurant, has been witnessing packed tables since it opened in Mumbai this June. This, despite complete absence of advertising or preopening publicity. Indian visitors to London are already enamoured of its reputation and popularity. But the issue of right timing for the launch is crucial too. Currently Indian market seems to be ready for international dining experience. But Nobu, another chain for gourmet dining, made three attempts – all in vain – in past to register its presence in India, encouraged by the fact that it has branches in nearly all of the world’s great cities, barring India. The effort yielded no result because till now India had been immune to the cult of the up market restaurants. ‘Such fancy prices’ and ‘advance reservation’ were the reactions that came with exclamation marks from the targeted Indians.

At other times repackaging and repositioning might help. Traditional Indian treatments are being reformulated as luxury exotic experiences so that they find more takers than traditional Ayurveda can hope to. Smelly oils used in traditional massage at Ananda, a luxury destination spa in Himalayas, have been replaced by specially developed deodorised ones. Kaya Kalpa at ITC Mughal, Agra has successfully repositioned the Mughal hammam into a voyage in luxury. Bridal ubtans, post childbirth massages, and the likes are being repackaged to appeal to the deep pocketed patrons.

Brand awareness (through visual recognition and/or verbal recall) depends on effective brand communication. “2-minute” promise of Maggi, Nirma jingle, and the sign off line “I love you Rasna” are the stuff legendary communication are made of. The distinct packaging of Johnson & Johnson baby products, Cadbury Dairy Milk, Kit Kat likewise call out for customer’s attention. Additionally, the customer has to be incentivised to prefer and try a marketer’s brand. The 24x7 Bar at Hotel Lalit hosts a high heel night every Thursday when female patrons get 10% off on their drinks for every inch of the heel on their shoes. Result: Instead of an average of 20 guests, the number has been swelling to 75-90. The Chalchitra Café at GK-II (in New Delhi) assures a 10% discount if you are on café’s Blackberry messenger list.

Despite all this, however, distribution sometime can prove to be the nemesis of a brand. While Bharti and Hutch both entered Indian mobile services market at the same time, Bharti quickly took the lead in subscriber numbers since Hutch made the mistake of focusing only on the large and lucrative circles and positioned itself as a premium brand. Café Coffee Day (CCD) has nearly 1,100 cafés now. Maruti has a 45% market share, partly because with 100 dealers in 643 cities its reach is thrice that of Hyundai, the number 2 in the passenger automobiles. Baba Ramdev reaches 30 million people daily through his daily yoga telecast on 27 channels. In addition, he attracts commoners and leaders alike through yoga shivirs, books, and CDs.

Finally, price plays an important factor in inducing trial. Pepsico’s Lays is facing tough competition from Johnniescome- lately, the smaller players like Balaji, and Prakash snacks. To counter it, it has recently introduced another brand Lehar at Rs.5 for a 20 gm pack, the idea being to make inroads into the “bottom of the pyramid” market. Most of these small players have been low on advertising; but at the same time, on one hand are competitively priced and on the other have been penetrating the smallest of towns through direct sales force and substockists.


The long term success of the brand, however, is influenced by the consumer’s perception of its true value. This perception is often based on functional and psychological attributes. Unique performance attributes that appeal to customers make them buy a brand. MacYoga of Ramdev – promising instant, on demand gratification – appeals to both hoi polloi and high profiled.

The core of Dhoni’s brand is a cool determination to win against all odds; this gives him fantastic brand equity. In the high-end apartments builders are now differentiating their offers through technology, sports academies, golf courses, and so on. At Dakshin, each dish on the menu is cooked in the spices that are traditionally used for it. At Bukhara quality checks are so stringent that each prawn used for Tandoori Jhinga dish has to weigh between 80-120 gms, not even a gram less. ‘And no forks and knives please, we are serving you finger food’. Kebabs are cooked twice so as to keep them succulent. The chefs go through rigorous training to be able to gauge spices, mix marinades, and even judge the heat. Result: Even with a cover price of about Rs.20,000 for a table for four, you have to either make advance reservation or wait for at least 45 minutes, even a couple of hours, on busy days.

A customer also uses the subjective criteria (past experience, associated cues, etc) for evaluation. Ai (meaning love in Japanese language) partly owes its success to the name of the owner A. D. Singh, a well known restaurateur. China Kitchen (Hyatt Regency, Delhi) roasts Peking Duck in an old fashioned wooden oven. The magic of Magique (owned by famed Marut Sikka) is known for elegant presentation of dishes which are served by hospitable and attentive staff. The intimate aura is created around twilight when the sitting place is lit up with lamps making for a romantic evening.


Eventually the brand becomes a part of the consumer’s brand repertoire. At this stage he stops comparing it with competing brands, choosing it over them habitually, routinely. Such brand loyalty of course is a function of several factors like the perceived quality of the brand (Dum- Pukht at ITC Maurya), the perceived value image (Forest Essentials range of personal care products), the trust placed in the brand (Nokia), and the commitment the customer feels towards a brand (Tata Salt). A committed consumer guarantees future income streams as well as facilitating brand extensions by transferring any positive associations to new brands. In the past six years or so Ramdev has created a loyal customer base through enviable communication and wide distribution network; this parallels that of many big market led consumer brands in India.

Indipop, ruling between 1995-2000, on the other hand died because the myopic music companies, blinded by big buck earnings, started introducing cheaper but very mediocre stuff. International sensations like Kate Perry, Shakira, and Lady Gaga easily dethroned the likes of Alisha, Biddu or Lucky Ali.


The last stage in the evolution and development of brand equity enables a marketer to strategically exploit any equity the parent brand has built up, into newer areas of promise. Brand loyalty allows companies to further grow the brand equity by gaining commitments towards related brands from existing consumers and existing channels. Baba Ramdev, the savvy marketer that he is, is trying to use his phenomenal success as a yoga guru to extend his brand to social activism and politics. His Facebook page has now 61,000 fans. 3.2 million people have already joined his anti-corruption campaign online. His pan India presence and popularity cannot be surpassed by any politician. His image of a true yogi (selfless, pure, and do gooder) has rubbed off on his activist avatar. The audience grants him a lot of credibility while his bhaktas are willing to lap up whatever he offers in verticals other than his core ones (yoga & ayurveda). Kissan (HUL), Dove, and umpteen other brands try for attractive bottomlines through the same route of brand extension.

So, unless you are in the business of selling lip tattoos or stick on stones for the pout, you have to have a long term strategy aiming at creating, nurturing and then harvesting the brand. More importantly, you must have the correct route map.


Friday, May 20, 2011



Badnaam Munni, the controversy surrounding the song, and the popularity of the song worked wonders for Emami owned Zandu Balm; sales doubled during July- September 2010 quarter. Then, the company decided to use Shiela Ki Jawani to sell Boroplus. And now, Emami is funding the entire cost of a Bhojpuri film song that will mention its Himani Navratna extra thanda hair oil. The idea behind all this: cut through the clutter, reach out to core consumers directly, uplift their mood, and make them buy the promoted brand. Also, media penetration being low in markets for these core consumers – rural UP and Bihar residents – the movie itself will act as a good medium to reach them. Finally, Emami has also entered into a co-branding pact with the movie Dum Maro Dum to promote its talcum powder brand Navratna Cool by using the grabs from the title track of the movie.


All voluntary purchases are dictated by our attitudinal disposition towards an item. So the job of a marketer is to create (when non-existent), enhance (when Brands like (from left to right) Zandu Balm, Boro Plus, KFC and Dabur Chyawanprash are coming up with ads that are helping them to cut through the clutter, reach out to core consumers directly, uplift their mood, and make them buy their products low), maintain (when sufficiently high), or even change (when negative) the right kind and quantum of attitude. Dabur has identified 30 villagers in Bihar & UP who will work along with Bhojpuri actor Ravi Kishan, as ‘immunity ambassador’ for promoting Dabur Chyawanprash. Indianisation of cricket in the form of IPL has meant a heady mixture of film personalities and sports, and a mela atmosphere at the matches. And with IPL setting the pace, hockey is now set to get a faster, truncated avatar with a 6, 8 or 9 members a side team, with matches of only 30 minutes duration, music on the field, and an increased pace of the entertaining game. There will be a new title as well – International Super Series. Reason: The marketers (whether Dabur or BCCI, or the World Hockey Federation) have a common aim, that of ensuring favourable altitude towards the marketed brand.

But when a customer is not interested or involved in processing marketer’s information at a deeper level, his mood itself can create the right kind of feeling towards the marketed brand. While not as intense as emotion, a mood is an affective state that is general and persuasive. A stimulus can create a positive or negative mood; this in turn can affect consumer’s reaction to any other stimulus he happens to evaluate. A person in good mood naturally likes something; the opposite is also true. Domino’s Pizzas sold about 30% more when the ICC Cricket World Cup was on recently. Mood can bias attitudes in a mood congruent direction. Consumers in a good mood tend to give more weight to positive information when evaluating a product. So Close Up toothpaste has designed an advergame Fire Freeze in which you are supposed to kiss your colleague, but without getting caught. Gaming combined with the wide reach of DTH TV is the ideal route to involve youth, the target audience and orient them positively towards the brand. HUL has online games for its deodorant brand AXE as well.


In restaurant business there is something called ‘menu engineering’. This refers to the design and strategic placement of dishes to increase consumer spend. Thus, when people are short of money during tough economic times, the menu should be short, with simple descriptions, and the prices printed right after the dish details and not in a column on the right hand side of the page since the latter practice leads to direct price comparison. Even the menu type size needs to be carefully chosen: in a dimly lit restaurant, unless the target diner is Gen Y, a large and clear format is required. Get the customer into ‘right’ mood for ordering. Not only the menu card, the overall ambience also puts the customer in a certain mood. Warm colours are more likely to draw customers to an outlet but can also create tension. Cool colours on the other hand are more relaxing, but are not so inviting. So when the goal is to stimulate quick purchase, warm colours are more appropriate (like in Café Coffee Day, McDonald’s), in health clubs, sports stadia, et al, where a high level of activity and energy is desirable. Cool colours are more suited when the goal is to have consumers feel calm or spend time deliberating (hospitals, fine dining restaurants). Apple’s stores, for instance, are decorated in white and shades of grey so as to provide a clean, uncluttered environment for showcasing high tech products.

Buyer behaviour and consumption patterns
Consumers may also like a brand better when they are put in a good mood through an advertisement or any other mode of communication. When ads for Huggies disposable diapers picture tender moments between babies and parents, they also generate positive feelings for the brand. Why do you think Johnson & Johnson is able to sell its ‘overpriced’ baby products to not-so-rich Indian mothers? – Through control on consumer/ buyers’ mind due to its highly liked and recalled commercials.

Besides, today’s customer wants to experience a brand in real time. Vending machines should deliver candies to condoms to cans of soft drinks; pop up retail space is a must wherein companies offer an experimental area for sampling the brand. There should be online/mobile platforms allowing users to get opinions on quizzed brands in real time.

Thus, a marketer has several opportunities to induce positive moods in consumers, ranging from service encounters to point of purchase contacts to marketing communication. Total Mall at Bangalore offers a free pick up and drop service to customers. Max Retail has employed NIFT graduates to help buyers select their wardrobe. Lifestyle and Madura garments promise to homedeliver the garment of your size in case not immediately available in the store. Consumers linger in stores with a pleasant ambience, increasing the probability of purchase. In marketing communicationboth the media and the message can influence the consumer’s mood. Both KFC and McDonald’s have introduced products that are heavy on spice, since spicy food is a staple for many in India. KFC has positioned itself as a youth oriented brand with teens and young adults as its main targets. The Nick channel has licensed Dora, one among many adorable characters that it has, to Colgate, while the brand has recently tied up with McDonald’s. Soon SpongeBob Happy meals will be a part of the fast food joints’ menu. Nokia, after witnessing a steady loss of its marketshare in India, is trying to rope in Shahrukh Khan and Priyanka Chopra as brand ambassadors, since the two can communicate the ‘trust’ factor to the target buyers.


Today’s girls no longer believe in fairy tales, nor are they waiting for the Prince Charming to arrive or being swept off their feet. In DDLJ, Raj comes to India looking for his Simran. Now, Saif Ali Khan and Deepika Padukone opt to go their separate way instead of maintaining a long distance relationship in Love Aaj Kal. Movies like Break Ke Baad, I Hate Luv Storys, and Love Aaj Kal have altered the love games. Now couples throw break up bashes in Hindi films, which earlier were all mushy affairs. With the changing stance of the society towards premarital sex, breakups, and divorce people have stopped swearing by love tales. The attitudes have changed. Thus, the marketer needs to create the ‘right’ mood in the potential buyer to influence his purchase.

So, how does understanding the customer mood help marketers? Well, it provides moods cues to aid in consumer information retrieval, and it helps create positive mood states in retail or other purchase settings; this in turn should hopefully culminate in actual buying behaviour.


Friday, April 22, 2011



Cricket in India is not merely a game; it’s a religion practised by the entire nation. In that sense, it is truly a unifying force. So it was hardly surprising that people fasted (or ate only specific food items), performed havans, and made all kind of offerings to their Gods to make sure that India lifted the World Cup 2011. Why, even Yuvraj Singh wore a divine totem as a lucky charm. How much did all this contribute towards India’s win on that fateful day of April, is acceptably arguable. But no one – and there is no exception – would dispute the contribution of M. S. Dhoni or MSD or Mahi, the cool commander of the cricket brigade in bringing the glory to us all. Imbued with a positive attitude, he had told Gary Kirsten (the India coach) to keep the champagne ready to be uncorked after the final victory at Mumbai as early as when India had registered a win over Bangladesh. For Dhoni, winning has become a second nature. Ganguly made a belligerent announcement of India’s arrival on the firmament of world’s cricket when he waved his shirt in 2002. But Dhoni’s casual sleeveless tee appearance after the latest triumph declared that India could well repeat these celebrations many more times in future. The leadership provided by unflappable Captain Cool has made all the difference.

Now, he needs to steal some time from his packed schedule and offer leadership lessons to the captains of the Indian industry. A recent survey in India by Harvard Business Publishing says that gaps in leadership pipeline have emerged as the biggest HR challenge. Organisations now are likely to invest nearly 41% of their budget in leadership and management development within their companies. Indubitably, many Indian companies would love to give their left arm to engage MSD as their leadership trainer. Examples are available aplenty in media reports. While K. Ramkumar (ICICI Bank) is all praise for Dhoni’s positive motivational leadership, Santrupt Misra (Aditya Birla Group) appreciates his equanimity & calm composure, and Suvojoy Sengupta (Booz & Co.) likes his trait of leading from the front. Apparently, even IIM-A would like to appoint him as a professor. Until then, and if that happens, can we draw some commandments of leadership from Dhoni’s performance?


A leader of the caliber of Mahi has a number of traits and multiple tasks to perform, so as to steer his organisation to sustaining successful performance.

Commandment 1: Have a vision & pursue it relentlessly.

Since Dhoni took over in 2007, he has given his team a vision of being top rankers in test cricket and one-dayers. In the match against Pakistan, Shahid Afridi was defensive and tentative but Dhoni was decisive and sharp (Imran Khan’s words, not mine!). Both were under high pressure but Mahi exhibited greater guts. He is always confident about trusting his instincts. He is not afraid to make mistakes and admits them, if he does (as he did, in Mohali). The solidity and intent in him makes him different from the other captains. He is a true visionary.

Commandment 2: Be unafraid to go by gut feel, the intuition.

A leader, then, correctly specifies what needs to be accomplished, and breaks it down into discrete bits. Dhoni has unerring instincts, based on which he takes chances; he wins the impossible gambit more often than not. Despite losing Ganguly and Dravid, because of their poor running between wickets, he still won the series 2-0 in Australia. Only he could have given the untested Joginder Sharma the final over in the T-20 final against Pakistan in 2007. He helps the team focus on the target, breaks it into smaller goals. Dhoni always thinks on his feet being no stickler for obstructing rules. So he promoted himself in the batting order in the final match against Sri Lanka. He takes decisions based on logic applicable at the moment. He does not like to complicate his decision making by entertaining too many counter thoughts.

Commandment 3: Manage with what you have; don’t lament over what you lack.

A great leader like Dhoni knows the strengths of his team well – but understands the weaknesses even better. When he was asked whether he was comfortable playing without Tendulkar, Ganguly, and Dravid during the inaugural T20 Cup, he replied with his characteristic candour: “I play with what I have, not with what I don’t.” The job of a leader is to allocate tasks and resources to the team members in such a way that each one of them knows what is expected of him & understand the importance of his contribution. In Mohali, he told Yuvraj, Raina, & Harbhajan to keep their cool, control the emotional outbursts, and contribute to the best of their abilities. Yuvraj was eventually declared the ‘Man of the Tournament’.

Commandment 4: Be a coach, mentor, and leader to your assets.

Dhoni puts steel into Team India’s spine. He has been able to instil and make the best use of cool aggression of youngsters like Kohli, Raina, and Gambhir. He has always acted like a buffer between his boys and the general public or the media hostilities. Performance was the only thing that mattered. In the end, what saw Team India become world champion was the fact that they were ready and confident that they would win.

Commandant 5: Monitor and control the performance of your resources; keep them on track.

Dhoni went beyond merely motivating them. He made sure that the team players backed each other and did not criticise any member even if he had a hard time in the field. Zaheer bowled frugally, Yuvraj performed to more than justify his reentry, Sehwag stuck to his job of giving India a flying start, while the youngsters made best of all the opportunities which came their way. Since Dhoni knew that his team was prone to distractions during the long gaps between matches, he would remain connected, checking even the daily routine of the players.

Commandment 6: Provide and receive feedback from others. More importantly, ensure that it is acted upon.

While the CWC-2011 was in progress, Dhoni did not mince words when he publicly said that he was concerned about his side’s fitness, which in turn was likely to impact India’s batting and fielding performance. To lessen the demotivating impact, however, he also added that as long as the team won, people would forget these shortcomings. He makes accurate and insightful judgment about people and performances, including that of his own. He openly admitted that he did not assess the Mohali pitch accurately. He candidly accepted that dropping Ashwin for Nehra thus was a mistake.


Harish Mariwala (Marico) says Dhoni is a perfect fit for HR and strategy position, Venugopal Dhoot (Videocon Group) is willing to even make him an Executive Director. And Harish Bijoor thinks that he would be suitable for the position of Head, Internal Branding. Boards of many Indian companies are drawing new and tough rules to link CEO pay with performance, or lack of it. In Dhoni’s case, this year’s package of Rs.77 crore (including endorsement fees) will hardly be grudged by anyone after such a sterling performance. 2010 FIFA World Cup final was viewed by 1.5 million people, IPL-3 by 9.6 million, CWG -2010 opening ceremony attracted eyeballs of 30 million, Budget 2011 was witnessed by 37 million. And the CWC-2011 final? The number swelled to 67.6 million. During the winning moments, the match got a TVR rating of 21.44, breaking all previous records. Dhoni gave reasons to rejoice to all the stakeholders. The legendary tennis player Bjorn Borg used to have a pulse rate of about 50 upon waking up and 60 in the afternoon. One could bet Dhoni’s has never crossed 10 – at least, metaphorically speaking.

“Dhoni has transcended the ranks of captain to become a true leader,” says Imran Khan. While that could be now often heard hyperbole, the truth is, we couldn’t agree more. Dhoni practices a fine blend of transactional and transformational leadership, as mandated by the exigency of the situation. Not dictated by copybook rules of leadership, he adapts his style to the requirements of the game. Of course, he might not be able to sell coffee for nuts – but he’ll be able to instil the fear of God in your salespeople to ensure they perform phenomenally. Now, which company will have a problem with that?


Friday, March 25, 2011



With a 30% margin clothing business had allured many textile mills. But now, most of them, such as Arvind Mills, are opting out of this high risk, high margin industry. They realise that the highly labour intensive business is facing a chronic shortage of talent pool, and with cyclical sales patterns, offers everyday new challenges in face of high rejections of the finished product. Vertical integration is virtually nonexistent.

Now read this: Garment companies at Tirupur and Bangalore have felt that backward integration and consolidation have become crucial to the growth of textile industry as uncertainty in raw material availability and cost have been unnerving. Assured quality, timely delivery, saving on transportation cost and even availability of raw materials are some of the benefits for integrated companies. Vertical integration helps them control the costs at various points in the supply chain. Further, a company can be flexible with the order quantity as it need not outsource any work that might require a minimum quantity.

Contradictory, ain’t the above two scenarios? Well not really.


A firm integrates backward/upstream when it undertakes to produce raw materials and semi-fabricated inputs that might otherwise be purchased from independent producers. Firms integrate forward/downstream when they move toward further finishing of semi-fabricated products and the wholesaling and retailing operations that put manufactured goods in the hands of consumers. Amway, for whose 123 products (across personal care, home care, cosmetics, and gift items) Indian market is growing at 25% annually, has planned to invest Rs.400 crore to set up its first manufacturing facility in India. Currently 85% of company’s products in India are produced by seven contract manufacturers. Retailer turning producer – an example of backward integration.

In a contrarian fashion, however, in March 2004, Sunil Mittal created a flutter by outsourcing the very heart of his telecom business – technology and networks. At that time Bharti had 8.4 million subscribers; this number was expected to grow to 50 million by 2014, the terminal year of the deal period. By December 2010 it already had more than 150 million subscribers. So now the outsourcing also includes billing, application development, customer relationship management, network expansion ... The success of this model has prompted even the rivals like Vodafone, Idea, Aircel, Videocon, and others to follow suit. The whole arrangement freed up Bharti’s senior management bandwidth to focus on what they know best – build the brand, customer acquisition, and strategy formulation while the partners (IBM, Nokia, Ericsson) deliver on signed service levels.


A coffee plantation yields about 400 kilograms of Arabica grade, valued at Rs.142 a kilo, for Amalgamated Coffee Company. This can be exported at Rs.165 (i.e one sixth more than the local market price). But each kilo of coffee powder sold at roast and ground outlets in India sells for about Rs.250, i.e a markup of 50% from the farm gate pricing (taking into account roasting loss of about 18%). Finally, a mug of coffee at Café Coffee Day sells at Rs.42 on average, using 12-15 grams of coffee; this is Rs.4 worth of coffee per mug. This has prompted the owner of 10,000 acres of coffee plantation to set up more than 1,000 coffee retailing outlets (the highest number in India, and the fifth highest in the world) and reap the fruits of vertical integration by reducing costs and extract higher incremental value.

Vertical integration is prompted by a motive to reduce costs. It may also give a producer enhanced control over his economic environment. Upstream integration, for example, helps to ensure that supplies of raw materials are available as and when needed at a certain cost & quality parameter. Tata Motors has its own forging plant. There are many other advantages such as confidentiality of technology, barriers against potential entrants, and so on.


Unfortunately the choice is not so obvious always. At least, some of the benefits of vertical integration can be achieved through outsourcing. So, for every Tata Motors there is a Maruti Suzuki, for every Reliance there is an Indo Rama; they prefer to stick to knitting. These companies argue with equal convincing force: outsourcing may actually mean availability of supplies at competitive prices. Thus, with the imposition of 10% excise duty on branded garments in the latest budget, Van Heusen is contemplating sourcing them from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, though currently 90% of the brand’s manufacturing is done in India. Then the input needed may be of highly specific dimensions requiring very large operations to enjoy economies of scale. For McDonald’s the humble potato is a very critical input, what with 30% of its customers coming to McDonald’s only to eat French fries. But due to unsuitable quality of locally grown potatoes, it invited Mc- Cain, its global partner, to come to India and set up shops here; through contract farming route McCain accesses right kind and sized potatoes so that when fried at exactly 168 degrees Celsius for precisely 3 minute and 10 seconds, the restaurant gets perfect golden coloured patties. So, instead of vertical integration, it is argued, the benefits can be achieved through contracts or informal agreements. Each firm then remains free to adjust its own scale of operation and to deal with others. Each firm will have its own incentives thereby obviating the need for an administered system as would have been required in a joint (vertically integrated) company. To be sure, the problems arise for such agreements when there are marked changes, say, when there is a sharp fall in demand, or the technology changes considerably, or when it is contract renewal time that may either be pre-planned or initiated by one side because of changed circumstances. Bombay Dyeing, for example, once crossed swords with its international raw material suppliers over the issue of purchase price of Paraxylene, wanting to convert contracted price into spot price.


It is also crucial to decide how vertically integrated must the firm be or obversely, to what extent can a firm satisfy its needs through outside procurement of large scale economy components, perhaps avoiding thereby some diseconomies of managing a larger organisation (such as moral hazard, limited span of control). Noteworthy it is that while resource allocation in the market is normally guided through prices, within the firm the same job is done through the conscious decisions and commands of management. The activities will be performed intrafirm if transaction costs incurred in using the price mechanism exceed the cost of organising the same activities through direct managerial controls. These transaction costs could be high due to price shopping, communication of work specifications, contract negotiations, and even tax regulations. On the other hand if the pricing power vests with a large supplier and he exercises it to detriment of the buyer, the latter may decide to produce something intra-firm, even at a higher cost. Generally, we could say that more prone the markets are to a breakdown of competitive supply conditions, the stronger will be the buyer’s incentive to integrate upstream. So you may decide to go as far as Kodak did once – rearing its own sheep to obtain gelatin to be used in photographic films. Likewise a firm likes to integrate downstream when margins are mouth watering. A Yash Chopra dabbles into film distribution and exhibition.


Friday, January 28, 2011


If a marketer wants to succeed in india, he needs to do two things. One, he has to be culture conscious. And two, he needs to adapt to it, and that too very fast!

“Only naïve arrogance can lead Westerners to assume that non-Westerners will become westernized by acquiring Western goods.”– Samuel Hutington in The Clash of Civilizations. Infidel, quirky, disloyal, undecided. These are perhaps the epithets MNCs would like to reserve for the Indian consumer. He remains unimpressed by sleek ads supporting world famous brands. He welcomes McDonald’s, yet rejects the westernised system of multi-course meal, retaining his preference for the traditional thali. He buys the latest devotional music CD while on the way to watch a Tom Cruise starrer over popcorns in a multiplex. While marketers like generalization, categorization, low uncertainty, and high predictability, in India they draw a blank. There seems to be no typical Indian consumer.

In a traditional category like tea, regional variants abound. So some brands like Tata Tea’s Kanan Devan are formulated specially for specific regions. Even the cultural practice of preparing tea is dependent on the availability and quality of milk and water is that area. While in western UP the husband decides about the brand, in Kerala it is the wife. In general, women have a greater say in South & East, where they tend to be better educated. There are cultures within culture. Averaging a four cornered regional culture will yield a nonexistent entity. How else do you explain the above average demand for cherry coloured fridges in Kolkata and Sunsilk Black in south? Food items, similarly, in India are actually of three kinds – sustenance, occasional, and entertainment. The first kind is part of the socio-cultural ritual; no brand has been able to break the mould yet in this category. A Kellogg’s had to beat a hasty retreat when it tried to project itself as ‘the’ breakfast item, rather than being one of the choices. But Maggi, successfully, entered the occasional category by offering a unified benefit – convenience. And now that the concept of ‘health for the healthy’ is the dominant cultural code, Maggi has adapted itself accordingly. A choice of different flavours  provides insurance against regional rejections. Pizza Hut keeps repositioning itself every now and then since it has failed to realise that the Indian consumer still treats pizza as an entertainment food; he does not permit ‘foreign invasion’ into the sustenance category by products like pizzas or noodles. Pepsi – essentially an international product with a very Western personality – realised early that the Indian mind uniquely filters things Western. So it came out with hybrids, synthesizing Western and Indian music with typical Indian imagery married to Hinglish taglines (Yeh Dil Maange More, Youngistan Ka Wow et al). Nestle is continuously trying to figure out the changes in behaviour pattern for coffee and tea in India as is Johnson & Johnson by analyzing the psyche of the Indian mother and her concern for her child’s hygiene.

The Indian notion of self is transcendental unlike the Western one where it resides within the body. So even if a ‘here and now’ philosophy guides today’s youth, the deep-rooted tenacious traditions have not been abandoned. Indian youth simultaneously wishes to break free from the societal shackles, yet be attached. So parents remain providers, and therefore must be respected and obeyed. Parents of course are becoming open minded, democratic, and more sensitive to youngsters’ choices of careers, friends, and lifestyles. Mithai and Mcdonald’s, Michael Jackson and Mangeshkar sisters, fasting and fast food create no disharmony – as long as the amalgamation does not seek to change the inner core, the ingrained values. Social mores though are still dictated by an attitude of conservatism and conformity. Marriage (even if based on love) has to be arranged;  remarital/extramarital sex is still a social taboo if publicly known, hypocritically acceptable if privately practised.Indians have a high tolerance for ambiguity and a very well developed sense of jugaad (quick fix solutions). India is not a structured and system driven market. ‘Imported’ Baywatch beauties are welcome to invade viewing space but Indian lasses performing the same act would invite a charge of sacrilege!

Actually, our culture is permanently in transition since axiomatically, it has its roots in basic conditions of human life, including material conditions, natural environment, climate, and the ways in which people earn their living, as also in the historical experience of human communities which include interactions with other cultures. So culture can be perceived as a dynamic succession of overlapping ideologies rather than a static unity. Culture is a flow with three stages – residual, dominant, and emergent. In health and nutrition products, for example, the residual stage was about buying insurance against ill health, augmenting poor quality food and general nourishment. The dominant stage today is ‘health for the healthy,’ serious nutrition, learning to cope with stress, being fit, balancing success and happiness, atoning for a life of excesses, etc. A marketer has to offer products that incorporate these stages to succeed in the market. The market for coaching is flourishing since today, taking tuitions is an act for excellence in career unlike times of yore when only ‘weak’ children would be tutored.

A marketer’s value system and overall profile is moulded by the culture in which he grew up, worked, and socialised. The reason why marketers like Marico, Dabur, and Haldirams are more successful than their multinat counterparts is precisely this. In order to succeed, two things are needed: a marketer has to be culture conscious; and two, he has to adapt to it.

In rural India, for example, the panchayat head or the school teacher acts as an opinion leader. So when Asian Paints launched its Utsav range, the salesmen painted the house of the mukhiya, village post office, or library to demonstrate the effectiveness of the paint. The marketer needs to communicate with the customer in a language and idiom he understands; urban communication may actually backfire in rural settings. For example, advertising that depicts women showing off their lustrous hair post a head wash is actually a turn off for most rural women who cover their heads. Culture is very important to people. Their preference for fundamental cultural values is emotional, not rational. They may even regard certain social norms and traditions as eternal and sacrosanct. So even if a marketer regards some norms as irrational, anachronistic, or distasteful (for instance, dipping biscuit in tea) he must remember he is not a crusader. Britannia decided to reformulate its Marie biscuits so that these would not break and get drowned in tea when dipped. Going one step further, in its commercial, it showed people actually dipping the biscuit in tea so that the consumer no more felt embarrassed about the practice. Important take away: Don’t only be tolerant, adapt to cultural practices. When intensive customer research told HUL that ladies had a hidden wish to feel refreshed when bathing as if they were under a water stream, the immortal positioning for Liril soap was born.

The broad role of a woman as a homemaker has not changed – what has gotten altered is merely her external appearance. But the scope for selling, say, cosmetics to a larger number will exist if you take advantage of changing cultural labels for your product category. Earlier, cosmetics were ‘enticement aids’ (hence, nice girls would not wear them); now, they are ‘grooming’ aids for older women (wrinkle lift creams) and ‘self expressions of individuality’ among young ones (Elle-18). Even bathroom fixtures are trying to change their label from utilities to statements of lifestyles.

A marketer has an onerous task in understanding, analyzing, and interpreting the complex web of relationship between culture and consumer behaviour. But with an operative TINA (There is No Alternative) factor, this is the price of success he has to pay.

 It is not the consumer who is quirky; it is the marketer who refuses to see the market through a cultural prism. True success is understanding the cultural mores, norms, and values of each target segment, while at the same time retaining the brand’s essence.