Wednesday, November 16, 2011

My blog has moved! Please follow me over to Wordpress where you will find my old posts too. 

New location:

Many thanks!

Monday, October 24, 2011

RE: Why I Left India (Again)

My response to an article by Sumedh Mungee on India Ink [NY Times]:

Sumedh’s rant on why he left India for good ends with “I’m glad I went back to India, and I’m glad to be back in the U.S. Life has come full circle but the center has shifted”. I looked him up on Twitter, and the first thing that jumped out at me from his public profile was his location “Bay Area, Bangalore, Pune”. Has to be the same guy. Sumedh’s post may not warrant another retort, but just like his coordinates I found his post wound up and inconclusive, so.

Sumedh said he was going back to an India that he’d seen in a movie and as described in a book/documentary. Sumedh’s claim “our move was a success by any metric” jumped the gun and within a year, he had to retract. An airplane-class Sumedh is flustered that bucketing of people (as airplane, scooter or bullock cart class) is done accurately in India and that treatment ensues accordingly. But really I think he’s a victim of his own thought and behavior.  His “et tu, airplane India?” confirms so. It would not be too difficult to not make that demarcation himself, would it? Then there is a long list of complaints/ implicit rationale for him to leave India, and for the last time this time. He ends talking about India’s growth as a nation and a heartfelt “I know India will rule the future”. Consolation for the cheesed off, may be.

Let’s go back to step 1. With all due respect, did he really forget what India was about? I think what we all tend to forget is everything is transient, times change, people do, even cultures do. But it seems like we can take the culture portion out of this picture if we purely go by the write-up. Folks that have lived in India long enough would not be zapped by Sumedh’s ‘findings’. Is it possible he is originally from Pune or elsewhere and Bangalore didn’t suit? So really, it all boils down to the bothersome scooter class and bullock cart culture which drove him (and his family) back. Just wow.

Question: Should Sumedh move within the US and far away from the Bay Area, will he still be happy? Let’s go back to step 1, again. Sumedh must have done all the due diligence before them moving ‘back to India’. Typically what drives one to take a decision like this apart from immigration constraints is, familial ties and cultural affinity. There could be feelings of not belonging or any prevalent personal issues. I wonder if Sumedh today considers his infrequent issues with the Indian scooter/bullock class a bigger decision point in life, than his rationale to move back to India. If yes, can he still cope with the reasons that drove him out of the US?

It’s not my business to judge what Sumedh did was right or wrong, but I have a view on the why. Some of Sumedh’s views are educational and thought provoking, because they highlight common human tendency to be volatile in thought; and in sum total his essay shows the proneness of the human mind to remain up in the air. I am certainly not on expert on Ecology, but I reckon satisfaction depends on making peace with you by prioritizing one need above the other, and not regretting the decision made thereafter. I will be least surprised if Sumedh packed his bags and left to India again because a natural decision point became priority. But for this to happen Sumedh and I will have to wait for that other movie to come out :-).

Thursday, August 25, 2011

What India Inc. needs: Customer Service

Needs to offer, that is. Cakewalk, considering the gazillion call centers operated out of India, right? Wrong. It is a culture question, not infra.

Take another type of B2C interaction - Advertising. The following came after I expressed to Sainath Saraban what I thought of his review of an Airtel 3G TV commercial. I felt the ad was futile simply because it did not focus on the product’s USP. But Saraban told me the ad was part of a campaign so it ‘works’. Told him I disagreed, and he said:

Not sure if his last statement meant to acknowledge my thought or to simply shut me up. Anyway.

A childhood memory to boot. My grandmom until few years ago preferred purchasing fresh ground coffee powder from a vendor whose store was in the vicinity in the past. We moved homes to a different locality but she continued to purchase coffee powder from the same store. It wasn’t about the quest for perfect filter coffee taste, it wasn’t the price, It was the emotional connect that mattered to her the most.

Back to the ad, Mohan Agashe looking for an old acquaintance over Airtel’s efficient 3G network should have been the case, but seemed vis-à-vis social networking. As a reviewer I really was looking for Airtel in that facebook commercial. My takeaway from the ad is effective access of facebook, now on mobile networks. I would rather expect the enabler, the product, the brand to hog better part of that limelight. Many options to choose from – Idea, Docomo, Airtel, etc and how these compare with each other, the number game that a customer may factor in would be a discussion for another day.

Going by Saraban’s logic, Airtel would probably hold its own (and big) in the newly introduced 3G market segment by simply creating that connect. Of course, customer loyalty, quality, pricing – all remaining competitive. I must admit from my own experience that emotional connect elates a brand no less. This leads me into thinking about favoritism as a concept. How does one favorite a gupchup bandi (Pani puri stalls for the non Hyderabadis) or a Biryani joint? The taste, one may argue. Agreed. How does one favorite a grocery store? The distance, one may say. How about the Barber? Job well done. This Q&A activity can go on. In a random sample of individuals, each person would have a list of favorite vendors and this set of preferences differs from person to person. So really, it’s a many:many relationship. What I am getting at is each vendor is not an overall favourite; they just create that connect with certain few consumers who then become regulars in spite of access to other convenient options.

Advertisements are only a method of reaching a broader audience. Like any other, a commercial viewed/heard or an online banner ad clicked through does improve brand image, but it’s only the later portion of engagement that according to me seals the deal. Single purchase is seldom goal of a campaign, as much it may be about regularizing customers. Given that branding as a theory has changed from promoting universal appeal to tailoring the shout-out based on media used, target audience, product line up, geographies, yada, yada, yada, I feel it is really controlled by the consumer based on how they perceive it. So how to create a loyal customer base (that directly or indirectly generates revenue for your product/service) is directly and obviously dependent on how customers feel about the brand. They come back if they’re happy with the product and additionally the customer experience and satisfaction which help build that hunky dory relationship.

Does good customer service help always? Depends, according to me. If the goal simply is lead conversion that affects the bottom line, I guess excellence in customer service does not always ‘help’. If it is about forging a relationship so the customer will come back sooner or later to make a purchase or get one other to make that purchase , it ‘does help’, at the very least in spreading the prophecy of the brand. My previous blog spoke about the purchasing power of Indians and myriad pockets waiting to tap that money. Reuters’ recent article that Asia's wealthy park cash in cars, homes, art and wine and not so much in investments is only good news for the retail industry.

Seen from a 10,000ft view, what an irony that a country that is called the engine of ‘good customer service and satisfaction’ to customers all over the world through its gazillion call centers, has a pretty superficial outlook towards customer service for its own citizens?! For all that you know of a conventional Indian corporation, there is significant red tape to cut through, procrastination unparalleled, lack of a structured operational mechanism, petty politics or simply no enforcement of rules. Of course a lot of it is changing with corporations now being put on the world map, but we're not quite there yet. Good customer service is a culture that an individual must imbibe, a company must imbibe and eventually must spread to other retailers, service providers and any business that has anything to do with customer interaction. With customers taking to social media and internet forums to review their experience, companies are proactively approaching customers to have a chat. Good first step, by few.

India has begun browsing streaming videos over 3G network. It’s no surprise that India’s e-commerce market in 2011 is expected to hit Rs. 46,000 Crore. Spending power is not a permanent virtue of a country, but what may help sustain a relationship between a business and its customer is the love, or customer service in another language. The penny pinching Indian customer is going to find 5 options for anything they wish to purchase. While the product USP is one thing that appeals to them, it’s the plusses that is going to matter in the long term. Building a brand so the customers themselves can market will be an ideal goal to chase. Until next time.

Friday, June 3, 2011


Compensating for the lull on this blog..

Monday, January 31, 2011

Getting caught up with the Indian customer of 2011

What is so special about 2011, you may ask. It just so happens I have seen this customer for real; in the 80s, in the 90s, and through first decade of the new millennium, which puts me in a position to speak with conviction about him in the present. How each of *him* has changed over time is a complex topic to delve into, considering the eclectic mix of social strata, geographical distribution, etc. So I will categorically focus on type that most of you will relate with – the average Indian middle-class consumer. From Doordarshan to the omnipresent Nokia mobile phone to hosting Commonwealth Games, India has a come a long way. That the lattermost is known (or notorious) for the wrong reasons is a different story altogether. Thomas Cook India reported earlier last month that they are seeing a trend that Indians are no longer enamoured by the idea of shopping abroad. This is highly possible due to the Louis Vuittons, the BMWs and the Vertus now being available in Indian stores. Of course rich desis always existed, but the bigger insight is the increase in the number of desis with such disposable income.

When I earlier lived in Hyderabad, India, I remember my brother and I making frequent trips to the *factory outlets* every once in a while to find branded clothing for a fraction of the retail price. But I would think today’s bold and the bountiful youngster doesn’t care as much about finding stuff for cheap, at least ones born with a silver spoon in their mouth. It’s common knowledge that fashionistas don’t necessarily drive brands to a country; it’s the money pool that primarily does (once saleability is guaranteed), and does in hordes. It is the age old theory of competition driving competition, and no, the syndrome is not new to India. India as a country was lambasted always for driving up population figures. The naysayers didn't know then this was to become a strong-point for the nation. Don't appear perplexed, India's youth population percentage is among one of the highest in the world and the predominance is expected to last another four decades at least. Given this fact, burgeoning Taco Bell outlets and increasing iPad sales is no surprise. On a related note, experimentation of new product introductions now offers lesser risk simply because the youngster of today wants to try. Spa salons, parlours and nutrition-related services now have bigger presence. So much so that a pal of mine has also ventured into an Asian stir-fry restaurant business in Hyderabad, much like a Mongolian buffet that is much more popular in western nations , while ironically Mongolia is much closer to India. Entertainment is slowly spreading outside stronghold of cinema with concerts, shows and sporting competitions (read CWG, Asian Games, etc). The country is probably not ready for a Cirque du Soleil, but considering it already has a “Zangoora: The Gypsy Prince”, it sure is getting there.

The Indian mademoiselle, what about her? Sure! From Sati Savitri to Pratibha Patil and women CEOs, she’s really come a long way! With a potential to earn the same big bucks, guess who’s happy? The market, to have found more wallets! So here’s a significant chunk of people with money to spend on services, new products, and what have you. Thanks to Wikileaks and Swiss Banks, we know there could potentially be more money stashed away somewhere, that could help the Indian economy otherwise. While India grew, so did China, and the potential of many other nations. The super powers never stopped growing either, and although an exaggeration, India has eventually become everyone’s market place. It’s a noticeable fact that India makes things for cheap, but the bigger thing is India is open to purchasing stuff that is not necessarily cheap, irrespective of source.

In this game of many:many relationships, where the Indian buyer has significant number of options to choose from , what are some challenges the advertising industry faces? Marketing gimmicks always existed, but given the Diaspora of buyers grouped by parameters like age, culture, tastes, just to name a few, companies/sellers have to pick and choose their battles given their resource-based constraints and optimize who to pitch their offerings to. Newspapers, television ads, hoardings, SMSs, social media, e-commerce are already out there fighting for buyer’s attention, but what is their true potential? Where is all this heading, locally and globally? In my next..

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Future of Tollywood

The future of Tollywood is most certainly not in my hands alone, but together we can revolutionize Telugu cinema by simply asking for better cinema! It’s a sad state of affairs in terms of what the TFI has been *bestowing* on us for some years now. Below are my comments on this subject I wrote on a blog, concatenated.
I liked the part where you called the film-makers to action, to live in the present and not indulge in scripts which is rightly today’s Tollywood cliche, if you will. This essay/review circumvents PVC, but I guess Tollaywood really needs to come out of slumber and look beyond *formula films*.
A friend once remarked, its almost like they (financers) found a formula to make 4 Rs out of 2 Rs., and lage pade hain. Most of the top actors do cinema with no script to have a firm footing on! Predictable stories, actress presence (only), song-dance sequences, Sumo bomb blasts, action scenes and Bramhi getting slapped on his head by the hero. The problem is the formula itself. If you make movies with conviction, there will be takers. Find talented script-writers, take a risk! Everything else falls into line too. If the film-maker really cares about good cinema, they would not care as much about branding (read big-league actors). The cost goes down too, don’t they see?!! Happy Days, Prasthanam anyone?
If there is any creativity surge, it genuinely is with humour elements. We sure have a come a long way, so to say – too many examples to name. But how about other departments?! Just look around, bound by *culture* there are other regional movies with profound subjects, intelligent treatment and catering much more. Too much masala has led to acidity, need something as prisitine as milk now. 

To which, a fellow-reader responded:
“Though I largely agree with you, I think branding, as you put it, is still (sadly) a vital factor for our movies to succeed. You mention Happy Days and Prasthanam. Happy Days arrived with a lot of hype, good music, and importantly was the only big release at its time. Prasthanam, which I believe was the best movie of 2010, did not do really well at the box-office inspite of a very good word of mouth. When a strictly average movie like Kick can be a success, and a terrific movie like Prasthanam does not do well, we know where the problem lies. The fault also lies with the audience for not accepting all kinds of movies.
Might seem a little out of context, but I’d draw an analogy with Apple. They do not make phenomenal hardware/software. They just package/market what they have like no one else does. And you still find millions of people buying Apple products, never mind even if there are far superior products around for a much cheaper price. Same applies to our movies. Our audience needs to be more aware.”

My response:
Thanks for seeing through my viewpoint overall. Just to clarify, I wasn’t ostracizing cinema branding or meaning to undermine its value proposition. Promotions and word-of-mouth are bigger than ever today, no questioning absolutely! But when a movie’s USP is the actor himself, sure enough you attract crowds, and we see how this whole money-recovery cycle works even with a bad script at hand. But where is the innovation that brings on the next wave? It begins with a good script and better screenplay without so much stating of the obvious. I’ll use your example of Apple – sure the products seem like everyone else is doing it too. But they remain the real pioneers – iPod, iPhone, MacBook, iPad, etc. Each time they roll something out, the advertising is huge, and product matches up both in terms of innovation and quality – right from look and feel to functionality. But you must observe they are the first to deliver to market, and at an affordable price. Value for money coupled with value for many..what a terrific combo!
I agree with you the audiences need to be aware what’s OK, good or better. Some of us do, and thankfully are having this discussion but it needs to stretch beyond, and reach out to those who can make it happen! I reckon  film-makers think audiences are interested only in certain type of cinema!
It’s really not about what cinema should be about; art cannot be constrained by subject. Film-makers create cinema for many reasons – entertainment, ego-massaging, to turn a profit, creative satisfaction. Potentially all these goals could be confused with each other/lost very easily depending on who’s calling the shots in the process. But the makers must realize that the audience watches cinema to get entertained mainly! Any which case, it’s difficult to strike a chord with every single section of the audience, cinema is like that. I’m trying to represent and speak to that section of the audience which is enthu about good Telugu cinema, much more intelligent cinema, which appeals in a more cerebral manner. Tollywood cinema has come to be recognized by the ‘masala’ factor, and potentially losing out on audience which is disgruntled by same dimwit content being churned out shamelessly, year after another albeit a few exceptions. So I guess its upto the financiers to think intelligently and actually evaluate some more options available. It’s not so much about winning awards or Oscars anymore as much it is about regaining lost respect.

The blogpost, comments et al can be found here:

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Never again is there going to be another YOU!

Never again is there going to be another you, so make the best of yourself –  This is a quotation from Tough Times Never Last, Tough People Do, by Robert H. Schuller.

It is a fact that you are unique. We all look different, have unique speaking styles. Our uniqueness expands to our social image, cultural backgrounds and personal interests. We have seen enough movies to know our fingerprints and our DNA sequences are unique. You know what else is unique about you? Your tongueprint. Yes!

We all have some inherent talents and interests. Beyond all this, we all have dreams. We achieve some and we give up on some. Why does this happen? When you are deep inside a jungle, your vision is blocked by trees. Similarly if you are thick in the jungle of your own life, and don’t see beyond a week or a month confidently ahead of you, its time to take a step back and analyze the big picture. Most of us are busy firefighting our daily routines. But we all have a great number of opportunities to live life better.

I want you all to realize that the best investment you can make is in yourself! Sometimes we give up on goals not because we are incapable, but the circumstances demand our attention elsewhere. Change and uncertainty have always been a part of life, and always will be.  Its not a negative thing to anticipate change even when things are going right. In fact, a fixed mind set creates a tendency to avoid challenge. Its very important to look at opportunities that change represents – it’s the proverbial approach of the glass being half empty or half full. Optimism will let you accommodate change while not shifting your focus from your goals and interests. Remember, life is always about choices and continuously improving your personality.

Now the question is - how does one enhance their personality? Another quotation for you - “The best way to grow as a person is to surround yourself with people smarter than you”. How apt! I believe that each of you has some quality I can imbibe. Learning new things will only help us gain a broader perspective about life in general. Your personality development also depends on your knowledge of self. The way you feel about yourself, your self esteem, impacts your happiness and confidenceIts also imperative that you have a broader social vision in order to learn new things.

I saw this movie a year-and-half ago called “Accepted.” The protagonist is a high school student who does not get an admission offer from any university. He fakes an admission letter to his parents from a fake university. The university has a good campus and even a website – fake and unauthorized of course. Similar students without any admits come to know and actually enroll thinking of this university as real. Out of fear and in order to keep things moving, our folks ask the students to chalk out courses and even teach, result being skateboarding 101, rock music 101, etc. From a movie perspective, its silly and funny but come to think of it, anyone who saw that movie would think it’s an ideal school to graduate from – you learn what you want to learn. But the world has its own agenda; you don’t get paid for knowing how to commute using a skateboard. This is precisely the same reason why most of us take the safe route and invest time and energy in career options where our monetary position is safe. I would not urge anyone to be irresponsible in financial matters; we all have families to take care of. But I would definitely recommend stretching yourself and adding more facets to one’s personality.

The world will not come to an end. So its for you to halt, and re-think how best to lead the rest of your life? You can learn a new art form – music, painting, dancing? Why not pursue that other degree which you always wanted to but situations didn’t let you? Learn a new language, be a writer, teach something, learn a new sport, join other clubs and may be even start your own venture. Increasing your knowledge base and interaction with others becomes necessary. So visit a library, surf the internet, read the news, do some travelling, or have a conversation with someone who may or may not be familiar. We have been taught there’s a time for everything, but the fact remains that the time for anything is now. And if you have a new-found passion, all you need is a big-picture outlook to accommodate this change into your “tight schedule”. Doing the usual is something we do anyway, but experiencing the unusual will in turn help you add more creative value to your routine activities.

You were not born to simply exist, you are born to live. But you are a mortal, and you will live only once. I believe that each of you is born to learn, succeed and inspire. There are so many things your personality can achieve, and obviously no one can estimate your potential including you! I read a quotation long time ago and it has stuck with me ever since, “Aerodynamically, the bumble bee should not be able to fly. The bumble bee does not know and goes on flying anyway.” Follow your passion and add more to yourself, because never again is there going to be another YOU!