May 23, 2016

The native wisdom of Indian companies was never in doubt. Time and again they had shown the way to disrupt existing markets, create new markets, bring to consumers products they had never thought of, and shown many a seasoned MNCs the door to doom! Once upon a time, Nirma did it to HUL. Then Ghadi detergent rubbed the salt on the wound. With passage of time, Paras Pharma created big brands like Moov, Krack, Itchguard, and Dermicool with ample use of native wisdom. Then Micromax came from nowhere and disrupted the mobile handset market. Some years back, the native wisdom created a brand called Fogg which suddenly made all other deodorant brands look like cheaters! All these while, Patanjali was spreading its tentacles to create a phenomenon that is being hotly discussed in boardrooms these days. And more recently, we had experienced the magic of “Rs 100 Crore in 8 months” Pulse! All these examples are such that make MNCs open their mouth in awe and think why we didn’t think of it.

They didn’t think of these because they were shackled to the chains of various processes and templates. Unfortunately, in India, templates and processes don’t work so well. What works here is ingenuity, serendipity, juggad, hard work to experience firsthand the problems that need solutions, and ample amounts of street smartness. While MNCs try to figure out things within the confines of a well-defined box, companies with native Indian wisdom look everywhere without the limitations of any lakshman rekha.

Processes and templates are a good way to standardize and control but they are also responsible for slowing things down, cultivating bureaucratic mindset with risk averseness, and hindering innovation. A diverse country like India where language and culture changes every hundred kilometers, one size fits all is a recipe for disaster. We Indians are complex creatures whose needs and aspirations cannot be trapped in processes and templates. We want the best for us but preferably dipped in our localness and micro-cultural experiences and at a price that looks like a steal. And we love the underdog, the quintessential David courageously walking in to slay the Goliath.

When companies are operating in such a complex environment with such complex consumers, standard, normal and obvious strategies don’t give astounding results. Unless a marketer ventures beyond the obvious, the true potential of Indian consumers remains hidden like an iceberg. That’s where native wisdom comes to play through serendipitous discoveries in an unfettered environment. As a result disruptive products, disruptive distribution, or disruptive strategies emerge and create an awe effect. It is in these moments of discoveries that one experiences the power of Rs 5 price point, the magic of a sachet, the need for a kamar dard kaspecialist cream, a deo without gas, a candy with a salty core, distribution channels we never imagined ever existed, pricing models that appear counter intuitive, and a baba who effortlessly peddles ‘natural and healthy’ consumer goods with yoga! The uniqueness of Indian markets and Indian consumers is that there is a rhythm in chaos that cannot be found unless one gets soaked into the chaos. It takes random experiences and intuitive awareness to unravel the mystery called Indian consumers that no linear system or process can decode.

The Djin of native wisdom of Indian companies will keep achieving remarkable feats as long as it is not trapped in the bottle of rigid processes and global templates.

February 16, 2016

The day “lead in Maggi” news came out; I was least worried about being poisoned by lead. There was enough poison in our water, air, fruits, veggies, street food to make my immune system weather mild lead poisoning. It was also difficult to believe an MNC like Nestle would flout food safety guidelines. Then came the ban and that made me heart broken. Taking away the 2-minute solution to hunger pangs that was developed over years of childhood, college, and adulthood was a nasty blow. But who can challenge the rule of the land?

Mothers and wives are similar. For them ban on Maggi meant that the entire category of instant noodles was the culprit. While the rule of the land banned Maggi from stores, the rule of the house banned Yippee, Wai-Wai, Top Ramen, and anything slurpy and resembling noodles. I was crestfallen and without any escape route. Which husband in India would dare to change the rule of the house stamped and approved by his wife.

Then came the day Maggi was re-born post ban. I was excited like a kid in a circus. I was one of the first to buy a couple of packets from market. But the delight was short lived. Wife was not pleased to see me with packets of Maggi. I was reprimanded and given a quick gyan on health, excess lead, junk food, et al while she so gladly devoured paani purias if it was the food of the Gods! No amount of logic, cajoling, whining helped to convince her that the newly re-launched Maggi could be consumed without harm. All that she allowed was to finish off the couple of packets and never again buy them. That was the last time I and my family ate Maggi. After that it was only memories.

A ray of hope streaked through when Baba Ramdev announced that Patanjali Noddles will bring healthy atta noodles in the life of poor souls like me. Even though I am no fan of Baba Ramdev, I started eagerly waiting for Patanjali noodles. The hope was based on the fact that under the guise of Ayurveda and desi healthy noodles, I could savour the closest taste of my favourite Maggi. The day I heard it has reached the Patanjali stores, I promptly made a visit and bought a packet to try it. I went home excited and hoping for a pat on my back, proudly showed it to my wife. What I got in return was again an angry face and sharp rebuke, “It is still Maggi whether it is from Nestle or Patanjli. It is still unhealthy and it may still contain Lead.” I pleaded to at least taste a packet that I had brought with me. “I will give you tomorrow in breakfast and never ever after that.” From that day onwards, every morning I eagerly wait to see the Patanjali Noddles on my plate. And the wait continues.

The marketer in me quickly realized that this whole saga of Maggi has tormented the entire instant noodles category. Mothers being the primary gatekeepers of what their kids (and husbands) consume have suddenly become apprehensive. Perhaps the “lead in the noodles” still plays around in their minds as if cast in concrete. This sounds like a bad omen for Maggi, the fallen king, as well as Patanjali, the challenger. As exaggerated as it may sound, the category may take a lot of time and astute marketing to recover and stand up again. Or am I totally off the mark?

February 10, 2016

Indian advertising is evolving for the better with a surge in women centric communication that challenges thesanskari line of thinking. It perhaps started three years back with the revolutionary Tanishq film on second marriage and ‘Hawa Badlegi’ film of Havells fans that showed a man taking his wife’s surname after marriage. But 2015 was the watershed year for bringing the image changeover of the female protagonist to overturn male hegemony. A slew of films whacked the traditional male ego out of the senses.

‘Respect Woman’ series of Havells gave it in the face of people who think women are the home appliances of the house. Biba film introduced the concept of ‘ladka dekhna’ to test the cooking skills of the groom. Titan Raga beautifully portrayed how dumb and losers some men could be in their expectation from women. The ethnic apparel brand Anouk’s long format films touched some of the sensitive but stirring contemporary themes of lesbian relationship, single motherhood, a single woman enjoying her drink in the bar in such a way that it could have given heart attack to thesanskari thekedaars of India. Similarly, Zipy and Dabur Vatika ‘Brave is Beautiful’ films brought out the different dimensions of a contemporary woman’s personality.

It’s going to become mainstream

The trend is here to stay and will only grow stronger. Although objectification of women is still rampant in Indian advertising and marketing, the new trend of putting the women at forefront is like a fresh breath of air. This is a refreshing change for society that would encourage more such marketing campaigns. It is also reflective of the growing maturity of Indian society in acknowledging the uniqueness and empowerment of women. With the increasing number of women working in the advertising and marketing arena, it is a matter of time when such line of communication becomes mainstream.

The reality of women consumer

This is also an acknowledgement of the growing economic power of women as consumers who can confidently and independently take decisions about their lives. But the best thing about this shift in portrayal of women as an equal to men is that it will create a spiral effect in reinforcing the message and will encourage more and more women to break the unfair barriers created in the name of culture and tradition. This will lead to an entire generation of women emerging out from the shadow of men to create their unique identity.

A new challenge for brands

All these developments pose a challenge to the brands on the role they should be playing to ride this social wave of unshackling the India women from the patriarchal bondage. Putting the women equal, if not first, would make or mar the future of many contemporary brands. Time has come for the brands to change the frame through which they view Indian women. The message is clear. In the land of powerful Goddesses, no brand could afford to ignore the growing empowerment of women. Brands that proactively bind themselves to celebrating women by breaking thesanskari barriers are going to reap the biggest rewards. They will soon realize that when you ally women, they gladly reciprocate.

Let the refreshing surge continue.

February 8, 2016

Business environment had never been as fluid as it is today. Change is the new constant in the life of any organization. Accept it or reject; change is not going to vanish! Unfortunately, change is never perceived kindly by people who keep an organization running day in and day out. This throws up the biggest challenge before any leader - how to take people along the road to change by making them so excited that instead of fearing change, they look forward to it. The age of pied piper has arrived; someone who can weave a magical tune (or a story) to put a diverse set of people in a trance, dancing and walking to where the leader leads.

Let’s take an example of a mid-sized company where a new leader arrives to undertake a complete business transformation. Obviously, as is human nature, people are excited as well as apprehensive. In such situations, the regular folks don’t open up easily. In absence of engaging communication from the leader, the entire environment becomes a breeding ground for heresay and rumours. First priority must be winning peoples’ confidence in the leader and his story of the magical world. So what’s the way out?

Everyone is important; respect wins

Nobody wants to take orders (except if you are in military) but everyone wants to walk by the side. So as a first step start respecting people as equals and forget judging them. Believe they are as good as one can get. Then comes the fine art of storytelling to spur the action.

It’s not about you; it’s about them

Weave the story around your people not your pompous self. Make people the hero of the story. Show them how “they” and not “you” will lead the transformational journey to the wonderland. Thicken the plot with the drama of your message so that they feel a tug at their heart that inspires action. Moving them emotionally to embrace change and winning their confidence is the first step to successful transformation.

Simplicity wins

A good story is simple, memorable, relatable and sharable. It not only is able to tell the message but also acts as a reinforcement agent. People talk about it with pride as if they are the primary drivers of the story. The message sticks and creates positive vibes.

A story is a journey, not a destination

The most effective stories are not about one product, one initiative, or one transformation. They are like continuous episodes of a soap opera where one episode links to the other and keeps the audience engaged and asking for more. The business leader who wants to use storytelling effectively must find a way to link up one story to another and keep the people engaged with multiple initiatives that make a successful transformational blockbuster.

Humility trumps superman

Every story needs an engaging storyteller who brings alive the story vividly. Story tellers who are loved by their audience are humans and not “exalted egos on the high pedestal.” A CEO aspiring to become a master storyteller to transform the business must start behaving like a human first, someone in whose company an average mortal can feel comfortable. Then both story as well as astounding results would flow!

So let the journey of a story begin. Miracles do happen in stories!

February 24, 2013

There are books that talk and there are few books that make you sit up and listen. “Doing what is right: The Crisil Story” falls in the latter category. It is a great story of a remarkable organization that has played a significant role in development of financial market in India.
The book deftly takes the reader through the journey that Crisil undertook to become an awe inspiring and respected organization from scratch. It started with a leap of faith when there was hardly a financial market worth mentioning in India. The foundation of Crisil was based on the vision and potential of India. Long before “India Story” became fashionable, few visionaries like N Vaghul and Pradip Shah perhaps saw it 10 years in advance and had the courage and conviction to create a world class organization in India which played a critical role in post liberalized India to develop a robust financial market and environment that fueled the growth story of India.
The book has efficiently documented various stages of Crisil’s development and its rise to glory. This story will definitely find a place in the business history of India. However, the book does something much more significant than documenting the story of Crisil. It teaches the basic ingredients of building a world class organization that’s known as much for its work as for its upright corporate character and integrity.
After reading the book, the process of building a remarkable organization becomes crystal clear. The starting point is always a vision and a right leader. The right leader gets the right people on board. The leader and the chosen few people build a culture of excellence where facts and logic reign supreme even to hierarchy. The obsession for excellence builds the character of the organization. The business model is developed in such a way that the integrity of the organization never gets compromised while making sure that the organization keeps growing far and wide. A robust leadership pipeline is created to ensure that the organization never becomes a shadow of an individual. And lastly, the organization keeps evolving itself relative to the changing environment to identify new opportunities to grow. It is as simple as this!
For anyone interested in business, management, or business history of India, this book is a must read. While on one hand it lucidly tells the story of one of India’s best known homegrown business organization, on the other hand it teaches some good lessons in management to a discerning reader.
Overall, the book is highly readable, fast paced, and a page turner. You can finish it during a 2 hour flight and then wonder - “It is so amazing. I want more of it!”

November 27, 2011

Brands need to evolve with time. Every marketer knows this. Yet more often than not, established brands fail because they did not feel the need to evolve with time. The mentality that takes brands down the drain is - "why fix something that ain't broken yet?" The answer to this mentality is - "if your brand doesn't stay relevant to an evolving consumer, she will dump you and you will not know what hit you and when."

Some brands know this fact of life and adapt themselves and their communication from time to time in their quest to remain relevant in consumer's life.

Over the years, Cadbury has moved from "The real taste of life" to "Khane walon ko khane ka bahana chahiye" to "Shubh Aarambh" to "Mithe mein kuch mitha ho jaye" thereby always staying in the heart of the consumers and keeping the relationship glowing. Cadbury never becomes outdated.

Similarly, Airtel has kept its relationship with consumers intact and endearing through smart shift in communication - "Touch tomorrow", "Live every moment", "Express yourself", "Barriers break when people talk", "Har dost jaroori hota hai."

Tata Tea took the engagement level with consumers to a new high with the path breaking "Jaago Re" campaign and now it is making another shift through "Sonch Badlo" communication.

There are many more examples where successful brands have constantly evolved themselves to walk hand in hand with evolving consumers. The results are there to see. They are growing and becoming stronger in a highly competitive environment.

But there are perhaps an equal number of brands that have faded or are slowly fading from memory because they refused to evolve all the while thinking that there was nothing wrong with them. Some iconic and many good brands of past like Iodex, Amrutanjan, Keo Karpin, Vicco, HMT, Dalda, Binaca, Forhans, Halo, Ambassador, Boroline, Palmolive, etc. had to bite the dust because they failed to keep the connect with ever evolving consumers having numerous choices. Even generic brands are not immune to failure if they fail to evolve.

The lesson is simple - evolve or perish!

November 23, 2011

Many organizations have a bias towards having systems and processes for everything under the sun. The intention is always good but practical implications of this "excessive systems orientation" may be seriously detrimental to an organization's well being.

Once the system orientation has taken its roots, people get more concerned about systems rather than what is good or bad for the organization. As a result, systems and processes that were designed to be means to an end become an end in themselves.

If systems and processes for everything can run an organization, what is the need for human resources? By design, systems and processes should be efficient servants to help human resources run an organization. The moment they become master, trouble starts!

New frontiers of innovation and growth can never be conquered by treating an organization like a machine that can be run and controlled through systems and processes. Winning organizations believe in creating and nurturing an environment to unleash the human potential.

October 2, 2011

Working Under a Great Boss

Posted by Bizaholic | 12:20 PM | , with 3 comments »

Great bosses are rare. If you get one, you must be one of the lucky guys out in the corporate world. A great boss is not just a boss; s/he is also a mentor and friend who you can trust.

So far so good. But working with a great boss is not easy! Because great bosses are almost always highly demanding and tend to create high amount of pressure in the working environment. They purposely do it. It is not that their intention is bad; in fact they always have good intention for their subordinates.

A great boss doesn't look only in present. They also have an eye on future. So they tend to focus on building capacity in their subordinates. Like an expert sports trainer, they stretch their subordinate's limits continuously to build higher and higher capacity. They use all tactics at their disposal to create as many learning opportunities for their subordinates. And sometimes that means asking the subordinates to walk on fire!

If you work under a great boss, at times it may appear that the boss is too demanding and keeps you on your toes all the time while pushing a little too hard. But take all these in your stride as the boss is perhaps testing you and grooming you for bigger responsibilities. If you resent, you may be slowing your own chance of progress.

If you have a great boss, trust him or her and take everything as a challenge to give your best. And while you keep pace with your demanding boss, be assured that a benevolent soul wants you to succeed and is always willing to help, guide, and stand for you. Perhaps it takes some good karma to get a great boss!

September 26, 2011

Book Review: Man of a Thousand Chances

Posted by Bizaholic | 11:30 PM | with 1 comments »

The best way to judge a novel is to check whether it keeps one interested enough to turn pages. On this parameter, Tulsi Badrinath's "Man of a Thousand Chances" does not disappoint. This is one novel which keeps your curiosity alive. The portrayal of a typical middle class life has been beautifully expressed with vivid details. If one has lived a middle class life at any point of one's existence, one will relate to the characters of the novel and will feel a part of the whole drama.

But this is not just a novel. It is a story entwined with art, philosophy, a little bit of business! As the story unfolds, one is subjected to heavy dose of philosophy and esoteric topics like law of karma and fate. The last few pages seem to be more focused on philosophical discourse rather than on bringing the story to its logical end. One may enjoy this or get distracted depending on one's views on life and philosophy. And in between, courtesy a mad numismatologist, you get transported on a time machine to witness history ranging from court of Jehangir to battle field of Alexendar and Porus!

"Man of a Thousand Chances" is a novel about Harihar, a middle class man, and his wife Sarla. It is a story about their struggle, duties, responsibilities, aspirations, and fate. Harihar, a man of few means, works in a museum. Faced with his responsibility to marry his daughter and arrange a respectable marriage ceremony, he steals a rare gold coin of the Jehangir era to pawn it to generate short term cash for his daughter's marriage. He intends to replace it back in museum as soon as his fixed deposit is up for maturity. Then a string of events take place - bankruptcy of the finance company where he had his fixed deposit, followed by the coin moving into the hands of a numismatologist, planned robbery in museum, Sarla making big money in day trading, and murder of the sahukaar who had given loan in lieu of the coin. By the end of this roller coaster ride, Harihar and Sarla, who had developed emotional distance during the course of their married life, became more aware of each others presence and started coming closer, emotionally.

The only problem is that at times, due to excessive use of flowery language to vividly describe situations, the narrative becomes a drag and one wants to skip and jump. Also, at the end, the story does not appear to be realistic as too many unrelated coincidences happen one after another in quick succession to protect Harihar from the charge of theft. Law of karma, fate, or a novelist's imagination? It is for the reader to decide.

Overall a good read.

September 23, 2011

Talking Leader or Listening Leader?

Posted by Bizaholic | 11:01 PM | , with 2 comments »

There are some leaders who talk a lot and others who listen a lot. Although this is more of a personality trait, it affects the performance, effectiveness, and morale of the men and women the leader leads. This prompts a question: who is better - a talking leader or a listening leader?

The essence of leadership is empathy. Without showing a high degree of empathy, it is very difficult to lead. While leadership is directly concerned with vision, direction, decision making, building capability, and delivering results, it is empathy which acts as an enabler. And high degree of empathy is directly linked with effective listening!

The problem with a talking leader is that unknowingly he ends up alienating the team instead of aligning them to a common goal. By talking too much and with authority, he discourages diverse view points on a subject and thereby forcefully imposes his own view points. This may work where the capability of his followers is weak and his experience exhaustive. But if he is leading a strong and capable team, he may get trapped within his own world view and miss other better alternatives and get bogged down with the side effect of sending the passion within the team for a toss!

To sum up, a leader needs to be assertive and decisive but not talkative and imposing. He needs to listen to the heart of his followers and then use empathy, persuasion, and experience to help draw the best possible road map and align the entire team to rally around it. Outstanding leaders do not impose decision; they make their followers feel as if the decision is their own!