June 23, 2007

It's fashionable these days to tell the whole world that brand and branding are going to be dead soon! From academicians to retail managers to activists, all are busy writing epitaph for brand and branding. Well, I don't think that a day will ever come in future when brand and branding become irrelevant. Brand and branding are, perhaps, universal things that have been there since time immemorial (think about Picasso signing his painting, shepherds marking their livestock, and in ancient time potters putting special mark to identify the creator). It is equally certain that brand and branding will remain relevant as long as civilization exists on this planet. The reason is simple: Brand is something intrinsically connected with identity, and identity is something that will always remain relevant as long as there are human beings!

The question whether brand will be relevant or not is not important for the simple reason that probability of brand becoming extinct is too remote. The intelligent question to ask is how brand and branding will evolve in future and what challenges marketers will face.

Suppose you are one eligible guy looking for your life partner. There are 10 gorgeous girls willing to marry you. All are equally qualified as per your expectations. All are breathtakingly beautiful. All can talk well. All can say hello to you with a perfect smile. All are charming. Now young man, whom will you marry under the constraints of Indian Law which allows you to have only one wife. In all likelihood you will scratch your head and curse Indian Law regarding marriage! But since your mom is watching you with stern eyes, you know you have to decide fast.

So you start talking to them individually and carefully observe subtle details that convey a lot of things about personality. The way she smiles, the way she laughs at your silly jokes, the way her eyes twinkle when you say something, the way she blushes, the way she responds to your questions, the way she interrupts you, the way she giggles, the way she shows care and affection for you, the way she tests you, and the list can go on. There can be 'n' different clues to read based on which you can take a decision and decide the girl with whom you want to grow old.

Branding in future will be no different. A large number of products will have equal physical characteristics. They will have equal quality. They will have equal properties. They will all satisfy basic needs equally well. They will all have equally appealing external communication. In short, extreme commoditization will become a norm. Yet, a few of them will stand out and entice customers to start a relationship with them; not because of their physical or intellectual beauty but because of their subtle interaction with the customers that give enough cues to them to think that it is one brand they want to grow old with.

The key to branding in future will be multi-dimensional interaction with the customers at every possible touch points in customer's life. Branding will have to evolve into a combination of logical, emotional, and experiential curry that not only tastes exotic and out-of-this-world but is realistic and healthy too. Branding in future will be all about simultaneously activating the head, heart, and all the senses of the customers. And that's the challenge marketers will face in future.

June 20, 2007

Bureaucracy is one of the greatest evils in organizations. Often the roots of bureaucracy are in the process of continuous addition of layers in the organization which inadvertently leads to duplication of work. Layering is a natural process in a growing organization. But at the same time it is the breeding ground for bureaucracy that may ultimately become a growth choking agent. Hence, it becomes a paramount responsibility of senior managers to consciously and frequently delayer the organization by purposefully identifying and culling layers where duplication of work happens without any significant value addition.

An example – I have often seen request for routine approvals landing on a senior manager's table with signature of atleast five different managers who had already reviewed it. I don't understand what kind of value addition the sixth manager is going to do! I firmly believe that if anything meant for approval is moving beyond two levels from the level of origin it's a sure sign of bureaucratic mismanagement. Even two levels is extreme in my scheme of things and comes with a caveat that not less than 90% of approvals must get closed at the level of immediate boss and only 10% should move to the super boss level for closure. But if it takes more than two levels to close an approval request, either you don't have right people to make right decision at various levels or you have simply created multiple layers to duplicate work without any real value addition.

The biggest problem with this addition of layers is that it slows things down to an absolutely uncomfortable level. An offshoot of this phenomenon is hanging decisions for further analysis and discussion. And the loop seldom gets closed in a reasonable time. It's true that taking decisions quickly means a slightly higher probability of committing mistakes. But I feel this slightly higher probability of making a wrong decision is preferable to frequently slowing down the organization by indecision. The speed and action orientation of faster decisions more than compensates for occasional wrong decisions. Also, those who are successful never feared making mistakes!

So what you, as a manager, must do. First, keep questioning every layer of your organization by constantly asking ‘do we really need this layer?’ Second, don’t shy away from de-layering if any layer is not adding any real value or if a layer becomes redundant by streamlining the process at some other layer(s). Third, prevent duplication of work by insisting on doing it right at the first point itself through delegation of proper authority and accountability. Fourth, focus on enhancing the quality of people and processes, the two most powerful weapons to fight bureaucracy.

To sum up, if you want to keep your organization agile and free from bureaucracy, do everything you can to make it lean, mean, and empowered.

June 10, 2007


Posted by Bizaholic | 10:46 PM | with 3 comments »

"A leader is best when people barely know that he exists; not so good when people obey and acclaim him; worst when they despise him"

- Lao-tzu, ancient Chinese philosopher