Friday, November 28, 2014

What’s common between Narendra Modi, Sholay, Microsoft and The Beatles?

Narendra Modi is the new star of the political world, whose charisma refuses to fade. He has given hope to not just his nation but the world too. His success run just doesn’t seem to end. However, if you look closely you realize he is not a one-man army. There is another person always next to him, his close confidante who is equally responsible for the thundering success of BJP and Modi. The man is Amit Shah. Together, the duo is creating magic. They are the best partners and their partnership is the secret of their success.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Thursday, July 24, 2014


In June 2014, Google launched a new version of Android named AndroidOne that would help smartphone makers to make very cheap smartphones. This latest software platform will be launched in India first in collaboration with three smartphone manufacturers:

Sunday, June 22, 2014


Michael Jackson returned to the stage last month in May to dance to the beats of the song “Slave to the rhythm” from the recently released ‘XSCAPE’ album. A ‘virtual’ Michael Jackson took on the stage and set it on fire. He made it to the headlines across the globe. The general public, the fans, the music lovers, the media itself could just not stop talking about it.

Back in India, in May, another superstar used the same technology to address dozens of rallies in the remote towns all over the country. From Andhra Pradesh to Bihar, from Allahabad to Nainital, he addressed more than 800 such gatherings leaving the voters awe struck and mesmerized. Yes, that was Modi, who too like Michael Jackson used the ‘hologram’ technology to reach out to the maximum number of people and convince them to vote for BJP. Going by the results, it seems to have worked out fantastically well for both Michael and Modi.

This technology is not new. Disney has been using it since 1969. Its most popular attractions at the Disneyland Park in New Orleans – Haunted Mansion – has been using this to spook visitors with the help of 999 ‘ghosts’ who make guests feel that they have entered a haunted ballroom. These projected images – be it of Modi or Michael or the ghosts – definitely take your breath away. They are sure-shot ways to awe and amaze your audience. The Dubai airport and many other airports have installed ‘virtual helpers’ which are nothing but holographic projections of staff members who help travellers and provide them information about how to handle security immigration etc. Not just are these avatars eye-catching, they are also the easiest staff to maintain – no lunch breaks, they work 24*7 and never ask for a salary!

If you want to attract attention, you need to do something dramatically different from others. It’s an open secret, and yet not many put in the desired efforts to do so. Holographic projection is one such new-kid-on-the-block that can get you guaranteed attention. As marketers, we need to look at this option carefully and use it to the hilt while it's still new. The world of entertainment seems to have understood the potential of this and those who have the funds are using it to create a buzz around their brand. The business world should also wake up and realize the enormous potential of this. Marketing is all about creating a buzz and standing apart from competition. Nothing works better and faster than a good image. If you are visually dramatic, the chance of getting attention is highest. Marketers today need to find ways to make their brand visually exciting.

All great brands have a great story around them which makes them enchanting and gives consumers a reason to discuss about them. Be it the way Levi's started making its jeans, or how Google got its name, or how Infosys was started, or how Oprah braved poverty and abuse and made it big – the list goes on. A great story is one of the best ways to build a brand identity. However, as brand builders and marketers, we need to be aware that today the way stories are being told has changed. Years ago, we used to chat with friends around a table over coffee, or around the bonfire or in our living rooms, sharing stories and life experiences. ‘Sharing’ has a whole new meaning today. Thanks to technology, the coffee table, the bonfire, the living room have all been replaced by the smartphone. The camera and various apps now help us in ‘sharing’ our experiences instantly. Whether this is good or bad is worth debating, but the fact is this is the new world and as marketers, we need to change the way we share our brand stories with the consumers. Thanks to technology and sites like Pinterest, Vine, YouTube, the best way to reach the audience is through visual engagement. 

As marketers, we are not new to ‘visual engagement’. For years advertisements and logos have been the key factors in engaging audiences visually. However, marketing has moved way ahead of these traditional ways of advertising. Today, the new mantra is ‘sharing is marketing’. You need to make visually entertaining content which engages the consumers and encourages sharing on various platforms. Traditional media has been overtaken by digital players like Facebook, Google, YouTube etc and traditional advertising has been replaced with visual storytelling. Logos used to define a brand; today, unique themes and stories around that theme are defining brands. Look at GE! It posted a video on Vine with a heading “Do you know what happens when you combine milk, food coloring and dish soap?” The 6 second video clip ended up becoming GE’s most successful post.

Seeing the phenomenal response, GE started a full blown social-media campaign named ‘#6SecondScience’ asking users “How much science can you fit into six seconds?”. Users could upload their science experiments and also win gifts. 'Cells inside your hand’, 'Chemical properties of your daily cup of coffee’, and ‘lava lamp’ were some of the popular posts. With the help of the ‘6SecondScience’ series, GE has built a unique identity around itself. The videos are interesting and easily shareable, and just the right tool to help them accomplish their mission of getting young users interested in GE.

Ritz Carlton, on the other hand, used Instagram to tell its story through a giraffe who got lost on a family vacation. The Ritz is normally associated with ultra-luxury and this was a sharp deviation from that image. But the story was memorable and shareable and that’s what the brand wanted.

And of course, the ‘Selfie’, which is the biggest thing on the digital world today. From Obama to Amitabh Bachchan, everybody is posting a ‘selfie’. A little-known South African retailer, Urban Hilton Weiner, used this trend to get people to walk into its showroom. Every visitor to the store who tweeted a selfie of themselves trying on some clothes of the retailer using the hashtag #urbanselfie got a $10 discount coupon. If their tweet became the most popular, they could win merchandise worth $1000 from the retailer.
The best part about visual storytelling or visual campaigning is that it has no restrictions. All that is required is being able to identify what is the key buzzword, and quickly building a strategy around it. No one could have nailed it better than Oreo. During the Super Bowl last year (2013), there was a power outage and for 34 minutes there was no light. Oreo jumped at the opportunity and tweeted a picture of its cookie which read “Power Out? No problem. You can still dunk in the dark”. Today, nobody is just watching one screen. Along with TV, there is almost always another screen (mobile, laptop etc.) While many brands paid almost $4 million to run a spot during the Super Bowl on TV, Oreo got the most publicity without spending a penny.         

Technology has changed the way we communicate, interact with each other, learn and understand things. Brands too need to realize this that the consumer of today interacts with a brand in a whole new way. The one who will be most successful will be the one who is most interesting, most dramatic and can think visually.

The world is a new place today and new skills are required to survive it. One of them is being visually literate. However, we remain a visually illiterate society. In future, the three Rs (arithmetic, reading and writing) will not be enough to do well in life. That was old school thought. Visual literacy or the ability to read, write, think, and solve problems visually will be one of the most essential requirements. As George Lucas, the very famous filmmaker said, "If students aren't taught the language of sound and images, shouldn't they be considered as illiterate as if they left college without being able to read or write?” He is absolutely correct. The world today is more visual than it has ever been. Cavemen used to communicate with drawings and pictures and we are almost doing the same. Most of our communication today is visual. Consider this:
✓Approximately 65 percent of the population are visual learners.
✓The brain processes visual information 60,000 faster than text.
✓90 percent of information that comes to the brain is visual.
✓40 percent of all nerve fibers connected to the brain are linked to the retina.
We are physically built to process visual information.

Now consider this:
✓ On Facebook’s brand pages, the top 10 brands get most traffic from photos and videos.
✓ Facebook reached 100 million users in 4 years but Instagram did it faster.
✓ Photos posted on Pinterest are referring more traffic than Twitter, Google+ etc.

Visuals are more convincing, more interesting and more effective. No wonder Barack Obama – the most well crafted brand of modern times – too joined Instagram in 2012. One of the best ways to build his brand and appeal.

Visuals always make more impact than plain words.

In 1935, Dorothea Lange took a photograph of a migrant mother and her starving children in a farm in California during the Great Depression. The impact of the photograph was so enormous that the government was forced to rush food aid to the starving workers immediately. Visuals have power, and more so today. With everybody armed with a phone cum camera, visuals are the easiest way to communicate and share. So if you want your brand to be talked about, think visually, dramatize your brand’s presence, use technology, use great ideas and get people to share your thoughts. The future is definitely for the ones who can think and communicate visually.

Thursday, May 22, 2014


The world is moving at a very fast pace and everybody is working hard to get ahead in as short a time as possible. As a result, people are cramming up their calendars with more and more. Their ‘to-do’ list just never seems to end. The ability to multitask seems to be the most essential requirement in the work environment. However, the fact is that no one has ever been able to achieve much this way.

To be successful in life – Focus on one thing!
Research has shown time and again that the human mind is not meant to multitask. Not just that, research now even proves how long-term multitasking is actually harmful for the brain. A study done in 2009 by Stanford proved that frequent multitaskers were not able to use their brain as efficiently as non-multitaskers. The scary part is that frequent multitaskers were less effective even when asked to focus on one activity. Trying to get too much done in one go is not a good idea. It will not get you quick success; rather, focusing on one thing at a time, nurturing it and developing it slowly is the key to success.

The bottom line is – multitasking is out. It’s a myth that people who can do multiple tasks simultaneously are more effective and efficient. Rather, the ones who keep their focus on one thing and give it their undivided attention are the ones who over time develop focused expertise and eventually take the lead. If one were to have a heart problem, one would prefer to go to a heart specialist rather than a general physician. Well, the same rule applies to business. Everyone likes to work with a specialist. So if you really want to achieve a lot, go one step at a time. Plan well and focus on one thing at a time. You will become a specialist in that one area. And very soon, your productivity too will skyrocket.

Multitasking is for losers. Brands that try to promise too many things or people who try to do too many things finally lose out to the more focused ones. Look around and you will find that all successful entrepreneurs have found the one thing they are best at and have really focused on doing just that. Be it entertainers, rockstars, film stars, or artists – the successful ones have focused on what they are best at. SRK has been best at playing the lover boy; Air Supply the best at singing love songs; the legendary M.F. Hussain was best at painting horses; and the list goes on. Each found a niche and mastered it.

You too should look at your to-do list carefully and find out the one thing that means the most to you and work on that, day in and day out, ignoring all the other tasks that steal your precious time and are a waste eventually. Watch how quickly you will be able to reach your goal as compared to others who are too busy doing too many things, which add up to nothing in the end.

To be successful in brand building – Focus on one message!
All great brands have one thing in common and that is that they live up to the promise they make and keep you as a customer satisfied. However, there is one more important factor and that is, all great brands make only ‘one’ promise. It has a dual advantage. Firstly, the brand does not need to work so hard to fulfill too many promises (and in the process do a mediocre job); secondly, the consumer is clear about exactly what to expect from the brand.

A new brand Chobani started business in 2005 and today owns nearly 20% of the market share for ‘Greek’ yoghurt in USA. It built its brand so fast by keeping the focus on one aspect and that is ‘real yoghurt’. For years, a few players who pumped out products that had high calorie content and preservatives had dominated the yoghurt market. Now with Chobani, people had the option of a Greek yoghurt, which is plain yoghurt with very high protein and very low sugar content.

However, the secret to success for this brand was also its focus on manufacturing. It had to carpet-bomb the aisles of all possible department stores with its products before the biggies woke up and gobbled up this small startup. So Mr. Chobani focused on increasing his production capacity really fast and changed the whole market dynamics. He was absolutely sure about his product, and now just needed to focus on the right business strategy of expanding fast and making his presence felt before the biggies started imitating him and using their mass production capacities to dominate the market. When he started off, the demand for Greek yoghurt was only 0.2%; today, it commands around 50% of the yoghurt market, all thanks to one startup and its focus. Chobani is today the number one yoghurt brand of USA.

Look at the recent success story of another brand called Lululemon. From just one store in 1998 to almost 200 stores now, it has been Canada’s fastest growing brand. The story becomes even more interesting when you look carefully and realize that the brand primarily sells yoga-wear. Add to this another interesting fact that the brand hardly believes in fancy advertising, or in paying celebrities to endorse its products. Its prime focus has been word-of-mouth. Every place that it opens a store in, it builds a strong relationship with the yoga instructors of that community by giving them Lululemon merchandise (worth $1000) to wear and give feedback, and also to recommend it to their students. It even promotes them by calling them for free workshops in its store where it puts up large posters of the trainers. This gives them free publicity and helps them get more students, and it helps Lululemon sell more.

The focus on ‘word-of-mouth’ does not change inside the store either, where staff is trained to eavesdrop on the conversations that the customers have to understand what they liked and did not like about the merchandise. It does so by placing the clothes-folding table on the sales floor near the fitting rooms so that the staff can hear the complaints and comments. This feedback is then used to rework and improve the designs. By just focusing on word-of-mouth, the company has achieved a market value of $10.4 billion. As one employee quoted recently to media, “We have the third highest productivity per square foot after Apple and Tiffany, which is pretty powerful considering they sell computers and diamonds and we sell yoga pants”. In spite of the fact that there are numerous other brands selling yoga pants for much cheaper, the brand has beaten all and managed to carve a niche for itself. Yoga may have started in India, but Canadian brand Lululemon took it to NYSE! Not bad, considering that one of the main teachings of yoga is to learn to ‘focus’ on your mind and body. Focus, as you see, benefits not just the mind and the body, but also the balance sheets.

On the other hand, take the case of Rediff, which is India’s first internet company to get listed in the US stock markets, but has failed to impress investors. The main problem is its lack of focus. It has been trying to do too many things and hence has not been able to impress many. It is into spaces like e-mail, search engine, travel, news portal, e-commerce and more. In none has it been able to become a leader. When you think of search, you think Google; when you think of e-commerce, you think of Flipkart or eBay. Where does Rediff fit in? To survive, it needs to work out its one focus area and develop it pretty soon.

A new drink named Paper Boat has been slowly but steadily dominating the beverage market in India. Its focus has been offering unique Indian flavours, which is helping it take on the big multinationals head-on. Flavours true to the Indian palate – like aam ras, jal jeera, jamun kala khatta, golgappe ka pani etcetera – along with its unique packaging, have made the brand stand out. It has now even managed to get funding from Infosys founder Narayana Murthy’s firm. The brand and its clear focus on traditional Indian tastes has won it many loyal customers.

Focus works everywhere. Look at the election campaigns in India. One man with only one focus (growth), with only one success story (Gujarat), with only one plan (good governance), is slated to be India’s new Prime Minister. Yes, you guessed it – Narendra Modi, the first Indian leader who will rule with a majority in Parliament. BJP changed its fortunes by putting all its focus on one man, Modi, who showed India what presidential-style campaigning is and what leadership is. In 2009, BJP had won only 160 seats, while Congress had got 260. Look at how focused efforts changed the whole equation in 2014.

The oft-repeated story of ‘Arjuna and the eye of the fish’ proves the point of importance of focus in success and in life. During one hunting training exercise of the Pandavas, on being asked by Dronacharya what they could see while attempting to focus on the intended target, all the four Pandavas and Karna said they could see the sky, the trees and much more... all except Arjuna, who said he could only see the eye of the fish. Modi could only see the PM’s seat and all his efforts were directed towards it. He wanted to be PM and he made no bones about it. No cheap tricks of AAP or accusations by Congress were able to shift his focus. Like any successful brand, he made sure the customer was sure about what they would get if they chose him. He made sure he stood for one thing, which is growth, and people loved him and trusted him and voted for him.

You too should learn to focus on one aspect of your brand or one aspect of work and build up your capacities just like Arjuna, who focused on becoming a master archer and never wavered off. It’s the best branding and success lesson that the Mahabharata has taught us.

Monday, April 21, 2014


Jeff Bezos has done it. Zappos has been doing it for a long time now, and soon, many more companies would follow suit. The new trend catching up is of companies paying their employees to quit!

Yes, it’s no more the era of receiving incentives just for living up to the target; today, one may even get an incentive for not living up to the target or expectations!

THE PROBLEM: You need to have the right skills and the right attitude
The secret to a successful organization is the spirit of the workplace. If there is positivity and enthusiasm, then everybody is motivated and works to the best of their potential. But there are just a handful of organizations that can boast of such a work environment. According to a study done by Gallup in 2013 (State of the American Workplace report), only 30% of the employees are committed to working sincerely. There are 20% people in most places who are actually counterproductive and bring about negativity and discontent among their coworkers. The rest 50% just put in their time, and their contributions are hardly significant. The group to worry about are the 20% counterproductive employees. They cost the company a lot. These unproductive employees, apart from negatively influencing fellow workers, also have high absenteeism rates. They invariably provide poor service, which drives away a lot of potential customers. All this in the long run culminates into a huge loss for an organization.

If we go by the Gallop survey, then these unproductive employees cost the US economy around half a trillion dollars every year, which is a huge waste. The same would be true in every other business environment. So it becomes extremely important to weed out from your organization these kind of employees as soon as possible. A creative way of doing it is to follow Zappos and Amazon.

THE SOLUTION: Fit in to stand out!
Each company has its own unique culture. To really do well, you need to blend with that culture. You should really want to be a part of the whole system. Most importantly, you need to really love what you are doing. However, this is not the case always and a new recruit may find he is stuck in the wrong job. What does he do? Zappos seems to have found a way.

Zappos is an online shoe and apparel vendor, which has mastered the art of customer service. As a result, productivity is at its highest here. All new recruits go through an intensive four weeks of training, where they are introduced to not just the company’s various processes but also its culture and its commitments. After these four weeks are over, the company sends an offer to all the new recruits, which goes like this: “If you quit today, we will pay you for the amount of time you’ve worked so far plus a $3,000 bonus. Cash on hand. No questions asked.”

Why would they do that?
So that they are absolutely sure that the people they are going to invest in, in the future are really committed. And on their part, the new recruits are sure that this is what they want to do. This actually saves huge costs in the long run. A wrong person in the wrong job can make both the company and the employee miserable.
Not many companies can do the same and offer such lucrative cash rewards, but a lesson to be learnt here is that recruitment is a very difficult process and the company should be very, very sure of the kind of people that are getting on to its bus, for the wrong people can derail your plans irrevocably. A resume, an interview, are not enough to judge the potential of a new hire. A few weeks into the job gives one a better idea about the candidate. Weed out the wrong hires and keep the best ones only. Zappos and Amazon do this by offering cash incentives, which makes the process more amicable.

Not just does Amazon ensure that the wrong new recruits are off the bus and hit the road within four weeks of being hired, but it also has a lovely plan for its employees who have put in three years or more into the company. The initiative, named ‘Career Choice’ (started in 2012), gives $2,000 per annum in reimbursement to any employee who wants to do a vocational course to improve his skills. They could choose courses as varied as dental hygiene and nursing, aircraft mechanics, computer aided design etcetera. Although the course chosen by an employee may have nothing to do with the work he is doing at Amazon, the company feels it would give them a chance to learn a new skill, and if required, find an alternative career and move on. All this might be a PR gimmick to cover up stories of Amazon’s workers suffering heat related injuries in its warehouses, but the fact is that you need to keep weeding off from the workplace demotivated, negative and counterproductive employees continuously to keep the productivity of the organization high. These initiatives help companies do it efficiently.

As mentioned earlier, the final aim is that both the company and the employees need to be absolutely sure they are on the right bus; otherwise it’s a waste of time, effort, and resources for both and a sure-shot recipe for failure.

THE SUCCESS SECRET: All it takes is a good leader
If 20% of the employees are generally unproductive, then part of the blame goes to poor leadership. Research has shown that most of the leaders spend 20% to even 40% of their time doing unproductive activities.

As a case in point, in one organization, leaders at the top were busy managing day-to-day problems instead of focusing on and working on a long term vision. The middle level leaders were most of the time busy pleasing the leaders at the top, instead of putting in efforts to really get to know their juniors and help them channelize their energies into more productive ventures. The bottom or front level people were busy making reports or waiting for approvals from their seniors, instead of spending all their energies into serving the customers. So in effect, everyone was busy and drained out, but it all added up to zilch.

The writers of the book ‘Blue Ocean Strategy’ applied the same concept to leadership and showed how restructuring the day of leaders and making it more productive by weeding out counterproductive actions could give your company the winning edge.

A company is only as great as its employees. Most organizations think of people as only costs; and when in trouble, the first thing they do is fire people to reduce costs. Others think of people as easily replaceable assets. People are not interchangeable or so easily replaceable like outdated computers or machines. They are the ones who define the company. So they cannot be treated as ‘cost centers’ or ‘easily replaceable assets’; instead, they are the family whom you need to bond with and take care of in a warm and loving environment.

If you can create that winning environment that helps nurture not just great employees but also great leaders, you would have succeeded in creating that ‘blue ocean’ where no competitor would be able to enter. You would have the most dedicated and devoted set of people; and hopefully, none would be asked to pay to quit!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Amazon is today the one of the largest retailers of the world. Most of us have bought or at least browsed through the zillion things the site sells. Most of us have also patiently read the numerous customer reviews before proceeding to check out and finally buying the stuff. Now, here is an interesting fact. Most of the reviews are written by people whose job is to review products sent to them by Amazon. So they are not normal customers like you and me for they did not pay for the stuff they are reviewing. The important thing to note here is the fact that ‘customer review’ is an important factor today in building market share. It’s proved that products which get a feedback, that is are reviewed, are sold more than products which get no reviews. So Amazon has developed a program called ‘Vine’ where some trusted reviewers are invited to be a part of it. Through these reviewers, it populates its site with reviews which can help customers.

In the virtual world, to be successful, you need to be reviewed, to be noticed. It’s similar to the real world where ‘word of mouth’ is responsible for most sales. Today, we all depend on feedback and reviews before deciding on anything. Even before deciding which movie to watch, we check reviews. Before deciding where to dine, we look for what other customers have to say about the place. No wonder, sites like Zomato, Yelp are such big hits. The key word here is feedback. If you want to be successful, you need to get feedback from the market. In marketing terms, this used to be called ‘buzz’.

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions”. Ken Blanchard said this years ago and it’s so true right now. A great leader is one who gives great feedback and a true achiever is one who is constantly asking for such feedback. The same rule applies for all successful companies also. They are those who have learnt the art of talking to their customers and seeking their feedback constantly. In today’s digital world, it’s become all the more easy to connect with your customers and find out what they actually need.

Not just companies, all successful people too attribute good feedback as one of the factors responsible for their success. As Ken Blanchard says, in an organization, the sales guys always are the ones who constantly get feedback so they know exactly how they are doing, while most of the other divisions are not so lucky. A great leader is one who ensures he gives feedback to all his people, especially those whose work cannot be quantified. It’s critical to reach out to these people and thank them for the work they put in and make them feel good about themselves. People who are happy about themselves, are more positive and productive at the workplace too. So the bottom line is, be it a company or an individual, true winners are those who actively seek feedback as this keeps them on their toes and they keep modifying their strategies to keep up to the mark.

If you want your people to work most efficiently, you need to give feedback constantly. It may sound easy, but it takes time to master the art of giving effective feedback. The key word here is ‘effective’. Not many can give a feedback that creates an impact. It is an art that is very important for any good leader to master.

Your feedback should be such that it is understood in the right spirit by the other person and results in positive action, especially when you are giving a negative feedback. If it provokes defensiveness and demotivates the person, you need to work harder on this skill. After all, it’s not easy to hear about our shortcomings from others.

Great communicators understand this. They always try and give ‘constructive feedback’. This helps the other person understand clearly what he did wrong and exactly what is expected of him. Plain criticism can have devastating consequences and break down relationships, even people and their will power.

A great leader uses feedback as a tool to motivate his team and get them to trust him, like him and consequently work harder.

‘United broke my guitar’ is a very interesting case study on feedback. United Airlines broke the guitar of Dave Carroll the lead singer of a Canadian band. He tried contacting the airlines and pursued them for over a year but no one was ready to listen. So he and his band wrote a song titled very appropriately ‘United breaks guitars’ and uploaded it on YouTube. The video got more than 2.5million views within days of it being posted on the net. He showed how some creativity and $150 can turn an entire industry upside down. The video made all airlines sit up and take notice .It finally got companies thinking seriously about the consequences of ignoring feedback from customers. It also showed the new level of relationship that companies and customers have today and how fragile it is and how today, more than ever before, it has to be handled with utmost care.

One company, which is always ready to receive feedback, is Vanguard Investments. The company has a culture where everybody is encouraged to receive feedback. Its chief executive Bill McNabb recalls the days when the telephone was the main medium of doing business. If the telephone was ringing and the staff was not enough, then everybody in the company including the CEO dropped what they were doing and answered phone calls. He called it the ‘Swiss Army’ culture. Every citizen of Switzerland considers himself to be a part of the army; similarly, every employee at Vanguard considers himself to be responsible for listening to customers and solving their problems. Things can go wrong and normally do, and one of the best ways to solve that is to just listen attentively to the person on the other side. Great companies not only listen, but also actively seek feedback from their customers to help plan better strategies for the future.

In a survey done on leadership effectiveness, it was found that the ones who were ranked at the top were also the ones who frequently asked their employees for feedback. The person who asks for feedback is the one who displays a unique behavior trait, which is the ability to take in criticism about oneself. Such people are also great listeners. If you really want to understand, then you really need to listen well, without getting offended, without interrupting the other person and making him trust you and giving him the confidence to speak the truth without fear. A leader wields great power and influence making it all the more difficult for people to speak up in front of him.

As the legendary Dr. Peter Drucker said, “The only way to discover your strengths is through feedback analysis.” Great leaders are great learners and one of the best ways to learn is from feedback. Remember the story of ‘The Emperor’s new clothes’. It’s a classic case of a leader who was unable to build an environment around him where his followers could give him honest feedback and tell him that he was naked and had no clothes on.

To be a great leader, be a great learner and a great listener. What you should be listening to most attentively is the feedback, which could come to you verbally or non verbally. Air travel is today one of the safest modes of transport, but then planes do crash. The surprising fact is that most of the aviation disasters are caused by human error, and one of the reasons for human error is giving or receiving incorrect feedback. In January 1982, Air Florida fight was scheduled to travel from Washington to Florida. It had been snowing and the aircraft had not been de-iced properly; as a result, the instruments were frozen and were not giving the proper reading. The First Officer noticed the problem and tried telling this to the Captain, who just brushed the First Officer aside and ordered him to prepare for take-off. The run up before the take-off took longer than it should have taken; and the plane sadly crashed into a street a few hundred meters after the runway, killing 78 people, including four motorists. The sad part is that the reports showed that even after take-off, if the Captain had listened to the First Officer (who repeatedly kept telling the readings were wrong) there was enough space to halt the plane and avoid the disaster. If only the Captain had taken the feedback from his junior seriously!

One of the critical aspects of success is your ability to accept feedback with the right attitude, specially negative feedback.

Nick Woodman was a very average student in college. However, he had very above average ambitions. When the crazed dotcom bubble started in 2000, he too created a company named which sold very cheap electronics to young people. The company made huge losses and soon shut down. He then started another company Fugbug. This online company gave users a chance to win cash prizes by participating in sweepstakes. It was a good idea and he even managed to raise funding of $3.9 million. But he could not run it well and this too went bust. This time he lost $4 million, not a small amount and not an easy thing to handle, especially when it was the money of people who trusted him and invested in his business. Not to give up, he stared a third company named GoPro, which sold his new invention, a camera that could be used by athletes. Today, GoPro is one of the fastest growing camera companies in the USA. The important thing about this story is that Nick never let failure scare him to stop trying again. He took it as a feedback. It was a lesson from which he learnt what would work and what would not work. In fact, he says that the fear of failure made him work his ass off!!! He was so scared of failing that he was determined to succeed. This outlook made him one of the youngest billionaires in the world.

Take failure as a feedback and not as an end and chances are, you too would be able to join the billionaires’ club soon. According to a survey, out of the top 100 billionaires, 73 are self made. The reason they are on that list is because they went ahead and tried. At every stage, they reviewed their progress with a positive attitude and kept moving on. So can you.

Get ready to write your success story as you prepare to face the world and all the feedback it gives you. That’s the secret to success!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


It’s the month of love! Couples all over the world are celebrating Valentine’s Day and professing their undying love for each other. However, only a few relationships can stand the test of time. A close look reveals that only those based on mutual trust and understanding last long. You need to be great friends, good partners first to eventually become good lovers. Everybody can do with a good companion. After all, life can get tough and a trustworthy companion makes the journey easier. If you can choose the right companion, half the battle is won. A love affair will last long only when you choose your partner with care. A hasty decision in this respect will only end in a broken relationship.

Business too, is also all about relationships and affairs. Having an ‘affair’ is actually good business. Ask any Bollywood (even Hollywood) actor and (s)he will tell you how a rumour of an affair between the lead couple just before the release of their film is bound to get the audience more interested in the film and contribute to increase in ticket sales. It’s a time-tested trick and always grabs the maximum attention and media coverage. However the ‘affair’ we are talking about is a ‘corporate affair’. And in that regard too, it is a time-tested trick to grab the attention of the consumer.

In today’s fast moving and competitive world, one of the fastest ways to spread your presence in the market and get noticed and talked about is to find the right business partner. Look at Coca-Cola. Its success story is based on partnerships and alliances. Be it the bottler (in 1899 it started its first bottling agreement and today has 300 bottling partners around the world), the supplier, etc., all are partners of the brand and its success depends on the efficiency of these partners. However the biggest partner of Coke has been McDonald’s. Coca-Cola products are sold in over 31,000 outlets of McDonalds spread across 100 countries. Coke entered the Russian market with the help of McDonald’s. In US alone, 5% of Coke’s market share comes from McDonald’s. It’s all thanks to Ray Kroc – the man who made McDonald’s such a successful QSR chain. Back in 1950, Ray Kroc persuaded a young Coke employee to supply him Coca-Cola. Since then, the relationship has grown from strength to strength. The point to note here is that not a single McDonald’s restaurant serves Pepsi, even though there is no document that prohibits them from serving Pepsi. It’s a partnership that has benefitted both brands. If you look carefully, you will find that every dollar that Coke earns comes from some partner or the other – be it a bottling partner or a distribution partner.

Coke has a partnership alliance with Disney too and is the sole provider of soft drinks at Disney theme parks. The Coke-Disney-McDonald’s partnerships are made in heaven relationships. All of them target the same audience – families. So the deals make sense and the common goals have made the alliances last for so many years.

On similar lines Pepsi has an ongoing affair with Pizza Hut that has proved a win-win for both parties.

Partnerships make good business sense.
A partnership between two brands actually makes for a good deal. It’s better and cheaper than takeovers. A partnership deal can almost immediately add to a company’s revenue base and reduce costs without almost any capital investments. So when Starbucks wanted to increase its presence, it partnered with the book shop Barnes & Nobel and set up its stores inside the stores. Pepsi wanted to enter the iced-tea business, so it partnered with Unilever’s Lipton. Quaker Oats on the other hand spent $ 1.7 billion in buying the brand Snapple. Pepsi’s deal was more cost effective!

Look at all the big brands and you will find a series of partnership deals responsible (to a great extent) for their success.

Look at Nike. It’s the largest shoe brand in the world, yet it does not manufacture a single shoe. Every thing is done by its partners. Boeing is one of the largest aircraft manufacturers in the world. However the truth is – apart from cockpits and some other parts, it manufactures nothing else! The logic is simple. If you cannot do it better and cheaper alone, then go ahead and find a partner who can do it more efficiently for you.

Pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly realised the importance of partnerships decades ago. It has been forming alliances for nearly a century now. It is sitting on at least 100 partnerships across the world, making it a formidable competitor to defeat. 

Yahoo! has been in trouble for a long time. However its very fashionable CEO Marissa Mayer has decided to enter into relationships with the right brands to help improve Yahoo!’s efficiency. A few days back Yahoo! announced a data partnership with Yelp, one of the most popular restaurant reviews site. The partnership would imply that all the listings and reviews of Yelp will be incorporated into the search results of Yahoo!, thus benefitting both brands. Yelp’s reviews are what customers have grown to trust. Yahoo! with no investment may be able to attract more customers to its search engine.

Partnerships are a cheap alternative to mergers and acquisitions. Growth is faster and cheaper here. However like every relationship, it needs to be nurtured. If the partnerships are not based on a common mission, a common goal, they are bound to fail. A classic example of this is the American airline industry in the 1990s. All the big airline companies started focusing on partnerships with one another in America. That’s when a small carrier stepped in and started providing customers with cheaper and better services than other airlines and their numerous partners. Virgin Atlantic, another new player at that time, did just the same and it easily snatched away a large chunk of market share from the biggies. AT&T at that time had formed more than 400 alliances. Almost none of them worked out.

Choosing the right partner is serious business and should be done with a lot of care, for a broken relationship brings along with it more pain and misery than a no relationship status.

Co-branding is the way to go
Let us look at some of the successful partnerships and learn from them, for this is going to be a winning strategy of the future. As Peter Drucker once said, “The greatest change in corporate culture and the way business is being conducted may be the accelerating growth of relationships based not on ownership but on partnership”.

Life can get a little lonely and scary without a good companion. In business too, brands may find it a little overwhelming to capture all markets all alone. It’s the era of globalisation and to be successful, you need to have access to global markets. A safer way to venture into untested waters is through partnerships.

In marketing terms, partnerships are also referred to as co-branding. The more intelligent, interesting and innovative your co-branding partner, the more successful you will be. In Thailand, in 2011, Coke was behind Pepsi in terms of market share. Nothing seemed to work to change things for Coke. Then floods hit the country. Immediately, Coke changed its branding strategy and partnered with The Red Cross and started promoting donations to The Red Cross instead of promoting its cola. In three months, the brand was more visible and more liked than ever before. Its new tagline, “A million reasons to believe in Thailand”, got it millions of good wishes and new customers and it soon became the market leader. This is not the first time such ‘brand charity partnerships’ have been successful. Pampers partnered with UNICEF and improved its brand image. It is something the brands would not have been able to do alone.

As the saying goes, ‘A man is known by the company he keeps’, brands too need to be careful about whom they partner with, for it has a direct impact on their image. So yes, go ahead and co-brand. But remember to be very cautious. No wonder just anybody cannot partner with James Bond, but whoever manages to woe him always benefits for its image suddenly becomes more hip, more modern and more interesting. The clothing giant H&M partnered with Madonna, Top Shop partnered with Kate Moss, Apple partnered with Nike to create a sports kit that allowed your shoes to talk to your iPod, Nike partnered with Michael Jordan to create Air Jordans which became one of its best-selling shoes, Southwest Airlines partnered with Sea World. It was a strange but interesting partnership as the passengers were sometimes visited by penguins making the airline more interesting and also making the passengers aware about the various attractions of Sea World. One of the most rewarding partnerships has been those that The Global Fund, also known as (RED), has got into. Over the years, (RED) has joined hands with Apple, American Express, Armani, Starbucks, Bank of America, etc. The deal is – if you buy any (RED)-tagged product, a part of the proceeds goes to (RED)-funded The Global Fund. The Fund has raised more than $130 million till date!

Look around you and you will find all great brands partnering with other great brands and together reaping benefits of the alliance. TGIF partnered with Jack Daniels and devoted an entire section of the TGIF menu towards items that were flavored with Jack Daniels. Yes, you guessed it right – it became the most popular section among diners at TGIF!

Many brands have also found trusted partners in the world of movies. Horlicks partnered with Narnia and Kung Fu Panda and featured the characters on its pack, making it a sure shot hit with the kids. Yummiez partnered with Disney’s Toy Story 3. Del Monte partnered with Krrish 3. And the list goes on...

As you celebrate love and relationships this month, take a close look at your business affairs. It’s time to find the right brand to start a love affair with.

Thursday, January 2, 2014


As the new year begins, let’s resolve to truly create happiness even when none exists. Meditate upon what actually makes us happy. Surprisingly, these very factors [of joy] that we discover are closely connected to our businesses too. These are the very things that make our customers happy.

We don’t need much soul-searching to conclude that things that truly make us happy, actually come for…free! A smile from a loved one, a hug from your child, an unexpected call from an old friend…and the list goes on. In business too, ‘FREE’ is the word that can trigger a cascade of smiles and happy reactions amongst the customer community – or “maximum” sales as you call it – and is arguably the best deal that you can give to the consumer.

‘Free’ is Actually a Good Marketing Strategy

The one man who has shown the power of a tempting freebie is none other than the new CM of Delhi – Arvind Kejriwal. Free water and free electricity have made him the darling of the masses, giving him a definitive lead over strong political rivals – BJP and Congress.
Last year, Apple too used freebies to beat its competitor Microsoft. It announced a free upgrade of its software OS X. Users of OS X (versions Snow Leopard and higher) were allowed to upgrade to their latest OS X (Mavericks) at absolutely zero price. It was also announced that in future too, all OS upgrades would be free. The Cupertino giant also announced the free inclusion of an alternative to Microsoft’s Office suite in all Apple laptops in future! Anybody’s guess this – Tim Cook has found a way inside Microsoft’s head. It’s got the software giant guessing beyond just who would replace Steve Ballmer in time – what should it price Windows 9 at?

Brands that offer unexpected free services can very easily win loyalty of their customers and eventually defeat competitors. Take the case of Mail Online. For a very long time, The New York Times (NYT) was the most visited newspaper website in the world. But as Bob Dylan would have imagined matters for NYT a decade back (remember his ‘Things have changed’ song: “…People are crazy and times are strange; I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range; I used to care, but things have changed…), in 2012, Mail Online beat NYT by clocking 45.35 million unique visitors as compared to 44.80 million of NYT. Mail Online also became profitable in the same year. Apart from giving readers the content they wanted by carefully researching what the reader was looking for and providing them just that (in most cases readers wanted to see bikini clad pictures of celebrities), Mail Online has kept its content free. Some comparison with NYT, which keeps most of its content hidden behind pay walls! 

The past year saw the rupee plummeting and general consumer demand dropping. This made brands run helter-skelter to beat the downward swing. Some smart ones realised that reducing prices was not feasible so they bundled freebies to get rid of their surplus inventories and make their offers appear lucrative to buyers. HUL offered lots of freebies like free conditioner with shampoo, etc.

FMCG companies have for long been known to dole out freebies to boost their toplines. Now it seems the companies selling durables have found this to be a good strategy. Last year, Volkswagen launched a new scheme where a new Vento was offered in exchange for an old car. In Gujarat, there was a Skoda car dealer who came up with the most mind-boggling offer. He offered a free Fabia model on the purchase of a Skoda Rapid! Just one small condition - the Fabia would be given after five years. If reports are to be believed in two weeks the dealer had sold about 600 cars. It’s definitely for a reason when people say no one can do business like a Gujarati!!! Buy a car and get another free – shocking, surprising…yet one of the most stunning offers possible! [What next in Gujarat? A car for a car stereo?]

Advertise on Google or Facebook and get free analytics to know who exactly viewed your advertisement. You would never go to an ad agency after this. 

Look around and you will see smart marketers offering ‘free’ stuff to win your attention. Free home delivery, free test drives, free installation, free samples, free shipping, free newsletters, free upgrades, free registration, buy-one-get-one free, happy hours, free trials…and the list goes on. Secret? ‘Free’ wins attention. ‘Free’ attracts! After all, free implies no risk, no downside – making it totally irresistible. This is the emotion companies exploit and try to make a killing. A good marketing strategy is one that includes some or the other ‘free’ offering to the consumer.

Free Never Hurt Anyone

If it’s free, its harmless and in some cases, even beneficial. If there is one thing that can get cash registers ringing, it is ‘free publicity’. Apple has mastered this deft touch, for it knows all the tricks of the trade and generates maximum amount of free publicity. If people are talking about you, chances are very high that they are buying your brand too. Take the case of Apple. According to a study released by Brand channel in 2012, Apple-branded products were seen in 42.5% of the top 40 films of Hollywood (in 2011). That means free advertising of its products to an audience that does not even have the remote to fast forward your ads! Apple has got the highest visibility in Hollywood in the past decade – more than the combined product placement time of McDonald’s, Pepsi, and Sony Vaio. Incredible. The second technique that Apple uses to generate free publicity for itself is through speculation. The company is so secretive about its new products that ‘leaked information’ from its labs automatically becomes everybody’s business! ‘Rumours’ are its most potent weapon, for they make the world so curious that when the company finally launches its new product(s), it manages to attract long queues of customers outside its retail stores, dying to get the first glimpse of its ‘much awaited’ creations. In fact so popular are the rumors about what Apple is about to bring out next that Huffington Post has a recurring feature called “The Week in Apple rumors’!

Gizmodo got hold of a ‘misplaced’ iPhone4 and wrote about it making the customers go crazy with anticipation, just a few days before Steve Jobs launched it. Whoever said business had to be boring, look at Apple and learn some bit of fun. Tomorrow, you can actually have customers eating out of your hands.

Free publicity – good or bad – always helps. Recall the scene from the film ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ where a scathing article on Jordan Belfort calling him a ‘twisted Robin Hood’ in Forbes (magazine) is shown and how that gets him very upset. And how his wife then explains that no publicity is bad. Wasn’t she proved right the very next day when his office was swarmed with new recruits anxious to work for him? 

The most popular show on Indian television today, ‘Comedy Nights with Kapil’, has stars lined up in every episode trying to get as much free publicity for their upcoming films. It’s not paid ads but the free publicity that causes the sale.

Free anything works. Even free advice. Look how Amazon suggests things you would be interested it. Look how most apparel retailers give you free advice on the latest trends and how to look good.

So go ahead and find out how to get the maximum free coverage, for free works like no other. However let’s pause and thing “Is it really free?”

There is No Such thing As a Free Lunch

Finally as consumers we must remember that there is no such thing as free. ‘Everything’ has a price! TNSTAAFL (There is No Such Thing As A Free Lunch) is a term that originated in old New York many decades ago. Back then, restaurants used to offer free lunches to customers, with one simple clause – they had to buy a bottle of beer along with it. As it goes without saying, the beer was grossly overpriced and the food was salty, making the customers buy more than one beer bottle and making the whole venture tremendously successful for the owner. What it boils down to is for everything offered for free, there is a hidden [disguised] price. It’s all about how you present it to the consumer and convince him.

Finally, while we say there is no such thing as a free lunch, there are certain things which are free and should remain free or become free if they are not. Yes love is free, air is free, but so should be education and basic health facilities for all – that’s if we really want to live in a humane society. While we as business people plan a lot of free stuff for our consumers, let’s also remain committed to this cause. A society that’s well taken care of, will also take care of you and your brands.

Free Things Motivate

While everybody wants to take home a hefty paycheck, the most motivated and loyal employees are also not those who get paid the highest but those who get a timely pat on the back from their bosses. The happiest kids are not those who get lots of gifts but who get lots of time from their parents. It’s not a three carat diamond ring but the three words ‘I love you’ that bind two hearts together. So make space for all this free stuff to really make a difference.

As the new year begins, let’s remember to include ‘free’ in our marketing strategies while not forgetting that the best things in life come ‘free’.