Selfie: Curated Ego

One of the most vivid memories of 2013 will be Barack Obama, who was caught posing for a ‘Selfie’ with David Cameron and Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt during the memorial service for Nelson Mandela. The picture obviously went viral and was much debated post that. What Obama did was cap the year of ‘Selfie’ with one of his.
This is the year when Selfie became a mainstream word. Selfie is actually internet obsession with self, where you take picture of self and post it across the social networking sites ranging from Instagram to Snapchat. The trend has moved on from just plain vanilla selfie to ‘yogis’ (selfie + yoga) and ‘belfies’ (bum + selfie) making you wonder where the obsession with self can go. What though is beyond doubt is that this bout of narcissism is being fuelled by smart phones that are now ubiquitous and in every pocket. A host of celebrities, industry titans and politicians have been bitten by the obsession of self. While some have used it as revenge against paparazzi, others have turned it into a business opportunity. Gwenth Paltrow for example launched Goop.com where she curates stuff she likes, where she peddles things that range from bizarre to obscene, (like monogrammed napkins for 14000 bucks).
The obsession with self is not limited to a selfie, it goes way beyond then just a mere snap. Selfie is a self-created advert for ‘what are you doing now’. This trend has now being used byu a variety of mobile phone apps like Klout (personal influence), Strava (cycling), Tictrac (personal dashboard) and the good old Nike+ (running). All of them do one thing, build self and create a branding for you across social networking sites.
The critical question to ask is this: is the Generation Me then a narcissistic epidemic or is it a pointer to something deeper that is happening in the society around us.
Generation Me is not a new term, it has been spoken about for some time now. There may not be one definition of this term, largely it refers to a bunch of people who have a very high self esteem, are overtly materialistic, are confident sometimes overconfident of their ability and live in a self created bubble. This is a group of people who invest a large sum on self-vanity. As expected the obsession with self cannot be seen as the good thing by the sociologist, afterall the self-obsession may be the reason behind failing global economy and falling personal relationships. After all if young teenager buys a limited edition Aston Martin Rapide and then boasts about it to all and sundry through a selfie is not the best of examples in a society. The self created video of the teenager who drove the Ferrari somewhere in Kerala that was doing the rounds this year did create a furor and may be even have forced action by the authorities.
Narcissism epidemic is real and is dangerous, especially when it starts to inflict the youngsters giving them a false sense of status and ability. Though the Generation Me is not composed of just kids, or a homogeneous audience. This is unlike most other generation nomenclature that exist. Generation Me is a sign of times, cuts across a wide swath of populace and has the ability to drive change in positive way too.
One thing that defines what the Generation Me does is build on immediacy.
There impatience that is inbuilt into the codes of conversation. As individuals they never feel that they are powerless and that they cannot change the status quo. This impatience is manifested across a range of activities that they are indulging in.
Generation Me is extremely fashion conscious, style is their currency. They shun brands that are uncool, that are not up on style quotient. More and more brands are now forced to just up their ‘looks’ quotient. Traditionally we have focused a lot more on what we deliver, and a lot less in what style do we deliver. The lack of style is now a serious business impediment. The impatience also leads them to punish brands instantly. Poor quality, poor service and even poor attitude is not tolerated and immediately commented upon. This generation is not looking at creating a social wave out of their comments, they are happy being the sole individual who took the brand to task. The brands may dismiss the individual comments, but collectively the brand owners cannot ignore this new trend

The third thing they do is do instant rejection of established order. There is no saying that existing established order is the only way to do things. They will create a new protocol and before the world realizes that becomes the new way to do things

While at one end the Generation Me is about creating individualized reality through Selfie, but at the other end they are impatient and reject old, boring and dowdy.

‘Me’ now defines who I am, and my camera defines how my ego should look.

 

Original Published in Financial Express Brand Wagon in January 2014

7 things research will never tell a marketer

No self respecting marketing executive can live without market research. Market Research offers purposeful information to make plans, policies, programmes and procedures of any marketing activity. Market Research industry is as old as communication industry and many would argue more important than the mainstream communication industry. Yet there are pitfalls, and things that MR can never tell. Here are seven things MR can rarely tell

1. Reflect reality

Market research is a post facto measurement of what had happened. The common belief is that research data reflects the current reality and hence can be used as a basis for predicting future. If that was the case then well researched brands would have never failed

2. Predict future

Research means placing human beings together in one place ask them their opinions and form that as a basis of predicting future. This is like saying that if you watch a lion in zoo, you will learn all about lions. Human zoo is no different from animal zoo, and is rarely the right basis of prediction.

3. Is never free of bias

Any form of research suffers from investigator bias and statistical errors. Research too is a classical case of stimulous response. The answers depend on what you ask, and that define the findings. Can research ever be free of bias?

4.Right answers depend on right questions

The new Coke is the stuff that is now a case study. While the new formulation tested well, scored on blind taste and passed every test the research industry threw at it, it failed when launched. The consumer was not asked the most obvious question; will the formulation change the brand they love? Do they want the brand to change? The result was a massacre in market

5. No guaranty of success

Testing a new commercial for predicting its success in market is a common practice. It is easy to score a commercial on emotional appeal, on message comprehension, on ability to create perception. Yet more commercials fail then succeed. We all know that, yet are slaves to practice

6. Does not replace experience and gut

We need to remember that research is a tool, and not the decision. A marketers gut, experience, market reality are far more important than any amount of research data. Yet the tendency is to live more by research data and less by collective experience.

7. Quality matters

We all know this.

Right?

Yet an average marketer rarely spends time on figuring out who will administer the stimulus for research. Will an average field executive be up to scratch? Will the average investigator strike the right balance of objectivity and expertise? Most researches are spoilt by simple overlooking of this crucial aspect. Next time pay attention to field investigators.

As a simple test try this, ban MR for a while, live by what you know as a marketer, trust your experience, trust your market feel, trust the hours you have spent in field. Take the decisions that need to be taken, and use research almost as the last step to check gross negative. You might speed up the process, learn a great deal more from mistakes, and possibly be more successful.

Experience always triumphs over data

The New Middle Class in India

It is now official. First time in the history of modern India, high income households will outnumber lower income households. According to latest NCAER estimates India will have 46.7 Million households in high income category and 41 Million households in lower income category.

Households earning up to Rs 45000 per annum are dubbed as lower income households, and those earning over Rs 1.8L per annum are classified as high income households. But the real story lies in the number of households that are between Rs 45000 to 1.8 L per annum. This number has now reached estimated 141Mn households, out of a total of 228Mn households in the country. This is what is called the middle class in India. This middle class now is over 60% of the entire country. This is a stupendous turnaround that we are seeing happen to our country.

We often assume that the entire middle class is ‘one class’ and we can try and paint them in one go. The truth is that the middle class in India is a constantly evolving mix of audience. The current decade has seen a very strong growth in middle class. The economic growth, the rising prosperity, more and more people moving up ladder has created a new class of customers. These are the new members of middle class of India.

What is fuelling this new middle class? What are the trends that they will trigger? After all they are a very potent group of consumers

The new middle class has been powered by women. Just look at the long term literacy data of India and the impact women are having will be clear. The female literacy rate has risen from 8.6% in 1951 to 54% in 2001 census. The 2011 census I am sure will show that the number may have crossed 60%. Interestingly the growth of female literacy rate was 15% between 91 and 2001, as against just 11% of male literacy growth. Clearly the women are catching up with males, and this too is triggering a set of new trends.

Here’s a look at some of the new truths about the new middle class

The growth of the new middle class is powered by women. With better education they are joining the work force in a greater number. With this they are taking control of their future, having a greater say in their wedding, deciding on when to have kids and how many. Apart from the demographic impact they are also driving their partners with a greater zeal to improve their future. They are making the most of change in their demographic and social status.

The new middle class will impact the travel choices in a big way. The new found economic freedom will translate into a greater desire to explore the world. They will pack their bags and take vacations at a greater frequency than ever before. And they will not always be looking at visiting their relatives only when they do so.

The new middle class is very serious about securing their future. One of the first serious buying decision they will take will involve buying a house. They will look at buying their own house even before they decide to buy a car. There is no better way to announce the transition than by buying a house. This means that the small home segment will boom in a much bigger way in coming decade

The new middle class is truly driven by dynamism of its own members. They are literally writing their own destiny and crafting their future. They are hardworking, optimist, smart and not driven by the rules of past. They will impact the world of marketing and branding in a big way.

The new emerging reality will be very exciting

Indian Population bane or boon?

We have heard this many times: India has about 17 percent of the world’s population and just 2 percent of the world’s land area. This imbalance between the number of people and the resources available is the basic reason for India’s woes. Pretty simple argument to find fault with!

 

But is reality as simple?

 

Often looking at issues too closely makes you lose the sight of the bigger picture. So let’s look at some basic facts. The world in 2015 will be populated by some 7.2 billion people, up from 6.1 billion in the year 2000. The rate of world population growth will, have diminished 1.3% in 2005, to approximately 1% in 2015. The financial value of world according to World Bank stood at US$ 28.5 trillion in 2003. This will rise to over US$ 50 trillion by 2015 growing at well over 8% annually. Clearly the world economy is growing at a much faster pace than world’s population. May be there is no correlation between population and economy

 

 

In reality India’s real problem is not population, but its economic policies that over regulated labor and product markets, blocked domestic investments that made India insular

 

So is India’s population really the curse India is carrying? Or will this population itself become India’s new weapon in a rapidly globalizing world? There are three realities that we need to focus on.

 

We will become the youngest nation in the world: Indian population will continue to grow at over 10-12% per annum. Only countries that will keep pace with India are Malaysia, Egypt, Vietnam, Turkey, Indonesia, Brazil and South Africa. Even among these countries India would be uniquely placed. It will be the only country by 2012, which will have more earning population than those who are dependent. India will see sharpest growth in 15-60 year age group. This age group will grow at over 30% from 600 million in 2003 to 800 million by 2016. The young India will pose a serious challenge to growth of China, whose population growth would have slowed down, and whose potential work force would start to stagnate.

 

We will get Richer: India’s 1.1 billion people could see the nation’s wealth per capita doubled. It is estimated that 61,000 individuals now have assets exceeding US$1 million and will double by 20015. India will become the world’s third richest economy by 2020. So not only will we be in top 3 in the world in terms of people power, but also in top three in terms of earning power.  India will remain an open economy and an open society, benefiting from a brain gain rather than losing talent in a brain drain of well-educated young Indian professionals going abroad to seek their fortunes.

 

The over 60 population will be both a challenge and opportunity: The over 60 year population will rise from 90 million in 2003 to over 100 million in 2016. At one end they will put pressure on health care system because of lifestyle diseases and greater life expectancy. At the other they are a new opportunity, as they will also enrich the demographics of the country. As the first generation of post liberalized economy they will bring in their experience into play and remain a part of growing economy.

 

By focusing on these three factors I am not trying to take the focus away from some of our demographic challenges. We need to reduce our infant mortality rates. We need to bring more and more population into the health care fold. We need to ensure that our literacy rates keep on increasing. We need to ensure that rapid increase in urbanization does not speed up decay of an already busting at seams infrastructure. We need to ensure that rural infrastructure continues to develop. All these are real problems, but are not the problems of only population. Most of these actually need optimum utilization of India’s abundant resources. After all we have abundant food grain reserves, forex reserves, natural resources and whatever else is needed. And above all the political will to make it happen.

 

I believe that larger population of India will become an asset rather than a liability to economic growth. To make this happen we have to invest more education and training, and leverage new technologies. In the modern environment, a larger population raises productivity by inducing greater specialization in skills and occupations. And with the world’s developed world struggling to cope with diminishing population, we will for once have the genuine advantage.

 

People of any country are never a bane.

Published in DNA Mumbai, January 9th, 2007

 

 

Integrated Communications: the new reality

Change may the only constant, but change is most hated by everyone.

Look at every new idea, and the people refused to accept the innovation.

Video didn’t kill radio, calculator didn’t make a whole generation dumb, computers didn’t make us lazy, remotes didn’t turn viewers into constantly surfing junkies

They actually did exactly the opposite. Video made radio smarter. Calculators opened up new possibilities. Computers made a whole generation smarter. Remotes forced the TV programmes to become more entertaining and less preachy

What’s my point?

We may as well see this happening with this entire theory of integrated marketing and communication.

The whole practice of Integrated Marketing is based on the belief that consumers are fragmented, and no single medium can reach them with optimum efficiency. Hence we need to surround them with as many mediums and make them see our brand in the right light. In the morning when they wake up, they must see us on newspapers, thought he day they must see us from billboards and radio. In the evening we must blast them with constant ads on TV. These days’ consumers also watch TV in morning, and hear news on TV throughout the day, so our message must be there too. Rise of mobile and internet means new mediums to should be added to the mix. So not just conventional mediums, but also new mediums. Surround the consumer with as much noise as we can, make sure that that the brand is always around them.

And we do it very simply by taking the TV idea and taking it across every medium. So one visual, one colour or one music note and the brand can communicate with its audience consistently, constantly. We can also measure not only the intensity of our message, but also the effectiveness of our message.

There is a big issue with this approach though. This approach believes that consumers are individual islands and the brands can control the interaction. Almost like what Simon and Garfunkel said in their super hit song “words of prophet are written on the subway wall, and people bowed to their Neon God”

The consumers are no longer fragmented; they have started to become collective, become one and are finding their voice. And not through the old world of unions and forums, but through the new age world of online forums, blogs, communities, Facebooks and Mouthshuts.

And the consumers are shunning authority. We no longer live in a world where people instinctively trust authority. As much social research shows, we’d rather trust our own instincts and the information we learn from our friends. For the brands, it’s better to be talked about by consumers than to try to out-shout the crowd.

These are fundamental changes that will make every theory of Integrated marketing stand on its head

The new world than is not about dominating, but is about engagement. It can sound chaotic and scary, but it needn’t be either

So what is it that the brands need to do to engage consumers?

Make the consumers look good: its not about giving the shine to brand, but to the consumer. The Coke Mentos videos on youtube made the consumers into heros for the brand

Give the consumers a platform: learn from them, see how they interact with the brand and make them central to your brand. This is radically different from the existing thought of being idea central. The idea has to take a back seat.

Let them have fun with the brand: let them customize it, use it the way they want to use it, and allow them to tell the world that they have found their own way of using it.

Speak to them in their language: for a very long time, brands have spoken to consumers in their own vocabulary. In the decontrolled world brands will need to speak with consumers in consumers’ own language

What it means is that the old rules of Integrated Marketing have to undergo a change. The centrality of TV is no longer enough. The consumer is finding a voice, and their own voice, and the brands will have to put them in centre. It is no longer about surrounding the consumer, it is about engaging the consumer

May be there are no rules in the new reality

Published in 4Ps of Marketing, January 15, 2010 issue