Only the connected thrive

Need to be socially connected is an age old emotional need.  History of human communication is almost 50,000 year old. It has helped mankind spread from Africa to all over the globe. Possibly the drums were the first machines that humans used for communication. Now from pigeons to horseback carriers to electrically modulated sound waves has transformed into mobile phones.

Today the mobile phone as a category is the fastest growing category in the world. Mobile phones are changing the contours of human communication. Already mobile phones have transcended the barriers of personal space and are creating a new form of global brotherhood. May be it’s the mobile phones that is making the world flat and not the computers.

Clearly the mobile culture is moving from margins to mainstream. The adoption of sms, chats and social networking sites are applications that are finding resonance with consumers. Possibly for the first time in human evolution, adoption of technology is outpacing the evolution of technology

The biggest example of this is the incident where a techie live tweeted the attack on Osama hideout, and then in US the news broke first on Twitter than on either network TV or on news websites. This is giving rise to what can be called as ‘Connection Economy’

The Connection Economy is a powerful new force that will redefine the way brands approach consumers and the way consumers engage with brands. There are two powerful trends that define this new Connection Economy. These are “connected life”, “connected identities” . These two are giving rise to what can only be called as “connected markets”

Connected Life is a function of a unique social space that mobile devices create. The fact is that the old cliché of life in your hands is actually true. Peers, family, friends all live together in a virtual space, where the user defines the rules of engagement. This availability of connections on demand creates a sense of joy and gives a sense of huge excitement. It makes every person in the connected space feel far more potent and powerful.

Connected Identities This trend carries contra behavior trend. It has two opposing patterns that define the connected identities. One is the process of individualizing the connection. This includes what can be called the status messages and even customizing phones. The other pattern is evolving common identities. Through common identity the gangs and groups acquire a powerful meaning. This is where the deepest emotions and drivers come alive

Connected Markets is a powerful new driver of business and brands. The connection impacts how the brands connect with consumers and also how consumers connect with brands. Consider this; the group buying deals that are now popular in the virtual space are connected consumers redefining pricing equations.

Again as it has happened with technology where adoption has beaten technology, the connected economy evolution has outpaced the adoption from brands. Our recent research clearly points the gap that exist between what the connected consumers desires from the disconnected brands.

The funny thing is, by the time the brands learn the tricks, consumers would have moved on to a new space. Today its clear, if the brands have to thrive, they have to connect. That is a true challenge

Published in Pitch Magazine, June 2011

Realty Brand Guide

This is something that would have happened to most of you.

You get a SMS in middle of the night, you wake up wondering, who is sending you a message so late, is everything ok? You discover that the message is from your local real estate developer who is offering you your dream home in some yet to be developed suburb of city at some ‘exciting’ prices. You curse, and try and go back to sleep, promising never to even consider buying a property from such unscrupulous developers.

This is the real issue with the real estate market in India.

Home is the biggest investment you will ever make. It is the single biggest transaction one does in a lifetime.  It is carefully considered, evaluated, mulled over and the whole family gets involved in it. And the real deal is that the transaction is not over after you have paid the money. This is a really long purchase cycle.

This makes the segment a unique blend of product and service. The hard factors that are on offer are evaluated very carefully, but the softer aspects like service, sensibility, adaptability, and reflection of local culture starts to become the differentiator.

Yet, this is the segment that has commoditized the fastest. The real estate ads are standard, the real estate offers are standard and the real estate pitch is standard. This fails to create a bond with the potential buyers, and the relationship remains transactional.

The current communication and the brand architecture have fuelled this increasing commoditization of the category. Brands want to have a unique vocabulary for themselves. They want to own idioms that help them create the right impression. For some unexplainable reasons the real estate brands have abandoned this. They speak the same language, leverage the same idioms, and create the same connections. Here are some rules that most brands adhere by

  • The name of property should always be in English. A Hindi/vernacular name instantly means a drop in possible prices. We will never know Spain from Turkey as they all are in a suburb near you.
  • Mention possible rise in property value. What this means is that we are overpriced, but we hope you will not bargain and instead get lured by the promise of future
  • Mention fixed returns in large point size. What it means is that we don’t sell real estate anymore, but we need to raise some serious money. Banks ask a lot of questions, consumers are not likely to do so
  • No EMI till possession means that as a brand we have large amount of inventory left, and we need to sell it off quickly. This is really clever as what looks like a discount is actually a price rise in disguise. And we evaluative money wise Indians never figure this out
  • Never mention the fact that you are far away from civilization. Add the word extension, or new to a relatively well known locality. The consumer will never be able to figure out where the new development comes up with
  • Always mention a host of amenities and features. This will ensure that consumers get lost in unnecessary details and do not evaluate the flat. This will ensue that people talk more about packaging and less about the product.

And these are not all the things people do. To add a bit of zing first the brands used voices of actors and now use celebrities. With a plethora of celebrities who just act as wallpapers in ads, even that is not working.

May be the real estate sector needs to see its brand beyond brick and mortar, and start to reflect aspirations and dreams. Homes are not about money appreciation, homes are about relationship appreciation.  May be the brands need to explore these dimensions far more than features and sizes. Even the high technology categories have moved beyond feeds and speed.

Till then, the brands should be losing sleep and stop waking people up in middle of the night.


Alone and aloof or crowded and connected?

One of the best status messages I have come cross on Facebook says “the only place where it is cool to talk to a wall.” This reflects the popular predictions that pundits have often made about the generation that loves to be online. They have always argued that the online habits will turn a whole generation into antisocial isolated zombies. And that the Google enabled world will make everyone ‘search’ for bite sized info as the appetite for discovering new things will go down tremendously.

Has it really happened?

Dan Tapscott in his book “Grown Up Digital” has debunked many of these popular predictions. He calls this multi tasking, living in multiple dimension generation as Net Generation. He goes on to explain that in order to understand what the future holds we need to understand the Net Generation. He debunks the theory about short attention spans and zero social skills. He terms the Net Generation as remarkably bright community, which has developed revolutionary new ways of thinking, interacting, working, and socializing.

Popular trend watchers have now started to speak about a new trend of ‘mass mingling’ where the net generation will live simultaneously in real and virtual world and make both the worlds meaningful and engaging.

So is technology making people alone and isolated or is technology enabling them to be connected and engaged?

Technology actually has moved to a new level. Version 2.0 of net is not PC but on the mobile. The very basis of the aloof argument has been turned on its head. So now your friends, connections, appointments, and possibly emotions always travel with you.

The basic insight of people wanting to be connected has not changed. It’s this need for connection that had driven 500 Million people to be on Facebook, Twitter, My Space, Four Square, Google Wave etc. and through the act of status updates, feeds, blogs, pictures and interests they broadcast their desire to find new connections. The invariably find new connections and friends through common interests, hobbies, opinions and practices. It doesn’t stop in virtual space only. Look at your Facebook page and see how many event invites are there. By attending any such event people have proactively connected with a bunch of common interest friends in real world. So instead of making the net generation socially challenged, it made them socially active and eclectic.

This version 2.0 of internet may spark off four dominant trends, here’s a look at all four of them

Go out often: Technology has made finding interesting place around the cities easier than ever. Places can not only be discovered, but also is commented upon. This will encourage people to explore their world more. This means people will eat out more often but at a far larger number of places than ever before.

Get bitten by wanderlust: The constant feed of holiday pictures from a variety of locations will encourage people to pack their bags and discover their world more often. The normal holiday hotspots will make way for newer more exotic destinations. May be tourism boards need to revisit the very motivations of travel

Niche will get powered by mainstream: The niche performers, products, brands, bands will increasingly get access to mainstream audiences as customers will become patrons and interest groups will broadcast their approval to a wider set of audience

The world will become large: the world instead of becoming a global village will actually become a very large thriving vibrant mega polis. This will mean more people to meet, more things to do, more smells to savour, more connections to be made.

This is a very interesting transformation that we will see all around us. A generation that was supposed to be socially challenged will challenge the norms of social connectivity.

Published in 4Ps of Marketing, July 15th 2010 issue

Short Message, long impact

There is a complex homogeneous relationship between language and culture. This has been the basis of civilization and the advancement of human endeavour. The rise of any civilization was also marked by the richness of its language. The Vedas from India, the writings of Confucius, the famed library of Alexandria in ancient Egypt or the Ephesus library of the Greeks, all have played a critical role in spreading knowledge. Language helped you express, chronicle and spread the knowledge. The entire language and culture is now changing, it’s becoming shorter and the norms of expression are changing. What kind of impact will it have on emerging culture?

Interestingly shortening of language cannot be ascribed to mobile phone devices alone. Mathematics has its own universal sign language of add, subtract, divide and multiply. Morse and stenography are depended on a series of shortened symbols that makes the language. There are symbols like !, ? and & $ that are universal across most of the languages. What the youth has done is that they have juggled with the languages to create a new code. This code uses lesser words, numbers instead of words, expressions that are unique and it cuts across the globe.
What the shortening of message and ability to be delivered anywhere does, is that allows youngsters to have continuous connections in multiple places. If they are with a group of friends physically in the day, they are with the same friends even when they are not with them physically. It is surprising how youngsters continue the conversation with the same bunch of friends with whom they spent the whole day. Again the conversation is independent of device as it may be a sms or IM or FB chat!

And this is creating a new youth order, and new rules of engagement
• Rise of a unique social space: this space is where ganging, and interpersonal equations acquire completely new meanings. This space is quite closed unto itself and gives the youth both identity and connectivity. Interestingly the entire communication in this space happens from the privacy of the youth’s rooms, away from parents prying eyes. To that extent this space is youth’s own and it has it’s own norms, rules and rituals
• There is a new definition of cool: making an impression on the opposite gender has been one of the critical rituals of youth. For generations, youth has dressed and groomed to impress. In this new age of social groups, the definition of cool also includes how well you text! For once, those who write ‘well’ may be desired!
• There is a decline in social and emotional ties: this is the paradox of the new form of communication. Rise of ‘impersonal’ texted communication is creating a void in the social and emotional space. While people do write and communicate about a lot of things they can’t speak, it remains largely one way communication, as the reaction of the receiver can never be gauged spontaneously. This like communicating without communicating
• There is a wider social impact though. The shortening of message and its ability to be transmitted to a personal device is having a deeper social impact. It is becoming the new driver of literacy in our country where the youth is now actively wants to be a part of this new wave. And while for urban youth it may be about identity and connectivity, for the larger mass of young India, it is about passing from a life with limited opportunity to a world full of opportunities.

Surprisingly even the shortened world of language has its own rules. Who could have imagined that a short message could have brought the downfall of a powerful sports administrator and an influential minister?
This is where the impact of this new language on the culture is most visible. Personal yet private, individual yet connected, in a gang, yet open to the world!
Shorten the language, but do it with care.