Marketing lesson from Mumbai’s BEST AC bus service failure

Ideally, city public bus services can help traffic congestion in metros. AC public transport buses can also attract some private car owners to switch to them if the service is reliable, fast and comfortable. One bus can help keeping 30-40 cars off roads used in daily,  regular commute.

AC bus service provided by BEST in Mumbai runs empty even during rush hours. This is one example of marketing failure. There is a huge demand for transport during rush hours in Mumbai, and still BEST does not get customers and loses money on the service.


The buses run frustratingly slow. It seems the drivers are trained and told to “take their time”. Also, the buses seem to have very slow pickup. Or, may be they are of inferior quality which can’t run or maneuver fast. So, taking such a bus means having a leisurely ride to somewhere where you are not in hurry to reach. Officegoers can’t rely on such a slow, unreliable service.

Another reason is timings. Many of the rides run during non-rush hours, attracting hardly 10% occupancy. It seems BEST has not studied customer needs before starting this service and its timings.

If municipal corporations want to provide some reliable alternative to private commuting, they must promise and provide reliability, punctuality and speed at peak hours.

If they fail to satisfy this basic customer need, customers will not patronize it. It is simple marketing lesson. Governments and its companies should look at marketing from customer’s point of rather than ruining their enterprises from bureaucratic point of view.

Real estate project naming – a case of meaningless brand extensions

The trend of naming new real estate projects throws up some examples of avoidable brand extension mistakes. We can find numerous instances of many smaller towns naming their residential and commercial complexes, streets, roads and areas by copying the names of famous names and localities of bigger cities.

In such an example of piggybacking on the image of some upmarket location, a prominent developer has named its upcoming project in a Mumbai suburb as “New Cuffe Parade”, drawing its name from down town Mumbai’s premium locality Cuffe Parade. The developer may have targeted the aspiring neo-rich who may wish to believe that they are getting a chance to be a part of a new posh locality of the future.

Such mindless brand extensions can be aimed at exploiting an existing, old locality’s posh brand image and recall. But, in my opinion, this exercise is wasteful and nothing less than “wannabe” naming. If at all, it only results into an added confusion for everybody.

For example, in a town, there is a very famous sweet shop called Khavda Sweets. After some years, inspired by the huge popularity of the original shop, an ex-employee or a separated partner or some unrelated stranger starts another similar type of sweet shop called “New Khavda Sweets”, with the word “New” written in very small letters in all signages and brand visuals. It tries to copy everything from the original shop – the products, packaging, pricing etc. But, in spite of all its efforts to be better or at least at par with the original, it never reaches the same level as the original, because it fails to copy the main USP of the original like quality, service, customer experience, employees etc.

At the best. it confuses people and in most cases, fails to get more than some limited, marginal success by luring some uninformed, gullible new customers who don’t know about the existence of the original shop. It only proves the New shop owner’s desire to be just like the original. In other words, he proves to be a “wannabe”.

Another such futile brand extension example is the Bollywood film Ramgarh Ke Sholay which imitated an iconically successful Bollywood blockbuster Sholay. The new film flopped miserably. All its producers’ assumptions fell flat, failing to create even a whimper.

We can find thousands of examples of such “wannabe” naming all across the country. Parents naming their children after famous celebrities is another common example of such “wannabe” naming.

Naming of a real estate locality should be done with a lot of practical considerations, because in future, that name becomes part of a large population’s daily lives. Avoiding confusion in people’s minds is one such consideration.

Branding requires very careful thinking and detailed planning. Mindless copying generally backfires. Only by declaring, NEW Cuffe Parade does not make that project a reincarnation of old Cuffe Parade. In fact, the contrasting reality of slum pockets amidst the upmarket highrisers of old Cuffe Parade, which make it unique can never be recreated by the manicured and professionally designed New Cuffe Parade. New Khavda Sweets can perhaps never be Khavda Sweets. It may perennially remain a wannabe.

And to be perceived as being a wannabe can be fatal for a premium brand. Originality is crucial to being premium.

3 Marketing lessons from Samsung’s vulnerability

Recently, news are coming in that Samsung has lost its market leader position in Smartphone markets in India and China, two of its biggest markets. What makes Samsung’s position in mobile handset market so vulnerable?

In India, MicroMax and in China, Xiaomi are said to have displaced the market leader. MicroMax and Xiaomi are claimed to be beating Samsung at its own game in which it decimated Nokia few years back.

In the utterly crowded and commoditized mobile handset market, such drastic changes are not surprising, unless you are an Apple. Samsung may dispute the claim or defend its territory for a while, but not for long. Sooner than later it will have to give in to some competition, which may emerge and ascend rapidly because it has built its brand on the foundation of vulnerability.

What are the marketing lessons one can learn from Samsung’s shaky brand position? Here are three :

1) No single target customer segment
You can own  Samsung phone for as low as Rs 1200 or as high as about Rs.50,000. That is a full spectrum of mobile phone users. So, who is a Samsung target customer? Almost everybody.

Because of this large base, Samsung can be attacked by any Tom, Dick, Harry and their cousins. And it will have to spend time, money and energy in defending each of these territories.

Marketing lesson-1 :
Have a clear target customer segment and protect it firmly. Sharper the target, the safer. Don’t spread yourself too thin so that you can be attacked by anyone.

2) No clear positioning in customer’s mind
If you own an iPhone, that says something about you. You understand or appreciate quality, innovation and uniqueness. Also, you can afford a high-end phone.
If you own a Samsung? It does not say anything about your taste. You could as well own any other similar ‘looking’ phone.

Marketing lesson-2 :
Have a distinct positioning for your brand. Stand for something. Own a distinct position in customer’s mind. Don’t focus on marketshare alone. Focus on mind share instead. And drive that home in the customer’s mind.

3) No uniqueness
Apple has its unique hardware and its unique software. This makes switching difficult for an iPhone user because he gets used to some unique features, services and Apps which other mobile Operating Systems can’t offer. An Android based Samsung can be seamlessly switched to another Android phone without any significant loss of data or user experience.

Marketing lesson-3:
Be unique. Give something that others can’t copy easily. Don’t become easily replaceable.

Eskimo को Refrigerator बेचने की कोशिश नहीं करनी चाहिए

सेल्समेन को चुनते वक्त अगर हम ऐसे लोग ढूंढते हैं, जो किसी भी कस्टमर को कुछ भी कर के – येनकेनप्रकारेण हमारा माल चिपका देने की काबिलियत रखते हों, तो हमारी गलती होगी |

कभी कभी हम कोई चीज़ खरिदने के लिए जाते हैं, तब वह सेल्समेन हमें वह चीज़ पसंद न हो फिर भी चिपका दे, तो हमें बाद में कैसा महसूस होता है?

उस सेल्समेन ने हमें उल्लु बनाया, हमें cheat किया, उस कंपनी से अब हम shopping करना कम पसंद करेंगे, ऐसा हमें लगता है, ना? और उपर से हम दस लोगों को भी बतायेंगे की इस कंपनी या शो-रुम का माल नहीं लेना चाहिए |

कुछ साल पहले हमें जरुरत न हो तो भी Encyclopedia या आज कल किसी Multi-Level Marketing कंपनी की कुछ काम न आनेवाली घटिया, useless product चिपकानेवाले किसी दोस्त या रिश्तेदार को हम किस तरह से देखते हैं?

हमारा “बोल-बच्चन” सेल्समेन जब किसी को माल चिपकाता है, तो हम खुश होते हैं, लेकिन हमें यह याद रखना चाहिए की १०० रुपये का माल चिपकाकर उसने हमारे हज़ारों रुपयों के भविष्य के कस्टमर को भगा दिया है | ऐसा शोर्टकट आगे चलकर कंपनी को भारी पड़ता है, बहुत नुकसान कराता है |

तो क्या करना चाहिए?

सेल्समेन और हमारे मार्केटिंग के प्रयासों का Focus सही कस्टमर तक पहुंचकर उसे और उस के जरिए दूसरों को एक नहीं अनेकबार माल बेचने की कोशिशों पर होना चाहिए…|

Eskimo को जिस चीज़ की जरुरत हो वह ही उसे बेचें तो वह खुश होगा, और दूसरे Eskimos को भी बतायेगा |

हमारे मार्केटींग में क्या गलत हो सकता है?

कभी कभी हम गलत कस्टमर को अपना माल बेचने की कोशिश करते हैं | हमारा कस्टमर कौन है, यह नहीं समज पाना यही हमारी सब से बड़ी मार्केटींग गलती हो सकती है |

हर एक प्रोडक्ट या सर्विस का एक कस्टमर होता है | उस कस्टमर को उस प्रोडक्ट में कुछ value, कुछ मूल्य दिखता है, जो प्रोडक्ट की कीमत के सिवाय कुछ और, कुछ दूसरा होता है |

२ लाख की Tata Nano का भी एक ग्राहक वर्ग होता है | और ४०-५० लाख की मर्सिडीज़ का भी कस्टमर ग्रुप होता है, और यह दोनों अलग लोग होते हैं, दोनों की पसंद, उनकी Lifestyle, उनकी सोच, तरिके सब कुछ अलग होता है |

उन दोनों कस्टमरों को अपनी अपनी Nano या Mercedez में कुछ value, कुछ मूल्य दिखता है, जो कार की कीमत के सिवाय कुछ और, कुछ दूसरा होता है |

मार्केटींग में हमारी कोशिश सही कस्टमरों को पहचानके, उनकी ज़रुरतों को समजके उन्हें हमारी प्रोडक्ट-सर्विस के बारे में बता के बेचना यहीं होनी चाहिए | गलत कस्टमर को अपनी प्रोडक्ट के बारे में चाहे कितना भी बताओ, उस के फायदे दिखलाओ, वह हमारी प्रोडक्ट नहीं खरीदेगा क्यों कि उसे हमारी प्रोडक्ट में कुछ Value नहीं दिखती | उन के पीछे मेहनत-समय-पैसा बरबाद मत करो |

हमारा मार्केटींग विश्व कितना बड़ा है?

अरनब गोस्वामी अपनी इंग्लीश न्यूझ चैनल Times Now पर दिखाये जाने वाले इन्टरव्यू या पेनल डीस्कशन में उपस्थित महानुभावों से चिल्ला-चिल्लाकर पूछता है “The whole India wants to know…पूरा देश जानना चाहता है. आपने ऐसा क्यों किया?”

जब की देश के ९५ प्रतिशत लोग कोई इंग्लीश न्यूझ चैनल देखते ही नहीं हैं, उनको भनक मात्र नहीं है कि अरनब किस “पूरे देश” की बात कर रहा है ?

दबंग फिल्म में एक घटिया किस्म के घटिया आइटम सोंग “फेविकोल से” (मेरे मत अनुसार इससे ज्यादा गंदा आइटम सोंग अभी तक आया नहीं है |) में घटिया एक्ट्रेस को सलमान खान कहता है “पूरे इन्डीया को तुने गुलाम किया है |” भारत के ६० करोड से ज्यादा मर्दों में से कितने लोगों का टेस्ट सैफ अली खान से बेहतर होगा जिन्हें ऐसे बेहुदा कपडोंवाली हीरोइन की गुलामी पसंद नहीं होगी? फिर किस पूरे इन्डीया की गुलामी की बात कर रहा है सलमान खान?

२-३ प्रतिशत इंग्लीश स्पीकींग लोगों को “पूरा इन्डीया” बताने वाला अरनब या करिना की गंदी हरकतों पर फीदा हो कर अपने साथ पूरे देश को गुलाम घोषित करने वाला सलमान दोनों अपने छोटे मार्केटींग विश्व की साइझ के अलावा और कुछ नहीं प्रदर्शित करते है |

मार्केटींग में ऐसी बडी बडी बातें बोलने का रिवाज़ है | अपने टार्गेट कस्टमर बेझ को ही पूरी मार्केट मान कर कंपनियां अपने दावे करतीं है | इस लिए ऐसे पूरे इन्डीया के दावों को मार्केटींग की भाषा में समझना जरुरी है |

हमारा कस्टमर बेझ जितना बड़ा, उतना हमारा मार्केटींग का विश्व बड़ा… अपने मार्केटींग के विश्व को असली भौगोलिक विश्व की सीमाओं तक फैलाने का ध्येय हर दूरदर्शी बिझनेसमेन का होना चाहिए…|

हमारे मार्केटींग विश्व की साइझ बढ़ाएं, ताकि हमारा “पूरा इन्डीया” सही अर्थ में पूरा ही हो़…

Marketing is telling believable stories

Some films succeed. Many others fail. Films are well-crafted stories. The films with stories which connect with a large number of people, succeed. The ones which tell a bad story or tell a story badly, fail.

Stories help us live a different life, even though temporarily. Seth Godin says marketing is creating and selling stories. Successful marketing means building successful stories.

Stories that connect with people.
Stories that let them live a different life, even though temporarily.
Stories that help people to lie to themselves.

In the absence of some other productive occupation, we love telling lies to ourselves. It is a distraction.  But a motivating one.

When a cream brand tells a girl that 4 out of 5 girls get softer skin after applying our cream, the girl dreams of being one of those 4. She goes and buys that cream.

Finally, after weeks of religious application of the cream with no significant improvements, the truth emerges and she lands among those 5th girls who did NOT get softer skin. This happens with 80% of the girls who buy that story of softer skin and get disappointed. By the time the futility of the promises and claims made by the company dawns upon a now-wiser girl, she gets hooked to another “New Improved” cream of yet another brand and buys another dream, believing and telling to herself the lie the brand’s advertisement said.

Thankfully for the older brand,  younger sister or cousin of this now-wiser girl grows up with dreams in her eyes and goes and buys that same cream with the dreams of softer skin.

This continues. Just like we sometimes watch the same movie or read the same book again and again even though we know everything about it, we keep buying the things we don’t need because of the lure of the story.

This is the success of marketing. Creating “New & Improved” stories and selling them.

Why films fail? Marketing lessons from Bollywood failures…

This is very basic observation. But it needs mention, because it has slipped the attention of many in the Bollywood.

A film, is an Audio-Visual story, an entertainment product. Now the basic function of a film as a product must be to tell a story through the effective use of Audio and Visual. On any one or all of these media, sometimes even the most aniticipated and hyped films fall short.

Inaudible Audio :

I recently saw Jab Tak Hai Jaan on SET MAX. A very good film, acted by my favorite, a veteran, Shah Rukh Khan and directed by the legend Yash Chopra. But, while watching the film, I came across 8-10 instances where the dialogs are either :

a) Delivered too fast OR

b) Spoken in very low volume voice (whispers), which are hardly audible

Invisible Video :

Some films, even though directed by great directors, have some scenes where there is a stark darkness on the screen, coupled with strange, inaudible audio, where audience has to struggle hard to make sense of what is going on. Ravan (2010) by Mani Ratnam is one such example which comes to my mind.

Ineffective Storytelling :

Many films, fail to tell the story in a coherent manner. I remember going to watch Khatta Meetha (Akshay Kumar) with a lot of hope to see something as good as the funny original Khatta Meetha. But here, the story was moving so erratically, with many illogical cuts and joints, that one felt it was complete waste of time.

The end result of such audio which is not audible, the video which is not visible and the story which does not hold our attention, the average person (and there are a lot of such people like me), feels disconnected from the film. Many such instances in the same film, and the disconnection results in irritation. This results in bad word of mouth. And the films don’t live up to the expectations or hype. Regardless of SRK, Akshay Kumar, Yash Chopra, Mani Ratnam or whatever or whoever.

One reason for such shortcomings could be that they as actors, directors or editors watch the film or scenes too many times. So, they don’t realize the problems which the person watching it for the first time may face. Technically perfect, marketed with a lot of style and noise, the Bollywood products fail because such simple ideas are missed even by veterans.

Marketing lesson : A product must deliver on the basic promises it makes. An audio visual story should have three basic elements delivered clearly : Audio, Visuals and Story. The Bollywood must remember that a lot of ordinary people like me go to watch their films. If they make their films understandable only by highly intelligent and smart people, they will get very few of them, because they are in only a small fraction and also sometimes Bollywood is beyond their taste… Typical Bollywood fans come to watch films for entertainment, not to tax their ears, eyes or brains.


When is it too soon to ask “Will you marry me?”

Before some time, I got introduced to a Business Networking Group. I was lured into going to the initial meeting (at a decent five star hotel), where a lot of highly enthusiastic businesspersons had gathered to exchange ‘references’ (a cold lead) to each other, over a high-calorie breakfast. As soon as I entered, I found a lot of eager and greedy exchanges of visiting cards with the new visitors like me.

The whole concept of exchanging ‘bijhness references’ looked highly weird, even though beautifully disguised into the five star facade of suits and pseudo-professionalism. Of course some of the businesspersons there were really genuine and not so overbearing, but there were many creepy parasites. I encountered some novice Insurance Agents, Web Designers, Dentists, General Practitioners, Image Consultants, Estate Agents, Photographers, Beauticians, Interior Designers who had just started their career and wanted some ‘references’ to build their ‘bijhness’. During the proceedings, it became clear that it was not more than yet another “mutual back scratcher’s club…”. The dominating proportion of this club was a bunch of wannabes, who did not want to be called wannabes, (or may be some wannabes don’t know who is called a wannabe….)

By the end of the day, most of these wannabes, who exchanged ‘bijhness’ cards with me had called me referring to the ‘meeting’ we had in the morning and asking how can we take it forward? In a time where almost every apartment building has at least one insurance agent, why would I risk doing ‘bijhness‘ with somebody living across the city, only because we had a chance encounter of few seconds termed as a ‘meeting’ in the morning? I could not stop laughing a novice dentist calling up and asking for ‘references’…

I felt as if it was like I met somebody in the morning and by evening I was proposed with the  “Will you marry me?” And that too, by 7-8 different suitors…. All from different professions…!!!

Are marriages made like that? Or is ‘bijhness’ references shared like that?

Really, in life or in ‘bijhness’, “No wannabe wannabe a wannabe…” So they get together and make a ‘Bijhness Networking Group…’. Is such a network your net worth? May be some self-proclaimed loud mouth Bijhness Gurus may have an answer?

Why is it not difficult to understand customer expectations?

Because we all are customers. Most of the times. We regularly buy a lot of things that we need (and many things which we don’t need but we want..). And sometimes we get pissed off by that shopkeeper or that company. And we get delighted at some extra discount, service or some favor. And we become loyal to some brand or some store…. And we resent some other brand or some other store and tell others not to go there…

If we are in the business of some product, we may know that product, market and industry too well. But, we are not so familiar with all other products, markets or industries.

So, for all these products we are naive. And when we think of evaluating or buying these products, we behave in the same way as the customers for our products behave.

So, if we observe what we, as a customer, expect from a product, we can understand how our customer may expect from our products or from us. A lot can be learnt about our customers, only if we closely observe our own behavior.

And, just like as a customer we won’t like to be taken for a ride, our customers also don’t like if we treat them like a Bakra. So, please don’t look at a customer as a sacrificial goat that has come to fulfill your profitable dreams. Be aware that a customer is also a human being, just like us, and she also has her own aspirations and dreams, joys and emotions, frustrations and disappointments. Customer ko kabhi bakra nahi banane ka….Kyunki hum bhi kisike customer hain, na…?