The manner of speaking matters

Heard two back-to-back announcements by two airlines announcing departures of their flights at Ahmedabad airport.

The lady announcer of IndiGo started “IndiGo announces the departure of its flight to Mumbai….”, spoke the name ‘IndiGo’ in a very low and unclear voice only once in the beginning of a rather long announcement, which is generally missed by the passengers as they are not able to hear initial words, due to the sudden start of the announcement.
Result? Total confusion for most of the passengers as for which airline the announcement was.

Next announcement was from SpiceJet. The lady started with “Kind Attention SpiceJetters…This is an announcement for passengers traveling by SpiceJet flight number xyz…”. Also, she spoke the word ‘SpiceJet’ 4 times clearly and loudly in the same amount of time.
Result? Total clarity about for whom the announcement was.

At a terminal where 5-6 airlines operate flights to a small number of destinations, the name of the airlines deserves the most clear mention.

Common sense, no?
But common sense is not common, no?

SpiceJet makes it loud and clear. IndiGo needs to improve skills on meaningful communication where it matters.

To be aware of the effect of our communication, we should hear through the ears of our customers.

Bad execution can undo great strategic steps

A close look at why international pen brands fail in India shows how poor quality affects the famous brands adversely.

In a very bold strategic step, a well known Indian pen manufacturer brand bought the rights to manufacture and market a famous international pen brand in India. They also hired India’s biggest superstar as the brand ambassador. A very aggressive advertising campaign was unleashed to popularize the brand in India.

But, the venture failed miserably. The sales did not grow as expected. The world famous brand could not do well in India.

Assuming that the brand will sell on its reputation only, regardless of the quality, the license holders neglected the quality of the pen. It was very very inferior compared to the imported product. The buyers who knew the brand expected that same quality from India manufactured product, but it was way down the standards.

Gradually, the hype created by the brand died down. The same is happening with many other famous international pen brands.

All these European brands are realizing that if they sell their rights to the greedy, commercial minded organizations in India, it costs very dearly to the brand’s equity.

If you compromise on quality, even the biggest superstar can’t save it.

Even a strong brand can’t survive employees inefficiency

MTNL and BSNL are some of the strongest Indian telecom brands, due to their inherent advantage, existing huge customer base and the brand equity.

But, in spite of having a headstart in the country’s telecom revolution, these best brands are losing out big time. The companies are not making profit.  Here is why. I read here that for MTNL, employee cost as a percentage of revenue stands at 103 per cent. That is, its salary bill is higher than its turnover…!

Today also, when the world-class telecom companies are beating MTNL/BSNL on their home turf with their efficient service and quality and still making money and building formidable brands,  these government behemoths are bleeding since many years.


MTNL/BSNL have a huge redundant and unproductive employee base which is eating them out. Here are some examples of the wastage of manpower at these companies.

If you complain to MTNL (Mumbai) one of the following things are likely to happen :

1) The number for registering the complaint will keep ringing. In this time of being attentive to customers 24×7, the ‘official timings’ of MTNL Customer Selfcare department as displayed on MTNL Website are 10 to 17.30 (7.5 hours), when the world-average is at least 8 hours per day. In spite of the official 7.5 hours of duty timings,  MTNL babus are still living in the age of 11 to 5, which includes at least 1 hour lunch break in between… Such an archaic working practices can kill the organization and they are doing it…

2) If you are lucky, after some follow-ups if your complaint is attended, you will see at least 2 or 3 persons from MTNL coming to your place for attending the same. There are always 2-3 hangers-on for every customer visit. And most of the time, the problem is not resolved even after the procession visiting the site.

If India has to progress, inefficiency of its government and its PSUs has to be worked upon. Till then, India will have to struggle to grow ‘in spite of’ the government, not ‘because of’

Microsoft, Windows 8 can do much better than this…

These days, there is an active TVC campaign of Windows 8 going on the air.

A family is negotiating a job for their son in Dubai with an agent for few lakh rupees when a wise lady enters the scene with a laptop, opens a job site ( and shows there are a plethora of jobs available as shown on the web site, and her price for the service is only ‘Two Gulab Jamuns’.

There was a similar campaign earlier showing a range of options available on a matrimonial site ( while searching a groom for a daughter, making the humble Panditji look irrelevant and helpless in the face of the new ‘competition’.

Ok. These are well produced TVCs. But what about the brand communication? Is Windows 8 positioning its relevance on making job agents or Panditjis irrelevant? We all know, it can do much better.

I think the TVC is so completely irrelevant to the product, that with this same communication, the very same TVCs could have been shown to promote the laptop brand or job site (or the matrimonial site). Without ANY change in the TVC. The irrelevance of the story and the communication to express what brand Windows 8 has to offer is starkly obvious.

A job site or a matrimonial site can be opened on any machine running any OS or any smartphone running any OS. What is so great about Windows 8 being able to open web site? Which other OS can’t do that utterly routine task?

Where is the differentiation? Does the TVC say about Windows 8 being different in any way? No.

And, which segment is Microsoft targeting? It seems Microsoft is targeting the ones who are looking for jobs, brides or grooms for their children, i.e. the retired people. May be they are trying to demonstrate the ease of use through the  ‘touch’ feature, but the communication is not matching or hitting that objective either. Moreover, Apple and its clones have made ‘touch’ a given and not an ‘exclusive’ feature, which can be a worthy point of differentiation.

Also, the offer of EMIs seems inappropriate. Does brand Windows 8 have to sell on price and EMIs? Is it that bad? I don’t think so.  I am sure Windows 8 has a lot of exclusive features and benefits which can be talked about.

I think either the company and the agency are up to some very highly strategic communication agenda or they have completely missed the point. To me, the latter seems more likely.

Sometimes, even the giants miss smaller, simpler points. And they end up selling jobs, brides and grooms for selling their Operating Systems. Bad barter…

Hota hai…!

The product must match the promise of the packaging

Nandish had started a product manufacturing firm. He was very particular about the design of his office interiors. His visiting card, envelope, letterhead etc were perfect. He took a lot of pain to finalize on the logo and the signboard. His product catalog was shown as an excellent example of creativity and class.

Nandish gave the same instructions when his web site was being designed. He ensured to make it immaculate. It was truly world-class. He gave the same attention to the design of his advertisements or any communication. He also ensured that the packaging of his product was at par with the best in the world of their category of products.

“The images of our organization and our product must be immaculate,” he always said. Anybody who would see these collaterals, would build a grand image in their mind about the organization they represented.

But, all this perfection in communication and presentation did not result into the acceptance of his products in the marketplace.

All his brands looked good, but did not sell good.

The excellence in designs did not result into an enthusiastic response from the customers.

His business was bleeding. Finally, he sought advise to find out what was going wrong.

It turned out that all the visual and verbal communication that the brand was making raised the expectation from the product. The packaging was world-class, so it was expected to deliver all that the world-class products in its category did. The perfection of the web site was not reflected in the perfect quality of the product. The advertisement promised excellence, but the behavior and service of his employees was sloppy, far from excellent. Customers did not like the experience of working with them.

All this needed modification. The product has to match with the promise the packaging makes. The verbal excellence of the advertisement must reflect in the enthusiasm of the employees. The class of the web site must be experienced by the customers.

This discrepancy resembles the contradiction we see between the quote we see on a T-shirt and its mismatch with the one who wears it.

T-shirt quotes come in all types. Some cute, some weird, some funny, some arrogant. Most of the times, the quote does not match with the body (or brain  above) it covers. In rare cases, when it does, the quote speaks for the body and brain. And, vice versa. That is a superb combination.

All can easily find this conformity or the lack of it.

Anybody can buy a T-shirt with any grand slogan written on it. Anybody can get a world-class catalog, web site or packaging designed.

But, just as the emptiness of the head can’t be covered by a great quote on a T-shirt, the weakness in the brand can’t be concealed by a great design of packaging or communication.

A mismatched quote on a T-shirt can be ignored and smiled away, but similar mismatch between the product and its promise is generally not forgiven by the market.

Stink finds its way out. No matter how beautifully disguised.

Focus on your Halwa not the hype

While on a visit to Lonavala one cannot miss the multitude of shops announcing their brand of Chikki – a local sweet delicacy. One specific brand of Chikki’s name (let’s call it Famous Chikki) is visible across the tourist place. It is visible almost everywhere there, with more than 50 outlets selling Famous Chikki. On many signboards of Famous Chikki, it is mentioned as “World famous”. So, one may think that Famous Chikki must be the most selling Chikki in Lonavala.

A little investigation revealed that the top selling Chikki in Lonavala is the one which has a nondescript shop, tucked away in the interior of the town, away from the market place where a majority of tourists stay and hang out. This is the Original Chikki. Daily, this shop does a roaring business, selling many times more than the cumulative sales of those 50+ outlets of the ‘Famous’ brand.

Curious, I asked the owner of this bestselling Original Chikki. “Why you are not advertising your Chikki the way that other one does? You can do even better.” His answer was revealing : “Every town and village has a Halwai which is famous for his Halwa, Peda , Laddoo, Barfi or any such local delicacy. He becomes successful because of his product quality. Seeing his success, other wannabe look-alike Halwais spring up and make a lot of noise, touting to be The best in the world. Instead of focusing on the product, the Halwa, they focus on the hollow messages. In the end, the product fails to live up to the the promise created by the message and the hype. They lose steam on the way.  Still, the original, completely focused on his Halwa, remains the best and the bestselling, without making any unnecessary noise. To answer your question, I focus on my Chikki, not on the noise…. I don’t have to worry about sales.”

If our product is not good, any type of ideas or strategy or tactic or ‘BIG’ thinking or hype or ‘Branding’ (!!!) will not cut the ice. If you wish to be the best Halwai, focus on the Halwa, not on the hollow hype.

Jo Dikhta Hai, Wohi Bikta Hai? Does branding mean only being visible?

A friend shared one recent experience which highlights how many businesspeople think branding means only making our products visible.

He has recently published one book. He is in the process of marketing that book. He contacted some bookshop chains, but being self-published book, none of them is willing to keep his book on their shelves. Also, he being an unknown name was another reason for the refusal.

Soon after being rejected by one leading bookstore chain, he got a call from somebody who claimed that he had ‘good contacts’ with almost all bookshop chains and he can ‘place’ the book on their ‘bestselling’ and ‘xyz store recommends’ shelves, as he had some ‘setting’ with the purchase teams of the bookshop chains. ‘Sir, jo dikhta hai, wohi bikta hai… Maine bahut saare authors ki branding ki hai aur unhe bestseller bana diya hai… Aapko bhi bana denge…’

My friend, being a very sensitive guy, was shocked to know this. (And, if that ‘setting’ expert was telling the truth, then the owners of bookshop chains have a real reason to worry about.) He had already thought that literature was an ‘innocent’ profession, untouched by all the dirty shades of other businesses. Along with this belief, his idea about branding also shook up. He always believed that his book will sell only if it is good and liked by the readers. He always says ‘My book can’t be sold, it has to be bought.’ (Very profound product wisdom this is. Think over…) But here was some branding Guru, claiming that he will construct the brand of this author, by simply placing his book on the shelves of the bookstores, through some off hand mechanisms.

I realized many of us make this mistake while thinking of developing our brands. We think that if our product or its name is visible more and more, it will automatically sell more. What if the product itself is a failure? What if the price is wrong? What if it is inferior to the competition? What if the communication is tardy or the packaging poor?

The product will fail, if the hype created by such outwardly ‘branding’ efforts doesn’t live up to the expectations of the customer.

If only visibility makes a brand, then the zealous act of hanging rows of banners everywhere and making a ‘wannabe’ politician annoyingly visible, must make him a big shot. But just as hollow ‘papdi’ does not become politician, a brand does not get built by some deceptive ‘setting’ of some crooks.

No, we’re not missing Sirji… We’re happy Honey Bunny…

What an idea Sirji…. An idea can change your life.

That is what the campaign for Idea Cellular shouted for few years. Even though the concept of social awareness and the creativity of the campaign was excellent, the choice of Abhishek Bachchan as brand Idea’s ambassador was a blooper. Generally, the intention of brand associations and endorsements is to leverage a product/service brand based on the popularity of the celebrity or the associating brand. But, in case of Idea Cellular, it was the other way round…! For small B, who never really got any worthwhile success on his own, being the brand ambassador of Idea was the only bright spot on his lacklustre resume… So, it looked like Idea was endorsing a struggling actor, who had nothing much to his credit and who had a listless work-bio.

The recent spurt of new commercials from Idea (Hunny Bunny, Telephone Exchange and Aiyo Holi…) have won more visibility to the brand than the years of wisecracks mouthed by the Bollywood disaster, who never came out of his immature attempts to imitate his legendary father’s baritone. This failed attempts to imitate lends his voice an inauthenticity, because of the obvious lack of originality.

It has been proved much more convincingly, with ordinary people, that the message has more power than the messenger, and if the messenger is weak, it affects the credibility of the message. The departure of Bachchan from Idea campaign has lent a breeze of freshness to the stale, predictable, irritating communication.

I read in ET  (Brand Equity, dated 10 Apr 2013) that the persons in charge of brand positioning of Idea are still vouching for Abhishek Bachchan to come back. They say that it is the X-factor and will help to recharge the brand after a break. The question is which brand? Brand Idea or brand Abhishek Bachchan?

A brand loses if it associates itself with a loser. But, some sycophants in the media business, who act as gullible disciples of some Guru, really can’t see the obvious what anybody with ordinary commonsense can see. These people may be good at ideating, but they really miss out when it comes to understanding the process of communication and execution. The honchos are blind to the fact that succumbing to the over allegiance of some of your decision makers to the Bachchans  is costing heavily to the brand. A chacha fails to see that the bhatija has failed to come out of his father’s shadow, and it’s futile to waste money on failures.

Why should any self-respecting brand manager indulge into such wasteful exercise of associating a strong brand with a loser? There does not seem to be any rational or commercial reason behind this foolishness.

My suggestion to the team in charge of brand Idea Cellular: please wake up. An idea to get rid of AB Jr has helped your brand while at the same time saving you some money.The only weak part of the Idea campaign was the brand ambassador. Let an idea change your own mind forever now.

Meanwhile, I congratulate the creative souls behind Honey Bunny and Telephone Exchange. You are bigger than the small, artificial, irritatingly unconvincing Sirji and his stupid wisecracks….

Circus of Bollywood branding or mutual back-scratching?

Brands exist in the minds of people.

They are not found only in logos, advertisements,  promotion materials, displays, goods etc. These are just the reminders serving as a recall to the brand. So, sometimes, even if there is no tangible or credible product, service or person, a brand can be created, by carefully planting stories around it, in the minds of the attentive audience. As I had learnt in my brand management classs, James Bond is one such brand. So is a Spiderman or a Superman. For a brand called James Bond, there need not be a real James Bond. But, still, it can influence a lot of people and their aspirations.

Bollywood, in collusion with media, is excellent at creating such imaginary brands from nobody and from thin air. If you observe carefully, no movie, regardless of who the hero or heroine is, succeeds if the storyline sucks. So, other than the story, everything and everyone else is just incidental. Still, media creates superstars out of the actors. Now, any superstar, with all efforts at wooing the audience doesn’t succeed, if the target audience is not happy with the product, the story, the film. That is why we see a lot box-office failures of almost all superstars periodically.

But, media treats them as Gods. Why?

Because media needs beautiful people to fill its colorful pages. Images of ordinary people on Page 3 and reports about their birthday parties doesn’t attract readers. Instead, even the reports of a star’s dog’s birthday party attracts attention, if it has stars’ and superstars’ images.

Another reason the media needs the stars is to hold and grace its various awards function. Every TV channel or newspaper has some awards as part of its marketing gimmicks. Who will anchor and dance at these functions, you and me? And if we dare to do, who would watch it?

Third use of Bollywood brands is for product endorsements. If a star is visible, then only s(he) can be summoned to sell Clothes, Phones, Shoes, Jewellery, Soft drinks, Maggie, Coffee, Tea, Water, Water-purifier, Shampoo, Soap and Hair-oil,   Suits and Suitcases etc. etc.  Advertisements and commercials are bread, butter, cheese of the media. So, you have to create stars to fill up your advertising space and to star in TV commercials.

Welcome to the mutual back-scratchers’s club.

Bollowood branding is nothing but serving the mutual needs of the actors, media and advertising world. It is the fine art of creating brand icons out of NObodies. The longevity of these brands is as temporary as the artificial film-sets created for shooting. Hence, we see a lot of Bollywood brands fading away as rapidly as they emerged on the horizons. The stars are nothing but the imagination of the creative media.

The whole circus of Bollywood brands is the best example of media creativity.

Just like James Bond. It exists only in the minds.

Why a brand fails to connect?

Hunger Ki Bajao… a brand of instant soup screams, with weird, absolutely artificial and contrived expressions on the faces of the models, in the advertisements and on the packs of the soup, showing their excitement.

Even though it is a very vocal and noisy campaign, appearing on the pages of prominent metro newspapers  and billboards, the campaign is missing out on the opportunity to connect with the customer group it is targeting the brand to.

1) The advertisements assume that the target customer group, the busy people who don’t have time to go for an alternative to satisfy their hunger, will have all the time to read their elaborate copy of situations where their instant soup can be a ready alternative… This is counter intuitive, if not foolish. Some primary study on the lifestyle and habits of the target group can help avoiding such mistakes.

2) Many of the situations mentioned in the advertisements assume that even when you don’t have access to any other food items or cooking apparatus, you WILL have access to boil water, a necessity to use this soup. At least some realistic thought on the scenarios in which it can be used, could have avoided such silly presumption.

3) For most of the people in this country, hunger is a stark, obstinate and undesirable reality, which cannot be beaten away by mimicking the open mouths of those overzealous models. If it was so easy to Bajao of hunger, so many governments of our country should abandon all other poverty alleviation programmes and distribute instant soup packs to all and sundry who are hungry. There cannot be a more cruel example of making fun of the dirty realities of the lives of people who may not be our target group, but nonetheless who see our campaigns and feel even more isolated from the mainstream of life.

A brand fails to connect when it fails to communicate responsibly. We have to pay the price for irresponsibility.