Saturday, 26 November 2011

Dubai, Do Buy

After having spent a rather longish period relaxing in India as well as travelling around a bit - both in and out of India, finally I have now landed in Dubai.

The aspiring capital of the Middle East, this city is indeed something. While still shiny new in so many ways, it is equally a fast moving multi-cultural city finding its own sense of modernity, while retaining its historical identity. The philosophy of 'big is better' is clearly applied in Dubai is an inescapable fact. The acres of air conditioned shopping malls. The sheer number and scale of stage managed festivals like the intense Dubai Shopping Festival. All so alluring to customers flocking from around the world. Or for that matter, the striking Burj Khalifa - the world's tallest building, says it all about Dubai's ambitions.

Burj Khalifa, Dubai

Why did I come to Dubai? After 13 years of work, from April this year, I took a real break. Some months down the line, having done what I wanted to, it was time to get back to working full time again. So, after having indulged in a bit of deliberation regarding, where to re-start my career, my conclusion was that I am indeed, quite comfortable working anywhere. Having worked in the Gulf region earlier, it is rather, familiar territory. People - local and expatriate, consumers and marketers, basic infrastructural systems, or for that matter financial remuneration and connectivity with the rest of the world, is all as good as it gets.

I must also admit, that my choice was influenced by my trip to Hong Kong this year, which showcased to me in all its glory what city life can be - throbbing, modern and enthralling. Though there was a discussion with a firm about a Hong Kong based posting, which would have been fantastic, it was taking a bit too long and uncertain. When I thought of market familiarity, Dubai was the closest point of reference, and hence the choice to come here, for as long as possible - on a visit visa, and start the job hunt.

Though, I do not intend this post and future ones to be a chronicle of events that happen to me here, I suspect it may be the case should life evolve in such a fashion. Only time, will tell. Arriving in Dubai a week ago, after having spent months in Kerala, was not as much a culture shock as much as a sense of relief in some ways. Weird? No, not really. While I enjoyed the laid back, green canopied and wonderful artistry of nature on display, topped by the love and concern that only parents know how to give, Kerala is not the best place for me to work in. My core competencies, especially given my particular skill sets, education and prior work experience, are more valued in other places.

Not to forget certain desires that were causing ravenous feelings! This week has all been about satisfying one of my key desires related to food. Be it McDonald's spicy McChicken (though I had sworn to myself, not to have one again), or the more moving hamburger at Burger King, or equally satiating Arabic food like the ever-so-tasty hummus, moutabel, khubz, tabouleh, shawarma or for that matter even Asian food like kebabs and roti or a vegetarian Gujarati thali and pav bhaji - culinary delights at its best. And there are still so many more tasty treats to be had.

Another key desire was to catch up with friends, who I had known were living in Dubai but just never had the time nor opportunity to catch up. To me, meeting up an old school mate after 20 years was moving, to say the least. I am so looking forward to meeting all those friends, whom I have not seen in ages! I actually, do not have enough words to provide justice to my feelings of gratitude for the way in which old friends and close relatives have been kind enough to welcome me with open arms as well as caring and sharing whatever they can, be it time, love and affection or useful advice on how to go about job hunting. They do not have to do any of this, but they do. Evidence, that humanity still thrives.

The UAE just celebrated 40 years of unification and positive change. What a journey. I am so happy that I have been here during this celebratory period. I am certainly not the only one to marvel at the extraordinary pace of change here. This is not my first ever visit to Dubai. Over the years I have witnessed first hand, how fast and furiously, development geared towards improving the quality of life for both citizens and residents, takes place. From the lovely metro, bus and taxi system run so very efficiently by the Roads & Transport Authority (RTA) to the sheer humongous scale of reach that Emirates Airlines (EK) provides, there is no dearth of visual information and visceral feelings evoked.

Finally, the idea that is Dubai, in my opinion is directly and proportionally connected to the catch phrase - 'Do Buy'. For this is a place full of consummate marketers and sales people. And at every step, stage and leap, exists the audible reason behind the growth of this place. Of course, people who have been staying here for some time will tell you that, today's Dubai is not the same as pre-2008. Sure, it is not. It is evolving. It is genuflecting. It is reviving.

The issue with 'Do Buy' is that it gets hampered by the crutches of sentiments that ever so often can be linked to mob behaviour. Ever seen a shoal of fish? There are these random movement patterns which emerge without any particular meaning and who leads whom is a complete mystery. But it does occur. From a trading outpost to the modern nerve centre of the Middle East and North African market, Dubai certainly cannot be de-linked from the 'Do Buy' catch phrase. But I sincerely believe that Dubai cannot be written off either. Liquidity crunches, rising interest rates, global conflict spots - there are many reasons being bandied about with speculators making the most of it. However, I see the spirit of this city and its people. I see the professionalism and can-do attitude. I see the government's willingness to create genuine playing fields. Things happen here. All the time. And it looks like 2012 is going to be a good year.

Ahlan wa sahlan as the Arabic saying goes - the doors are open to become part of the family. I hope so. Wish me luck and success.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Life Happens, Accept or Not


Book Review:




Sachin Garg, I’m not twenty four… I’ve been nineteen for five years…
Grapevine India Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 2010
ISBN: 978-81-922226-2-2
Rs.100

The author has produced work which, is well constructed, tight enough paced and takes the reader on a journey through a slice of life and soul, of a freshly minted graduate.

Given the limited number of successful, modern Indian fiction writers, the author puts in an admirable effort in trying to be one. A woman reader may not find the main woman character and her attempts at dealing with the range of emotions, especially sexual, quite satisfactory or acceptable. Not surprising, given the author has tried to write the story from a woman’s perspective. Whilst not intellectual nor an eye-opener in the typical sense, this work is good enough for a light read.

The author at the onset clarifies, this is a story which takes you into a world, rather difficult to believe yet does actually exist. Agreed, it is believable fiction. Not exactly falling in the ‘chick lit’ category, even though the story is revealed through the main character of a girl, there are so many instances that a reader can relate to, irrespective of gender. It is a life that many an Indian middle class person may have faced; is facing; or is about to face.

English is not our first language. While the publishers/editors should have ensured that obvious spelling errors did not creep in, overall, the language used in this book is simple, straightforward and believable – similar to what is colloquially used in daily lives across India, easy enough for a beginner to read and understand. And enjoy.

At the heart of this story is a character, which the author tries to flesh out well. He attempts to give, more than a peek into the heart and mind of a city girl, Saumya, and her flaws inasmuch as strengths as well as her journey from being a modern Barbie focussed on shoes, malls and her figure, to a matured individual who understands herself better. The character of Shubhro, is a tad farfetched in being a modern day Indian hippie on the path to save the world, three months at a time. However, using a blog as the medium to reveal his story connects with today’s social media consumers.

While the title does not exactly justify the story, there are many salient points that a reader will connect with, in the story line containing a roller coaster ride of emotions that feels, plausible.
  • From the time in college that is carefree and not loaded with responsibilities, to going through the grind and relief of securing that first job
  • From having lived in a modern city, to being relocated to a place like Toranagallu, plumb in the middle of Indian hinterland
  • From being in the comfort zone of known social life, to the alien and sometimes, scarring world of industrial work-life
  • From shying away in the face of unexpected events to actually making decisions in life by choice, not chance

Life is a challenge. Never, black or white, it takes you through the whole spectrum of colours and then some. Everyone deals with their version differently, at least from their point of view. Yet from life, you can never take out the basic essences of emotions. Be it small jealousies, pleasant surprises, mind numbing despair, joyous satisfaction or shattering regret. And enthralling love. This is what the story is all about.

Overall rating: 6/10. 

Recommendation: If you are not out saving the world, you could pick up the book online or from your nearest store, and enjoy the light reading.

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Friday, 18 November 2011

Social media: can you afford to ignore it?

2012 is almost here. In 2011, social media has taken on ever so many new twists and turns. Not that this is a new factor, given the furious pace at which technology is racing to enable us to communicate with each other through multiple forums.

Let's take a quick look on some social media statistics:
Source: Experian Hitwise study, 2011. Graph design: Anish Kumarswamy
While Brazil and Singapore take the top spots, India does not lag too far behind either with nearly 14% market share for social networks. At fifth place worldwide, it is a significant presence. Another interesting titbit: in India, Facebook has grown by 88% since last year.

Combine this information with the fact that as of 2009, more than 5% of India's population were already on the internet (Source: Google public data explorer). We could be inclined to think, that 5% is nothing compared to the over 80% of people in the United Kingdom who are on the internet. However, in absolute terms the measly 5% translates into a whopping 60 million Indians compared to the 51 million British! Not a small number by any means, is it?

Take this a bit further. There are many of us, who use the internet increasingly through our mobile/smart phones. As of 2009, public data indicated that over 45% of Indians used mobile phone services. This logically means, that a massive mobile internet usage explosion is happening. Right now!

So not only are ever more people getting on to the internet space, many are adopting social media as a way of communicating by staying in touch with or keeping themselves updated about not just their social relations, but also the brands and experiences they have had or would like to have. While using multiple means to be on-line. 

To me, this signifies fantastic potential to use the 4 Cs of Marketing, which I referred to here. You may be thinking, yes this is why brands already have in place, a page on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and a website, email list, etc. Yet, the means or the channel is definitively not the end. By this I mean that having numbers of fans, followers or likes, is not enough.

It is about individual interaction that leads to meaningful conversations and equally importantly conversions. Do a basic search, and you can see how many lost opportunities and failed brands litter the information highway. Take a lateral step to the side, and you can see there are so many retailers and brands out there who have yet to take baby steps on this highway.

I do not believe that conventional marketing forms are done with. Far from it. There still a significant population who fall outside the ambit of social media and to reach them, the old mechanisms hold good.

However, it is an increasingly relevant question, can you afford to ignore social media?


It is a question, that deserves respect. It is a question that calls for introspection. It is a question that demands answers. It is not something that I believe traditional mindsets are geared to handle. Creative agencies, for example, are structured to provide differentiated and stand out communication that essentially improves the noticeability factor for brands, with the hope of enticing viewers/listeners to procure the associated product and derive the benefits.

Yet as many marketers today exclaim with frustration, their digital ambitions (if any) are not being satisfied, despite efforts. This is why a different mindset is required, be it at the agency side or the client side. In traditional marketing, one of the most powerful tools is Word of Mouth.

Isn't is far more convincing to you, when a friend or a person you are inclined to believe, talks to you about a tried and tested product and recommends it? However, for a marketer, it is also one of the most difficult tools to work with, as there exists hardly any control over it. General statistics show that a dissatisfied customer will talk about a negative experience to 20 other people, whereas a satisfied customer may talk about it to 5 people.

Take this example in the social media context and you can apply a multiplication factor that is far higher. One bad experience, mouthed once, through a social communication channel reaches x 100 times more people and far faster. As does a positive experience revelation. Plus, it simply never goes away. It sits there waiting to be viewed or heard, by anyone at any point of time in the future. However, being an interactive medium, it gives the brands and their marketers a clear opportunity to immediately respond to the professed experience. This gives a far better chance to change or reinforce the feeling, depending on how the situation is handled.

I think that social media offers us unprecedented tools and opportunities as much as challenges, which we cannot afford to ignore. A key difference though, is that unlike learning once to use a physical mechanism, for example a cycle, in the social context it requires continuous learning, application, re-learning, re-application and then all over again.

What's your biggest challenge with social media?

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Past-Present-Future?

Recently, our species have reached 7 billion and the count is still on. Have you visited http://www.worldometers.info/?

We are the world

It is equally scary and delightful, just watching the numbers change. Be it human population, number of cars and computers produced this year or the huge sums spent on healthcare, education and military.

Let us stop for a moment and review what is happening around planet Earth - the only home, we know a bit of.
  • American and European nations are being convulsed with people protesting about declining job availability, corporate greed and bad economic policies 
  • Arab nations are being convulsed with people protesting and fighting for democracy 
  • African nations are seeing humanitarian crises with people decimated in the race to plunder, loot and exploit existing natural resources
  • While some Asian nations like China and India seem to be forging a state of continued growth yet battle at reaching the benefits to the masses
Interestingly, vast ever growing populations housed in the countries like India consume far less energy compared to a minuscule percentage of people in developed countries who consume majority of the current resources. This will not remain the case, forever. The hunger for energy is directly and proportionately linked to quality of life.

Recently, I was reading about a great race in the Gobi desert, Mongolia. Stated as the final frontier. Where huge corporations are racing to retrieve tons of mineral ores and other riches from the earth. Shaking up the ecosystem, as it were. All of this, simply because of the insatiable demand that people like us make. Everyday. Every minute.

A simple example. With Diwali having just gone, Christmas and New Year in the offing, people like us are turning to e-cards, as a way of conveying our wishes in an ecologically friendlier manner to our family and friends located elsewhere. We think that by sending an e-card, we are saving the earth by not requiring more trees to be cut down for making paper, by not require petroleum products like paints and plastics, etc. However, every e-card requires energy to be stored and sent as data across servers worldwide. All of the servers require electricity and air conditioning further adds on to the energy demand. This is met through coal fired, thermal or nuclear based electricity generation plants. Where's the ecology friendliness in this?

Last week, as I was waiting for my turn to provide my fingerprint and iris scan details to the Indian government - Aadhaar scheme, I was observing the number of school children milling around the bus stop nearby. There are at least 3 largish secondary schools near this rural Indian location. If I take this example as a microcosm of what is happening in the India, China and the other parts of the world, I begin to get a bit scared as much as smile.

The smile, because there is a young future working population who will be around in the next decade and that bodes well for our economies which are dependent on these replacement populations, contributing to the economic prosperity. At the same time, scared/feeling challenged, because there are so many hands coming into the market and we need to ensure they have jobs to do, salaries to earn and an environment to prosper in.

Meantime, political parties are engaged in making the most of any possible situation, be it the 'occupy wall street' protests, the 'fuel' price hike dilemma, the 'nuclear' concern, the Eurozone crisis and more... all about today. Financial behemoths are no better. Moody's decides to downgrade the Indian banking system while Standard & Poor decide to upgrade it. Result: tirades of negative and positive responses across the system. Again, it is all about today.


When will we stop bickering about the present and start focussing on the future? I am not condoning the past, nor stating that we let go of a present negative situation, but unless we start thinking about tomorrow and work towards where we want to get, we are forever doomed to remain mired in the past and the present. Isn't it?

Saturday, 5 November 2011

P's and C's

Nothing is constant but change. A very valid point, applicable to our increasingly interdependent and intertwined lives, as much as the products and services that make our lives easier, if not better.

The redefining parameters of Marketing

When I was going through B-school, throughout the process of learning and succeeding in securing an MBA degree, my teachers referred to various famous marketing gurus like Philip Kotler, Michael Porter, David Aaker and so on. I would term these gurus as thought shifters, for they did more than open my eyes to the way in which marketing had to viewed, operated and applied. They structured and defined hitherto unknown variables for a young and budding marketer like me. They shifted my thoughts, laterally and progressively. As time and career progressed, many incidents and lessons occurred which added further to my understanding of their concepts.

One of the key thoughts, the famous 4 P's of Marketing - Product, Promotion, Price, Place - was a cornerstone on which many a marketing strategy and tactical campaigns were created to interest, inform, engage/convert and repeat buying processes with the consumers. And these did work. In markets like India, Sri Lanka and Oman, where I had the opportunity to contribute.

While, I am not walking away from the theory and practices of marketing as known and practised so far, certainly the 'market' has changed as have the 'consumers'. Today, is not what the situation was a decade back. And the rapidity of change has not just stunned many a marketer, it has even left many astounded and lost along the way. So what changed? Yes, we all know that technological progression happened. But it was not just an evolution, it was more of a quiet but hugely impacting revolution.

Now, no longer was and are, the accepted principles of marketing enough to result in happy producers and consumers. Not without change. Constantly and precisely. A newer approach has emerged which marketers have to acknowledge, in as much as accept. The known but not so necessarily understood 4 C's of Marketing.

Consumer, Conversation, Cost, Convenience

Ibn Battuta Mall, Dubai
The Consumer has changed. As Sam Walton, very insightfully once said - all the customer has to do is go and spend her money elsewhere. Exactly! Today's consumer have choices, like never before. Agreed, not always and not everywhere, but mostly. The consumer is not only intelligent, but also well informed. And consumption is based on what the consumer requires, not just because a product or promotion inveigled the person into doing the act of spending money.

While advertising has been around for ages, it really was from the time, P T Barnum started the larger than life advertising trend that this act of marketing came into its own standing. Today's advertising through various channels, has changed far more than could have been anticipated even a couple of decades back. Drastically! From a one-way communication protocol, now it has changed to Conversations, which are far more interactive, iterative and integrated with Conversations that interconnected peers and groups are having.

From price to Cost is not a major leap to understand. Some of the smartest people on this planet are engaged by organisations, in reducing and regulating the cost of input, so that the final output product/service is available at a competitive price. However, in the end it is the consumer who decides what cost is acceptable to them. And with enough sites available, who not only aggregate the various comparable products and prices, but also let you compare by parameters that you choose. Ergo, it is the cost you are willing to bear, rather than the price you have to pay, is currently how purchasing behaviour seems to work. (Exception: government controlled product pricing)

And last but not the least Convenience. There was a stage when Place or Physical distribution was considered absolutely paramount for any marketing and sales success. For if, the product/service was not available where the consumer was, then there would be no happy producers and sellers. Today, place is no longer the only consideration for the consumer. It is more about convenience. I do not have to be in a particular place to procure the product. I can sit in the comfort of my home or office and order for a product to be delivered where I want it to be delivered. And I have multiple means to accomplish this. Toll free land line, mobile phone, smart phone, computer, tablet, etc. That both giant multinational retailers as well as home grown mom & pop stores still survive in India, is key evidence to how much convenience matters to the consumer.

In my opinion, it would be foolish to say it is the case of P's versus C's. It is the case of both P's and C's having to be in the right mix, preferably uniquely customisable, in order to be leveraged by both the producer and the consumer. For, it is an increasingly understood fact that, you are both the marketer and the media while being an intricate part of the market in the form of a consumer and/or a producer. To, Intelligence Quotient and Emotional Quotient, is now added Social Quotient. While there may be a few commas in this evolutionary and equally revolutionary process, there can never be a full stop. Not if you understand that our world and its people are in continuum. Always.

The Chances We Take. Or Not.

Book under review: Ahmed Faiyaz,  Another Chance Grey Oak Publishers, 2010 ISBN: 978-93-81626-02-3 Rs. 195 We all know...