ESG and Apple Design

I’ve never bought an Apple device for their design. Over the years, the reason to buy were many, but more often than not, a functional need was addressed. It could have been the stability of the operating system, longer lasting devices or excellent service, devices that allowed for backup and more. In those decisions, I perhaps looked for peace of mind and continuity.

Yes, design matters and perhaps the lack of it would make for irrational choices in a modern digital environment. As a customer, I am more concerned about how it works than how it looks. There may be some for whom the look matters more, and that is fair enough. Mr Ive’s influence in Apple product design is well documented and that design philosophy has often been adapted by other companies. In a career spanning almost two decades, there would be successes and some weak points in the product too, and that is if you look at it at an individual’s level.

The complete product experience is a combination of many functions of a company working together. It’s the product, service, knowledgeable people that offer a customer the assurance to use or experiment with Apple products. So design and the related work have to be seen as an integrated effort of a company. Not just industrial design.

When it comes to design, one can read more articles about how Apple has lost its design mojo, and I often wonder about it too. Look at the recent announcement by Google about tablets. Think about the message to their customers who bought their stunning tablet just a few months ago. On the other hand, customers of the slightly older iPads will get  some enhancements to their experience. We have got to look at design leadership in the context of perseverance and constant improvements. Perhaps it becomes a systemic process and less individualistic.

Apple is traversing a journey from being a design powerhouse to being privacy by design powerhouse. Their recent announcements are more about how they are enabling some tools and processes towards privacy enhancements for their customers.

So their current offer is

  • Content and services like Music, News, iCloud, Games, Tv and others
  • Tools for the developer community that ensure the viability of significant reach across Apple’s multiple platforms
  • Consumer productivity devices like the iPad Pros’ and the Professional productivity devices leading with the stunning Mac Pro and others. I guess Apple has a future roadmap of devices that has Mr. Ive’s imprint for the foreseeable future.
  • In-device experiences in cars and smart homes. These are devices that are likely made by others but have software and technology experiences that have Apple solutions.
  • However, by far their most significant offer is privacy protections like virtual email ids, technology protections in their browsers and more

So in a sense, Apple experiences and their design will need to encompass not just industrial design leadership but also aspects such as assistants, machine learning, automation and development of new software-driven experiences. All while keeping the trust of their customers in terms of privacy promises.

Apple, or any other company, has to also contend with a new generation of devices. A generation of devices that do not just focus on minimalism but the more significant issue of the environment. Yes, there are recycling programmes but are they available everywhere. Apple has one device that is made with 100% recycled aluminium, but other devices would also need to be looked at more holistically. Think about the shift to low voltage devices. Perhaps they are already there in the immediate pipeline. So design and the business model needs to look at repairability on one side and recyclability and reuse on the other.

What does extending the life of products mean to the broader business model. Does it start with metallurgy, design or the business model of a company? I feel future customers of any company and society, in general, will study the design decisions in the context of the environmental stewardship of a company.

So the next experiences of Apple or any other company are going to have to factor in their environmental and social impact. It requires a team that works very differently with whole new skill sets as well. It does start with operations for now. 

There is a lot to get done before we start thinking of iconic designs. The language of technology and design stewardship needs an entirely different vocabulary and actions.

The Hotel Industry Needs to Change. Fast!

What’s a hotel anyway? Is it any more than a well done up shared space?

With new business models in place these days, the hotel you visited last time may have moved to a new brand license. So the Radisson becomes a Crowne Plaza, which in turn might be another brand from one of the big brand franchises.  There is an absolute lack of distinctiveness and the way the large aggregator networks seem to be operating; it seems we might have something akin to the economy class flying syndrome. Nothing distinctive, as rooms are fought or lost at a specific rate. The experience is then nothing to write home about.

While the hotel industry has seen significant changes, there is one thing that has not changed. It is the need to have a place to stay when visiting another city. In fact travel for work or leisure has only seen a significant upswing and most people book hotels either through the travel aggregator or some corporate desk. People also expect much more from their travel. Increasingly people are looking at alternatives that provide the uniqueness of the city in the staying experience as well. Think Airbnb kind of places.

So what does the hotel room offer? Choice of Pillows, silence, comfort at the upper end of the spectrum or a functional space that is mostly indistinguishable from the other. In-hotel entertainment has seen better days. It certainly needs to be reimagined for contemporary times.

The unique food of a city is best consumed in favourite places in the city. The hotel food is rarely that. It may be good quality, but unique it is not. Then there are the hotel shops. They look the same, the products are similar, and there is not much of service. Everyone has a bored look because there are hardly any walk-ins. I wonder how they make ends meet? When people travel, they want to experience the city, take back a bit of that city, and its experiences. Most hotels don’t seem to provide any of this.

So what is a modern day hotel then? A place with unique characteristics of the city that only the ultra-rich can afford or a place that reflects the rich culture of the city and connects to the more modern ethos?  


Is it a shared space which promises a particular safety in a new place? 

On the topic of shared spaces, there are shared spaces galore now. Shared working spaces are cropping up everywhere. They look as posh as the upmarket hotels and sometimes even have better food and entertainment. Coffee shops are shared spaces too. People talk, work and have fun. And the coffee tastes better and more often than not its priced at the same level.

Another shared space in a hotel is the ubiquitous business centre. I find it a bit anachronistic in these times. Most visitors have some computing device, and the need for a dedicated business centre with related hardware is somewhat limited. However, it is also a place, mostly tucked away, and I have rarely seen anyone inside. So I am sure the footfalls must also be reasonably limited. However, how can hotels, where so many people come to do business, have mostly empty business centres? Surely there is a need to reimagine what a business centre means to a hotel’s customers. 

In the mid-1990s a hotel in Delhi opened a cyber café complete with cutting edge hardware of the time, a unique ambience and an internet connection. It was at the lobby level and visible to all. It was quite a thrill as internet services had just started in the country, and this was indeed a statement of intent by the hotel. It caught the attention of the business traveller and created quite a buzz amongst the residents of the city.

Modern hotels need to think about their connection with the city. There are many hotels you pass by and know that you will never enter there. One reason is that you don’t need to stay there. However, every day, there are people in a city who will habitually go to some café and work from there. They will spend a long time there, maybe not the most comfortable of places but they go there. For the coffee, for the people to meet and work and have great conversations. Laptops, tablets and the familiar aroma of coffee. These cafés have designed around this need with easily accessible power and workstation like common spaces.

Further coworking spaces are offering the kind of experience that hotel lobbies once did. The interesting term they use is not guests or tenents but members. It has implications in service and offers continuity that is beyond the transactional point system.

So, what more can be done?

People are writing, making videos and podcasts, designing products and so much more. Imagine a podcast recording in the hotel itself. Imagine a podcast for hotel guests. Would a 3D printer in the business centre offer people a different way to experience this innovative hotel? Alternatively, help the product designer working late in the night to test their hypothesis?

Most guests who stay there might not be averse to having next morning delivery from the stores in the hotel. Let’s say you need something before you fly out and you can’t go due to your schedule. Why not have unique pop-up stores that offer a flavour of the city. For other things, a kiosk-based system that allows you to order items mainly from the city and these are delivered by the logistics company the very next morning. Worth exploring?

Think about all the people who stay there, people in the loyalty programme of the chain, all the events that take place. People are there to work, to connect, to learn and to enjoy themselves. What is the real experience of these people in these objectives? Could these hotel chains benefit from a members only forum which is available when you are at a hotel? Can serendipity create unique hotel experiences?

Could the hotel come alive with augmented experiences of the city? In ways that help its staff talk about the places, people and food with these visual and sensory aids. 

Hotel relationship programmes are jaded.  They still offer room nights, points, food discounts and some entertainment. Yes, some will have better shows that can be termed exclusive, but most are the same. So, the jaded travellers seek out the new disruptors who might offer unusual places. I recently read that they are offering houses/stays with surprising twists like historical moments, genetics and more. So can a reimagined programme include coffee club memberships, hours at the business centre, internet access that works across multiple destinations, digital services that go beyond mobile app check-in and much more. The relationship programme would not just unlock services for the hotel but might become a place for customers to do business with each other. Think of it as the app store for the hotel chain. The programme would not be based on the surveillance kind of analytics but with privacy by design objectives. 

Finally, any hotel is part of the ecosystem of the city.  In a world with severe climate concerns and the growing water shortage, hotels need to rethink their pool strategy. No matter what you say, the water is coming from the local city reservoir. There is a big disconnect between a city starved for water and hotels with their vast pools meant for fun and frolic. Most hotel photos include a pool picture, and that is likely to change very shortly. Will these be replaced with eGames / holodeck experiences?

The hotel industry needs to change. Fast!

Move Fast. Fix Things

This post is about two lessons that I learnt fairly early in my career. They are part of the title.

Two decades ago, a prospective client spoke rather condescendingly at my suggestion to evaluate digital tools in some processes that we were discussing at the time. The research, he said, hadn’t identified the areas we were defining as possible problem areas in the process. To say he felt strongly for the study would be an understatement. He went on to describe how he and the company had spent almost two years on another product’s research. He insisted that this was vital in getting the name, messaging and other intonations right. He said this was done to ensure the product’s success in the market. Around the same time, we worked on another assignment with someone who was considered to be a very tough taskmaster. There were enough warnings, by others, to tell us that this may be a very tough project. My experience was delightful. It left a very vivid memory of what I learnt and also of the gentleman with whom we worked. He believed in the details as much as much as the big picture. His anecdotes, the walkarounds in the brand stores, focusing on the team while insisting on ensuring there was progress. Much later, I realised he practices what Tom Peters describes as MBWA, i.e. Managing by Wandering Around.

These days, it is unfathomable to take two years to finalise names and the related research around it. It probably was unthinkable back then too, and this person/company prioritised too much on what he called ‘the research’. It is telling that the company had to sell this brand and later got purchased by another company.

Why am I writing about all this? Well because of some recent interactions on what constitutes insights, intents and anecdotes. Plus, I came across this HBR article, and there were some twitter interactions on this link. Further, there is the task of building on intents and how they help to address the customer’s job-to-be-done.

So let’s start with a hypothesis. If a brand’s net promoter score is 20 and a statistically valid survey states that the experience is ‘somewhat better’ what would you do? Sit back or find things to improve? If the study has similar multiple-choice questions that address aspects of brand perception, will you find the insights to move or fix things? Does it give you strategic or tactical ideas on the direction to be taken if the survey mostly reiterates that things are somewhat better?

There is a perception that this is an Armageddon kind of a situation for retail. I tend to disagree strongly. The HBR article also suggests talking to customers and moving fast. It is imperative for any retail company not to spend time looking over their shoulder. Instead, get a mindset to think outside-in and move. Most organisations get various kinds of reports and insights but rarely do you see them being put to use to solve problems that a customer faces. An insights platform that integrates processes and highlights what may be an emerging customer experience issue. From an insights perspective, here is a starting point

  • What are they searching on your website/app/bot
  • Is there a method to tap questions being asked by customers in your stores/social platforms
  • What are the searches that led people to your site
  • What are they mystery visit feedback and reports telling you
  • What are you finding in your internal process reviews
  • Have you implemented heatmaps and what can we can infer from this

Is there a complete and integrated diagnostic of the above and mapped to opportunities in your journey map? If you pick up some of the intents and recreate the customer journey in the store and then connect what the team is selling. Bring the power of text mining to find compelling insights that are actionable. Some organisations have started to work on connections as described above, but there are others who have not actively considered this for a large number of reasons. My question for the non-believers is, Do you need the help of an occasional multiple options questionnaire to find ways to improve your customers’ experience?

I will close this note by again quoting Tom Peters, and he says WTTMSW. It means Whoever Tries The Most Stuff Wins. The competition certainly seems to be moving fast.

Retail is here to stay. Experience Needs Imagination

A social media update announcing the coming retail apocalypse is now a routine occurrence. News articles about this issue are relatively common as well. The impression created is that new players hungrier for success are stomping all over brick and mortar. At the same, these new companies are not just online but are also opening stores and designing unique data-driven experiences. 

If done thoughtfully, automated services and bots can be a nice convenience. People want to have a more straightforward experience. Besides, there is enough to show that people like to socialise. We crave company and connections. For a long time, it was convenient to go to malls and traditional stores. These places provided the convenience of everything under one roof. You could also spend time with family, friends and celebrate occasions. Technology has upended this equation a bit. It is somewhat more convenient to order or manage requirements via websites, voice assistants, apps and bot. The robot hotel did end up creating vast amounts of work for the few humans that were part of the project. 

Retailers, however, need to rethink the offer and experience. Traditional thinking about space optimisation needs to be reinvigorated, and customer journeys need to redesign. I am very optimistic about the changes taking place. New retail requires fresh imagination, and it can be exciting to imagine and implement this brave new future.  Store formats and services will go through a transformation primarily driven by the question, what can the store do more? A new connected customer experience that builds on a data-rich environment but brings the core values of human empathy in service delivery. 

No matter where this retail leapfrog takes us, some fundamental principles need to be kept in mind. 

Focus on first-time customers: 

India is growing fast and not a saturated market like many others. There is an opportunity in the smaller retail formats as well as larger ones. Rather than look over the shoulder and worry about competition, there is an opportunity to redesign the experience for all. Maybe there is something to be learnt from another sector like software companies. They have a term called on-boarding. Rather than sending promotional or sales offers, how can we think about re-designing the experience of our first-time customers? Many of whom may be experiencing the category in a completely different way. 

Integrated customer experiences: 

Ok, let’s get the omnichannel word out of the way then. It seems to be the panacea for all the ills of modern retail. Much of the writing related to omnichannel is confusing. What about the leadership in retail then? Are they clear about the benefits of omnichannel?  Not all organisations are ready to implement it for varying reasons. It is, however, looking at the business model from a technology point of view and it seems to lose track of the actual needs of the customer. 

Companies have viewed the social channel as a way to promote and for customers as a way to highlight service gaps. The service equation needs redefinition.  Emphasis on process enhancements could be brought about if the stores, social channels, apps could offer relevant services that matter to the customer. The key focus needs to be on the customer journey and pertinent aspects across touchpoints. How can integration of search, purchase and service across these multifaceted brand outposts drive value and convenience for the customer? 

Data defines the experience:

Adding technology does not mean a business is making adequate use of the data. All too often data exists in a silo;  achieving whatever the company may be trying to track. Unlike the traditional retail businesses, the online retailer is probably generating far more data and is also using it more effectively. Moreover, I think it is the pace of data generation and subsequent utilisation that needs attention. Traditional dashboards do not quite cut it. Is it just better algorithms or a better culture of data utilisation? Could be both?

We have got to look beyond basic transactional analytics. Gone are the days when CRM meant sending emails and old style loyalty programme statements. CRM also does not mean third-party sourcing of data via dubious service providers to enhance existing transactional data.  Due to concerns about data protection, privacy laws and even security issues, organisations need to be mindful of not being blindsided by weak data governance. 

The opportunity offered today is to connect the data that would otherwise exist in silos. Making it count means offering customers something that is timely, relevant and convenient. What can be done to create a perpetual and actionable insights platform and not just social media command centres of the not so distant past? 

Moreover, let’s not lose track of the retail team 

Working in retail can be very demanding with pressure to offer excellent service even going beyond the call of duty. However, with almost gig economy like business models where a person belongs to a staffing service provider how motivated can this person be to go above and beyond. Then there is the distance between the employee and the leadership of the retail brand, going through the matrix organisation and so on. It can be tough! Companies have sought to address these existential threats by increasing automation to reduce attrition and more. 

So this surprises me. Will automation improve convenience or will it enhance the experience that you remember? So the charter for the new retail has to be about how people can help create moments that leave lasting impressions. There is then a need to think about the customer journey, and it’s touchpoints and the employee journey concurrently. It is not enough to offer standard learning modules. Learning then has to be based on insights we have on customer intents. Ideas that were designed earlier to improve offer or optimise the website, need to be brought into  learning for improvement. Not on a post facto basis but at a pace benefiting the promise the brand makes to a customer. Connected customers in a new connected store, need employee connection in  detail as well. Microlearning, augmented learning experiences, constant skill enhancement has to be a consistent part of the journey. 

Data is going to play a critical role in building the employee experience. Not just the basic data of who sold more and if they have been trained in the necessary modules. Instead, analysing team performance much as we see in sports. Where every single ball bowled or played, free kick taken or goal scoring movements are mapped and discussed. Learning and Development needs to be a mentor with multiple feedback systems to help improve the performance of each. We need to think of people as assets, not some number on excel sheet to be ‘optimised’ or automated away.

People will continue to form the basis of a high-performance retail experience.

Thinking about the Unpolished Dal and FMCG Brand Experience

Many years ago, an engine oil major, a much-loved brand in India worked with us to answer an important question, “What next?” Why? Because each new car brand was endorsing their own or partner engine oil brands. Also, the experience had changed from one where a customer went explicitly to get the oil they wanted to one where the car company just changed the oil whenever the car went for service.

This company went out to create a very successful direct servicing connection with their customers.

It is now time for FMCG brands to think about customer experience of their products. The kirana (grocery) store in urban Indian markets is slowly disappearing. Indian shoppers are increasingly ordering online, driving the brick and mortar kirana store to rethink their business models. There are several reasons for this. First, the grocery retail in India forms 60% of the total retail market. Secondly, it is a hyper-local business.  Preferences for fruits, vegetables, ingredients and other goods vary according to locality, even in the same city. Thirdly, grocery has another added charm; these are essential purchases with high repeatability. However, there is more, it’s a high margin business for online retailers if they can capture the customer base and introduce private labels.

However, the customer experience in most grocery categories has a long way to go. For instance, if I say, unpolished dal a specific brand will pop up in your head. They created the category, backed it with their strong trustworthy name and made me aware that this was a healthier option. It’s the only brand I look for when either ordering online or in my sporadic grocery store visits. And, there is significant difficulty in ordering it. Grocery shelves have many companies claiming to offer unpolished dal. Since the brand that I actually want is impossible to get most of the time I look for substitutes. A lot is being written about the private labels started by grocery retailers and I wonder if high margins is all there is to it. Could it be that the unpolished dal company only thought about advertising and forgot about the many other touchpoints urban consumers now look at. 

Could it be that the unpolished dal company needs a refresh of the consumer journey?

The journey map for a new grocery brand needs to factor that customers are increasingly aware that good food and good health are directly correlated, and while they will make an effort to seek out the brand they trust, they also want convenience and better service. Which is perhaps why the engine oil brand is still going strong after 15 years and the unpolished dal with great advertising is struggling to be visible to me. 

However, what does all this mean for the traditional FMCG businesses? Traditionally, the FMCG sector has seen itself as a brand company. Most product manufacturing was either outsourced or restricted to the company’s centralised factories in a few locations. The company distributed these to the kirana stores and focussed on creating customer pull through advertising and promotions. The store owners created the customer experience and not the brands. The kirana store owners understood what customers wanted, how products could be upsold and made mattered.

With the ability to capture customer mindshare and stickiness, the grocery e-tailers will now have disproportionate control over distribution channels. They can quickly move customers to their private labels. Additionally, e-tailers already own consumer data and know their preferences. Creating relevant communication is easy for them.

How can the FMCG company compete?

The answer perhaps lies in rethinking the retail experience in the form of customer journeys and building a direct customer-company connection. Knowing your customer is the first rule of customer marketing, and in a data-driven world, perhaps it precedes everything else. However, aggregating databases with customers name, number and email with customers social updates is mostly ineffective. The lifestyle preferences of the customer and their needs have to be an ongoing journey of better understanding and better services.

Thinking about the Electric Vehicle Customer Journey

The electricity business worldwide is at the centre of changes brought about by new technologies and rapid merging of multiple business verticals. These changes are increasingly apparent in India as well. This transformation which involves substantial enhancements in renewable capacity, the push towards electric vehicles (EV), electrical charging stations, storage, new software-driven experiences and above all the changing face of the utility.  

Filling it up vs charging  

Most automobile companies have announced plans for EV’s and the market is expected to expand for these products. In the push towards electric vehicles, there is considerable excitement over the need for electric charging stations which will power these vehicles. There is much to be done since at present EV charging stations in India stand at just a few hundred. This space is likely to see considerable action in the coming years as the EV infrastructure will need charging sites for various uses. Offices, multiplexes, residential complexes are the possible places where these are expected to come up soon. It will change the current car fuelling paradigm where fuel is only available at petrol pumps. There will broadly be two kinds of charging, trip continuation charging and destination charging. Destination charging will be done at the end of a journey and will be at homes and offices and will utilise lower voltage AC charging to deliver energy into the vehicle. Trip continuation charging will be done at the service station and will involve fast charging. The more significant challenge though is behaviour change. How will consumers adapt to charging a car vs filling fuel?  

The new grid and enhanced services  

There are several implications for the grid with several thousand EV charging stations coming up. The foremost one being the increase in electricity demand with a new sector moving towards electrification. It could also put a strain on residential and commercial infrastructure and their service support systems. Multiple technological solutions are being worked upon to ensure grid reliability and stability. Also, newer organisations get a chance to embed themselves along the value chain – infrastructure, energy distribution and new service offerings are all possible.  

Pay as you go / Subscription / Memberships / Bundling  

While traditional oil and gas companies are setting up EV charging stations at the petrol pumps and continuing with the pay as you go, model, much more is now possible. Taking a cue from the telecom/entertainment world, subscription services and bundling offers might open up new avenues of transportation models. They could be in the form of tariffs, other energy services, or bundling with other vehicle services. Specialised EV charging companies could emerge with innovative models such as top-up cards, bundling home energy use and EV charging at stations, memberships to charging networks. 

Implications for customer data 

EV’s, unlike the combustion engine cars, are traditionally data-dense products. They will generate vast amounts of insight on how you drive, where you go, what music you listen to and more. As consumers use more such vehicles their data will reside with multiple EV producers, the electric company, charging service, music service and more. Privacy by design and consumer protection will need to be factored in. At one level, the product is updateable remotely, and companies have to think very differently about the way they manage their product features. The electric vehicle ecosystem promises much, but we can’t think about just taking the existing journeys and updating them. 

We need fresh new thinking in creating these journeys to manage needs articulated and most importantly the unsaid needs. More on this here. 

Science, Creativity and Imagination

I was 15 when I read Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C Clarke and discovered space fiction! What a story that was even though some concepts were beyond me. Recently, I was reminded of the key aspects of the book when I read about the interstellar object that passed through our solar system.

At that time, Star Trek and Cosmos were broadcast on our television screens. Carl Sagan talking about the wonders of space. Every episode left you with a sense a awe and inspiration. I came to know about Voyager spacecrafts journey across our solar system at that time and have kept abreast of the latest till their last recorded moments in our solar system. The technical feats achieved with such early-stage technology fill me with a sense of awe. The real merged with the reel with Captain Kirk seemingly continuing the mission of the scientists of that time.

Rakesh Sharma became the first Indian cosmonaut in space. He and Ravish Malhotra were household names. I remember the Insat-1B and the SLV3 missions and followed them with as keen an interest as the information of that time allowed. So the world of space in the form of Cosmos, Star Trek had an Indian connection.

The idea that the rockets that carried humans to the moon were outdated and soon to be replaced with the space shuttle was quite exciting then. The shuttle went up like a rocket but landed like an aircraft and in that year the space shuttle Challenger seemed to indicate it was safe too. It went into space multiple times that year. There were also the Soviet Soyuz T11 and Salyut 7 to dream and discuss.

In that year, I re-discovered the 1977 edition of the Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft. This was found in an old bookshop by my father and it had been there in our collection. It had a lot of pages, very heavy to lift but it was fascinating. Every single aircraft by a country was listed there. I remember reading about the Marut. Comparing features of some of the world’s best aircraft was a good past time. It had photographs, illustrations, specifications and so much more. I felt rather grown up! This was also the year the Indian Light Combat aircraft was announced or at least came into my field of exploration. It felt good that India would develop an aircraft for our own use!

And then there were ads! How could you not like the ads? They were better than the programmes that one got to see on TV. I longed to somehow record those ads in my collection but I did not have the means to do, till much later in my schooling. It certainly sparked an interest in marketing and brands!

We’d won the world cup a year earlier and the Indian cricket team had visited our school. I remember recording the anecdotes on a dictaphone and sharing with colony friends. It had a micro-cassette and that was very interesting to me. A neighbour wanted me to test it. He worked for Indian Airlines and was part of the programme that would induct one of the first Airbus planes in India. I still remember the Airbus stickers on his bags!

While I read a lot it was mostly Soviet classics and comics. But I was introduced to computers in a magazine called Computers Today. It seemed to discuss things that sailed over my head. It would leave a lasting impression despite not understanding mainframes etc. Here’s an example of the tech coverage of that time.

I signed up for the after-school computer programme based on the BBC Micro. It was basic but it was thrilling to hear sounds, see some of the text art as graphics on those screens. Went on to learn Basic and felt like a genius!

There was awe and I wanted to explore more. So the books at the British Council and American Center libraries came in handy. Even though most of the concepts were way about my level.

Oh and music! It was still the era of records and one made sure that the record was not scratched. Cartridges required special care as well. It was fun to find a way to take the line-out of the record player into another music system. Primarily to create mixtapes. It was an early stage experiment that would continue to grow. Mixtapes would grow on to become a big interest for me. Another thing that I learnt was to open the music system and figure out its belts and gadgetry etc. There was the soldering iron to explore with. Some of it known to the family and some not. But frugal mix and match was the order of the day.

All in all, a time of inspirational moments in space, mind opening science fiction, first steps in technology that would become central in my life. The idea of recording mix tapes, recording events would come back later. It allowed me to get comfortable with my interests and not just scholastic activities.

There was a curiosity to learn then and it has only grown bigger. Some of the curiosity gets transferred into work solutions but there is still the same core foundation of interests that form a part of my conversations and exploration.

Now imagine a child who is going to be 15 in about another 9 to 10 years. It is fascinating to think about what she is going to experience . What will inspire her and what will become a lifelong interest-

In a world filling up with technology where anything can be 3D/4D printed, will she turn to handcrafted experiences?
Will the first generation of humans have already settled on Moon or another planetary outpost? What will be the stories from there?
What will serendipity bring to her musical or creative interests?
Will she learn with holographic images much the same way that the holodeck offered in the Star Trek?
Will humans have overcome the more significant issues of the current time?
Will she have any aspiration to drive a car in a world of seemingly autonomous vehicles?
What will she want to tinker and will the machine be her connected assistant?

Writing this was good nostalgia but imagining the next 15 year old’s inspiration, one thing is certain the Future is not more of the past.

Also available here as part of the Linkedin #WhenIWas15 series

Observations on Healthcare Marketing in India

A. India is unique in healthcare marketing. In most developed countries healthcare is insurance driven. In India on the other hand, hospital and doctor brands are largely driven by the direct payments made by individuals for procedures, services and care.

This leads to healthcare brands advertising in a plethora of ways such as

  • Newspaper inserts
  • Health camps in colonies
  • Radio ads
  • SMS promotions
  • Testimonials of patients
  • Doctor promotions via Ads and PR
  • Public health messaging
  • Social (Digital) platforms

B. Over and above all this, hospitals and doctor brands also attract a large number of international patients. A testimony to this is the fact that the lobby of almost every Delhi hospital is now full of patients from all across the world. Looking more like an international airport than a hospital waiting lounge. The above channels of outreach then have an additional aim of attracting international patients too.

C. In the past 10 years, Healthcare advertising has moved from reticence to over the top, endless stream of communication, where every disease is promoted as serious and significant, needing specialists and testing. World heart day, World Diabetes day etc are given extraordinary coverage as well as Mothers day where hospital brands suggest special women’s health packages. Healthcare services now come in all shapes and sizes – post operative care, emergency care, web platforms for everything, wellness brands – but what is missing is an integrated approach towards the customer. Many a times customers are left feeling that they are just a body for multiple testing and procedures but no specialist wants to speak to the other and patients are increasingly being left to fend for themselves.

D. Some hospitals have also started outsourcing important services like labs, dental care and IVF to external specialists which has its own set of customer experience issues. Hospitals are also setting up sub brands. Initially hospital departments such as Ortho, Neuro became brands and now increasingly specific treatments such IVF are being branded.

E. The big question though is, “Does the customer trust the system?” There is a recent book on this but you don’t have to look far to find cases that point to an increasing mistrust of the doctor, the procedure and even the hospital. You just need to search within facebook to find instances where patients trust has been broken. What are you doing to me? How much is it going to cost me? Do I even need it? – Maybe a Trip Advisor kind of customer rating system of healthcare is really what is needed now.

F. For the people who have health insurance, things are not any simpler. As things stand today, a Rs 24 lac insurance is roughly 1 month of ICU care. Where will this lead to? There is mistrust between the 3 parties – patients, hospitals and insurance.

G. The challenge with hospital brands is one of scalability. One can get funds to build buildings, buy expertise and instil processes. But trust, transparency and belief in brand are priceless. That’s really the challenge for hospital branding! The patient needs to be at the centre of decision making. The emphasis instead, is on procedure and increasing length of hospital stays.

H. It’s really not about buying the latest equipment but actually making information available to customers whenever they need it and providing them with integrated care pathways.

The Essence of Your Brand’s Digital Ambition

Taking a brand in to the digital space makes changes at the very heart of a business. It creates opportunities for growth or situations where market share is lost. The truth is ( and we speak from our experience in marketing, design, learning, services, technology, branding, research, consumer insights and creative ) that while consumers experience brands in an omni-channel environment – marketers and their agencies continue to work in designated, functional silos.
Nowhere is this more apparent in both client and agency organisations. Agencies offer almost routine solutions for e-mail marketing, web design, search, social media et. al. They may be specialists but they also work in silos. Is it perhaps a function of client organisations where digital or technology managers / heads also focus on specific areas with related KRA’s? Creating their own silos in the process?
Social platforms or tools such as software implementations alone, whether for say – a social media command centre or a delivery enablement feature in the ERP, are not going to create market leadership. A thought process and an offering, its differentiated positioning, business deliverables have to transform into functional enablement via a set of clear processes – where role alignment of everyone involved is crucial.
But somewhere, there is the beginning of a need. Manifesting in the fact that companies are facing business challenges beyond the obvious.
Consider this. A global brand was looking to create a social media dashboard to learn more about their current and new fans/followers across owned social media channels and produce correlations between their marketing activities and sales data with the social behaviours of their fans, to produce actionable, qualitative and quantitative consumer insights.Eventually the company opted for a conventional analytics platform and opted to track something simpler. Did they miss an opportunity to do some ground breaking work? Perhaps yes and therein lies the element of ambition for digital.
In conversations with managers, one hears the need to explore new frontiers but when it comes to acting on the plans, things tend to get a lot slower. Is it Lip service to the latest buzz words? What will nudge the decision makers to do more?
But where are the clear answers to basic questions? Where is the brand? What is it that we are really offering the customer? How is it being experienced and sustained online? Through repetitive product-centric content posts churned out by bright people starting out in their careers? Or via boring, clunky banner ads or pop-ups that lack imagination? Simply because digital or social is hygiene.
There is a need for a conversation on what it means to be Digital in the Digital Business and to figure out cross-functional solutions that are nimble and enable results. Based on consumer insights. And what value can a brand add to a consumer’s life. That is the essence of the digital ambition.
And there is a need to start this conversation. For there is a larger issue at stake here. It seems like a simple thing. Of getting the basics right. Even if the ‘ basics ‘ keep changing with time and technology.
When you think about digital we’d like you to put your customer at the centre of your decision making. No jargon, just clean, common-sensical stuff to drive business outcomes. Whether it is a clear thought process, proof of concepts and achievement of specific deliverables we’d like to work closely with you on your next digital challenge for your brand.

This post started as a twitter conversation with Riitu Chugh and has been jointly written with her. She is an Account Planner and a Social Business Strategist. We’d love to know your thoughts!

Cities, Sports Leagues and their Brand Experiences

It was match day and not an ordinary one at that. Bayern Munich was scheduled to play in the final of the 2012/13 UEFA Champions League. This information was part of the briefing by the pilot of a Lufthansa flight that I was in. What stuck me was the use of ‘my team’ in the way he announced this. He promised to update us about match result later as well. That day his team won and I guess the team of many in the plane too because there was a loud cheer.
Match days on twitter tend to be interesting. Many people in the stream refer to a particular team as ‘us’ or ‘we’. Now if this was someone in europe referring to their favourite club teams it would almost be normal. It may be unusual for some to see people in India referring to European club teams as ‘us’. Perhaps it is not surprising either. These clubs have become global brands with merchandising and activities that extend well beyond their region and the league’s season.
The Riera Blanca area in Barcelona is home to FC Barcelona. The Mobile World Congress is a big part of the Barcelona experience but equally there is quite a bit of FC Barcelona in there as well. You check in at a hotel and they will tell you about tickets that can be purchased on your behalf. They will talk about their team but equally talk about the history and team musuem too.
This contrasts to how some of the new teams are referred here in the social stream. More people still talk about a city’s team in third person. First the cricket and soon after hockey, football, badminton, kabaddi and basketball leagues have started. Perhaps there will be more as well. Do you remember any of the players that represent these teams? Some cricketers maybe but others? If you live in Mumbai, are you an Indian, Master or Magician team supporter. The likely hypothesis is that it’s all a blur. The player, the team and sport are not quite connected with the city they represent.
Engagement with the league, it’s teams and players is linked to the actual days of the tournament. Yes one will see matches, remember an episode for a day or two and then there is the next match to consider. Maybe take part in some contests online or enjoy the game in the company of friends at an eating establishment. Players change every year and are signed on for astronomical accounts. Sporting expertise aside, they have little resonance with the brand name. The same world famous cricketer could have navigated 4 or 5 teams in as many years. So, do the citizens of Delhi, Mumbai or Calcutta think of them as ‘my team’ ? Not really. Its great viewing but not necessarily great brand resonance. Maybe most of the Indian leagues are young and there is much more work to be done.
So what’s the connection with the city?
Naming is emotive and the brand would have several ingredients that can be considered when one thinks about the future. These could be location and community, spirit, governance and more. Let’s say there are 3 teams that represent a city. Is there a common characteristic that connects the 3 teams to each other?
1. Does a city know the teams that represent it in various sports leagues?
2. How does the city connect with the teams? Do the know their players?
3. What’s the experience for a fan of the city?
4. What’s the engagement during the season?
5. What’s the experience after the season. Have these teams embraced the culture and the ongoing conversation of the city.
6. Whether it is CSR or cause marketing, most teams have linked to some cause. Maybe there is an opportunity to make it more credible and part of the engagement with the city.
What’s in it for the brands?
While I am not an expert on brand valuations, but I do believe that the customer experience is what really matters in building a long lasting brand. How does one value a team of a young league? By the value of its players or by the business they generate? or something else? I read an article on team valuations, and I quote it here.
The Forbes Fab 40 consists of the 10 most valuable sports brands in each of four categories–businesses, events, teams and athletes. How do you place a value on a brand? For sports business brands, this means quantifying the amount the business would fetch in an arms length transaction in excess of what a comparable rival would be worth.
The team needs to win and that ensures full stadiums. There is also the business aspect. It needs to be a viable venture. It needs to increase it’s fan base, build a community and identify sources of engagement and revenue. Conventional wisdom says that there are four ways a sports team can make money: tickets, sponsorships, merchandising, and licensing. Sometimes people might add player trading and prize money.
Perhaps one could also start to imagine new sources of revenue from the majority who do not go to watch games and love their sport. The elements of a sports team and its ecosystem have four main components and connecting these elements in fresh ways can create opportunity for sustainable business growth.
ports leagues table
In Summary, the experience framework would need to touch upon :
Clarity – Other than being the licensee of a city name, what does the team stand for? How are they linked to the city buzz? What do they offer a fan?
Conversations – The leagues need to get people talking about their sport in an active sort of way. Participating not just in entertainment centres and social media alone but in sports grounds, active lifestyles and more.
Connected – Thinking about the experience of a fan- On ground, Other venues, digital platforms and more.
Causes – Can the team do more for the cause they represent?
Capability – This is more a part of the team’s ability to win! But the fan should feel that they are part of a worthy team of their city.

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