Marketing Idea No. 292: Return to innocence


In our high school days we were a big practitioner of memorizing definition, without ever really understanding it. When we grew up, we understood that definition is too theoretical, probably like most of the things that we learned from our high school curriculum. We accepted that to be successful, we need to be more practical and the best way to be practical is learn from real life examples. Very soon our presentations and speeches are full of anecdotes and examples, not concepts. We have grown up and learnt a great new trick. If you talk about definitions and concepts, the audience yawns. If you talk about examples and stories, the audience cheers.

The problem with this trend is you can create and sell any kind of hypothesis by digging out that one outlier example that supports your bullshit. The media all over the world thrives on this trend. They create stories that fuel current beliefs and cherry pick examples to justify them. Add to that human being’s tendency to generalize and jumping to conclusion, and we have a real big problem at our hand.

In a recent survey conducted by Hans and Ola Rosling, a group of people in Sweden were asked multiple choice questions about the state of the world. The researchers then went to the zoo and asked chimps the same questions, where for obvious reasons the Chimps gave the answer by randomly pushing buttons. Whats not so obvious was how the random button pushing of the chimps were much more accurate as answers compared to the deliberate answers Swedish people give, showing how distorted our view of the world is. Much of it is because our view of the world is shaped by the stories that media choose to report. And like everyone, media has an agenda. And like everyone, media also is ignorant.

Which is why there is a growing trend in business and life to go back to basic. And there is nothing more basic than definitions, which lies at the core of the concept. Ask a group of investment bankers what’s the impact of inflation and they will give you tons of examples. Ask them what IS Inflation, and they will struggle. Ask a group of religious preachers what things are considered as sinful, they will give a 10 minute lecture on it. Ask them what IS Sin, and there might be a pause. That’s the intuitive power of concepts. To explain what you are doing to a simple few words is extremely hard. But doing that sharpens your focus. Moreover, definitions clarify your mind both in terms of “What” you are doing as well as “Why”. Lastly, unlike examples, definitions of concepts cannot be changed. If you want to change people’s point of view, don’t give examples. Give the definition of what it stands for in simple terms

Marketing Idea No. 291: What does your password say about you?

The most common password in the world used by people is “Password”. That explains a lot about the state of internet security in the world.

In a recent interview Apple’s CEO Tim Cook said that world is one disastrous scandal away from really looking at privacy concerns more seriously. This of course was a hidden dig at the No.1 enemy Google, but his message cannot be taken lightly. Thanks to the media being rife with stories relating to hacking and stolen passwords; the biggest perception western world holds about China is that they are always trying to hack into your private world and steal your secrets. The fact that USA Govt. is doing the same and we are willingly signing away our own privacy rights to technology companies with the illusion of secrecy and safety; is a message that is somehow not getting through. When ex-CEO Eric Schmidt was asked to address the privacy concerns of general public regarding the Google products, his blunt reply was asking people not to put anything in web that we want to keep a secret. The fact that every one of us still use an e-mail password that we guard it from everyone in the world already tells us the futility of that argument.

We all have secrets to keep and we all care of our privacy. But still we use passwords that are opposite to what we are supposed to be doing. Internet security 101 is telling us to come up with difficult to guess passwords combining characters and letters; not use same password everywhere and not write it down anywhere. But in reality that kind of passwords is very difficult to remember and since the key factor in fixing password is about memory, we end up committing all sorts of password security violations.

If you want to make data more secure, asking people to come up and remember super complex passwords is not the way to change behavior. People will continue to gravitate towards simplicity and something easy for memory. The behavior that should be targeted to change is not the construct of the password but what the content of the password says. Usually a password is something meaningful to that person – ranging from wife’s name to favorite pet’s birthdate. A simple way to throw a potential hacker off his track is using password that can never be traced back to you thematically and has no relevance to you. For example, if you are a teen age boy sitting somewhere in Alabama; having a password about Dutch ballet dance moves should be furthest removed from your life and hence very difficult to guess.

Is this a full-proof strategy? Unfortunately, no. But it’s a more feasible strategy than asking people to remember a string of numbers and characters; and asking them to change it for different apps and platforms.

Marketing Idea No. 290: Rise of the Asian Leader

There is an ongoing debate about why Asian American students outpace the other ethnic groups in academic performances. The most publicized attempt to answer that question — a few years ago, by Yale Law School professor Amy Chua — set off a controversy that rages to this day. While there are different school of thoughts, the most reliable one that is presented so far is the hard work and commitment that the Asian students and their parents are willing to provide to get the superior results. But for the world of management, this opens up a new dimension because whatever the reason may be, the Asians do bring to the table a different set of personality and leadership traits that can make them the perfect complement to Western style of management.

This is counter intuitive to the popularly held belief which states that Asian managers don’t have the perfect combination of killer instinct, charismatic leadership skills and strategic know-how to be the leader of tomorrow. That may be true, but what they DO have is something that is far more relevant in terms of the kind of future leaders the world will look into. And these key traits are built into the DNA of these Asian leaders by the very cultural fabric where they grew up with.


Attribute 1: Understanding “Long Term” view

The true understanding of “Good things come to those who waits” is something that Asian people are always taught vis a vis the “Seize the Day” and “Instant Gratification” mentality of western society. Asians are already some of the world’s biggest savers for a rainy day. The offshoot of such practice is the true long term view Asian people have, which makes them perfectly suitable for strategic roles such as CEO. While the entire world is suffering from an “Attention Deficit Disorder” and looking for the quick fixes everywhere to hold on to their attention, the true long term practitioner like Asians can be the voice of reason and the true visionary in the middle of the chaos and relentless pressure to deliver everything right now.


Attribute 2: The “Survivor” mentality

Asians have survived everything. They survived the colonial oppression, the natural disasters, the poverty, corruption and poor infrastructure, becoming rich quickly and the subsequent problems that come with it. They even survived themselves. So persistence is something an Asian leader can preach, because he has already practiced it. As the world lives on the edge, bouncing from one economic crisis to another political crisis, the dogged survivor mentality of Asian leaders can help the companies who are in trouble, to dig themselves out of the hole.


Attribute 3: The humble quotient

The role of the transformation leader sweeping his way in and singlehanded saving a company is over stated, misguided and extremely rare. The era of the dictator leader saying, my way or the high way, is over. In future, the leader has to be shrewd enough to stay two steps ahead yet know in his mind that he is no miracle worker. He would need the help of everyone in the organization to make his views come to life. So the future leader of the world needs to be humble and accepting of others points of view. In fact, the future leader has to cajole the buying in of everyone to make his strategies executed. And who better to adopt that servant leader role than the Asian, who are taught from the get go how to be grounded, humble, accepting of other points of view. Really valuing employee’s contribution as well as making the employees feel valued will be the critical differentiators which will tip the balance towards Asian leaders.

The sound of Asian leaders invading the organization is getting louder. If we take just one ethnicity, Indian, as an example; the following Fortune 500 companies – Pepsi, Microsoft, MasterCard, Deutsche Bank, Adobe Systems, Reckitt Benckiser, Diageo – all have Indian heads.

Marketing Idea No. 289: Why Labels like “Young Adult” is stopping Young People from Becoming Adult

Human being has a tendency to label and re-label everything. That’s why when you hear things like “Blue is the new Black” and “40 is the new 30”, you have to be wary of the hidden implications.

Its universally accepted these days that the rampant materialism that western society has exposed themselves has resulted into sort of a soul searching crisis. Defining what role we are supposed to play in this one life, who we really are and what is our passion has become the mantra of the decade. Investment bankers are walking away from six figure salaries to start off garage based start ups. Lawyers are quitting their job to take a yearlong sabbatical to embark on a journey to find themselves. Middle aged men are getting divorced to relocate to Thailand where the beer-soaked Tuk Tuk ride with a couple of Thai women eager to serve in the beaches of Jomtien, brings him back to the good old youth.

All over the world, people are reclaiming what they supposedly lost. That is the good part. All over the world people are shedding their responsibilities. That is not so good. And one of the worst sub-trends, of this “Seize the Day and Reclaim your life” mantra is young people are refusing to grow up and take responsibilities.

There is a new category in popular entertainment that has exploded in recent times, which is called “Young Adult”. This “Young Adult” or “Kidulthood” is nothing but a clever marketing ploy by savvy organizations to tap into this trend of people trying to prolong their youthful party filled days. Young Adult books or movies are not meant to be for teen agers. They are meant to be for the grown ups who refuse to grow up. And as an act of rebellion to hold on to his supposedly lost youth, she indulges on to “The Hunger Games”, “Twilight”, “The Maze Runner”, “Divergent” and countless more.

What the popularity of TV shows like “Friends”, “Sex and The City”, “Happy Ending”, “The Big Bang Theory” and “How I met your mother” teaches us that its so much fun to just hang, have a good time and not to worry about a thing in the world. Getting married means settling down. Settling down means boredom and the end of seeing your friends. Getting a job means responsibilities and the end of party.

These are the patterns that people in the 20s are avoiding like plague. A lot of young people in their 20s are delaying entering job or getting married or for that matter taking any life altering decisions. As a society we lose out because the most productive source of economic growth is giving away 2 to 5 years of their productive life to delay the inevitable and find out “Who they are”. Not only that, as an individual we lose out because

  • 80 percent of life’s most defining moments take place by age 35.
  • The first 10 years of your career has an exponential impact on how much you’ll earn.
  • Over half of people around the world will choose their future partner by 30.
  • The brain has its second and last growth spurt in your 20s.

If you give people the option to find out who they are, often they misuse that power to delay taking decisions. So stop figuring your life out and start living it. Go get a job. Start actively looking for a partner to settle down. Because as per clinical psychologist Dr. Meg Jay,

“The best time to work on your marriage is before you have one”

Marketing Idea No. 288 – Un-labelling: How brand packaging is embracing extreme minimalism

Packaging was always the last ditch effort to communicate brand cues, category cues, product benefits and unique selling proposition. But a growing trend around the world is showing brands moving packaging beyond the purely visual into the primary touch-point of an emotionally resonant experience that creates trust, loyalty, differentiation and desire. And the way they are doing it is by simplifying everything and embracing extreme minimalism.

When Nutella and Vaseline removes everything from their packaging and label except their brand logo in Word mark, it speaks of a micro trend. But when industry heavyweights and classic brand like Pepsi and Coke removes everything from their can except the Brand name and logo, it speaks of a global megatrend. Star bucks followed suit in 2011 when they removed the brand name from the label and kept the Mermaid symbol only. Nike probably pioneered this trend years ago when they took away the brand name to keep the simple “Swoosh”, which eventually became the most noticeable brand identity mark in the world.

All this simplifying is marketers attempt to go back to basics and build a relationship that is based on core issues like trust. But some brands are pushing the envelope further than the others.

Heinz’s “Get Well” campaign from 2011 and 2012, had a place in Ad Age’s list of the ten best social-media campaigns of the year and had it for a reason. The campaign cleverly combined digital marketing with distinctive packaging. The campaign allowed Facebook users to send personalized “Get well” soup cans to their friends when they are sick. Through this campaign Heinz gained 75,000 new Facebook fans, 650% increase in Facebook page interaction. To cap it off, more than 4,000 cans of “Get Well” soup were sent.

Marketing Idea No. 287: Is your body image holding you back?

A 2004 study by Cornell University Associate Professor John Cawley found that when the average white woman puts on an additional 64 pounds, her wages drop 9%. Obviously for non-white women this drop tends to be much starker. In another study, Charles Baum, of Middle Tennessee State University, also reported in the journal Health Economics that obesity could lower a woman’s annual earnings by as much as 6.2% and a man’s by as much as 2.3%.

A more obvious place to look for discrimination would be the recruitment interview itself. Almost all recruitment decisions are made based on a shallow first impression. People who are not comfortable with their body type usually project less confidence in interviews. Moreover there is scarcity of really fashionable plus size clothing. All these factors taken together creates a hurdle that is too big for some people to overcome and the breeding ground of discrimination against body type.

A similar trait to body type discrimination would be the necessity to look young and good looking. It was previously believed that the obsession for anti-aging drugs and cosmetics was limited to the bored housewives who have the money and pretty much nothing to do except spend it on themselves. But during a pan Asian research, this commonly held perception was challenged as it turns out Asian women think that to land a good job, you need to look young; preferably not over 30. In that same research 64% Chinese women said that looking young is important to land a good job.

It’s a startlingly odd but true realization. The glass ceiling might be not just made of glass, but perception towards your body image.