Nov 24, 2006

We need real world search engines

Some months ago, I was at home flipping channels on my TV mindlessly, waiting to get to a channel of my choice...the wait seemed endless. Navigating through 108 channels is no mean task and more than anything else a waste of precious time. What made the situation worse was that each time i'd memorize the numbers of my fav channels or pre set them in a sequence, the cable operator would do something to scramble it all up (yeah he didn't like me very much).

Anyway, on one of those days instead of cursing the cable guy, i sat back and started thinking...about how finding things is always such a pain!!! Whether its the news channel that you want to get to or that brand of whole wheat bread which has exactly 8% HAVE TO go past a whole array of things you don't want to see. I fantasized about how life would be if i could just speak to my remote control and say...go to ! Or if i could just enter a super market and i'd have my 'lady in waiting' to get me JUST what i needed. (i know 'the lady in waiting' does not wait at a super market but its my fantasy and i am allowed to bring whoever i want).

I stopped fantasizing when i realised its not an altogether absurd idea. Argos has been doing this since 1973. For those not familiar, Argos, is a catalogue retailer - you walk into their store, you go through their catalogue, write down what you want on a slip of paper, pay, and wait to collect your goods. All this happens in under 30 mins ! And to think of it - i spend more time than that buying grocery!!! It cut shorts the 'time required to make a decision' because you are browsing through their fat catalogue not at their shop but in the comfort of your home...and if you see it you'll know how many SKUs they are dealing with.

Why don't we have catalogue grocery stores ? Makes sense to me - since after i have decided on what brands / product variants i want to buy - i don't need to see the product every time i'm buying it. I can always check for new versions in their catalogue - space that marketers could use for promoting new products.

This morning i read Susan's post about how we are all sinking under the information deluge and feeling guilty about not being able to keep pace - and what opportunities could arise for businesses as a result of this trend. Her post sparked a thought in my mind...if only we had search engines in the real a world marked by needless and excessive would make living so much easier.

The Argos model is an indication of how 'real world search engines' could function. Its not without reason their tag line says ' Dont shop for it.. Argos it' where have we heard that before? Google?

Argos,infoglut,infoguilt,real world search engines,

Nov 16, 2006

Remaking adverts - reviving familiar elements in communication

Happened to see this old YouTube video today that I am sure most people, who grew up at about the same time as me in India, would remember. Before the advent of satellite TV, there was only one channel to watch. Those were the times with little clutter and media spend decisions simply revolved around getting the prime time slot. Consequently the range of ads and infomercials that we saw during those times enjoyed and still continue to enjoy, tremendous mindshare amongst consumers.

The video reminded me of an ad research I was part of some time ago, where a new brand entering the market targeted at kids, was trying to take the animation route to break clutter. Animation per se as a route could break clutter purely because of its novelty but there was something going against the ads that were being tested. The brand launch was going to be a global one and ads had been developed by an agency outside the country. It goes without saying that the situations depicted and the characters were alien to the audience. Each frame by itself was not difficult to understand but to decode the message behind the ad, they would have had to make the mental connection between the scenes which people were not able to ladder up in their mind.

When I saw the youtube video today, which happened to be an animation, I wondered why no agency has used elements from that video to develop any tv commercial around it? And logically extending that point, why don’t we see remakes of old ads.

Ads from the past, not only evoke the feeling of nostalgia associated with a brand and make us feel all warm and cozy about it but they also contain associations around brands that become indelible with the passage of time. Elements like…Mummy bhook lagi hai…bus 2 minute (Jingle for Maggi) or the swirling Nirma girl stopping the passer by are all too familiar. And who can forget Lalitaji from the Surf Excel ad?

And if you thought it was just the nostalgia factor at work, Caroline Whitehill talks about how brand associations get hard-wired over time in her write-up about how neuroscience is transforming research

Why for certain familiar brands, people still talk about advertising campaigns from ten years ago…. Neuroscience has shown us that it takes a long time to create connections. But with repetition and over time, cells that fire together repeatedly become literally physically soldered together. Neuroscientists say 'cells that fire together are wired together'. This process takes at least two years and is known as hardwiring. 'Brand associations that are already consolidated in long-term memory cannot be broken off

We do see this happening albeit in a limited way - with the Close-up reviving their old ad jingle to kya aap naya close up kartein hain or Lyril continuing to show the lime freshness through the waterfall as their backdrop. But for every brand & agency team trying to retain elements in their commercials, there are a dozen if not more fresh communication ideas thrown at consumers everyday – which one would probably notice for the short while those are on air but fade away into oblivion in no time. What remains with us are the ones from a time by-gone. In many ways then old adverts are like music, the vintage classics are the ones that are timeless

advertising,brand communication,advertising research,

Nov 6, 2006

On Blogfest reflections and Qual Research

So the party's over and what a riot it has been! Over 40 posts put up by 9 Bloggers who took time out to write about bathrooms for just about a week. It has been exhausting as all of us admit, but it has also been interesting to read so many diverse perspectives in such a short span of time. And it has proved to be an excellent forum for ideation - thoughts developed as we went along the way and one thing led to another to build the momentum. Thanks to Susan and Stephanie who sparked this all off and all the rest who joined in.

As i recover from all the weeks activity, I wonder how effective this is as a medium to get quick and focussed consumer feedback. I had written sometime back about reasons that make blogs a serious market research tool. If we look at 'consumer-speak' as companies would find it on blogs, though information of this kind is spontaneous, unsolicited and less likely to be fraught with postured responses and that is what makes it valuable. the content may / may not be the blogger's most recent thoughts about a subject, the blogger may not have spoken about what exactly the marketer is looking for and more than anything such information is dispersed. Though it is possible to search and find people who have blogged about a subject the exercise may be too tedious and time consuming. Reasons like these and many more may discourage marketers from looking at blogs for consumer research.

The solution at hand: A blogfest.

Essentially recruit a panel of bloggers (and like traditional research, you need not keep market research professionals out of it in the fear that it may skew responses since researchers are consumers too and sometimes the more picky ones thanks to all the research they do). The more diverse the panel, the better. Rope in people from the field of communications, product design, advertising, research, marketing or just a bunch of creative college kids. They do not have to be all consumers of your product as long as they are aware of what is being spoken about and have a perspective to offer.

Agree on a time frame that suits most people.

Give them time to plan their posts, gather material. If it helps give them homework activity - having to visit the supermarket to familiarise themselves with your brands, category or go observe people at the local McDonalds or Starbucks. Whatever it is - make it fun!

Orient them to the topic. Give them some sort of a background, share with them the questions that your product team has been grappling with, your marketing objectives etc.

....And have them start blogging posting each day / several times a day and cross linking to each other to show development of thoughts. Encourage people to post pictures, quote real life experiences, upload audio-video clips...what ever they need to do to get their point across.

It would help to have a quick online meeting in the chat room some days before the fest, to exchange thoughts and just to avoid repetitive posts. You could also stop mid - week to review what's been happening and ideas / topics that need more fleshing out / have not been taken up by anyone.

If you see the excitement fizzling out, you could throw in activities around the theme to energize the crowd !

And at the end of it - I'm sure you'd have a ton of rich information you'd have gathered that you can work with - and a bunch of exhausted yet happy bloggers!

research method,qualitative research,blogs and market research,blogfest,

Nov 2, 2006

Bathroom Blogfest: When signs dont work...its time to ask WHY

Consider this…

You want to use the loo. You set foot (there is only space for that) in this rather small place and try to find toilet seat covers…the dispenser is empty. Some kid who got into the restroom before you tried to reach his hand at it and pulled out far too many…now they’re all strewn around the tiny floor space that you are standing on. In any case, even if you’d have found them, isn’t it a pain trying to tear that perforated portion in the centre, while there is that nagging feeling somewhere at the back of your head about how the toilet seat cover has that slimy, slippery texture. (In the absence of the cover) You reach for the toilet roll…wipe the seat with it and get on with your job. While you are at it you try to numb yourself to the bits of moist tissue around the sink & something that smells like a mix of synthetic citrus air freshener, an equally smell hand wash and of course the loo! Now you’re done! There is that squeaky sound as you stand up and your footwear touches the floor surface on which water (and various other things) have dried. But never mind that. You think, I must wash my hands with hot water and soap and get the hell out of this place. Thank god you don’t have to touch the tap after washing hands. It has a sensor. You carefully pull out tissue with the tip of your fingers not to touch anything around it, lest you catch any germs. Wipe and reach for the bin to dispose it… and stop! The bin has this push-down lid. If you need to push it down you need to touch it. This means your hands don’t feel clean any more. Even if you hold the push down lid with your tissue-in-hand and try to dump the tissue in, on release your fingers would still touch the lid…and that’s not a very
comforting though. You think…why don’t I just flush the tissue? You see the sign that advises against it – because it would clog the drain. You still go ahead. Grab another tissue and touch the flush with it – and quickly toss in the last tissue in as the suction works at pulling it. And then what happens is anybody’s guess…eventually the drain will get clogged and if there wasn’t already enough of a mess in there…create an even more of an un-unusable loo. And you don’t want to be stuck in such a situation mid air.

Poor quality wash rooms are never like that to begin with. They also start out squeaky clean. Over time things deteriorate since a) users don’t maintain the facilities and b) more importantly since there is something in there that is coming in the way of users keeping it clean.

- It could be trash bins with a push down lid or

- Toilet roll dispensers with loose covers – which could have led to the entire roll on the floor when someone decided to give it a tug

- Seat covers which have an centre difficult to tear (I still don’t know why they can’t have covers that just outline the rim)

- Or like Susan points out - Hand towels at the other end of the loo – that would have people walk in the washrooms with dripping hands.

The point is these are things that don’t require big investments…but it requires some paying attention.

If you see paper towels on the floor the next time – just stand back and think WHY before putting up a notices likes these

Customers are advised not to throw used paper towels in the bin as a courtesy to others users.

Picture courtesy

Push Down Lid - Flickr, No disposal signage - Gettyimages

customer experience, bathroom blogfest, ladiesrooms,

Nov 1, 2006

Bathroom Blogfest : Would you put your money in your bathroom?

While more fortunate consumers in some parts of the world talk about issues like softness of toilet paper or adding personal touches to public wash room India we deal with base level issues like 'whether the loo is clean' (that is the first question i remember asking anyone who'd visit a public loo - too reluctant to try it out myself) or 'whether there is a loo at all' ?

Untill i started to travel and live out of my country, the notion that some one could invest in clean wash rooms for the use of citizens was alien to me. We grew up learning how to exercise bladder control and made our way to a public wash room / toilet only in dire circumstances . Even as recent as a couple of years back, horrified at the state of the ladiesroom at my workplace and despite many explicit requests to the admin staff I relented by carrying my own toilet paper ! And I distinctly remember how thrilled i was when switching jobs i discovered that the ladies room at my new place of work was well equipped and bright.

Of course the situation is changing slowly - with the advent of Malls, Multiplexes and MNCs, Indians are finally waking up to cleaner wash rooms though establishments offering such facilities are still few and far between.

This throws up several questions in my mind...As we go ahead

- Do businesses need to invest in great looking or even clean washrooms?
- Would a consumer's opinion about a washroom facility, impact his / her opinion of the business it is part of? Or are we so accustomed to bad loos of yesteryears that we'd consider the poor state of wash rooms a given!
- Would the presence and state of a wash room dictate my choice as a consumer i.e. would i chose one restaurant over another based on their loo?

I would be fooling myself if i'd think that the state of a wash room would influence we haven't reached that stage yet. But that does not negate the other two statements. I don't think i'd decide against going to a mall / restaurant or not join a place of work if it had an unclean toilets, though i know a finicky friend who does check out the loo whenever she goes for a job interview.

But i most definitely would remember an organization / business establishment where i encountered a clean one. And given that there is such a dearth of the such types why would it not stand out in anyone's memory ?

It also cannot be denied that a, well equipped washroom signals to stakeholders that you CARE about them & their most basic requirement.

The question therefore is would businesses want to invest in such facilities and if so, for what in return? When considering such decisions, people need to bear in mind that such investments involve not only a one time effort but a recurring effort not only in terms of money but also in terms of time and energy

Everything cannot be attributed to monetary returns and providing such a facility (at least given current realities in india) creates a strongly positive experience for the consumer. Susan talks about how such facilities register as a part of the total experience and can act as a differentiator to your business. Clean loos in India is not just a 'hygiene factor'. They are viewed as a comfort, if not a luxury by most. People always talk about loo encounters good, bad or ugly. They may not go shouting from the roof tops but the news does get around through whispers.

So if you haven't cared enough to look into the wash room facilities you provide...remember

Clean restrooms = Happy Customers &
Dirt = Disorder

PS - while 10 years back my search for a good loo ended at the Taj, today it is the golden arches of the ubiquitous McDonalds I look matter where i am in the world...and I am never disappointed. Now what does that tell you about customer care & consistency in standards!

More on bathroooms and customer experience

Susan talks about how even bathrooms count in creating an integrated customer experience using the 4 p's framework

Sara has a few confessions to make & comes up with some real innovative ideas on how to encourage people to 'wash hands'

Stephanie illustrates well designed bathrooms she has comes across here. Don't miss the kid friendly hand wash area

For businesses who dont think washrooms are worth their time and money, read Linda's post that starts with Paco Underhills nerve racking question...Would you want your wife to pee in this place?

Christine has some halloween bathroom horror stories to share

Maria recounts how she is so comfortable with starbucks washroom, that she does not mind working in there.

customer experience, bathroom blogfest, ladiesrooms