Oct 29, 2009

The discounted customer experience - Bathroom Blogfest 2009

The bathroom blogfest started a couple of years ago with - a bunch of global women bloggers narrating their good…bad…and ugly experiences around restrooms.

The theme this year is a bit more inclusive - ‘Flushing the Recession and Plunging into Forgotten Spaces.’

There is not much more I could add around the bathroom customer experience. I have not been actively following that category in my research work nor has the public restroom facilities in India changed a great deal in the last couple of years.

Flushing the Recession...did bring to mind customer experience of a different kind. Earlier in the year when most retail brands had seen a steep drop in sales – the reaction was to announce large discount sales to get back the foot-falls. Their game plan worked and people did rush back. Though the experience at most stores was disappointing to say the least.

All I could remember of my visits to retail outlets during that phase was – brands being reduced to an untidy heap of merchandise…one had to really sift through the pile to get something that matched one’s size or taste. Sales staff were either missing or chatting way in corners and worst of all the discounts were far from attractive. Trial rooms were cramped, with disheveled clothes strewn around the place. And the experience was consistent across brands – whether one stepped into global brand outlet like UCB / Levis or a local brand outlet – it all felt the same. It did really feel like a ‘forgotten space!’ Did sales pick up? I don’t know thought I doubt it. However what such an experience does – is dilute the experience / image that a ‘brand’ creates for a long time to come.

A brand that stood out at that time was one that offered a consistent in-store experience to what it would offer on a ‘non-discount’ day – well stocked, well organized merchandise, courteous...helpful staff, the trial room was spacious, tidy and pleasant.

Brand owners often think that customers never fail to notice a discount in price…what they forget is - the customer will also never fail to notice a discounted experience.

Participating bloggers for the Bathroom Blogfest ’09 include:

• Susan Abbott at Customer Experience Crossroads
• Shannon Bilby at From the Floors Up
• Shannon Bilby and Brad Millner at My Big Bob’s Blog
• Jeanne Byington at The Importance of Earnest Service
• Becky Carroll at Customers Rock!
• Leslie Clagett at KB Culture
• Katie Clark at Practical Katie
• Iris Shreve Garrott at Checking In and Checking Out
• Julie at Julie’s Cleaning Secrets Blog
• Marianna Hayes at Results Revolution
• Maria Palma at People To People Service
• Professor Toilet at Professor Toilet’s Blog
• David Reich at My 2 Cents
• Bethany Richmond at The Carpet and Rug Institute Blog
• Carolyn Townes at Becoming a Woman of Purpose
• Stephanie Weaver at Experienceology
• C.B. Whittemore at
Flooring The Consumer and Simple Marketing Blog
• Linda Wright at Lindaloo.com: Build Better Business with Better Bathrooms

Links to the Bathroom Blogfest’s official Blog and Facebook Fan page

Jul 2, 2009

The impact of mergers on Qual Research : Bricolage to standardisation

Earlier this year Martin Sorrell won his latest battle when the merger was announced between TNS and RI, an event that seemed to indicate a growing trend: the creation of market research behemoths.

The reason cited for the merger was, as always, to strengthen the value of the offering to the client. But is there a different truth lurking somewhere beneath the surface? The general consensus seems to be that an industry-wide movement towards global research conglomerates will force the smaller merged companies to conform to 'templatisation'. The underlying assumption is that less researcher time spent on customisation translates to greater ROI on projects. It's a tempting assumption – and it could work with quant research – but the qual business plays by a different set of rules.

The effect of restructuring

Susan Abbott, of Canada-based Abbott Research & Consulting, believes that insights from qualitative projects result from the customised research designs and wisdom of senior researchers when interpreting studies. In larger firms, however, these same people would typically be responsible for managing people and bringing in business, not interpretation or analysis.

Sadly, this often prompts a form of 'straight jacketing'. The impetus to look beyond the available toolkit flags. In fact, individuality is discouraged – possibly one reason why clients opt out and go to smaller agencies where thinking out of the box is possible. Susan Saurage-Altenloh, of Saurage Research in the US, confirms this thinking. She believes that, as firms merge, there are economies of scale, but some of the spunky creative abilities and ensuing client benefits get flattened out.

History tells us what we might expect in the future. A senior researcher in France recalls that the merger of Insight, then one of the most sophisticated French qual agencies, with European quant giant IPSOS, prompted the exodus of over 10 research directors. And today? It could be argued that Insight's creative 'savoir-faire' is but a shadow of former days.

Dina Mehta, from Mosoci India, quit one research firm soon after it switched from a bricolage-like approach to one that was more structured, large scale, focusing on quantity rather than quality. With the need for quick turnaround times and high volumes, she found herself behaving more like an administrator chasing targets than a researcher.

Another research consultant, Charukesi Ramadorai, points to what may be the first signs of a more serious issue – that of commoditising the business. Since, within large agencies, a tailored approach is discouraged she observes that those 'brand qualities' differentiating the qual service offering are becoming more and more diffused. Barring projects that involved the use of copyrighted models, which inherently have some degree of differentiation to offer, there is little difference in the way most large agencies work.

Virginia Valentine in her MRS 2001 conference paper 'Repositioning Research: A New MR Language Model' highlighted how the MR discourse currently encodes the old imagery of a researcher as backroom technician while consumption has changed and demands that the researcher takes on the role of a strategic thinker.

The TNS/RI press release talks – on the face of it – about increased capabilities. It mentions 'that both TNS & RI will join forces and use their strength, resources and talent to deliver value to their clients.

The new company will be either the largest or second largest in every major research market giving them 'on the ground' ability to deliver industry knowledge and global protocols to clients.'

But let's take a step back and view this statement in the context of Virginia Valentine's framework for analysing the MR discourse. It might suggest that creating a large, stable information fortress could end up taking the research business in a direction that is not conducive to fostering a strategic forward thinking approach to research.

It could also mean taking qualitative research away from the metaphor model (a nimble, entrepreneurial environment that encourages intuition, creativity) and towards the metonymy model (a stable, predictable environment that emphasises conformance and process led endeavour).

How will qual survive?

Spinach's Helen Taylor observes that, for every big company merger or acquisition, a new crop of small boutique agencies spring up. While some continue to remain small and personality-led, others develop and grow into mid-sized agencies. So, overall, the qual market always offers a choice for research buyers.

Clients entrust large agencies with global projects and regular brand work since many of these organisations have historically conducted research for certain brands. N. Muthukumaran, from The Nielsen Company in India, points out that global outfits also, apart from offering logistical advantages when managing international projects, have access to nuances of what works well in which culture, which enhances a researcher's sensitivity. This is a competitive advantage that some of these large agencies may lose out on in the days to come, thanks to some of the new kids on the block.

The recent past has seen some global niche agencies in the qualitative space. They are nimble yet global, with the marketing focus that comes with multidisciplinary talent – a bunch of passionate individuals who love their craft.

Yet somewhere the line between a boutique agency and a large full service agency is blurring. In the ultimate analysis, it is not so much the size and reach of an organisation that by itself hampers or nurtures the spirit of qualitative research as its culture and orientation to business.

*Featured in InBrief May-June 2009

May 15, 2009

Digital Media – is destination the over-riding decision?

Your brand needs a digital media presence. That is the new medium. That is what people read, watch, where the new gen consumers hangout these days. If you don’t have a Facebook page and don’t send tweets to your 340 friends or consumers, then you must surely be from another planet. Everyone including my grandfather is on facebook…aren’t you?

Some such spiel by a digital media ‘expert’ typically leads to a flight (I don’t how to get on to this social media space and so I’ll just stand back and watch) or fight (let me find out the most popular social media tool and create a page there) response.

Lately, the utterly butterly delicious Amul decided to get itself a digital media presence and how? Through Second Life!

There was buzz around Second Life a few years ago and predictions how half the world is going to have a second life id by 2019 but then one day the buzz waned. Second Life expected me to download an application once I created an account and buy linden dollars. I wanted to do neither. Besides I didn’t see much sense in creating and avatar and hanging around second life.

It is surprising then that Amul’s foray into digital media ‘to be seen where it mattered’ happened via Second Life. Amul for sure has a digital presence thanks to that, though how it would enhance the brand’s visibility is a question I grapple with.

Its topical witty campaigns are so popular that I have often come across those campaigns do several rounds of my mailbox. And like a good sitcom each time I see them, I enjoy them. Converting these hoardings to virals or creating virals afresh would have been a natural extension of making the brand visible in the digital world. Refreshing their site, bringing it to date, making it more interactive with users would have made a more meaningful connect with people than a presence on Second Life. There is a lot more that can be done with their orkut page and blog which currently only has information on the Amul Vidyashree Awards – nothing more!

Rather than asking yourself WHERE I need to be in the digital media space, what makes sense to me is to ask yourself WHAT I wish to do while I’m there and then work the digital media strategy backwards from that point.

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May 11, 2009

Blog URL Update

The blog is back on its parent host - blogger

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Apr 7, 2009

Two is company, three is …?

A while ago I got thinking about the number three. It’s recurring occurrence in myths and symbols.

Why do/es

  • The genie grant you three wishes?
  • A winner’s podium have three places?
  • Hinduism and Christianity both have a holy trinity?
  • Japanese mythology have three monkeys?
  • Freud talk about three ego states – id, ego and super ego?
  • Fairytales have three little pigs, Goldie locks and the three bears?
  • And time get divided into three: past, present and future?

When I turned my attention to the television – I came across brands that promised three benefits. A new shampoo brand that mentions three benefits - Nourishment, Protection and Hydration.

Aqua Fresh toothpaste with its iconic three stripes signifying protection, cavity fighting and fresh breath

Tea brands that played around with strength, colour and aroma highlighting one or the other.

Of course there are products with fewer or more benefits though I have deliberately cited examples with 3 to try and see if there is any more meaning to it. Do they talk about three just because one is too little and two still not good enough? By that logic it could be 4 or 12 or any number of benefits that people could remember.

Then I realised: Three is the smallest number of co-ordinates required to enclose a geometrical space.

Two straight lines cannot enclose any space!

In this context therefore three = solid, real, substantial, complete.

In another context three represents the ‘middle ground’ between the binary extremes of black and white, of good and bad.

Life is not always about the extremes.

We are not happy with things that just have do-good benefits; we also want those products to make us feel-good. For instance, people had the option of a) having staple home cooked food that one did not always enjoy and b) feasting on the more alluring street / junk food that was not good for us and then there was c) Maggie noodle that gave people the third option – Taste Bhi Health Bhi. Similarly we understood cleanliness as being good and dirt as bad – again two extremes – until Surf Excel appeared on the scene occupying the middle ground by positioning Dirt as good.

In life we cannot always exclude the existence of a “grey “area - a 3rd option. Three then = balance, realism, the in between space.

So coming back to the question I started with – what do you equate three to?

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Cross-posted on Chlog

Mar 9, 2009

Brands : Making a promise and keeping it too!

Let’s play a guessing game…

We have an international youth brand

They say - they are committed to designing products and marketing programs that reflect creativity and the desire to constantly challenge the status quo

Their positioning - Celebrate Individuality in Sport and Life.

Their product line – well…let me give you a snapshot…

What some of their target consumers say about their products?

“I don’t wear their clothes because at my age I want to wear clothes that reflect my identity. When I walk into their store I see very few cuts, style variations…the only variation is the colour…it reminds me of uniform”
“I don’t think they’ve changed their style in the last 10 years…do they follow any fashion trends…year after year I see the same stuff”
Still haven’t guessed?

Some years back they rolled out a new global advertising campaign -- "I Am What I Am" celebrating the individuality they stand for!

A press release that I read said they flawlessly integrated the message of "I Am What I Am" through an aggressive and consolidated marketing plan which includes - cinema, TVC, billboard advertising, strong retail presence, SMS and Internet activation and public relations. Why didn’t this extend to their product line I wonder?

They wanted to make a connect with the youth through contemporary icons, athletes who appeared in this campaign. It was intended to capture the minds of the youth by giving them a voice for self- expression and therefore become relevant and inspiring to them.

Did the campaign work in encouraging youth to embrace their individuality by identifying with their sports heroes…perhaps.

Did it inspire more young people to go to their store and buy their products? I guess not until their products start to reflect the individualistic streak that their campaigns have talked about

If branding = promise keeping…then it should reflect in everything that the brand says or does. Everything!

Last year they launched…a range of clothes that reflect a confluence of sport and style reflecting the edginess that youth seek.

Now… this looks more like - keeping the promise that they made.

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Cross-posted on Chlog

Feb 20, 2009

Lost amidst a 1000 windows!

We live in strange times…

We sms while dining…eat while watching tv…read, check mail while in a meeting…catch up with friends on chat while at work …take our cell phone with us to sleep…some of us even take it to shower!

Constantly flitting between open windows on the computer…we perennially scan the environment around us so as to no miss anything. Linda Stone calls it a state of ‘continuous partial attention’

There is suddenly so much information all around and so much to catch up with that it leaves one feeling challenged. The info-glut creates a sense of info-guilt…a constant feeling that there is so much out there that I don’t know – books I haven’t read, movies I haven’t seen and therefore the race against time to catch up with things leaving us hurried and restless.

We are so busy keeping tabs on everything that we find it difficult to focus on anything for too long. Shortening attention spans would impact what kind of information and how much we will be able to absorb. We’ve started enjoying T-20 as opposed to test matches, reading blog posts, microblogs and tweets instead of thick tomes. The bytes are reducing to as much as we can chew. At a movie theatre after a standard 2.5 hour movie I overheard people say that movies are becoming too long these days…who has the patience? Short film may not seem like such an offbeat format in the future.

A few days back I was at the Kala Ghoda Festival. A crowd of people waited patiently around a stage waiting for a classical dancer to appear and perform. Someone introduced her with what seemed like a never-ending list of her credentials…checked sound…and finally she arrived. Instead of performing…she decided to lecture the audience for a few minutes…and disappeared again back stage… and another round of sound testing – by which time I had lost patience and moved away from the stage to a more alluring part of the festival buzzing with activity. Had I paid to watch the performance I would have been mentally prepared to spend 2 hours of my time dedicated to this activity but at the festival I was out for a quick round of fun. More over the environment around has way too much stimulus to have me standing there firmly by the stage.

Many a time brands expect us to do just that…marketers assume that people would focus on and be wowed by what their brand is saying or doing or selling. In the hope of grabbing attention, the claims made by some brands mirror this hurry sickness that consumer’s are gripped by. Personal care products till a few years back promised visible results after many weeks / months of continued product usage. Then came Ponds that promised an anti-ageing miracle in just 7 days. As if that was not miracle enough Pantene now assures you that their product will strip your hair off 3 months of damage (and god knows what else) in 3 minutes! At this rate I can’t imagine what the next advertiser will say to try and sell his product…what could be faster than 3 minutes – just think of my brand and you’ll turn beautiful maybe!

Instead of shouting louder and faster brands that help consumers manage interruption will be valued. One that caught my attention was UrgeMe. Once I set a reminder on their site they send me a email telling me You are supposed to call xyz for shopper info before 13-Feb-2009.Don’t forget to do it.

And now…in the interest of not grabbing more of your attention…I’ll let you go this time. Do come back for more :)

Cross-posted at - http://chlog.chlorophyll.in/