Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Get Ready for the Era of the iOT

Prepare for the iOT

By Harish Bijoor

The Internet of Things is here then. An evolution of the productized version of what began as a service.

Last fortnight I took you through a journey of how it all began. Time now to cut to the present and the future.

In the beginning there was communication that was 1:1 between friends. And then in came telecom. Two machines at either end facilitated the conversation between two friends sitting in different geographies. In came email and this communication ceased to remain 1:1 even. And now, viola! In comes the iOT.

Out here in the era of the iOT, every thing around us is getting more and more intelligent. The era of the tracker is here. Fitbit is a motion tracker. You wear it round your wrist in a silicon bracelet and it tracks the numbers of steps you walk, how you sleep and how you don’t as well.  The basic technology of the motion tracker is here. This tracker sticks close to your body in an appendage, and tracks your every move. You can track yourself via GPRS if you wish.

Your life is personal no more. If you wish to broadcast the news of your body, the news of your activity, the news of your sleep-pattern to the world at large, you can as well. There are community sites where people post how they sleep. And guess what, people compete with one another in the virtual world to sleep better than the next guy around. People compete on steps as well. Did I walk more than you did today?

The Internet of things, in some ways begins at the lowest common denominator level of the motion tracker for a start. Imagine 10,000 people in Delhi competing with one another on the steps they take every day. Imagine a million people doing the same with one another all over India. Imagine a point of time when your doctor’s desktop or for that matter his mobile phone receives news of how sedentary you were today. Imagine your virtual trainer in cyber-space sending you a shove or a poke on your mobile phone, insulting your sedentary day. Imagine, imagine, imagine.

The power of the motion tracker alone is a very big power. The tracker tells you what you did. The tracker compares what you did as opposed to what others did. The tracker communicates to your doctor and virtual trainer as well. Tomorrow, expect your tracker talking to your Insurance company on a regular basis. And expect your insurance company offering you a rebate on your health insurance premium just because you took an average of 30,000 steps a day last year, as opposed to a national average of 5000.

The Internet of things is just about stirring. It is a revolution that is slated to wake up and shake us all up.  It is a device and tracker led revolution. This is a device and tracker and connectivity and communication led revolution.

The world today has 10 Billion devices. Of these 7 Billion are mobile phones. The other 3 billion are sundry other devices. As of today, the 7 Billion phones talk to one another when enabled by their human owners at both ends. When you make a call to Mrs. Kapoor, you are enabling the call. Mrs. Kapoor at the other end will decide whether to enable her mobile phone to receive the call, or terminate it.  To that extent, this connectivity is all about permission-oriented connectivity.

The era of the iOt is however one that is going to be one of intelligent connectivity, enabled just once. Once you have done that, at times by just accepting to have an intelligent chip in your device, communication is going to be a continuous, and at times a two-way process. You will possibly buy a refrigerator tomorrow, which has an intelligent chip in it. The intelligent refrigerator will talk directly to your web-enabled grocer.  When the Coke bottles are nearing empty status on your bottle-rack, your doorstep will have a replenishment delivery. You will never run dry of Coke then. Ever.

Take that one step further to the B2B application. Your grocer will have his intelligent-shelf chip talking to the local Coke distributor. The grocer will never ever run dry of stock. Take it further then. The Coke distributor has a chip that talks to the local bottler.  And the bottler has a chip that talks to possibly Atlanta direct. The possibilities are therefore endless.
Forget the mundane. Imagine possibilities. Predictive manufacturing is already a reality. The Mercedes Benz you bought yesterday in Hoshiarpur is possibly talking to the manufacturing plant direct. Its brake lining is speaking to Berlin. The moment it is wearing out, it is alerting the plant to produce and make it available in time at the local dealer in Hoshiarpur possibly. Think. Imagine. Fantasize even!

This is not science fiction. This is reality today.  The world is getting progressively penetrated by devices. And devices are getting intelligent. Intelligent devices are connected to one another.  The prognosis for 2020 is that there will be 46 Billion devices. Each intelligent and each talking to one another.

We are at the doorstep of this revolution. Even as it unfolds, there are serious security concerns that are being flagged. The security industry is working overtime to fight that one possible Trojan that might infect and take over. They seem to be winning the fight as of now.

In many ways, nothing is private and personal anymore. Privacy is dying if not dead, and no one seems to be complaining. Have you noticed how the young amidst us love to have their lives public on social media? Have you realized that the young love to flaunt more than the old in our midst do?

Privacy goes to the cleaners. On that note, it’s ok when your washing machine is talking to your grocer. Imagine a time when your washing machine is taking to Mrs. Khanna’s washing machine. The gossip starts then. The problem starts then! Touche!

Harish Bijoor is a brand-strategy specialist & CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.
twitter @harishbijoor| email:

Saturday, April 04, 2015

The iOT And An India Of Things

The iOT And An India Of Things

By Harish Bijoor

All of us have heard of it by now. The era of the iOT or the
Internet OF THINGS is here. Some marketing and technology evangelists have dubbed it an era of the iOE or the Internet OF EVERYTHING even. An era where the Internet as we know it becomes incidental. So incidental,that we even forget the way the Internet of today exists and we start co-living with the Internet as if it did not exist at all. An Internet era where everything is literally governed by the Internet and an era wher you do not go to the Internet but the Internet comes to you. And eventually an era where the Internet is a part of you and are a part of the Internet at large. A point of time when you will not know where you end and where the ubiquitous Internet begins even.

Ouch! That sounds bizarre. Painful even. Intrusive for sure.

The iOT is a productised evolution of what began as a service. Let me trace it's history. In the very beginning we lived in an era where one person spoke to another and made friends physically. If you had friends, you possibly had ten of them at maximum, and you spent time with them when you could. You had enough time on your hands. So much so that you could meet, talk for long hours over a cup of coffee or an even more exciting beverage, you could go to the movies, play a game of cricket on Sunday and maybe do lots more.

And then time became a scarce commodity. Time stopped being a commodity even. Time today has become a very important part of consumer currency. The consumer has two things on hand today, money and time. Both are valuable currencies. Time is something that you cannot earn back. Time is something that you can only spend. It is limited and cannot be topped up at your nearest telecom re-charge outlet. Money on the other hand can be spent and earned. While time is God-given and limited without top-up, money is that much more flexible. Consumers then value time more than money. They should.

When you don't have enough time to spend, what do you do? You look for ways and means to keep those friends of yours, with
time saving means and devices. In comes the telephone as an instrument, and wow! You are able to keep the conversations going, even without being out there physically at your favourite 'Adda'. Yes, it is nicer to be there physically, but when you cannot, a lovely conversation with your friends on the phone will do. As time passed, in came the mobile phone, and you could carry these conversations with you wherever you went. The machine(in this case the mobile phone) intervened and life was made more comfortable. Still good. You were still in touch with your ten friends. You were now in touch with your friends not 1:1 physically, but virtually. Sub-optimal and a compromise, but still good for you. Out here, you were using a machine(the landline or mobile phone) to intervene and continue the contact. You used your mobile handset and dialled your friend and your friend used her mobile phone and picked up the call. This was what I will call human-to-human conversation facilitated by the machine and the connectivity possible between those two machines due to the intervention of the telecom service provider. This is what we do today.

In comes the era of the Internet then. In comes the ability for people to send e-mails to one another at the basic level. These emails are sent by you using a machine(your desktop, laptop, tablet or smart phone) and your friend and maybe thousands of them even, receive it when they open their e-mails using the machines at their disposal. This is less intrusive than the mobile call. In many ways it is permission-oriented communication at its best. If someone wants to open the email you sent them, they can. If they don't want to, they can press the delete button. And this is surely the era of mass contact possibility. One email could touch thousands for sure. In came social media then. In came Facebook, Twitter, Tagged, and all the other exciting social contact mediums you use openly and at times using the confidence and trusted space of your bedroom or bathroom alike. Out here, you could continue conversations in an interactive manner. Instead of having just ten friends, you could have a hundred. Geography is history. The new geography of your friendship was the virtual space of the social media you were using. This then was the early emergence of 1:Many communication between one human being and maybe a hundred others. Again this was machine facilitated. Again this was permission led. The exciting part of this is the fact that people do not have physical friends anymore. The friends are as virtual as the bits and bytes that help you use the computer. Data then: an average youngster below the age of 25 in
Pune has 321 friends on The social mediums of his choice, all added up. This includes Facebook, and the three other mediums they co-habit and inhabit. In Bengaluru this number today stands at 316. Ouch! This is still 1:Many communication, still facilitated by two machines operated by two human beings talking to one another through the use of data and text. Nice.

More exciting things to come? What is this iOT all about?

Wait. Let me stop. This is the day and age of brevity and I have gone on too long in this piece. That is the subject of my next installment. We are in the cusp stage of the iOT. I will tread that path next fortnight.

Till then, enjoy those physical friend you still meet at your favourite hangout. Hangout till technology will allow you to.

Harish Bijoor is a brand-strategy specialist & CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.

twitter @harishbijoor| email:

Saturday, June 14, 2014


Fashion Retail comes of Age

By Harish Bijoor

Fashion retailing is finally coming of age in India. As the entire nation of fashion retailers stop plucking just the low-hanging fruit of opportunity, and reach out at the higher branches that offer a different set of opportunities that need to be plucked  with a different set of skills altogether,  its time to sit up and take note of some changes.  Changes that speak the language of the front-ended consumer of fashion, rather than just the back-ended guy who manages the sourcing, the supply-chain and the entire process of reaching out the item on offer to the store that stocks it.

Let’s start with advertising.  Study the advertising of a nation, and you understand its people.

I follow this diktat to the core when I study a nation, its culture, its peoples, and its brand and marketing formats. Advertising used by the marketers of a nation reveals more than hides.  While the reality is that consumers must define advertising, advertising often defines consumers as well.  However, on more occasions than most, advertising of a nation is a great barometer of its people and their resultant consumer behavior patterns.
We see a fair bit of change in the current consumer behavior stances that manifest themselves at the retail shop floor. We will witness a lot of it morph even more un-recognizably in the years to come. For the purpose of this piece, though we have data and diagnostics that pertain to men, women and children as retail purchase groups, let me focus on women in this piece.

Consumer behavior patterns among women in India have changed radically and continually over the last nine decades and more. The earliest decade of it all saw literally no participation by women in what they bought.  In the early twenties, if you were to peek into the life of your grandmother or great grandmother for that matter, women just did not show themselves to be active buyers at all. The woman sat at home, and consumed just about anything that the man and men of the house brought in. There was indeed a time when it was taboo for a woman in early India to go to the corner grocer even. Women just did not expose themselves to the retailer at large. Never mind that the retailer at the corner was related to you in some way of the other. Women expressed their choice to their husbands and brothers and fathers and the men bought. At times bought tailoring everything to their own choice even.

Women came into their own in terms of expressing choice and articulating it all in purchase behavior of every kind much, much later. In many ways, the way marriages were and are conducted in India says it all. The women had little choice in the men they chose to marry. More often than not, “purchase behavior” here was dictated as well.

Today however, things are a bit different. Love marriages are in vogue, and a woman literally has the choice to marry anyone, just as long as they are of the opposite sex and are human. As this trend cascades, consumer behavior among women gets more accentuated, articulated and driving in its motion. Marketers today study consumer behavior patterns among women differently as opposed to that among men and children.

The years ahead in the tenure 2014-20 will see dramatic changes in the consumer behavior patterns as articulated by women. Expect lots. Expect the woman to be getting more and more ‘I, me and myself” centric than she is today. Today she is the benign mother, wife, daughter and daughter-in-law, overseeing everyone’s happiness. Expect this trend to shift more to the “I”. This will have women looking to buy products and services that are leveraged to their personal choices more than aggregated family choices.

Expect women to destroy and decimate the paradigm think of many a marketers. Expect the woman to stop thinking the same old pinks and bright-yellows in color choices, whether it is clothes, auto, microwaves or fans. Expect women to exhibit consumer behavior that is that much more “non-womanly”. Expect radical shifts here.  Expect lots!

Expect the woman to be making many more decisions on her own as well. She will decide on which mini-skirt to buy, just as she will decide on how short or long it must be. She will decide as well on which car to buy, which Insurance product to latch onto and which bank to operate an account out of.

However, expect 2020 to erase much of this gender divide as well.

Man today is seen to be the calculative one, and women are seen to be the impulsive ones. Marketers and advertisers don't want to break this imagery up, as it divides the sexes and their dominant appeals clearly. Any attempt to bring fuzziness here, will result in confusion. Marketers and advertisers are in many ways postponing the inevitable, one ad at a time! The death of the differentiator between the genders is going to happen, later than sooner. But till it exists, reap it to your advantage. And guess what, both the genders love it. As of now.

2014 is here. The consumer in our midst is morphing mindlessly. The consumer is amoebic as well. There is just no straight line analysis that works in understanding what will come next.
As of now, this is the day and age of Twitter. A day and age when attention spans of young people, in age and mind, is rather limited. Limited at times to just a plain 140-characters altogether. Let me therefore make this article brisk, crisp and as matter-of-fact as possible. Here goes…

In-store is an excitement. As opportunities every-where else dries up, and as opportunities every-where else gets saturated and cluttered, one finally looks in. In-store.

The In-store opportunity that lies ahead of us In India is immense. We are a nation of shopkeepers. At last count, we were a nation of 14.6 million shopkeepers. Few nations can boast of such a number.

The reality however remains that bulk of our shops are in un-organized retail. Only a nano fraction of it has been opened up in organized retail. While in percentage terms the value of output from organized retail in India is today pegged at 5.2% of the total value generated out of the Indian retail business, the reality remains that only 6000 plus stores dot the country in terms of outlets that reach out through the means of organized retail. The category remains dominated by un-organized retail. This is not even what is described as Mom and Pop retail in the markets of the West, this is really ‘Bunty &Babli’ retail. Retail that exists in the nook and cranny of the great Indian market. Spurred on by micro-entrepreneurs I will call Bunty and Babli for the moment. Retail that earns the livelihood for as many as 81 million directly affected individuals and as many as 220 million people in this country indirectly touched by the profits of ‘Bunty & Babli’ retail.
As the in-store opportunity stares back at us in India, there are two segments to track and keep note of. At one end is the big in numbers ‘Bunty&Babli’ retail, and at another is the high profile and growing in value format of organized retail. The savvy marketer of tomorrow is going to have an eye on both. The easy one of the lot seems to be the one that is all about organized retail. Here, we have established formats that come in from the developed super-markets of the world. Store formats are laid out, planograms have been researched to death, efficacy levels are proven, and more often than not, what one requires is a roll-out and ramp-up for Indian conditions where the consumer is a very much more tactile entity.

The trick in the tale is however the fact that everyone sources from the same location. How then do you differentiate and customize the In-store experience for India. Big retail has plenty to learn on this. Solution providers in this space are a wanted species. A much wanted one.

The challenge seems to however lie in the realm of “Bunty&Babli’ retail. Out here, the numbers are large, value-churn is low and profit margins are wafer thin. Business is however brisk. The way to the mass eyeball and hand-stretch in Indian retail is certainly not one to be restricted to modern organized retail alone. Instead, it is all about the small ‘Bunty&Babli’ retail format, where the largest numbers will be reached by the largest numbers of outlets. Outlets that attract a custom of just 60 customers a day even. Outlets that generate at times a daily turnover of just a plain old Rs.600 even!

One more issue to track. While in markets of the developed world is it is just fine to write off Mom and pop store retail as something that will occupy a niche of the pie forever, in India, it is just way too difficult to do this. ‘Bunty&Babli’ retail looks a forever-relevant model for a country the size of India, and a country with a buying profile that is as variegated as in India. And a big in numbers format at that.

The challenge ahead for In-store science in India is therefore one of catering to both segments well. The challenge is to ensure that one segment is not ignored at the cost of the other. In-store solutions across the spectrum of automotive, apparel, grocery and food, and literally everything else, except for luxury retail needs to have an approach that covers the big and small retail alike.

Therefore, in these set of years ahead from 2014-20, think just two big things. Think woman, and think In-store!

Harish Bijoor is a brand-strategy specialist & CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.
You can follow him on @harishbijoor

When you can be Impatient, why be Patient?

When you can be Impatient, Why Be Patient?

By Harish Bijoor

Youth and trends? That’s really an oxymoron, dear moron!

And that starting sentence of mine, in-the-eye, in-the-face, and in the gut, is really the way they talk. “Hey Dog” is a loving appellation.  A side hug that follows, that could get your shoulder dislocated due to impact strength, is a way of bonding with you and telling you we are one. We come from the same generation, and we are headed to the same hell as well.

The young in this country are difficult to understand. Youth and trends are words that don’t necessarily go together. The youth as a category and genre defies trends. The moment something sets in and looks like a seeming trend, the category moves its cheese and chips and Coke. Trend is for the old. The young believe in change. Change that is forever, and discontinuous. And discontinuous trend is really not a trend. Difficult thing to track with method, science and meaning as well. Those who believe they are trend-spotters, who have arrived, live in a fool’s paradise. The trend you write about is as old as the day it was written. It is jaded now, and there is something new around today. Let’s wake up and smell the young sweat.

Since trends are difficult to track, and once having been tracked, have this yen to change, there is a great way of keeping in touch with the youth and what they do, what they wear, what they speak, what they eat and what they drink and how they party. Just watch them at it. Track them. Track them without them knowing you are tracking them. Catch them in their natural surroundings. By the way this is not their home, their school, their college or their spanking new entry-level offices. Instead, it is the third-place where they are letting their hair down. Catch them in their gyms, the beauty-parlors, the Cafes, the pubs, the discs and more. It is here that they are themselves. Catch them as well on twitter and Face Book. Catch them on Tagged. Catch them with their pants down with their second and third digital handles that run as “HotArun” and “HawtGAWD” and “CoolKHIMCHI” and “KoolKHICHDI” alike. Catch them on sites you never thought guys and girls like them would ever be. The foot-prints you track today must be both physical and digital. And just as there are “physical third-places”, there are “digital third-places” where they hang out as well.  And then when you have watched them 1:1 in myriad “third-place” locations, build that pen-picture of theirs. This will change in three months flat. Therefore, keep building those pen-pictures every month, month on month, and keep calibrating your mind, mood, language, tone and tenor of the youth at large. You just might be on the right track then.

This piece on youth trend is therefore not as much as telling you the trends as teaching you how to trend-track in today’s crazy youth world. Teach a man to fish, rather than give him a now-truly-dead Pomfret you caught this morning.

 I do a fair bit of it. I use a lot of it in my strategy consulting assignments as I do donning my “Keynote speaker “avatar as well. On the whole, watching people do what they do,  with science as your tool, analytics as your buddy, and consumer skills as your science, art and philosophy, one can go places.

If there is one seminal thought I want to give in this piece, it is the thought to say that this generation baffles us all marketers. I call this Gen.  “The I-Gen.”.   The Internet Generation? No! The Impatient Generation!

Impatience is the hallmark of the youth. Patience cycles have progressively become smaller and smaller. Today, patience is dead and is no longer a virtue. Impatience is the new virtue. The more impatient you are, the more of a ‘go-getter-youth’ you are. The idea is a simple one. When you can be Impatient, why be patient?
Impatience hits you in the face all around in the lives of the young. The youth is impatient with love. There are relationships on the front-burner, just as there is a parallel one on the back-burner. Multi-hob is the way to go. And in some cases there is love on the sleeve, there is love in the heart and there is love in the wallet as well.

Impatience looks large with its beady moist eyes in marriages that are on the rocks rather fast. There is impatience in sex and there is just no binding yourself tight within the confines of a marriage anymore. If sex is bad in the house, go to the Cafetaria and get it. And the Cafetaria is large and welcoming, with no strings attached. It is a veritable buffet on offer. Relationships start stretching at the seams a bit too fast.

Impatience is everywhere, and the salivating marketer is ready to cater to it. When you fracture your patella and rush to the hospital, there are two cures possible really. The patient one is to be in a cast for six weeks, and the impatient one is do what the doctor in the big hospital is recommending. Put in those nuts and bolts and be up and about in one week flat. The marketer here (in benign disguise) is the doctor recommending the high-priced quick-fix versus the low-priced plaster of Paris in blue. This is everywhere in every realm you tread in youth space. Pay the price and get the lost time back. Time is a big part of the currency game. We live with two currencies today: time and money. At times time is at a premium over money even.

There is impatience in the foods we eat, fast food versus regular food. Restaurants versus QSR’s. Quick-serve restaurants versus slow-serve restaurants, if you will. There is impatience in the yen to create wealth, just as there is impatience to spend it all. The bio-clock of the youth at large is ticking at a pace that seems much more frenetic than at any time in our marketing history to date. There seems to be very little time to live, might as well live it fast and furious. Fashion, lifestyle, entertainment and digital use is witnessing this impatience all around.

What then is the real problem at hand? It’s not what, it’s who? The marketers. Marketers In the country are an older lot. Marketers are much older than the people they market to. Marketers are good at the old marketing format: Patience Marketing. Marketers today are good at marketing to patient consumers. Impatience is a mindset they just do not understand well enough. Even if they do, there is lip-service done to it. There is also this dominant attitude and notion in the minds of older marketers (and by old I mean age 30 and above, ouch!), that this impatience is a fad, and it will pass as well.
Marketers need to learn and practice impatience then to market to the youth. Embrace impatience within your brand DNA. Pack impatience within your brand offering, and showcase it to the youth.  Resonate with this impatience and be a part of it rather than be a part that criticizes it and passes value-judgments on it, just as an older person is bound to.

Re-check your  ‘young quotient’ dear marketer, before you attempt to market to the youth effectively. When was the last time you hit a discotheque and grooved to the tune of  Timber and Dubstep?                    And do you even know what we are talking about? Ouch!

Harish Bijoor is a brand-strategy specialist  & CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.
Twitter @harishbijoor

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Indian Retail and The Grouse Economy

The Grouse Retail Economy

By Harish Bijoor

We live in a world full of complaints. The retail world is no different.

In the beginning, the micro Mom-and-pop retailer complained about the neighborhood large store. The Micro retailer had his own grouse. He ran his outfit with the help of wife and son and daughter. His was really a ‘Mom, Pop & Child’ enterprise. In came the corner grocer of relatively larger format. While the Micro-retailer managed with a 60-sq feet enterprise, the corner grocer was all of 600 sft. He stocked variety. He stocked both grains and packaged items. He offered better lighting and a better display. He had a refrigerator to stock butter and bottled drinks as well.  Consumers of the hinterland flocked to him, and the micro-retailer remained micro in terms of size and dream alike. The corner grocer became the big bad boy of retail. Mom, pop & Child cried hoarse.

And then came the super-market.  This happened all of 35 years ago. Into the hinterland of the corner-grocer, who had grown leaps and bounds, came the local Super-market. This guy was bigger than them all. He had occupied all of 3000 sft. He offered a seamless shopping experience that brought in self-service. A customer could not only see the item he was buying, but could touch and smell as well. He could compare one with the other. He could peer keenly into the produce and package. He could be that much more informed a shopper.  He ate into the hinterland of consumers hitherto dominated by the corner grocer and his smaller cousins in the realm of the ‘Mom, Pop & Child’ format as well. The large-format super-market became the bad boy of Indian retail now. The corner-grocer cried foul. The ‘Mom, Pop & Child’ enterprise believed this was karma playing out. The smirk was now on his face.

And then came real organized retail. Organized retail spearheaded by organizations that were never imagined to be in this space. These were Indian enterprises of every kind. In came the Future Group. We had a Reliance Retail happen. In came the Aditya Birla effort. In came every other effort from every other group, (the Tatas included), that was hitherto considered an entity that had bigger axes to grind than to look into the realm of retail as a business proposition at all.

This was big fish entering the space of relatively moderately sized fish.  This fish wanted to eat it all up in a way. It protested and said that nothing would happen to the micro-format, the corner-grocer and the medium-sized super-market at all. In many ways it was right. The market opportunity was so large, and the efforts so small by these biggies as they tested the waters, that nothing really happened to eh volumes enjoyed by the rest of the retail chain. Big fish did not really eat small fish. And Darwin was right. The fittest in every category survived and thrived. Every category had a space all its own to occupy and hope to thrive in. The operative word here is ‘hope’!

But then everyone cried hoarse. Everyone complained. The bigger you were, the ‘badder’ you were! Forgive me for coining that word and giving good grammar a beating. It deserves it here.

And then we have just about emerged from the cries and the tumult on FDI in retail. Even the biggest Indian names in retail are said to be in sync with this, only to attract FDI that goes to mitigate its losses in this space. It is said that the biggest Indian names would not like to compete with a 100% Wal-Mart or a 100% Carrefour effort. The wails are still around. The complaints are still floating in a space very near to all of us.
The latest cry is from the space of the physical brick and mortar retailer. Brick and mortar retailers are now crying about the current small fact that the e-retailer is making a dent into his business. Bookshop owners are crying hoarse that consumers are browsing physical books at their stores and buying them online at a discount. Quite the reverse of what was being done a couple of years ago. As of today, I buy my vegetables at home from an e-retailer.  E-retail is not ubiquitous as of now though, and I hold that e-retail is still anecdotal in its presence, reach, acceptability and habit. Even then, the cries are all around. The complaints are all around in our psyche.

The retail world has been a complaint economy thus far then. It started thirty-five years ago, and the complaints are still around. Newer ones replace older ones.

As all of this abounds, my one suggestion to the latest complainant in the space of brick and mortar retail is a simple one. All of us need to accept the fact that Darwin has always been right for all of these 175 years. The fittest will survive. Retail that caters to the needs, wants, desires and indeed growing and forever changing aspirations of the consumer, will always survive and will always thrive. There is space for everyone.

The fact remains that India is large. The fact remains that the Indian is on the morph. The fact also remains that for every one of our 1.2 Billion people, there is a solution that needs to be different in its appeal. Each of our retail formats, from the micro-retail format of 60-sft to the e-retail format of just no square feet at all, has an appeal to a distinct set of customers. Everyone will survive and thrive.  The fittest in every space will thrive.

Just no point complaining and wailing about it at all.  Let’s laugh together. Hopefully all the way to the bank. The e-bank.


Harish Bijoor is a brand-strategy specialist & CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc., a private-label consulting practice that operates in the realm of brand and business strategy. The company has a presence in the markets of India, Hong Kong, London, Dubai and Istanbul.
Harish is a public speaker who speaks to Corporate audiences across the globe in the realm of motivation, people-management issues, brands, marketing and business at large.
He is active on twitter @harishbijoor

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Paid Media Versus unpaid: A Debate

Paid Media versus Upaid!

By Harish Bijoor 

The brand manager is in a dilemma today. In the old days, all media was paid for. Today, you have yet another avatar on the rampage, “earned media”. While paid media is what you buy as advertising in every form, earned media is what you earn as coverage in media that is viral, editorial in guise, and C2C (consumer to consumer) in reach, credibility and consumer buy-in terms.

The dilemma is simple and complex at the same time. The simple dilemma point is which one to back? Which one gives your brand the bang for the buck? Which one is trusted more? Which one delivers sales? Which one delivers image? And which one damages the brand more, when push comes to shove?
The complex part of the dilemma is measurement of efficacy. How do you know which avatar of media did what for your brand? How do you know what paid media did for you as opposed to earned media? And how do you plant your marketing bucks on each? In what proportion? And how deep must you be in earned media?

The dilemma of the brand manager will continue. I will however put my weight behind paid media for now. I do believe paid media works better for brands in today’s context. Paid media is specific, controlled by the brand to the point of a science, is dished out with consistency which a consumer is used to, and by and large, credibility of paid mediums remain reasonably intact to date.

Yes, advertising is being trusted less and less by consumers. Yes, advertising is seen to be something that promises the stratosphere and offers the sky. However, advertising is yet to reach the bathos point in India in terms of credibility and credulity norms. To that extent, all paid mediums are still trusted, except paid PR. Paid PR sadly has hit the bathos point in India with consumers switching off any communication that looks overtly paid for in PR terms.
Advertising on the other hand does not suffer that status and stigma as yet. Consumers are aware that all advertising is paid for by the brand, and this paid-for status is overt and in the eye. There is no subterfuge. The consumer does believe today that it is the right and privilege of the brand to advertise itself overtly. In many segments, advertising is seen to be a form of public service as well, as it is informative and disseminates what is wanted to be learnt by the consumer.

Earned media is however a tough cookie to understand today. It is totally amoebic and totally un-solicited. While in the early days, what you earned through such media exposure is considered “editorial” in nature and “use-centric” in output, a little while down the road, there is consumer distrust here as well. As tales of brand interventions in “earned media” space gain grounds, and as consumers understand that many a tweet and many a Facebook mention and   LinkedIn message could be “bought” as well, the USP of earned media dies.

My point is a simple one. The consumer loves brands as of now. He/she understands and appreciates the role, power and utility of paid-for advertising that is overt. He/she distrusts paid PR fundamentally because it is not overt, and hides behind editorial material that looks part editorial and part paid-for. The consumer hates being cheated. The consumer is fine being told clearly that this is a paid medium and this is not.  On the other hand, when it comes to earned mediums, the consumer is today not very convinced that what is “earned” is really earned, and what seems earned is really not paid for as well! Touche!

At the end of it all, lets remember, the consumer is not a moron. She is your mistress, if not your wife!

The author is a brand-strategy specialist  & CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.
Twitter @harishbijoor

Thursday, January 03, 2013

What's ahead for Brand India in 2013?

Get Inclusive, Or Get Excluded

By Harish Bijoor

The Mayan era is done with. And looks like all of us have survived it. And how.

As the year 2013 dawns, what’s ahead for us in Brand India?

Plenty ahead, provided the mindset is to reap the plenty. Read a lot in those words, as this ‘peek-ahead’ piece of mine is all about reaping the opportunity that lies in the largest of the masses rather than the old approach that has held us in good stead over the last several marketing decades of “reaping the niches”.
The year and indeed the decade ahead of us in marketing terms is all about looking at market opportunity with a different set of spectacles altogether. If I were to summarize it all for the Twitter-Gen of today, I would put it simply in 31   characters: Get inclusive, or get excluded.

The idea is a simple one. An old one as well. One berated by many a thinker over the decades, but seldom listened to by a nation that was plucking the low hanging fruit of market opportunity that lay with those with early-money in their hands.

Now however, since that opportunity seems to be drying up, time to think different and look at the masses with a keener glad-eye than before.

The world is today all of 7 Billion people. 1.2 Billion of them reside in India. Maybe a lot more than that as well, as I firmly believe our population fact is an understatement rather than a statement.  Of the 7 Billion in the world, as much as 5 Billion are people a typical marketer would put outside of the active branded consumption mindset. This mass is really, really large. This mass is one that is growing not only in terms of size, but aspiration as well. The opportunity ahead is therefore in this big mass. 

If you look at India in particular, this mass could be as large as all of 840 Million people. 840 million people waiting on the precipice of a brand buy. 840 Million people who have a rather skin deep penetration of brands today. And most of these brands that have penetrated their lifestyles may be in the realm of telecom, telecom services, and basic FMCG products. Imagine the opportunity ahead as this mass booms in terms of aspiration to buy and aspiration to consume. Imagine the opportunity ahead as this mass moves from products to services. From the basic to the value-added segment as well. The opportunity ahead is large. Very large.

Look at India today. In many ways modern India has been built by brands that started their early work in the first few years of the last decade. Look at telecom. Telecom brands have helped place 942 million handsets in the hands of as many as 670 Million people in India. The halfway mark has been breached. Look at the telecom service providers who power these handsets with basic and value added services. Look at every FMCG player in the market who has quietly built a super-structure of active consumption of brands. India is a nation of 1.2 Billion bellies and bladders. As many bellies, that much the opportunity for food. As many bladders, that much the opportunity for every kind of beverage.  And guess what, the Indian at large has not only belly and bladder. Add to it thirty-one other body parts that crave for branded solutions. The hair for hair oil and hair dye alike, the skin for moisturizer and vitamin creams alike, and lots lots more.

The real opportunity ahead is looming large, and lies in India’s under-penetrated categories. The opportunity lies equally in rural as in urban. Our big asset is population. And population is an asset that delivers slowly. Its time to deliver has come. The marketing and brand fraternity needs to wake up to this opportunity and leverage it to advantage.

There is a problem though. The opportunity is out there in terms of numbers, but this opportunity can be leveraged only by those who do believe in ‘market creation’ exercises, rather than ‘market reaping’ processes that have dominated past decades. Time to change that mindset altogether. And this is difficult.

Markets of the future that lie in the realm of the bottom 5 Billion of the world population opportunity, will need to be created, rather than reaped. And that is a mindset that needs to dominate 2013. Create first. Reap later. The era of Instant gratification for the marketer is over.

The trends that will dominate market creation activities in the years ahead will be aided and guided ably by systems and processes that are falling into place. The UIDAI Aadhaar, its financial inclusion goals, its real pan-national roll-out and the tools of schemes such as the DCT (Direct Cash Transfer) scheme of the government of India, will all help and spur the movement of market creation. 

Think of it this way. Till now, as much as INR 3,50,000 Crores was reaching the bottom end of the market as subsidies and transfers what were less efficient and leaky in its delivery pattern. As the subsidy regime gives way to DCT, it simply means one big thing for the salivating marketer in India. When subsidies are doled out, the consumer got kerosene and had to use it. The consumer got rice and fertilizer and pesticide alike, and had to use it or re-sell it at suboptimal prices. Now, if DCT kicks in finally, it means there is that much money in the bank accounts of the consumer. This money will find its way into consumption. And this consumption is going to spur market opportunity further. As more money hits consumer wallets at the bottom of the pyramid, more expenditure happens. And as more expenditure happens, a lot happens.

As India becomes an opportunity that is getting bigger and bigger, marketers need to however remember one big trend point to tread carefully for the years ahead.

The marketer needs to get inclusive. The marketer needs to think of the masses that are larger than what he defined to be his masses. The marketer needs to reach out to potential consumers and non-consumers alike. Every brand offering needs to have two avatars. One for the potential buyer and one for the non-buyer. The marketer needs to molly-coddle the non-buyer as well today, with the hope of him being a vital part of his future market. Marketers that forget this basic tenet will get excluded from consumer mindsets.

In the future, you cannot depend on your advertising to buy markets. You will instead need to depend on your good market creation work to put together your markets. The India Marketing Rubik’s cube is in your hands. You need to create the right picture on every side of the cube. Every side. Not only the one side you were comfortable with all these decades.  You need to get more and more inclusive.

In short, get inclusive. Or get excluded. Touché.
Harish Bijoor is a business strategy specialist and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.
Twitter @harishbijoor

Saturday, November 24, 2012

New ways to look at old Retail

Retail Branding for India

By Harish Bijoor

My seminal contribution to the subject of branding is a simple one. A definition for a start. A definition I have been defending, traveling to the university towns of the world at large, debating, fighting and holding firm for the last eleven years.
My definition of a brand is a simple one.  The brand is a thought. A thought that lives in people’s minds. To that extent, every dominant thought in your mind is a brand. The thought of your mom therefore fights for mind-share with the thought of your wife, just as the thought of your wife fights for mind-share and top of mind status with that of your brand new Patek Phillipe you picked up in Zurich last week.

Brands live and thrive in mind-space. The mind-space of people. Never mind whether they are your consumers or not, they know your brand. The brand is therefore a thought. A powerful thought that lives in people’s minds.

Let me leave the definition there for now, planted firmly in your mind. It is indeed the start-point of understanding branding in retail.
This therefore is the start to understanding the brand. The brand is really not a promise alone. The brand is much more. A dominant thought!

My research in the Indian sub-continent, large parts of SE Asia, small sets of cities and towns in Continental Europe, and again sprinklings of small towns in North and South America, indicate a confusion and lack of understanding of the retail brand at large in several markets. And that is going to be the confusion I am attempting to clear in this piece.

Branding is a discipline on its own. It is all about the brand, collective sets of consumers, image, positioning of this image in the minds of these consumers, and creating a positive impulse for the brand at large.

Retail on the other hand, is something different, as all of us know it to be. It is that important front-face point. It is that point where the consumer actually meets the brand on the floor of the shop. It is that important meeting point. It is the point of action. It is the point of purchase.

The point of purchase today is the point of advertising, the point of marketing, the point of selling, the point of market research and more. The Point of purchase is therefore the point of everything.

While retail remains the art, science and philosophy of managing the consumer at the Point of purchase (which is the point of retail), branding remains a philosophy, art and science (in that order) of managing the image, creating the awareness, stoking the interest in the brand and leading the desire-stoked consumer to the point of retail. The two are therefore umbilical in connect. However, the important point to remember is that these two sciences of branding and retail are separate subjects in their own merit.  Combining the two to arrive at the subject of “retail branding” is possibly the most simplistic sin committed by a large many. The two are different sciences.

Therefore, note the point. The branding expert you got into your retail brand from that big FMCG corporate entity that has twenty brands with near billion dollar revenues, just did not seem to fit right. Retail branding is a different science altogether. While branding is about aggregation, retail is about disaggregation. While branding is about coagulation of intent, retail is about dissipation of intent. Branding is 1: Many. Retail is 1:1. And there lies the seminal difference. A difference few retail players recognize in their choice of people to head the discipline of retail branding.

Therefore, the mistakes get made. And the mistakes are many. You look around and see retail brands being promoted and advertised about just as toothpaste would be. The focus is on the brand name. The focus is on creating awareness, and possibly interest. The focus is on getting the largest numbers of people to look at your retail brand offering and see its merits in a rather aggregated “FMCG-kind “ of manner. The lure is the brand name, and the bait is the offer of 500gm sugar on every 5 panties you buy even!

What should the branding strategy of the retail brand be then in the Indian context? How should it be different?

Our research across 103 retail brands across the markets of India, SE Asia, UK, Hong Kong and the U. S. indicate many new ways of handling the retail brand to commercial efficacy and profitability levels. Every one of these ways is in direct contrast to the way a typical FMCG or durable brand is handled.

Here is a quick and ready peek into just one out of 32 of our research diagnostics pointers, converted into action points for the retail brand manager.

Nugget 1 of 32 then:
              Gyan: Never manage your retail brand offering as one.
Instead. Manage it as what it is. Many.

Mistake: Most retail brand owners tend to start small. Every Big Bazaar was once a small pilot offering. And every Big Bazaar dreams big.

Take Starbucks. The first outlet is just about announced to be launched at Horniman Circle in Mumbai, even as I write this. Starbucks will want to be one for a start, and many sooner than later. There is a hurry in retail roll out.  That’s normal and part of standard operating norm of a retail enterprise. But this hurry needs to be managed with care.

When your retail offering is one outlet, you nurture it with care. Local care. You customize your every offering, tailored to your local customer. You analyze your walk-ins. You interact with them carefully. You build your stock plan accordingly. You alter your shop layout accordingly. You tailor-make your customer service norms to need. You promote in the local hinterland of your outlet. You reach out to your potential customer 1: 1. You do everything local. You do everything tailored to the hinterland.

And then you open your second store. You open it basis your learning of Store 1. You are aggressive with your plans. Less tentative and more aggressive. Your learning at Store 1 has made you more solid.  You roll out. You meet with early success. You imagine your model is on the roll. You do not discount the fact that you just might be plucking the low-hanging fruit of opportunity in the new hinterland. You don’t want to get granular with the data.  Remember, retail brands do not have the time to sit back and think in India. Everyone is on a roller coaster. The deadlines are tough and the stock-inventories sourced and piled up by you need larger front-face locations in terms of numbers, to be able to be monetized. And this needs to be done quick.

And then, excited by the success of Store 2 in the new hinterland, you imagine your model is ready for rollout. You open your next ten stores in a hurry. And this is where you slip. This is where you roll out with the mindset of a big brand. You really use the mindset of an FMCG player out here. You imagine the brand is one. You imagine you have tested the offering as a pilot. You imagine your early pressure-test of the brand offering as a go-ahead for your larger rollout.

You then go out there and achieve scale. This scale is good for the back-end. It achieves supply chain efficiencies. It achieves quick windows that will liquidate held up inventories that were procured in larger numbers to get the best price advantage. Scale is the language of the retailer on the rampage.

Scale is good and scale is bad. The moment you achieve scale, you start behaving with the mindset of a large player. A large player, who primarily aggregates rather than disaggregates. It almost seems as if the small retail enterprise was waiting and fantasizing for this point of time. This is the time you let go and become the ‘big brand manager’ with the ‘big brand mindset’. In many ways, these are easier days. These are days when you can afford to say that your small pilot retail outlet is a big brand. These are days when you think big and aggregate. These are also days when you start advertising. You have scale on your side, and the effort is to build the big brand image in the minds of potential customers who will walk in.

The morph is now complete. You were once a small retail play, with efficiencies of customer management that were 1:1. Today, you are a big brand with efficiencies of scale on your side.  Today you are 1: Many. 

In my rude manner of writing, yesterday you were a retailer. Today you are a brand. Sadly, the retail-brand is really more about being a “retailer” than being a “brand”. My research numbers indicate success scores that are in the region of 92-97 percentile points when you manage a retail brand as small retail, rather than the score of 39-46 percentile points when you manage your retail outlet as a mega brand that is advertised. Advertising is a crutch. It is easy, outsourced, difficult to measure efficacy, and macro in its approach. And you get used to it. So used to it, that you think little else.

In many ways, the moment you advertise, you have grown up. You are outsourcing the micro-bits of hard work that helped create your customer profile for your Store 1, to advertising. You hope advertising will bring in customers.  You hope, you will never have to manage customers as intrusively as you had to when you just had one store.

Small is therefore beautiful in my model of retail-branding play for India. The moment you leave the mindset in retail-branding that says loud and clear through your actions that you are small and cater to small sets of customers isolated in small little islands that surround a hinterland of 1.6 Kms at maximum, you have lost your small-is-beautiful business mindset. And this in many ways is the beginning of the end of your retail-rampage in India for sure.

Retail outlets that have applied my basic evangelism of the small-is-beautiful thought pattern, even when they have grown in numbers, size and turnover, have had a better success score that rattles the 96 plus percentile number.

The point is simple. Start small in retail. Learn small in retail. Stay micro-oriented. Don’t bite into the temptation of adopting knowledge from the FMCG sector. Sack the guy you got from there. Stay focused on the constituency of 1:1. Stay local. Don’t advertise. Retail brands just cannot afford to advertise really. You must not load advertising cost onto the consumer.  Even as you expand and grow into the 1600 outlet league, manage every store as a store. Never ever aggregate the brand label as one. Manage the local hinterland.

Every Café and Super-store must have a Hinterland Manager. His/her basic role must be to manage the customers in a hinterland area of 1.6 Km in India, 0.7 Km in UK, and a very precise 1.1 km radius in Zurich. This Hinterland Manager is really the most important part of your retail-brand management toolkit. Not the least important as some would see it.

The Store specific Hinterland manager is the most vital part of the store. He looks after the store as a local shopkeeper would. He does not get besotted with the bigger picture, as he does get passionate about the small picture.  He costs little.  He brings customers in.

My research indicates a weightage of store revenue returns calculated and accrued to levels across types of individual Store managers as follows:

Chain Super-store Model

General Manager: 11
Merchandising Manager:  7
Cashier: 4
Sales: 14
Receiving: 3
Loss prevention: 1
Visual displays: 5
PR: 6
Promotions: 10
The proposed Hinterland Manager: 39

Total: 100

Fine Coffee Café Model

Store Manager: 31
Barista: 14
Shift supervisors: 4
The proposed Hinterland Manager: 51

Total: 100

Simple point. Morph your retail business to manage it as a retail business. Manage it less as a brand and more as a store. Touché!

Basis of Gyan
The above Nugget 1 is basis an active modeling study done across markets of India, Hong-Kong, UK, Dubai, Switzerland, Brazil and the USA. Sample size covered: Chain super-stores: 28 and Fine coffee Cafes: 6.

This study was conducted over a period of 30 months, concluding September 2012.

Harish Bijoor