Delhi MCD 2017 – An election won & an election lost on communication strategy alone. 5 Important PR lessons to be learnt

The Delhi MCD results are out. The incumbent has swept the polls despite doing not such a great job (as per popular perception) in the last decade or so. And still, the average intelligent Delhiite has voted for them! That does sound odd to an average intelligent, educated adult human being – voting for incompetent incumbents.

I am no expert on politics, and this is not a treatise on the whys and wherefores of a party’s political wins or another party’s political loss in the MCD elections.

Instead, in this write-up, we will explore why did the electorate vote for an ‘incompetent incumbent’? What did the winner say (or didn’t) in its campaign? What did the opposition say (or didn’t) in its campaign? Common sense says that if the BJP had been doing a poor job at the MCD, it should have been smooth sailing to the victor’s podium for AAP and other challengers (not counted here).

Even with such a conducive environment how did AAP manage to lose the battle of the MCD? And just where did AAP lose the battle? Did AAP lose the battle at the buttons of the allegedly ‘rigged’ EVMs? Or did it lose the battle because the Delhiwalas don’t know what is right for them – We average people would think that AAP- the major challenger would have told the electorate what is good for them? Or did AAP forget to do just that?

Just what did the winner and loser say (or did not say) to sway the electorate – an electorate which had chosen the loser side just two years back with an overwhelming majority for a higher office of governance? Via the same ‘rigged EVMs’ …!

There are 5 communication lessons to be learnt from the run-up to the MCD elections and from the results.

1. Admit your mistakes

a. First and the foremost PR and communication lesson learnt is – Always and always admit your mistakes and shortcomings – especially with reference to any promises you might have made to the same audience.

The winner did it so. How? The BJP simply agreed that things had not been done right the past few years. Their agreement also reflected in their actions. The party also communicated this sentiment to the electorate when it made sure that none of the incumbent members got a ticket to fight the elections. The party brought in all new fresh-faced, untried, untested candidates, begged the electorate to ‘give a chance to fresh faces’ with a new promise to deliver. And the electorate saw the new faces, heard the promise. It also heard shortcomings being admitted.

Lesson Learnt – Admitting your mistake disarms an otherwise hostile/unfavourable audience immediately. Admission of mistake followed with appropriate actions is favourably perceived by others as your first step towards making things right.

2. Leverage your strong Top Leadership –

It’s a maximum reward @minimum effort strategy

a. Many would argue that leveraging PM Modi’s leadership plank for a Municipal Corporation election exposes the weakness in the lower ranks of the winning party. I beg to differ. If there is already Sunlight everywhere would you still light oil lamps to show the way? Nah…Oil lamps are anyways useless and futile in the strong sunlight. Make use of the readily available Sunlight then; with pride.

And that is just what the winner did. Its top leader – already the country’s PM is a popularly accepted leader by the masses. The electorate does listen to him. The winning party just leveraged its advantage.

Lesson Learnt – While communicating a message to your client/target audience, leverage all advantages that you have. It makes the task tad easier too. Also the chances, of reception of the message just as you meant it; are much higher.

3. Blaming others or dishing out excuses for your losses never begets you gains

a. Don’t know about AAP – but I sure have learnt this huge lesson today. AAP leadership is going hoarse by blaming its nationwide losses on allegedly ‘faulty EVMs.’ The same EVMs did bring the same AAP leadership state level powers in 2015. Perhaps then too EVMs were rigged!

Lesson Learnt – Never make your losses a story of Fox and the sour grapes. Excuses and blame doling doesn’t work.

4. A PR Harakiri – try doing it like …Never!

a. The AAP leadership has been committing a PR Harakiri – like …continuously. The party has been blaming all things external for all their losses, and even for their failure to deliver. From blaming the EVMs to casting aspersions on the Election Commission’s integrity, to targeting its own weakest links (poor innocent cleaners who are their own big vote banks, in the garbage fracas), AAP tried it all. But it really lost it when it turned on on its voters post the Rajouri Garden by polls and termed the citizens as thankless! You can’t call people thankless and then ask them to vote for you.

Lesson learnt – You don’t bite the hand that feeds you …never…ever! AAP forgot that it needs the same Janta to favour it again and again – just so the party can remain in existence.

5. Keep the issues in perspective

AAP became so involved and personal in its blame game with the BJP that the party forgot to focus on the real issues of governance. Instead of concentrating on the workings or shortcomings or non-deliveries of MCD incumbents, it wasted its breath in calling names to the other party, finding excuses for its own dismal performance and just about everything other than the core issues. The other party smartly just started talking about the failures and non-deliveries of AAP at a higher state-level governance.

Lesson Learnt – In an altercation, focus on the communication on issues in hand.

All brands face challenges in their life-cycle. During challenging times, criticizing the competitors and blaming the environment may garner the brand a 15 second of attention – nothing more. Always keep an eye on your commitments and deliverables promised. Else the failure on these counts becomes potent ammunition in the hands of your competitors. A fresh vision may be all the solution you need to tackle market and competitors. Also, adopting a right PR strategy is always an important key in troubled times. When under duress, create a positive environment, admit your shortcomings, keep your communication positive and look at new ways to solve the issues.

The Tale of the Two Airlines – One won hearts, other lost face & billions

The airlines industry is cornering a lot of media and social media space in the last few days. The recently concluded Air India story and the ongoing United Airlines saga have become a study in contrasts in crisis communication and organizational reputation management in a negative situation. Both the well-chronicled episodes have garnered a widespread public attention and outrage, but the two affected airlines have occupied the two opposite ends of the spectrum of crisis communication.

The airlines, Air India; in the Air India ground manager – Shiv Sena Member of Parliament fracas, not only managed to unite the entire aviation industry in India, it even won the hearts of common public when it stood by the wrong done to its staffer by the ‘VIP’ passenger. The state-run Air India which had lost its preferred airlines status to other private run peers long ago managed to boost up its ratings when it chose to stand by its senior employee who was physically assaulted by the offensive ‘VIP’ passenger. Without issuing counter arguments or using media channels as its sounding board after the March 23, 2017, incident, the Air India management issued a statement saying that it would order a probe into the incident. In the meantime, it also filed an FIR against the MP and issued a red flag against the offending passenger’s name, effectively banning him from all their flights with immediate effect. The episode also united all Indian air travel operators under the Federation of Indian Airlines. The Federation also followed suite and banned the MP from all its member operators’ flight. That the ban was revoked two weeks later at the behest of the Ministry of Civil Aviation is another matter. But all Indian airlines together kept the ‘VIP’ grounded for almost 15 days.

What stands out in this entire episode is that Air India chose actions instead of indulging in a verbal and abusive blame game in media with the offensive passenger. That the said passenger went on relentlessly in the media heaping abuses on the airline and justifying the assault he had perpetrated, went on to garner immense public anger against the offender, earning more brownie points for the airlines.

By contrast, the United Airlines lost face in public not once or twice but five times. Firstly, the airlines failed to recognize the gravity of a brewing crisis when the video of a valid – boarded and seated – passenger being dragged out of the plane surfaced on social media. It then took a high moral ground of praising its crew for doing its duty, passing the buck for the incident to the airport law enforcement authorities and later issuing just a damp washcloth of an apology. Only when the media uproar refused to die down, and the company lost a billion dollars in the market value of its shares, has the United Airlines’chief executive issued the true heartfelt apology – which should have been issued as the very first statement after the video surfaced.

Organizations and we – individuals have many lessons to learn from these two incidents. First and foremost – now oft-cliched too – recognize the power of social media. Both incidents were brought to the public notice via videos uploaded on social media channels. Videos and pictures tell a very compelling story. After both the incidents, the offending parties have gone on to argue that the story was different – alleging that the victim provoked them with their words to act as they did. I wish to reiterate here that videos and pictures make for a compelling story, even though they may be telling a one-sided tale. All words exchanged prior to the incidents being lost, and the public saw only the assaults, the aggressor and his actions and the victim in a brutalised condition. A physical assault by itself firstly should never be indulged in. If that happens – it spells only one thing, that too in bold letter – CRISIS!

The first and only recourse to such a crisis is, genuinely apologize from the heart – much before your stock takes a billion-dollar tumble. Apologize first, especially if you are the perceived aggressor – it effectively stems the crisis from spiralling out of control. Greater the time lag in tendering a heartfelt apology, greater the harm to your reputation. Extensive damage control often comes at great financial and reputational costs.

United Airlines and our own Mr. Gaikwad, the MP from Osmanabad, both will take some time to come out of their respective crises. While air travellers will be wary of flying United, airlines in India will be watchful of a certain ‘VIP’ passenger. Our reputation, after all, precedes us, always.

This article has been originally published in The Economic Times on 15th April 2017.

How marketing to modern man in India is evolving?

The MAN has undergone a transformation. And how!

The passive and apathetic existence of a 1980s MAN, inconspicuous to sundry marketers, has transformed to a very aware and involved MAN in 2016, a hot target for marketers.

Circa 1980: An average middle-class family would be pictured thus – The family comprises of three brothers ranging from ages 50 to 40 years, one a government officer, another a bank officer and the third a lawyer. All three have a comfortable earning and live in their ancestral home along with their aged parents, their respective wives, and their respective 2.5 kids. Children’s ages range from 23 years to 10 years.

The family lives in a simple way, owns few appliances like a mixer-grinder, a few fans, some wrist watches, a couple of two-in-ones and a B/W television set and not to forget the quintessential black telephone which is out of order most of the times. The brothers have two scooters and a car between them, shared as per need.

The men’s daily needs are taken care of very ably by the women in the family. Bigger expenses are always a joint decision. The really important decisions are still deferred to ‘Babuji’ – the patriarch. The three sons have one critical role in this family, though – they are the designated breadwinners of the family. And that is the sum total of their awareness about themselves.

Cut to 2017: Picture a similar family. The three brothers, all successful professionals, live in separate accommodations while the parents continue living in their ancestral home. The wives too, are all professionals and have flourishing careers themselves. The brothers now have 1.66 kids each. The 23-year-old eldest grandson has recently started working and has moved to a bachelor pad closer to his office.

Each of the brothers’ family has a countless number of appliances and electronic gadgets. Most adults have a car each and a few bikes amongst themselves. No one shares their gadgets or appliances or shampoos. At times they don’t even share the same breakfast items – while one enjoys sandwiches, the other wouldn’t give up on his muesli and milk.

Each family member has his/her own choice in almost all product segments, and shopping is accordingly done.

And this is where a very happy scenario for marketers unfolds. Marketers have traditionally considered women as the central and most influential shoppers in the family. But the marketers are really delighted now – they have a whole new segment comprising an equal number of new customers to market to – The MEN!

The MAN of 2016, irrespective of his age, is aware of himself, spares a thought for himself and is spending big bucks all by himself.

This sea-change is a result of many forces interacting with each other. There has been a massive shift in societal roles and norms, earnings are higher, finances are easier, decision makers have changed, spending patterns have altered and time has become the most precious commodity. The media revolution which happened concurrently has also played a crucial role in bringing about this change. The marketers who started to recognize MAN as a separate customer category early on altered their strategies and continue to reap enormous benefits. For example, suddenly it was no longer all right for men to use whichever shampoo was there in the bathroom. If you were a man you had to use a Clinic Plus or a Head & Shoulders – For Men variant or even the Beer shampoo. It also became all right for men to use fairness creams openly and not filch them secretly from their sisters and mothers. Emami Fair & Handsome was the first For Men product to be launched in this category and continues to be a front-runner.

Demographical Strategy – The modern man has no age. In other words, the marketers today have a ready customer in today’s MAN – whatever his age may be. The products he buys change according to his station in life which in turn depends on and varies according to various demographic variables like his age, location, earning capacity, family responsibilities, etc. The bottom line here is that this modern man is – buying.

Today the urban Indian man starts spending very early in life – even before he gets his first pay cheque in fact. He is always in need of something – a vehicle, an accommodation, a few gadgets to show off and his daily needs, wants and desires. Often he alone is the decision maker for most of his spending. As the demographic variables move on in his life, so do his needs, wants and desires. Marketers who do NOT market a one size fits all product to today’s man are doing very well.

Social Strategies – The modern man has in fact handed immense marketing opportunities on a silver platter to marketers.

Firstly, MAN himself has increased his needs and wants exponentially. The family home and family car don’t work for him. He needs his own home and a car now! Online shopping is his new temple and credit cards his best saviors. Only the latest gadgets and gizmos work best for him. And he is in love with the word ‘variety’. Sameness bores him. He is always looking for something different. Each ‘different’ is a marketing opportunity. The more the MAN’s material instinct rears up, the more avenues open up for a marketer to explore to his own advantage.

Secondly, since the turn of the century, there has been a gradual and widely welcome blurring of the traditionally accepted roles of men and women. Just as women are now common in corporate corridors, so are men increasingly seen in kitchens, on post – natal / childcare leaves and are even single parents. A decade ago it would be unimaginable that ‘the’ Shahrukh Khan would agree to buy groceries on TV. But now he is seen happily ordering and receiving his grocery in his kitchen in a TVC.

Today men are also buying so many products – almost always marketed to women – all by themselves – simply because their female counsellor-partners, be it the mother, sister, wife or daughter is too busy to buy or just not available to counsel them. Marketers need to step in on such occasions and help make this bewildered man the right choice.

Targeting the EQ – The 2016 MAN is everywhere. Except perhaps giving birth to a child – nothing else is a woman’s sacrosanct bastion. He is working hard to make a good life. He lets his hair down like crazy. He is health conscious. He makes sure he looks and smells good. The zit on his face worries him as much as the health of his six-pack abs.

He makes himself available – to his wife, parents, girlfriend, children and friends. He is not afraid to show his emotions. He is now buying jewelry all by himself for his wife – a Platinum love band to start his marriage with a solid foundation – an older Amitabh Bachchan is also seen buying a Tanishq necklace surreptitiously to surprise his beloved Jaya. Both are men, huge difference in age but are shown buying jewelry alone. A thought unthinkable a couple of decades ago.

Move over macho man – the metrosexual is here!

He is aware, and he is involved. And he is an equal shopper now. Each emotion he shows is a whole new marketing opportunity for a smart marketer.

The marketer needs to talk to this man. The marketer needs to inform him, educate him and give him choices – he is more than willing to listen, choose carefully and spend. And he spends big…

…For he will settle for nothing but the best.

Photo courtsey: Nivea Men Advertising

When newsman becomes news himself!

The loudest bomb to explode online this Diwali is the news screaming out that the celebrated journalist Arnab Goswami has quit the Newshour program; he has quit the channel TimesNow!

Since then the Twitterati and social media are going berserk with hashtags like #nationwantstoknow!

The harbinger of news has become a breaking news himself. Online media is going crazy speculating his next move; dissecting his resignation speech word for word for a clue to his future plans!

This is not the first time a celebrated journalist has quit their program and broken away from the channel /media vehicle where they gained recognition and became famous. In recent past, Journalists like Barkha Dutt and Rajdeep Sardesai have also quit their launch vehicles to take on newer and more meaningful ventures. But the sensation surrounding Arnab’s announcement is unprecedented and unparalleled. The whole country is talking about him. This signifies that Arnab is a star in his own right. Arnab is known to be the people’s voice – the country’s voice. Week after week – night after night he has taken on the mightiest of the mighty to task in the interest of the nation. He has been unbiased, courageous and never been afraid to call a spade a spade to the spade’s face.

He made a huge difference to the 9 pm news hour. The 9 pm slot may not be the same again – for a while maybe… Brace yourselves for a louder bark and fiercer bite to resonate through your living room soon.

After all, Arnab may have quit the Newshour – He has not quit being a journalist!

Leadership lessons from Goddess Durga!

Navratri is our most exuberant and zesty festival. Goddess Durga is celebrated with an unmatched fervour at this time. She is one of the strongest links that noticeably binds this nation of diverse people their Vrats & Jagrans (fasting and praying in North), Garbas & Dandiyas (celebratory dances in the West), Golus (special decorations in the South) and Pujo pandals (inimitable celebrations in the East).

While the goddess inculcates great devotion in us, her aura, personality, her story and her very being offers us some very profound life lessons that hold a wealth of meaning even for the management world. 6 leadership lessons we learn from Maa (Supreme Mother) Durga are:

1. Fearlessness & Inner Strength: The word Durga, from the root word ‘durgam’ itself, embodies fearlessness. Remaining true to our convictions in the face of each adversity, however, big or small it may be, gives us an unshakeable inner strength. The stronger we are from inside, the more fearless we are perceived on the outside. These three together go a long way in ensuring success in the long run. Goddess Durga rides a tiger – it’s a metaphor showing – A fearless being can go on to tame problems and situations even as fierce as a tiger and come out the winner.

2. Multi-tasking – Durga Maa with her eight hands epitomizes the word ‘multi-tasking.’ Multi-tasking not only saves time, but it also keeps us mentally active and agile. Multi-tasking makes us independent of the vagaries of time and resources.

3. Vision & Equanimity – Notice any idol or statue of Goddess Durga – The most prominent feature that arrests our attention is her beautiful, calm and serene visage which sports big yet watchful eyes. Big eyes are a symbol of having a 360 degree vision so as to know where one needs to reach. But just knowing the destination does not complete the journey. The watchfulness symbolises a constant eye on your journey to your goal.

While watchfulness is desirable, the goddess’ serene visage also cautions to bear equanimity within us. A composed leader-manager can accomplish much more than an agitated one.

4. Adaptability – Goddess Durga comes to us in 9 different avatars (forms) on the 9 days of Navratri. There is a very simple management lesson hidden here. Leader-managers be ready to don a different hat for different situations. Be yourself but adapt your style, tone, stance, manner and involvement as per the situation on hand.

5. Be your own Strong Link – Just how one Goddess Durga binds millions of hearts together in worship and faith – be the glue, the link that binds people together. Unravelers lose their raison d’etre very quickly.

6. Leadership is gender independent – Lastly, but most importantly, remember – When all other powerful Gods failed to stop the unstoppable demon Mahishasura, the supreme being too had to take a form of Goddess Durga to vanquish the unvanquishable. And herein lies the biggest lesson our society and management world can learn – leadership qualities are gender independent!

Happy Navratri! Jai Maa Durga!

This article originally appeared on Economic Times

Reliance Jio!…..Baki Sab Dua Karo (Rest all pray)

Reliance has done it again with Jio!

Reliance has fashioned a new cult one more time – this time overnight; that too way before the customers got to use the brand Jio’s offerings and its services. Jio has broken quite a few advertising conventions with its communications strategy and has reaped huge PR benefits from the results that ensued.

The brand has achieved the highest level of consumer recall which all brands, irrespective of their industry and lifecycle – dream of, few aspire and still fewer are able to achieve it. And Jio did it even before it hit the market.

Reliance Jio generated the first big buzz when it announced the launch of its services at seemingly very attractive rates. It was almost like a replay of its marketing strategy the company employed about a decade back when it offered “Cellphone + mobile connection for Rs. 500 only”. But this time, the tremor escalated to a full-fledged quake when the country woke up to a brazen advertisement by the company.

For the uninitiated – Instead of advertising its offerings, Jio piggybacked on Prime Minister’s ‘Digital India Initiative’ and dedicated its services in propelling the PM’s dreams of a connected India. It used only the PM’s photo in its creative and emphasised the brand’s alignment with the PM’s vision and initiative in the content.

Such an unconventional advertising proposition in both print and electronic media on such a big scale has never been tried by a private enterprise in India before. The brand, its offerings, and its advertisement are on everyone’s minds and lips even as Jio opened its doors to customers recently only.

The entire country is not only speaking about it; the nation is questioning it – deliberating it – debating it. Twitterati is abuzz with their tweet arsenals, Writerati is busy penning their thoughts and Tv’rati is busy debating it. Politicians too have used this opportunity to raise a ruckus. Whatever ‘rati one may be – everyone’s talking about Jio.

While the world is busy debating the propriety of the said advertisement; as a PR & Communications specialist I can only applaud and celebrate the strategy, the tactics, and the results.

Usually, the utility of an advertisement ends on hope for consumer action after it creates awareness and reinforcement in the minds of consumers. But this advertisement has gone well beyond its “call of duty” so to say. It has generated an unprecedented amount of edit space for Jio. Jio has been ruling the opinion spaces in newspapers, blogs and other forms of electronic and social media. And the icing on the cake is that all the edit space Jio has got has been spontaneous and unsolicited!

This is the kind of coverage which PR professionals can only dream of – Reliance Jio may have never dreamt of it and still actualized it.

Personally, I do not think that the PM is actually endorsing the brand. Rather it’s the other way around! It is Jio that has chosen to support PM’s initiative, his popularity, his dreams and his visage as its initial and eye-ball grabbing communication tactic. A quick research tells me that using PM’s photo in support of his visions and initiatives is entirely above board. Anyone can do it.

It is just that no one else could think it whereas Reliance went ahead and did it.

Simply put – it was brilliant, smart and creative thinking. So smart that it has left all of Jio’s competitors red-faced, wringing their hands and shaking their heads at their folly of not spotting the open opportunity for themselves.

From the customers’ perspective, Jio had a space in the consumer psyche even before the brand name was coined. The market was aware of the preparations the company had been making for the launch of its 4G services. And with the company being Reliance headed by Mukesh Ambani – the expectations of a game-changer offering were already high. And so Jio immediately imprinted itself on consumer psyche the moment it announced its low data charges, free telephony and such. An immediately subsequent and extremely unconventional advertising ensured that the brand imprint and brand recall became firmly entrenched in consumers’ mind.

This communication strategy has already become a must-read case study for advertising and PR professionals. The timing and the content of the campaign both together have contributed to all the brouhaha. A brouhaha which will see Jio laughing all the way to the bank loudly.

The Google of mobile telephony has risen – it is obvious the Yahoos and Rediffs of the same will feel the pain in the wrong place!!

Sisters can become brothers – Sakshi Malik proves this Raksha Bandhan! Will brothers become real brothers now?

Tradition has been reversed this Raksha Bandhan. A day where traditionally sisters all over India receive gifts from their brothers – Sakshi Malik has given the unforgettable gift of an Olympic medal to an entire nation of brothers and sisters.

India stands united in cheering the grit and strength of its mighty daughters & sisters like Sakshi Malik, Dipa Karmakar, P V Sindhu and others.

The girls of India have consistently been doing their country and families proud in almost all spheres of life, in the meanest of works in the worst of environments. Sakshi’s wrestling medal is proof.

But all this praise and regards is at best very transient in nature. It is like an ephemeral bubble – the recognition and respect vanishes with nary a puff of air when it comes to practising the same in our daily lives. An average Indian is quite apathetic to the sufferings their own mothers, daughters, sisters and wives go through almost on a daily basis. And we are downright cruel and shameless in our apathy towards women who are not our family. We, as a rule, fail to understand that men alone do not a society make. Women are our equal or mayhap even a tad better than us. After all, only a mother can give birth to us, never a father.

And that is why all this trumpet blowing and chest puffing with pride is meaningless in real terms. It is hypocrisy at its best. The pride we shower on our girl power on social media is nowhere near the concern and mercy we feel and show on our womenfolk. The bias which starts against a girl child even before her birth takes on humongous proportions as this girl progresses in life – that is if we are magnanimous enough to let her live in a first place. Else foeticide puts an end to that too. In the respect we show to our womenfolk lies our ultimate survival and salvation. Because we don’t know it yet – even they haven’t realised it yet – our girls and women can very well go it alone. Sakshi’s medal in wrestling on Raksha Bandhan day is just a small proof!!

E-commerce Boom in India – Will it last?

Recall the days gone by when Indians were introduced to the “Big saving days” or “Cheapest three days of the year” by big retail stores. Consumers were baited by the promise of cheaper everything – from grocery to shoes, from fashion to appliances. But over a period of years these same stores have either vanished or have (been forced to) changed their business model because of various reasons. Mounting debts has been one of the major factors for all kinds of business realignments, sell-offs, mergers, spin-offs – you name it – they’ve done it.

Cut to 2015 – Everywhere I turn, I see an Amir Khan asking me to shop on, a very confused Mr. Bachchan on and even a Shahrukh Khan taking a grocery delivery from I would be forgiven to think that e-commerce businesses are the most lucrative ventures and most profitable space to be in.

Déjà vu anyone?

Call of the rosy figures – e-commerce in India is still just taking off. Success stories are awe-inspiring. The numbers beckon more. It seems only about 10% of card holding Indians are shopping online. Then there is the COD option for the rest of millions of Indians not having a card. And millions don’t have online access yet but once they do it’s a realm less market – a marketer’s delight, an entrepreneur’s dream. And not to forget, we keep hearing and reading that deep pockets of investors and venture capitalists are just waiting for the next new idea.

So every aspiring entrepreneur with dollar signs in his eyes is jumping onto the ‘start-up’ bandwagon. The ‘start-up’ either promises to serve its customers in some unique way or is selling something – all online. Invariably, new businesses are online companies. So essentially there is no real wealth generation. Either the new age entrepreneurs are offering a service or are retail stores. Real wealth generation, so critical for an economy to grow and prosper has been sidelined from our entrepreneurs’ economic vision and consciousness.

We are thriving on e-commerce success stories.

Being an entrepreneur and running a profitable business is not an easy job. Having a profitable online business is all the more difficult. Online ventures very easily get into a vicious circle of self-destruction.

A business with physical presence takes loans/debts or funding / venture capital (do they even manage to attract VCs these days– I doubt) and invests it either in its product or its facilities or in expanding its physical reach.

What do online businesses do with their funds? Believe it or not, they spend it in providing subsidies to their customers.

How? Is the free delivery of products really free? No! Granted for the customer the delivery and return pick-up may be free but someone is bearing the cost of delivery! The logistics partner of an online retail store has to be paid. The e-commerce businesses often end up using their funds for paying their vendors or for managing daily cash flows.

Who is bearing the cost then? The investor or the VC or whoever is providing the funds.

Why? In the firm belief that the customer will be a returning customer and over a period the losses will be recouped and profits will be generated. In a monopoly, it would be true. But where there are tens of other similar online business offering similar products and services, customer loyalty is not assured. The customer was fickle, is fickle and will remain fickle for times to come.

The funds received by e-commerce businesses with much fanfare in millions of dollars (the numbers are never less than millions) is not used for strengthening business processes or for any real wealth generation. It is widely used for subsidies, discounts, day-to-day cash flows, undercutting the competition and soon a day comes when the funding cushion disappears.

Even revenue generation does not mean profits are accrued. A classic example of this scenario is the story of Taxi for Sure. TFS exhausted all its funds in underwriting the various costs it was incurring in offering competitive prices to the customers and had to sell eventually out to its competitor Ola. Note that even higher revenue/number of trips did not result in profits for the company.

Remember It successfully survived the dot-com bust of the early 2000s. But once it got trapped in the vicious circle of utilizing the investor funds for daily cash flow it folded up pretty soon for want of fresh infusion of funds.

Amazon is a world giant in online retailing. Many online businesses may have taken inspiration from Amazon. A quick google search reveals that despite being a giant, Amazon has never been a high margin/profit making company. Its business model is such. What is the probability that Amazon inspired online businesses may be following if not the same maybe a similar model? Quite high I believe!

That just doesn’t bode of a very rosy future for e-commerce players then, does it?

In many online businesses the systems and processes are just not in place. And then starts the often deceitful and such a tangled web of (shady) business operations where the promoter and vendors fill their pockets till the funds last. The inside story of Foodpanda in India makes an absorbing read in this instance.

Fundraising has become the raison d’etre for online businesses. And in the meantime hopes of entrepreneurs dreaming up of physical business ventures with solid business plans just wither and die for want of a fraction of funds the e-commerce companies raises.

But why do the investors keep on investing funds in ventures that do not have a profit generating business model in place? Do they not question the avenues and ask for business plans about where and how their funds would be put to use? Questions I would love to have answers to. Answers anyone?

Source: Data credit – Mint Newspaper

Digital India – Futuristic vision for an effective backward integration

There’s a new ‘start-up’ in town. And it’s the “big-brother” of all start-ups. Its scale is so vast and its vision so broad that the digital world big daddy, themselves a start-up at one time, are giving it a standing ovation. Modi Government’s ‘Digital India Initiative’ has the world IT czars up and applauding this futuristic vision.

With ‘Digital India,’ the government is envisioning multi-pronged benefits. Much has been written about them in detail. How it will contribute to education, health, information and communication. How it will generate more employment too. But as an ordinary Indian citizen who struggles to get the tiniest bit of movement from the gazetted officers and babus, there is one aspect of Digital India that excites me.

One of the main thrusts of the Digital India initiative is to provide and strengthen e-governance across sectors and services. E-governance will ensure easy access to and smooth delivery of government services to the citizens. Touts and middlemen plague too many of our government offices which in turn make them hubs of corruption and collusion. E-services will simply be the death knell for such middlemen. Case in the point is the success of e-application for passports, e-filing of taxes and automatic subsidy transfer. These e-services have made interaction with the respective departments much easier and systematic.

With wider e-services, the government is also looking to streamline its own and its officers’ working and modus operandi. Here is a government that is devising new and perhaps more efficient ways of being accountable to whom they serve. E-services would immediately bring all service providers under a relentless scanner that can provide useful and implementable directives for performance evaluation and reward. Could this then be the beginning of the end of rampant corruption in government ranks?

Many might argue that a country that is still struggling to provide basic amenities to all its citizens should focus on just that. But haven’t we been doing just that since independence. Perhaps this kind of futuristic vision, planning and backward integration will help us achieve what grassroots level focus has not!

Is the brand ‘Modi’ dying? Not yet!

Newsrooms across Indian media are passionately debating on a common topic these days.

The intention of the arguments bandied around seems to be sitting in judgement on whether the sheen is wearing off the brand ‘Modi’. It is being vociferously argued and creatively illustrated that neither is the said brand living up to the image it had projected a year ago nor is it delivering the promises it had made before its launch.

Let’s understand the making of brand ‘Modi’ first.

A state-level brand ‘Modi’ became a national and an international one almost overnight because of an absence of a healthy competition and due to a simmering disappointment with the existing alternative. The brand was perceived as better than the best not because his resume very carefully scrutinized but simply because he was better than the rest.

But just because the brand out-shined everyone else does not mean that it has some inherent magical powers. Any brand/project/plan/ scheme to work and deliver successfully needs time and combined efforts of all stakeholders.

A mere 70 odd weeks cannot improve (let alone rebuild) the state of a nation in solitude given its size. Even the God of Indian cricket took over a year to reach his 100th century, all the while without losing the support of all his worshippers.

A spate of reportings on half-truths and doubts renders more harm to any brand’s reputation than downright malignancies. Such items give enough opportunity to add in numerous negative sound bytes from empty nay-sayers to the rising nay- crescendo. A nay crescendo carries within itself great potential to propagate negative communication very efficiently.

If we have created the brand, it is now essential to support Modi not in words but in deeds as well as in spirit. Only then the brand will have a lasting legacy in the country.

All products and brands have their unique cycle of crest and trough that is imperative to its success. Larger than life expectations without letting the brand go through its journey is not conducive for its life span.

The keepers of the brand ‘Modi’ also need to understand that their twin tasks of the brand’s image management and keeping its reputation intact are now more crucial and imperative than it ever was. Being a new brand, Brand ‘Modi’ does not even have past glorious roots to hang on to either. The brand may seriously suffer in the long term in case a crisis develops anytime. How the brand managers manage the brand from here on will lay the path for eventual and lasting success of the brand.

Swachh Bharat: The Time is now!

We voted for him and expected him to leave us in peace for next 5 years. Isn’t that the way things have been done since my grandfather started voting?

But the new PM is refusing to let us hibernate even though a good half year has passed since we voted him to office. With his “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan”, Mr. Narendra Modi has us, our conscience and our imagination; all in his tight grasp.

If my memory serves correct (without overly relying on trusted search engines; so that I can speak from my heart) it is the first time in the history of independent India when the reigning government is seeking active participation of aam aadmi to successfully achieve a goal. The precedent has been that the government ideates, advertises, implements and executes all and any – big or sundry projects, schemes, yojnas, abhiyans, programmes. People in general have not been made a stakeholder in projects in any way other than as a beneficiary; then too only a minor one who is always at the mercy of officials.singa

For the first time the onus of success has been laid on our shoulders. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan exhorts us – “We, the people”, to break out of our eternal “Kumbhakaransque slumber” and be a part of nation building. For nations cannot be built by a person or party alone. It’s the aam aadmis’ real and active actions that build a nation. That’s exactly how we got independence. Remember “Non-cooperation Movement”” and “Quit India”. Just as these two, a successful Clean India movement is beneficial to each and every one of us. For once the PM and his party do not have a self-serving political agenda in asking the people to join hands towards a common cause. I aim to rise up to the challenge and be counted amongst the “We”.

Mr. Modi has shown us the way how to involve people and how to make sure that they keep being involved and how to keep the hysteria alive too. The PM wielding a broom makes for an awesome photo-op and copy for a day’s news.

And his actions followed up with similar actions by a sportsperson here, an industrialist there, a sprinkle of Bollywood celebrities, cast of a popular tele-serial, few politicians are keeping the mass media interested enough to keep getting their regular photo-op and enough catalyst to keep the twitteratti twittering and the chatteratti chatting. If at the end
of each photo-op a bit of India is left clean, the day’s work is done.

If all the branding and advertising with cleanliness as their taglines pushes us to step out of our personal clean havens (read Homes) and ‘unlitter’ one pavement, the day’s work is done.
All the twittering and chatting should eventually translate into a Domino effect and push the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan to all corners of the country to clean up India bit by bit, road by road, area by area and change our mind-set person by person.

For now a whole gamut of entities from corporates to brands, from individuals to groups are adopting the Swachh mantra. And how to make it everlasting? Well! I am no celebrity so I won’t wait for an invitation.I am grabbing my broom and heading out to make my bit of India clean!

Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS in India – Seriously!?

The Ice Bucket Challenge is a huge success. TIME magazine has reported that the ALS Association has raised more than $50 million in less than a month since the challenge went viral.
More power to social media!
A power that we Indians are exercising best as a mindless imitation of the west with nary a thought to whether the Ice Bucket Challenge even has any meaning for us.icebucket
In a country where thousands of women still trudge tens of kilometres every day for a pot full of drinking water – we are wasting bucketsful of water.
In a country where innumerable villages are still to experience the magic of electricity we are wasting valuable energy in cooling water and churning ice simply to dunk it over our heads for no consequence.
In a country which is still battling the dreaded Tuberculosis (TB); its elite (read celebrities) are championing a “technically orphan disease” of a land far away.
The killer TB affects 2 to 3 million Indians. We are dunking ourselves for a disease which affects about 30000 Americans. All in a good cause – yes – but at what cost and to what long-lasting effect?
A week later ALS will revert to ASL (age/sex/location).
We are so adept at aping the west mindlessly.
Nobody – neither we nor our revered celebrities – paused to give a thought to the relevance of the act.
How many of us have signed up to donate our eyes after death? It doesn’t even cost anything. The eyes are so useless to us once we are dead? Can we have a round of social challenge espousing this cause?
We are one of the biggest users of social media platforms like Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter etc. We can very well channelize our creativity, our energy and our celebrity endorsements to a cause closer to home in a manner where maximum benefit can be derived with the least wastage of essential resources.
And of course make it as thrilling as a rollercoaster ride!

A good time to bend it like Beckham!

The FIFA world cup is now climaxing … the big ‘O’ just hours away!

But who ever got the ‘O’ easily?! For this nirvana, your obeisance and penance should be consummate.

Yes, we have no personal or national stake in the tournament. Yes, we have been free to worship individual heroes or root for the underdog. Ah! Colombia.

But there have been upsets and tears, trials and tribulations. Of course the hurrahs and yahoos also have been renting the air. A self-respecting true football fan has been tested to his/her limits to the extreme.

We have witnessed the fall of the mighty. We have mourned the demise of heroes. We have borne the brunt of injuries. We have learnt to worship the rising stars. We have wished adios to 30 – odd favourite jerseys. My favourite yellow t-shirt is now fit only for a floor mop. Sob!

And not to forget the bleary-eyed, wan-faced persona we have been carrying around in the mornings. (Was that my client calling? Its ok I’ll call him after my 40 winks). The extra calories we have happily munched on in deference to the late night matches. And the credit card is bursting with the pub bills.

In other words if you have been flaunting the psychosomatic condition – footie fever – for the last month or so, you qualify as a true football fan.

And the elusive big ‘O’? Go ahead. Seize the day. Carpe Diem!

So what if your favourite jersey is out of the field. Follow the wise. The wise have changed their Facebook profile pictures from colours yellow-green, orange and red to white, blue and black. (like me from Spain to Brazil to Argentina – whoever is winning!
Learn from the enlightened ones. The enlightened ones tread the ‘in-denial’ path. Vehemently deny you ever supported Spain (who?) and tiki-taka (what?) or Brazil (whoa! Never). My favourite colour has always been White. There’s even a choice on offer. Take your pick from White with Blue or White with Orange/Black.
And the sagely ones like my wife Sylvia – well she has always believed in a good round of the game. It’s the performances and the sportsmanship that matters. Come July 13, Zen like, thousands of Brazilian ticket holders will be cheering for their arch rivals or their arch rivals. Won’t they?

Fashionable disease of the month – Footie fever!

Dust is still afloat at the Eden Garden grounds post IPL celebrations. Modi is still to complete a month in office.

But they already are a forgotten lot. Dynamic lot that we are, we have moved on to our next euphoria. Even as the FIFA world-cup kicks off we, the normally cricket-crazy people, have embraced the football mania with a frenzy.

The skinny kid from the neighbourhood –his cricket ball is always a pain – is dribbling dangerously around my car with a bigger ammunition – the football.

My “doodhwala” is already on to his second football t-shirt. Having already ditched German white he’s currently sporting Argentine colours.

Fuleco has the pride of place on the desks of the young (pretty) ‘uns in office. Armadillos have replaced Chihuahuas for the time being.

And as for the not so pretty young ‘uns – the discussion is on about the football stars’ tattoos and their WAGs. Bets are on who will get the golden boot.

The auntyjis on the treadmill in the gym are discussing jersey colors while the fit ones are discussing abs and pecs of assorted names.

The reclusive teenage nephew is beating the shit out of Brazil and Neymar on his android phone.

Yesterday the autoguy played Vengaboyz’s “Brazil” n Shakira’s “Waka waka” on auto rewind mode for the entire 35 minute trip.

Wifey cooked some gooey dalia concoction today morning and said this is a special dish Messi Messi.

Of course restaurants, pubs, advertisers and the boy selling memorabilia at traffic junction have all jumped on to this marketing bandwagon.

Football fever is all around me. We don’t have any national or personal stake in this global event so we have freedom to choose our idols. It is absolutely ok to cheer for Brazil and for Ronaldo in the same sentence.

We have found our reason to party for the next month or so.

The fever has gripped me too. Only I am not sure whom to cheer for Lionel or Messi –you see I love them both!

For a truly Mubarak Eid!

Will the miracle baby Shayma Shiekh al-Eid herald a long awaited peace in the Gaza region? By the latest news reports it doesn’t look like it. Israel and Gaza continue to pound each other even as I pen these words.


God’s ways are baffling then. Towards what purpose did God almighty bring this tiny creature alive and kicking in this world from a dead mother’s womb? Has God granted her life only to snatch it away in a few days? After all more children and civilians seem to be bearing the brunt of Israeli fire than the so called terrorists.

But then it is not the merciful almighty who is pounding the Middle-east with untold miseries.

God gave us a beautiful undivided – unbounded – unfettered Earth to be enjoyed, nurtured and cherished. It’s we humans who have made it a habit to draw lines of blood across the very face of our mother Earth.

First we draw lines in blood and then we spill more blood fighting over those lines. Lines which will either vanish or get replaced by new bloody lines in a few hundred years. Where are lines that marked the ancient empires of Assyrians, Babylonians, Byzantine and Ottomans? Each of these empires and many more have coveted and occupied the land under contention at different times. The empires have vanished and the lines have been redrawn in blood many times over.

We humans, specifically the fighting Israelis and Gazans, have forgotten that nothing that man makes lasts forever. Only what God creates is supreme and is blessed to last till eternity. And while the men are busy fighting it’s the humans who are suffering. Women, kids, innocent civilians are being mercilessly butchered but towards what end – towards the idea of an empire which can at best be described as transient. No amount or duration of bloodshed has ever made any victor eternal.

Then if there is no chance to be God or God-like, what right do the warring sides have to fight over which isn’t theirs in the first place? What right do they have to snatch away baby Shayma’s precious life which is a special gift from God himself? Baby Shayma has as much right as any other child to grow and spread her wings in a peaceful surrounding.