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Co Creating Value with your customer. How a Saloon can use social media to build its brand reputation

21 Apr

I was waiting for my turn for a haircut at the regular saloon shop when I started talking to the guy in charge also who happened to be the brother of the owner. We were discussing latest mobile phones, laptops, fitness etc,When I asked him – “Is that computer connected to net?” He replied with an affirmative.  I asked him if his saloon had a website or a facebook fanpage or an orkut community group.  No, his saloon did not have any online presence.

So I ask him – “How many branches you have in this city”.

Reply: 12 branches in Chennai. 3 in Coimbatore.

“What kind of customers do you get here? Age group? “, I ask.

Reply:  Customers come in all age groups.Male and female.

I understand from the cost of basic haircut that the shop reaches out to middle and upper class.

I tell him – Guess what? I can help you expand your business. Grow your customer base, improve sales and more importantly build brand loyalty which will generate word of mouth.  And you don’t have to spend tons of money. Are you interested?

Reply: Absolutely…

I became a Social Media Consultant for him.

Here are the points I discussed with branch head. Maybe you can use it too…

Website:

Start with a simple website. Simple content should suffice. Don’t worry about SEO and SEM. You don’t need that here. First, cover the basics:

About the company, who owns the company, History of the company, what are the services you are offering, prices for each of your services, meet the barber

Let us focus on 2 features:  Services offered and Meet the Barber page

Services offered will have different hairstyles with pictures for the customer to identify each hairstyle. Also, why not a video testimonial of a satisfied customer? Host the video testimonials to a youtube page which will have other similar customers giving you 3 min testi of your services.

Meet Ur Barber Page: Will have the name and profile of the barbers you employ with ratings section. Your customers can rate the barber in an open transparent system. Every month the barber who gets the maximum ratings gets incentive. Thus, you also build morale and a healthy competition which in turn will improve productivity.

The website can also have a page dedicated to latest hairstyle in vogue. Your customers can chose the hairstyle, get the name and when they visit you next time, then can mention the name and get it done.

Let your website also have a space for your customers to submit ideas. This is your UGC (user generated content). This is important. UGC has power. Give your customers power and give them platform to share. That is why you need…

Facebook  Fanpage :

Your facebook fanpage should be integrated to your website so that your customers can connect and collaborate with each other online. Here are the things you can do:

–      Post pics of latest bollywood, Hollywood heros and heroines with their latest haircut. Ask questions and generate interactivity with fans.

Eg: Post in your fanpage wall – Check out Brad Pitt’s latest hairstyle ( post the pic). Kool huh? Who wants this hairstyle? The first 10 people, who wanna have this haircut, comment here and get 10% off.

Or,

Eg : kareena latest haircut ( post the pic) . You can get it done at any of our branches. Just drop a mail with your details to fix an appointment.

Or,

Eg : Our new facial for summer is out. It’s a blend of (this and that). The first 10 who post a comment here get 30% off on this new natural facial.

–      Post videos of your customers in youtube and pull it to fanpage

–      Offer tips on grooming

–      Offer sneak peak and special discounts exclusive to online customers

–      Ask your customers to directly post pics or videos of their fav good/bad hair moment

–      Invite your customers/fans to post ideas, seek advice on hairstyles, good hair maintainance tips etc…

All this will go in building a good brand name and generate word of mouth buzz.

Twitter:

Twitter should be next in agenda. Use the content which you have and post it to twitter. Today, loads of Indians have twitter handle, why not connect with them?

Twitter is important because Search Engines now give importance to social media feeds.

Use blogs: Start a corporate blog. Comment on other blogs which has content on grooming, facials, hairstyles etc…

Write to online local/citi portals to feature you.

There are huge load of things you can do with social media.

( if the reader of this post wants to discuss more ideas, get in touch)

The branch Head then had a big question for me:

“Vikas, how to bring fans or bring customers to facebook fanpage?”

Answer:

Simple! From now, every time you give a bill to a customer, ask him for his name and number, mail id, and ask if he has a facebook, twitter or a blog presence .

Then tell him, this – Sir, we have a facebook fanpage and we have plans to have a website, may I invite you there? Is it ok if I send you an email invitation? You can also give us your ideas on what and how the website should be

If the customer agrees, then later send him a mail. This is Permission Marketing. You are not blasting spam; you are asking the customer his permission.

This is social media at its best and the customer will appreciate it.

Crowd sourcing:

The saloon has all sorts of customers who use their services. Why not run a contest inviting web designs? The best web design will become the official web design and the guy/gal who wins get 3 haircuts free with the name featured in the website.

Some of you who read this may argue , why is that I am going to such lengths in discussing social media for a saloon.

You are obviously missing the point.

The point is – Social Media is not confined to big brands. Social Media is sometime best suited and most effective for small business owners who wanna build big brands.

I am always open to crtizism or better ideas.

You can tweet me @spartanvikas

If you like my post, may I request you to share it in twitter, facebook or Delicious?

Dedication :

I would like to dedicate this post to C.K Prahalad, the pioneer behind the idea of Co Creating Value with the customer. He inspires me to give the best I can give to my customers.

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1:9:90 Theory of Online Brand Marketing

21 Feb

I was reading a newspaper today when I came across the idea on the 1:9:90 Theory. Not sure who was saying this in the newspaper but I am definitely not going to claim that this theory is mine. I am only going look at it a bit deeper.

The 1:9:90 Theory is simple to understand, profound in thought and difficult to implement. But thou shall reap immense rewards if you execute it.

The Theory says:  Among your consumer group (or target audience if you will):

  • 1 % should create content
  • The content created by the 1 % should engage 9% of your audience and convert them to Brand Evangelist or to use the Facebook phraseology – Fans.
  • This 9% of brand evangelist should then take the content, connect and collaborate with 90% of your target group. Of course, the 90% who will absorb the content is important but marketers in the online space would do great by focusing on finding the 1 % content creators.

These content creators are what, if I may borrow Seth Godin’s terminology –  Tribes.

Find the Tribe:

Seth Godin in his remarkable book Tribes talks about how it is important to find and engage the members of a  Tribe. The Tribe are your diehard fans. He/she is the one who will do what it takes to get and use your product/service ignoring all others in the market. All you ought to do is make space for your fans/core consumers to create content. Democratize your company. Give them the tools. Let them create content. All you have to do is channelize the tribe by being the Leader.

Let the fans create the content, find and touch base with the 9% of the brand evangelists who in turn will share the content with 90% of your target audience.

Your job is to basically find the content creators.

And it isn’t an easy job. But it is definitely better and more effective than creating million dollar advertisements targeting everyone out there and praying to Almighty that someone watches the ads and respond to it.

Finding loyal fans and content creators is tough but it is long lasting, just like true love. Finding true love is not an easy job. But when you find it, engage with that person, nourish the relationship; it becomes bliss and long lasting.

It was exactly this point Geoffrey Moore was trying to tell us in his seminal book Crossing The Chasm.  The book is all about the importance of Early Adopters of technology.

Find the Early Adopters.  Give them the importance they deserve. Give them the tools through which they can play with your product/service. Show them how you value their passion for your products. Then politely ask them to create content for you. Ask them nice and be honest about it and guess what? They will give you the content. And since they are doing it out of passion and love for the product and not you, you will get great viral content.

The word Viral is important. It is word of mouth. It is something you will get by Co-creating value with your customers as C.K Prahald articulate in his books.

Building Brands Online:

Today it is far easier and better to build brands online than using traditional media. It is easier because online activities can help you engage with your audience. It is measurable and accountable.

More importantly it can be used to target the your real serious customers than every tom,dick and harry ( no pun intended of course). When you launch focused advertisements or campaigns the reach is better, ads can be tweaked, mistakes can be made so that old rules are broken and new lessons learnt.

Simply put: The status quo can be challenged.

When you do that, you somehow will manage to create The Purple Cow (I love Seth for what he stands for  … you ought to read his blog). From then on use innovation to sustain and feed the Purple Cow

Digital Marketing Agencies:

The agencies of tomorrow should not be stand alone Advertising and Public Relations companies. Instead they should become an Integrated Digital Solutions companies which should have core team of people who can come with digital strategies and how to use such tools (like me … lol) and people who can create engaging content ( not necessarily award winning creative’s) and solid tech cum web team who can implement your communication ideas in the most optimized way.

Read this awesome blog by Seth Godin on Viral Growth to understand on how important it is to connect with core fans and creating great content

An open letter to HBR team

1 Jan

To,

India Today Group and the HBR team

Extremely sad and shocked at the increase of the price of HBR from Rs.500 to Rs.750! Not sure why this suddenly increase in price. Is it cos of the new design or because it is a double issue or it is New Year?

What is the point in making the new design more accessible to reading when you are making the magazine less accessible for people to buy?

As long as the price was at Rs.500 I used to eagerly wait for the magazine to come out. Cos Rs.500 for me was an opportunity cost in financial planning. Rs.500 was a sacrifice I made for a movie outing with my finance. I used to think – even if I missed a movie with her, that’s fine! I get to read HBR management stuff. She understood.

Now, I can’t give her that reason. I can’t tell her that I sacrificed my time with her for a book which cost Rs.750.

What about the rest of us? What about new managers climbing the corporate ladder who may not have big salary but have big dreams and want to learn management ideas and thoughts from icons of HBR but cant because of the increase in price. Others may get access to HBR cos their HR would be good enough to buy it for them in office. Student’s studying MBA may get access to it from the coll library.

So what happens to the rest of us? Are we to be denied the pleasure of reading HBR?

The Entrepreneur (India edition) is Rs.100. that makes sense. That makes big sense to buy. And the content is good. Not as classy as HBR but good nonetheless.

So here is my big question: Why on earth did you guys raise the price back to Rs. 750?

If you are charging HBR print edition so much, why not give free online access to your articles and archives?

You know what is even more sad? Me not buying HBR won’t make any difference to you. It won’t cause a dent in your brand, sales or the policy you follow.

But hopefully there ought to be more ppl like me out there who will read this blog, nod their head and voice out their concerns as well… That may probably be a wake up call for you guys to rethink your pricing strategy in India.

A Dejetced Big Fan!

Sri Vikas

The top 12 books on Innovation and Design by Business Week

19 Dec

Here it is … Finally , we have the list of top 12 books on Innovation and Design for 2008 .

Business Week has a great list here, but has missed out on 2-3 books which could have made it to the list.

Read it here Best Innovation & Design Books of 2008

I have read three of the books in the list-

The Game Changer by Ram Charan and A.G Lafley

The Age of Innovation by C.K Prahalad and M.S Krishnan

The Back of the Napkin by Don  Roam

Want to read :

Groundswell  by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff

Book that should have made to the list :

The New rules of Marketing and PR by David Scott

Tribes by Seth Godin

Share your thoughts and your list… would love to have opinions here

How the Rs 10 soup selling gal gets its right and Satyam doesn’t on customer service

19 Dec

The race to MBA degree is mind boggling. In India especially, it is craze sometimes rivaled only to cricket. You can see it for yourself the hordes of mba wanna- be’s and the media coverage peak during the Nov-Jan season every year. What a spectacle to watch . Almost every magazine worth its salt come out with b-school suvery giving a list a top 50 colleges “you should study at ” . Some even bring out a separate book to cash in on the boom. And, hey .. don’t count me out.. I am in the race too .

A degree in MBA teaches you to understand cash flow statements, how to come up with great marketing ideas and all that jazz. But I wonder how did Shankari ,a 1 st year B.com student from a low rung women college get great ideas on marketing and customer service.

Let me give you the story first .

I love soup and for having that one or two cups of it  I go all the way to Ananna Nagar park where this guy sells really mouth watering , pipping hot soup ( completely natural ) at Rs 6 per cup. He has good stuff. You have to give him that credit !

These days( 3 months approx) ,  I drink soup from one of the Fresh retail outlets i visit. The soup is sold in small kiosks at Rs 10 per cup. You would have seen similar kiosks selling sweet corns and popcorn’s at a retail store near to your house. Small enterprising men/women take franchise contracts from the company which sells these products , then pay rent to the retail store and put up a kiosk outside and sell it. Great business idea . Has the ideal ingredient of entrepreneurship, job and wealth creation and good products to customers at affordable rates.

Now, getting back to the story . Shankari is a 1st year student studying for B.com at W omen’s College. She sits at the kiosk every evening with a book in hand selling Rs. 1o per cup soups. I have options to chose as well – Tomato, Plantain, Mushroom, Vegetable. For reasons unknown to myself I always buy Plantain or Mushroom. I knew what I was  buying but never gave it much thought to it. I just go up ask  , say , Monday it is plantain soup , Tuesday it is Mushroom. It is cyclic.Till the day – about  3 weeks back – shankari popped the question at me , ” Sir, why do you always buy Mushroom and Plantain soup, why don’t you ever try Tomato and Vegetable?” …

I dint know what to tell her. I muttered and gave some lame answer about my preference for mushroom and not liking tomato taste and stuff.. the next question caught me by surprise.

“Sir , other than mushroom and plantain, what other variety you like ?” ..

I gave her my options. And then asked what is she gonna do about it . She said , ” I will ask my brother to check if the company can give us the soup of your choice” ..

That bowled me out completely . Why did she bother to find out what my taste are ? why didn’t she just sell the soup at Rs 10 and continue to sit and study with that book in her hand ? why ? why ?

Normally, unless you pack it to your house, one drinks the soup standing there right next to Kiosk. There are 2 advantages to it – One , the soup remains hot and two you get extra corn as second helpings. I love the corn which comes with the soup , so I stand there and finish the soup then drop it in the dustbin and go back home.

That day,  while I was standing there drinking the soup ( I was drinking vegetable soup with lots of pepper. I had cold and shankari said drinking that soup with lots of pepper helps) she was asking the same question to lts of other customers of hers. Not every one. But a lot of them . Similar questions . In her own ingenious way she was conducting a survey. Maybe she realized what she was doing . Maybe she dint. That is not the point. She was proactive. She tried to understand her customer.

Later when i asked why she only asked the questions to a select few customers , she replies , ” They are my regular customers” ..

I felt privileged that day to  be a customer of hers.

Her brother has taken the franchise contract from the parent company. While she sits at the fresh outlet , her bro is doing the same thing some other part of the city.

I wonder if  she had read any of those management books? did  she read “The New Age of Innovation: Driving C0-Created Value through Global Networks” by C.K Prahalad on how to serve customized products to a customer in a collaborative environment with the N=1 , R= G rule ? How did she get this idea what a Univerity of Michigan Author did after much research ?

By the way, The New Age of Innovation has made it to the top 12 books on innovation given out by Business Week.

Read it here :  Best Innovation & Design Books 2008

But how come Stayam Computers dint get it right ?

The big fiasco of merger/buying Mayatas infra and properties which caused ripple of appalling magnitude among the investors across the table is there for everyone to see.

I read somewhere that the ISB’s dean was also part of the board which took the decision to buy out the two companies ( run by Ramalinga raju son’s). I am no authority to question the merit of the proposed buyout. Nor am I an investor. As a rule i don’t directly invest in Sensex. No speculative, sentiment prone gambling for me..No Sir.

But what I would like to know is how come such highly educated ,the creme-la-de creme managers and CEO and CFO of the company dint have the inclination to ask its investors and clients their opinion before taking such a decision? How come the MBA’s of IIM and MDI and blah blah dint know the tenets of customer service when such a proposal was mooted in the first place?

But man, what a PR and Corp Comm nightmare they should be having right now ? I cant but feel sorry for the guy who is handling the company’s PR account. He must be literally running pillar to post to get things “done” . The green horns must be having a great time in learning the art of crisis management. what better case study can they get .. ?

By the way , I loved the new Idea Cellular ad . About asking the people first before taking a political decision. The creative guy and the copywriter deserve full marks for the new ad . The previous ads were highly creative but not practical . The new one is very creative, very practical and got the execution right . kool Ad huh ?

IBM has a great caption going for its print ads – “STOP selling what you have and Start selling what they want”. Now, they get it .. Bingo ..

You get the drift ?


About time we looked at Rural India !

16 Dec

My uncle wanted to know if I was preparing for IIM exams ( notice that he dint ask me Cat or Xat but IIM) i dint have much to answer him except that , ” No, I am not interested in IIM’s or XLRI’s or any of the so called top colleges” … he gave me the incredulous look that you would have have when you hear that “Kumari” Mayawati has become the PM of our country.

And so when he asked me what my future plans were . I had to give him the truth . I told him though i am in the advertising field I would like to explore opportunities in Rural or Health care/fitness marketing . I also told him that 5-10 years down the lane I would like to specialize in marketing/branding for rural areas and start a non-profit company.I am very passionate about using the tools and knowledge of marketing and integrated PR in Health care/fitness Industry or Rural Marketing.

He gave me that OK-i-don’t-get-your-stupid idea look with a you-aint-gonna-go anywhere – with-that kinda nod and changed the topic. But not before it got me thinking about , ” why not rural India ?” .

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Have you guys read the phenomenal book ” Fortune At the Bottom Of The Pyramid” by C.K Prahalad? If you haven’t yet .. then run to your library or better still buy yourself a copy of the book and  read it . Now is the right time to read the book. As global recession is going south bound and no one has a clue to what to do next .. here is the book which will give answers to the big MNC ‘s and entrepreneurs alike .

(This is not a book review. As a personal principle , I don’t write reviews. I recommend books to my friends but i never give them  a review of the books I read. Who am i to take a judgment call on another man’s work ?)

Getting back to the crux of the post and in conjunction to blog title , I think multinational companies in India and abroad should start looking at reaching out to rural cities/villages to stay afloat during recession. Or prevent another recession in the future.

Most SME’s and MNC’s ignore rural areas because they believe that people in such cities/villages have no buying power. They are considered poor by most global standards. But, that is exactly why we need to see them in a completely different perspective . C.K Prahald challenges the myth that considers poor people as poor when they are not . He quotes the work of Hernando De Soto’s book “The Mystery of Capital” which postulates that poor countries ; people from rural areas are not really that poor. They are often asset-rich and capital -poor. To quote from the book , ” Assets cannot become capital unless the country guarantees a rule of law- primarily the law of contracts – whereby the ownership of assets is clear….. For example, he ( Mr Hernando Soto) estimated that the trapped resources of Mexico are about $ 300 Billion” .

That is a phenomenal number! Imagine what potential can India have when 80% of India’s population in the Bottom of The Pyramid (BOP) slab will be able to quantify ? This 80% currently accounts for 67% of the current consumption. Aint that an awesome information to behold ? India is quite simply and easily one of THE  richest nations in the world and all that potential waiting to be  tapped and unearthed. We should be doing that now!

The Big Idea ? If MNC’s and SME’s ( Small and Medium Enterprises ) can come up with innovative, cost effective and customized products for the rural markets we would unleash a massive wave of marketing and innovation revolution in India. This would also force goverment to work with private companies to set up better infrastructure, proper health care and free education.

Here are my thoughts on a macro scale where we can make some mega changes in this sector :

Not just 4 metros : Metros are so termed because of the huge population and infrastructure growth. I suggest the state govt with the center remove the metros tag altogether. metros means metropolis. Taking TN as an example, let there me more metros in TN alone. Identify and improve those cities . say – Trichi, Coimbatore, Erode..etc .This idea can also be reflected in other states ..

Infrastructure : Have you been noticing that the number of cars in Chennai increasing  and really pissing you off ? Ever wondered why ?The answer is obvious, the middle class are getting prosperous and buying new/more cars. But why only chennai ( and other metro cities across the country) city alone? Because every year, of the lacs of engineers,diploma holders who pass out of universities come to cities like Chennai to work. Because MNC ‘s are well entrenched in metros. Simply put – they seek out better job opportunities and enhanced standard of living. Why not give these Young Turks opportunities in their home cities? Why not prevent them from migrating to the cities? Instead provide opportunities in their native places.

Young Turks : Have better local knowledge: These Young Turks ( as i would like to call them) can be better exploited or rather groomed by companies as they will have better working knowledge of the people in their area. Give them proper training and they will reward you with a better perspective on marketing, product development and sales, much better than IIM grads. And hey, you don’t have to pay top dollars for these turks . Pay them not with just good salaries but show them how they are contributing to their society through the company and you would even reduce attrition rates. Make them not – sales executive and stop their career growth. Give them titles like – Sales Manager or Marketing Manager of the area.. This will usher in sense of ownership as well. Unlike high funda grads these guys are more loyal to companies than most.

Streamline these grads – take care of them : Assign a experienced mentor and segregate these grads to become experts in Rural Management,Micro Finance, market research,rural marketing etc , step up teams and send them out to the field to visit the villages . Make the job profile exiting.A team can consist of 1 rural management expert– he will evaluate and micro manage, 2 market research experts– 2nos because this involves number crunching , 1 micro finance guy – who will identify how and how much loan to provide and 1 marketing expert – he will conduct survey and collect customer info and come up with ideas on marketing. The marketing guy with the rural managementguy can work on business development and sales. 5 in a team for one area/district, as necessary. 20-50 teams can be supervised by a General Manager . 10 General Managers can come under one Head . 5 Heads will report to Vice -President Operations of that Area – say South Market .. etc ..

And when they are out in the field- in villages and rural cities  for days – give them the sense of security that their families are taken care of when they are not around. You will  see ever lasting commitments to the parent company from these guys. Indians from rural cities give more value to relationships and sentiments than money and luxury.

Teach them to be innovative : Pick the latest copy of Businesswold. You will read the cover article about “The Real Nation builders”. They are not from IIM’s or IIT’s . what i am trying to convey here is if you can teach grads from rural areas to be innovative they will bring in results. They will give you great ideas . The MNC only has to identify the right idea , ideate on it , strategize and implement them. There you may need the IIM and XLRI graduated guys with Mckensiey background to do the work.

Use technology : The best software is not good enough if it cant deliver. India is already a tech/software giant. Software companies can then join hands  with services companies and launch customized products in rural areas and benefit from that .

You don’t have to depend too much on global money when it is right there to be taken from our backyard.

Rural India is a gold mine waiting to be tapped.  MNC companies wont just rake in profits but also built a nation in its truest form. All they need to do is understand customer demographic profile clearly and launch products according to them.

Welcome your thoughts and ideas on this .. If you like what you read here.. spread the word around and would love discuss more of the same- here in my blog.

Further reading from Economic Times :

Rural spend,housing to rescue growth