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Monday, November 12, 2018

Creating WOW-making Services Businesses


Often we see debates on whether Product Marketing and Services Marketing is same of entirely different. While they share many thoughts, I believe services marketing is essentially heavily dependent on how the services is managed -- how you manage your services is how you market or build the brand for your service.

The Gap Model

This is perhaps THE framework when it comes to services management. Proposed by Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry in 1980's, this model continues to derive its relevance even today. The beauty of this framework is that it opens our eyes of how various organizational functions play their role. For example, the gap between expected services and perceived services (customer gap) is all about how we manage the expectations. Marketing communications play a very important role in this. The role a market research department can play in the overall service design is enormous. It is also interesting to understand how other organizational functions like front line executives, project management executives play a role in how close a firm delivers the services when compared to the expected services. One more common-sensical derivation out of this model is the importance of communications – both internal and external.

Employees as the brand ambassadors

The concept of ‘all-in-the-organization-should-embrace-service-quality’ is keen in a highly successful services business. If you have attended any training on corporate values, you would have come across an exercise to define your role as
At XYZ, my job is to…’
For an employer, this helps to set the vision and mission imbibed in its employees' mind. Also, this helps in making the employees part of the team and co-own the quality of services it provides to the customer. It not only opens our mind-set, but also shows the shortcomings and changes need to be in place. The importance of ‘point of view’ is the key factor here. Some of the aspects discussed during classes like, job rotation, including service delivery quality and customer satisfaction in every one’s key performance indicators are practical ideas to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of service design and delivery. Commitment from top management as in the case of other functional strategies is equally important in the case of service delivery too. The role of internal marketing and buy-in from all stakeholders is ever more important in running a successful service business. Here is a great example of how this is achieved in Cold Stone Creamery


The role of support organization

I believe combining services and products is still the practical way to achieving customer delight. The importance given to services and support holds more importance and can drive the business. However it should not be taken to an extend that it is taken as a negative factor – for example I have seen some software product based companies providing products at a cheaper rate and milking the customer in the name of after sales support and services. Customers will take this direction in the right sense as long as the services provided are genuine and value for money. We often see mockery of customer satisfaction surveys done in companies.
Another challenge is the result of average ratings. It’s a human nature to give an average rating in surveys instead of moving towards extremes. To manage this, options like open questions need to be utilized. For example, – ‘What improvement or addition in our service will encourage you to provide a higher rating than provided?’ The next key step to build an amazing services organization is to share the feedback results across the organization. Responsibilities for the lower ratings need to be shared and co-owned across teams; often what we see if the survey results don't pass down the line. Technology enables us to also collect feedback from multiple channels; an organization should judiciously make use of this as well.

Though we talk about 7Ps in Services Marketing, there is an eight P that we need to be careful about -- People and Promise; tools like moments of truth aid in this. Finally, designing the service effectively is the core to success. Tools like service blue printing provides interesting and insightful thoughts on designing a service. For example, have a look at the blueprint created for a clinic using the Service Design tools.

What do you think are the three key ingredients to have a successful services business?

Friday, November 9, 2018

Journey of Bru Coffee through its commercials


Continuing from the discussion we had about the evolution journey of Surf Excel through its commercials; today we will quickly breeze through another brand - Bru Coffee. Bru Instant Coffee product line is yet another successful brand from Hindustan Unilever in India for decades.

Brief History of Bru Coffee

A nice and interactive timeline of Bru is provided in their website. HUL launched its coffee powder under the name Brooke Bond Green Label in 1962. India being a tea nation; at that time perhaps this was the first branded entry by any company into coffee market. This could be the reason why HUL extended the brand of Brook Bond which is the famous tea brand name. The instant coffee market was perhaps born in 1968 with Bru Instant. Since then, Bru product line has seen new introduction, re-branding and pruning of variants. As of today, Bru Coffee is available in for four variants - Bru Gold, Bru Instant, Bru Select and Bru Roast & Ground

Association with filter coffee

I couldn't find any commercials from the seventies for Bru. If you find any, please do share; it will be interesting to watch those advertisements. The oldest Bru ad I could find on the internet is one from late eighties. During the earlier commercials, Bru used the comparison approach (stereotype to create an association in consumer behavior vocabulary) to attract those drinking filter coffee. At that time, coffee was the dominant hot drink perhaps only in the southern part of India. And filter coffee in particular used to be THE choice. So this association was needed during the initial days. Another close association the ad is trying to make is its connection with the traditions of South India (both in terms of visuals and voice overs).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e0-eOJyhM50

Transition to its own category of instant coffee

Association with filter coffee continued for may be about the entire nineties. Check out the Malayalam Ad. If we forward a bit, the feature based themes were also used in the advertisements. For example, watch the below ad which focuses on how tasty Bru is. The entire voice over goes through new taste and aroma. This is perhaps the transition phase of moving away from the association with filter coffee and of being its own product category. Here is a pan India ad in Hindi that showcases both these themes.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LdRtXoS1t_w

Moving towards slice-of-life themes

Fast forward to 2000's, the brand started using slice-of-life themes with subtle indications of aroma and taste of the coffee. One interesting piece that is clearly evident from the ads during these period is the careful selection of life sequences and target segment -- Young middle class with aspirations. For example, watch the below ad which showcases a new generation daughter trying to introduce to her father, her boy-friend. Though the daughter is not able to put forth the idea of having a meeting; father understand about it after drinking a cup of Coffee. The key ingredient to the success of this campaign is two-fold. Firstly, it gels well with the target audience and secondly the shoot is perfect. For example, all aspects like whether showcasing the brand name, packaging or ingredients of the Coffee is executed perfectly. Earlier theme aspects like aroma and taste are subtly included in the pictuarization.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=448mx762l0I

Happiness Begins with Bru!

A campaign that gave the brand a big boost is the Happiness Begins with Bru. The first commercial in this sequence was again a slice-of-life theme showcasing a day of a young couple; wife announcing that she is pregnant symbolically by giving a small cup of Bru to her husband. Have a watch of the ad. Once again all aspects of the brand is well captured in the video - be the subtlety used for aroma, packaging, taste etc. or the connection with its target audience.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dzm23U7GGRc
The brand has continued with a similar theme of 'with-bru-comes-a-good-mood' commercials (Ek Cup Bru Aur Mood Ban Jayae). Once again the target segment is kept well under consideration. One sequence showcases a wife having a bad day; yet giving her husband a cup of coffee. After taking a sip and mesmerized by the taste; the husband tries to calm her down by giving a foot massage!). The second sequence follows a similar path of showcasing a young couple's day in which the husband dedicates a song in radio for his wife after having the Bru coffee.

Jingles and Humor

The motivator behind this blog post is one of their long running commercials. One day, I noticed my wife inadvertently singing the jingle while making coffee/during discussions. The ad is the one showcasing 'yet another young couple' in which the wife sings a song about how to make the best coffee! The song is all about teaching her husband how to make the coffee by using two cups, Bru, water, sugar and milk. The jingle is so perfectly recorded that you get tempted to sing it like a song (a special mention needs to be done in making the dubbing across language perfectly)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1K7eQ30p-6A
In the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the brand has used the celebrities Karthi and Kajal Agrawal in a set of commercials ranging from the successful & long aired husband-makes-coffee-for-wife to the latest son-knows-father ad.
Having said that, it doesn't mean the brand had always made successful campaigns; I would consider few flop series were also there. Interestingly these included big celebrities as well. For example, have a look at this ad featuring Shahid Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra for Bru Lite Coffee. The whole sequence tries to mimic the above mentioned ad related to Ek Cup Bru Aur Mood Ban Jayae; but the complete focus seems to have been on the celebrities; they even forgot to have a branded coffee mug!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r3D4f0fMtzM

Love is Bru

Come 2016, the brand has gone one step forward with a commercial and tag line - Love is Bru. In the latest and greatest installment, Bru has used a life-of-slice theme. In this, the wife gives more coffee to her successful husband who is under office pressure. He asks her why and she states he is the breadwinner and undergoing lots of sacrifice and stress. The husband returns the favour stating the sacrifices she has done for him and the family can't be matched by anything.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gx0sVMm-xC8

What do you think about this latest advertisement from Bru Coffee and how the brand has evolved…?

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Brain Rules for Baby by John Medina [Book Review]


Parenting is an altogether new experience which can’t be matched by anything else; nor can it be described in words. Every child, parent and their relationship is unique; it may vary depending on genetics, circumstances, relationships, upbringing of parents and what not. New parents tend to have a million doubts and there are plenty of help books ranging from how babies grow to how to parent. Today we will review one such book, Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five by John Medina. Dr. Medina writes about queries he has seen in new parents and his thoughts on how to raise smarter babies.

About John Medina

Dr. Medina is a developmental molecular biologist studying human brain development and the genetics of psychiatric disorders. He also teaches at the University of Washington School of Medicine. He has written six books on topics ranging from brain development to depression to brain diseases. Brain Rules for Baby is his latest book.
The book starts by setting certain contexts – first with set of myth busters and later certain limitations in how research can help in better parenting. This book specifically focuses on age range till five years. According to research, first five years are the ones which will have profound impact on human brain development.

Chapter 1 The importance of healthy pregnancy

First part of the book deals with the fact that a healthy pregnancy is important for a healthy baby. While this section may sound repetitive and clichéd( especially if you had read a ‘what to expect while expecting’ type book), Dr. Medina reiterate and stresses the fact that a healthy pregnancy is indeed the foundation stone of everything. The author continues his approach of starting with myth busters, then providing insights into researches being done and finally some ‘best practices’. He continues with an explanation of how the senses get developed while in a mom’s womb. The chapter is closed by discussing on four key things that can aid a baby’s brain development while inside the womb — gaining the right weight, having a healthy and nutritional diet during pregnancy, controlling stress and having the right amount of exercise being done.

Chapter 2 How parents’ relationship affects the baby

Any parent would vouch for the fact that their life completely changes once their little one arrives – be it the day-to-day interactions or aspirations. This chapter of the book talks about how the dynamics of husband-wife changes once they become parents. Dr. Medina discusses how overwhelming it can be when the new one comes home and how both the parents can become exhausted and depressed. He goes on to discuss how fights can affect the baby, what can be done to help such situations and so on. Being able to empathize with each other is the most important factor that can aid new parents in such situations.

Chapter 3 Why it is important to make your baby feel safe

This chapter deals with the fact that babies always want to feel safe. I think this is especially the reason why they feel more comfortable and attached with moms! This chapter discusses in detail about IQ tests, how IQ can be different depending on measuring situations, why IQ tests may not be considered the final say etc. Also a discussion on the role of genes is provided. Later, he discusses about five ingredients that constitute a child’s intellectual abilities – the desire to explore, self-control, creativity, verbal communication and ability to interpret non verbal communications.
Research indicates developing the ability to keep distractions away is more important than the IQ. It has been proved that this ability helps to mound smarter children. Encouraging creativity and an inquisitiveness also helps. Dr. Medina continues to discuss about how babies develop verbal communication skills and non verbal ones. It is interesting that the baby is most capable of naturally learning the dominant language spoken during the first six months. Author also argues that expressions shown to her ( for example using your own face as opposed to a puppet to narrate stories) are equally important. Research also suggest that developing this non verbal capabilities help her to be a better team player as well as being innovative.

Chapter 4 Importance of humans as companions; not electronics

Quoting from the book, this chapter is about another key ingredients to better parenting – caring/love and attentive guidance to the child. Author starts the discussion with another myth buster — a child’s brain is not looking to learn new things; but to survive. Four brain boosters as he calls it discussed in this chapter are importance of breastfeeding, talking to your baby, playing or cuddling with her and praising or encouraging the efforts she makes.
It is a good read to learn how speaking to your baby often can help her improve his IQ as well as the ability to grasp things quickly. The chapter also discusses about how creating a playful environment helps rather than exposing to screens. The key learning for me from this chapter was that simply praising the kids for each and every small success or say smart every time is not the right way; instead praising the efforts put by them irrespective of the outcome is more important.

Chapter 5 Raising a happy child

This chapter is all about what is happiness, how to raise a happy and emotionally sound child. The author reiterates some of the facts that happiness is driven from acts like altruism, being great full, gratitude and forgiveness. He continues with the discussion on why to help your child make friends. The chapter is heavy in its content and speaks of two key things – how emotions and empathy play important roles in a child’s development. The chapter alludes a bit on how genes can also play a role in child being happy. I remembered the discussions Sonja Lyubomrisky had in the book The How of Happiness.

Chapter 6 Controlling emotions

This chapter continues with the discussion on emotions, attachments and how a parents reaction to any act of a child affects her. It’s interesting to know that a baby at birth itself, express disgust, distress and interest; within six months she can express anger, sadness , fear, surprises and joy; and in another year or so, she can feel other emotions like jealousy, embarrassment, guilt or pride !
The chapter continues to discuss on various research done on parenting styles. Later he conclude that an authoritative style ( high on responsiveness and a high on demandingness) is the right way to approach it. The key learning from this chapter for a reader is about how labeling can control emotions. The author gives a nice example of a father teaching his daughter about jealousy.

Chapter 7 How to raise a moral baby?

This chapter is all about erratic behaviors in children. To be honest, when I reached this chapter; I was getting bored with the author’s writing style of circling around and around without coming to the point. The three key factors according to the author to raise a moral child are setting clear & concise rules and associated rewards , swift punishments in the event of non compliance and all rules to be well explained (meaning the rationale behind the rules). It was a reiterating fact that we should not only praise good behavior; but also the absence of bad behavior.

Chapter 8 Developing good sleeping habits

This is the last and new chapter included in the updated edition of the book. Dr. Medina talks about two schools of thought about how to handle sleep in babies. Later he also provides a suggestive approach to improve your baby’s sleeping habits. The first school of thought is championed by William Sears is NAP aka Nighttime Attachment Parenting. This is perhaps the old school of thought that vouch for being with the baby whenever you can so that she feels comforted and safe.
The second approach is championed by Richard Ferber called CIO aka Cry-It-Out. In this the baby is let alone get pacified herself through a stepped approach of soothing the baby. These are two extremes and perhaps depend on various factors like culture, your own comfortness, circumstances etc. The author suggests to give a trial and error method to find out which suits the baby better. He also advises not to change any sleeping patterns before six months.
The book ends with reiterating the importance of encouraging empathy and controlling emotions as key factors of a smart and happy child. A resource list pertaining to each chapter Is also provided in the end.
Overall a good book, a bit dragging with circling back of same discussions. I would consider it to be a one time read. I believe each parent child relationship is unique and a learning curve for both!

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

What is Customer Engagement Score?


Getting a loyal customer is a marketer’s objective; making them a brand advocate is attaining nirvana! Customer Journey, Brand Advocacy, Net Promoter Score, Customer Engagement Score, Moments of Truth etc. are all terms associated with this. A recent article that I read, brought back memories of Customer Engagement Score.

What is Customer Engagement Score?

Simply put, customer engagement score is a magic number that helps you understand how engaged are your customers with your brand.Keeping a tap on the customer engagement score helps you not only to identify unhappy customers; but also come up with opportunities of enhancing their experience and up-sells.
Calculating the engagement score is perhaps the trickiest part. A mere high volume of engagement of users with a product doesn’t always mean a positive note — it could be just that they are spending too much time to understand how to use your service! Here is a good article I cam across on deriving engagement score.

Components of Customer Engagement Score

As mentioned above, deriving the engagement score is unique to each business. It depends on multiple factors, customer touch points and usage levels. It also depends on aspects like demographics, level of need etc. The article I mentioned in the beginning was one such research from Oxford Brooks University . It’s about understanding the factors that influence a customer’s overall engagement with a brand; specifically how emotions and demographics play key roles.
Again, due to the very tricky nature of deriving a single number capturing the engagement, I felt the research is skewed based in industries selected. For example, it said — between married and unmarried; the married showed better engagement score and when it comes countries/regions Turkish, Brazilian and American consumers showed a better customer engagement score when compared to Scandinavian Countries and the UK. Does this mean go more digital in the US and Brazil and less in the UK ?
In my opinion, branding is again the key factor. Let’s assume the brand is Babyhug which brings out baby products.So we can expect more of young parents to be following the product or someone who could be either old/young who has a baby in the family might be engaged with the product. They will definitely show a better customer engagement score irrespective of the country/region/sex/marital status. What are the factors that the marketers are looking forward while defining the customer engagement ratios? Thus defining customer engagement score is solely dependent on the brand and industry.

Moments of Truth and Customer Engagement Score

The key part in defining any customer journey is identifying moments of truth.Moments of truth are handshakes between the customer and an organization in a manner that customer forms an opinion about the organization’s service/product  offering. It can also be considered as the instance that gives and opportunity to the organization or customer to change the opinion of the service. These will also be the key ingredients of calculating customer engagement scores. For example — how many touch points or how much involvement is required in each moment of truth etc.
Information explosion and access to channels has made a marketer’s life difficult. For example, how is the marketing, advertising, re-targeting, on-boarding and servicing is inter-linked to generate a WOW-making customer experience?Starting from branding, each and every touch-point is important. For example, a simple gesture such as, a children’s clinic calling back parents to check on how well their kid is doing after consultation or a restaurant making a call to a couple for wishing them for their anniversary etc. are some of the practices that are already in place and which results in loyalty.
Above all that there should be no compromise on the quality of the products, which definitely increases the confidence of a customer gradually building his customer engagement score and also the options such as recommend the product to your friends might definitely help since it makes sure that the customer who buys the product actually likes it and he is letting his friends (who is more likely to buy same kind of products) aware of that.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Happiness at Work by Srikumar Rao (Book Summary)


Professor Srikumar Rao is a well-known professor in Business and Leadership. He is acclaimed for work on what makes successful leaders and also the author of Are You Ready to Succeed. It’s also boasted that one of his courses has started the practice of alumni group of its own! In this blogpost, we will review one of his book – Happiness At Work. I am sure the title is very catchy especially those who are dreading to go to work every morning!

About Author

An IIM Ahmedabad graduate, Prof. Rao did he PhD in Marketing from Columbia Business School. Later he has taught at Columbia Business School, London Business School, Kellogg School of Management and Haas School of Management. Presently, he is and independent consultant and runs Rao Institute.

The Mystery of Happiness at Work

This is an interesting topic. It concerns not only the employees; but also the employer. And I think apart from those who are working as per their true calling – most would have witnessed unhappiness at least one day in the professional life. HR team of organizations try to make their employees feel happy and comfortable in all ways possible. The book aims to help you in achieving happiness in work life no matter how bad it is
Professor starts with big boasting like in his previous book, Are You Ready to Succeed. Also, some of the topics are borrowed from the previous book. Happiness At Work consists of thirty five short chapters and close to 230 pages. Each chapter introduces a key topic, discusses about it and ends with the key learning. Author also suggest not to read the book like a novel and instead read it at short spans and try to apply the concepts before moving to the next chapter.

Importance of Empathy

The book starts with a chapter on paradigm shifts. This closely aligns with the concept introduced by Steven Covey in his book titled Seven Habits of Highly Effective People; in fact the example used by Professor is similar to the one given by Covey!
At a high level, first few chapters discusses about empathy and associated topics. Professor suggests not to be too hard on yourself or others or situations. Key suggestion to break this challenge is to avoid labelling situations as bad things (aka starting a negative mental chatter). Later on Professor Rao concentrates on aspects like how to make affirmations work, how not to fall into ambitions-spiral. Final part of the book goes deeper philosophically.

Key Learning

Some of the key learning I took away while reading this book are
  • Don’t try to stereotype. This is equally applicable to people as well as outcomes. It’s key not to associate ‘it’s a good thing; that’s a bad thing’ connotation to everything
  • Cultivating resilience as a habit. This is a key trait every self-help and leadership coaches put thrust on. We have discussed this previously in the post Three ingredients to personal success
  • Cultivating the habit of ‘letting go’. The author suggests to make this habit an integral part irrespective of how many times you have to do it
  • Invest in the process to achieve something rather than focusing a sharp eye on its outcome

Happiness Book or Happiness @ Work?

I felt the title is misleading. Prof.Rao rarely talks specifically about happiness from work context. Instead most of the content is focussed on happiness in general and as a self-help book. Few pointers specific were things like to find a larger meaning to what you do rather than get confined to your role.
Similarly some of the thoughts that doesn’t gel with me were
  • Author argues that problems of today may go away on its on in future. I disagree; at max, we may learn to live with them!
  • In a chapter on loses, Professor Rao takes a very blunt route that we create lot’s of drama around losses – be it your loved ones or things. He suggests that consider – life to be a play and we are just actors in it. Often we tend to associate ourselves with characters and not actors. While this makes sense, I felt it a bit hard to accept 🙂
Finally, some of the chapters are repetitive if you are an ardent self-help books reader. For example, concepts such as as ‘what-would-like-people-to-remember-when-you-are-in-death-bed’, time management principles, moving away from me-centreness and so on. Also, many thoughts shared by the author are driven from eastern philosophy and his earlier book – Are you ready to succeed?
Overall a good read; especially his writing style based on stories for each concept discussed; but you may be disappointed if you were expecting a book specifically on work related issues.
If you are interested, you can read the book summary of Are you Ready to Succeed? here.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Do Freemium models always succeed?


Pricing Strategy classes at B School usually touch upon Freemium models as a pricing model. This is a model that has become relevant perhaps in the last decade or so. The advent of mobile apps and Software as a Service  (SaaS) model getting more prevalence, the concept of Freemium has become an important strategy to evaluate.

I believe we can consider freemium models as an extension of what we used to  call in new product development – prototype. Essentially freemium model is an extension of this concept. Technology has enabled ‘providing for free and test the market ‘ easier to achieve and expand.  This model enables to scale focus groups in virtual format. Access to usage data and the granularity or depth one can achieve  these days provides great potential if you come from the product management side.

Benefits of Freemium Models

Though freemium may have had its starting point in new product development school, they got prominence more as a marketing strategy especially for start ups. It helps in multiple folds –


  • User base development – providing for free can usually attract users.
  • A decent user base means a tested market opportunity for your product.
  • Identifying brand advocates – early adopters may become loyalists and brand  advocates. It can also help in creating the buzz.
  • Upsell premium offerings to free users.
  • Get funding to improve your product ☺

But is Freemium model  a successful pricing strategy?  Harvard professor Vineet Kumar in his article Making Freemium Work discusses about the key factors that enhances the possibility of a successful freemium business model. In a nutshell, they are

Judicious selection between free and premium features – The selection should attract enough users to the free offering; at the same time should not be a blockage to upgrade in the case of target customers for paid offering.

Communicating clearly the benefit of premium offering – Clear differentiation between the two offering upfront will definitely add value to a prospective customer in evaluation.

Tweaking the offerings based on conversion rate – It is said that the general conversion rate from a free offering to paid one is less than 5%. So depending on what’s the conversion rate a business is achieving, we would need to tweak the features in each offering.

Developing an efficient referral strategy – Referrals are one way to cash out free users. Developing a good strategy around this concept can accelerate the use base. One typical example is dropbox.

Improving feature set – The company needs to be committed in developing both free and premium features based on the usage pattern it sees. This keep existing user base engaged and attract new ones.

In addition to these, I believe there are two more things one need to consider to make freemium model successful


  • Promoting free offering equally. Often one mistake I have seen is the firm devote the budget for premium compared to the free offering. Both are equally important.
  • Providing a natural progression from free to premium. The feature sets should be chosen in such a way that existing free users see a requirement in progressing to the premium version. This often requires some trial and error to reach the optimal set.