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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Is India ready for a cashless economy?

India’s most radical national-level decision came in last week regarding the demonetization of the Rs 500 and Rs 1000 Notes. There are many near term and long term effects of this decision and many of us are eager to see things unfold. The biggest discussion point was that this move will be a major step towards a cashless economy. Companies like Paytm etc are gung-ho about this move and are preparing themselves for the major surge they expect in terms of cashless transactions. In my opinion, this is surely a big leap but there are many other systemic changes that need to be in place for our nation to go truly cashless.
The Indian love for cash: We as Indians are a big fan of having cash with us. Even if we have a numerous credit cards, debit cards and what not, we would still carry a small bunch of notes. Many of us treat plastic money as a backup for cash and not the other way around. The primary position is still of cash and the secondary of the plastic money. One of the good things about the announcement made by the government was that they are limiting the amount you can withdraw, limiting the cash you have in hand and thereby making you to use your credit and debit cards more often and causing that much needed behavioral change in all of us slowly and silently. This will surely make plastic money move to the primary position and cash to the secondary position.
The network: For the entire monetary system to become cashless, the network of complimentary and supplementary services need to be in place. Let us accept the fact that we are still a nation where few of the merchants either don’t have a facility of taking payments by cards or refuse to accept payments by cards even after having the necessary infrastructure in place for the Indian love of cash or charge use an additional fees for providing you the convenience of paying by card. We still have a lot of petty things we buy from petty shops like milk, flowers, vegetables etc where cash is still the mode of payment. We have a strong retail network and we are still not in a state where we buy things like milk from a supermarket and pay cashless. Merchants refuse cashless transactions primarily because they need cash for rotation, for buying goods and for other business transactions. We still have the sentiment of visible cash being the blessing of Goddess Lakshmi and the invisible cash doesn’t hold any value for us. Unless the network of major merchants are forced to move to cashless mode of transactions, the system around them will continue to be driven by cash. There are many government agencies as well which are still not matured to accept card based payments. This is a major prerequisite for a cashless economy along with a much stronger and faster settlement process.
The cashless apps: I am still not quite convinced on how well we are using the cashless apps like Paytm etc. I know for the fact that they have a large subscriber base, but do they really have the transaction volumes. I myself know many of them who registered on these apps just because they got some discount or other promo and used it once or twice. How many of the registered users actually got converted to regular customers and used such cashless apps repeatedly for every payment they could make through that is the question. The network of the cashless apps have the same problem as that we have for credit cards. There are a selective few merchants who are onboard with this mode of payment and hence cashless apps act as a secondary for credit cards interestingly. Even if many of the merchants are on boarded, the whole pain of both the parties having to transact through an app might be a deterrent. Options like contactless cards or even QR code based payments might need to be looked at.
Technological challenge: Let’s look at reasons why we love to carry cash even with our plastic money. The top reasons would surely be: The shop might have a credit card machine but most of the time it is not working or does not complete the transaction due a system or network glitch, There might not be an ATM where I go and hence let me carry cash, the transaction amounts would be petty and the shop might not accept cards for it, I don’t want to the pay the additional charge for using my card and the list goes on. Few of the people are still wary of using plastic money as they feel it is insecure and can be easily hacked into especially in the online world. For cashless apps, the main challenge would be to get the app work in the toughest of the network and power conditions and also the ease of use. If cashless apps don’t look convincing for anywhere anytime use, then it might still fail to become mainstream mode of payment across the nation. All these reasons conclude to the same point that our backend technological infrastructure needs to be available, reliable and secure for people to be least worried about the mode of payment and encourage cashless transactions.
The common man: The PMJDY scheme was easily the best nationwide scheme implemented as far as I know. Now every citizen has a bank account with an ATM card which has empowered every citizen with the basic necessity of a cashless economy. Although all of them have it, many of them do not know the utility of this and banks need to play a major role in educating every common man on the benefits of the ATM card with them and how they could use it for making transactions. Banks need to facilitate this fully and this will be the most critical step in getting the crucial mass on board the cashless economy. Getting them to use their cards in near term itself would be a big achievement, cashless apps might be a distant target.
The old-youngsters: It might be a lot more easier to bring in the Gen X and Gen Y on board with cashless transactions but we have a majority of the old-youngsters who trust the nation’s oldest bank only, rely on their pensions and use cash for most of their transactions. This is the generation that is still taking baby steps in adopting to technology, many of them still might not be using internet banking, they are still getting used to using smartphones and other electronic devices, they are still unsure of how to download and install an app (Unfortunately many of the greatest apps being built in the Indian startup ecosystem like Uber, Ola, BigBasket etc have high utility for the old-youngsters but are catering to the young-lazy-office goer crowd just because of this technological barrier) and are still scared of using their plastic money. Some of them might get convinced to move to cashless mode of transactions but majority of them will find their own reasons to avoid them and can be on boarded only in the form of compulsion where they are forced to use only cashless mode.
A cashless economy is going to bring in more transparency and ease of doing business. It might also bring more regular streams of incomes for many of the citizens due to the receivables financing based schemes that banks and other financial institutions can implement due to the increased use of plastic money. However, this would also need the same style of implementation like the Aadhaar and Bank linkage for LPG subsidy where over a short period of time every one was forced to take an Aadhaar card and a PMJDY bank account to avail the LPG subsidy and retain only the genuine connections. The same feeling of compulsion and urgency needs to be created to make every citizen embrace the cashless economy, however, the necessary system and infrastructure would be needed before that starts.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

High Impact Presentations by Dale Carnegie Training (Review)

The book How to Win Friends and Influence People introduced me to the legend of Dale Carnegie. I was fortunate enough to attend a second classroom training from Dale Carnegie India Training – this time on making High Impact Presentations. It was a two day program. Having attended many soft skills training in the last ten years, I was little skeptical on the benefits of attending it ; but I wasn’t disappointed. It was an engaging and revealing two days of interaction. I am sure each of the twenty participants had some good takeaways out of it. Since it was a company organized training, all of us knew each other, the challenges we may have etc.; that made me think if it was an open training with unknown fellow participants, the learning taken out may have been a bit better.
High Impact Presentations training by Dale Carnegie is a two day program, in my case there were two facilitators as well. Day 1 was concentrated more on ice breaking, setting up a baseline for each of to compare against, body language, importance of structure, and a bit on group presentations. Day 2 started building on the concepts of Day 1 and focused more on aspects like use of analogies, how to open and close, expressions, and finally doing a review presentation including all the things we learned. The uniqueness of this training was the number opportunities each of the participants got to present, and get it reviewed by both the facilitators and fellow participants.
In total, including group presentations, we would have made around five presentations over the two days, recorded them and got reviewed. Here is a quick takeaway notes from these two days. The fulcrum of the entire training was around three pillars — Structure, Content and Delivery. Focusing on each of these pillars is important. Getting each of these correct ensures a great delivery of the presentation. These may sound text-bookish; believe me, these when put to action during the two days were showing amazing improvements in the presentations and presenters we saw.

How to effectively plan your presentations?

Planning the presentations is as important as delivering the presentations. Before you even start to put together the presentations, one need to understand the audience, their level of understanding about the topic and the purpose of the presentation. For example, the way you structure the presentation will be entirely different if it is a motivational presentation as compared to a technical presentation. Another rule of thumb is to have few key takeaways and messages you want the audience to imbibe in. One of the important takeaways for me (which was re-iterated) is setting the agenda. Most of the effective presentations starts with setting the context, and setting the agenda and expectations in a black board. This not only gives the presenter a pathway; but also to establish a joint ownership of content with the audience. This also helps to keep interest levels and earn respect with the audience. From a delivery stand point of view, utilizing visual aids enhances the credibility of the presenter.

How to effectively structure your presentations?

This is an important section where I learnt a lot. Having an impactful opening is important for any good presentations. This can be done using analogies, asking questions, stating startling facts, compliments or dramatization. This is important to keep the interest level of audience intact as well as keep them engaged. While delivering the meat of the content, it’s always good to simplify things, use examples, and facts to simplify the message. Finally the closing should be as crisp as the opening. It should be simple yet powerful. It’s always good to close your presentation with a lead to action (for example asking for a follow up meeting, or ideas from audience on how they are going to implement the ideas or even asking volunteers to brief their learning). This goes back to the planning stage of understanding what’s the goal of the presentation – is it to persuade, is it inform or is it to share knowledge.

How to engage with the audience?

Preparation is only a part; delivery may be another…but engaging with the audience result in an effective presentation. This starts with building rapport with the audience before even starting the presentation, acknowledging knowledge and comments of audience and body language. Body language doesn’t end at the way you stand – it has a very important role in building an impression, enabling the audience to listen and use of expressions to assert the ideas. From a content perspective two things aid to engaging effectively with your audience – knowing thoroughly and beyond the scope of the presentation and being able to relate to audience, and simplify things depending on their receptiveness. Active listening is another important pillar to engage with audience. Finally, all presenters want the audience to take some action – be it apply whatever they learnt or purchase something. Dale Carnegie has put forth a ‘magic formula’ to help us achieve this. As per this, spend the final 90 seconds thrusting on the incident/experience/evidence for 80 seconds; 5 seconds on an action you want the audience to take and the last 5 seconds on emphasizing the positive benefit she can take out the action.
Let me close the post by mentioning about another key learning I had from the training on handling pressure situations or tough questions. If you are asked a tough question, it’s always better to take a pause, paraphrase the question asked taking out any negativity, acknowledge the question and respond from a positive angle. Here is a quick repository on various techniques to handle objections. I think one shortcoming I saw in the training was not having a focus on your weaknesses. This is more due to the fact that Dale Carnegie Training content believes in enhancing your strengths rather than your weaknesses. Overall, a very good training and I recommend it if you can afford to attend one!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Nawabs Nudes Noodles – A book on Indian Advertising (Review)

Advertising is perhaps the time tested persuasion technique used by sellers in the modern world. In India, use of advertising dates back to at least a century. It’s always interesting to look back and learn how advertising has changes – be its form, theme, message or picturization. Nawabs, Nudes and Noodles by Ambi Parameswaran is a book that does this historical review of how advertising has evolved in the Indian sub continent over the last fifty years.

About Ambi Parameswaran

Ambi is one of the illustrated personalities in the Indian advertising industry, the brain child behind many of the successful brands like Santoor, Digene, Brufene and corporate brands like TCS. He has more than three decades of experience in brand management, doctoral degree, IIM Calcutta alumnus and presently spearheading a consultancy Brand-Building. This book draws lots of examples from his real life clients as well as the agency FCB Ulka with which he was associated most of his career.

Part I How characterization in ads has evolved? (People)

The book is organized into four parts based on the themes used in advertisements across these years. First part focuses on people and deals with how human aspirations were the center theme in commercials. The actual account of advertisement starts with the literature on how masculinity used to be utilized in advertisements of Lifebouy and Colgate. For someone how has seen these ads during the 80s, this is a great journey back to old memories (like the Lifebouy tag line). The book continues with its set of examples of how aspirations and status were used during this period. It’s also interesting how brands change the aspirations among its audience. For example, the move of Raymond from ‘Guide to well dressed man’ to ‘Suiting for the complete man’. The author has taken the approach of giving an account of various examples of how the messaging in advertisements have changed followed by a set of learning on character sketch in commercials. In the ‘People’ section, Ambi has discussed about how the character portray of men, women, kids, teens, old age, relationships etc.
The book also gives interesting accounts of how the advertising industry has adapted itself according to the changing cultures and aspirations; for example regulating policies around what and how to advertise to kids. The book also give insights into some of the everyday chores of media planners, lobbying by the industry, repositioning of products, how changing demographics are studied by practioners and more.

Part II How products has evolved with cultural shifts

The second part of the book focuses on how products, be it staple ones to sophisticated ones has changed and evolved during these years. In this sections brands and products ranging from Amul and cooking oils to Bajaj and bikes are discussed. A great explanation on how various brands used the shifts in culture is also discussed in detail. It is very interesting to read some of the historical events that has played important roles in everyday life. For example, how a product like dalda came into existence; back in late 1930s HUL bought the right to make vanaspati ghee in India, as a cheap substitute to ghee from a Dutch company called Dada. They set up a company called Hindustan Vanaspati Manufacturing Corporation in 1931. Later the name of the product was renamed to Dalda by adding an ‘l’ to become what we all know the product today. Like the previous section, this one also gives ample examples and stories of admen behind successful campaigns.

Part III Advertising services

This section talks about how campaigns have changed over the years while advertising services and experiences. It starts with the example of wedding as a theme and how products ranging from pan parag to suitcases have used it. Later the section discusses about TV reality shows, tourism and job portals. To be honest, it became too wordy and boring with so many examples and narratives once a reader reaches the end of this section; One could also argue that the author has given a plethora of examples.

Part IV On effective ad narratives

This part of the book takes a different angle and discusses how various components of and ad have evolved. Starting from music tracks, audio techniques and more; Ambi discuss about how celebrity endorsements have changed. There is a chapter on how dubbing, lip synching etc are used in the industry.
Later the book discusses about topics like how the notion of obscenity, shooting animals etc have changed; and the evolution of regulatory policies around these. Author closes the book with his thoughts on what could come up in future when advertising industry is concerned. Among the ten thoughts he has discussed, the one that resonated with me the most is that advertising themes are taking more a societal message approach clubbing with a brand’s CSR projects. This enable the brand to capture a place in it audience’ hearts.


I think the biggest drawback of this book is literally its lack of pictures (only few ad campaigns are given as inserts in the middle of the book). It’s very hard for a reader not familiar with the examples discussed to relate with. It would have been a great asset for even those readers who had seen these ads to quickly remember, relate and appreciate the thoughts shared by the author.
The book gives many side boxes that gives an insight into various techniques used in shooting commercials; wish more details and examples were provided. Another challenge I felt is that often the author has drifted between years; it would have been better if he had kept the chronological order in all case studies. Finally, I doubt whether the book has captured all fifty years in its complete sense especially the early years.
Overall a good book for anyone trying to get a better understanding on how Indian advertising and brands have evolved of the last few years.