What is in a Product?

It is not about product ingredients, but something beyond ingredients that we buy a product for. In fact, a product equalizes a “solution to a customer’s problem”. Consumer buy combs to fix messy hair, students enroll in universities to reach their career dreams, we subscribe to banking services as they solve our need for certain financial transactions— all of these choices lead to some sort of problem solving. Inversely, it would be correct to say that identification of customers’ problem may lead to new product ideas. This is where the innovative minds are trained to see “problems” as “opportunities”. Marketing practitioners won’t complain that we have shortage of electricity, rather they would find an opportunity to sell chargeable lights. Marketers won’t whine that customers are not buying expensive cars, rather the opportunity of selling cheaper and smaller cars would be explored. Therefore, to think of your next innovation idea, look for a problem to solve in a unique way!

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When Brands Make Mistakes

The world of branding is not confined in a mathematical equation, thus wrong decisions can only be termed as “wrong” once results start coming in. Many assumptions are there in a branding program before a plan can be implemented. Thus situational variation can vehemently affect the outcome of a decision. An apparently sound decision can turn out to be a blunder in the long run. So what should brand managers do when they face such a situation that has long-run impact on the brands and their careers?

First of all, accept the fact that many renowned brands made mistakes in the past. It is not the sole world of small and inexperienced brands alone. For example, Tata Nano has not seen wide acceptance in the Indian market yet, despite its low-cost promise to price mistakessensitive customers. Ratan Tata once said that he did not believe in taking right decisions, he made decisions first, then he made it right! One may always argue that this has not been a pro-active approach to branding. However, let us accept the ground reality that this has been the case in many instances. Once Tata Nano was found with poor acceptance in the Indian market, he went for making this mistake right in two ways. First, he initiated market research to find out what went wrong. Later, he went for strengthening the distribution system, offered free driving lessons for new drivers, and addressed the social prestige issue in the make-over advertisement. Lately, Tana Nano has been in intense discussion on finalizing its overseas production facility.

It appears that mistakes can be corrected and competitiveness be enhanced through the lessons learned from past decisions. It is not a one-way approach that one brand fails and then takes a u-turn to completely reverse the decision. For other brands, they may also keep watching other brands’ mistakes and learn the lesson in the process. However, the real world is full of repetitive mistakes. It seems that not being able to learn the lesson has been a far greater problem than making an apparently bad decision.

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Sourcing Ideas from “Crowd”

A simple workable “idea” could be worth a million when it comes to branding. Professionals know this better once they dip their feet in this domain of marketing. Traditionally, the new product development team along with the brand management team has been responsible for this brainstorming task. Later, the concept of co-creation with creative users becomes a standard practice across many companies. The concept of co-creation entails inviting creative users to offer their ideas, usually through open competitions, so that workable ideas can be sorted out and applied to instill innovation in products.

Fortunately, the advent of social media has added another dimension to this co-creative spree from consumers. Consumers’ candid responses can easily be sorted out even without arranging competitions. All you have to do is to “listen” to social media, by actively paying attention to what probable ideas consumers are talking about on their walls. You can find almost every imaginable consumer’ forum in social media, starting from chainsaw repair to “do-it-yourself” type hair grooming for pets! People talk about their joys, sorrows and complaints evolving around brands. For example, just search “chainsaw repair” in facebook and you will find groups with a good number of members already talking about it. Find out if they are talking about your brand yet. Many companies fiat_mioare already using this powerful source of creative ideas from customers, as we may call it “open innovation from crowd”. A survey showed that over 50% of Fortune 500 companies have already adopted this approach in their innovation strategy. Consumers’ ideas have been adopted in a wide range of products, starting from soccer shoes by Adidas to Fiat’s “Mio”. The well-known innovative company 3M figured that their total sales of products innovated from “open innovation” concept was eight times higher than that of the conventionally innovated product through in-house teams.

The reason behind success stories of open innovation projects is obvious– it is about designing products in a way that would conform to the need of customers. The innovation process might just have changed for better.

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iPhone’s Next Breakthrough!

It seems that Steve Jobs probably left a capable successor to maintain its legacy of innovative products. There is a strong “rumor” that the future iPhone screens would be made of rock-hard yet clear Sapphire. This hard-to-break screens would be highly resistant to scratches, yet crispy clear to give an extra value to customers. This transition from glass screen to Sapphire screen could become a novelty craze among future smartphone customers.

broken-smartThe first iPhone was launched in 2007, with glass screens instead of originally planned plastic screens. The change was hastily done at the direction of Steve Jobs himself who was utterly unhappy of the scratches on plastic prototype that he had been using before the launch. It resulted in a glossy and clear glass screen that stayed like that for a long time unlike plastic screens. However, glass screens had a disadvantage of being prone to breakage. It was reported that its latest variants 5S and 5C are even more breakable than its predecessors. Undoubtedly, this yielded a great business to the repair industry! One study found that, during the five-year period from 2007 to 2012, broken iPhone screens cost US$ 5.9 billion to consumers in the USA alone.

It appears that the solution has been found lately. Sapphire has traditional military uses in armored vehicles as “glass windows” to protect from being shattered during artillery vibration. The material has long been used as dial screens for premium watches like Rolex and Patek Philippe. However, using this material as a screen is a completely new idea in the smartphone industry. To the contrary, industry experts cautioned that cost could be a limiting factor, unless consumers ignore the increase in cost due to novelty and value. It is speculated that since Apple has already invested over US$500 million in a tech company to produce synthetic Sapphire (first time in smartphone industry), it would probably be able to streamline its manufacturing process to make cost-efficient Sapphire screens.

In order to give an idea of how strong Sapphire could be, one could look at the Mohs scale for comparison. Mohs scale is a measurement to indicate “hardness” of materials. While a pencil lead (Graphite) has a Mohs rating of 1.5, the hardest material (Diamond) stands at 10. The Mohs rating of Sapphire is 9, just before the Diamond. Even the hardened steel has a lower Mohs rating than Sapphire.

I guess the next Youtube craze would be the kind of show where people would be hammering on iPhones or drive their cars over the phones to show that they are hard to break!

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Accountants and Marketers: About Professional Chemistry

Accountants and marketers are often at odds in a professional set-up, leading to power struggle and satirically demeaning each other’s competitive capacity in their respective fields. This has been a global phenomenon as may be evident from a number of rated research publications in top HR journals all over the world. Well, I would not dive deep into the theoretical aspect of this issue, rather hover around what practically has been exhibited in our daily lives and how these professionals may cope with this psychological competition.

Under an increasingly complex business scenario, it is inevitable to attain specialized skills to thrive in an increasingly demanding business environment. This sort of specialized training demands that everybody be trained to handle the requirements of their jobs. With every field-specific training and education, there comes a set of attitude and thinking pattern that individuals adopt, as if each of the trainees were born with those traits in their DNA. This “professional DNA” is an inevitable outcome of continuous learning and training that comes with the specialized education, whose objective, at least initially, is helpful to get the trainees accustomed to the future job requirement. Should we train soldiers to become a soft-hearted poet in the battle field? Of course not! Should we train Financial Auditors to have a skeptic mind about a suspected transaction and ask for proofs? Of course yes! Every profession demands a certain pattern of professional traits that the person concerned ultimately adopts as a part of the “self”.

However, the problem arises when two individuals with two different sets of skills interact in an interdependent way that appears to be conflicting to each other’s views. Interestingly, if looked upon from the merits of arguments, both the accountants and marketers seem to be right! Accountants need hard facts, figures and proofs in black & white; whereas marketers can see figures in the ambitious “dream” that sometimes become hard to support with black & white arguments. Marketers often justify spending money in promotional campaigns that is difficult to justify in terms of monetary outcomes. What is justified in the eyes of marketers may not necessarily seem justified in the eyes of accountants. Here you go! While marketers start accusing accountants of their “alleged” lack of training in seeing the “non-monetary” outcomes, accountants start thinking of those “advertising brats” asking for money to throw in the air. So where is the solution?

I think the solution lies in increasing interpersonal trust through communication. Departmental leaders have an important role to take the initiative. While we definitely need skilled accountants, we also need professional marketers. Nothing comes in a ready-box in real life, one has to accept these two sets of professionals as they come in with their built-in package of traits. Rather than blaming each other’s views, leaders should take the initiative to empathize and appreciate each other so that the incompatibility between the packages can be minimized. Any other suggestion?

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Why Marketers Must Be Careful in Translation

What is a wrong translation? The translation that fails to convey its meaning or confer a different meaning than what is intended. Notably, wrong grammar may not necessarily be “wrong translation” per se. “You Cannot Cooking Here” contains wrong grammar, but the meaning is clear. Well, wrong grammar cannot be supported. What is important here is the idea conveyed, particularly when translated from another language, may change the meaning and convey weird, sometimes funny, often meaningless, and sometimes offending message to its readers.

While numerous examples are in text books and case studies, here are some examples of warning labels, funny translation and weird signboards. No offense or pun intended, just some plain examples.Click on funny-display_for-blog.ppsx for a quick ppt show.

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Will the New Ball Change the Game in 2014 FIFA World Cup?

The ball to be played in 2014 FIFA World Cup is a special one. For the first time in its history, a non-conventional ball will be used in the game. Adidas, the maker of the ball, branded it as “Brazuca”, informally meaning anything “Brazillian”. What is so special about it?

Before we talk further, a little technical note is necessary. In total, a conventional ball is made of 32 pieces (called “panels”). These panels are sewn together to give a round shape, inside which a latex bladder is inserted that is inflated to give the ball the bouncing property. Out of these 32 pieces, 20 pieces are of Hexagonal shape (ষড়ভূজ) and 12 pieces are of pentagonal shape (পঞ্চভূজ). These pieces can easily be counted by looking at the outer surface of a ball. There are other types of balls containing 14 pieces or sometimes 8 pieces in total (in that case, each piece of the new ball has to be larger than those of a 32-piece ball to give the same shape as its previous version).

Theoretically, the higher the number of pieces, the more playable (controllable by the player) the ball will be, but the speed will be lower because the ball will face more air resistance. This is a classic trade-off whether to increase the controllability of the ball or increase its flight speed. Controllability also includes whether the ball either behaves in a predictable way or shows the tendency to move away from the target as the kicking player actually intended. Players usually get used to the later variant by practicing with the new ball.

adi_brazucaHowever, Adidas, the long-time supplier of World Cup balls, is making it with only 6 pieces of outer surface for 2014 FIFA World Cup. Theoretically, holding other things constant, it means that the ball is supposed to fly faster than previous world cup balls. How about players’ controllability? It is believed that Adidas must have done extensive research to ensure controllability, despite the fact that it is making the ball with less number of panels than earlier variants. Intrigued by its physical properties, a Japanese researcher already tested the ball in a wind-tunnel (a laboratory set-up) where he found that the ball performed excellent in terms of its aerodynamic properties (kicking direction was well maintained in its flight-path). This ball also has the ability to follow a higher curved path if properly kicked on an indirect angle.

Now, with a speedy ball and a good control including the ability to create a curved flight-path, it is up to the players how they will capitalize on this new ball. I hope the World Cup 2014 will be more enjoyable.

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What Steve Jobs Knew about Market Research

Many believe that Steve Jobs did not believe in market research. There must be some truth in this as once he said, “Don’t ask customers what they want, because they don’t know what they want.” On the other hand, he vigorously kept himself informed of market trends and consumer preferences over time. So where is the puzzle? What did he mean by not asking customers on what they want?

Probably he was not against market research. He was most likely referring to how the researchers usually come out to interpret the figures, yet miss the insight. Steve Jobs appeared to be very careful about end-user experience, otherwise Apple products would not have been here where it is today.

In many cases of new product development, probably you don’t need long trenched research because by the time you have your data in hand, the need might have evolved through time and morphed into another market segment that requires further research! We are not talking about research for the sake of it, but a set of actionable data that we can base our competitive decisions to stay ahead of others. Capitalizing on “competitive information” is the key to success here.

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How to Know Who Looked at Your Facebook Profile

It sounds tempting. Many times we are interested to know who is looking at our profile. This is just a human nature to be curious about those who are curious about us! Is it possible in Facebook?

Well, in some social sites they allow you to see who is viewing your profile (for example, LinkedIn). For Facebook, it appears that some apps are just claiming that you can see who is viewing your profile. Some people might be tricked enough to believe that they will find this out without knowing Facebook’s privacy policy.

facebook_watchingIn a single word, it is not possible. If this were the case, people would have been cautious and Facebook probably would not be able to retain its “informal” ambiance. LinkedIn may allow this to happen because the social site is more “formal” and “professional” in nature. Thus, it is quite possible that professionals don’t feel the panic of others seeing their profile in LinkedIn. In fact, Facebook does not allow its members to trace this information on who is visiting friends’ profiles, nor it seems possible through third party applications. Some apps seem to be scams that may actually stress you with spams, if not more trouble like hacking your Facebook profile or sending you spam advertising to mobile phones.

Interestingly, Facebook has a section in their Help menu that reads “Common Myths About Facebook” (click here to visit). Under the menu, the answer to our question can be found. It says, “No, Facebook doesn’t let people track who views their Timeline. Third-party apps also can’t provide this functionality. If you come across an app that claims to offer this ability, please report the app.

We need to be careful about Facebook apps that seem too good to be true.

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What Google Thinks about Your CGPA

How important is your CGPA/GPA (Grade Point Average) in getting a job these days? Well, for creating a first impression, specifically if you are looking for the first job right after graduation, academic results might matter since there are actually a few clues to perceive you as a job candidate among others. Did I forget to mention tidy appearance and polished communication style? There you go! Then, the more you have the job experience, the less relevant gets your CGPA because interviewers will have solid clues to evaluate your potential.

However, Google seems to disagree to some extent. Google has been known for its beautifully and ergonomically designed offices for a pleasant work set-up. Employees are provided with generous compensation package and perks. So there is an eager crowd who wants to work for Google. Lately, they are revamping the recruitment practices based on their past experience and internal requirements.

Google seems to emphasize less on academic results, but more on the “fit” between the person and organization. It does not mean that you must have some experience. It means that there is a “you” beyond what academically you are that the recruiter can scoop out to find a fit with the organizational requirements.

convo_capIn a recent interview, the Google’s HR chief Laszlo Bock mentioned how and why they are doing this. He referred that, in the past, those who were hired based on CGPA were not necessarily the best performers. In addition to that, people coming from top rated schools lack a critical characteristic that we look for—“Intellectual Humility”. Intellectual pride of high GPA holders from top schools not only blocks the group cohesiveness (how closely the group members are linked), it also blocks the person from learning through failures. While they put success to their being “genius” from top school, they attribute failures to others for not helping them enough or refer to the environmental constraints that failed them. That means many of them perhaps don’t have the intellectual humility necessary to take responsibility across the board, which would be harmful to achieve a consistent team performance.

Traditional interviews, on the other hand, did not seem to be a reliable method for recruitment either. It can be inferred from various methods of job-seeking training where fresh graduates can be trained to do well in interview sessions. People can get away with an impressive interview only to be found out to be a disaster later by the organization.

As a part of the revamping process, Google is also stopping its “brain teasing” questions. These are actually riddle-type questions aimed at intellectually challenging a candidate and driving him to think critically (similar to psychological testing part of public service examinations and private recruitment tests). Google found no relationship of a candidate’s ability to solve such problems to real life performance.

So where is the solution? How should people be hired? Well, there is no one best answer. However, Google thinks that behavioral interviews can be a solution, where candidates are asked about various situations and responses are analyzed on how they reacted. The social media profile and activities need to be evaluated to map his/her thinking pattern in an effort to find a fit between the organization and the individual. Professionals have long been advising people to be cautious about what they post on their social media wall, now we get a concrete reason why they should!

Does it mean that CGPA from a top ranking school does not matter? Well, the point is more about having intellectual humility and flexibility to learn than about high GPA from a ranked school. Google also acknowledged that CGPAs of fresh graduates have some (but weak) relationship with their future performance, yet the individual as a whole in terms of humility and ability to learn is more important than those academic results. Similar opinions were expressed by HR experts in Bangladesh in the past. In fact, many recruiters already think in this line while evaluating candidates. In my humble opinion, it is advisable to earn the highest possible GPA with “humility”. At the same time, students may get involved in extra-curricular activities of their choice, attend professional talks, read professional magazines, visit industries etc. to have a general idea about what is going on beyond books.

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