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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Is There Anything Called Campaign Failure?

Since we hear about success stories of promotional campaigns measured through customers’ overwhelming responses, there must be something opposite called promotional failure where the campaign might have missed the expected hit otherwise. Well, does it seem easy to differentiate between the successful and failed campaigns?

Designing an effective campaign can be synonymous to translation jobs. Translating from one language to another can be tricky because you not only need to find matching words, but also need to be careful about keeping the meaning unchanged while translating. The job becomes more challenging if you want to re-translate the already translated text to a third language. In the series of chain translations, your original meaning may get lost!

Let us see what happens in designing a campaign. Simply put, we can imagine the promotional campaign as a matter of three-party process involving customer, marketer and the ad agency. The process ideally goes in a circular fashion. First, the marketer “listens” to customers about their tastes and preferences. This listening involves conceiving customer insights that yield a competitive edge over competitors. A marketer should not move forward without having this extra edge. Otherwise, he/she would stand in a common crowd of products yielding the same old question in customers’ minds— “why should I buy this?” For example, in buying a refrigerator, customers might expect that it will give hassle-free service for a long time (“durability” is the winning criterion). We may use this insight in the next step.

In step two, marketers would decide on strategy based on insights gained in the step one. This is about connecting insight to strategy. This strategy will call for redesigning product (if necessary), choosing a positioning concept and designing marketing programs to execute. For example, notice how Walton refrigerator vigorously promoted its “100% Copper condenser” claim to customers. Not everybody understands what copper condenser does, but what Walton has been able to communicate is very important here. Even though I don’t understand the technicality of a condenser, Walton has been able to communicate that Copper Condenser lasts longer than other types of condensers, thus making a “connection” of their strategy to customer insight (“durability” as a winning criterion).

In the third step, the strategy needs to be translated into a “message”. This is the purpose of calling in a specialized ad agency which is supposed to be adept at formulating and executing message to its target audience. The ad agency will look into the customer insight, marketer’s strategy and then figure out what, how, where, how much, when and to whom part of the message. Up to now, the job of translation goes two times here. First, the marketer translates consumer insights into strategy; then the ad agency translates marketer’s strategy into message. Really tricky, isn’t it? Let us see the Three-stage Translation process© visually:

Three-stage Translation Process for Campaign Design
Now imagine what could go wrong in the process that might lead to campaign failure. Can customer insights be wrongly perceived in the first place? Will the insight in a specific market be applicable to a similar market in another culture? This first miss may upset the whole process no matter how effectively the later “translations” are done.

In the second scenario, assume that the insight was rightly identified. However, if sufficient strategy back-up is not provided, the later stages will face tremendous challenge to succeed. For example, if the “durability” is the key factor that customers expect, subsequent strategies must reflect this factor in the marketing program. Is the product designed with this criterion in mind? Was the quality in this case ensured? Was budget enough to support the execution? Many ad agencies are given the hard task of promoting a sub-standard product assuming that advertising will work wonders. Sometimes, an otherwise good quality product would be given a low budget that could never match the competition. Most times, not taking care of customer insights through strategy integration will backfire and cause expensive damages.

In the third scenario, despite identifying the distinct insight, including enough budget backup and adapted strategy by marketers, ad agencies might falter in its message design and execution. This is also a critical part because all strategies in paper looks good until the real communication game starts to achieve results.

In the fourth scenario, assume that both the insight and strategy have been translated into apparently a valid message (two stages of translations are done). The last danger lies in the third stage of translation by the customer. If there is a difference between what the advertiser intended and what the customer understood, it will lead to a poor communication, if not a disaster. An apparently valid message can go wrong depending on the execution. This is why most agencies will go for pretesting before a full-scale launch is being decided.

Now you know where the campaign failures are hiding. It is a three stage translation process (insight to strategy, strategy to message and message to customer interpretation) that needs to be handled carefully. It is not necessarily the ad agency that needs to be blamed always.

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Managing Knowledge by Brand Management Team

In this ever increasing competitive world, better access to information can make a difference in the performance of businesses. Well, we better replace the term “information” with “knowledge”. There must be an important distinction between the two, as the former simply means the access to know something whereas knowledge can be viewed as a set of actionable information that can be utilized for business performance. Subsequently, while this is true that application of knowledge requires skills, the continuous improvement of skills also “generates” knowledge that can place the businesses on the next ladder of competitiveness. How should a brand management team learn this art of managing “knowledge”? Why this effort of knowledge management should be important in the first place for such teams?

Brand Management teams have tough jobs on their agenda. If it is not given the job of new product development (usually a separate team might work for that purpose), they still have a big share of tasks to perform for the organization. Regular brand management teams bear most of the part of tactical and strategic planning, implementation and control of brand performance outcomes. Starting from day one, a brand goes through ups and downs with its evolving strategies over time. Naturally, like brands, organizations also go through changes. CEOs change, HR managers quit, Brand Managers switch for better opportunities and so on. In the process, some brands might become orphan temporarily because of losing a key executive. Most brand management teams will survive the loss of one/two executives, but en masse switching of team members to a competitor’s cubicles could pose tough challenges for an organization. Knowledge management is important not only for handling such unforeseen circumstances, but also for continuous learning and skill enhancement of existing executives.

The next question is, what does knowledge management do for an organization or the brand management team per se? Knowledge management system ensures that the organizational learning is somewhere “stored” or recorded in a systematic way for access and utilization later at any time, so that the organization can avoid re-inventing wheels (learning the same thing hard way through current experience which should have been learnt from similar experience in the past). One way to do it is to make knowledge “nodes” where the planning, execution and result details are summarized based on past programs adopted by the brand. Contextual information must also be recorded because different context/environment might give different results of the same program. Later, even when a completely new brand management team takes over a brand, they have access to all the past “knowledge” gained by the brand and put their own insight to jump start the brand management process.

The last question– how does this system would help if the brand management team members stick to their organization for a sustainable period of time? Well, it can do great things for them. It will save time in future decisions and provide them more time to spend on new projects. Thus, it is high time that organizations thought about this knowledge management system to enhance the efficiency of their brand management teams.

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Does the Fighter Brand Strategy Work in the Mobile Phone Market? Part II

You may be interested to read the Part I before reading this write-up.

Based on realities on the ground, brands like Nokia and Samsung started offering fighting series in their line-up, specifically for the developing world. The latest addition to this fighter series was done (surprisingly) by Apple through its iPhone 5C (targeting entry level users in Europe, Australia and China, and not USA). While it is still unclear how Nokia and Samsung are doing in their fighter brand category, iPhone 5C has already shown its success in the category. Perhaps Nokia was kind of late in adopting this strategy, even not sure whether purely fighter strategy would have saved Nokia from being sold to Microsoft Corporation.

Based on the past cases of fighter brand strategies, it showed that apart from a few success stories, most fighter brands failed to churn out the “cheaper” market segment. Many would argue that, getting a “cheaper” segment’s share is not its prime objective, but to harass the cheaper copycats and protecting the premium brand, that is. Here comes the ultimate danger. If these were the objectives, then fighter brand strategy is a tricky one to design, implement and monitor at the field level.

First danger is the cannibalism (for example, buyers may buy a fighter brand instead of the premium brand of the same company, since the assurance may come in the brand name). The trouble gets worse when companies design a slightly inferior product to avoid cannibalism. Once downgraded, customers may think the value-for-money is better received in comparable copycat brands with “better” specs. So the entire proposition of fighter brand is gone. It not only failed in its prime objective, but also helped customers to functionally judge and choose a competitor’s copycat. iPhone 5C was smarter in this aspect since it targeted only the entry level users who would be buying an iOS smartphone for the first time (no issues of cannibalism!).

Second danger is the misplacement of priorities and resources. While a product development team could be engaged in developing and maintaining a fighter brand by investing time and money through hundreds of man-hours, the same investment could have yielded better results had these been employed for the premium brand. The problem gets worse when it becomes difficult to retract from the fighter brand strategy.

The third danger is the competitors’ ability to reverse engineer and offer “better” specs and feature. Many times, performance differences with premium brand, even though real, may not be perceivable by customers. Even though fighter brands may match the copycats’ offers, the copycats would become dynamic enough to change quickly and offer something “better”. Therefore, rather than cheaper brands being harassed by fighter brands, it gets the other way around- the fighter brands get harassed by cheaper brands!

Does it mean that brands should not think of this fighter brand strategy at all? Not really. It is wise to count on the pitfalls and do an extensive homework along with an exit strategy. It is possible that brand teams can add a success story of a fighter brand amid many failed cases.

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Does the Fighter Brand Strategy Work for Mobile Phone Market? Part I

A fighter brand strategy is about offering a lower-priced brand, usually by a prominent company that already holds a strong image and premium offers to the market, with a view to fighting the low-priced competitors with its low-priced “fighter version”. Obviously, this strategy aims at safe-guarding the long-term market share of the premium brand and put the fighter version at head-on confrontation with the low-priced competition.
green_mobile_icon
This has been a classic strategy by marketers in many instances. Nokia’s Asha series could be an example. Companies having premium brands often draw competition based on all possible fronts like price, features, warranty etc. Just like in the global mobile phone (hardware) market, the low-priced competition has been intense for quite a long-time in Bangladesh also. However, the most noticeable thing would be the immense improvement in quality of these cheaper phones during the last few years. Thanks to the hazy and reluctant enforcement of intellectual property laws in the developing world (no pun intended) and growing ability of thirsty techies whose ability to reverse-engineer has galloped lately. Perhaps this was the reason why big premium companies did not feel the necessity of launching fighter brands until recently. They started feeling the pinch on their premium brands’ market share since many of the cheaper brands can offer almost equivalent specs, performance and warranty, except the image. Companies have to accept these realities on the ground. (read more)

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Impulse Buying: A Goldmine for Retailers

Probably we might notice that, most times, we ended up with buying more than what were planned for while we shopped for groceries or other durable things. It may happen for many reasons. One could be due to coming across a product that we might need in near future but did not think of putting it in the buying list, simply because we forgot about it. While shopping for eggs, you might think that you were almost out of salt. This is quite an “innocent” type of need, recognized due to unplanned encounter. This may not be the impulse buying though.

So what is an impulse buying? Theoretically, impulse buying refers to purchasing anything based on emotional or momentary feeling of a need which was not actually thought of while started shopping. It is based more on impulse (momentary emotion at the time of encounter in the store) than on logical/rational assessment of customers’ actual need. Most (not all) impulse buying may result in customers buying things that he/she may not actually use in future, but he/she thinks that this is/are the thing(s) that need to be bought at that moment. Projecting in the future, one might find that he/she has an exercise gadget that was hardly used; bought books that were hardly read; bought a movie in dvd (due to its attractive cover) only to find a boring story later; bought a bunch of clothes that were hardly worn in a year; or bought some fancy gadgets that collected dust on the cupboard!

Without getting into an ethical debate whether stores should entice customers to get into an impulse buying situation or not, this type of consumer behavior could be a goldmine for retailers as customers may spend more than what they planned for if they can be wooed to buy a product that has impulsive value. Novelty products are often displayed so vividly that customers’ emotion may overtake logical assessment to lead an actual purchase. Fashion retailers and electronics marketers often use this technique to arouse impulsive buying behavior. Discounts and promotional deals in grocery stores may also give rise to impulsive buying. Discounted cars and top-notch in-store promotion of durable goods can also lead to this type of buying behavior.

Whatever reasons it may lead to impulse buying, it moves to the same end: customers buying more than what he/she thought to be needed. If you are a retailer, review your merchandise arrangement, in-store decoration and promotional displays in order to assess whether you are missing something from your customers.

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