The Ten Second World

We are now living in a world where if you fail to hold my attention for ten seconds (or less?), I am going to press my remote’s button to go somewhere else. If an advertisement is not relevant, I am gonna put my eyes on the newspaper and ignore you. When the first ten seconds of your presentation is boring, I would start playing angry birds in silent mode. We are living in a world of very short length of attention. This is posing a different challenge to branding and media consumption. What are those challenges actually?

The first challenge is to catch the attention of your audience and hold it with the story. Twisting, turning, warping and suspense could be the key to stand out with the message. It gets really challenging when everybody tries to do it, particularly during major events like Super Bowl or World Cup Cricket or Football. It is not the interesting story that wins, it is the “more interesting” story that cuts through the clutter.

Second, the nature of competition means that holding sufficient attention for a longer period of time would call for a strong and sustainable value proposition. What do you stand for so that you are valuable to me? Cutting through the clutter in message delivery does not guarantee victory over others when it comes to sales. Any outstanding message can result in message retention and recall, but if customers say that I love the ad but I don’t need that product—that means the communication has failed to promote “relevance” to customers. Customers have more tools in a connected world to judge a brand. Outstanding ads could definitely increase traffic to your site or store, but conversion depends on many other factors.

In a ten second world, you could either become a king quickly or die dumb biting the ground in a steep fall.


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What is the Central Key to Customer Service?

If you ever worked for customer services, you probably found most customers fair and nice. Keeping aside some really rude customers, albeit they might have all the reasons in the world to be so, you cannot probably satisfy all customers that seek the desired service from your company. However, you can still try your best to keep that zero satisfaction at bay. Probably you know by now that a polite explanation why you cannot deliver the service to your customers oftentimes appeases their anger on the company. “Attitude” is the central key in managing customer service excellence. Thus, it is not always the service that you provide or you fail to provide that matters. It is the “attitude” that you show, while delivering or not delivering the service, that matters most. It is about showing empathy to your customers’ causes. It is about expressing sincere intention to help that matters. Can we practice this “free” yet valuable attitude while delivering customer services?

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The Favorite Store

When it comes to running household errands, for example, shopping at your local store for a pack of cookies, most of us would probably go to our favorite store despite having multiple alternative stores in our localities. Do brands have something to learn from this customer behavior? Should brands be indifferent about this behavior since almost similar assortments are carried by most of these retailers? If not, what brands need to do to win shelf space in these apparently popular local stores?

There could be multiple reasons why many of us might have a strong store choice. It could be the location that seems convenient. It could be the pleasing appearance and decoration of the store that provide customers with positive experience. Such positive experience may also be enhanced through courtesy and helping attitude of sales persons behind the counter. When it comes to local stores at our doorsteps, some stores would be able to manage a stable base of customers through “social behavior”, like getting to know customers personally and engage customers through chit-chats during the shopping time. Some stores may simply win because of their ability to shorten customers’ shopping time by employing more salespeople to serve when it gets crowded. Some customers would deliberately choose those local stores that have no problem to change a 1,000 taka note for an item costing Tk. 50! You call it “customer service” at the store level.

Brands must be aware of such retailer behavior that greatly impacts customer behavior. While it would be an enormous task to train local shop-owners on how to deal with customers, what brands can do is to develop a ranked list of retailers based on their customer friendliness. When it comes to fighting for shelf-spaces, the popular stores should get the first attention. Have you been able to identify the popular stores in your category?

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Coke in Milk Business: A Smart Move?

Coca Cola is about to launch “Fairlife”, a premium milk brand in the USA this time. In a market characterized by falling demand and fierce competition among on-the-shelf competitors, Coke’s move raised many questions as to why it has to move into this market at this time.

Coke has invested into dairy business for some years, and currently not expecting any profit from this category. However, the company has priced the brand almost twice the average price of regular milk brands that are currently available in the market, and  expecting to earn high profits in later years. The premium milk is produced through a proprietary technology using high-tech filters that yield high protein, high calcium, yet low sugar (lactose) contents in the processed milk. Interestingly, this “healthy” milk requires no addition of protein or calcium powder to increase its proportion in the milk, rather the proprietary filter does the job! Presumably, this is expected to reduce the costing part of the production that already gives Coke an advantage over competitors in this category. Making sure that the brand comes in popular flavors, this is expected to “storm” the market after an already successful test-marketing campaign in different US cities. Coke is not currently planning to roll-out the brand elsewhere in the world, which seems to be a cautious move to “wait and see” how the real-time marketing goes at home.

It appears that Fairlife may not attract new customers who would start consuming milk just because Coke has launched something new, rather make some customers switch to its brand on the plea of “healthiness”. Now it is time to see whether a high-tech and low cost advantage can be transformed into a profitable venture in a falling market.

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Asking for Offensive Permissions!

If you want somebody to work for you, and he/she asks for the following permissions, how would you feel?

  • I want access to your photo album
  • I want access to your mobile camera, see what you do when you are not using the phone
  • I want to track your location information, tell me every moment where you are and where you go
  • I require access to your message box, see who is saying what, and what you are saying in reply
  • I want access to your file storage, I want to store some files that will report about what sites you prefer to visit
  • I want your online shopping information
  • I want your FnF list, so that I can contact them with advertising
  • Do you like cookies? I want to send you some net-cookies to spy on you

This is simply intruding, offensive and sometimes disgusting. (এক কথায় মামা বাড়ির আবদার). But this has been happening quite frequently in mobile apps that you are downloading and installing. Particularly true for free apps, they are not actually free because you are paying the price by foregoing privacy and sharing key information that helps third parties to target you with advertising. Well, many paid apps also ask for these permissions. Could some of these permissions be legitimate and logical? Of course, yes. Skype needs access to your microphone and camera, that is a part of it. But how come a game app requires permission to my message box?

It is high time that we protested to these app builders and developed a programmers’ community who would come up with alternate apps to respect our privacy.



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Managers Must Walk!

If you know what MBWA is, you got it. It stands for Management By Walking Around. Particularly true for service industry, the approach would be invaluable for managers in any sector involving team work. The idea proposes that managers can bond teams better and find problems and solutions by wandering around in the workplace, interacting with employees, finding out problems and talking about its solution. Such informal visits may happen without any pre-notified arrangement, in a friendly and cooperative manner. It is about “random sampling” by managers of what is going on in the organization.

The idea was proposed and practiced by the founders of Hewlette-Packerd. Later, the practice was adopted by Steve Jobs, where he applied this approach not only to employees, but also to customers whose questions or comments were personally answered by him.

Notwithstanding the fact that it has been a popular practice in the 80’s, the importance of this practice cannot be overstated in a technology driven work environment today. In a tech environment where e-memos and mobile messages are dominating the internal communication, the face of an employee is missing during this virtual communication. The importance of person to person interaction in a non-wired method still carries significant emotional value for employees. Who does want to open up his/her mind in emails and talk about issues that bug the organization? Who does want to complain about under-funded maintenance department that barely takes care of the repeatedly broken photocopier in the office? Once managers walk in the scene, many issues may become easier to notice and solve, which may ultimately improve the work environment and service quality.

If you are in a managerial position, start experimenting with the approach. Most likely, Steve Jobs was not wrong.

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Lessons from Movie Posters

Those who were ever involved in developing and designing an advertising copy, you know the hard work that goes in the background. It is about putting your story in frames that connects to audience’s minds, which ultimately leads towards achieving your communication objective. It becomes harder, when compared to television commercials (tvc), to put your message in a single frame like in the print media. Interestingly enough, there are lessons to learn for marketers to watch how a movie poster is developed and the story that emerges out of it. Many of us would look at the poster and guess how the story would evolve, albeit we expect twisting, turning and suspense in its course.

Particularly true for movies that our middle-class audience would avoid, for others, we find those strange stories with an oblique smile, like Baba keno Chakor :). There are still filminteresting lessons to learn for advertising students like me. Look at the center of those posters and you will find the main theme. Look at corners that would depict the villain with a knife or gun, pointing towards the mother of the hero. Other corners would depict a dancer, most likely hooked up by the villain to derail the hero and create ups and downs in the hero’s life. Another corner will feature the clown, who would utter tickling dialogues to make audience laugh (despite obvious failures). And there will be some blood at a corner, either on the head of the hero or the villain, depicting actions in the story.

No matter whether you hate this type of movie or not, the poster has already done the hard work of communicating the story. Can your product do the same, perhaps in a different way?

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The Last Button

Dial any customer service number and hear the typical sequence: “thank you for calling Poltu mobile services, if you want to know about our latest offers, please press 1; if you want to know your bill, press 2; if you want to know your current service plan, press 3; to change your current service plan, press 4; to reload scratch card, press 5; to choose your fnf menu, press 6; to hear this menu again, press 7; to talk to our customer service representative, press 0.” Did you ever wonder why talking to a human is set at the last button (least preferred) by companies that profess to practice relationship marketing? Here are some guesses:

  • Companies might perceive that most consumers’ common purposes for calling customer service would be served by first few menus, therefore, they can talk to a human only when automated services are not adequate. (Contradiction: In that case, an unwilling customer can always avoid choosing the first option of talking to a representative).
  • If talking to a human were the first option, service representatives would be unnecessarily busy solving all kinds of simple problems that could otherwise be solved by automated responses. (Contradiction: that means companies are not interested to talk to customers who are interested to talk about their problems, rather companies are telling them to “go away and get the automated menu, stupid”).
  • Automated responses are much cheaper than human intervention (yes, yes, no contradiction).

Well, I think the last reason could be the dominant one why we save a few bucks to compromise while building customer relationship. Has any company ever dared to put the last button first and then find the results of spending extra on building relationship? After all, the relationship is not based on the calculator.

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Branding Official Meetings

Corporate life is full of meetings—sales meetings, distributor meetings, agency meetings, and the list goes on. And the big fact is, hardly a few managers are ready to confess that many corporate meetings are dumb and useless! Unless managers know how to conduct a meeting and how to get most out of it, meetings are waste of valuable time.

Thus internal perception of various meetings among its stakeholders is important to measure in order to see whether these meetings are conducted right, or whether there is enabling environment to support the purpose of the meeting. Meetings are mostly aimed at finding a participatory solution to a common problem, sharing ideas for further deliberation or gathering opinion on some urgent issues. Now if meetings are conducted one-way, like telling and selling the pre-determined decisions by managers, then this could be done by a simple email, and not a meeting. People will come, enjoy the show, and know that the decision is coming no matter what they think or feel about it. Some meetings may also fail to achieve its purpose despite having two-way communication simply because overshooting the agenda and time constraint.

It appears that conducting a meeting is not easy. It requires sense of time, focus, priority, empathy and closing skills. It’s like the job of a salesman, really.

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Breaking the “You” Barrier

A doctor can treat patients, and good doctors can treat patients better. Who are excellent doctors then? They are the ones who are known for their best skills in the industry. In the same way, a good mechanic can repair things better. Who are the best mechanics then? Those mechanics who are known for their superb repair skills.

We all do certain things best in our lives and career. People know us for the better part of our skills set. Oftentimes we forget the fact that, we are what we are because we have driven ourselves to this route. We don’t have many options in life particularly when you specialized in certain skills. But at a point in time, breaking this barrier might land you in an interesting world where you not only enjoy your specialized skills, but also the passion of breaking the skill-set that you cherished all along. This is where the specificity of multi-tasking in a diverse work setup has been popping up in corporations. There are reasons why we need pharmacists with MBA. There are reasons why we need doctors with health management degrees. This is about breaking the barrier that we cherish ourselves within like a shell.

Think of one extra skill that you can acquire in the new year to start a small crack in your shell. Happy New Year!

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