The Silent Salesman

Salesman cannot be silent, it simply won’t work unless he/she is already selling a hyped product. So what would you do? Put salespeople round the clock around customers and retailers? That’s not the case we mean here as silent salesman. It is the 24/7 communication tool that almost acts like a salesman when your real salesmen are not around. You got it now, it’s your packaging!

Packaging is the “dress-up” of your product that reflects the character and personality of the brand. The hard parts are the choice of symbol, color and composition of text that would do the job when customers look at the package. The “Wow” factor needs to be there for initial trials to occur. Granted that mere attractive packaging without ensuring core quality would backfire, yet the communication value of a well thought-out packaging design is unquestionable. Unfortunately, many times, brand managers would put more time on designing product and advertising plan rather than on conducting extensive research and testing on packaging design. Packaging has tremendous rational and emotional values to confer upon the minds of customers. Please take care of this silent salesman!

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The Rise of Do Something!

Digital era gives us a few good things that were otherwise almost impossible in the past. Properly ignited, social media messages can cross boundaries and unite people for a common cause. Dosomething.org is such an endeavor that deserves a classroom discussion in business schools. To date, the site boasts about 3.5 million strong members, mostly young people aged between 13 and 25— involved in promoting, supporting and fundraising for various causes and social changes in the USA and abroad. As the site declares, if you are young and want to engage in social changes, dosomething.org is there for you. Its members are involved in causes like clothes for homeless people, recycling for environmental preservation, scholarship funds for people interested in higher education, etc. The other side— the donor members, provide funds for promoted causes in a “crowd-funding’ model. Crowd funding is a type of crowd sourcing where an individual or group seek funds for an important cause and another individual or group provide funds even though none of these sides has ever seen each other in person.

In an unfair world, can the venture really do something to contribute to social causes? Although not on a scale only possible for national governments and big NGOs, individuals or groups may still pinpoint the priority areas that other agencies might take over as significant causes to work for.

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Never Lie to your Ad Agency!

Ad agencies are an integral part of your brand management system. No matter how much you hate or love your agency, you and your brand have to live with them. However, oftentimes they are the ones who are underestimated, under-rewarded and under-appreciated, yet pressured for magical results! Rather than talking to them with a “doctor-patient” relationship in mind, marketers sometimes try to hide the negatives and brief only the positive things about their brand while developing communication pieces. Agencies need to know the whole story so that they can determine which one to highlight and which one not to. Of course, they can develop a message based on positives and get the bill paid by you. But you are the one who will ultimately suffer in the market if your brand’s weaknesses are not sufficiently alleviated before the activation. If you lie to your agency, you are not doing yourself a favor. It is like hiding an important disorder from your doctor, resulting in an ineffective treatment.

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Why Apple is Interested in Making Cars?

Apple devices have been known for its user-friendliness and prestige. The company boasts a loyal base of customers who would continue cherishing the brand for lifetime. When it comes to designing mobile devices, Apple has its own uniqueness and superiority in its class. However, the recent media reports indicated that Apple is interested in stepping beyond the world of mobile devices. It is interested in electric cars, most probably a driver-less car like Google’s car (click here). Dubbed by media as “i-Car”, this raises many questions in the tech world as to why Apple is interested in this venture.

Well, it should not be surprising if you knew that Steve Jobs was interested in designing a car in later part of his life. This was intimated recently to the media by one of his colleagues that Jobs was really excited to see the design of Tesla (click here). He was actually upset with gasoline powered cars and thought that car designs were lagging behind in terms of technological advancement. Cars do not need to be polluters to the environment. At the same time, cars should be online and “connected”, thus being a part of your fun experience. Apple has been hiring thousands of people from other car companies, negotiating with BMW on electric car technology issues (which BMW recently denied) and most likely working on efficient battery technologies to be used in i-Cars.

However, there is another stream of views which suspects that Apple is actively collaborating with car makers not because it wants to make cars, but because it wants to involve itself with the next generation integration of car technology and software. i-Pod integration has been a common feature in BMW cars that makes playing i-Pod in those cars an easy task. Car apps are also promoted by Apple where programs like “BMW Connected” and “BMW Link” can provide access to many applications like Facebook, web radio and navigation via mobile devices. It appears that, the future of car software, including engine monitoring, tire pressure, oil change notification and many other safety and maintenance features would be integrated into our (Apple) mobile phones. Apple just wants to know cars better so that the next generation software can make your car a connected one with all those tips on your mobile phone.

No matter what Apple is planning to do, even if it comes up with a connected i-Car, it might see a huge success among young consumers who may be willing to conserve the environment and diminish the difference between a phone and a car. The “Next Big” list of mobile devices should not only include mobile phones, Bluetooth and like, but also a car that can communicate online!

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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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