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Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Apple overtakes Rolex - reflections on market leadership

I am an ardent follower of Horace Dideu's Asymco blog, where he discusses interesting and geeky statistics pertaining to Apple and iOS.

He reported that Apple has overtaken Rolex sometime ago to become the world's largest watchmaker - both in revenue and in unit sales. Incidentally, Rolex sells about a million watches a year.

However, Apple has become market leader in the short span of just two and a half years since entering the watch market - a market for a product which is not even it's primary offering. Rolex has been in the business of watches for more than a 100 years.

It's a sobering reflection on what it takes to sustain market leadership. It reminds me of this excerpt from Through the Looking Glass

"Well, in our country," said Alice, still panting a little, "you'd generally get to somewhere else—if you run very fast for a long time, as we've been doing."
"A slow sort of country!" said the Queen. "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!" [1]

You no longer have a lifetime to build a market leading brand. Nor can you justify that you need time to 'get it right'. 

Whether it's the point at which a business turns from red to black, or whether it's hitting a sales target, we give ourselves less time for success these days. One of the reasons, is because we have so much more data to inform decisions, or make midway course corrections.

On another note, you do not need to be a category expert to become a leader

Uber has never operated a cab of their own. AirBnB was never in real estate. And Apple is not a watchmaker by heritage. Swiggy is not a restaurant expert.

It just takes an idea, perfect execution and impeccable timing. And of course, getting all this right in a short time. It's not easy. But it has been demonstrated time and again, by a handful of companies, that it's possible.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Prosthetics - not replacing a limb, but eradicating stigma through Design

It was fascinating to read this article in Tech Radar about the prosthetics of the future, some of them fitted with microprocessors and sensors, which both look and act futuristic. 

But what interested me the most, was to learn that until recently, designers in prosthetics companies never really spoke to consumers. Of course, they did testing - of both prototypes and final products - but they never set out to understand how amputees feel about their condition. How they feel about wearing a device, what other people say about it (or how they look at it) and the impact on their self confidence.

This is a common problem, in the medical space - with companies that manufacture devices, and those that make medicines. They are problem centric, not consumer centric. They see themselves as providing a solution to a problem, rather than doing something for a consumer or end user.

When the prosthetics companies did finally start speaking to consumers, they understood that their job was not just to replace a lost limb. It was to erase the stigma of being lesser than other people. It was to change the dialogue from 'Oh I am so sorry, what happened to you?  to "Wow, what are you wearing?"

And it lifted the product design and aesthetics from dead unimaginative to cool, desirable, even aspirational

It led to the design of hero-inspired prosthetic (Iron Man, Star Wars) could light up or make noises.

They did not even cost a bomb, like some of the more sophisticated prosthetics. They simply looked cool. Kids loved them. It elevated them from 'lesser' kids to superheros in their own eyes, and in their friends eyes.

Now. some of these companies are working towards 'assisted devices' that do not replace an existing limb but enhance its ability and functionality (so you can lift more weight!)

One day, it might be cooler to have a prosthetic than a real limb. But we would have never, ever gotten there, without Human Centered Design.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Bringing the fun back to local news

Local news never ceased to be important to us. We hear it from our maids, and security guards. We seek it out on Twitter and in WhatsApp  Groups.

But unfortunately 'news' is too often serious, political, increasingly opinionated and it's becoming a pain to watch or listen to it. And despite a real need, there is just not enough local news, except for a few channels on Twitter.

That's why I was delighted to discover this lady:

(Source : BGR)

She is having fun, she is not bound by journalistic rules and agendas. And I am sure her locality is tickled by her. In the era of Facebook Live, Instagram and much more, can we have more citizen journalists (even young ones) with a zen to cover the local news including rescued cats and more?

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Lessons from SAP - why B2B companies need to simplify pricing discussions

SAP has been in the news for wrong reasons in the past year. The German ERP software giant engaged in a litigation with Diageo UK for violating SAP's indirect licensing rules by integrating SAP with software from Salesforce. The judge found Diageo guilty of violation, through the company had already paid SAP more than 54 Million GBP in licensing fees.

To put it simply, SAP charges additional 'indirect' licensing fees on any software that connects even indirectly to data stored on SAP systems.  Many customers were not aware of this, and now they are wary of engaging in any dialogue with the company, for fear of being hit with huge bills

SAP is now belatedly trying to simplify and modernise its pricing policy and its leaders are touting customer centricity as the core of the company, but it does  not seem to be reaching out. In a poll conducted by the ITAM Review, nearly 76% of SAP customers have concerns or fear the consequences of engaging with SAP on licensing issues

SAP customers want clarity, not a conversation
(Source : ITAM)

Licensing is a horrendously complex subject. Ask Microsoft. Ask Adobe. Ask Oracle. They would all have stories to tell about the difficulty of communicating licensing to customers.

So are  many of the technical, legal or price-related conversations that B2B companies need to have with their buyers. Especially in the new age of cloud, big data integration and multi-device access.

It is crucially important to strip away the legal jargon and communicate with complete clarity. 

The benchmark for describing your terms and conditions should be 'Is it easy enough for a layperson to understand?' If not, you need to work on simplifying it.

In fact, the clauses that are most likely to be ignored or misunderstood, should be highlighted and given extra importance.

Banks really do need to bring in more honesty in communication. With respect to account charges and credit card charges. The age of hiding behind small print and legalese is over. 

Conversations on money should never, ever have ambiguity. It's true in case of the smallest deals, and the biggest corporations. Therefore, it is surprising that SAP has allowed ambiguity to exist.

The repercussions are painfully clear in this case. Reduced customer confidence. Lack of trust towards the company that they pay millions of dollars to already. And ultimately, an erosion of the brand equity that the organisation has  built over years. 

One hopes that they can come out of it. But meanwhile, others can look at the situation, and learn their lessons.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Public art as a form of brand building

Yesterday, I visited the St-art India Festival (Street Art) housed at Sassoon Docks, Mumbai. Those of you who have visited Sassoon Docks, a 142-year old fish market, will know that the first and most inescapable impression is the strong, overpowering smell of fresh and dried fish, impossible even for fish lovers to tolerate for long. 

So it was natural that I stood and had a quiet chuckle in front of this exhibit by artist Sameer Kulavoor;

The artist even had giveaway empty cartons of perfume, that you could take back with you.

He reminded me that the smell of Mumbai is an inescapable part of the city, like its skyline. In its extreme form, I notice it, but otherwise I am used to the smell of Mumbai, which an outsider will immediately notice when it hits their nostrils. It was a reminder of the power of smells and their associations.

It could have been a fun, funky installation for a young perfume or deo brand. Provided they CREATED and did not SPONSOR it (an important distinction). 

All around me, I saw very young, very hip youngsters, engaged not in the art exhibits but in youngster's favorite activity these days - selfie taking, with art exhibits as the backdrop.

It's not the first time that I have seen this. This Nat Geo installation at Kala Ghoda a few years ago was a selfie hotspot for youngsters. Thus the reach was not limited to just visitors - the brand logo went viral on social media - and amongst just the young TG the brand sought to reach.

By calibrating the selfie (or photo op) smartly, you can reach an older audience as well.
For example, I was tickled by the 'branding' of Parfum Sassoon on the floor as well. I am too old to succumb to the selfie craze, so I took a snap of my feet next to the fish as well. this is incidentally the most popular picture in my Insta feed, amongst the many snaps I took of St+Art India. See how insidiously I have shared a brand logo (and I am sure that the artist was well aware of the power of art to have this effect)

It got me thinking as to why more brands do not use public art as a way to engage with audiences. At places like Metro Stations, parks, college campuses, bus stops, even roadsides. At places where people wait, where they queue up. At places where they chill out. Why do we fall back on the old mediums of hoardings, televisions, walls to plaster brand advertising? Why not create a fresh installation?

It's definitely more attention grabbing than hoardings

It's naturally more buzzworthy than a lot of online content because people can physically engage with it.

It benefits artists not only financially but also giving them a showcase for their work.

Our civic bodies do not prioritise beautification and brand funding can definitely raise the character of our public spaces.

And finally, public art can make people happy. It can be a mood changer in our daily, grimy, sweaty lives.

Of course, it's not as easy as it sounds which is why more brands are not doing it. You can't just shove a brand message into a public space. It needs to be subtly done. There needs to be empathy with the context, the ethos of the city and its people. That's what tugs at the heart. Kulavoor's perfume exhibit did that for me. It integrated the city and a love for it, with a creative (almost ad agency creative) touch. And it worked.

Lastly, do remember, one of the most important social services you are performing, is offering people cool photo ops and selfie backdrops. Seems we just cannot have enough of them. I mean, look at the number of selfie takers who have lost their lives trying to pose on the seaside and on cliffs. We really need safe spaces to cater to this selfie hunger and I am only half joking here.

Seems like a win-win situation for all. 

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Welcome to the Robotic Age

“You just can't differentiate between a robot and the very best of humans.”
― Isaac Asimiv; I, Robot

In an earlier era, robots used to be these dorky things that the Japanese were endlessly fascinated by, and created in all shapes and sizes. The rest of us looked on indulgently as it seemed to be one of those ways that the Japanese are different from the rest of us. Truly we have to thank them for keeping interest in robots alive, while everyone else fell for iPhones and smartwatches and whatever else was in fashion.

In movies robots were shrouded in the fantasy packaging of the good guys super aide - like Marvin in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, R2-D2 and See-Threepio in Star Wars.

But what ended up getting designed could scare the hell out of us sometimes. Google-owned Boston Dynamics has been a prime culprit, putting out some seriously aggro bots.

The reality is that, Boston Dyanmics has been hard at work, so robots are  getting better at acrobatics;

And they are definitely hear to stay, and here for good.

Here are some ways that robots will be helping humans in the years to come;

1) Robots and Chatbots to give company to the elderly

Powered by NLP (Neurolinguistic Programming) and the increasingly sophisticated Voice Recognition Technology, robots can keep elders company, alleviate their loneliness, remind them to take medication and even alert human caregivers in an emergency.

Check out Paro and ElliQ who could be the next generation caregivers to the elderly;

2) Aiding people with autism
With the ability to be patient, helpful and unaffected by human moodswings, AI based bots can form relationships with autistic people, while at the same time helping them to connect better with the real world.

Wisconsin based emotion tracking company Affectiva is working on AI tools that help autistic people develop real world communication skills, and understand other people better.

3) Kitchen Robots
The dream assistants who can take care of kitchen jobs better than humans, do not fall sick and don't need to take holidays. What's not to love?

Jokes apart, the kitchen assistant robots are designed to maximise efficiency and speed while maintaining consistent quality - something that even seasoned cooks find hard to go.

For example, Café X is powered by Gordon, an industrial robot who makes an unlikely barista. Gordon can produce high quality coffee drinks in way shorter time than a human could - while maintaining consistency. What's more, he can service way more people than a human can - and he can work overtime.

Sally, an automated robot with startup Chowbiotics, is a robot who can make more than 1000 variations of fully customised salads using 21 basic ingredients

There are many more examples, and more in the pipeline. What's interesting here, is that traditionally robots have been used for industrial tasks - especially ones which are hazardous to humans or require high precision. Now, we see them doing more human jobs and actually replacing people.

Digital Trends - why robots are good for us
Wired - When Robots invade the kitchen