Tuesday, June 30, 2009


.....The rise of rental or borrowing services catering from everyone from fashionistas to environmentalists has even spawned a marketing buzzword: the "transumer."

(When) will this concept work in urban India ?

What were they thinking ?

The BMC ( Municipal Corporation of Mumbai City ) has announced a cash prize for property tax payers whose children have scored more than 90% in Std X or XII . Possibly the BMC did an extensive and detailed survey which revealed that most of the property tax payers have school going children . And that this incentive would set their cash counters ringing with people queuing up to pay property tax. The BMC has set aside Rs 10 crore of public money for this ridiculous plan.

Next , the BMC will probably announce that on wednesdays the people who show up at the BMC office in yellow colored clothes will be given priority attention re their issues . Something like that would make as much sense as the arbitrary cash incentive for property tax payers whose children score more than 90% in Std X or XII. At least that would not throw public money down the drain.

Monday, June 29, 2009

(Hoping for ) Indian in design

India's design heritage is magnificent. Whether in terms of architecture , interiors , textiles - the beauty , functionality of our earlier creations is superb. A visit to the Calico museum had me wondering if with the advent of technology we had actually regressed in terms of craftsmanship in textiles and clothing.

Recently we worked on a hand embroidered range inspired by the Taj Mahal. While discussing it we realized that in architecture and interior design the modern day buildings in India - residential and commercial - seldom reflect the wisdom and beauty of India's heritage. Layouts , materials in construction and interiors can be influenced by India's rich heritage creating spaces that are environment friendly , creative and have personality.

When working on the interior design for our office one of our requirements was for the space to reflect India in a unique way while creating an inspiring workspace. Over innumerable discussions I discovered that the interior designer equated Indian with ornate. One of his (many) problems was that he did not seem to know of any precedent of such design in a work space. In the many months that it took to create the space I realized that it's possible to weave interesting Indian elements into the design of an office or home in a cost effective way. It's also possible for a space to be designed to be reasonably versatile.

This extends to restaurants , spas , retail spaces , hotels, educational institutes, public spaces as well . When the design of a space is unusual it automatically draws the attention and interest of visitors , customers. It's an important step in differentiating one's brand / company. One that's often overlooked in the zeal to be 'me too' , 'modern' and (in case of multiple outlets / chains) creating a standard look across the country that ensures a degree of commoditization. 

Done thoughtfully the design of a space can enable it to be an ally.

The Neemrana hotels are a case in point . One might argue though that they are a heritage hotel and therefore their hotels will reflect the heritage of the region. They do so tastefully and beautifully. Each of their hotels has a unique look while offering a certain quality of service and experience. The design and feel of the space adds immeasurably to the experience. 

There are restaurants in India that offer speciality cuisines . Yet the design of many of the restaurants is done in a bland , neutral way . The food and service experience has to be that much more powerful for it to transcend the banal surroundings.

When one travels to another city in India the malls start to blur and look like the long lost twin or at least cousin of the mall in one's suburb. Likewise , national retailers . A Shopper's Stop or Lifestyle or Westside in one city looks pretty much like the one in one's city . While the merchandise may have some local flavor the design of the stores does not inspire a sense of discovery. 

Unusual (in a contextually relevant way ) design offers benefits to a single store as much as it does to a national chain . This is an area where India's design heritage offers a treasure trove of inspiration to create beautiful , memorable , fusion spaces that blend the ancient with the contemporary.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

2 seasons

The monsoon has finally arrived in Bombay . Temperature has dropped by several degrees. The weather inspires poetry . The sea and sky form an every changing kaleidoscope.

Courtesy 'modern' architecture we are in an office that has only one large window . Necessitating air conditioning even for air circulation and ventilation. With the temperature outside having reduced the air-cons are super effective . Indoors , it feels like winter in a hill-station . Some of us in office are therefore vibrantly dressed in shawls and sweaters . At any point there are 2 seasons - one outside and one inside.

2 seasons...a bit like life . The surface (external 'reality') of life and one's experience of it. 

Fragrances over the internet

...NTT Communications has developed a ‘fragrance communication’ system that makes it possible to send a variety of different fragrances using the internet.

The company, which is a subsidiary of Japan telecommunications business NTT, calls the invention the I-Aroma service, and will be product tested in July and August, before it is launched, according to web-based news provider Crunch Gear.

The system is based on a 15cm high USB device, which contains six base oils. These oils can be blended and vaporized according to the online commands that are sent through to the diffuser, making it possible to create a wide variety of different fragrances....

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Rediscovering the joy of shopping..

For someone who doesn't cook much I've always enjoyed shopping for fresh vegetables. Even as a child it was something I looked forward to. Love the aroma of fresh coriander , spicy green chillies , aromatic mint in the vegetable market. Even during exam days I would volunteer to go out and buy vegetables. 

Fast forward to the last few years. The emergence of the supermarkets resulted in a lot of the household shopping being attempted in supermarkets. The stores in my suburb seem to specialize in getting average to bad quality vegetables and fruits . Tomatoes are some shade of green . Red peppers turning black while on the shelf . Overall , there is no joy in the selection , buying process . It's a chore. What makes this whole experience even worse is watching every single vegetable packed in an individual polybag. 

Today , I rediscovered the joy of shopping for vegetables at a local market. The sight and aroma of fresh vegetables was delightful. The vendor struck up a spirited conversation to persuade me to buy a variety of vegetables . All along he made sure that every selection was quickly weighed and kept aside . Add to it the fact that I could get all the vegetables in my cloth bag without using a single plastic bag . AND , no waiting in a check-out queue for 20 mins !

Fantastic products , personalized service , environment friendly and time efficient. The joy of the experience was infectious . Folks at home loved the vegetables . Made a delicious salad. So , healthy food can be added to the list.

Fresh vegetables and fruits - Fantastic products , personalized service , environment friendly and time efficient - all of these are possible for big retail stores to deliver. Yet , they (at least the stores in my area * ) fail in varying degrees on all accounts . 

* Star Bazar , Food Bazar , Nature Fresh , Foodland ,  Spencers . Hypercity scores somewhat in the fresh produce quality (compared with the other supermarkets )

Monday, June 22, 2009


Alice Kahana , an artist living in Houston , has a painful and vivid memory of her journey to Auschwitz as a 15 year old girl. On the way, she became separated from her parents and found herself in charge of her little 8 year old brother. When the boxcar arrived , she looked down and saw that the boy was missing a shoe . "Why are you so stupid ! " she shouted at him , the way older sisters are inclined to do so. "Can't you keep track of your things?" .

This is nothing out of the ordinary except that these were the last words that passed between them , for they were herded into different cars and she never saw him again.

Nearly half a century later , Alice Kahana is still living by a distinction that was conceived in that maelstrom. She vowed not to say anything that could not stand as the last thing she ever said.

- The Art of Possibility , Ben Zander

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Killing softly with beedis

Incisive article by Swaminathan Aiyer .

Thursday, June 18, 2009

It's cool to carry your lunch to work

Interesting to see the various motivations that make it appealing for Japanese office goers to carry lunch to work.

Quintessentially Japanese to bring design (in this case the design of the lunch boxes) into the picture to add to the appeal.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Honesty Cafes

This initiative involves the citizens who are more likely the victims of a corrupt system. The primary and the largest source of corruption is the government and government agencies / companies. Unless corruption is tackled there - initiatives like this will be of limited value.

As an experiment it is certainly innovative and commendable.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Opportunity in a bottle

In a country like India plastic bottles are a relatively recent phenomenon . For years I remember the stainless steel water jugs and glasses used at home . Today , it's a challenge to find a stainless steel or copper water container in the modern format stores. Even more challenging to find a stainless steel alternative to a plastic bottle to use in office or use in travel. Stainless steel bottles / water containers represents an intersection point where the needs of the environment , (health) benefits to consumers and the needs of business meet.

Over the next several days I'll look for the steel alternatives in the traditional stores. Suggestions for stores in Mumbai that stock such products most welcome :)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Universal right

France has declared access to internet as a universal right.

Millions of Indians are waiting for their government to deliver on basics like clean drinking water , sanitation , medical care and education.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Tackling effects alone

Found this article (online) about Mumbai in a Calcutta newspaper. The High Court is urging the Municipal Corporation to declare car-off in days in Mumbai as a means to reduce pollution. The line of thought is why should 85% of the population suffer due to the 15% who use their vehicles. There is a genuine issue - pollution and a declared villain - the folks who use their vehicle to commute. Has the makings on a needless saga.

This makes as much sense as the Traffic Police in Mumbai putting up energy guzzling electronic signs to flash statistics of drunk drivers arrested , messages like - don't honk . Implication being all problems on the roads is solely due to the indiscipline of motorists . Never mind that most roads resemble the moon's surface , traffic signs in many places don't work or are not even installed , BMC has thoughtlessly dug up roads in an entire area reducing the lanes available for traffic movement , corrupt officials have turned a blind eye to pavements and roads being encroached , successive governments and the municipal corporation have not made the effort to develop the public transport adequately . I have read often that Mumbai has a very good public transportation system compared with many other parts of India. Well , in the land of the blind the one-eyed is king.

Coming back to the pollution issue . It is a genuine problem . One that affects most residents of Mumbai. Commuting takes much longer than it should. The solution for that is not to mandate car off days . First and foremost develop the public transportation system in quantity , quality and frequency which incentivizes travel by public transport. Once a robust and comfortable public transportation is in place then to experiment with car-off days makes sense. The government need not do it all by themselves . Some of the bus , train transport can be privatized. Improving the public transport takes vision , will , ability to implement plans within specific timelines * - all of which our successive governments and municipal corporations have so far not demonstrated.
* cases in point - 
1. The Metro . It looks like a fairy tale ending . And then they built it happily ever after....
2. Bandra-Worli sea link

We need to work on genuine, long term solutions rather than waste time on impractical (at this point in time) ideas like 'car off days'. 

One woman global village

Brilliant show by Sarah Jones.


The electric kettle in our office brewed it's last cup of tea 2 days ago. It could not be repaired . Went to the local supermarket to select it's successor. There were a range of brands. Some with a discount offer at Rs 599 , some at Rs 899 , few brands at Rs 1385 etc. Asked the salesperson on the floor for feedback on quality differences (if any) between the brands. No answer . Is the 599 kettle comparable in quality to the 899 one ? Yes , said the salesperson.  Why is xyz brand priced at Rs 1385 ? The salesperson's response ' It is good quality . It is imported '.

On wonders whether sales staff receive product training or do they create their own explanations ? It's also clear that the Indian brands across categories need to work on dispelling the perception that a product or brand is better simply because it is imported. When a product value exceeds a certain level consumers are more likely to research the product and the brand. And likely to arrive at the store with a shortlisted set of brand and product options. In (relatively) low value items the feedback of the salesperson has an influence on the choice. With responses like the one I encountered the choice moves to the lowest price product.

(Ironically the response of my chauffeur + office help re the earlier kettle was " It can't be repaired. It's poor quality because it is 'made in China' " )

In my career I have worked on marketing Indian products in international markets (and within India as well ). The endeavor was always to create a positive product quality and service experience , to offer innovation. I don't have rabid notions that everything made in India is superlative . I do believe that there are many products produced in India which are comparable in quality with a similar product produced 'overseas'.

Indian brands in various categories have to deal with the reality of the product quality AND the perception that 'imported' is somehow better.

My (un)mobile week

Mobiles are increasingly becoming important to consumers .In countries like Korea the mobile has become indispensable as a form of identification , navigating through daily life. It is a matter of time before other/all countries approach this level of usage of mobiles.

I had a mobile free week in Japan (my gsm phone does not work there). To be honest , I quite enjoy it. No time or attention lost in checking for messages / emails. A quality of presence which I see quite difficult with a mobile that keeps buzzing regularly.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Reconnect with customers

These days most folks have multiple credit cards. It is therefore likely that one ends up using 1 or 2 cards making the other cards dormant. Naturally it's a challenge for the credit card companies . They understandably want to reconnect with customers and get them to start using their card on a regular basis. 

What would be some of the ways to reconnect with customers ? 

- Send them a letter highlighting benefits of the card
- A 'welcome back' , 'we've missed you' type of communication
- Something to incentivize the card usage
- Call the customer to discuss why he/she stopped using the card and if there's something they can do....

If you are Hsbc you reconnect with dormant customers by taking the effort to print and courier a bill for an outstanding amount of Rs 0.79 i.e approximately 0.01 cents ( I'm not making this up ). This morning while going through my mail I saw a credit card statement from Hsbc. It's been months (possibly a year) since I used the card. When I saw a statement (considering that I haven't received any for many months now ) I was puzzled. In the few moments it took to open the envelope my mind had raced through many options . Maybe there has been unauthorized usage of the card and that's the reason I have received a statement etc

Granted that these are challenging times where one needs to recover all payments due. Is it worth it to print and courier a bill for Rs 0.79 ? Is it worth the customer's time to write a check and deposit it , for a bank to clear the payment ? A bill like this is a sign of a system devoid of common sense (or any kind of sense ), empathy. I'm quite sure if I make the effort to call the world's local bank ( the cost of the call will undoubtedly exceed Rs 0.79 ) I will get a canned reply on how it's the 'system' which prints out the invoices. I'll therefore spare myself the effort and the aggravation.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Are we in control of our decisions ?

Brilliant presentation by Dan Ariely. Will make you review your choices as consumer and offerings as a business person. You'll look at your magazine subscription , physician with a new perspective .Visual illusion as a metaphor for 'reality' is a powerful thought with ramifications way beyond business.

(expect more Ted posts in the next several days . Have seen some amazing presentations in the last few days)