Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Copy Cats - Copying Can Be Cool

There is an aura about innovation. To be called an innovator is a big ego boost. It creates a superiority complex and there is a rarefied air around the innovator.
On the flip side I wonder how many like being called Copy Cat or Not Original?  Not very cool and certainly not a tag which you would like to have.
But if you look at successful companies and products there are a list of them which have been very very successful.

The dream of many - Apple had copied the Mouse and also the GUI ( Graphical User Interface from Xerox  PARC). Infact PARC did sue Apple but lost out to due some technicalities. The first Apple Macintosh was inspired by the GUI.

The list from Microsoft is huge.  MS Basic copied Tiny Basic. MS DOS copied CPM-86. Windows copied the early Mac OS. Word copied WordPerfect. Excel copied Lotus 1-2-3. Access copied FoxPro. Windows Server copied Novell Netware. Exchange copied Lotus Notes. Internet Explorer copied Netscape Navigator. C# and .net copied Java.

Rumour has to Google copied bits from iOS for its Android.  Not surprised that Jobs was livid with Google especially since Eric Schmidt the erstwhile CEO of Google was on the board of Apple.

It is not that even consumer products have not faced this. Closer home the big daddy- Unilever copied Henkel's Fa in India and called it Liril. The marbled effect, the shape, the colors and the fragrances were copied. Why even the advertising jingle was copied. The success of Liril is the story of lore in India.

Modern trade chains regularly  successfully copy products from established manufacturer brands.

There are a string of products/ molecules copied by pharmaceutical manufacturers which have helped bring down costs and increase distribution

There are examples aplenty of how many brands/ products have been copied of inspired by others.  The key implications are:
  • There is no harm in copying provided IP is not violated.
  • The copier can give a better a product/ value than the original creator.
    •   Microsoft was smart to learn from the mistake of others launch a products with was far more acceptable and then use the leadership (near monopoly) position to ensure that customers adopted the software.
  •  Success does not come from creating a product/ service but reaching and providing value to a customer.
  •   Leverage customer accessibility to increase value to customer
    • Distribution costs especially in the online world is negligible.
    •  Modern trade chains have access to a set of customers and hence can provide products which compete and provide more value to the end consumer.

I, Me, Myself - Personalization Will Drive Businesses of Tomorrow

Couldn't help overhear a conversation between two mothers complaining about their children - " This is generation is so self centered, all they think about is themselves".

We had done a dipstick amongst our customers and asked them what merchandise they wanted in our cafes and many of them asked for personalized products - products which had their name, customized to suit their requirements.

The two examples are very significant of the orientation and inclination of customers across segments. Consumer behavior has changed from buying a product which was made for everybody to a product which made for 'me'. 

Actually the Internet is all about personalised experiences. We get information when we want it, at a time convenient to us and customized to a large extent.

Look at the way Internet products have evolved. First we had the general all encompassing portals like Yahoo; then came the language portals and specialized portals; following it came the messengers and chat; and finally came products which focused on the individual like iGoogle. These products or experiences centred around giving the user, services and information which he/ she wants and not a generalized one. 

Facebook, Twitter etc. are all about communicating one's own thoughts and actions. It is not surprising that these have been a hit with most of world's Internet friendly inhabitants.

Loosely put, even the form factors of Internet access have changed. The smartphones and tablets are manifestations of the personalized behavior. Once upon a time we accessed the net through the large PCs (infact one PC was shared by many) and now we access the net through our phones!

High end hotels & resorts are looking at personalizing your experience at their properties. The loyalty programs have morphed into relationship programs which gathers information on the food you eat, the rooms you like and many other personal preferences. Infact some airlines have also done so for some of their premium class frequent fliers.

Even some iconic brands have got into the act. 

Australia went into a frenzy. Coke was seeing diminishing sales in the youth market. And they personalized Coke! In the first stage 150 different Coca-Cola bottles were released, each with a different name. Using the most popular names in Australia- Matt, Jack, John, Steve, Mary, William, Isabella, and Chloe among others, each name was written boldly on the bottle in the Coke font. And naturally as soon as these bottles reached the shop shelves they were picked up. The second stage involved 18 chosen shopping centers, where you could go to have your name printed. People waited hours to get their 'own' bottle.

Lego went a step ahead. They allowed customers to take a photograph of their choice. Lego would develop a set which will allow everyone to view the same picture built through a customized Lego set of blocks. 
Custom Stamps

Governmental organisations are not far behind. The Japanese postal service took the lead in releasing personalized stamps. Go to the Japan Post's website, and design your very own stamp. Within few minutes you have your own personalized stamp which is legally valid!
All brands need to adopt techniques and technology in which they will be able to personalize their experiences. Apparel brands will need to offer bespoke services, cars are already being customized (sorry Ford), Food is made - made to order and unique. Examples can be reeled out but the reality is that with the 'I, Me, Myself' generation the uniqueness is 'I, Me, Myself'!

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Humanoid Machines or Mechanized Humans

The other day I was talking to a few friends from the retail business. They were mentioning the importance of processes and systems. It made life easier for the team on the shop floor and catered to nearly all situations. When one of their wives very innocently asked - ' But what about the human touch ?'.

Across all businesses we have been making efforts to streamline and remove variables arising out of the 'humanness' of service. The motto seems to be the same service wherever you go.

Was flipping through the pages of the newsletter from the robotics department of a large university and the objective there was to humanize the robots. Loads of time and energy have gone into research across many educational and research establishments. Imagine a machine which behaved just like a human!

What a strange conundrum!

We want humans to behave more and more like machines and on the other hand we want machines to behave more and more like humans.

Individually, each example I had mentioned earlier, seemed relevant and necessary but when the twain meets  (and seems a possibility) it will present to us - the next conundrum : whom do we choose or do we go back to where we started?

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Cut the Crap - How Brevity is in Fashion Now!

Was in a meeting the other day with a client when he told me that since he did not have the time could I describe our proposition in 5 minutes. And to think we had prepared a presentation which detailed our offerings. And while he was interested; you see - he did not have the time!

It's the world of keeping it short, keeping it brief - brevity is the key!

You look around and you will see brevity touching our lives in more ways than one! A snapshot.
  • Relationships -
    • Kim Kardhashian may take the cake for her marital longevity (or shortness) but in the age of quick relationships and 'wham bham thank you ma'am' one night hook ups, relationships are fleeting and so is commitment. No wonder divorces and break ups are increasing. Partners change within days.                                                                                                                                  
  • Clothing -
    • Dressing less. Skin is in. For both sexes. Cleavages are common and so is the decreasing hem line. The motto seems the lesser the better - the oomph factor aside!
  • Communication -
    • Look at any print ad. The copy if any is limited and the visual is large. The effort is the communicate the message in a jiffy. Long copy is long gone!
    • The micro blogging site - twitter is a clear way how the world is portending. 140 characters and that's it! 
    • Texting on mobiles - SMS and BBM. 'Whtevr hppnd 2 gud engl?'                                                              
  • Sport
    • Even sport has evolved into shorter formats.
    • Cricket has the T20 formats and even a Super Sixer tournament. 
    • Field Hockey has a 9 side game with shorter fields and shorter game formats. 
    • Golf has a speed version
    • So does Rugby, Chess etc.
  • Business -
    • Earlier we had announcement of full year or annual results, then it became half yearly and now this has been further shortened to a quarter. I wouldn't be surprised if analysts start asking for a monthly number. What is even more surprising is that the same analysts will talk about long term strategy of a company
    • No wonder many employees have a short term focus. They are only bothered about the immediate results and do not have a long term perspective. I know of people who will work for an organization only for 2 years after which they move greener pastures. 
    • Even the presentation to investors have now become famous with the 'elevator pitches'. 
  • Religion - 
    • Even God has been given a shorter shrift. Churches, temples and seen shorter services and ceremonies. Nobody has the patience to communicate to god for a long time. 

Why is there a brevity syndrome?
  • Information overload (thanks to Toffler!) - With an ever increasing dosage of information which can be a deluge at times, people are bombarded with disparate information. They have to sieve through all of that to pick out the best. As we speak there are some 7 business news channels in India alone apart from the multitude of international and national news channels ( both English and local language)
  • Attention deficit  - As people have to do multiple things at one time and receive stimuli in different forms it is difficult to sort all of it. Hence people are not able to focus on any one bit of information. This lack of focus percolates everywhere.
  • Spoiled for Choice - Any person has a bewildering array of choices across any aspect from relationships to machines. The variety creates both confusion and disdain alike. 
  • Paucity of Time - Multi-tasking, pressure, double careers other interests - all euphemisms for a lack of time to spend and dwell on subjects.

The Age of Distrust and The Age for Trust

Loss of Faith The last few years have seen an increasing ‘loss of faith’ against politicians and media (because all communication happens ...