Archive for January, 2010

dealing with the old guard

In Indian culture, respecting your elders is jack hammered in to your head from day one.  As a sign of respect you must touch the feet of elders, especially anyone over the age 50, all uncles and aunties, and even Indian family friends who are also lovingly referred to as “uncle and auntie”. Pay homage.

These traditions are fine and  should continue to be respected.

However, what about when you want to make your mark on a company that is run by the old guard?  When you first enter into this terrain you have to be careful not to disrupt things immediately. There is a certain way of doing things, which “made this company successful for 20 years.” Any new ideas offered should be expected to be quickly dismissed. Aspects you feel are important, like say the companys website will be replied with, ” just update some information, don’t need a pretty design! and hey its been working fine the past 14 years!” This obviously will infuriate you to no end, but its a part of the learning process. Marketing is a battle of ideas and you’re only deemed credible when those ideas produce results. Bob Dylan famously sang ‘ the times they are a-changin’. Well guess what?  People find change uncomfortable.  New ideas are always going to be faced with resistance. But keep persevering, because the fact of the matter is people want to be sold on a new idea. They want it to work, but are fearful that the negative consequences will outweigh the gains. But the market desperately wants something new. It wants something awesome in a world full of mediocre, boring, seen that before.

How to go about this?

It’s cliche saying… but start small. Incremental changes will slowly gain traction. And it can’t be just any idea thought about on the whim. It has to add value. If you can show that idea creates more value then you have a good chance that it will work. Make it work! You just need that tiny bit of momentum to give you confidence to flex your creative muscle even more. Your boss will gain more confidence in you and eventually get out of the zero-sum thinking. You create more value, the customer receives more value, company is paid for that value, the boss is happy, you are appreciated. And what happens if it doesn’t work? Learn what went wrong and start again. You weren’t expected to produce anything worthwhile anyways, so try anything.

So you can either continue only collecting your blessings.  Or you can start producing value that will eventually lead you to be one day praise worthy. Not just because of how old you are!


destroy your stereo(type)

talking about my generation

All lawyers are evil.

All politicians are corrupt.

All marketers are liars

All made in China products are cheap.

All mother in laws are annoying.

All hospitals have long waiting lines.

All running shoes are made in sweat shop factories.

What are all the stereotypes your customers and people have about you? Take some time to think about it. Write it down.

Then destroy it.

why you should care

On my recent travels I was fortunate to have gone trekking in the Kathmandu valley of Nepal with my brother. During our stay, there was news of a Maoist strike planned for Kathmandu city.  This threat ended our trekking tour prematurely – as we were forced to drive into Kathmandu a day early.

Now the trekking tour manager informed us that he would make up for the lost night and dinner included in our package.  So he offered to take us on some excursions around Kathmandu the next day, as the Maoist strike was later canceled!

He never showed up the next day. And why would he? He already had our money. Whats it to him? A whole lot.  The fact that I didn’t get full value for my money is not what most bothered me, but the fact that this guy lost any goodwill  I’d have of spreading word about his company to my family and friends.

All he had to do was offer something, anything to make me feel he cared about my experience. Just some effort to appease the customer on his part would have helped his company far more long term, then this short term gain.

This post isn’t to persuade others not to travel Nepal. It’s an awesome, outer worldly experience from the modern bustle of North America. Walking around buildings, temples that are thousands of years old is an experience you can’t quantify.

However, if someones asking me about trekking tours in Nepal, I will say it was a decent experience. It could have been an awesome experience, but it was just okay because of this encounter.  Whether this trekking company manager realizes it or not, he also represent Nepal tourism to me, my first impression. I will be more cautious agreeing to a tour next time I visit Nepal. But others who encounter this kind of service might never return to Nepal!

Whats the point?

The best kind of marketing is actually giving a damn. Make your customers experience with you a positive one.  Something worth remembering. You want them to leave your business being an happy, enthusiastic, walking spokesperson for your company.  Focus on this far outweighs all the thousands some companies spend on marketing brochures explaining all there nifty products and services.  Listen, have some empathy and you might win a customer for life.

We Are Running People

I almost didn’t pick up this book because it shares the same title of that cheesy 70’s tune sung by Bruce Springsteen. Thank God I did because one of the highest compliments I believe you can give a book is it persuades you to take action. That’s exactly what happened. I’ve started running quite a few times this past week and its all based on this exciting tell all tale about running called Born to Run by Christopher McDougall.

Now this book is much more than simply about running. There are so many life philosophies that can be taken away from this. But what initially got me was I couldn’t stop reading  – I was 40 pages into it and laughing my ass off. The quirky characters the author encounters just to learn about running are  mixed in with compelling science and a bit of mystery. This is why this book has become a national best seller – that is a lethal combination. It throws all conventional wisdom out the window.  Like there are times when reading this that it just felt like propaganda – but the science and results don’t lie – humans are born to run and the modern shoe doesn’t seem to be helping.

Thats how the book starts. The author questions why his feet are hurting. Then he goes into how important feet are, ie your feet are full of sensory neurons that rocket straight to your brain. After your hand and lips, your feet are the most sensitive part of your body. He then comes across this native tribe in Mexico that are known for running. This society doesn’t have crime, no war, no disease, no greed, and no obesity. What’s the reason behind this? They love running. They love it to the point that Tarahumara tribesmen have been reported to have showed up as far north as Siberia. Wearing sandals. That wasn’t a typo.

Another super interesting aspect of this book is his attack on Nike and its powerful marketing. The basic conclusion? They have created a 20 billion dollar industry based on NOTHING. Lets just say my jaw dropped when I got to this bit. One Spoiler? Don’t buy expensive running shoes. Read this article if your really curious. Oh and check out these shoes.

“It wasn’t art, it was a business, a hard-nosed quid pro quo. No wonder so many people hated running: if you thought it was only a means to an end – an investment in becoming faster, skinnier, richer – then why stick with it if you weren’t getting enough quo for your quid? “

You don’t dance because you ll become skinnier, you do it because you just wanna dance, you cant’ help it when there blasting MJ from the DJ booth. Right? This story is essentially about passion and how powerful self-belief can be.

Another one of the conclusions I took from this book is people become attached to whatever they believe in.  Your  doing something wrong, your told you need to buy something to fix it – ie a running shoe. I am almost feel scared to ever buy a running shoe again. I am gonna use my current ones till they fall apart. Support an area, it gets weaker. Use it extensively, it gets stronger.

PS : Want the endurance food of the Tarahumara tribe? Get Chia seeds. I just ordered a bag.

marketing bollywood

Aamir Khan in Rang De Basanti

Happy Twenty Ten amigos.

Over the holiday break I watched quite a few movies, and many of them were influenced from a recent trip to India. It got me got thinking about what’s currently happening in Bollywood aka –  the Hindi Film Industry – and how it could be marketed better to  get more appreciation around the world.

Hindi Films have a monopoly on  the Fashion/Music/Wedding industry

I wish Bollywood would go more global, but you have to first understand the Indian entertainment culture. There are certain limitations it puts on itself and that is simply due to the market it caters to.

Hindi films are a unique art form that exists in South Asia. Up to recent times, a lot of the films have these set pieces that are focused on NRI audiences (Indians living abroad). The story that is presented has this superficiality – the characters wear these designer clothes, and finally there are these formulaic “filmy” songs. India doesn’t have a strong mainstream music industry like we do in the West. Because of this, the venue to show songs is through the power of Hindi films. Thus majority of the songs being generated come from film. The songs in the film also become a venue to showcase all the latest fashion styles for the upcoming wedding season for Indians living abroad. You see the cycle here? Its one big entertainment/fashion package! It’s an art form is very close their hearts of Indians and to alter it completely would be betraying the audiences expectations.


In 100 years, there has yet to one breakthrough hit to come from Mumbai that both West and East can appreciate. Bollywood is very good at copying ideas off Hollywood, but Bollywood hasn’t had one copied from Hollywood. I mean one of the biggest and best Hollywood movies of the past decade, The Departed, is remake of a Chinese movie – Infernal Affairs. The biggest sci fi movie of the past summer was District 9 from South Africa! Slum Dog Millionaire is the only one that can be considered a cross over hit. But it took an English director to take an Indian story, with Indian actors in an Indian setting, to be presented in a way that appealed to people in LA and Mumbai. India is the home of Mahabharata and Rāmāyaṇa. It definitely is a country of story tellers! And stories have universal appeal.  That storytelling talent just needs to be refined and presented in a manner that will allow Indian films to become global hits.

Imran Khan and Genelia D'Souza in Janne Tu Ya Janna Na

Lack of Realism

Indians love making these classic “masala”movies –  boy meets girl, girl ignores him, some conflict or twist, eventually fall in love, big wedding, lots of songs in-between. Okay not exactly like this, but they do have a formula that just doesn’t translate as well as it used to. Its gotten predictable, just not interesting enough.

So sometimes now you will see the 1st half of the movie with songs, the 2nd half something else. I find the Indian film industry is going through a transition period. So the goal for new directors is to make it commerical but also take it to another level – the content, the humour – not play it up the way its usually done in Hindi Films. These kind of movies are now becoming big hits in the Indian box office. Watch movies like Rang De Basanti. Yes, it has songs, but there is realism, in that it ties along to pushing the story forward and in many cases adding to the overall flow and mood of the film. Janne Tu Y Janna Na, Paa and 3 Idiots (hilarious, amazing film) also come to mind, in merging song-story cleverly. Audiences are getting smarter, perhaps the directors have awakened to this fact now.

In some cases no songs are used, such as in the terrorist film, A Wednesday and also none in the office politics of Rocket Singh. In the instance of Wake Up Sid, the music is there, but  its cleverly used in the background in the montage of shots. No lip synching!  More focus on reality based stories and less on the music and sometimes no music.  A refreshing change. Monsoon Wedding by Mira Nair was sucessful in capturing the euphoria and fun of Indian culture, and it did without switching from one village scene to some wide angle shot of a couple dancing on the mountains of Switzerland. Sell us the fantasy, but make it somewhat imaginable!

Ranbir Kapoor in Wake Up Sid. With Chicken in his mouth

Poor Dubbing/Subtitles

They spend all this money making the film, but  then only pay 5,000 rupees for the English subtitles. Honestly, go rent a hindi movie from your local Blockbuster  and you will laugh at the absurdness of the translation. It just sounds so childish, and that is not because of the dialouge, but mostly because not enough attention is paid to this. If the Bollywood big whigs want more foreign revenues , apart from what they already receive from the Indian diaspora, then it needs spend some of its budget on this! You may argue that  they speak some English in Hindi movies, so this is a non-factor. Wrong. You can’t just do a direct translation or subtitle the jist of the scene.  The context in which the dialogue is spoken in a particular scene – that needs to be worked on. It has to capture the feel of  that moment in the movies progression. Western audiences love the dancing, but for them to take it more seriously it needs subtitles that capture the small nuances. Yes some cultural jokes still won’t come across as funny to non-native Indians. But still more effort needs to be made on this front as well.

Think Bigger


What am I getting at with this? There is this myth that Bollywood is already global. That just because you pick up an Raj Kapoor dvd in Hong Kong or see a Hindi Film billboard in Mexico. However these are only small pockets of influence and that popularity is declining.  The only reason you can say Bollywood is global is because there are global Indians watching. It remains a product mostly made for Indians.

There is a new big budget Hindi film coming out soon with Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, called My Name is Khan. And guess how much the budget was ? 15 million USD. Now that is the same amount many A-list actors get in Hollywood. Some Chinese films are made for 50 million USD. Only way to generate such budgets is to capture more from the global pie. Number one way to do this? Invest in the storytelling. Bring some realism to the plots. It has world class directors, excellent actors and great production values. It just needs to focus more on story telling. Slumdog Millionaire did it and reaped the benefits big time.

See Also : Benefits of Being An Oveseas Citizen of India