Thursday, October 2, 2008

Marketing Challenges in the New Millennium

This could be viewed from multiple perspectives.

Two of the developments have made marketers world over rethink their strategy, execution and the very existence of the profession in significant proportions.


This has brought about novel challenges to marketers both from domestic markets and going global perspectives. For instance gone are the days when marketers have to contend only with fellow local companies who have accessed to similar resources. As a result of globalisation many foreign companies come to domestic markets bringing with them wealth of resources. Communication material to processes are of world class in nature. They maximise synergies through development of communication material etc which could be used across markets with minimum changes. Local marketers have also raised the bar in this regard. The kind of TV adverts in Sri Lanka between Signal (Unilever) and Clogard(Hemas) is a strong case in point.

With many local companies going global local marketers also face the challenge of getting their mix right. Culture adaptivity probably place the most crucial role here.

1. Communication

10 -15 years ago there were limited channels of communication where public(consumer) seek information. In Sri Lanka during the early to mid 90's there would have been 2-3 TV channels and about 4-5 radio stations in each language and may be 03 main news papers which people read. Fast forward to 2008, and you find there are over 14 terrestrial TV channels, several Satellite TV players who expose consumers to over 80 or so different channels and you find Western Province alone having 30 odd Radio stations with many regional Radio stations while newspapers and publications have also mushroomed in significant proportions.

Given this scenario it is clear that consumer communication channels are fragmented. Those days to reach your core target audience a company had only to focus on running adverts on may be couple of TV programs, radio programs and several papers. However to reach the same audience a marketers have to choose among equally competing programs in multiple channels. Whilst the process and industry has grown to cater to this demand it is fair to say that no single company has mastered this art of optimising given the present levels of fragmentation.

New media such as Internet, e-mail and mobile phone based have also evolved which are also in the process of establishing methodologies. However given the rate at which obsoleting happens in these spheres marketers find it difficult to keep abreast of efficient methods of using such technologies. For example when Internet penetration levels are becoming worthwhile in Sri Lanka world is moving past typical banner advertising to more web 2.0 driven methods such as blogs etc which are considered more relevant in todays era.

2. Profiling the customer him/herself

Modern day consumer who is exposed to many things as a result of this exponential technological advances which is never seen in the history of the mankind is becoming more and more educated, matured by the minute. (S)he is evermore so demanding. Armed with knowledge the consumer is seeking customised product / service offering in every encounter. They are willing change service providers with slight failure to do so. shifting has become so much easy. Thus the marketers have a unique challenge of making use of technology to understand shoppers individually and catering to those requirements.

3. Regulatory developments and legal barriers

Legal framework has never been so stringent. From a global point of view legislation such as privacy laws, intellectual property laws create significant pressure on making use of technologies such as internet, SMS etc and also creativity.

Even in Sri Lanka recent developments such as NATA bill have made both tobacco and alcohol industries curtail their marketing operations. Industry professionals world over who are faced with these challenges are compelled look at various other alternatives and it had changed marketing focus dramatically from unusual methods such as societal marketing etc.

Similarly laws and supreme court judgements regarding noise or sound pollution have pushed marketers abandon some of the most successful execution methods that they've been practicing for ages and go in search of alternatives which are yet to be found. Further these have created significant pressure on budgets.

4. Pressure on accountability

Whilst the phenomena is not new, there is increased pressure from various stakeholders and especially shareholders that marketers should be more accountable for their budgets. For example they seek tangible results for every marketing activity/ expenditure. Whilst it is indeed a step in the right direction it has challenged marketers to tangibalise their action in such a manner which is acceptable to various stakeholders.

5. Evolving organizational role

Marketing is being embraced more and more as a business philosophy across the board which creates even more challenges to maketers on their evolving role. From a mere division which had specific role to play like anyother division now they are required to establish themselves in a new world where everybody in the company is a marketer with their marketing ideas.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Bringing up a champion! (The Sangakkara Story)

Having had the opportunity to read the award acceptance speech of Kumar Sangakkara at TOYP 2008, made me think few attributes which could have assisted in making this world-class performer.

But before I analyse this aspect, let me quote Kumar on his aspirations for the future,

"One of the most valuable lessons taught to me is that the only cruising you can do in life is downwards. To be truly successful you must be willing to push yourself out of your comfort zone."

"It is a lesson I have tried to apply everyday as my ambition is to not to be a good cricketer, it is to be a great cricketer"

This clearly explains the kind of perseverance, determination and above all passion which drives this amazing individual. The kind of stuff which takes you from good to great! Who would argue that he is not on his way to greatness!

So what are the facts which points out towards the making of this champion during his early days.

To quote Kumar again,

"I was fortunate to have parents that always pushed my brother, sisters and I to pursue excellence in all that we did. We were encouraged from an early age to be ambitious and positive"

"Even today, my father is both my most ardent supporter and hardest coach. he watches my cricket closely and is always quick to point out areas where I can improve , even if I score a century. I am very grateful for his support and encouragement"

There would have been many things that would have contributed the making of this man. However this sums up parents contribution in this whole equation. The kind of values that was instilled upon by the senior Sangakkaras on their children.

This again is nothing new in our Sri Lankan society. All the parents want their children to achieve 'the world'. To me the difference in allowing children to choose what they wish to do but importantly inculcating from a very young age the importance of being ambitious and positive. Once the precedence is set and those two important values are stamped in to one's system it drives what he or she does in what ever they do. Contrary to this most parents choose what they think is best for children probably against the wish of the child and then push down this path in different avenues. But instead your basic value system needs to be instilled upon the child for him to apply that in any situation (s)he wish to do so. As parents one needs to set the ground rules and not force the issue with the choice.

Whilst I do not know what Kumar's bother is doing, I remember the time his sister being Sri Lanka's number one tennis player. Those were the days when I too tried my 'raqueting' abilities with my bother at SLTA. During that period she was considered probably Sri Lanka's best. From what I heard Kumar too enjoys a game of tennis. But two children to achieve national accolade and one to reach international honours on regular basis the parents would have played their part to the fullest.

You can clearly see what Kumar profess in certain other areas as well. For those who are regular readers of his column on Cricinfo is must be quite evident that he is one of the most eloquent writers of the game. His articles are treat to read on most occasions. (He has drawn some criticism from certain quarters for sharing too much of game secrets in public). Never the less he has certainly made his mark already in cricket journalism and he is getting better like wine by the day.

Dr. Uditha Liyanage, Head of the Panel Of Judges at the TOYP explained the criteria by which they selected people. According to him people carry both capability and ability. Capability he defines as what you bring with you(your talents). Ability he defines as the "do ability" or ability to transform in to action, in search of results. According to him to achieve significant things in life this transformation needs to happen it is propelled motivated by the rewards.

In Kumar's case, the terminal reward is obvious. He wants to be a great cricketer! Probably the best in the world!

Stepping up to the plate when required

When I received an invitation to be part of the TOYP 2008 I was in two minds to attend or not to attend given that it would take up what ever little time that is left for me to study for the upcoming exams. However given my association with Junior Chamber and specific request by a very good colleague of mine, I decided to be there.

TOYP - The Outstanding Young Persons of Year awards are organized by Junior Chamber International Sri Lanka on annual basis to felicitate men and women below 40 who have accomplished things in 10 disciplines. They started the program way back 1980 in Sri Lanka and every year it is becoming better.

The event was very well organized from the outset. Once I was comfortably seated my friend walked up to me and said he wanted to talk to me. He took an envelope out of his jacket and said one of the recipients, Kumar Sangakkara, to be exact, who have won the most outstanding sports person of the year award is in Australia nursing an injury and that there was a lady that has come to accept the award on his behalf and for me to read out the acceptance speech.

Now, reading up a piece of paper is no big deal, but doing it under spotlight and camera is totally another thing all together with few minutes of notice. (There were reasons for me not to walk up to the stage which are beyond the reasoning of this thread).

Two things crossed by mind at that point. My friends had great faith in me that I would do justice to the man who won the coveted title in his absence. Secondly it was an opportunity try something out which I like to do in real life.

Hope I did justice to the man and his speech by reading it out the way it should......those at the audience told me it was good......seeing the clip would tell me how I fared within that 1 -2 minutes under spotlight.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Incremental Vs Breakthorough Thinking

It's just amazing how some groups are driven by incremental improvements when there is enough capacity and opportunity for breakthrough thinking!

For those of you still confused, let me explain.

In personal life and in business, constantly we are confronted with challenges. Increased targets, raising the the bar continuously. Day by day due to all sorts of productivity requirements we constantly work on this aspect. Except for those who fail, others somehow hit the required targets thereby ensuring continuous growth. Now that's good compared to most who fail to "hit" the numbers anyway.

BUT, those who achieve incremental improvements tend to be very comfortable with what they achieve. The incremental syndrome can be very alarming for individuals and companies and in general for society at large. It's a question of what is possible? The actual potential. After all it is those breakthrough ideas which become runaway winners which brings in more money to the companies and greater rewards and satisfaction to the individual better way of life for people in general.

In technical terms it requires paradigm shift in thinking. You need to change the rules of the game. Same playing field with same rules give same results. Those who play the game in a different ground will achieve breakthrough thinking.

What are the symptoms.

- Companies and people need to sit back and should take a stock of the situation when they achieve numbers or goals/objectives year on year when the bar is raised. (On periodic basis and not necessarily YOY). Whilst it might be a great thing that they do hit their numbers, it should bother them that they're setting for a particular pattern.

- Alternatively in process improvements and business improvement exercises we tend to focus on incremental improvements. We must be conscious that while we are going on incremental basis, some competitor somewhere must be working on a breakthrough idea. They just might change the landscape of the whole ball game after all. Music players were improved by many on incremental basis until Apple came up with the iMac.
- When you are on a role with incremental mentality there is a great momentum built around it. Leaders must be conscious about this fact. The momentum tend to crush any kind of questioning on what has been already successful. (Even though such questioning might lead to incremental breakthroughs!).
- Some of the typical silent voices will never be heard! The leadership in the group should make a conscious effort to get people to listen to others. It's very tough when you are doing something right. Almost all the time we do have time bound pressure looming large to meet the deadlines.
I have seen enough and more groups who does this in test scenarios and in real lives. Some of them become super efficient at incremental improvements they simply refuse to accept the fact that there might be another option which exist!
So next time a around when you continuously "hit" your numbers, pause for a while and think, "Is there a breakthrough option available?"

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Management : It's not about you!

The argument continues, Are the managers born? or Is it a skill that is learnt? To me it's a bit of both. I'd fall to the latter. You can teach people almost anything. Management certainly falls within that realm.

But when someone puts lot of effort to do something, many think they were born with it. Such is the power of practice!

Different people have different styles of management. However what is the fundamental purpose of being a manager? It's an attitude game where the right attitude prevails.

Are you the right management material? According to management expert David Maister answer this very simple question

"Can you get satisfaction by making other people succeed?"

(or do you have the need to score all the goals yourself?)

Key is, it is not about your ego, your name etc. You should be able to build something and allow others to win contracts, businesses, achieve things etc.

Management is very similar to coaching. Every successful team has a great coach. From individual greats such as Pete Sampras and Tiger Woods to great teams such as All Blacks, Australian cricket team there had been a great coach who had been performing behind the seen.

Those who reach the management status should keep this in mind. They need to have "parental instinct", ability achieve satisfaction from seeing the growth of the others.

I've come across many managers who are mostly self centered. They have survived the test of time so to speak. But that's because those who appointed them and those who are above them have all got it wrong!

When star performers are made managers they need to understand that they need to shift gears. You are itched to do things your way, by you. Trust me I know the feeling. BUT that's exactly what you should avoid. One might save sometime in the short term by performing things on their own. Remember it's detrimental in the long run.

If you fall on to the category of people who would want to do things on your own, "to be a rainmaker" all the time, it's not bad at all. You need doers as much as you need managers in this world. There's nothing to manage without doing anything!

Doers are very much part of the success. Just that doers might not always be the best management material.

Good luck and get your act together as a manager.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Interview Jitteriness - Simple mistakes candidates make

Today I interviewed six candidates for call centre jobs. These were their final round of interviews and as expected they were young, brash and bit jittery.

Following are some of the things which I thought they should have paid more emphasis at the interviews.

- Most come up with a standard set of answers for questions. For example they tell you all the right things (in their opinion) that you want to hear. That's no good. Any interviewer is quick to pick these up. I was blunt, I told them that I know that they are programmed. I think people should act natural and answer the questions on their merits rather than being pre-programmed.

- Relaxing seems to be the biggest problem for most. That's of course understandable considering their age and this being one of their first interviews. But people these days are much more matured than say what I was 10 years back. Surely they could put up a better show!

- Interviewers ask probing questions and unless and otherwise you are very good at bluffing you should not say anything which is contradicting. Haven't seen many finding their way out on that. Experienced interviewers pounce on these types of people. Be honest, they'll appreciate that! I do. And most often they give valuable advice.

- Career aspirations? My favourite question! Most get it wrong by practising this. Most think they need to align something in line with the job. Well, not always! For instance in this call centre jobs, I know these guys are not going to stay more than 18 months. That's like the maximum. But almost all tried to impress with all the right things they thought about call centre jobs. Again I was blunt.

- Sometimes attitude could make you a looser. One girl did today. She was ok material and I would have hired her for sure If not for her attitude! She was more like tit for tat! That cost her the job.

- Most didn't have proper dress sense except one boy. At entry level and specially for call centre that is not all that important to me. However first impressions do matter. Good interviewers are cautious about that. BTW I did confirm the smartly dressed guy. He was good. Good overall material.