Sunday, December 27, 2009

Brand skeleton

Brand values and positioning are the most important foundation for the brand. They form the basic exoskeleton without which the brand will not be able to 'stand' the test of time...
I feel the brand can be fleshed out by giving it visual, audio, tactile, olfactory and taste dimensions.. (not necessarily all but I'm sure there are innovative means to capture all...)
for e.g. every new car that you buy has a new car smell... did you know that that smell is 'manufactured' specially because customers love the smell? Even the sound of the door shutting can be manufactured and it has been for some brand (can't recollect which one - but Martin Lindstrom's book - Brand Sense will tell you which one)
If airtel can have a hugely associative musical brand sense when as an industry it has nothing to do with music per se...I'm sure brands can manufacture offerings for all senses.

When umbrella branding won't work for a brand

Recently MTS billboards have sprung up aplenty all over Bombay.. I'm sure they're ubiquitous all over the country or at least in the ... ahem.. metros and Tier I cities...
But the more I see them all over the place the more I feel that the brand launch is pretty poor. MTS India is, I think, worth over 600 Crore ruppees. It is a 74-26 JV between Russia's Sistema group and the Indian Shyam Telelink Group. It apparently has over 2.5 lakh subscribers in India under the brand name Rainbow.
Moving on from the boring stats... what I fail to understand is that if they have a brand name 'Rainbow' why they haven't bothered promoting it in their extensive OOH campaigns.
Secondly even if they do not want to promote Rainbow (which I think is a mistake because Rainbow already has a 2.5 Lakh plus customer base) they definitely need to have a telecom brand and move away from leveraging on their coporate brand (MTS) and communication elements (egg shaped logo).
The logo which is an egg is suppossed to symbolise 'simplicity' and 'genius' which don't seem to be brand values in sync with the industry they are operating in i.e. Indian telecom!
Furthermore, none of their communication builds on the 'simplicty' and 'genuis' values (keyword being 'and').
Even tho' they are a CDMA provider, afterall they will have to compete with GSM operators like Vodafone and Airtel who have very effective, emotional and loyalty inducing communication... I really don't understand MTS's brand strategy. They have a good, although temporary offering (although I have my doubts about the efficiency of the promo strategy as well) which is 10,00,000 minutes free for life and the ad copy for that is.. 'Now I control time' which is okay but the image is just so cliche!!! (Some people may see the 'simplicity' here but I ask where is the 'genius' necessary to make it effective).
Which brings me back to the today's turf with stalwarts Messers Airtel and Vodafone (Shah Rukh Khan and the ZooZoos) it will be difficult for MTS to make a mark and increase its brand equity in India, even tho' Millward Brown and Brandz count MTS among the Top 100 brands. And at the end of it all, it is the brand that matters today.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Brand sounds for a higher equity

I read a book called 'Brand sense' by Martin Lindstrom, which talks about how the most successful brands cover as many senses as possible in their touchpoints...thus exhibiting a direct co-relation between brand success & number of senses incorporated.
Now every brand will have some inherent senses that it can exploit through touchpoints..e.g. a fragrance brand will marinate consumers in their offering.
Talent lies in incorporating more senses than the only the obvious one (or two) and thus capture a consumer's imagination through multiple stimuli!
This is where jingles and musical intelligence comes into play big time. I personally think human beings are more susceptible to auditory input than to visual input. Every brand can create a musical touchpoint... something distinct... and build communication into this avenue. The trick is to get the tune right... sometimes the most annoying tunes get stuck in the mind but they've served the purpose.... awareness and recall... bingo's bbooiinnnggg is a classic example of an annoying sound that automatically and distinctively brings the brand into my mind.
As a brand I feel adidas is very foresighted... they realized the power of music and have gone ahead and created a special soundtrack with 'welcome to adidas' throw into the track for all their retail stores.... and the stores are only allowed to play this track... I'm sure such effects register in the consumers mind and will justify their investment in time because such tactics will sub-conscioulsy make the consumer choose adidas over another brand. Airtel is another brand that has effectively gained mind-share through the route of capturing the ears of consumers and they've done a great job.
Jingles can serve as an anchor for a brand... you start off with an innocuous tune and suddenly you see the ad, text and whatever else the brand wants to communicate in the mind's eye. However, unfortunately not all brands are exploiting this sense.
Brand managers should, at every step, see how many senses they can incorporate. In the Philippines, HUL organizes events and creates a whole 'cooking extravaganza' experience for their consumers - Hotels, cafes, chefs... very innovative... don't you think? I agree with Martin Lindstrom, a brand which incorporates as many senses as possible will occupy foremost position in the customers mind. Once that is done, you can be assured that the customer lifetime value will be skewed towards your brand even though the customer is an experimenter... we all like our comfort zones... we'll try something new but return to refractory position and once a brand occupies that refractory position, it needs to stay there.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A new twist to BUMming - Brand under management

To keep a brand alive and kicking is the brand manager's only mandate... sounds simple but it actually involves looking at the BUM (brand under management) as a stand-alone business because keeping it at the forefront of the consumers mind is no mean task.
Why? ... because a brand should stand for something and what it stands for should be repeatedly delivered to the customer... satisfy him... everytime and delight him as far as possible.
So basically the brand has to maintain relationships with the customers, his preferences which are in constant flux and also with its backbone - i.e. the guys who work it... the employees who manage the BUM
It is the brand managers task to figure out the integrated marketing and communication plan, and which functional, rational and hopefully self expressive attributes will be communicated.
Communication, I feel, is the key to kickstarting or boosting a business but it's so easy to get it wrong because even though the objective is decided, suppossedly, this objective which should be the centrum turns out to be the most fluid part of the campaign!
That's where the brand manager needs to ensure that he doesn't lose sight of whether the campaign is an Awareness, Interest creation, Desire generation, Call to action, Reminder campaign.
While preparing the brief it can be easy to lose sight of the main objective, try and do a bit of everything because we as human beings are greedy and end up spreading ourselves too thin.
Communication budgets are too material an amount to make this mistake. Usually research is conducted at the end of a campaign to determine how successful the campaign was... can you imagine the difficulty in getting quality and accurate feedback for a campaign with a confused objective? And then the brand manager will mostly have to resort to window dressing to save his bum (of the arse variety)!
At the end of it, even something like brand management comes down to basics:
1. Knowing exactly what the objective is
2. Sticking to the objective
3. Establishing and maintaing relationships - with not just consumers but business partners and employees as well, a because a successful brand will have each of these stakeholders as a brand ambassador.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The brand-trend continuum

A brand occupies top of mind position in a consumers mind only if it repeatedly delivers value (read promise) over time. Is a brand successful if it comes up foremost in the consumers mind when he thinks of the category of product it falls under or is it successful if it elicits a certain response or association in the consumers mind?
I guess these are two strategies brands can employ:
1. Try to become the category
2. Create a specific position in the consumers mind i.e. stand for something, mean something to the consumer
Choosing option 2 and succeeding is more difficult than making option 1 work because creating a specific position in the consumers mind and staying put there is a really difficult task.
Because consumer trends keep changing. Every change represents an opportunity for a brand to deliver on that trend and occupy numero uno position in the consumers mind.
So for a brand to set up base in the consumers mind, it needs to be endowed with crystal ball powers... well something like that...
However, it can be done... brands in the past have done it, if not globally at least in the countries of their birth... Nike, adidas, Harley, IBM
And doing it repeatedly builds up alot of brand equity and firmly places the brand at the right end of the trend-brand continuum.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Colour your brand with a story

Neck-ties have descended from cravats which apparently were introduced to the French by the Croatians during the thirty year war. If you notice, the most popular print on ties today is the diagonal stripe. Coming back to the origin, the tie's true origin can be traced to pieces of cloth worn by warriors around their necks with the sole purpose of wiping the blood off their swords after destroying an enemy. Wiping the gore off the sword left behind a diagonal stripe. This cloth was never washed and the number of 'stains' denoted the ferocity of the warrior.
Ties today are an essential power dressing item for men. But I haven't seen any apparel, accessory brands use brand stories to engage the customer. Me thinks the origin of the tie makes for a very powerful story that a brand can use to great effect.
I find that brand stories are an excellent engagment tool. I've personally found my response to a product change after reading a snippet on the packaging or have been given some trivia alongwith the product. Not only does my attitude to the product change, but I'm subsequently bound to tell my sphere of influence about the story. And I'm sure I'm not that much of an outlier to state that consumers are likely to react the way I do to a good brand story... of course the keyword being 'good'.
By nature we humans love stories... using brand stories automatically encourages us (consumers) to share 'em coz everybody runs out of a personal story sometime but always wants to have a one to share...

Differentiation in today's world of plenty

Today there is a product for every need, known and unknown alike. Not only are there specific products for the 'need' there also are products which do a complete overhaul and claim cater to additional needs while they're taking care of one...
This to me means that diffentiation on the basis of product attributes seems more difficult or rather maintaining a competitive advantage through a product attribute differentiation is getting increasingly difficult. In such times I feel that a more focused communication strategy can offer differentiation or maybe if the brand increases the number of touchpoints, incorporating more senses that can also be an avenue for the big D effect. For example, if a restaurant wants to increase clientele, I would recommend they get a 'XYZ on wheels' and take the restaurant to an always jaded customer - the young professional...always on the lookout to try something new and a large enough customer base to provide business for a while...Social media can be used to make the offering more engaging like a Korean fast food (roll) lady did... She used Twitter to tell her customers where she would be at what time and what her menu for the day'd be... I think its a fabulous concept and something that can garner enough attention through word of mouth...

Friday, December 11, 2009

why branding is important for an SME

At dinner last night, with a couple of my friends who run their own design firm, AND DESIGN, we were talking about how touchpoints are as important as the actual business so that a certain look is created or delivered to the client. They were telling me about a client for whom they designed a really good looking business card which he loved but he cut corners by compromising on the paper and print quality... end result... the effect of the card was lost...
That got me thinking... sure the way you do your business is extremely important but it is also equally important to look attractive to bring in more business, for which communication has to be attractive...
The thought I had was the minute a business looks capable of generating increasing revenue, it starts to look even more attractive....and it begins unlocking its own value...
Since brand valuation takes into account business that the 'brand' is capable of generating, the SME then automatically starts increasing its own brand equity.... now why is this important?
In case the SME wants to sell out and make a fat profit, 'Brand Value' could be that contributing factor to the high valuation.
Comes back to the fact that Brand building is important at every stage in the business's life...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Brand resilience

Are established brands too big to fail? If so, do Lehman Brothers, Merill Lynch, GM still command the same brand equity they did prior to the financial fiasco the world is emerging from, hopefully.

I don't think you can ever get too big to be able able to damage your brand... but I do feel that times of trouble determine whether a brand is resilient or not...

According to the Global 500 Report which ranks brands based on their brand valuation, the Tata brand lost only 16% brand equity at the height of the economic crisis while loads of other brands lost between 40-60% equity... Brand Citi lost 59%, Dell 60%, Mercedez Benz 48%, AIG 42%, Allianz 34%, BNP Paribas 33% and Chase 40%!

Brand Tata lost equity due to uncertainty in the auto & steel sectors, the incessant (and still lingering) question marks over their various acquisitions while it gained a few brownie points coz of the Nano .... overall the brand has performed really well and I think its a good example of brand resilience.

So what contributes to brand resilience?
According to me its the faith consumers have in the brand.. the brand has to stand the test of time... which is why functioning with a focus on brand values and delivering consistently will help build equity to such a level that a crisis won't be able to shake the consumer's faith....

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Brand Values

I was recently plagued by a question which I haven't been able to answer satisfactorily...While creating or revamping a brand how do you decide what the brand values should be...
The reason this thought entered my head was coz I've been trying to define what exactly a 'brand' is to me... and the best description I've come up with so far is that it is naught but a set of values that are demonstrated over and over again through all the aspects of business... product, communication, packaging, place, promotion, relationships etc
Once I had a fix on the definition I started thinking about whether brand values are established on the basis of what the brand is at that moment or what you'd like it to be... now if you choose the latter then it means that there are values absent at this point in time but will have to be inculcated... and this is where the dicotomy arises... is it possible to inculcate values or should you draw out positives that you have and not bother with trying to imbibe new values... the reason being that if tis a new set of values you may not be able to demonstrate them consistently thus damaging the brand...Or is it possible to build new relationships keeping the new brand values in mind without any risk to the brand?
My personal choice is to go with what you have and not inculcate new values and if you want new values dig deep to find the right set of values...
I feel that usually brand values are closely linked with the values of the founding figures e,g, Adolf Dassler and adidas - performance, ambition, drive to excel... and founding figures are usually quite even if the brand gets a bit jaded over time, values can be obtained from these founding figures and conveyed through brand stories I guess...
I also wonder if the financial modeling whiz's can come up with a beta for brand risk?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Digital Brand synergy

While researching about brands I came across a write up on an Indian brand of apparel - Turtle, named after the famous Teenage Mutant Ninja Series... but the owners 'went a little deeper' into what they'd like the brand to communicate and came up with a brand story communicating testudine (like a turtle) aspects they wanted to incorporate...they've used the fact that turtles are very active and outlast every other being... thus communicating that they will always be in the middle of things... coming out with new product lines, designs and their brand will last for a really long while...

I personally haven't seen their range of products but I'm sure the touchpoints used will have tremendous brand synergy... I say this because when I logged onto their website I was very impressed with it... the website is very interesting and every aspect has a brand story- simplistically told...

every category of their website builds on the story to culminate into a whole picture which is completely in sync with their brand values and what they stand for...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Brand building

'Brand' is such an over-used word that sometimes it becomes a filler or impressor phrase. But there is a lot of depth to this term. I've been thinking of how to crystallize my thoughts on Brand Management to be able to pen them down for my own reference.
If somebody wants to build a brand (product or business) he or she needs to build their brand first. Now why is this important you may feel? If there is an existing brand that you want to manage.... you have to be able to demonstrate that you can manage it better... and for that you need to build your brand...If you're launching a new brand... you need a strong brand (your own of course) to be able to create alliances and prove your brand (product, business) is the right choice.

I'm going pen down what Vertebrand Management Consultancy has to say about brand building...

The best way to start would be to clearly define the industry the brand is in... once that is established, it is essential to understand

A. The industry to see how competitors are:
- functioning
- talking
- dramatizing
B. What your strenghts, weakness', stories and vision, mission, objective are are - figuring internal capabilities is extremely important because every company will have some peculiarities which can be highlighted and communicated into brand stories.
Figuring these two out lets you understand what the brand needs to have to belong and what it needs to cultivate to stand out by creating a distinc brand identity and personality - i.e. essentially be top-of-mind when a consumer thinks of buying a product in that category

C. Target Customers & their wants - As cliched as this is, inspite of brands claiming to be customer centric they don't always know what the customer wants or arn't able to deliver it... which means with solid customer relationships (which take time to build) a brand will know what to offer in keeping with trends and how to communicate it. Understanding customer segments and their buying behaviour will allow the brand to be able to constantly tweak its delivery, communication and hopefully over deliver leading to customer delight

All these facets of the business will eventually let you figure out what your brand's core values, differntiators, identity and personality are. This in turn allows for a more synergistic logo, positioning statement and marketing strategy.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


I've uploaded the stats for Facebook & Twitter users segregated age wise. Now if you look at the splits you notice that majority of the users are in the 25-49 age group, followed by the 50-64 category... The interesting aspect is that people in the 25-49 bracket are usually the target customers for most brands... even if they arn't being advertised to it is usually their wallet which is under attack!
Now given this age group's networking preference i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, MySpace, it is only logical that brands create an online Retail presence on these sites.
I've joined the adidas originals Facebook community and am pretty impressed with it... it isn't as active (at least in India) as I'd like it to be... but it has over 2 million fans and it does use the platform pretty well to connect with us... there's house party updates, collection showcasing, events updates, downloadable widgets that are all used pretty well to keep the fans coming back for more!
Facebook & Twitter make it so simple for brands to have an online presence (I don't see how Linkedin can be used and have no clue about MySpace) But when I look for fashion and apparel brands, I don't find too many of them on Facebook... in fact, too many is a euphemism! The option of creating a virtual property isn't exploited enough and this I find very shocking given the penetration of facebook users across the world!....
Facebook (at least) makes it so easy for a brand to build emotional equity by engaging users through various activites - it can update its fans (loyalist, advocator etc) about the latest collection, create ensembles, find stores, send out events invites and so much more!
I'd love to work with brands to create their online properties! It'd be sooo much fun coz the online space allows for so much interaction...I'm sure brickbats too are in equal measure... but I think even that could be converted into a fun game.... for example.. if you don't like a brand, you can throw stones, water balloons etc at its store.... it is the brand fan's job to prevent somebody from throwing stones or the fan can help clean off the paint...
that's the only thing that came to my mind.... but I'm sure there's an interesting game lying there somewhere... and what with the number of people diligently taking up Yoville!, Fishville! etc... I'm sure there will be takers for my YoRetail! game, if ever I come up with it....In fact... YoRetail! can work along the lines of all the other vil(l)es... buy land, develop a mall, upgrade it, convince brands to rent space, manage it et al! I think it could work...

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Cliche Campaigns for Brand Strategies

On my way home last evening I suddenly thought of cliches and how they're comforting because:
1. The person spouting them knows what to say (it can be a mindless statement)
2. The recepient has a choice of responses and hence won't be dumbstruck
I guess its comforting by virtue of the fact that its known and familiar as oppossed to the panic that sets in with not knowing (usually)
Now while thinking along this pathetic train of thought, another more interesting thought was added to my brain's computing power...I'd been watching ads online coz I love doing that... I realized one thing that even though an ad is extremely funny and creative (read unusual) it still wont be as sticky in the long run as a well executed but been there done that concept infused with emotion.... for example a havell's ad may not be as sticky as a cadbury's ad (the old one) and this has nothing to do with the nature of the product... (of course I could be wrong)
But what this made me conclude is that branding is about building relationships with customers, promising them something and delivering it repeatedly... with cliched but emotional concepts such an effect can be achieved and I feel that maybe for a more successful brand campaign you should use a more emotional approach than an off-beat unusual approach... because the consumer already has emotions related to your brand and with a campaign adding to those emotions and given the power of repetition, the % of mind-share may be higher... Just a thought.. unfounded as of now!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Baseball Philippines

Hey All,

I'm gonna deviate a bit from bhavisha generated content to publishing something that I'm very inspired by. An alumnus from AIM worked on a thesis report to establish an MLB (Major League Baseball)-esque format in the Philippines called Baseball Philippines.

I actually think very few people in the world are fortunate to find something they are passionate about and Leslie Suntay the proponent in the Baseball Philippines MRR is one such person... he has the guts to follow through with taking his passion and turning it into something that has the potential to bind the whole country... SPORT! it takes a lot of courage to establish a circuit like the one he's set up... especially in an age where people are looking to secure themselves only through monetary means... by no means am I saying that Baseball Philippines is not capable of generating huge returns... quite the contrary... sports is a big market.. in India it's almost a 1900 crore market!

So here's how Leslie ventured into Baseball Philippines:

"With a bit of divine luck and perseverance, matched with a desire to pursue what excites you will more often result into something special; my story is only one of the many in Baseball Philippines that helped pursue a common dream for baseball that led to the creation of the only existing premier baseball league in the capital today. In 2003, my road began by helping organize an open amateur league for “weekend warriors” called the Titans baseball club, where from four teams it grew to eight all due to the clamor for more tournaments. The next challenge was to cater to a good number of players to want a Class “A” league. This prompted me to seek the help of sports gurus with a common passion that led to Baseball Philippines Pilot Series last May 2007. The work has never stopped then and what was once a simple dream has brought the game to our live radio coverage and select games shown in our very own television sets. I’m glad to be a part of something that makes me and many others happy, as the saying from the classic movie goes…”if you build it…they will come.’"

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Are we losing out coz of a servile attitude?

I've been plagued by this question for a while now... I've always found that when it comes to confrontation, no matter how motivated we are amongst ourselves, when it comes to taking an issue up we always falter!!! Why?
Then I came across an article which said that Indians by nature, like to please others... example: If the boss asks you when you can deliver something, without knowing for sure you'd say next week when realistically speaking it'll take over 3 weeks...and that's coz they want to please their superiors...
During another conversation with a friend, discussing sports, I've always wondered why we haven't made it big... and what emerged was shocking,... .coz we arn't wired to win... is that a direct implication of being servile?
While talking to another friend about the racist attacks against Indians, a friend said that such attacks were not frequent or intense against Chinese nationals coz they're scared that if one Chinese guy is attacked his whole community will stand up for him and take action... there's no such 'worry' when it comes to us Indians...
We apparently like to mind our own business at our own expense.
Makes me that more certain that I will veer away from such behaviour... I could be completely off on my diagnosis but I can't understand why we can't work together and stand up for each other... sometimes taking a stand is important!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Manchester United on a platter...

Last term at AIM I opted for Brand Equity Management as one of my electives... as one of our course requirements we had to study Real Madrid and recommend branding strategies for them... which of course our class would judge and not the 'real' team... anyway.. so as part of our recommendations we suggested that Real Madrid go into a chain of restaurants... more like sports bars... coz fans usually go watch games at bars and owning a chain of restaurants is pretty cool... at least in my books... owning a restaurant has a high lifestyle, image, glamour quotient...
So when I came across a press release that Manchester United (no surprises there... they are fantastic at marketing) has given Manchester United Food & Beverage (MUFB) Asia, a Singapore holding company, exclusive rights to own, operate and develop a chain of Man U restaurants & bars all over the APAC region... I was super thrilled...
Total Sports Asia (TSA) envisioned the entire branding strategy... India's going to have its very first Man U Cafe in Mumbai at Nirmal Lifestyle in Mulund thanks to Billionaire Sports...
Right now I'm a month away from completing my MBA but I'm dying to get back home (Mumbai of course) and check the place out... so expect 'experiential' blogs about the place...

Friday, May 15, 2009

Day 8 - Travelogues, Sapa, Vietnam

By far my most favourite place on our backpacking trip... we reached Lao Cai at 4:30 AM and caught a taxi for 30,000 dong each (about $3)... i think it took us about an hour to get to the picturesque mountain village of Sapa. We knew it'd be cold there but the rain greeted us as soon as we got there...! so at 6:30 am, in this breath taking place we alighted and looked for accomodation... all of us were charged up with the fresh mountain air and started hunting for places... we got something for $12 ($3 each) and since the hotel guys readily agreed, we knew that we'd definitely get a better deal.. and sure enough we managed a deal for 5 frickin dollars TOTAL that's $1.25 per head!!!!!!! in a gorgeous hotel called sapa twilight with hot water, a kitchen we could use for free (of course the ingredients had to be ours), heater pads to keep the beds nice and warm and free internet in an empty hotel!!!!!!
as soon as we got in we ordered hot chocolate... there's something about sitting in the mountains with the clouds coming in through the window to greet you and a mug of hot chocolate in your hands! ooooooooo mama.. orgasmic!
since it was raining, we spent the afternoon indoors and took off in the evening to go and see sapa's waterfall.. we rented bikes and hopped on... even though I was disappointed with their waterfall whcih was more a gushing mountain stream than a waterfall, the entire journey was so beautiful that I have absolutely no complaints...
finished early and had an early dinner... now we were really excited that we were saving money on accomodation and thought that we could treat ourselves to a slightly expensive meal (i.e. stuff ourselves with food)... unfortunatley... sapa's restaurants dint match the economy of the hotel rooms! every restaurant was really expensive!
that night when we sat to budget... we realized that we'd have to stay in sapa for 3 days more.. simply coz staying in sapa would help us with finances coz the hotel rates were so cheap!
wow.. we actually stayed in sapa for 4 days coz our room rent was peanuts! i still get stunned by our move.. but it was awesome

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Day 7 - Travelogues - Cat Ba Island

This was the second day of our 2 day package tour of Halong's a total waste to stay overnight on Cat Ba Island if you take a 2 day package... all we did on Cat Ba was sleep! Its a shame actually coz the place looked really pretty...
breakfast was provided by the tour agency... entertainment wasn't part of the itenarary but we got it free... there was this random dude... half indian, half jamaican or something.. drunk at 8 AM... he kept dancing in the middle of the road, teaching kids how to run, randomly walking up to people and shaking their hands.. all sorts of weird things... he drank throughout the 6 hour journey... which was a good thing.. coz if he wasn't drinking he'd be bugging us... the weirdo was so drunk he bit the guide!!!
anyway.. enough about him.. day 2 was pretty much a waste.. but the boat ride through halong bay is worth it all...
we got back to hanoi and immediately rushed to the station to catch a train to lao cai and go onto sapa... this time round we had a luxurious 4 seater coupe and it was so pretty.. we loaded up on bread, cheese and beer for the journey and took off...
we got into the compartment and couldn't get enough of it.. cute little train with a cute lil compartment...

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Day 6 - Travelogues - Halong Bay, Vietnam

After reaching Hanoi at 4:30 we waited at the station till around 5:30 to catch a cab and get to Sinh Cafe... we reached by about 6 am and actually found a tour agent's office open.. he wasnt directly sinh cafe but an agent for hanoi we had two options.. one was to goto sapa and the other was to goto halong bay...
we chose halong bay first... and set off with their 2 day package tour for $35 a head...
halong bay is one of the most romantic places i have seen in my life.. it is gorgeous... we got to the bay after a 2-3 hour bus ride after which we took a boat to halong bay...
i think halong bay gets its name from a legend which says that the bay was carved by the tail of a giant dragon...
it is truly a picturesque sight.. imagine yourself in clear blue waters... surrounded on all sides by random rock formations... some large and some downright tiny! and these are the thousands of islands of halong bay (all created by the dragon's lashing tail)... for toursity purposes these islands have been nicknamed things like fighting cock etc (coz they vaguely resemble two roosters fighting!!!!!) as soon as we got on board we were served lunch.... lovely for sea food eaters... me im vegetarian.. so i stuck with rice, chilli sauce and some peanuts!!! how i longed for a good meal in such wonderful surroundings...
then we went and sat on the deck chairs arranged on top, out of the confines of the cabin...amazing breeze! we'd bought beers before we boarded coz we expected the beer on board to be at premium price... simply demand supply laws!
we spent the next few hours in the water... even stopped at a couple of gorgeous caves... complete with stalactites and stalagmites... the caves were so awesome.. i tell you.. if i had decent food.. and maggi also qualifies and an internet connection.. i'd be prettty content in the caves! for a $1 each you can get off the boat and get into tiny dinghy's which take you out on teh water closer to some of the 'islands'.. its pretty cool... they eeven take you to the floating village (I know I've mentioned these alot in my blogs) which are basically fish ponds complete with mating squids an all.. the receptacle with the mating squids was GRRROSSSS....
now, when you choose this package.. you have two options..1 is to stay on the boat over night and go kayaking in the waters the next day and the other is to go onto cat ba island where theres a national forest park, spend the night tehere and come back on the boat the next day...
expecting loads of water sports in dalat, we chose option 2... i wouldnt recommend it to anybody if you pick a 2 day trip... cat ba island is really pretty.. but by the time we reached it was dark... and there was a festival going on there coz 50 years back Ho Chi Minh had arrived at Cat Ba island on that very day!
so no biking through the forest reserve for us...
the beauty of halong bay was more than enough tho

Volcano boarding & Airtel sponsoring Man-U

time-out from travelouging!!! this had to come in...
Airtel's gonna be the first Indian sponsor for the Man-U reiterate.. during recession for this to happen just proves beyond doubt the power and impact of sports and how corporates can use sports as a medium to engage customers and get them on board.. with the amount of clutter in the advertising world its these events which can make a difference... both to the sport and the corporate house...
now.. since airtel is into providing cellular service and given the madness of soccer, the soccer game downloads and replays they provide will be lapped up im sure.. once the sponsorship takes off, i'll follow it and see if i can find out how many new subscribers they managed to get...
then again.. even if they dont manage the requisite numbers, it does work towards brand building and brand propagating.. also makes airtel seem younger...
I think in India, such moves will actually work towards making soccer more popular... it's a cool sport and such kinda VAS features make it even cooler.... there's always time and theses activities provide for fun ways to utilize that time...
and now for volcano boarding... as the name suggests, it involves using a plank of wood, im guessing not unlike a snow board or a sand board, which you use to slide down the side of a volcano! now people have been doing this for 4 years apparently.. and these people have been volcano boarding down active volcanoes!!! I've trekked up a volcano and swum in the crater of a dormant one as well.. but to think of sliding down the side of an active volcano is scary.... the terrain is so rough... one fall is enough to literally bruise your skin off... !!! but then again thats what makes it so exciting.. I can't wait to try this sport!!!!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Day 5 - Travelogues - Train to Hanoi, Vietnam

After all the running around of the previous day the day spent in the train was the other extreme... like one of those lazy Sundays where you stay in bed all day reading or playing cards... I think I spent most of the day sleeping...
before I started this trip I was most worried about the state of transportation and whether we'd get sufficient stops at decent places... I have to say my fears were totally unfounded... the buses we travelled in were awesome, the hotels we stayed at were cheap and really good... the part I liked most was the free internet that hotels offer customers as part of their package.. of couse that's subjec tto availability of a free machine.. but since we went during an off-season... we had no complaints.. but more about that later...

we reached hanoi station at 4:30 am the next day and immediately decided to go to a Sinh cafe office to figure out where to go next!

Day 4 - Travelogues - Siem Reap to Thailand...errr not!

Since we found out the previous day that we couldn't travel to Laos coz of the visa issue (they don't give visa on arrival to 13 countries of which India is one ) we had two options.. 1. was to go back to Saigon and then go to Hanoi and then travel downwards back to Saigon (seemed boring when we had another option) 2. goto poipet (cambodia-thailand border), then go onto thailand... bangkok by bus and then fly to hanoi from bangkok... the air ticket was about $95 cheaper than the $100 we'd have paid from Laos to Hanoi!
so we chose option 2 and took a crappy bus to Bangkok from a crappy agency right as soon as you enter the market area...he fleeced us.. told us we'd be in an ac bus and that we'd get visa on arrival... so we reach poipet which is on the cambodian border and visa issues dint let us enter thailand!!!!!!! frustrated onward again!!!!! apparently 40 countries only are allowed visa on arrival via land routes in thailand... everybody can get visa on arrival if you fly into thailand! fortunately we hadnt booked flight tickets from bangkok to hanoi and hadn't been exited from cambodia!
so now we haggled with one of those cars that ferry goods across cambodia and vietnam and got a guy to take the 4 of us to saigon for $22 in an ac car stuffed with footwear.
while deciding this we got something to eat and were constantly surrounded by the car-ferry guys!finally we picked one and went on our way to saigon...
the journey was filled with astrological discussions and a couple of times we were stumped when we looked out of the window to see a family of three on a scooter.. father riding with one hand, the other hand holding up an IV (intra-venous) bottle, the tube went into a baby's hand cradled in the mother's lap!!! we were so shocked and i fumbled a lil too much with my camera to be able to take a picture of the family!!!!! crazyy!
we dropped off the footwear in vietnam, came back to saigon.... went straight to the station to catch a train to hanoi.. a 31 hour train journey awaited us...
we managed to get to the station on time but unlike in cambodia where dollars are accepted even by street vendors, the vietnamese need dongs... we were out of dongs and dint even have enough to buy tickets to hanoi! finally we exchanged some currency with the ticket agent obviously at a lower rate (these deman-supply markets and their irritating logic when you're at the receiving end......arghhhhhhhh)... anyway.. it was pretty comical coz ashish had gone out to exchange money and paid a local to take him around to money exchanges but all of them were shut.. it was 10 PM i think.. so I'm waiting impatiently outside the station for ashish to show up coz we had a train to catch... and the only reason we hadn't bought tickets was coz we were worried ashish wouldnt make it!!! finally 5 minutes before boarding time ashish came back.. as soon as i saw him outside the station i ran in and screamed out to rachna (talk about theatrics) to buy tickets!
phewwwww... all of that done.. we boarded our lovely train... cute lil compartments... altho not as cute for our 6 footer friend, rachna... in fact she had to step out to collect her wits coz Vietnamese things are usually compact and she's a bit claustrophobic! She recovered and we had to haggle with a couple of locals to exchange seats coz we had been split into two compartments.. finally we settled down to some serious laughing and went off to sleep!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Day 3 - Travelogues - Saigon to Siem Reap (Cambodia)

Cambodia is known as Kampuchia.... did you know that?

So Day 3 at 5 AM our Polish friend landed up at Xinh Hotel... she's quite the traveller and pretty cool... Cambodia was calling and we had a 7 AM bus to take us there from Sinh Cafe (by far the best tour operator I came across).

The ride to Cambodia was really comfortable.. even tho it was 12 hours... the buses are really comfy... I'm one of the worst 'traveller's coz when in transit I usually doze off... so obviously I kept dozing off during this trip but obviously I'm not Kumbhakaran's daughter (Kumbhakaran being a mythical half demon, half human brother of the evil Ravana of the Ramayana fame). The scenery enroute wasa gorgeous... lush green paddy fields... good roads... very cute, quaint eateries which also sold beer...

Altho since I'm a vegetarian I survived on plain rice, some boiled vegetables, loads of chilli sauce and soy sauce... my mates survived on chicken fried rice or baguetes and ommelette!

When we rolled into Kampuchia, I was hit by how similar to Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India it looked... the architecture looked pretty Ahmedabadi... altho don't take my word for it... im no architecture expert... so i stepped out of the bus, at a stop of course... I'm not a whimsical, bus delaying freak, and went looking for cafes... found lots of them... but we reached at about 2 PM and that was their ahem TV watching time... so cafe's dint serve food... they brought out their siesta chairs, arranged them like theatre seats and watched tv - community style... when i went asking for food.. coz it was a cafe.. they gave me blank stares! it was really amusing.

anyway so we went on to Siem Reap and reached by nightfall... Wan be street i thin... the place was really really nice.. . the buses usually drop travellers to the backpackers area and this place did not disappoint. We found a decent hotel called Rhythrin Hotel on street 22 I think (i could be wrong since it's been a while) but really decent place.. $12 per night for 4 people.. so $ 3 a head..! with hot water etc.. quite a steal after the $5 we paid at Saigon...

But Cambodia was really hot...

I forgot to mention the visa regulations... they have visa on arrival... costin about $25 and the bus guys take your passport, the money and take yuo to the visa office... its pretty smooth... and then you walk on a strip of road, on the Cambodia side, which is the casino strip.. its so amusing to watch hordes of women on scooters crossing from Vietnam into Cambodia in the evnings and making the trip back the next morning... walking their scooters along the road! descending on that road from different sides, following a singular path to their 'office'!

And off we went again... after a while to catch a barge to take us across some kinda water body.

Coming back to Siem Reap, the next morning we set out to goto Angkor Wat, the largest temple complex in the world... measuring 10 Kms X 10 kms... the whole complex has loads of stone temples, monuments... the ones i visited are the main temple whcih took almost 600 years to build. Surpringly it was a temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu, the preserver of the Holy Trinity. Then while Buddhism was gaining popularity, the temple was dedicated to Buddism.. and 700 years later, it is still an awesome site, duly nominated to be one of the 7 wonders of the world.

After the temple complex we went to Bayon which when it was found (I think in the early nineteenth century by a French explorer... but I could be wrong, don't remember where I picked up these snippets from), was covered in wilderness... Bayon basically is a formation of gigantic stone sentinels which were constructed by Jayvarman VII to frighten invaders. Can you imagine stumbling upon the outskirts of a fertile kingdom only to find huge-ass human faces made out of stone, smirking down at you... covered by wilderness... imagining the scene takes me to a film depicting South East Asia... typical setting consists of somebody gettnig lost in the wilderness and coming across gigantic tribal totems which fill him with awe!

After Bayon we set off for Ta Phrom which waas by far my favouritest spot. It too was a temple constructed in the forest centuries ago and today to restore the balance, the forest is reclaiming its original land.. so you have impressive, strong stone structures, getting pulverized by gigantic trees which almost look alien-esque... with silver barks and roots which look like thuosand tentacled feet crushing the stone temples under their feet....

while I was at Ta Phrom, I realized that give me a regular natural setting and a stupendous man-made creation and I would be blown away by nature's wild beauty!

We could've stayed in teh Angkor Wat complex for a while but decided to try and explore other parts of Siem Reap. Unfortunately nothing seemed interesting enough.... but John, our rickshaw driver, really nice guy, took us to a river from where you gotta catch a boat to go onto the lake for boating et al... when we reached there we found the $20 fee too high and decided to skip it.. but the almost hour long ride taking you through authentic Cambodian scenery was fantastic... and 4 carefree students had a blast on the road!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Travelogues - Day 2, Saigon, Vietnam

So day 2 was reserved for 'Floating Market' of Can Tho. Like I mentioned earlier, we were waiting in Saigon for Anna to catch up with us. Alot of travel blogs had mentioned Can Tho, some said you must visit it and others bashed it. We had time on our hands!
Now, for those of you who read this and are planning to goto Vietnam (and since that's never gonna happen i'll add a third condition, those of you who have three legs), I personally would recommend going to Can Tho but get there the previous night and stay in that town for the night. Get up by 5 AM the next day and take a boat / tour out to see the real floating market in action... not just remnants which we saw at 11 AM. But inspite of that the boat ride through the villages was pretty quaint. I had a great time and was thrilled coz Can Tho had loads of 'Love Apple' trees... my favourite fruit... i plucked a couple of huge ass ones and munched the juicy fruit on the way back.. it was awesome.. coz it was reallllllllllllllly hot... we went in March.... and i had these huge juicy love apples to munch on! heavenly!
It's usually advisable to go to this place with a tour operator... your best bet is Sinh Cafe... the cheapest rates and the most widely networked tour operator... they have a lil restaurant where they take you for a crappy song and dance performance (too shrill and slow for my liking) and free lunch (well no such thing as a free lunch.. but still... free lunch). Also at this place there is a crocodile pond in which you can pay 15000 dong (i think) to feed the crocs... personally i think its really cruel coz invariably people tease the crocs... and i think its wrong to tease anybody with food... also there is one croc who's super lazy... just lay there with its mouth open for the longest time.. i was there for about 20 minutes.. thru;out the 20 minutes, the croc had its mouth open!!!
Don't buy stuff from the stores there.. .unless you're doing it to boost local trade... if you want a good bargain... goto Hanoi!
So that's it for Mekong Delta floating market... by the way.. my friend Ashish din't like it at all!

Travelogues - Day 0

I forgot to mention in my earlier post that the 4 of us were travelling to Vietnam and Cambodia (originally Laos too, altho' I've boycotted Laos now) after completing our Term 3 at the Asian Institute of Management. After our trip we were all headed back home (India) for our internships... so obviously we had a lotta luggage to take back.. now this is the crappiest thing for budget travellers... so we had to pay a lil extra for more allowance on Tiger Airways and it wasn't so bad... but instead of going straight to Ho Chi Minh City, we had to goto Singapore to drop off our luggage at our friend's cousin's place! Phew!
One crazy trip!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Travelogues-Saigon, Vietnam - Day 1

Get ready for a volley of posts since I've been MIA once again... but this time I've been upto interesting stuff...

Three of my classmates and me backpacked thru Vietnam and Cambodia and I really recommend both those places to people... at least Vietnam if not Cambodia!

We started our trip in HoChiMinh City where we immediately set off to go to the Cu Chi tunnels... this is the network of guerilla tunnels built by the Vietnamese to kick the U.S.'s ass big time... they're so freakishly tiny and go on for kilometers together in a labrynthine manner... my god.. its crazy the kind of things adversity forces you to come up with and face day in and day out... those tunnels are so bloody tiny that to enter one of them, the Vietnamese soldier has to jump in with his/her hands straight above their heads and wriggle in and then crawl along in a rodent and roach infested area!!!! And just think if one soldier suddenly panicked... everybody'd be stuck....i went into one of the ahem 'enlarged for Caucasians' tunnels and still was a bit freaked out!

But more than what I saw I was over-awed by the feeling of what transpired along those very same steps I had taken in Saigon 40-50 years ago... the number of wars that have ravaged our planet are just so many and I don't think they'll ever stop! Sometimes wars are faught coz people don't have their basic roti-kapda-makan (food, clothing,shelter) but there have also been times when its a sport! And that's when I wonder if all the people in the world have their basic needs met, will inhuman atrocities stop? Sadly the answer is naught! I guess its just human nature... we need something to kick us in the ass, or frighten us to make us feel alive... to make us feel!

Anyway coming back to Saigon... the place is so well organized for travellers... as soon as you get off at the airport you can either catch a cab or get onto a bus which takes you to De Tham which is the backpackers area... and that area is sooooooooo alive... to compare it to another alive pulsating place... I'd say it was like Malate in the Philippines... Malate which is home to my favourite bar in the world.. Penguin...

So at De Tham or one of the streets off it, there are tons of hotels to stay at... I loved this placed called Xinh that we stayed at for about 5$ a night, with AC, hot water and free internet and the hotel guy, Wen, was really sweet as well... he told us about how he visited Cambodia every year at a particular time to meet his best friend and that its a really nice place...

Anyway.. shopping wise Saigons pretty nice but Hanoi is better... there's not much to do in Saigon except chill, go see the Cu Chi tunnels on motorbike (is most fun) and go stay the night on the Mekong Delta to go out at 5 AM to catch the floating market!

I've realized (at least for myself) that more than the places publicized by tour guides and agencies, its the experience of getting there and the journey which is sometimes much better than the place itself!

Cambodia in my next post

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Mumbai Indians getting sponsored for 2-3 mn USD

So even in times of recession you can find and net that elusive advertiser! Mumbai Indians have almost confirmed that Idea Cellular will be investing between $ 2-3 million in the team. This is great news because even though Mumbai Indians had a dismal performance in last years IPL, they seem to be able to attract marketing spend. Like I've mentioned in earlier posts theres just wayyyyyyy tooo many similar if not same messages hitting consumers. Everybody is trying to differentiate himself in this crazy croweded market. Sports offers this opportunity. Now to get an ROI on such an investment letsee if Idea can ideate well enough to get fans to become consumers. Even tho India is a cricket crazy nation, that level of passion may not translate into marketing success. If Idea can manage that through a pure ROI number it would boost investment in sports (hopefully not just cricket) and this in turn will better sporting infrastructure and play calibre.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Corporate sponsored sports training camps

I was reading a management thesis written by the proponent of the company we're working with for the Google Online Marketing Challenge on Sports Consultancy in the Philippines and I realized that humans are more of 'feelers' than 'thinkers'. For instance we do things because we usually 'feel' like doing them and not because its a well-thought out plan. What does this have to do with sport... well... I think that this is precisely the reason we like sports so much. Watching sports tournament is an emotionally charged activity. It's probably one of the few things that keeps you completely occupied while you watch or play.
Every participant in society has something to gain from sports. With an increase in spectators, the sport itself gets attention, better players, more money ---primarily making it even more emotionally charged. Players play better with a more enthusiastic audience... everybody loves putting on a show. And with fantastic players and crowds going crazy corporates won't be too far behind. In fact I think corporates benefit alot from encouraging sports. If they organize training camps for whichever sport they feel is in sync with the company, they get loyalty from consumers both potential and existing and also increase the market size for their products. To give you an example, if Dettol sponsors a sporting event, obviously consumption of their product / consumer will increase coz obviously the players get dirty. Now why Dettol... coz Dettol cares enough to organize training camps ... so the sportsperson who's benefiting will most likely buy Dettol.
In fact I feel sporting goods companies should have a company policy to conduct training camps, and not just for mainstream popular sports. This strategy in itself will give them direction for product innovation which is something every manufacturer lavishly spends on.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Philippines Baseball

Philippines Baseball is the Philippines Baseball League equivalent of the MLB. You can get information about the league, players, merchandise et al here. The main focus of the website currently is to give people info-access. The management also has interactive features which can make the site more exciting!

GOMCHA - Google Online Mktng Challenge!

I took up a really interesting elective this sem - Online Marketing. Its an AdWords based contest being run by Google worldwide and thru this elective, students are participating in it. So obviously it becomes a live project I can show that I've been working on and more than that, its in a really hot field - digitial marketing!
So what is this whole adwords concept?
Almost every company has a website today. To market the website they can bid for certain keywords which when typed in google show a landing page of that website in the search. Depending on the number of people who visit the website through the keyword search, the company's adword account gets debited by the bid amount*no of individual users.
I think its a great marketing platform and since its in the nascent stage today, expertise acquired to a marketeer would be a humongous boost.
My interest in sports made me choose a sports site for this project - Philippines Baseball. What excites and frightens me is that even though it's online marketing, my team has to study the business model and the market for target customers Philippines Baseball subject to parameters of internet usage! That's like a whole business strategy definition, analysis and recomendation! Very overwhelming at this point of time... but I'm also looking forward to it.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Wine dispenser and are really great sites to read about cool, new ideas that people are converting or at least trying to convert into business models. One really good idea I came across was for a wine related set-up! Altho' 'wine related set-up' is probably the shittiest way to describe it, it's a really cool concept.
It's basically a restro-lounge which has special wine dispensers to allow customers to try out different varities of wine before buying a bottle or two. The dispenser also has features recommending wines, which connoisseur prefers which wine and how your preferance compares to it!
(I couldn't find the same link I used to read about this concept... but managed to find something similar)

Another idea that I've really liked from among a plethora of fantastic ideas is about see-saw power. A British student, Daniel Sheridan, has come up with a way to use playgroung see-saws to generate power. He says that even 5-10minutes of play can power a classroom for a few hours...!
In fact last year I used to wonder why we don't yet have devices that can harness the phenomenal amounts of energy we generate in regular everyday activities.
Imagine the amount of energy generated when two people fight. If that could be harnessed, at least something good would come out of the fight ;-)

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Money flows

Wow! It's been almost 3 months since my last post... I guess the DE project that my team and me had in mind about blogging made easy didn't let me post so regularly... anyway.. details about that in another post...
2 days back I had a case study on (RED) - the organization co-founded by Bono to fight AIDS in Africa. It's such a fantastic concept.. brilliant business model and strategy to make social development a profitable exercise! I don't agree that fighting disease, poverty etc have to be done on a purely philantropic basis...If there's profit to be made and not just charity to be doled out, it becomes easier for more people to get involved... and stay involved!
While discussing the case, we spoke about how helping out in social causes allows an individual to differentiate himself from the rest by adding / showing an additional personality dimension! As Prof. Cruz (our marketing prof) said... if money no longer is the differentiating status symbol, sensitivity, social development can do that for you!
What he says is so true because the true nature of charity is to just donate your money without creating a media buzz about it right... it's great that there's money being set aside by corporate greats such as Bill Gates & Warren Buffet but if we were to take the above mentioned argument forward, that philantrophy is a status symbol - then it amuses me to think.... that corporates who have been accused of exploting resources in the past to make billions are now being exploited to give back to society through things like CSR, status differentiation! I guess karmic theory is at work here ... money is but a form of energy exchange which needs to keep flowing!