Tuesday 20 November 2007

Let’s take a random sample and see

Why do you want to take a random sample? An engineer makes his entire plan on a computer first, and subjects it to every sort of test, even when each element in it has known properties. He makes scale models, and makes corrections and tests every step of the way, till he’s absolutely sure. Then puts the structure into use very gradually. Ditto for pharmaceuticals. Yet direct marketing must hold up to testing on a random sample!

When any idiot will tell you that a test on a random sample is bound to fail, because most people in the list are bound to say No. For starters, many will never buy what you are selling. And even the ones who will are very unlikely to all be in the market exactly when you’re testing.

Which means even if a section gave a ‘thumbs up’ to the test, it’s bound to be swamped by the overall and overwhelming failure that permeates through the list as a whole?

Does that mean we shouldn’t take random samples? Of course, we should. But after understanding what the term means. We should take a random sample of those sections which we think are most likely to form the market; take enough from each of these to yield dependable numbers; and a random sample of the balance, to see how well your selection works out in real life.

Mutual funds and film dance

Switch on any film music channel and you see the same dance in every song. It’s invariably jerky and graceless. And many a time seems to have nothing to do with the song going on.

Anyway, one common characteristic of these dances is that their parts don’t seem have any sequence.

Now, in the nice old fashioned dances you sometimes had entire episodes of the story. Some were elaborately choreographed. Two prime examples that come to mind are Goldi Anand’s Guide (dances by Hiralal and Sohanlal) and Teesri Manzil (Herman Benjamin).

So why don’t we see dances like that any more (that is a ridiculously sweeping statement, but let’s stay with it)? I think it’s because a collage of ‘pretty’ sights can’t go very wrong. Lacking perhaps the time, talent and guts to do a really good piece, directors, chorographers and stars put together a sum of pretty parts that passes muster, though the whole is certainly not beautiful, let alone memorable.

It’s something like a mutual fund. It’ll never be as good as a blockbuster stock, but overall, it’ll do. Parts may even be excellent. (Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curate's_egg)

Thursday 8 November 2007

Jumbo mistake?

Jumbo vada pao (a Bombay adaptation of the hamburger, which uses a potato patty) is one brand everyone admires.

While flipping channels I caught its younger owner describing his business. I remember one particular point: He said he wanted to expend overseas, but when he found that the population of mere suburb of Bombay was higher than the entire population of Indian expatriates in some gulf emirate, he decided against overseas expansion and concentrate on home.

At that time I admired his commonsense and his ability to put profits before ego.

Now, I’m not so sure.

Did he take into account the premium that gulf Indians would pay for food that reminds them of home?

Did he wonder about the chances of locals liking the food too?

Or of a rich sheik liking it so much that he’d buy a share in Jumbo and help them grow?

There are almost no Chinese in India. Yet there are hundreds of Chinese restaurants. Maybe Jumbo could have returned the favour to China.

Anyway, a single-factor decision looks very strange, especially from a successful chain. Perhaps there were more things on their minds when they decided against expanding abroad, and the owner ‘dumbed’ it down for TV (‘Dumb down’ is an idiotic thing to say, because it assumes people who cannot talk cannot think. I don’t mean that, of course. But I’ll let this stay to remind myself how ‘dumb’ I am.)

No web shopping in India?

Right now we have many festivals in India – Dushera, Id, Diwali, Chat, Christmas, New Year. Yet there is very little of web shopping in the news. I haven’t come across even one article. There are ticket offers, but that’s about it.

Why not an Indian food chain?

My wife and I have lived in Kolkata, Bangalore, Delhi and Bombay. And we are pretty sure that recipes don’t cross borders too well. For example, sambar becomes sweet in Bombay. And South Indians add tej patta to almost everything. While these adaptations may make the dishes more palatable to local palate, there are surely many who want the authentic taste. After all, what’s the fun in eating out if it tastes like the food one has at home every day (Eating out from compulsion is another matter.)

Now, South Indian fried snacks are accepted across the country, as are Delhi chaats, and Bengali sweetmeats. Rajasthani savouries are also relished. So why aren’t there food chains for any of these?

I guess there are a few with shops across India, but none at the scale of, say, McDonald’s or KFC in USA.

Is it a only a matter of time for big chains come up in India?

Or is Indian food far more difficult to cook, and cannot be adapted to industrial cooking the way hamburgers are?

Or is it the ‘vision’ thing?

Monday 5 November 2007

Keep in touch in B2B

Would it make sense for B2B marketers if they insisted that people who want their newsletters have to give email ids and business addresses? This will ensure that they change contact details when they shift jobs. Of course, one must publish a fantastic newsletter for this to happen.

Bake me a plan

Pat a cake, Pat a cake, baker's man
Bake me a cake as fast as you can;
Pat it and prick it and mark it with a 'B',
And put it in the oven for Baby and me.

Prospective clients have the same attitude towards agencies wanting their business. Give us a plan, and if it’s any good (read: If you are cheapest) we’ll take it forward.

You won’t expect a lawyer, doctor or architect to work under those terms, would you? Or a dress designer? You hire on the basis of recommendations and reputation, fix a price, then start the work.

But agencies are supposed to do elaborate speculative plans, including detailed costing, creative elements, response rates, and RoI.

Anyone with commonsense will understand the whole thing is absurd. How can another company, no matter how intelligent and experienced its people are, solve your business problem on the basis of an interview and a few downloads from your website?

What we probably don’t realise is that this method is counterproductive. Because an agency doing a speculative plan will be stupid to work hard. Besides, even if it did, it just doesn’t know enough about the intricacies involved to come up with something truly worthwhile. If it does, it probably owes more to luck than skill or brains.

Wouldn’t it be better to buy the agency’s commitment by appointing first, giving a few simple jobs to familiarise their people with your company, then scaling up to plans and programmes?

PS: Admittedly, in certain engineering work detailed plans are asked for in the contract bid. However, three things need to be kept in mind: (a) These are for very large contracts, where the rewards are very large too, and make the risks worthwhile (b) The requirements are given in some detail (c) Engineering projects are notorious for budget and time overruns.