China : Factory to Studio?

Read my assessment of China’s  prospects of moving from being a factory for cheap goods (and  code) to becoming an origin point for new products, designs and business models.

http://www.ddb.com/yellowpapers/

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Sony: Making us believe again ?

If you are watching the FIFA matches, you can’t miss the new SONY ads prominently displayed on the boards near the sidelines. SONY has ditched “like no other” (which was never used on the entire product range) to embrace a new unified brand concept “Make. Believe”.

There is a very elaborate explanation on the website of the concept. The thinking is quite clear and well captured in this quote from the CEO : “SONY is a technology company with an intimate understanding of creative possibilities of content. SONY is a content company with an intuitive grasp of technology. No other company has both”.

It seems the strategy is about positioning the brand as one which empowers consumers to dream, imagine, experience, create (make) great content with the help of Sony’s products and technologies. So far so good.

However, the only strategy the consumer sees is execution and the execution in this case i.e the sign-off line “MAKE. BELIEVE” is just not inspiring and intuitive enough. One can argue that taglines alone don’t make a brand and SAMSUNG has been growing at break-neck speed without a brand tag line ( although the latest one : “Turn on tomorrow” is quite nice). The launch cinema and TV execution (shown below) however is even more ordinary.

SONY as a brand needs as much inspiration as it can find on all fronts- product as well as communication. It desperately needs to regain its salience in the consumers’ minds. It was a leader brand, and now it is not. A series of mis-steps have made it an also ran in the key categories it competes. It no longer dominates the markets and minds, the way it used to 5 years back.

Perhaps an integration of the new strategy with “.like no other” which was a powerful statement of leadership, would have been more interesting. Something like “Create/play/connect/imagine …Like no other” wherein the first word refers to what that particular product range offers.

We need more belief. This is just make believe stuff (pun intended).

The Wisdom of Imitation

No supply issues on the Iphone 4G in China. The new Iphone 4G is already out in China. The cloned one, that is.

It is easy to complain about the cheap knock-offs which Chinese factories keep churning out. Perhaps there is a bit more behind it than the desire to make a quick buck.

The term “Shanzai” and ‘Shanzaism”, often used for such products, although literally meaning “Mountain Village or Stronghold” today symbolizes anything that imitates something famous. According to Li Zonggui, a professor at Sun Yat-Sen University in south China’s Guangdong Province, Shanzhai represents non-mainstream ideas and innovations, and is also a new way for common people to express what they want.

Well maybe there is also a  connection between this imitation streak and Confucius philosophy, if one goes by the quote below.

On a cheeky note..maybe the Chinese authorities can use this philosophical under-pinning to explain this culture of imitation to the Western trade representatives, next time the issue of IP protection is raised.

Chinese Men and Nappy changing

Seen at the new Honqchiao airport at Shanghai.

Sign of changing times ?? Don’t know about that, but full points for progressive thinking and execution.

I don’t remember seeing a sign and facilities for nappy changing in the men’s room in any other airport in the world, I have visited. Attention to detail is remarkable. The symbol showing the person changing the nappy is also a male, while the corresponding one above the women’s toilet  was a female figure. Clearly they didn’t scrimp on money for the signage.

Bravo !

P&G : Getting Men ?

The action in male personal care market keeps hotting up. Dove’s  Men range : Men+care , launched 2 months back in US , Europe and Australasia. Vaseline (from Unilever) launched a Men’s range in India in March. Now P&G’s OLAY has launched Olay Men solutions in China, riding on its mega brand status in the country.

While DOVE  and VASELINE are  attempting to stretch a specific equity – Care and moisturization- across genders, OLAY is  riding on a broad equity- skin care expertise, which it can claim via its dominance of the female skin care market in China. All packs in the OLAY Men solutions range feature “Refreshing energy” as a common line, which is clearly a new thought as it hasn’t been used before in brand communication or packaging.

However the brand which should have been first off the blocks in this segment- Gillette- is still struggling to be a serious player in men’s face care. It is frankly stunning that they still don’t have a Globally consistent face care range . The UK site has pre-shave wash & scrub  and post-shave moisturizer but  I couldn’t find anything on the Gillette US website. They test marketed Gillette COMPLETE skin care range in US in 2005, and it didn’t work. Instead we saw the launch of a hair care range in 2008 which is already de-listed in UK.  Gillette’s equity is in men’s skin care not hair care. What are they thinking ?

Clearly, P&G is still trying to “get” Men !

Starbucks: Big bucks in China

If you hold Starbucks stock, I suggest hold on to your shares. With the margins they have in China and the huge potential to increase the store density this is a 1 way ticket to print money. While prices are 10-15% higher than Hong Kong and London, the labor and real estate costs are almost half.  Even with the import duty on coffee beans the margins are clearly VENTI size. The table below says it all. Should we drink to that?

Visual thinking

I hear talk in the communication business around the increasing importance of the key “verbal”, given the growth of consumer communities, social media, word of mouth etc. Having worked in a category where the “visual” is banned in most countries, the key verbal was bread and butter for most marketers in the company. There are enough books on the topic ranging from ones written by academics (Robert Cialdini is a leading one in the area) to those written by people from the communications industry (copywriters and DM gurus). NLP, Linguistics, Psychology all come into play here.

But don’t count out the key “visual” yet!

It is perhaps going to conquer new frontiers and move up the value chain in organizations. As we become more inundated with data and information, the ability to elegantly visualise data, information, problem, situation and solutions is going to be a very important skill. And this is not about software and technology, as this quote from an article in Businessweek says  : “Ultimately, data visualization is more than complex software or the prettying up of spreadsheets. It’s not innovation for the sake of innovation. It’s about the most ancient of social rituals: storytelling. It’s about telling the story locked in the data differently, more engagingly, in a way that draws us in, makes our eyes open a little wider and our jaw drop ever so slightly. And as we process it, it can sometimes change our perspective altogether”

Personally, I largely think and communicate in words and frameworks filled with words. This never worried me when I was on the client side. Everyone was doing decks filled with words, charts and tables. After all, even McKinsey articles and decks are replete with templates, frameworks etc. This was “the” way to do it.  Sharp, analytical, conceptual, loaded with facts and words. They represent the best of right brain thinking.

All this changed, 6 months back when I discovered Dan Roam, his books and the concept of “Visual thinking”. Brilliant Right brain thinking to turn a complex problem, situation, information/data set, solution into an elegant left brain type expression. How cool is that ! Imagine how powerful this can be in any business situation, where you have to land your point with clarity and impact in a short span of time. Don’t we all have to, all the time?

In his 2nd book, “Unfolding the Napkin”, which is the companion workbook to the 1st book “The back of the Napkin”, Dan walks the reader page by page (of course in a visual manner) on how anyone can develop these skills. The highlight to me was a case where his company summarized a 100 slide presentation in 1-2 simple diagrams for a strategy meeting for the board of one of their clients. Simply brilliant! The book is worth it just for this case.

My professional goal for 2010 is to become a better visual thinker and communicator.  I am some distance away, considering I needed “words” to explain “visual” thinking.

Out with the 40 slide strategy set up in a pitch deck. Are you wondering what implications this has for the presentation software market? I am. Steve (Ballmer or Jobs), are you listening?