Inspector Montalbano

It’s not often that I write about, or indeed, watch TV shows. But a curious sequence of events lead to this article.

I was casually browsing through a guide-book on Sicily the other day (yes, I love reading travel guides!). And reading about the many baroque towns on that island led me to reminisce about a TV series that I used to watch while living in Dublin, Ireland. Inspector Montalblano chronicles the life and adventures of a police inspector in Sicily. It’s wonderfully easy-paced show, highlighting to great effect the natural beauty of the sun-kissed Mediterranean island with charmingly weathered baroque architecture. The plots were nothing spectacular, but that was never really the point of watching it, at least for me.

So I read up a bit about the TV Series during my commute to work (hadn’t known that the first episode aired 20 years ago in 1999!), looked up some of the locations where the TV series was shot on a map. And then, while I was browsing a new site later that evening, while at home, I came across the news that that Andrea Camilleri, author who created the character of Inspector Montalbano, had passed away… It seemed a strange co-incidence, hence the article.

RIP Andrea Camilleri.

If you want to know more about this series and its author, BBC has a great piece.

Who should own Conversion Rate Optimisation?

Conversion Rate Optimisation

The question of who between Marketing and Product should own Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO) in a digital transaction oriented business is an interesting one. It would seem that this naturally fits within the Product function. But I believe that this should be the responsibility of the Marketing, especially Digital Marketing team, with the support of the Product team (and other teams as appropriate).

Product, I believe, should own the overall vision and be responsible for feature development and enhancements. User experience should also absolutely sit within the Product team. However, Conversion Rate should not be the primary metric to judge usability of a site. In fact, it is very difficult to pinpoint and identify the right baseline for Conversion Rate, as it is influenced by so many factors beyond just product design – merchandising, inventory, sources of traffic, seasonality, competitive action – are just some of these extrinsic variables that can impact Conversion Rates significantly.

And which is why I believe Marketing is best placed to work on CRO. They are the team that knows more than any other team (or should know!) about all of these extrinsic factors. They are the team responsible for customer acquisition, engagement and retention, all areas where CRO is key. Not to mention that they own the Performance Marketing budget where again Conversion Rate plays a key role.

So what does this imply for an organisation and their Marketing function? In my opinion, strong marketing teams should have a good mix of the following core capabilities:

  • Analytical skills to understand data and draw actionable insights from the data.
  • Basic technical skills to understand how sites, apps and pages are designed and function, along with understand of analytics tracking systems to work closely with product and tech teams.
  • Customer empathy to understand customer behaviours, motivations and user journeys.
  • Communication skills to listen, communicate and engage with users across all channels.

Having these skills (either in-house or via external agencies or consultants) within the Marketing team will greatly help organisations in their journey towards improving Conversion Rates.

However, merely having these skills within the Marketing team is not enough. Organisations should ensure that they have the right processes in place to empower and enable the marketing team to act on improving Conversion Rates with the full support of relevant internal stakeholders, primary of which would be the Product team.

Contact me if you would like to discuss how to improve Conversion Rates for your business.

The Dreaded Weekend emails

There was an article in the WSJ recently about the impact of sending emails on weekends to employees health. Many of us in corporate jobs would know the experience – receiving emails from your bosses, senior executives outside of working hours – which compel us to stop doing whatever we were at that time (or planning to) to get to work and reply to the email.

The problem has now become even more severe because we are constantly connected. Our personal and professional communication device is now one and the same. Even if one tries to, it is very difficult to completely eliminate checking in (or being made aware of) a message or email that has arrived in your work channel. And it takes an extremely strong-willed employee to say that I am not going to pay any attention to it.

But most employees aren’t like that. And therefore, in my opinion, leaders should ensure that they are not sending any emails out outside of normal working hours. Such behaviour is observed and will soon become the norm. The article spoke about an email tool developed by an organisation that diverts messages sent after a certain time to a queue and only releases it to the recipient’s inboxes at a more suitable time. I believe this should be adopted by all organisations. This way, people who like to work outside of the usual working hours can still do so as usual, knowing that any emails sent to team members are not going to interfere with their personal lives.

I believe that this also raises questions that organisations would find themselves grappling with more and more. With the inexorable rise of ‘gig’ economy workers and remote working, organisations are going to necessarily have to work with people remotely and working different hours to the standard ‘9-to-5’. It’s going to be vitally important that organisations are prepared with processes and policies to ensure maximum productivity from their globally distributed workforce.

An Ode to Mangoes

There was a post recently on a Social Media group that I am part of which spoke of the Mango season coming to an end with the arrival of ‘Neelam’ mangoes in the market.

For most Indians, summer equates to mangoes. I was one of the fortunate ones growing up in that we used to travel to our ‘native place’ in the summer to spend time with grand parents, uncles and aunts and cousins. This, for us, was Kerala. And one of the fond memories of that time was spending time outdoors, playing under and on mango trees, and, goes without saying, plucking and eating fresh mangoes.

As I recollect, there were a couple of mangoes that we used to eat. One was juicy and fibrous that just had to be eaten by hand. And the other was green and tangy which was best cut open with a knife and eaten with salt and chilly powder. Yum!

As I grew older and trips to Kerala reduced, the raw earthy delights of childhood were replaced by city experiences. We used to wait for the price of ‘Hapus’ or Alphonso mangoes to come down to a more acceptable level before buying a box or two. And staying in Mumbai meant that ‘Aamras’ was never very far away!

This annual ritual came to an end when we moved abroad for a few years. While mangoes were regularly available and consumed, it was just not the same experience (and taste).

We moved back to India 3 years ago and it’s only now, in what is the third summer since we came back, that I feel that I am back into the annual rhythm of life here. This summer, I took a train journey to my ‘home town’, which is now Mumbai. Enjoyed delicious mangoes and mango foods (Aamras, mango ice cream, mango milk shake, mango pickle). Started to understand and appreciate the different varieties of this glorious fruit – Badami, Bainganapalli, Mallika, Sindoori being just a few of the ones consumed this season!

So as the season comes to a close, it’s time to say good-bye and thank you to this most delicious of fruits and wait patiently for the season to come around again in nine months’ time!


Co-working spaces

My work as a freelance digital marketing consultant takes me to multiple client offices. And the idea for this post came while I was at one such office.

This company, a start-up, decided to base themselves out of a co-working office, rather than rent their own office space. And they are not alone – I know of a few other organisations who have decided that they would rather work out of co-working spaces.

The attraction of such an arrangement is fairly obvious – excellent work spaces with multiple break-out areas where individuals, small teams can work out of, the usual office amenities such as meeting rooms, snack and coffee facilities, lounge areas, etc. Most importantly, the management team is not burdened with the administrative overheads of facilities management. And this itself outweighs the slightly higher costs of such an arrangement.

As a worker in one such space, I find the environment quite stimulating. While you are definitely part of one organisation, you feel yourself part of the larger ecosystem based around the space. The flexibility to work anywhere within the premises (or in another premise of the same co-living space) is so liberating, especially for people of an older generation who have worked in organisations where you are literally tied to a specific desk (along with a land-line phone :-)). In fact, the desks at this particular space do not have a land-line phone, or even provisions for one! Also, no computers and very few monitors on desks give it a very clean, minimalist air. Everyone has laptops (typically sleek Macbooks), smart phones and communication is primarily via services such as Slack (and Google Hangouts for conference calls).

If this is the future of offices, bring it on!