Category: Work

2019 Consumer Insights – Google

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As I have mentioned a couple of times already, it’s that time of the year when literally anyone and everyone is busy preparing and sharing their lists of insights and trends.

I came across Google’s view recently. And I found it distinctly underwhelming.

It’s very surprising to hear Google say that this is the year (2019) when ‘consumer journeys became increasingly complex‘. As someone who has been in the field of Digital Marketing for over 15 years now, this is something that was obvious to me for at least the last five years. The seeds for this were sown, I would say, in 2007, when Apple launched the iPhone and the smartphone revolution took off. Consumers no longer had fixed times (and places) when they accessed the Internet and could do it whenever and wherever they fancied.

The second insight is that ‘New Media Channels are Emerging‘. Really, this is big news in December 2019? I looked at the various research conducted by Google and discovered that most of these date from 2018. The only pieces of research that are later than January 2019 relate to YouTube – a channel that has been around for more than 14 years now – and Voice Search. Now I agree that Voice is going to be the next big thing. It might have been more accurate if Google had said that ‘Voice is Emerging as the Next Big Media Channel‘.

Moving on – the next insight is about ‘satisfying immediacy‘. Yes, this did have more recent research, but I distinctly remembered a similar insight that Google had shared last year. So I did a Google Search (:-)) for 2018 trends and voila! Read on for ‘The most interesting 2018 consumer insights you should carry into 2019‘.

Having said that, I do find it interesting that users are being more location conscious in their online searching and browsing behaviour. This is definitely something that brands should look at leveraging, wherever possible.

The next insight is that ‘Traditional industries are transforming with digital‘. Again, most of the research that supports this insight date to 2018. And given that ‘Digital Transformation‘ has been a buzzword for at least a couple of years now, is this truly insightful?

The final insight is ‘Standards are being raised in privacy and digital wellbeing‘. And this is the one that I think Google got right. Users are increasingly becoming aware of their digital footprint and digital addiction. As their October 2019 survey revealed, ‘1 in 3 Americans have taken steps to improve their digital wellbeing in the past year, and more than 80% of them said this had a positive impact on their overall sense of wellbeing.

It does look like Google has put together a largely rehashed set of insights to capitalise on this ‘End of Year’ season for insights. I would give them a rating of 2/5 for this effort, very disappointing for a leading digital business with the depth of resources that they have.

Monday Reads – 09/12

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Photo by Torsten Dettlaff on

It’s getting close to the Festive Season in many parts of the world, and this week’s articles reflect the varied characteristics of this time of the year.

When Does the New Decade Begin? – I received a promotional email the other day talking about an ‘End of Decade’ Sale and my initial view was, hang on guys, you have got this wrong. The new decade doesn’t begin until January 1, 2021. But then I thought to research this up. And this article might (or might not) clarify it for you!

2020 Trends at the intersection of culture and commerce – Irrespective of whether it’s the end of a decade or not, we are definitely at the end of another year. And this is the time of lists and predictions. Here’s an interesting one I came across recently.

Under the Influence of Impulse – This is also the time of the year for Shopping, for many. I have, over the past couple of years, been consciously trying to reduce my commercialism. I won’t go so far as to say that I have embraced a truly minimalist lifestyle, but the views of minimalism do resonate with me. This is a thought-provoking article on Impulse buying.

If the Moon were only 1 Pixel – Ok, so there is no easy way to connect this article to this week’s theme of End of Year, but I just had to share this fascinating visualisation. I only managed to get as far as Saturn, how far did you reach?



Customer Acquisition in the Travel Sector

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So the big news in the (Online) Travel space over the past couple of days has been the resignations of the CEO and CFO of Expedia, one of the largest online travel companies (OTAs). The ostensible reason for their departure seems to be a disagreement with the Board over strategy. But did a little deeper, and it turns out that there could be another big reason – and that is the rapidly increasing cost of Customer Acquisition.

Now, this is definitely not a problem only for the Travel industry, but in this post, I want to talk about a few reasons why Travel seems to be one of the most significantly impacted sectors by this trend.

Travel was one of the first industries to embrace the ‘Internet’ in a big way. And that is no surprise for people old enough to remember what it was like to book a ticket pre-Internet. I still remember the time we had to write letters to the hotels, send them Bank Drafts and await confirmation of booking, again by post! Booking a train or plane ticket involved waiting hours in a hot and crowded queue, with no guarantee that you would even get a ticket! So when the first online travel companies provided customers the opportunity to book their flight and accommodation options from the comfort of their home or office, customers lapped it up.

Unfortunately, that seems to have been the biggest innovation in this sector in the past couple of decades, while the customer value proposition has drifted away from convenience to the dreaded ‘price’. Yes, we can now compare across multiple options, view high quality photos (and videos) and read hundreds of reviews across multiple platforms before deciding to book a hotel room. But why should I book the hotel room (or flight ticket) from one OTA (Online Travel Aggregator) compared to another? I don’t have any data, but I would argue that 80% of users would respond with ‘whichever provides me the cheaper option‘ if asked this question.

This lack of brand differentiation has led to the OTAs having to spend significant amounts of money on Customer Acquisition. And this biggest recipient of this money is the world’s largest search engine. Customers typically begin their travel booking process with a search, and OTAs have no choice but compete with each other to get as many of these potential customers on to their sites as possible. This has led to steeply increasing cost per clicks. Users also users typically make multiple visits before booking, as well as compare prices across multiple websites, which means that OTAs have to keep spending money to drive subsequent visits to their website, with low conversion rates. All of these add up to the Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) going up all the while.

So how can OTAs tackle this problem? Unfortunately, I do not have a magic bullet that can solve this problem. The core of the issue is really lack of brand differentiation and a value proposition that is largely predicated on providing the cheapest price. Brands will constantly have to ask themselves if they can provide value to their customers that can engender brand loyalty. Brands like Amazon have managed to do this but a big part of the reason for this is that they operate in a sector where customers typically make frequent and regular purchases. The problem is more severe in Travel because users typically make only one or two transactions a year, but the ticket sizes are high enough that they will spend sufficient time and effort in doing research to get the best value.

One option that I am sure all the large travel companies are exploring would be to leverage ‘Big Data’ and ‘Machine Learning’ to provide a more personalised solution to users. Booking flights, and especially hotels, has, I would argue, actually become more difficult these days due to the plethora of choices. If an OTA is able to understand my requirements (based on my digital and other signals) and narrow down the options they present me while I am doing my research, I might be more inclined to book with them and do it faster, thereby improving their Conversion Rates and lower CACs. If they are then able to offer ancillary products and services that are also tailored to my specific requirements as well as send smart reminders for me to plan my next holiday, then Customer Lifetime Value can also be driven up.

Yes, I know this is easy to state from the outside and there are, I am sure, numerous reasons why true 1:1 personalisation might be difficult to achieve, but I would really like to see some companies try.

Links to further reading on the Expedia Leadership Change:

  1. Expedia Leadership Shakeup Shows Power Of Travel Industry Disruption
  2. Why Expedia Blamed Google for Its Earnings Debacle

Performance Reviews in the Knowledge Economy

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Photo by Christina Morillo on

T’is is the season of Performance Appraisals. It feels like not a day goes by when I am not coming across an article, usually criticising the practice. So here’s my two rupees worth on this contentious topic.

My point of view has been consistent for the past few years now – the system of performance reviews as is currently being practised in many organisations is completely out of place.

It is a system that could possibly have worked at the time of the Second Industrial Revolution that saw the advent of mass production. When there are many people doing very similar work of a repeatable basis, then it is conceivable that they can be ranked on objective measures (the dreaded Bell Curve).

However, the advent of the Digital Revolution (and now Industry 4.0) has led to a significant change in the nature of work itself. Yes, mass production still exists, but robots are being increasingly used to do the routine, repeatable tasks. Meanwhile, in the offices, people are increasingly being confronted with a high degree of variability and uncertainty in the type of work that they are doing or might be required to do. In this environment, it is easy to see that the Bell Curve model of grading employees just does not work. How can you compare across a team where everyone might be working on a different type of problem?

I am not against performance reviews. I believe it is extremely important for everyone (employees, managers, the organisations) to have a fair and transparent view on how they are performing, what their strengths and areas of development are, and what are the specific areas of focus for their improvement.

I also believe strongly that this feedback should not be just between the employee and her manager, but has to incorporate feedback from across the organisation. I am surprised at how few organisations seem to have a formal 360 degree process of providing employee feedback. I have found this extremely useful both to receive as well as deliver feedback.

Finally, of the many articles that I came across recently on this topic, there is one that stood out for providing a viable alternative to Performance Reviews. Please do read it!

Monday Reads – 02/12

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Photo by Trang Doan on

A Theory of Genius, is the future of (self-driven) cars in a museum and the powerful role of Fruits in a healthy diet make up this week’s articles.

The Bus Ticket Theory of Genius – there are many theories on what makes a genius. Here’s one more to add to that list. But this makes a simple argument. Yes, one needs ability and determination, but in this article, Paul Graham of Y Combinator, argues that one also needs an obsessive interest in a particular topic. Hence, the name.

Highway to hell: the rise and fall of the car – This is an article about an exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London which is running at the moment. The author makes the claim, quite reasonably, that the car is perhaps the most important designed object of the 20th Century. This might be true in Western economies, but I am not sure that claim would hold true in other parts of the world. Irrespective, it’s an interesting article to read in these times, when the sales of cars is declining worldwide. So, is the future of cars in a museum?

Fruits Before Food or After Food? – It’s been nearly two years since I decided to make significant changes to the way I eat by trying to adopt a Whole Food Plant Based Diet. I have written about this before, but to reiterate possibly the single most important change I have made – eat fruits before the start of a meal. This article provides the reasons why.