Category: Work

Philip Kotler Podcast

greyscale photography of condenser microphone

I am not yet a big fan of Podcasts, but when I came across an email from Marketing Week talking about a podcast with Philip Kotler, I just had to listen.

The name of Philip Kotler, should be familiar to most marketers. I am sure many of the practitioners of this profession would have come across his books at some stage of their careers, either as a student or a professional seeking to know more about the field.

This podcast was probably the first time I had heard him ‘speak’, so to say. And it was fascinating, to say the least. In just 30 minutes, he touched upon many important aspects of business and marketing. Just a few highlights for me:

  • Philip Kotler actually studied to be an economist (under the legendary Milton Friedman, no less). He only switched over to Marketing as he felt the models being used then by economists did not touch upon the emotional aspects of consumer decision making.
  • He was uncomfortable with the prevailing notion at the time that the purpose of a firm is to maximise value for its shareholders. Instead, he advocates that we should be thinking about ‘advancing the common good’, raising the standard of living and quality of life of people.
  • He reveals why he did not want to be CMO – I could certainly relate to his views on this!
  • It was also interesting to hear him say that Firms are slow in moving to the Digital World. I would assume that he is talking about large corporations that have been around since before the Digital explosion, as, in my humble opinion, there are many digital native organisations that are moving very rapidly in this field and setting the bar for others.
  • But in one aspect, I agree with him wholeheartedly, which is to day with the quality of available data.

These are just a few of the points discussed by Kotler in this podcast. Please go ahead and listen to the whole podcast – it will be 30 minutes well spent!

Development by Empowerment

Continuing on from my previous posts (Greed and AI for Human Happiness), this is the third (and final) post inspired by the recent New Yorker article (Imagination Could Save the World).

A large part of the article is devoted to Mr. Ledgard’s attempts to use drones to solve community problems in Eastern Africa. The article doesn’t really mention if he was successful in this or not, but the sense I got was that the project didn’t really tale off.

And the reason for this, I believe, is that the solution was developed and presented in an outside-in process. Here is a foreigner, with funds, trying a novel approach to solve a problem for the not so well off in an African country. I am sure Mr. Ledgard has the best of intentions and genuinely wants to help. But this is not the first time I have come across a group of relatively privileged, funded and well-intentioned people trying to solve problems for a totally different audience to whom they might barely be able to relate.

I was recently invited to a Focused Group Discussion to brainstorm ways to increase participation / entrepreneurship in the social development sector. This is a field I am interested in. But I was a bit disappointed to find that there was no one in the group representing the audience whose problems were being aimed to be solved. As such, I am afraid I found the exercise rather pointless.

I strongly believe that without active involvement of the population whose problems are being tried to be solved at all steps of the process, including problem definition and solution design, most interventions, however well-intentioned they might be, might not sustain themselves once the initial enthusiasm wanes. Let me immediately add that I have no research to back this, hence this is purely my personal opinion.

I believe that, for sustainable development interventions, the policy has to be one of empowerment. We need to enable the marginalised / needy to understand how resources could be utilised best to solve their problems in a sustainable manner, rather than pitching up with a solution and hoping / coercing people to adopt it. There is no doubt which approach I would prefer, and I assume most people might prefer the same.

As the saying goes, “Give a man a fish, and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you’ve fed him for a lifetime.”

 

SEO and ‘nofollow’ links

SEO links
Links and nofollow in SEO

I teach Digital Marketing at some Business Schools. In one of my recent classes, I was discussing SEO, or Search Engine Optimisation (the process by which you aim to have your site rank high on the Organic Search Results page of Search Engines).

SEO is a complex topic encompassing technical, on-page and off-page tactics. As I was explaining these concepts, it was interesting to find that the topic that generated the maximum number of questions was the role of ‘nofollow’ in links.

As I reflect on this now, a few days after the session, I can understand why this might be a difficult topic to grasp, especially for people who are new to this field. Here is an attempt to explain this further.

As many people know, links are a very important signal of a site or page’s popularity. And popularity, in addition to relevance, are important factors (out of hundreds) that influence a page’s ranking on Search Results Pages. The key thing to note is that not all links are equal. Links that come in from another page (or domain) that already ranks high and is considered as an authority on a topic carries greater value than a link from a relatively obscure site.

A simple way to think about this is that typically, your home page would be the highest ranking or most important page in your web site. And, therefore, any links from your home page would carry more value than links from a page buried deep within your site.

Let’s assume that you have a page on your website (not your homepage) that you would like to rank higher on Search. By linking to this page from your most important page – your home page – you are signalling to Google that this page is important enough to be linked from the home page. Let’s assume that your home page has a Page authority score of 100. If there are a total of 20 links to other pages on your site, then each of these 20 pages would get an authority score of 5 (100/20). Now, not all of those pages might be equally important to you from a SEO perspective. In fact, some of these links might also be pointing to pages on other domains that are not on your own. In such cases, you are passing on some of your valuable authority to those external domains as well.

This is where the role of ‘nofollow’ comes in. By including this tag in your html link, you are signalling to the Search Engine that the link is not important enough for you to be passing on your valuable authority to. This does not mean that the link will not be discovered or ranked by the Search Engine, just that the Search Engine would not assign any part of your domain or page authority to the linked page.

So, in the example above, if you mark 10 of the 20 links from your home page as ‘nofollow’, each of the remaining pages would get an authority score of 10 (100/(20-10)). This is twice the authority compared to the previous setting. And hence, each of those 10 pages would now have a better chance of ranking higher on the Organic Search Results page of Search Engines.

Interestingly, just a few days after my session, Google made a key change to how it considers ‘nofollow’ links. While previously, Google would not count any link with this attribute as a signal to use within their algorithms, they have recently announced that this would change from March 2020. Now, ‘nofollow’ will be considered as a ‘hint’ which they would use along with other signals to better understand how to analyse and use links within their algorithms.

I do not know yet how this change might affect the rankings of pages. This is something that SEO practitioners would have to watch out for.

I hope this helps understand the ‘nofollow’ attribute better. If you have any questions or comments, please do post below.

Shikumi

Shikumi

It’s been a few days that I have been pondering about what to write next. And then, just this morning, an article popped up in my LinkedIn feed with a term that I had never heard before. I was intrigued by this Japanese word – Shikumi.

I read the article and found myself agreeing wholeheartedly with the concept. I then decided to do some more research about the term and was surprised to find hardly any material about this concept in the vast expanse of the World Wide Web. In fact, in addition to the article on my LinkedIn feed, there was precisely one other article about this term.

So what does Shikumi mean? Reference material being limited to just these two articles, this is my understanding of the term.

Shikumi refers to the processes or frameworks that exist across an organisation that binds it together and keeps the organisation performing effectively. These frameworks provide operational guidelines to the team, helping them with decision making when facing problems.

Examples of Shikumi in action could be:

  • A weekly / monthly review process that is driven by KPIs (Key Performance Indicators)
  • An organisation’s core set of values that define how business should be conducted

More importantly, I would think, is that these are not just management fads, but processes that are embraced holistically and completely by everyone in the organisation. Implemented correctly, this can prove to be extremely useful in driving effective communication and serve as the North Star that drives all action within the organisation.

I am a strong believer in the power of operating frameworks, having experienced first hand the role it can play in building powerful and lasting organisation culture. Every organisation, big or small, well established or just starting up, can benefit immensely from following the Shikumi principle.

What are your thoughts on this? Please comment below!

The culture of Deep Discounts within Indian digital consumer businesses

Discounts
Discounts

Recently, food-tech apps that do home delivery have been in the news due to their restaurant partners taking issue with the culture of ‘deep discounting’ prevalent across the industry. An excellent article on the impact of this on restaurants was published recently on Telegraph India.

This issue of deep discounting is not restricted to food delivery companies alone. In fact, most of the leading online Business to Consumer (B2C) organisations in India regularly resort to this ‘strategy’. I find this concept very worrying for many reasons:

  • Lack of strong Value Proposition –¬†¬†Having ‘discounting’ as an always on tool leads to the question – do these businesses not have a strong value proposition for their customers? If customers indeed value the product or services these businesses are offering, then surely they would not need to discount daily? I can understand that discounts might be required when you are in a new market segment or have just recently launched and are looking for some early traction. But many of these businesses have now been operational for many years. Do they have a strategy on how they could continue to grow and become sustainable businesses in the near future?
  • Lack of brand loyalty – As the article I have linked to earlier mention, discounting has led to users using multiple competing brands offering the same product or service. The choice of which brand to use seems to be based on which one is offering the lowest price. This is nothing but a race to the bottom where the deepest pocket will win. Surely, building a brand and business has to be largely based on delivering a unique value proposition to the customer and continuously defending and enhancing that value proposition rather than just relying on brute (investor) financial power?
  • Low focus on customer delight – If the assumption is that customers will only shop with the brand offering the maximum discount, what incentive exists for brands to continuously innovate and provide new features / services to customers? Business slacking because customers are moving to competition? No problem, increase the discounts!
  • Marketplace distortions – In many cases, deep discounts can lead to distortions in the marketplace impacting the various other players in the ecosystem. The app-based personal transportation market provides a recent example of this. The significant ‘incentives’ provided to drivers led to many people taking out loans to purchase vehicles and run them as taxis on these app-based businesses. The discounted fares offered to consumers also led to high demand. Everything was rosy initially, but as the discounts and incentives reduced, many of these drivers found themselves with lower monthly incomes but still saddled with loan repayments. This problem might have been lessened if the dynamics of the marketplace had not been discounted by the artificially high incentives (and low fares).

So why do businesses indulge in this practice? I am no expert, but I strongly believe that pressures to justify investor valuations and demonstrate the type of growth required to provide meaningful exits to investors could be one of the key reasons driving this behaviour.

There is no doubt that the consumer is benefiting from this. One way to look at this is that it’s a form of modern redistribution of wealth with money flowing from the (rich) investors to the (not so rich) consumers. But what about the impact of this artificial distortion on the many other businesses that have not been fortunate to receive investor wealth? This and other questions arising from this practice have to be addressed if we are to see these businesses establish themselves in the long-term.