Business, Strategy

User Privacy or Website metrics – A tough choice

The other day, one very interesting question came to me, from Raj, one of my students. He was referring to the ad below –



I browsed for some TShirts and shoes on a top Internet Website. And those kept coming back to me! Again, and again! Everything I do, is being tracked. I get a feeling as if I am being watched! And I don’t like it one bit. 

The problem –

The main issue concerning Raj was the lack of choice that these websites gave him regarding his browsing preferences. There was no choice given to him by respective ecommerce websites regarding what the websites can/cannnot do with his activity. Raj went to the activity settings, and tried to remove the tracking, but to no avail. When he deleted cookies, he found browsing becomes clumsy, because of the absence of tailored recommendations etc.

How much is too much?

All businesses, particularly VC backed ones are under immense pressure to grow their users, revenues and activity. For this, they are ready to take the data battle to the next level, by using advanced techniques like activity targeting, retargeting, social retargeting etc.

Behavioral retargeting (also known as behavioral remarketing, or simply, retargeting) is a form of online targeted advertising by which online advertising is targeted to consumers based on their previous Internet actions, in situations where these actions did not result in a sale or conversion.

What often gets missed in this mad rush is the user himself. Are we taking care of the user? Are we understanding user concerns when it comes to the ads that get planted in this rush to get revenue? Are you scaring users away by these tactics, particularly female users who are very concerned about privacy?

The true question – How can right balance be achieved?

Message me on with your views and we would publish them with your permission.


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Business, Strategy, Technology, Web

Innovation and Twitter’s growing eco-system

Abhishek woke up around 9 this morning. He was rather tensed about his impending CREST quiz. I wished him best of luck for it. At 6pm I came to know that it didn’t go too well. Even though we are classmates at IIM Calcutta, I have not seen or spoken to him once in the last 2 weeks. So how do I know every detail of what he has been up to? The answer in one word is – Twitter.Twitter

Twitter has been labelled anything from a micro-blogging application to a continuous presence notifier to a viral, social instant messaging client. It is all of these and more. Twitter has exploited the comfort SMS created amongst the general tech-savvy populace in the usage of texting lingo. Its 140 character post limit encourages to-the-point communication, often supplemented by the compression conveniences of texting lingo like “c u l8er” (see you later) and “CAM” (Cannot agree more). It is sometimes described as the “SMS of the Internet” since the use of Twitter’s application programming interface for sending and receiving short text messages by other applications often eclipses the direct use of Twitter.

However, over the last 2 years or so, not a lot has changed at Twitter. The only modifications to Twitter’s interface have risen from the community before being adopted by the platform. The @reply method in Twitter was not created by them, users did it. Again, users created the # tag system as well, not Twitter. Twitter’s API (application programming interface) is what drives growth and change.  The API allows 3rd parties to create their own applications, and there are now hundreds – if not thousands – of Twitter tools, clients, and add-ons, and usage of the API is more than 20 times that of the actual site. To view the most creative innovations in Twitter from the last couple of years, one only needs to look outside the company, to related third-party applications or services that have cropped up using the Twitter platform.

TweetDeck is a desktop client for checking on a user’s Twitter stream during the day; it’s infinitely more efficient than the company’s own clunky site. Stock news can often be checked through StockTwits. Links can be shortened using or another shortening service, which Twitter now uses to compress links into its 140 character scheme of things. Yet all these helpful innovations have emanated from outside Twitter’s confines.

In some ways, network effects for most software, as we see historically in the case of Microsoft’s Windows OS platform, are driven by getting others to work on tools that make more users dependent on a platform.

Twitter thrives on its ecosystem–the army of users and programmers and designers that are coming up with ways to make the Twitter experience more fulfilling. There is even a database at to document the list of Twitter applications. Here are a few of the most popular Twitter-based applications.

  • Twipic: an app that lets users share pictures on Twitter. Users can post pictures to TwitPic from their phone, Twipic’s API, or through the site itself.
  • Tweetdeck: is a Twitter app that streamlines notifications and tweets.
  • Digsby: an application that centralizes e-mail, IM and social networking accounts into one desktop program.
  • Twitterfeed: offers to automatically tweet posts published on a user’s blog using RSS.
  • Twitterholic: This application lists the top 100 users of Twitter (or hyper-Twitterers, as I call them), ranked by their number of “followers.”
  • Twhirl: is a desktop client for social software connecting to multiple accounts on different social networks
  • Twiturly: tracks and ranks what URLs people are talking about on Twitter.

Companies are changing the way people use Twitter too.  Brands have started using Twitter for marketing & promotions, market research, and customer service. Jet Blue was one of the first companies to adopt Twitter for commercial use, and in addition to using Twitter to market its service and promote deals, they use it as a market research tool to see what people are saying about their company via, and then as a customer service tool by responding via @replies or direct messages to customers.  5 years ago if a customer had a complaint about an airline they would have to call or write to the company. This often involved long response time and shoddy service. With Twitter, a customer may no longer even need to reach out to the airline. He can simply post an update that includes a gripe about their experience, and minutes later a representative from the company would contact him and ask what the problem was and how they can help rectify it. Using Twitter this way not only has the potential to humanize the brand, it replaces worn-out methods of communication with a real-time exchange, and puts the initiative for contact in the hands of the company. Indeed a long way since Jack Dorsey posted “just setting up my twttr” 3 years ago in 2006!

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Business, Marketing, Strategy

The ABCD of Tata Croma’s newly-wed offer

I recently went to a Tata Croma showroom in Mumbai and found a few package deals that are on offer. The ones that stood out for me were those that were aimed at the newly-weds. TataCroma-newlywedsThough the name suggests an offering for people who have just been married, it covers mostly everyone who is setting up a new home. These might be newly formed nuclear families that are moving out of their joint family existence (may be to a new city) or a couple of bachelors that would be now be sharing an apartment or anyone who is leasing/buying a new house and does not have the essential electronic items every house requires.

There are three package deals, the names of which according to me should be – Basic (Rs 25,000/-), Essentials (Rs 50,000/-) and Esteem (Rs 1,00,000/-). The price one saves in the Esteem package is ~Rs 23,000/- .

The appeal of the offer is 4-fold.

Affordability: At Rs 25,000/- if one is able to get a television, a refrigerator, a washing machine and a few more items, it can be considered a bargain. One would save at least 10-15%% in the package deal as compared to buying individual items. Croma is sometimes considered to be more expensive for individual items than some local electronic item outlets. Even taking that premium into consideration, the saving is around 5-10%. In the Basic and Essentials categories, there are mostly items that are required in homes and not things that would be forced on to a customer because it is a package deal.

Brand: The products in the offering belong to brands that are well recognized in the respective categories and are the latest offerings from that particular brand. Some of the items belong to Croma’s private labels. There are no options provided to choose from different brands for various items. So, the customer would have to compromise on that aspect, but the offering ensures that it is not something they would not be able to live with.

Convenience: Moving in itself can be a big hassle. Finding a place to live, especially in cities like Mumbai, is a big project in itself and once a place is found, one does not want to be bothered too much about furnishing the place. What better than having a one-stop shop for all your electronics’ needs? And to add to it, a packaged offering just to suit your purpose. This added convenience aspect is an important part of the offer.

Durability: With electronic items, one is very much concerned about the time period for which it is ensured to be in a good condition. Consumer think of these as products which would stay with them for anywhere between 3-7 years or even more. All products come with warranty (of different time periods) and Croma store can be contacted in case of any product failures.

With the ABCD taken care of, the customer need not think too much (subject to money availability). Tatas are now looking at your whole living experience in an affordable manner – from affordable housing to affordable transportation (Tata Nano) to affordable electronics. What next?

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Business, Marketing

What is CCD, as a brand, up to?

ccdCafe Coffee Day brings to mind visions of plush coffee shops with steaming cups of awesome coffee, great ambience, and a staff which recognizes the fact that for most people, the real service is the experience and the ability to relax in a public place without being hassled and hustled along. The coffee is, of course, just incidental.

Which is what their positioning was in my mind; it seemed like a great place for almost anybody to catch up over a cup of coffee, and solve the common problem of ‘where do we go?’. Until I had one of the most exasperating service experiences of my life in one CCD outlet in Pune. The whole place had the comfort level of a desert in the middle of the day. Table fans pushed hot air around from one end of the place to another. Torn seats and grimy tables turned away whatever patrons had been tough enough to bear the heat. We decided to stay put, though, trooping along to some other place was too much trouble. That was, however, the least of our troubles. When we tried to place our order, we realized that there was no way we could finish that off quickly return to what we had come there for – conversation – without indulging in a complicated algorithmic procedure with the guy serving us. Being a Sunday, apparently, we could not order a plain cappuccino, and had to have an additional flavour. No problem if we didn’t want the flavour, but they’d have to charge us that, it being a policy. And no cold coffees, please, their ice cooler or whatever they used had broken down, an excuse I vividly remember from my last trip back home, a few months ago. And, no, they couldn’t serve us water, we had to buy a bottle, a la Europe style.

Now I don’t intend to complain. I will simply take my business elsewhere, which I have proceeded to put into practice since that very day. What I am intrigued by, however, is what exactly CCD, as a brand, is up to. For I have obtained varying levels of service in difference places, which makes for a rather confused and not so amused consumer. Their outlet at the Bangalore airport is superb, and I had no cause for complaints. Some outlets in other parts of Pune are also fairly decent, although they have an unerring tendency to give me not-so-subtle hints to leave after I have been there for a few hours, irrespective of whether the place is full or not, something which I find rather annoying and amusing at the same time.

I am no marketing expert, or anywhere close to that, but I do understand that as a brand, you might want to be consistent with what you do. To me, it seems like they have decentralized the decision-making process to such an extent that individual franchisees have complete control over what to do with their outlets. What has resulted is chaos, and a complete dilution of the very USP that made CCD the brand that it is today. It is somewhat bewildering to see a company which brought in a coffee revolution of sorts to urban India lose their way so badly without any real external pressures. What is it that really made things go this way? The experience that I had might have been an exception, but in an industry where standard operating procedures and strict quality measures are the norm, it is worth wondering about what exactly is happening behind the scenes to affect service levels so much that even the average consumer wonders what they are exactly up to.

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Business, Entrepreneurship, Marketing, Planning, Public Issues

Vodafone Zoozoos are the new Hutch Puppies

The latest commercials by Vodafone featuring Zoozoos have hit the Indian Market like a storm. They have caught attention, became popular and will now probably go into history as one of the most brilliant advertising idea for the industry. The question on every advertising manager’s mind will be “Why have they clicked?” Can there really be an answer to this!

If you look at the history of Vodafone in India, they have had a similarly succesful campaign when they were known as Hutch. The Hutch Puppy started as a small campaign, grew into a really popular one and got a lot of recognition. The Hutch Puppy probably had a decent enough brand value and now you can see a puppy being used in a lot of other ads trying to use that brand equity, which Vodafone did not care to take along.

You can never tell what will click with the masses. Sometimes the most perfectly surveyed and tested campaigns fail miserably (example the new coke campaign) and sometimes small campaigns become a rage! This campaign of Vodafone Zoozoos should get credit for all aspects! Vodafone launched the campaign during IPL, one of the most expensive times to launch a campaign on television. Vodafone made 15-30 advertisements for different services offered, which involved a decent commitment to the campaign! Plus they have taken all the right steps to make it popular both on television and online.

The advertisement also puts a question in front of other telecom companies, does having big movie stars and cricketers as their brand ambassadors really help? Can’t simple animated characters based on local theatre slim built women dressed in white costumes, called Zoozoos draw more attention? It has changed the way advertising can be done and seen! A new trend, a new wave!


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