Month: September 2003

Upholding the tradition

Upholding the tradition

On October 01, 2003, the Ghantali Mandir Ground will offer the residents of Thane an opportunity to witness a unique dance competition. From five-year-old to those above 50 will participate in the Dance contest that is being organised by the Ghantali Prabhodini Sanstha. Participation to the contest is free. Now, if you think you are a great dancer and you’ve got it made, think again – because, the competition is for a particular genre of dance, popularly known as Bhondla.

Hindus, and in particular Maharashtrians, are very fond of cultural festivals. Each year, around the months of August to October, they celebrate many festivals. One of the prominent among these festivals is the Navratri. Like most other big festivals, Navratri is also known for a few peripheral celebrations, one of which is called the Bhondla dance. Bhondla begins with the installation of the deity’s idol and lasts up to the ninth day of Navratri. In the Hindu calendar month of Bhadrapada, when the sun moves to the thirteenth constellation of the zodiac called "Hasta" (Elephant), unmarried and newly married girls perform a dance known as "Bhondla" or "Hadga" and sing specially composed Hadga or "Bhulabai" songs.

If sources are to be believed, it promises to be an exciting contest. There are in all four age groups of participants: 5 – 14 yrs; 15 – 30 yrs; 31 – 50 yrs; and above 50 yrs. The participants will have to dance to the songs selected by organisers. These songs will vary from popular variety to the traditional Bhondla songs. To suit modern tastes, they will also play a few prevailing tunes.

What makes this contest difficult is that there are hardly any youngsters who are acquainted with the traditional dance forms. It’s a pity that while many foreigners take great interest in our rich cultural heritage, our own people do not value much what they have inherited from their own culture. Few countries in the world have a tradition, culture and variety as diverse and as multi-faceted as our own country. Underneath this diversity lies the continuity of Indian civilisation and social structure from the very earliest times until the present day. But, unless we reverse the current trend, we may be unable to sustain this continuity. And, future generations may perhaps only read about many of the delightful practices that once made their country so colourful and vibrant.

From this point of view, the city of Thane has many culture-conscious citizens who are constantly striving to bridge the gaps between past, present and the future. The Bhondla dance competition is one such example. Vilas Samant, chief organiser of the competition is of the opinion that most youngsters of today are not very familiar with the traditional practises that we have been following since ages. He says, "The idea behind the show is not solely entertainment. Our underlying goal it to create awareness among the younger generation and also generate some enthusiasm among them about the ancient customs. We want to keep the traditions from dying."
Perhaps no one else described India’s rich culture better than Mark Twain when he said, "India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, grandmother of legend, and great grand mother of tradition. Our most valuable and most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only."

Readers interested in participating in the Bhondla dance contest may contact Pestcol Pesticide, Ghantali Devi Mandir Chowk, Thane. The last date for filling the forms is September 28.

Colourful education

Colourful education

Children from the pre-primary section of the Saraswati Mandir Trust’s Pre-Primary School, Naupada, spent the past week rather colourfully. The school was observing what they call "colour festival," a rather fun way of keeping the little pupils excited and entertained while also learning important lessons. No, they were not celebrating Holi months in advance. This is just one of the many innovative ways that the school has figured out to make boring lessons more interesting for the toddlers.

Each day, from Monday through Friday, was assigned one of the basic colours: Red, Blue, Green, Yellow and Black. Everything done on that specified day had to do something with the colour assigned to it. For instance, Monday, which was the Red Colour Day, children and teachers dressed in red clothes. The chalk colour used on the black board was also red. Kids were also asked to carry any one red-coloured object from their homes. So on Monday, all kids were seen carrying a red item in their hands: Apples, tomatoes, doll, frock (even though some of them had worn a red dress already), compass box, water bottle and so on. It did not matter what they brought as long as it was red in colour. And most importantly, the kids were asked to pick the coloured item without the help of parents or elders. This, according to school’s headmistress Rohini Rasal, helps in sharpening their decision-making ability. Since each child brings a different object, they discuss with each other about the things they’ve got and this improves their interaction skills, while increasing their knowledge about diverse objects.

Each day of the colour festival week is spent in learning about various things that are related to the specified colour and its various shades. They even learn how basic colours can be combined to create other colours. Practical lessons, using actual demonstration, help children discover that white and red makes pink, just as black and white makes grey. Such lessons are more easily absorbed than when they simply read about it or see visuals of it in books.

When asked about the objective of a colour week, Rasal said, "A thematic approach such as this makes it easier for children to learn. And from our experience, we have seen that most children respond quite enthusiastically to such an approach. Being little, they find it rather boring to read from textbooks, even if they are illustrated." Soon these children will learn all about vegetables as their school will observe a vegetable week that will be patterned similarly, revealed Rasal.

However the children and their parents are strictly told not to buy new stuff for such affairs. So if someone doesn’t have a yellow dress, he or she can wear anything that resembles yellow, instead of buying new yellow clothes. "We don’t want to burden the parents unnecessarily," added Rasal.

Play as a tool for learning has been gaining a lot of ground in recent times. It is a fact that children learn better when they play. According to IPPA, a renowned early childhood organisation in Ireland, "Play is the most important thing a young child can do. Play is not only the essence of a happy childhood, it is the way children learn – about their bodies, their environment, ideas, events and the people and objects around them."

And why only children, play is important for adults too. It keeps them fit, both physically and mentally. As George Bernard Shaw once said, "We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing."

Prudent Student
While on the subject of growing, there are some children who grow up too soon. Not physically, but in they way they thing and act. Take, for example, four-year-old Ameya Chitre, a student of the same school discussed above. Just as the class was about to break for recess, the class teacher was explaining to them about the importance of studies and hard work. She gave them the example of their mothers who take the pains of waking up early morning to prepare their lunch while they sleep on peacefully. At this, little Ameya astounded his teacher with his old-man-like remark, "If you need to acquire knowledge, you cannot afford to relax. And if you want to relax, you will never acquire knowledge." The class teacher was pleasantly surprised at these words of wisdom from a child in Junior KG – and so were we!

Looks can be deceptive

Looks can be deceptive

A friend and former colleague was travelling back from CST to Thane in the first class ladies compartment at around 7 pm on Wednesday. At Matunga, a lady, described by my friend as someone who looked like a typical train-type vendor, boarded the first class compartment. She was not selling anything. From her clothing, it seemed like she belonged to the lower middle class echelons of the society. She was draped in a low quality sari and was carrying a big bag which appeared to be completely stuffed. She was not wearing any kind of ornaments and had a weary, drained out look on her – one that you get after a hard day’s work.

No sooner this lady boarded the train than another lady, apparently a regular first class passenger, began complaining and objecting aloud to the vendor woman’s presence. Those of us who travel regularly in the first class will know what I am talking of. It’s a common occurrence in the first class section of the suburban train of Mumbai – when a regular, season ticket holder catches sight of someone who doesn’t "look" like a first-class passenger, he or she is promptly told, "This is first class" as if it were a warning. Sometimes, when such a person still boards the train, some people begin to think aloud and also comment on how inefficient the ticket checkers are; that they never board the train during peak hour rush and thus encourage second class ticket holders to board the first class compartment without fear of being caught.

Coming back to our story, at Kurla, a constable boarded the train and the complaining lady’s verbal protest against her fellow traveller grew even more intense. At first she was making general statements about how bona fide ticket holders like her have to suffer because of ticket-less passengers. But now she began to point openly towards the poor, tired woman hurling accusations and even asking her to get off the train. The woman, who was up till now, standing quietly, finally retorted asking the complaining lady what her problem was and why she was fuming and babbling endlessly. The complainer grabbed this opportunity and pounced upon the woman demanding that she show her the first class ticket. The woman, in spite of the tired look, smiled and said calmly, "I am not obliged to show you or anyone else my ticket. If a Railway TC asks, I will show it." But the complainer refused to give up as she egged on saying that if she had a valid ticket, why was she so reluctant to show it. At this, the woman reached out to her stuffed bag, removed another, smaller pouch out of it and from which she took out an even smaller purse. To the surprise of all present – the onlookers, the constable and of course the shocked and embarrassed complainer – the woman pulled out a legitimate, first class season ticket from the purse. The complaining lady was dumbfounded and didn’t know how to react. The accused woman, who was now acquitted by the public as "not guilty" for a crime she had not committed, then said, "I am a businesswoman. My work as a vendor involves lots of travelling and so I travel first-class."

The complaining lady later apologised to the woman but not without justifying her behaviour. She said to her, "Though you are an exception, there are many who commute without a proper ticket, causing inconvenience to others. How were we to know that you had a proper ticket?"

As the train arrived as Thane, both the women alighted. But the look on the vendor lady was that of pride, while the complaining lady looked discomfited. She had learnt her lesson that appearances can be deceptive – and they sometimes deceive big time. Which is so true! After all, have we not seen even people who are impeccably dressed and yet get caught travelling ticket-less?

Ganpati for Peace and Harmony

Ganpati for Peace and Harmony

While for most people Ganesh Chaturthi is a festival to be celebrated with vigour, for the Pitale family, it is an opportunity to educate, enlighten and send a forceful and socially relevant message to the community. Every year during Ganpati, the living room of the Pitale residence at Cherai gets transformed into a mini theatre which exhibits a special show with an unusual theme. In the past they’ve had themes like the secret behind the rainbow, the solar eclipse phenomenon and even the Big Bang theory of the origin of the Universe. Each show is well planned, complete with appropriate light and sound effects.

This year the Pitales chose "Evolution of Religion" as the theme. In these days of heightened communal tension, the subject is highly relevant. The messages are powerful and visitors who become spectators come out with a feeling of deep contemplation. The 10-minute long show begins with a voiceover as follows:

"I am a Hindu, I am a Christian, I am a Muslim.
But why?
Because my father belonged to that religion.
But, what about primitive man? Was he a Hindu, a Christian, a Muslim or any other religion?
He had no religion. He was just a human being – albeit one with more intelligence than other animals. He created religion for his convenience."

And thus begins a compelling journey of evolution that covers all the stages of progression of religions. It covers the lifestyle of the primitive man, and how, for the purpose of security, he lived in groups. "This is how", the voice proclaims, "the first seeds of religion were planted."

The show goes on to discuss the early phases and transitions of Hinduism, Christianity and Islam with references to the Vedas, the Bhagwad Geeta, the Bible and the Quran. Throughout the show, the background changes to echo the respective religion.

The show emphatically puts across the point that at the core we are all humans, and that religion exists to facilitate our existence in a collaborative manner. At one point, as we stare at the beautifully decorated stand and the lovely Ganesha idol, the voice says, "The rituals of naming a child differ from one religion to another but the innocence reflected in the child’s laughter is the same. Just as the tears in the bride’s eyes, as she bids adieu to her parents, are also the same, be it a Shaadi, a Wedding or a Nikhah.

Tushar Pitale, an engineer from IIT, and one of the brains behind these annual shows, reveals some rather interesting encounters he had while researching for the script of the show. He says, "I met so many Hindus, Christians and Muslims – and all of them knew about Ganpati’s relevance. Not only that; all the people I met, regardless of religion, subscribed to the idea of harmony. In fact I met a couple if Muslims who knew more about ancient Hindu literature than so many Hindus do."

The show ends with a thought provoking statement, "Call Him Bhagwan, Lord Almighty or Allah, the power which keeps this Universe moving is One; that power is formless; it is something beyond our imagination. Let us find that light within us and spread its glow all around and then one day we will find Krishna, Jesus and Mohammed, Paigamber amongst us."

We are sure Ganpati would be pleased with the Pitales. After all, is there better form of worshipping the Elephant God than spreading the message of peace and harmony?

Vigilance is the need of the hour

Vigilance is the need of the hour

Being twin cities, anything that happens in Mumbai affects Thane too. The recent spate of bombs blasts in Mumbai is not exception. Residents of Thane seem to be aware of the implications of a terrorist act and have become more vigilant, as this incident proves.

Last Saturday, just a day prior to Ganesh Chaturthi, an alert resident acted most responsibly as he sounded the warning bells on spotting a dubious-looking bundle. It was around 8 pm and PS Gogate, an advocate who lives in one of the narrow by-lanes of Brahman Society, was returning home from the market with his family and friends. He caught sight of a neatly wrapped package lying on one side of the lane, resting against one of the walls, giving the impression that it’s been deliberately kept that way. Suspecting that it could be a bomb, Gogate acted on his impulse and immediately called the Naupada police station. Inspector Pandey, who was on duty at that time, reacted in the most cooperative manner. He asked Gogate to relax and assured him of swift action.

Saturday was particularly draining for the police department and the police dog. Several VIP politicians were in the city and the police dog had been through a tiring schedule, having had to sniff all the places thoroughly to rule out the possibility of a bomb in all the locations where the dignitaries were to visit. The police force too had been kept busy, what with all the security bandobast for VIPs and the Ganesh festival just beginning the next day.

In spite of these constraints, the inspector arrived at the spot within minutes. He was accompanied by two constables and a sniffer dog and the first thing he did was to calm down the people gathered there. He then sealed off the lane and got his tired dog’s sniffing act going. After a few minutes, the inspector concluded that package did not contain anything that could be potentially explosive. When the box was unwrapped, it simply contained a few small pieces of thermacol sheets, probably intended for use in Ganpati Decoration. As everybody heaved a sigh of relief, Gogate felt a little guilty at having summoned the police for what turned out to be a hoax call. But he was comforted by Inspector Pandey who urged everyone present to act exactly the way Gogate had done. He said that although this time it wasn’t a bomb, on another occasion it could be – by calling the police you could avert a disaster in the making.

A hoax bomb scare is a potent havoc-creating tool that is often be used by miscreants to create panic. And sometimes panic leads to rumours which can blow out of proportions and create undesirable circumstances. As citizens, it is our collective responsibility to avoid such situations by not throwing (or leaving) packages that can be misconstrued to be a bomb. All the same, if anyone of us notices a suspicious-looking parcel, we must heed the advice of Inspector Pandey and promptly call the police. Never, repeat never attempt to open and touch such a parcel or box as it could be programmed to blow up on a simple touch and that could endanger many lives.

Vigilance is no more the responsibility of only the police and security forces. As terrorist activities intensify, it is one quality that all of will do well to inculcate within ourselves – lest it becomes a steep liability.

Experience is the key for differentiation

Experience is the key for differentiation

MK: What is the difference between customer experience management and the traditional form of branding?

Berndt Schmitt: There are several key differences. The first one is of course that the customer is finally becoming the centre of all marketing and management efforts. Marketing as a discipline has always been customer-oriented. But frankly that has often been just a broad based philosophy or a sometimes just a buzzword. In terms of following up or in terms of concepts and tools for actually putting the customer in charge, marketing has still emerged very little.

Most marketing efforts are very product-centred and focus on functional features and benefits, which are also more or less product-oriented. It may even be focused on brand; but very rarely are products being developed out of an understanding of what customers really want. The customer is rarely considered in the new product development process. For that matter, the customer is hardly considered even for other marketing efforts; whether it is communications or packaging or designing websites.

What customer experience management (CEM) does is put the customer at the centre of the organisation.

MK: Are you saying that the traditional branding exercise like creating awareness can be completely done away with in favour of CEM?

Berndt Schmitt: I have no problems with traditional branding exercises or with traditional marketing. I think it is important to do segmentation, targeting and positioning. It is important to understand the value of the brand; it is important to understand how a brand can create awareness, associations and so on. That’s all fine. Many marketers are already doing that. But this doesn’t provide you with any competitive advantage any more. It’s the basics of marketing. It’s the price of entry into the game. But if you want to differentiate yourself in a relevant way in the present times, you need to take the customer approach, over and above the traditional marketing efforts.

Traditional marketing efforts are a necessary but not a sufficient condition any more. I am criticizing it not because it’s wrong but because it doesn’t go far enough.

MK: Then CEM approach complements the traditional approach of marketing?

Berndt Schmitt: Yes I think in many cases it does. But there are some cases where it supplements the traditional marketing process. For example, if your product offering has no functional features or benefits, like in luxury goods or services, the functional features and benefits are pretty much irrelevant. It’s all about the experience. It’s all about the creation of an image. So in such cases CEM doesn’t complement but supplements or sometimes even replaces it. Especially where traditional marketing practitioners have a view that consumers are rational decision makers, and use research methods of traditional marketing which are very much focussed on the verbal understanding of customers, using surveys or traditional focus groups where you talk and talk and talk… in some cases this approach may be a disadvantage to the company as it leaves out the experience part. But most of the time, you’re right, CEM complements traditional marketing efforts.

MK: Can you give me an example of a product category where CEM replaces completely, and not complements, the traditional marketing?

Berndt Schmitt: Luxury goods would be a good example. In many Fast Moving Consumer Goods, traditional marketing doesn’t go too far any longer, because many products are equivalent in terms of quality: they are the same; they have parity in terms of functional features and benefits. So if you are reiterating how great your product is, what functions it has, it doesn’t matter to consumers: they know and they can’t be fooled. They realise everything is the same. So now, what is not the same is usually the experience that is created for them – and that includes a certain sense of appeal in the way your product is packaged; it may include a certain feel approach that you have as part of marketing. It may include establishing meaningful relationships through certain differentiated services. There many different ways of doing that. In all these cases, experience is the key for differentiation.

MK: How does the CEM approach go beyond the emotional marketing tactics?

Berndt Schmitt: Experiential marketing is not just emotional branding. It’s not about smiling faces in advertising. Or putting up a retail store and people feel good because it’s got such a wonderful atmosphere. CEM is about understanding the essence of the brand, and the essence of what customers want from that particular brand and then managing everything surrounding that. So it’s about understanding the lifestyle of customers. It’s about broadening your marketing view from the product to the consumption situation.

Let me give you an example. Customers do not buy shampoos or soaps in an isolated way from other products. The task that customers have to do is to clean themselves every morning with a certain objective… e.g. they have to go to work. Or for a business meeting. Or because they are meeting friends. But these day customers do not think "soap" or "shampoo" and so on. They think of pampering themselves, in terms of spa services or sophisticated cleaning or even aroma therapy and such things. That’s the consumption situation. That what we need to understand – how your product fits into that consumption situation and that’s what experiential marketing does.

MK: Can you give us a few examples of companies that have successfully adopted the CEM approach?

Berndt Schmitt: Sure. I think Volkswagen has done a tremendous job in the US with the launch of the new Beetle. The Beetle is not necessarily differentiated in terms of quality and functional features and benefits. It is a very good car in its category but so are many others. Yet, it commands a price premium which is almost double compared to other cars in its category. So, why this price difference? I believe it has to do with the unusual shape, unusual colours, hip marketing and advertising; it has to do with little things like putting a flower vase in front of the car so that people are reminded of the hippy days. So I think that’s a great example of CEM.

I think another great recent example is Apple. Apple, as you know, was in a crisis in the mid-nineties. The stock was underperforming during the technology boom era in the US. But most recently they’ve done a tremendous job by launching certain products that are very relevant for customers, and they have communicated those features in an experiential way. There was an advertisement that said, "Collect all five" referring to the different colours that the new I-Mac was offering. They have introduced colour in the ugly, beige PC market. What they have also done is to introduce a screen that can be turned in all directions and the advertisement for this is totally visually driven. The benefit is illustrated in a visual, experiential way, not by saying, "You can turn the screen in any direction" and so on.

In services, there is a great example from this region. Singapore Airlines for many years has done a wonderful job. They have the same levels of service as many other airlines, but they have branded this experience beautifully in terms of in-flight service, in terms of pre and post check-in procedures and so on. They provide what I call the "EJ" experience. EJ stands for EXULTATE JUBILATE, which is a famous Mozart piece, which means "Exultant Jubilation." And that’s how customers feel when they are being treated in a relevant and sensitive and empathetic way. And that differentiates the brand from all others.

MK: How suitable is
the CEM approach for a country like India where consumption patterns are vastly different from its western counterparts? For instance, India is very price-sensitive.

Berndt Schmitt: Yes there is no question that the Indian Market is really different in many ways from other markets. Price sensitivity is one of the issues. It has very different distribution channels. Retailing is also very different. But most experts in India agree that experience is the next step, even in this country. Over the next ten years or so, what you will see is more and more parity in product quality, making it difficult to differentiate purely on the basis of product. Service is already an important issue in this market, and I reckon that experience is the next step.

Service is a part of the experience. But experience also includes things like packaging, how the company website is designed any many other things. Take for instance, consumer packaged goods, service industry or technology products. Think about mobile phone, mobile phone operator services – they are already purely experiential products, especially if you are selling them to younger customers. And why only younger customers, even businessmen want products designed to suit their needs. All this is changing customer preferences. So, I really believe that CEM and experience marketing has a very bright future in this market.

MK: India is very heterogeneous country. People and their consumption patterns also differ from one region to another. So how must one go about customising the CEM programme to suit the different regional preferences?

Berndt Schmitt: I agree that it is important to address this issue. Just as many times it is important to localise in the global market, it is important to localise within the broad based market like India to deal with different preferences, cultural lifestyles and even different languages.

To do so we must keep certain things constant and customise other things. Basically the brand identity should be the same – name, visual appeal etc. But the way you do certain experiential outreach – whether it’s an event or promotional activities or even communications and advertising – there you may have to localise in order to relate to the customer more closely. How you do that, how you localise – well that’s how the experiential world of the customer comes in. It’s a tool, a part of the customer experience management training that I have used in many companies. We use it for different market segment and those segments could be different regions. The way it works is that you get a broad-based, in-depth understanding of how customers are living their lives. E.g. one of the research tools that uses part of the experiential world of customer, is called "funnelling." You follow the customer around and understand the broad based consumption patterns, and how they are relevant for a particular product category or a particular brand. So you really start from the broad-based assessment – from the outside in. Many companies still go the other way round. They say "Here’s my product, here’s my brand and these are the product features and benefits, so what values are underlying in it?" This is called laddering up. I think that’s the wrong way to go about – I think you have to ladder down with the customer – and the experience he is looking for.

MK: Do you know of any companies that have use CEM in India? What about McDonalds?

Berndt Schmitt: Good example. McDonalds does this all across the world. Clearly, their logo, brand identity and other things remain the same. But then the type of potatoes that you get, some of the product offerings, the events they organise, the restaurant design, or the way they address the children varies from market to market. It’s different in China than it is in India which is different from Germany or USA.

Another good example is the McDowell brand. I have looked at some of the recent McDowell campaigns where they have brought in the user; they show real people and their achievements. Then they relate these achievements to the brand, which, the ads say, is also an achiever. The ad portrays the entire life of the customer rather than being purely product-focussed and showing just a bottle and some ice cubes in it.

MK: You talk about internal experience, which you also call "employee experience". Can you tell us how does that impact the overall marketing exercise?

Berndt Schmitt: Experiential marketing is often seen as working only on the external factors – improving the value that customers get from your product. But there has to be a similar consideration for the employee experience. In the service business, it is most obvious. But this also applies to other businesses. For example, I have been working with a pharmaceutical company called Eli Lilly – one of the best pharmaceutical companies that are around today; and they have come with a brand promise, "Answers that matter." Now they have to deliver this promise. And that’s how the employees are important – because it is the employees that are delivering the "answers that matter" – to the doctors, nurses, patients, health organisations, insurance companies, government bodies and so on. They have to deliver the answer in whatever form it is necessary: face to face, over the telephone, through faxes or emails. If they do it the wrong way, it can be very detrimental to the company and they could even end up in court. So you have to make sure everyone really understands what their job is and is delivering the answers that matter; that you are setting up an incentive and reward system for delivering answers that matter and a measurement system to see whether they have delivered answers that matter.

That’s how employee experience becomes important.

MK: Lastly, do you see Indian brands as becoming global experience brands?

Berndt Schmitt: Korean companies have succeeded very well in the International market recently. Take Samsung for example, which is taking on Sony. China is going places. So why not India?

Yet, in spite of great promise, India as a country has not been very successful (at this point in time) to promote itself very well. It has not been able to market its products successfully in the international markets. Many recent developments around the world make it very favourable for Indian brands to find an entry into the international markets. For example, Indian music is hot; Indian fashion is becoming more and more noticed in the US and in Europe. Then there’s this big trend in the US and Europe to pamper yourself… to use all sorts of spa services and aroma therapies. Asian healing techniques: meditation and yoga – and which country is better than India in providing products for that sort of lifestyle development in counties like the US and Europe? But we have seen very little of that.

So I think there are great opportunities for Indian companies to finally launch brands that will be recognised and will compete on an international scale.