Change is never easy but possible

While sitting by the window on this cold winter morning in a very different part of the world, I can’t help myself but notice the changes that have happened in my life in the last couple of years.

It’s dark outside but about to be bright soon. The surroundings are so new and unknown but the view is oh so breathtakingly gorgeous.

What is it that’s keeping me awake at this hour? Is it Xenophobia? No, but definitely a bit of anxiety.

Anxiety for the unknown, anxiety for the new journey, anxiety for the change.

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When Brand Storytelling Works

Spotted these Amazon Storyboxes at a mall recently and they instantly made me curious to browse more. Beautiful stories presented in a beautiful way, loved this new initiative by Amazon India. Good storytelling works always, isn’t it? 

And not just storytelling, the Amazon Storybox is yet another brilliant example of the importance of packaging in marketing. Packaging changes perception, packaging reinforces the brand value and packaging sells. 

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Gift yourself some silence

When everyone is busy putting up their year-end summary, next year’s goals, party plans, holiday pictures, just take a moment to pause, breathe, and embrace silence.

A few moments of quiet are all you need in life at times.

When it all seems too overwhelming when you can’t help but notice others’ lives and when you can’t avoid the noise, just pause and embrace silence.

When you’re confused, embrace silence.

When you’re lost, embrace silence.

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Books Worth Your Time – Fiction

Hello, I hope you are having a good holiday season with ample time to relax, read and rejuvenate. I am back with my second post on year-end book recommendation, after all, what’s a holiday without some good reading :-)? You may check the first part of this post which was on marketing books, here.

As I mentioned earlier, I still love reading good fiction. Many reasons for the same but I remember jotting down some of my thoughts on this here. So, this year was no different for me, read some very insightful nonfiction and some very interesting fiction too.  Out of all that I read, I think the three that I loved the most would be the following:

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Marketing Books Worth Your Time

Winters, holidays and year-end reflective mood – perfect combination to laze around with a hot cuppa and a good book, isn’t it?

The holiday season is almost here and it’s that time of the year when you can refresh your reading list, all the good books that you wanted to read but couldn’t due to hectic life and multiple other commitments, are waiting for you to be devoured.

While I am scouting for some good books that I can try reading in the last two weeks of the year, I thought it’s also a good time for me to share some of the books that I enjoyed reading this year. I plan to do this post in 3 parts – the first one, i.e., this post is around marketing books, the second post would be on some of the good fiction that I read (oh yes, I still read fiction and absolutely love them :-)) and the third would be around life design and other interesting titles in general.

So, in marketing, I read around six titles this year. Actually I had picked two more but they were too repetitive in content to finish till the end. Those books were more like blog posts somehow dragged into a 250-page book format. Out of the six that I read, here are the three that I liked. 

Interestingly, while all three are written with different perspectives and around different areas in marketing but the crux of the content remains the same:

• Focus on your product first, a good product is your best marketing asset.

• Listen to your users, there is no substitute to direct user insights.

• What’s your story? Storytelling is the new marketing.

We know these all but how many of us actually implement or get to implement these in our day to day life? Think about it.

On that note, let me share the names of the three books around marketing and branding that you may give a try:

Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen, Reviews

 Donald Miller

Building A Story Brand – Book Review

Ever since I have entered into consulting, one pattern that I have observed with many of my clients is a huge mismatch between the effort spent on channels vs messaging. A lot of time and money gets spent in discussing tactics like email vs Facebook but very few put in systematic effort in crafting the message that will connect with their TG. If you can resonate with this, then this book is for you. 

The importance of storytelling is something that we don’t need to discuss more, I am sure by now every marketer, designer, and product manager understands and swears by the power of good storytelling. But in case you are looking to better yourself at your brand storytelling game, then you may find this book to be useful. Full of easy-to-implement ideas, and practical frameworks, this book has many takeaways for bigger brands as well as startups. Yes, at times you will get that feeling that this book is trying to sell you their premium online course but I don’t see that to be something negative and at no point, it mandates you to go for it. 

Sticky Branding: 12.5 Ways to Stand Out, Attract Customers, and Grow an Incredible Brand

– Jeremy Miller

Sticky Branding – Book Review

I got attracted to this title as the review at many places said it’s meant for brands with smaller budgets. Packed with insightful examples from different industries, this one is a great read for those who are starting with marketing and brand building for their businesses and would like to understand how to build an engaging brand. All the principles and philosophies explained in different chapters of the book, end with exercises that make it a great playbook with actionable strategies. 

Do Purpose: Why brands with a purpose do better and matter more

– David Hieatt

Do Purpose – Book Review

A very easy read for a very difficult subject i.e., the purpose of your brand and how to build it. This book was an accidental find during one of my visits to the British Library. Initially, it looked something short and sweet but for the size of the book, it’s quite informative and to the point. While the title might make you think that it’s a branding book but most of the information shared is actually quite relevant to having a purpose and goal in life and entrepreneurship in general. If you can manage to find this one, do give this a try. This title is a part of the Do Books series and I liked it so much that I am already planning to read other titles from this series. 

Which branding/marketing/product marketing books caught your attention this year? Let me know if you have any recommendations that I can try.

Repositioning The Brand You

Image – Unsplash

And this time a post beyond work :-). No digital, no product or marketing, just something straight from heart, something that I have been thinking to share for the last few months but haven’t been able to. 

Life has interesting ways to teach you some lessons. Sometimes it’s about learning new things and sometimes it’s about unlearning the old ones. If you are like me who thought that learning new things with age gets more difficult, then trust me you haven’t tried unlearning :-).

To me, unlearning has been far more challenging than imagined. And some of these were deep-rooted values or long-practiced habits that required much more effort & deliberate practice than learning new things. 

Have I been successful in my effort? Well, not completely but at least I tried and I am still trying. Why am I doing it? Life being life has never been easy for me, especially the last few years that have been nothing less than a crazy roller coaster ride. Earlier this year, I reached a point where I felt that if I will not consciously work on my own life design, things will become more unmanageable and go out of my hand. 

I needed to be rewired or let’s say repositioned in my marketing lingo :-).

To be honest, this is the first time ever that I have spent thinking, rethinking and working on myself. And now that I have spent the last six months doing this, I wonder why didn’t I do it earlier?

As we enter the last month of this year, I thought it’s time to sit back and reflect on some of the critical learnings I had this year. A separate post on repositioning myself into the professional world from being an employee to an entrepreneur will follow soon. For now, let me share some thoughts on recent life learnings, errrrr… unlearning 🙂

• The importance of the word NO. One of the biggest things that I have been trying to work on these days is learning the word no and unlearning all the cynical perceptions attached to this word. No is not a negative word and saying NO doesn’t mean you are disrespecting others. It simply means you are respecting yourself, your own views, your priorities, and your own life. I have no idea why since childhood we have been taught so much against this word no, “don’t say no to elders, teachers, boss, etc, etc. In fact, with time I have learned that saying NO is perhaps the ultimate form of self-care. Oh this word self-care reminds me of my second point which is –

• Self Care ≠ Selfish – Self-care is a necessity and it is not equal to selfish. These are two different things altogether. If you are like me who has always prioritized others’ happiness, their likes, dislikes, etc above you, then trust me someday you will crumble, break down completely. Self-care is powerful and only makes you stronger to take care of others. Breakdown reminds me of my third point which is –

• Sleep is precious – We live in an age where sleeplessness is equated to hard work and mantra for success. Compromising on sleep continuously to accomplish things eventually will lead to burn out. For me sleeping disorder has been a childhood issue, there are many reasons for the same, a lot of which cant be shared in a blog post on a public forum. With time, sleeping less became a habit chronic to the extent of being considered insomniac medically. In the last few years, I can’t tell you how many problems in our lives have come due to erratic sleeping patterns of me and my spouse. We learned this lesson very hard way that sleeping less is not something to flaunt, rather be worried about and paid attention to on priority.

• Being “sensible” always is not necessarily good – I can’t tell you how much I have started to hate being the “sensible”, “matured” or “samajhdaar” one in my life. This one has created more problems in my personal life than in professional because on the work front we still learn how to put our foot down with time. But when it comes to family, damn to this trait of being the sensible one that only and only burdens you with more expectations, more responsibilities and more load of managing it all, bearing the brunt of idiosyncrasies of everyone. I think with time I have learned that it’s better to be not so sensible that you are always expected to tolerate the insensibilities of others.

• Prioritize Peace – Learnt it hard way – anything that costs you your peace is too expensive for your life, be it relationships or work. Life is all about priorities and for me currently, it’s about prioritizing my peace. It’s perfectly fine to not win every battle and it’s perfectly fine to give up on certain situations, come what may prioritize your inner peace, your peace with yourself. Priorities change and that’s perfectly fine. For me also, sometimes it has been family, sometimes career but one deep realization that has happened in the last few years is that if you are not at peace with what you are doing, eventually things fall apart.

Deep down if I think of it, none of these are new, yet despite all the awareness I haven’t been able to act on these fully. It has taken me a lot of conscious unlearning and relearning to practice these in my life. I am just hoping I continue to do so in the future as well. I need this rewiring badly to transform a few things in my life. As someone rightly said – 

Transformation is more about unlearning than learning.

So what have been some of your new learning/unlearning this year? Would love to hear your thoughts. 

Diwali Campaigns 2019 – Which one won your heart?

It’s the season of festivals in India these days and with festivals, comes the season of shopping. From Dusshera to Diwali, there is a different excitement and frenzy in the air. It’s that time of the year when marketers bring out their best offers and consumers are left spoilt for choices. It’s that time of the year when brands launch their best campaigns to connect and attract their target audience. 

Like every year, this Diwali has also been very interesting when it comes to marketing and advertising. From digital to retail, the market was flooded with new campaigns. While some chose the route of social awareness, some went ahead with direct product promotions. Whatever be the route, finally the ones that attracted the attention were either – 

Entertaining or Educating or Engaging or Empowering!

The same golden 4E rule of marketing which is about content. Good content wins.

While there were many campaigns that I liked but here’s a quick round-up on the ones that I loved the most:

Zomato – When it comes to digital content, Zomato wins hands-down for me. I am a huge, huge fan of their marketing especially their social media marketing. The quirk, the pun, and the message-fit to the occasion, I mean hats off to the team who comes out with posts like these, absolutely hilarious and shareworthy.  (*Insta embed is giving issues with this theme on web, in case you can’t see the full slideshow, view it here).

View this post on Instagram

Because you are the sweetest!

A post shared by Zomato India (@zomatoin) on

Samsonite – I had goosebumps watching this ‘Diwali Ka Safar’ film and loved the idea as well as the execution. When the whole world was speaking of gifting during Diwali, Samsonite came out with a wonderful campaign on gratitude. Subtle product placement but with a remarkable message, this ad won the hearts of many.

#DiwaliKaSafar | Samsonite

India is going home for Diwali, but they are not.Join us in wishing them a #HappyDiwali and thanking them for helping us all complete our #DiwaliKaSafar!Share this with your friends and family and ask them to do so too! #SamsoniteIndia

Posted by Samsonite India on Saturday, October 19, 2019

Google Pay – Going by the number of Diyas that my whole family was busy scanning on Diwali, I have to say that this was one of the most engaging campaigns this year. From paying to sharing, the Diwali gamification by Google Pay was indeed a very smart campaign to increase product usage.

FeviKwik – What a perfect product fit campaign by FeviKwik! I mean to come out with a Diwali specific advertisement for a product like FeviKwik would have required some serious effort. And look at this post, isn’t it simply amazing? (*Insta embed is giving issues with this theme on web, in case you can’t see the full image, view it here).

View this post on Instagram

Asli munafa from this lifafa #HappyDiwali #Fevikwik

A post shared by Fevikwik (@fevikwikindia) on

Sabhyata – Many brands took the route of starting something new or celebrating change this Diwali. But speaking of this film by Sabhyata, I couldn’t guess the end when I watched it for the first time. And considering it’s coming from a brand with the name “Sabhyata”. I quite liked it. With a traditional range of products but ads like these, I am sure the brand will find its connect with the younger generation.

Sabhyata – #CelebrateAChange

Saas-Bahu Saga? Kahaani Ghar Ghar ki..But aise rishtey jo khatti-meethi nokjhok se bane, Bade Ache Lagte hai! This Saas-Bahu duo is definitely goals for everyone who relates to this situation!Sabhyata#CelebrateAChange

Posted by Best Ads on Tuesday, October 22, 2019

While I have listed the five that I liked the most but there were many more like Dunzo’s Glow Green or Swiggy’s Mute SoanPapdi that were interesting and funny. Though for me, nothing could come parallel to last year’s UmeedKaDiya campaign by HP. That film I think was a league apart, something that many of us will remember for years to come. 

So, which ad was your favorite this year? Would love to hear from you in the comment section below. 

PM, PMM, UX – Are the roles merging?

Product Management, Product Marketing, and UX Design – are these roles merging?

My answer – Yes and No.

I get this question asked often these days especially when we discuss the go-to-market plan in my product marketing sessions. The cohorts consist of aspiring product managers and as a logical sequence of the course they go through value proposition, UX design, followed by GTM plan. 

This question is quite genuine considering the way things are nowadays, more so in case of digital products. There are overlaps at times leading to joint decisions. While product management as a profession has been existing since decades but speaking of India, I think this career has gained prominent limelight in the last decade especially in digital and tech organizations. 

The new age PM is not only expected to know about products but also about design and marketing. Similarly, the new age UX is expected to know about the market dynamics and the new age product marketer is expected to know about the value proposition. Today a marketing person can’t say, I don’t understand the product specifications as its too technical. A product marketing person is very much expected to understand everything about the product and own up the growth.

Somewhere it’s all about the user! Everyone is expected to know the user and think about the user, which is great. 

However, understanding design is different from doing design.

Understanding marketing is different from doing marketing.

While as a role, it’s expected that a PM has a thorough understanding of all three but in reality neither of these functions are replaceable. Despite the fact that all these roles are centered around users, a PM, PMM, and UX bring different expertise to the table when it comes to actual execution and growth.

Secondly, it’s also about the stage and scale. For long I have worked in a startup, where I was owning up both the product and marketing along with managing the design team. Initially, it was all good, as it was one team who was owning up the user experience, product, and the growth numbers. But as we grew, this model had scalability challenges and finally, I had senior resources to lead the UX & PM functions as part of my team while I concentrated on GTM & growth. All of them brought in fresh perspectives and expertise into the overall product plan leading to faster launches and sustainable growth.

A PM doing the job of PMM or UX is not sustainable in the long run.

So, are the roles merging? I won’t say these are merging, rather they are aligning to each other more now and this alignment is for good.

The know-how of all three functions are getting interlinked, the knowledge expectations from all three roles are getting merged but when it comes to execution and ownership, these roles have their own identities and independent KRAs to cater to.

And whatever be the role, finally it was / is/ will be about the user and the growth.

So, how is the structure in your organization? Are you a startup or large scale operation? Do you have independent resources to manage these functions or are some of the functions merged in your setup? If merged, is it PM & PMM or PM & UX? Would love to know your opinion on the same. 

The “Think” and the “Feel”

Think beyond emotions. But why?

Think beyond emotions. I have heard this often. And I wondered why?

If it wouldn’t have been emotions, I wouldn’t have been me.

If it wouldn’t have been emotions, I wouldn’t have been with you.

There was a time in my life when I used to counter this statement (which is generally thrown at you more like an allegation) with proofs about my logical side of the brain, with pieces of evidence about my rational personality but now I just say – 

“Wish more people in this world would have started their conversation with ‘I feel‘ as against, ‘I think‘.

And this is not just for personal life, I stand by it in my professional life too. I am a marketer by profession and a major part of my work involves product and marketing. Now, need I say more about the importance of the right part of the brain in my work along with the left? 

If it wouldn’t have been emotions, I wouldn’t have understood user pain points.

If it wouldn’t have been emotions, I wouldn’t have understood empathy.

If it wouldn’t have been emotions, I wouldn’t have been passionate, be it relationships or my work.

Emotional Intelligence is not just a buzzword and EQ is not a mere hype anymore. These are realities and core competencies after which many organizations are running these days.

Something that is so important at the leadership level, I wonder why it is not taught from the ground up? Why it is not a part of the school curriculum or parenting journals? 

Why am I even writing a blog post on it, something that I don’t think need to be justified to the world? Well, it’s a conversation between my 7-year-old son and some folks recently that instigated me to write about it.

Something happened in a group of these 7-8-year-old kids and my son as well one of his friends started crying. There were few other grownups who were trying to pacify the boys to the best of their abilities. While I appreciated their concern but couldn’t help myself from noticing a few repeated sentences for the boys like –

“Don’t be so emotional, stop crying like girls”.

“Don’t be so emotional, these things happen”.

Something in me snapped. I totally understand their good intention but for a child whose mother is as rock strong as me, comments like “don’t cry like a girl” are nothing but meaningless. What do people even mean when they say – “don’t cry like girls”?

But the larger concern that I had was this repeated mention of “don’t be emotional”. I mean why? The boys were injured physically, to add to that they had been bullied, why can’t they cry? What’s so wrong about feeling bad on being cheated and bullied?

At a very young age, they are being told to shun out their feelings, at a very young age they are being rebuked for expressing their emotions. At a very young age, they are being told that emotions are for girls only and boys are supposed to be this never-feel, never-cry, never-empathize creatures! 

I just so wish that right from the start we pay attention to the “feel” as much as the “think”.

Here’s to my boy, other boys, me, and others who listen to such comments often –

It’s perfectly fine to be emotional.

It’s perfectly fine to express emotions.

And it’s perfectly fine to experience negative emotions along with the positive ones.

What is not fine is to keep these emotions bottled up inside. 

Feel, express and most importantly, learn to manage your emotions.

Cognition is important but what is more important is to understand and acknowledge the interlink between cognition and emotion. 

Before I sign off, would leave you with one of my favorite videos by Susan David. If you like reading more about emotional agility, you will love this one.

Instagram Hiding Likes – Good or Bad?

We want people to worry a little bit less about how many likes they’re getting on Instagram and spend a bit more time connecting with the people that they care about,” – Adam Mosseri, Instagram Chief.

Image Credit – Pixabay

Instagram has hidden likes in 6 more countries now and it’s soon going to be implemented in more geographies.

So this change happened and I think it’s for good, as an individual as well as a marketer. 

I know there’s a lot of hue and cry going on for this feature especially by the influencers but if I think of it rationally, my hunch is, this will fix many ongoing issues with the platform.

While the number of likes was one of the key ways to put a value on a post for the business side of Instagram, but if I think it from the business side I am not sure what purpose those likes were serving.

Not just for business accounts but for regular accounts too, these likes and follower counts have become like a digital popularity contest leading to users taking any measure to increase their worth in terms of social currency.

For Instagram, it must have been a very bold step, something that might even hit their popularity in the short term but considering all types of scams and bots that are floating on Instagram to increase these followers and likes, it’s high time that measures like these are taken. 

Instagram After Hiding Likes. Image via CNN

I have been a huge fan of influencer marketing always; when done right it has given wonderful results for the brands that I have worked for. There was a time when I used to interact personally with the influencers for different campaigns and wow, what a wonderful era that was where some of those influencers actually created content better than us and our agencies. Those content were stunning, useful and worth every penny that we spent.

But speaking of now, the past three campaigns that I have tried hasn’t given us the engagement ratio of even 1%. In fact, nano influencers have turned out to be better than influencers or micro-influencers.

And there is a huge difference in the rates of hiring a nano, micro vs popular influencers these days.

One of the data points from a recent campaign that we did with few influencers –  Influencers with 5k – 6k followers gave us approximately 10% engagement whereas the ones with around 60k followers gave us approximately 1% engagement. We got almost the same results from these two segments but the payouts to them were very different. We paid almost 5x to the folks with 60k+ followers as against the ones with less than 10k followers!

With the bought likes and followers, Instagram honestly speaking has been losing its essence. More than beautiful visual storytelling, it’s becoming an automated-content battleground.

Similar trends have been observed by many other independent studies and research. Recently in an analysis done by Markerly for over 2 million influencers on Instagram, it was clearly found that influencers with 

  • < 1,000 followers average about 8% engagement
  • 1,000 – 10,000 followers average 4% engagement
  • 10,000 – 100,000 followers average 2.4% engagement
  • 100,000 – 1 million followers average 1.8% engagement
  • > 1 million followers average 1.7% engagement

Let’s hope that with changes like these, hopefully, the fake will get filtered out and better features and metrics will get introduced to help both the content creators and marketers. Speaking of features, I think it would be good to have:

  • a transparent influencer platform like Amazon, currently brands are dependent on finding influencers through third-party platforms or agencies. A robust influencer network connecting brands and influencers will be beneficial for all concerned.
  • tools to clearly differentiate between genuine vs bot followers of influencers. I am ok if the influencers garner reach through paid promotions too but at least the bots or fake profiles should be called out clearly.
  • better analytics and reports for brands using which they can monitor the performances of the campaigns with influencers. Payouts can be based on performance and reach. Not only will this help brands, but this will also help the genuine content creators command better deals from brands. 
  • better image tagging for business accounts, so that not just accounts but exact product image/pages could also be tagged.

The wishlist could be more but for now, all I hope is that Instagram retains its original charm and doesn’t meet the same fate as SMS or email.

What do you think about “Instagram removing likes”? Which tools do you use to audit the potential influencer’s account? I am currently using IG Audit and HypeAuditor. Any other good audit/ranking tools that you can recommend?