Ideas And Their Six Degrees Of Separation

Quick Read: Ideas, like people, could be said to have their own “6 Degrees of Separation” i.e., any idea in the world can potentially be related to another idea in the world with a maximum of 6 connections. And if this hypothesis is right, it can have major implications on marketing. 

What are you thinking right now? This comic by Richard McGuire appeared in 1990.

Richard McGuire(What Are You Thinking Right Now, Richard McGuire. Source)

While it is a wonderful comic and a fun reflection on how we think, for me it is a brilliant work that manages to encapsulate within the confines of a comic panel – the interconnectedness of our thoughts and ideas.

Speaking of which, just as this theory that any two people in the world can be connected to each other with a maximum of 6 steps, my hypothesis is that:

Any two ideas in the world can be related to each other in less than or equal to 6 degrees of separation. 

In other words, if you think of each idea as a node, I contend that you could potentially connect any two nodes in the “idea universe” with a maximum of 6 connections.

(One way of proving this could be as a corollary of the 6 Degrees of People Separation and mixing it with the notion that ideas make a man. And voila! You can have even a far right capitalist ideology being related to a far left communist ideology within 6 degrees of separation.)

people-exchanging-ideas-26061929(Ideas and connections, stock image)

Why is this fascinating? If the hypothesis is proven right, it can potentially have two major implications on how ideas can be sold.

Implication #1: 

Let’s take Recommendation Engines, the intelligence behind “If you like this, you might also like these” kind of recommendations that you see on Amazon

A good recommendation engine – in search, videos, online shopping, travel etc.,  has far reaching implications in delivering more relevant content to users, thereby driving sales and growing retention within the platform. In fact, as per many accounts, some companies have even gone so far as to realign their business objectives in light of recommender-driven demand, such as Netflix, Amazon, Microsoft, Disney and Apple.

Now, what if we abstract this concept of “six degrees of ideas’ separation” into an iterative, machine learning algorithm that can build up, in real time, a user’s idea map – i.e., a construct that maps out the interconnectedness of user’s ideas?

We can then perhaps use it as the back bone of a more powerful recommendation engine.

So instead of dishing out nearly hard coded, precedent based recommendations – with imperfect results –  what if the smart logic embedded in the recommendation engine can rapidly learn, iterate and replicate my idea map resulting in recommendations that almost feel like – mind reading?

That’s when I might be able to see breathtakingly personalised assortment of search results, advertisements, content and retail options appear in front of me almost at the speed (and diversity) of my thought.

Implication #2: 

Given that any of my existing ideas can potentially be connected to other ideas – and thereby products – out there, having an insight about my idea map can potentially help you sell me a new product/service. How?

By carefully structuring your sales pitch in a way that takes me gently through the different related nodes from my existing ‘idea state’ to a new ‘idea state’ that could probably help me better relate to your product.

Easier said than done, I am sure. But the outcomes here could be as thrilling as they could be scary – a signpost of every major scientific advancement over the last few decades.

On a related note..

If you enjoy the creative process of discovering and connecting disparate ideas into an insightful whole, check out Seenapse.

Seenapse

A creative technology start-up, Seenapse is an ‘inspiration engine’ that assists in your creative process by exposing you to non-obvious idea associations between seemingly disparate concepts. It is currently in a closed beta but you can get an invite by using the code: strandsofgenius. (source)

(Featured image source. H/T Austin Kleon for the riff on Richard McGuire and Faris Yakob on Seenapse)

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PS: This is my 100th blog post on BrandedNoise which got its 2020th subscriber today! A big thank you to all the readers out there who have been the source of my strength, inspiration and support. Looking forward to many more blog posts to come and a journey fuelled by creativity, curiosity and fun. A big thank you once again!!

The Best Touch Points To Market To SME Businesses In India

Imagine stepping into a market that has only 10% market penetration of the category that you specialize in.

Sounds like too good to be true?  Welcome to a new chapter in the Indian growth story. The  SME – Small and Medium Enterprises sector in India.

A few facts first.

In India, the size of the investment that a manufacturing or services company makes in its plants/machinery/equipment determines if it is to be classified as a Small, Medium or Micro Enterprise:

SME Classification INDIA(SME Classification: Indian Manufacturing and Service Enterprises, Source)

 Besides, today the SMEs in India are known to:

  • Contribute to 45% of the industrial output
  • Make up 40% of India’s exports
  • Employ 60 million people
  • Create 1.3 million jobs every year
  • Produce more than 8000 quality products for the Indian and international markets and
  • Have been growing at 8% per year (source)

In fact, by some accounts India has the largest number of SMEs in the world — at 48 million —second only to China!

But that’s not the most salivating part of the story. The magical statistic is the following:

As per a recent study conducted by Microsoft-Boston Consulting Group (BCG), nearly 90% of SMEs in India have no access to the Internet(!), compared with only 22% of SMEs in China and 5% in the US. A commensurate increase in technology adoption by SMEs can potentially add  $56 billion to the country’s economic output and create more than one million additional jobs, says the study.

This is a telling statistic on the growth potential for IT companies that market to SMEs, their wares related to Cloud computing (e.g., SAP, EMC), Productivity Solutions (e.g., Microsoft Office Suite, Xerox etc), Digital Marketing Solutions (eg, Google Adwords etc), Networking & Infrastructure Management Solutions (e.g., HP) etc.

No wonder then companies like Google have begun to make massive inroads to market to SMEs in India. Two recent examples:

  • As part of a massive campaign called ‘India Get Your Busisness Online‘ aimed at bringing down the barriers that prevents SMEs to get on the Internet, Google India & HostGator recently targeted popular traditional markets in Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodara and Rajkot and built websites for over 5000 small businesses making them accessible to the world besides also creating Google maps listings and Google+ business pages for them. As part of this, Google India has recently announced its plan to get 50,000 SMEs in Gujarat online by end of 2014. (source)
  • Google India has partnered with Getit Infomedia to market Adwords to SMEs in South India. As part of this 50,000 SMEs in Coimbatore mainly in engineering, automotive components, textile machinery and pumps and motors would be targeted and educated on how to achieve global reach at lower cost with measurable results and personalisation. (source)

So while there doesn’t seem to be any dearth in the ambition and appetite of IT companies that target SMEs, the natural question that this begets is  – What is the best touch point to market to SMEs in India? What is the Zero Moment of Truth for these customers? 

My take on this  –  For IT vendors, banks are the best touch points to market to SMEs in India. The Zero Moment Of Truth in marketing (potentially any IT product/service) to SMEs is the time when they engage with their bank for their financing needs.

Why? My reasons as below:

  • Relationship: Given the role that banks play as lenders/financers/ advisers/ networking conduits for their SME customers, the latter tend to nurture their relationship with their banks for their long term interest. So the ‘lender – borrower’ equation in this context lends itself to exciting possibilities as a touch point for cross category marketing and info dissemination.
  • Reach: Banks have a very wide reach across the length and breadth of India.  For e.g., SBI – a government owned banking corporation has 14,816 branches in India, as on 31 March 2013, of which 9,851 (66%) were in Rural and Semi-urban areas (source). So they are naturally positioned as an incredibly powerful ‘distribution channel’ to market to SMEs.
  • A Customer Mindset that tends to be Future Oriented: The moment a SME operator steps into his bank to say, apply for a loan, his Zero Moment of Truth begins. After all, the sheer process of zeroing onto and applying for a loan are the most forward looking instances in terms of the customer mindset in setting up/sustaining his business. So can there be a better time to engage with him on possibilities and the cost benefit equations that are relevant to him from your product proposition stand point?
  • The Equation of Trust: From a psychological perspective, banks are traditionally about ‘trust’. So any message that gets seeded to a SME customer within the context of a banking relationship is bound to be enveloped with a liberal coating of feel good emotions like openness, good will and trust.   
  • Multiple Touch Points to Seed Content: A typical customer journey in a banking process is laden with multiple touch points from the multitude of application forms, the multiple approvals that need to be sought, the bulletin boards on the walls, the pamphlets that help the customers kill time as they wait for their turn, the tellers, the bank manager etc which can all seed compelling content on potentially any given new product/service that could be relevant for the SME.
  • A Win Win Relationship: Most banks tend to be big customers of IT services/products already. So they can be a willing accomplice to partner with an IT company to help market their wares to SMEs in return for say, a competitive pricing package for the coming year on their IT requirements. So a win win relationship can thus be effectively leveraged.
indusBank
(Image Source)
So there you have it, some food for thought. All along the purchase funnel right from building awareness, influencing consideration, driving sales to growing loyalty and retention, aren’t banks the strongest touch points to tap into when it comes to marketing to SMEs in India?

And for a category like ‘IT’ that is only 10% penetrated among the SMEs, what are we waiting for?

‘Method’ to say ‘Hello’ or ‘Help I am Horny’

There have been countless comparisons between how Microsoft ‘speaks’ via design and how Apple does.The best example is this classic  parody on Microsoft designing an iPod packaging.

Obviously neither of this is necessarily an always right/ always wrong approach to designing a pack or a pack  copy: as that depends upon many factors like the brand’s positioning, its design philosophy etc. But the key point here is that whenever any brand comes with a more inclusive/friendly/simple/’or whatever you chose to call it’  kind of positioning and design, it often breaks the ‘category codes’ and thereby creates a distinctive identity and appeal for itself. Sometimes it could even inspire the existing category codes and set new benchmarks (the recent redesign of Microsoft page for its Windows phone is the best example of how dramatically it is shifting away from its ‘past’ towards something that seems to be inspired by the Apple iPhone page)

Examples for this abound – even in categories like OTC Medication, Oral Care and Household Cleaning, where a handful of brands are slowly but certainly inspiring fresh category codes with their new positioning and design philosophy. A quick look at 3 such brands:

Over The Counter Medication:

Stripping away complexities that typical medicinal packaging bombards patients with, help positions itself as a simple medicine for simple health issues based on its “Take Less” philosophy

Take Less

Each package bears a “Help, I…” line of text, such as “Help, I can’t sleep” for a sleep aid, or “Help, I have a headache” for a package of acetaminophen.The simplicity of the packaging matches the promise of the products, which feature no dyes, coatings, and aim to use only the main chemical needed to treat the patient. By the way –  their recent product is called “Help I am Horny” and if you want to use it, you would “need to fill an application to convince them of your sexual superiority”!

Help

Oral Care: 

Imagine:  an army of germs marching  into ‘whatever it is’ only to be attacked by a flood of chemicals leading to a squeaky clean aftermath. Seems familiar? Interestingly, this imagery could be easily applicable to two diametrically opposite categories: Oral Care and (surprise, surprise..) toilet cleansers!

Armed with this insight about the oral care category increasingly assuming the codes of ‘toxic weaponry’ portraying themes of war going on inside your mouth– that need to be eliminated, destroyed & annihilated, Craig Dubitsky created hello– a ‘Seriously Friendly line of Oral Care Products’.

With packaging designed by BMW group’s creative consultancy DesignWorksUSA, hello is an accessible brand for the ‘average consumer’ with the entire mix designed towards one purpose: bring in a fresh breath of friendliness to Oral Care.

HELLO

Household Cleaning

Speak of detergents, dish washing & household cleaning – and it might not always be the  most inspiring conversation and might not always bring a sparkle to the eyes or flushes of joy and excitement.  In 2001, Eric and Adam set out to change this – by creating cleaning products that “people didn’t have to hide under their sinks” and went on to become one of the fastest growing companies in the category. Read their story here.

Method

Method with its stylish, eco-friendly products has not only inspired legions of people with its products (did you hear of MethodLust – an independent blog titled as: “one man’s unsupressed lust for all things method”) it has also inspired people to start companies along similar lines (Craig Dubitsky: founder of hello – profiled above – was a board member for Method).

Speak about enlivening some of the most prosaic categories in consumer marketing.

Technology: Catching up with Human Behavior

What is the most expensive piece of real estate in the world?

Many know that it is – arguably – the white space on the Google home page. Obviously it was a user interface design principle laid out by the founders of Google to keep its interface as clean and simple as possible. We know that it is user centered design at work. The fonts, colors, sizes, layout and design of every single element on every single page of Google are known to be ideated, brainstormed, prototyped, tested, validated, fine tuned and refined before finally dishing it out to the end user. The objective: to facilitate the user’s interaction and her journey of finishing the task at hand without drawing unnecessary attention to itself.

  • That’s what has made Facebook dramatically redesign its interface – The Timeline
  • That’s what makes Twitter roll out changes/improvements in its interface on a continuous basis
  • That’s what makes Apple.com to be consistently ranked as the Best Designed Website in the world
  • That’s what stokes the passion flames in Mac fanatics and equally…
  • That’s what is creating great levels of anticipation for the next iteration of Microsoft Windows as it is slated to be a game changing redesign of its UI to what is called as the Metro interface.

That’s all good and inspiring. But if we take a step back and ask ourselves why is this so pertinent to the current world order, the answer could be simple. Information.

Simplistically put, computers, web portals, websites, web browsers and Operating Systems are nothing but our interfaces for information consumption, data processing and finally content creation. Given that the information that is becoming available online is growing by leaps and bounds by every passing second, it is but natural that user interface design takes utmost precedence. The goal: Facilitate information consumption to be as intuitive as possible.

What further complicates the access and consumption of this boundless information is this word called ‘social’. Given that information is increasingly taking social attributes and contexts of time and space (almost in real time) the complexity of information retrieval has seemingly multiplied over night. Hence the goal now is not just to make information consumption as intuitive as possible, but also as instinctive as possible.

For e.g. if you want to search for restaurants in a new town, you naturally Google for it, pick some names from the search results, read their reviews on Yelp and then choose one that looks promising for your needs and budget. Of course search engines are now dishing out the search results in such a way that all these activities can be collapsed to one single search action. That could be intuitive design at work.

Now comes the interesting part. What if you know of a friend who lives in that town or who had visited that town recently? Naturally you would give her a buzz and take her recommendations and bingo your search is complete! It is instinctive of us to seek out references/ advice / suggestions to many things that we search for from the people that we know and trust. That’s how we fundamentally seek out information.

Sounds very natural isn’t it? Only, our online search experience has been antithetical to this very social attribute that we humans are instinctively used to. Not any more, the guys at Microsoft seem to say. See the video here.

In what looks like a paradigm shift in search, Bing has announced today that it is soon going to make search socially relevant to you like never before. Read the full story on this post on Bing’s blog.

This has many interesting ramifications.

  1. Everyone is now a key influencer: If I like Nikon on my Facebook page, a friend of mine searching for this brand on Bing could potentially get to know of my affiliation to this brand and can thereby start a conversation with me. And given that I already ‘like’ Nikon, chances that I would recommend this brand to her are high.
  2. Marketing on Facebook can now become even more challenging (and expensive): Facebook ‘Likes’ can become much more valuable than they are now and could even be monetized a la AdWords
  3. Online Privacy: Online privacy is slated to become even more complex and interesting as Social Networks evolve into these bigger entities
  4. Trust, Connection and Attention as the core assets of ‘connection economy’ can be radially redefined (for good or for worse)
  5. Mashup: This could open up very interesting possibilities of mashing up info from geo tagged sources, social networks, along with conventional web pages to make search results even more relevant and contextual in terms of time, space and connections.
Facebook is known to quote often that “Technology is now catching up with human behavior”. And today they seemed to have proven this again with Microsoft.
I Like!

Marmite, Mouthwash and Microsoft

Marmite and Listerine are often quoted as common examples for a peculiar kind of reason – HATE.

These are classic examples of brands that have spun a hatred related angle into a brand positive. Just as a very quick recap, for the uninitiated.

Marmite – An English brand is essentially a Yeast Extract commonly used as bread spread (and many others) and is known for a very.. let’s say peculiar kind of taste – that has nearly polarized the world into 2 camps: People who love it and people who hate it. Through the decades it has established itself as a truly iconic brand based on just this simple ‘brand truth’ – you either hate it or love it. In fact it goes the extra mile in communicating to us that people who hate it do indeed find it repulsive to the highest degree.

Listerine – on the other hand was originally known for its very ‘non inviting’ medicinal kind of taste. When competitors began to launch mouthwash known for its ‘good taste’, Listerine smartly (and courageously) stuck to its ground and attributed its ‘virtues’ to its taste – that people hate twice a day.

Through the years, these brands have leveraged upon this ‘HQ’ (Hatred Quotient) and spun it into an incredibly positive sounding/ stimulating discourse about themselves.

(Source for the classic Listerine Ad)

Spurred by these very interesting examples of brands using ‘hatred’ as a nearly irresistible proposition, I tried to search around and see if there are any other similar examples. After about a few unsuccessful days of online crawling for ads/ brands/ campaigns high in HQ, I was almost about to give up when I stumbled into this.

The browser that you have loved to hate campaign by Microsoft.

Essentially this was a campaign for the launch of the ‘newest’ browser from Microsoft – IE9. See the cheeky/ballsy video here. In a nutshell, the campaign idea seems to be predicated on what is meant to be an honest disclosure from Microsoft. “We gave you a crappy product – you obviously hated it – we listened to you – we now confess our bluff – and hence we present to you a newer version of the browser that you had loved to hate”

See the official tumblr page here. Some highlights of the campaign as seen through the tumblr page:

  • The site reflects the new penchant that Microsoft seems to be developing for self mockery
  • But again (just seconds after you buy into the mockery confession), Microsoft tries to get into a more serious discourse on ‘comebacks’ with some seemingly unrelated examples of how comebacks come in many shapes and sizes (by speaking about moustaches, birds, false perceptions of reality, bikes that are hard to ride etc!!!)
  • The 2nd page has a list of all reviews of the IE9 from different sources while the 3rd page is a pin board of different tweets extolling the IE9

Now taking a step back and pulling all these 3M’s (Marmite, Mouthwash, Microsoft) together, I guess, these brands/executions are more different than not from each other. Fundamentally the reason they jumped into the ‘HQ’ bandwagon is for very different purposes.

Marmite –the story goes, that these 2 creatives (Flintham and McLeod) from DDB London didn’t actually set out to think of any new slogan. In fact it just struck to them as a fundamental brand truth as that’s how Flintham and McLeod saw the brand ; While Flintham loved the spread, McLeod hated it and thus was born a powerful idea that was then presented to the client, who in turn courageously embraced all its possibilities. The rest, as they say, is history. In essence, You either love it or hate it – has been the fundamental brand truth and thereby the core positioning that it had and still has in the minds of the consumers.

Listerine, as mentioned above, got into the hatred related discourse only in response to a competitive onslaught. Over the years, Listerine has been launched in various flavors most of which are more inviting and non medicinal in taste as opposed to the original Listerine. Naturally it is no more using this erstwhile campaign around the taste that people hate twice a day, as this was originally meant to be a tactical response and not much of a strategic initiative from the part of the brand.

Microsoft IE9, I guess, is a tricky case. It is neither a strategic move (obviously) and nor is it a tactical initiative. I guess it has been envisaged as a stand alone campaign to create awareness about the new browser – presumably by trying to ‘cut through the clutter’. In simple words, Microsoft, I guess wanted to gate crash into your chrome/firefox browser experience by entertaining you with a video of self mockery and reminding you that it is the browser you loved to hate, hoping that you would find it funny and thereby pass it over to your friends. As a result of the ensuing viral phenomenon it expects that it could count upon a good number of downloads and hopefully some converts along the way. Period.

The browser you loved to hate campaign reminded me of the Domino’s Pizza campaign aired 2 years ago. But what differentiates both is that the Domino’s campaign was not a self mockery exercise for fun, it had elements of communicating a serious, critical, introspective and an honest look that they had cast upon their own products, talked with the consumers and thereby made what they call as a ‘PIZZA TURN AROUND’.

On the contrary, the IE9 campaign puts its own authenticity into question, especially when you become aware that the IE8 was launched in 2010 with pretty much similar fanfare and positioned as a browser that enables you to browse with confidence. And just after an year it comes out and tells you that it’s actually a browser that you could potentially have hated. Wow! from selling ‘confidence’ to seeding ‘hatred’ – that was quite a journey!

Are there any other brands that have sought to ride upon the HATRED bandwagon?