Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Products & Services – The Thinning Divide!!

I still remember:
DATE – OCTOBER 20, 2003
TIME – 8.00 P.M
In the lush green campus of my college, I was attending my first introductory lecture on Consumer Behavior. The professor that day set the pace of his talk by starting with a brief recapitulation of the basic concepts we had learnt in Marketing 101, with everything under the sun pertaining to fundamentals discussed that day. Among other things, which I remember, from that day’s dialogue was the fact that “unlike products, which have a quantifiable shelf life stemming from the time interval prevalent between their production/manufacturing and actual sale/consumption, services don’t have it, since most of the services are first sold, and then produced and consumed simultaneously, as in case of a restaurants or travel & tourism industry. This anomaly between the nature of these two integral elements of trade & commerce also makes it inevitable to have a proper system of storing the products, till the time they are sold/consumed. However, in case of services, no such arrangement is required, due to their almost nil shelf life.” But little did I know that in the coming years the inquisitive and analytical nature of the human brain would one day, completely change this very identity and nature of services, assigning an altogether different meaning to them.
The human civilization, among its many innovative and pain relieving invention breakthroughs, has been a witness to one path-breaking innovation that, though initially transformed the way man communicated with each other, but later on slowly permeated his overall lifestyle, and today, the situation is that it has quickly topped up the list of items necessary for survival, dethroning even the bare necessities for air, food, water and sleep. Yes, I am talking about Computers & Information Technology, which has manifested itself in the form of various creative inventions, be it as the world’s first PC Z1 Computer in 1936 or the innovatively & diametrically contrasting iPhone 4S in 2011. Each of these inventions, were essentially services (software), wrapped inside a product (PC or mobile device), with each being interdependent both functionally & commercially. Here, how do you differentiate the product from the service, because an empty PC system sold without an installed software is useless, since it is the latter that makes a desktop/laptop up and running and lends monetary value and utility to it, thereby, making  the final output to be viewed as a unified whole, rather than separately. If this is true, then what do you take into account while calculating the shelf life of a PC? Is it the tangible hardware or the intangible software that breathes life into an otherwise dead box? The answer, you would expect from even a non-technical person is of course the software, which has a quantifiable shelf life, due to it being nothing but a technology, be it MS Windows XP, Windows 7 or the more awaited Windows 8. Reason being, the IT industry is marked by break-neck dynamism with every technology having an average life span of 3-6 months (or maybe even shorter) depending on the continuous R&D efforts and improvement practices being implemented on a global scale. So, in other words, we are trying to imply that though software is a service, it still has a shelf-life. On the other hand, the bulky PC machine that represents the other half of the complete purchase is nothing in itself (as discussed earlier) without the previously mentioned piece of software installed in it. This makes the computer nothing more than a storage device for the software package that runs in it. Thus, even this second and final limitation of not requiring a storage arrangement for a service stands removed, making me conclude that in today’s times there is a very blurring divide between what actually constitutes a product and a service, because the final purchase made depends on the holistic view that the customer makes about the entire offering, along with the changing roles of a product and service played by it.        

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

India Inc. Inducts a New Member – CHIEF CONTENT OFFICER (CCO)

We all have heard about senior management positions like CEO (Chief Executive Officer), CMO (Chief Marketing Officer), CFO (Chief Finance Officer), COO (Chief Operations Officer) & CTO (Chief Technology Officer). However, a couple of days back, while browsing the Internet (like I always do), I came across a very interesting profile: CCO (Chief Content Officer). Now, before you jump the gun, this gentleman is NOT a Content Writer or maybe even a very Senior Content Writer, because he does not write content for his organization’s communication material (brochures, pamphlets, websites, mailers etc.), instead he/she strategizes it, and spearheads its entire dissemination and distribution cycle, overseeing everything right from its creation to placement and release using different promotional tools like the company’s website, blogs, pamphlets and brochures. The most challenging aspect being ensuring churning of content which is not only in huge quantity (considering the number of clients to cater), but also high on quality aspects, especially with respect to the novelty and freshness factor, and accords high priority to SEO-friendliness, thanks to the Analytical Weapons that Google moves around with, nowadays (Ad Words, Ad Sense etc.) It is the strategizing and decision-making aspect that has made it earn a place in the top league in the corporate hierarchy. Another unique feature of this profile is the marketing tone associated with it. This is the reason, why a COO often works in close liaison with the CMO, because their target audience is the same, even though their core responsibilities are different.
Though India Inc. has not heard much about this budding new face of corporate marketing, but UNCLE SAM knows him too well. In fact, not many people know that in the year 2000 Ann Handley of Marketing Profs started turning her attention towards the evolving nature of this new kind of job, while writing about what an online publisher should look for in a site editor. She then took a step further and coined this concept of Chief Content Officer. Further, in 2002, KQED in San Francisco realized the need for having a top-level executive who could take charge of the company’s frequently being churned out content on its emerging media platforms – websites, blogs, mobile apps and messaging. They then created their organization’s first Chief Content Officer and gave the job to John Boland who went on to become the CCO for the Public Broadcasting Service in the U.S. And a decade later, more and more CCOs are fast finding place as key policy and decision makers in their companies’ corporate marketing strategy formulation process. But why this sudden shift in marketing trends? The reason is simple: availability of “never before” offered communication tools with the corporations like social media, blogging, mobile apps and messaging, have not only increased their options with respect to what they want or do not want to share but also quantified both its magnitude and reach to their target customers, so much so that organizations in USA are slowly forming a content management or content strategy division within their marketing and sales department, solely dedicated to management of what is communicated and in what fashion to the consumer. And yes, it is not a cakewalk, because here the aspect of communication we are dealing with is purely “written”, whether it is on the web, or internal print media like company newsletters, marketing brochures/pamphlets etc. Each one of them are contributing to inch the organization a step closer towards commanding a strong customer trust and loyalty, which in turn would give birth to an otherwise intangible corporate asset of goodwill or brand equity, that if successful, can make customers shelve out thousands of dollars without a remorse. The flip side being, doing it professionally, keeping in mind sensitive issues like customers’ cultural backgrounds, socio-economic differences, income dynamics etc., which if gone wrong, cannot only put to end a campaign, yet to start and gain momentum, but also inflict irreplaceable on the company’s reputation, since the challenge here lies in doing it without personally meeting the customer, thereby, denying him the opportunity to observe your verbal and most importantly, the non-verbal communication aspects, and replacing them with a write-up, that compensates for your physical presence, and more importantly, communicates what is intended, and that too precisely, without going over-board or overselling. It is not surprising then, that the resources handling such responsible and sensitive profiles rake in big moolah!! The Western countries, unlike the Third World, gives a lot of value to these profiles, with the professionals earning a handsome amount for just writing the content for a company’s corporate brochure, and other marketing & sales promotion material (both print & electronic), leave aside, the actual designing part, which is the onus of the creative team. 

I would like to conclude by saying that this blog tries to explore only one side of this amateurish marketing profile, which currently is trying hard to gain foothold in the senior management cadre, and stand next to other veterans. I am sure he has other exciting facets, hidden within himself, which only time will bring to light.