Posted on 26-09-2010
Filed Under (BUSINESS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

This is my 52nd column in this publication; a year has passed! When I was first asked to write in this newspaper, I was not sure I would be able to do it consistently. But since I started on October 4, 2009, I haven’t skipped even a single week. That’s because bouquets and brickbats from you, dear readers, have kept me consistently exhilarated to write. Sometimes when readers don’t get the newspaper, they have complained to me and my assistant Rajalakshmi has immediately sent them my column. I respect and honour my readers’ demands. I am a great lover of consistency which I have learnt from different experiences in life.

In the business domain, big thoughts applied consistently leads to sustainability, the capacity to endure the market to overcome competition. Even brands that are consistent, have become sustainable in business over time. An example among others is Nike. From its inception, Nike has shifted its business approach from the language of footwear to another experience of human life, the sporty character that eggs people on to “Just do it”. In this way, Nike has the power to control the consumer in the footwear market.

Somewhere that consistency is important for it brings a feeling of comfort. Picasso changed his painting style so many times in his 92 years of artistic life, but even without his signature there’s always something you can recognise in his paintings. All -time mime king Marcel Marceau, my close friend, confided in me that he had to maintain consistency in style through his different performances across time.

Another outstanding example of consistency is Colombian singer Shakira with her song Ojos Asi (Eyes like yours). I’ve seen her in at least five different concerts, from MTV Unplugged to shows in Dubai, Amsterdam and other cities, with different makeup and outfits, but every time her belly dance and her steps were always the same. I’ve even used this consistency example in different workshops I’ve conducted for my corporate clients in India and abroad. And invariably all the participants want to better understand how Shakira has achieved sustainability as a star performer by demanding to watch, over and over again, how she’s consistent in her dance!

The city of Paris, my home for the last 36 years, displays sustainability like no other city. Under Napoleon III, between 1852 and 1870, Paris was transformed by his préfect, Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann. The Haussmann Plan to modernise Paris levelled the narrow medieval streets to create a network of wide avenues and neo-classical façades that still make up much of modern Paris. It encompassed all aspects of urban planning, from regulations imposed on facades of buildings, streets, public parks, sewers, water works, city facilities to public monuments. Disease epidemics ceased, traffic circulation improved, trees were planted. Cleaning up living areas implied better air circulation, provision of water and evacuation of waste. A new water provisioning system led to the construction of 600 kilometres of aqueduct between 1865 and 1900. These aqueducts discharged water in a newly built city reservoir, the largest in the world. Haussmann’s 19th century urban scenario has up to the 21st century sustained a profound positive influence on the everyday lives of Parisians.

Last week in Greece, I was suddenly sparked with another European example of consistency. ESOMAR, the global research organisation, had invited me to deliver a keynote address to their thousand peopled Congress in Greece, and I spoke on ‘Disrupt to connect to 21st century’s Digital Zappers’. The sharp contrast of this contemporary subject in front of the 5th century BC Acropolis of Athens felt uncanny. I’ve been to Greece often on work since 1985, but this time, dining with my Greek friends overlooking the ancient Parthenon and watching everybody busy with modern technology mobile phones, the European consistency of carefully sustaining their heritage became very stark. You will not enjoy such unique disparity between the ancient and contemporary times in a young civilisation like the US. The Acropolis and its monuments are universal symbols of the classical spirit and civilisation bequeathed by Greek Antiquity to the world.

Consistency maintained year after year, generation after generation, century after century becomes an icon of symbolic expression. Picasso was consistent over 92 years, but even over short life spans , consistency can be momentous. Raphael, the 16th century painter and 18th century music composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart both died in their 30s, but left magnificent artistic works behind that have become references of classicism.

Sustainability has become a buzzword in the business world to satisfy shareholders from quarter to quarter results. The impact of the last recession has made business houses co-opt this word vigorously, and also use it for being politically correct in the environmental sphere. Sustainability is also related to a community’s quality of life.

The devil’s work can also be consistent. By official count, the US has conducted 1,054 nuclear tests between 1945 and 1992, the Soviet Union 715 up to 1990, France 210 nuclear tests up to 1996, UK and China 45 tests each, while India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea around 10 each. The environmental destruction is both short and long term triggering landslides, tsunamis, fish poisoning, earthquakes and severe atmospheric pollution. After consistently testing about 2,110 nuclear bombs in the last century, the developed countries are now asking for sustainability from the rest of the world. Is it a farce when they meet at World Environment Summits? Surely the scientists knew the damage all these nuclear tests would cause to our planet, yet, for about 50 years they continued their devil-like nuclear program. If we can be positively consistent in whatever we do now to protect the planet, it will result in environmental sustainability for future generations.

To download above article in PDF Consistency from Picasso to Shakira

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Posted on 19-09-2010
Filed Under (TRENDS) by Shombit

The Indian EXPRESS/ The Financial EXPRESS article

Why do brands fail to engage the below-30 Digital Zap generation? Making all business decisions today, Compromise (30 to 45 years) and Retro (above 45) generations continue to drive 20th century culture in the 21st century. So last century’s advertisement style does not connect to Zappers. Using new media does not make much sense if the content is not relevant to Zappers.

Although the century gap is a real phenomenon, it seems to have passed by certain daily usage global brands—brands like Heinz ketchup, Coca Cola, Cadbury’s, Mr Clean, Colgate, Evian and Laughing Cow. They may have very good quarter-to-quarter results, but do they keep up with the breakthrough trends the 21st century’s Digital Zap is dazzling us with? The brands can argue that they are sustaining some old values, but do the disruptive Digital Zappers connect to them?

Eight socio-behavioural clusters: Historically, social stratification, from feudal agrarian to socio-economic classification, followed an evolutionary process. But socio-behavioural clusters that defy all predictable segmentation parameters is the revolutionary way of researching into people’s attitudes, behaviour and aspiration in the 21st century. We have studied this phenomenon every year for the last 10 years and find they are common to the three generations.

In all three generational groups, there exist all eight behavioural clusters—Low Key, Value Seeker, Sober, Flamboyant, Critical, Novelty Seeker, Techy and Gizmo Lover. Digital Zappers supremely influence everything, so connecting to them is crucial for the future. The Compromise generation tries hard to follow Zappers in being trendy but doesn’t quite get there. The Retro generation is generally “stiff.”

Is income a factor for audience segmentation? For any business, if you follow the traditional socio-economic stratification of customers, you will not go far today. That’s because the eight socio-behavioural clusters are prevalent across all age groups and generations, all income groups and across all countries. Income is no longer a key factor for purchase of mass products.

The world is moving towards a situation where, at any price point, there has to be cost, quality and aspiration in the selling proposition. Today, even low cost products have trendy aspects. Expensive luxury brands that low income groups cannot afford should not be advertised in mass areas.

Every brand cannot attract every socio-behaviour cluster. For a brand to address all the eight socio behavioural clusters, it requires a huge magnifying glass. It has to unearth the customer behavioural clusters and drive strategic planning accordingly. There will be immense pressure from low cost trendy brands that every one finds affordable. Nike, for example, would connect to the Critical, Flamboyant, Novelty Seeker, Techy and Gizmo lovers. On the other hand, Nivea and Nokia, would address the Sober, Low key, Value Seeker clusters. But the strategy that Swatch watch has created in the West has been so brilliant that it enviably touches all behavioural clusters.

Bulldozing per capital consumption: In developed countries, the consuming base is small, so customers are bulldozed for an increase in per capita consumption. Just look at how many types of product benefits are being offered in the food industry—from functional food to low salt, low fat, organic, sugar free etc. Does this not confuse the customer?

It is amazing that when technology is changing so fast, there is an absolute paucity in creative thinking in the digital world. Digitalisation is commoditising every aspect of business. Look at flat television sets, DVD players and microwave ovens, all brands look the same. These industries suffer from lack of differentiation because the manufacturer’s Compromise and Retro thinking process is not connected to the Zappers’ thinking.

Nightmare of how to penetrate the market: The over-riding phenomenon in developing countries is how to achieve penetration for a product. As the population in these countries is large but the infrastructure poor, the nightmare is how to reach people in remote places. Another challenge is catering to the vast cultural differences of customers.

In India, from one joint family structure there are now seven different living conditions— there are bachelors living alone, young couples, nuclear family with children, either with only the husband working or both husband and wife working, the joint and neo-joint families and retired couples. Family size cues the quantity and size of the product, clarifies stock keeping unit size for efficient supply chain management, indicates the price band and sharpens the inventory. It gives an idea of what products to bundle as special offers, helps to maximise space at the retail as per the catchment requirement, and provides high proximity to different family size buyers and the retailer.

Experiential product research that delves into the psycho-socio-behavioural context gives the socio-behavioural dimension. I have often seen researchers go to the market for validation with structured preparation. So, before the customers even start talking, they have already established what they want to find. This is not right. With a global mind frame, we need to achieve local proximity to deliver extra benefit. Research cannot be like the wheat pasta dough that you can put in a machine to get a variety of different shapes of pasta or noodles as per your expectation.

To download above article in PDF Please Global consumerism trauma

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Posted on 12-09-2010
Filed Under (TRENDS) by Shombit

The Indian EXPRESS/ The Financial EXPRESS article

Are we ready for the new departure that the 21st century’s digital era is bringing to human society? The innovation explosion which comes every 20 days today as opposed to every 20 years in the 20th century has brought into centre stage, the role of psycho-socio diversity. To understand and measure this 21st century diversity, we have found yesterday’s effective tools to be quite inadequate. Let me take you through our psycho-socio-behavioural discoveries with new codifications. Our global business interactions for different brands have shown us that living in this disruptive century are three distinct generations in eight socio-behavioural clusters:

The tech-born Digital Zap generation (born in and after 1986)

The Compromise generation (born after 1965); and

The Retro generation (born before 1965).

The eight socio-behavioural clusters we have identified are: (1) Low key (2) Value seeker who gets involved only when a worthwhile payoff is seen (3) Sober, who goes about in quiet efficiency (4) Flamboyant who is an exhibitionist (5) Critical who is a perfectionist (6) Novelty seeker (7) Techy, who goes for the digital mode and (8) the Gizmo lover. These clusters were spun off from Digital Zap but are common to Compromise and Retro generations too.

Connecting to Digital Zap: Venturing into Paris at age 19 to fulfill my dream of becoming an artist, I found a huge difference between me and other 19-year-olds. That was in 1973, and as I came from a poor refugee colony in West Bengal, it was natural that I did not connect with them. But I later discovered that even among people of the same generation in Europe and America, there was a disconnect. Winston Churchill once said it was not easy to get European and American youth of the Allied nations to join World War II. In contrast, the leaders of the enemy Axis powers had impassioned their youth to fight for their new-found ideologies. So, with careful communication, the Allies managed to align their youth to go to war against the enemy.

My business travels to different continents has made me realise that the youth today in every country, more or less, have similar ideas on how to live life. This is the real globalisation, the globalisation of the mind. But management decisions in corporate houses across the globe are often made by the Retro and the Compromise generation. That’s why Digital Zap has a huge disconnect to many industries today. A few exceptions would be Google, Apple, Nike, Microsoft and Cisco— companies that Digital Zap connects to.

Change to disruption and convergence: The change process from 19th (mechanical era) to 20th century (electronic era) was big, but evolutionary. For example, there’s no radical difference in looks, mechanism and functioning of a mechanical gramophone and electronic modern turntable. But in the 21st century came the iPod, breaking every known system for operating a musical player. iPod and the MP3 players are disruptive in every sense. The change they’ve rushed in is entirely revolutionary.

Convergence is the name of the game now. The iPhone incorporates several industries and functions—it’s a camera and a photo album, a bank and a data bank, a post and telegraph office, a writing pad and a pen, an audio and a video player, a calculator and an alarm clock and much more. Do you know how to grab this diverse world of disruption and convergence in the 21st century?

Revolutionary change in the 21st century: Using the music player, let’s illustrate 20th century’s innovation from the tape recorder invention to about 20 years later when the Walkman hit the market. In comparison, 21st century’s innovation every 20 days is represented in newer versions of mobile phones, software and digital products. Even the fashion industry has experienced last century’s unsettling detonation but the flow of change was harmonious.

Then bang comes 21st century’s fashion communication. Diesel brand says, “Smart has the brains, Stupid has the balls. Be stupid.” In one of their ads, a boy almost tumbles over a bus window to kiss a girl on the street. Dolce & Gabana shows a woman on the floor, body arched, and four men around her suggesting group sex. An Emanuel Ungaro woman is sensually enjoying hedonistic pleasure. Tom Ford has two nude couples lying on the floor; and Calvin Klein jeans portray an orgy. Such distractions pervade almost every aspect of life globally. What was considered appropriate to be hidden yesterday is out in the open today.

Digital Zap at the cusp of the century: When the 1986 born Digital Zap reached the age of 5 in 1991, they were conscious of, and using, digital technology that had started overwhelming the world. That’s why I consider every one below 30 to be Digital Zappers. Tomorrow there may not be Compromise or Retro generations because Digital Zap will continue to drive future generations. It may become Digital Zap Mature, Digital Zap Ripened and Digital Zap Youth. A century storm is what Digital Zap represents. Engulfed in 21st century’s rapid change, they have no attachment to anything in any sustaining way.

Differences in attitude are clearly visible: To get the news, Retro reads a newspaper at home, Compromise uses the Internet at office, while Digital Zap stays in touch with an iPad while on the go. To communicate, Retro writes letters, Compromise phones and Digital Zapper just texts. The more you think, act and align with them, the more you connect to the happenings in the world. Irrespective of whether they are spenders, Zappers influence purchases in the family. They are a new civilisation of digital connectors.

The way the Baby Boomer generation dominated the second part of the 20th century, Digital Zap is set to revolutionise the 21st century, dictating terms in every sphere. Being in tune with the diverse ways of the world in every aspect, the future of business is with Digital Zap.

To download above article in PDF Please Disruption and convergence in 21st century

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Posted on 05-09-2010
Filed Under (ART) by Shombit


How can you create an apparel brand that commands premium price and gains the consumer’s high pride of ownership so she/he returns to it and influences others in society? Visual art is the only tool that changes the character of fabrics. It embellishes the shopper’s mind with bigger than life images to create the lifestyle trend. Anybody in the world can do apparel business with 5 elements, fabrics, limited texture, color, cut and fit. But unless fabrics are transformed into the imagination metaphor, it’s not a fashion brand. Most Indian apparel brands suffer from missing out on this visual art effect.

Genesis of dressing style: Fashion as we know it today originated from European monarchy’s obsession with visual art. Royalty patronized art and desired differentiation from their subjects. France’s 18th century Queen Marie Antoinette wore strikingly different dresses with daily advice from designer Rose Bertin, known as Minister of Fashion. The Queen’s radical, often disturbing fashion gave her visible force and autonomy outside tradition. Her provocative "robe a la polonaise" had a bosom-enhancing bodice, billowy, ankle-baring skirts, a 3-foot powdered hair "pouf" decked with plumes and veils. Even when she rode to her death by guillotine, Marie Antoinette wore a brand-new white chemise she had secretly saved, a white fichu around her shoulders, and a pleated white cap to dazzle the thousands of citizens who watched in stunned silence. Her exquisite sense of visual art made her apparel sophisticated and visually differentiated from the masses and this left a grand memoir of fashion.

Democratization of fashion: In Paris in 1846, Englishman Charles Frederick Worth democratized royalty’s search for individualism by starting haute couture, the ultimate in high fashion for royals and the rich. The haute couture label belongs to France, possibly because it was invented from French monarchic heritage. Today, haute couture dresses have been known to take upto 900 hours (100 days) to create, with multiple interventions by artistic craftsmen working with the principal designer to show that single dress on the fashion ramp for just 120 seconds.  Visual art is exposed in every square inch of such a dress, with beads, sequins, different textured embroidery and blend of colors. Visual art then takes that garment into another sphere for public presentation to create an impact beyond imagination.

Haute couture is always presented as a piece of visual art on a model in the catwalk. To make a statement about the intellectual-artistic construction of a particular idea, the designer plans the order in which each model walks out wearing a specific outfit in his collection. It is then left to the audience to visually deconstruct each outfit, appreciate its detail and craftsmanship, and understand the designer’s thoughts. Contemporary designers produce their shows as theatrical productions using elaborate sets of artistic technology components with live music to make the garment totally hallucinating on the fashion ramp. You may say the dress is just a single element in the show, but this is not true. Represented with visual art, the dress on the model becomes so powerful that it stays on in people’s mind even if they cannot afford it.

Sketchy visual art for fashion: Dressmaking was not fashion in the 19th century, it was considered low class, just a matter of cut and fit. In the 1920s when European fine art was booming, visual art brought fashion onto the drawing board. Designers like Gabriel Coco Chanel made drawings and sketches of garments for selective society. Her 1931 sketch “White Satin” shows how she generated fashion through visual art. Yves St. Laurent was inspired by Pablo Picasso’s paintings, Coco Channel’s designs among other contemporary art influences. His 1976 collection is based on the 1920s abstract costumes created for Ballet Russe by painter Leon Bakst. The illustrative drawings of Chanel, Dior, YSL transported fashion from royal individualism to a larger clientele.

Industrialization of fashion through visual art: Everybody cannot afford haute couture which is fashion’s window to just build a brand’s image. Prominently using visual art, these styles are made into prêt-a-porter (ready-to-wear) through industrial production systems for mainstream markets. In 1971 the first St. Laurent Rive Gauche (Left bank of Paris) showroom opened to woo less affluent consumers. In today’s huge market of mass fashion, even low cost brands are injecting high aspiration by creating outstanding trendy looks with visual art.

Visual art for mass fashion: Mass fashion brands like FCUK, ZARA, H&M among others do not have a designer’s name. To compensate that, every customer touch point at the retail store, such as visual merchandising, façade, shelf, fixtures, is interwoven with visual art. In New York’s Fifth Avenue, a jewellery store in a high rise building has colourful balloons and huge metal cones, atop which are finger rings that sparkle in laser lighting. Shoppers cannot see the rings from 200 meters, but the display looking like a modern art painting, attracts them.

From Marie Antoinette to haute couture, prêt a porter to mass fashion, it all happened with visual art, drawings and sketches that have nothing to do with measuring and fitting. Visual art conceptualized fashion, translated fabrics to style, made a grand spectacle with models catwalking the ramp in the backdrop of technology, music and mood. Even at the retail, from in-store ambience, lighting, character of mannequins, the bag shoppers will carry home the garments in, all comprise visual art that defines the brand’s personality. A shopper pays a higher price, particularly in men’s apparel, from the visual art impact he carries in his mind as pride of ownership for the brand. A fashion brand that’s associated with regularly changing visual art makes the shopper feel he’s wearing this unlimited creative sense in his body. This is what transforms fabrics into a fashion brand.

Shouldn’t Indian apparel brands incorporate visual art as part of their strategy too? They need to exit the vicious cycle of improving backend management with fabrics, limited texture, color, cut and fit to price engineer the product for hard discount sales, and instead enter the unlimited avenue of visual art in fashion.

To download above article in PDF Please Visual art transforms fabrics to fashion

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