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Monday, April 23, 2012

Going Word of Mouth (WOM)

The world that we live in, we as human beings are exposed to a very large volume of marketing communications courtesy of corporations that want us to spend our hard earned money on their product or service offerings as opposedmto that of their competitors. Due to the volume of information communicated to us through multiple mediums and channels, marketers are always om the look out for ways through which they can break through all that clutter. This is where Word of Mouth marketing comes in and can at times make all the difference in a very competititve environment. Word of Mouth marketing or Word of Mouth for short, though not a new phenomena in the field but has gained significant attention in the recent years. Among the reasons that come to mind include the cost effectiveness of Word to Mouth as a medium through which communication is established, however what really makes it effective is that is user generated communication without any direct asssociation or involvement of the user with the parent company offering the product or service. An element of credibility and authenticity is added to the message when actual users are behind it. Thanks to the age of social media online, Word of Mouth has taken an entirely new dimension, since Word of Mouth is no longer restricted to informal oral communication.Social Media tools such as Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and countless blogging websites such as Wordpress and Blogspot have played a significant role in enhancing the impact and reach of Word of Mouth marketing communication.

It is not uncommon for one to stumble across blogs online that talk about a user's in this case the blog account holder's personamexperience of using a product or a service. This mention of a positive experiene usually includes a recommendation with regards to the product or service in Question. On the world's largest social media platform Facebook which is home to over half a billion users has tens of thousands of user generated Facebook fan pages dedicated to their favorite product or service. Such pages attract a large following of other like minded users who share the page founder's thoughts on the product or service in Question. The success of Facebook itself was the rest of effective Word of Mouth marketing, which transformed Facebook into a multi billion dollar company from its humble origins in the Harvard dormitory of founder Mark Zuckerburg who today is the world's youngest billionaire.World famous chain of coffee houses Seattle based Starbucks too owes much of its success to Word of Mouth marketing, whereby its patrons independantly communicated their preference for the Starbucks experience to other coffee drinkers.

It allowed Starbucks to achieve its goal of positioning itself as a 'third place' alongside their home amd office in the mind of young urban coffee drinking adults. Before the advent of Starbucks, it was considered unthinkable of people paying a premium price for a cup of coffee to benefit from an enhanced coffee drinking experience. Today Starbucks and its coffee houses can be seen around the world with a fast growing number of patrons. Word of Mouth can also be seen on major websites such as Amazon which is one of the largest online retailers in the world. On Amazon's various websites Word of Mouth appears in the form of buyer generated feedback and reviews ith reards to the product that they have purchased from Amazon. These buyer reviews play a significant role in influencing the purchase decision of prospective buyers of a product listed on Amazon's website. With tens of thousands of products listed on, these reiews act as a very cost effective tool for self promotion. Amazon is also among the few major companies to understand the useful business intelligence generated on their website and capitalise on user generated reviews by engaging its users and getting them to respond to whether reviews and user generated content n their website failitated them in their urchase decision.It is due to the percieved authenticity of Word of Mouth communication that it has attracted significant attention of marketers, and a result of which they make proctive efforts to develop a reltionship of sorts with their audience so that as a by product of that relationship Word of Mouth is also generated. As long as corporations do not interfer with the Word of Mouth messages commnunicated by their loyal users and the message is peecieved to be unbiased, Word of Mouth will continue to play an imporant role in the years to come. The potential of Word of Mouth is limitless, whether the recepients are young entrepreneurs or up and coming designers or performers, Word of Mouth can transform them into notable success stories.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Spring in Shehar e Quaid

It has been a few weeks since I began my visit t my beloved hometown, the city by the sea Karachi. Now my time has come that I mus bid farewell to my beloved city and head back to the world capital on a tiny and rain soaked island far ar away off the coast of Mainland Europe. But before I could say Good bye and part my ways for the time being, life gave me the opportunity to experience a day of beautiful and truly ispiring weather to fully complete which has been a good and much needed trip home. Being a true Karachiete having been born and raised here, I know that this is the weather we Karachi walas truly admire.

 Spring in the city by the sea is usually a time of the year when the weather is fairly hot and the celcius scale can easily reach levels comparable to those of the brutal summer months from July to September. It is a rare treat to see weather in this city during the month of Spring as how Spring should be. Warm, but mild, with flowers blooming and lots of green all around and top it all the gentle sea breeze blowing through out the day to refresh you. All this under a cloud cover to provide us with shade and the brief spell of unexpected rain. Karachi's coastal breeze has always distinguished it from other cities in Pakistan. Up north this time of the year, it gets fairly hot and suffocating, especially in the Punjab region.

 Being a land locked province with almost a 1000 miles to the closest coast it misses out on benefiting from these gentle winds that cool us during our rather long summer, which in reality stretches from March to November. It did not rain much today, but forecast predicts that there will be a fair few showers as the weekend approaches. Which means the perfect opportunity for fun loving and spirited Karachi walas to head to the beach and enjoy the wonderful rain out in the open by the coast. All this might sound ironic to my European friends, since those especially from northern Europe and the UK are used to a lot of rain, and for them heading outdoors is when the sun is out and the weather has warmed up a bit. For those choosing to stay in, it is an opportunity to get friends and family together for some chai and pakoras (deep fried snacks). If I was here over the weekend, I would be planning a trip utdoors or having people over. Sorry to confuse you folks, but this is how we roll in Pakistan's largest city, we see Sunshne all year long, to the point where we just get sick and tired off it, for us the refreshing change is not a day with a clear blue sky, but when the colour grey consumes our skies. Till then to my fellow Karachi walas, I hope you guys enjoy this awsome weather, and to my beloved hometown and my country see you again very soon in the near future, I hope our parting of ways is temporary and I will be looking forward to the day I really truly return home and Inshallah ( God willing ) that day will come. Pakistan Zindabad Shehr e Quaid Karachi Zindabad

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Marketing 101 for the urban social life

The free market has given us as consumers a wide varity of choices with respect to goods and services available to us. We as consumers in today's liberal market oriented world are truly spoiled for choice. It seems that this culture of consumerism, where one is also spoiled for choice, has had an indirect effect on our social values and how we engage and interact with the world around us. Long gone are the days when socializing was a simple exercise based on meeting and interacting with people. Socialising has now transformed into a full fledged self marketing exercise on an individual level. Basic marketing principles are infact very applicable to our every day social lives. Regardless of whether we go about it conciously or unconciously, social success it seems is now determined by how we as individuals market ourselves by applying the various concepts of marketing principles along the way. To illustrate this, let us revisit some of these concepts and analyse them in this very light.   Analysing the Market: We can also call this market research. Our initial approach towards socialising begins with our internal and external environment. In other words the internal environmemt would be our upbringing and what we have learned through our people close to us from the early stages of our lives, while the external environment would be where we are operating in and what we are up against. We do this by analysing the culture, norms, values and beliefs of the people around us in the setting where we wish to socialize with others. For example the target market that we are analysing is our work place, we will be making efforts to try and understand what the workplace culture is, what are the people like and what values do those people associate themselves with?   Branded Versus Generic: If we are seen as ordinary individuals by others, the liklihood of us catching some one's attention is less likely as opposed to us being percieved as high value or extra ordinary individuals. The way the association of a brand helps a product stand apart from its generic counterparts, the very same way if we appear as a branded individual, we are likely to stand apart from the rest of the crowd. Our individual brand, could be determined by something very basic as what school we go to , what part of town we live in or even just how good our English is.    Product Differentiation Strategy: After a brand has established itself as something more than just an ordinary good, it needs to adopt a product differentiation that would allow it differentiate itself from its competitors. In pretty much the same way, when people have a variety of choices when it comes to who to socialize with, if we are able to differentiate ourselves from the rest of the crowd and prove our unique worth, it can lead to succesful and sustainable socialising.    Brand Management:  How we manage ourselves as a unique and individual brand is very important. Our perceived value of a product changes when there is a brand involved or whether the brand is strong enough. Corporations engage in a wide variety of activities to firstly develop a brand and then build on the brand equity and value of their product offerings. In the very same way, we as individuals also adopt measures that contribute to our value and worth as individuals in the eyes of others. This ranges from our material possessions, what our Facebook profile says about us and how we present ourselves as an individual. Word of mouth regarding us also plays a significant role in contributing to our brand equity. Since we are individual brands, it is upto us whether we want to potray ourselves as a high value luxury brand or something which is a more common high street brand.    Push and Pull Factor: The adoption of Push and Pull strategies is determined by the strength of an individual brand. The greater the brand equity, the stronger the pulling power of the brand in the eyes of its target audience. Likewise if the brand is not a well established it has to engage in a lot of Push oriented strategies to penetrate the market. In our case here, a good illustration of our brand equity and the push and pull factor is that if we as individuals have high brand equity, we are a magnet for individuals who wish to become a part of our social lives. On the other hand if our brand equity is low or not well established, we have make genuine concentrated efforts to try and be a part of other people's social lives.    Product Life Cycle: In this case the social life cycle. The product life cycle incorporates stages of Launch, Growth, Maturity and Decline. Same concept can be applied to our social lives. If we are new to a social group that can be classified as the launch stage of the cycle, while growth can be illustrated through wide acceptance with a magnetic pull towards us by other members of the group. Maturity would be when we have become fully integrated into the social group, while decline on the other hand happens when we fall out of a social group or we are just hanging on like a loose thread trying to make our social chemistry work.    New Product Development:  The way new and innovative products and models hit the shelves of our markets and out go the older products and models, the same way new people with something different to offer are always entering our lives and our social groups, while some are exiting or leaving.    Public Relations Management:  When we talk about Public Relations beyond the realm of Marketing, we talk about relationship management with the wider community and the relevant publics involved. In this case, our public relations would be our relationships with people we know (also who we know), how they see us and what they say about us . Be it close friends, neighbours, classmates, co workers, acquaintances, what they say about us and how our relationship with them is will play a significant role in determining our success socially particularly with regards to expanding our social circle. For example, when we meet new people, we try and learn whether we have mutual friends or acquaintances with the new person that we are about to meet and what those people think about the stranger that has just walked into our lives. In a world, where Facebook is part of millions of lives, the liklihood of background check has become more apparent.   Customised versus Standardised Strategies:  In this case, we will have to determine whether as an individual, should we adopt a uniform and standardised strategy with which to try and socialise with various publics and social groups, or should we adopt a customised strategy depending on the nature and values of each and every social group? In some cases, a standardised approach works for multiple social groups, but in most cases a different approach is required for every social group to not just penetrate into that group but also build a sustainable relationship.     There are both advantages and disdvantages for those that embark on a self marketing exercise and start applying marketing principles to themselves in their every day lives. Some of these are as follows:   Advantages It gives individuals the ability to break the social clutter and achieve social recognition. In other words, get noticed. Very importantly it is a good public relations and social networking exercise, where one can build connections that might come handy later on in life. It allows for an early exposure to the reality of the cut throat competitive world out there. Those innovative at socializing later on take an innovative approach to work. In other words encourages innovation and creativity, proving to be a valuable learning opportunity for later stages in life.    Disadvantages Self marketing manages to  reinforce the belief that we cease to be human beings and are nothing more than commodities with their utility value, and we would be off no use to any one unless we had something to offer. Some of these effects include  stress, depression, loss of self esteem, as well as sleeping and eating disorders especially amongst the youth. It creates a social divide between social haves and the have nots  and encourages misuse of peer pressure, social discrimination and bullying. Opens up people to social exploitation and feeling used and creates misunderstandings through breakdown in communication. The breakdown in communication also happens, when in order to achieve social recognition people try to potray an alternative image of themselves, which might or might not be an accurate reflection of their true selves In other words, one can argue that it encourages the wrong set of social and inter personal values. 

Is the diaspora exporting intolerence to Pakistan

In the back drop of rapidly growing radicalization of Pakistani society, it has become a commonplace for the remaining liberals or the educated liberals of this society to engage in discussions with regards to radicalization or the causes of radicalization in our society. Most such discussions are now taking place in privacy, where many are some what or the other reluctant to voice their honest opinions out of fear of reprecussions. The fear of reprecussions stems from people's heightened religious sensitivity which brings with it social consequences for the not only the minorities in this nation but also the non practising Muslims. Such reprecussions range from mild harassment to social ostracization to out and out direct life threats which come when the overly sensitive religious individuals start feeling that the liberals and the non practising Muslims are mocking Islam and what ever set of practises come with it. Instead of encouraging open criticism and open dialogue, their reaction at times appears as if all hell will break loose if they do not take some sort of action on our words. Though in some cases, liberals do cross boundaries that can test even the most patient of Muslims, the backlash they the liberals face from their religious bretheren is far greater. Through a product of conditional and subliminal learning, hundreds and thousands of Pakistanis including tens of thousands of those belonging to affluent classes have been radicalised over the years and have become extremely sensitive when it comes to religious matter.   While having a discussion with some fellow repatriates like myself now living in Pakistan, we too were engaged in a full on discussion about the causes of radicalization in Pakistan. Our discussion the other day, moved to a rarely discussed cause for the radicalization of society, and one which is very controversial and not without its consequences. What we discussed was whether the Pakistani diaspora i.e. overseas Pakistanis were exporting religious sensitivity and radicalization back to the land of their ancestors. We can begin this discussion by looking at Diaspora statistics of Pakistanis and their level of integration into their host society. The largest Pakistani communities currently found overseas are in the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In the case of both countries, the Pakistani community exceeds over a million. The Pakistani community in other countries is relatively much smaller, with about 50,000 in Australia, around half a million in the United States and about a quarter of a million in Canada.   Let us start with the Pakistani diaspora in the United Kingdom. In a community of almost a million, Pakistanis make up one of the most prominent ethnic groups in Great Britain, with majority of the community centered around the midlands and the northern towns. Most of the Pakistanis living in Great Britain trace their ancestory and heritage from Kashmir and Northern Punjab, mostly rural or small town Punjab and Kashmir, with great waves of immigration happening in the 60's, 70's and 80's. The midlands and the northern towns of England in particular were homes to manufacturing and industry in the country, employment in the industrial sector was a great driver of these massive waves of immigration. As industry declined, so did employment and growth in it and the region as a whole. While the first generation of migrants is always willing to accept the harsh realities of being a migrant community, it puts the second and third generation of immigrants, their children and grandchildren in a difficult position, as they are caught in a limbo between integration and maintaining their cultural identity under the impression their host culture will not accept them.   According to statistics based on surveys conducted by the British government, the Pakistani community in the United Kingdom is the least socially integrated community as a whole. That whole lack of integration includes high unemployment, poverty, living in ethnic enclaves as well as growing religious radicalization.  Many news stories have been done, as well as countless documentaries about the growth in radicalization of British Pakistanis, predominently amongst the youth. The not so affluent and the not so integrated British Pakistani youth that feels as if British society is marginalizing them can become an easy target for the cause of radical Imams and religious scholars that openly preach hatred for the British government and British society by labelling their host country as a country of infidels who are enemies of 'Islam'. The British Pakistani youth gets early exposure to such radicalized Imams and such religious influence stays over the course of years unless they distance themselves from other diaspora Pakistanis like themselves.   It begins with the Imam at the local mosque from an early age, it then moves onto exclusively Muslim schools for which lobbyists fight with local governments for recognition. This later on transends into early adulthood when the youth enter university as they meet and interact with other British Pakistanis from throughout Great Britain, some of whom bring with them their radicalized ideas and thoughts. Having lived in the United Kingdom myself, I can honestly say I am not lying when I say this that it is not uncommon in that country for certain Imams to hold radicalized views, or for the British Pakistani youth, particularly amongst young men at university to belong to a conservative and radical school of thought. I have even across British Pakistanis, who everytime they gather, they discuss about how they can reject British society and become self proclaimed God's warriors and fight for the cause of Islam, fight for the establishment of the Khilafat and Sharia law on all of mankind. Such groups also make proactive efforts to recruit new immigrants or well off Pakistanis that have come to foreign shores in pursuit of knowledge. British universities are a magnet for affluent would be university students from Pakistan. Here is a thought, while such people have been unable to achive all that within British society, bring about the religious change they want to bring, what would be rationally their next possible target for bringing about change? You guessed it, the land of their ancestors.    It is entirely possible that the British Pakistani youth of the later generations has been brought up with a romanticized image of Pakistan, stemming from memory that their parents or their grandparents had from a conservative small town in Pakistan. Where Pakistan was a safehaven of Islam, and represented a country where one can truly be a Muslim and it represents everything that is pious about Islam. Towards the end of the 20th century Pakistani society had changed a fair bit prior to the sudden radicalization that began at the start of the millenium. Over the 1980s and 90s, post Zia Ul Haq, Pakistani society opened up and went through a stage of liberalization as well as a demographic change. This change could be seen from the growth and prosperity of media and press in the country, as well as the rapid rural to urban migration that has taken place in Pakistan. Here is another thought, what if the same diaspora Pakistanis from the United Kingdom, visited Pakistan and instead got exposed to a very liberal society, and the relatives that they were drawn towards courtesy of the remittences now live in the major cities as opposed to small town Pakistan. It tempts one to think, whether such circumstances break a romanticized bubble image of Pakistan in their minds. Not only is the dream shattered, but their is presented an opportunity for the expats or the diaspora Pakistanis to bring in their values to the society which they deem as too liberal now.    Now I am going to fast forward the clock a little bit and go back in time only to about some what ten years ago or so. At the dawn of the 21st century, the world witnessed a set of events that forever changed the course of human history. On a September morning in 2001, the United States witnessed terrorist attacks of epic proportions in New York and Washington DC, which lead to the death of over 3000 people. The September morning, forever changed the course of modern history. In the aftermath of 9/11, the United States lead with its allies went to war with Afghanistan and a few years later with Iraq. There is a widespread belief amongst millions in the Muslim world that the US lead invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq is a war against Islam, and the proponents of such claims often argue that Muslims around the world should return to the core of their beliefs and unite in the so called Jihad against the Imperialistic West. Around the same time, in the months that followed 9/11 and the invasion of Afghanistan, a few radical religious schools emerged in the major urban centers of Pakistan such as Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi. A slight difference this time was that these religious schools or academies targetted the affluent socioeconomic groups in society, as lessons moved from the Mosque to a private air conditioned rented out seminar hall or conference center in posh localities. Most importantly another element to it was that these schools were conducted by overseas Pakistanis including two prominent British Pakistani scholars from the United Kingdom, both of whom held a doctrate in Islamic studies from British Universities. With the set up of such schools, overnight educated well to do liberals in society transformed into overly sensitive religious practitioners.   Overnight young men grew beards and submitted themselves to God by leaving behind the world, overnight educated socially out going women in the pursuit of piety became overly obedient and submissive housewives who also made the decision to wear the veil which would hide their identity from the world. An identity which they were once very proud off. If you target the upper and the upper middle class of society, it becomes easy to penetrate into the middle classes, as many in the middle class despite their denial look towards the affluent classes as a guideline on what constitutes a good and prosperous way of life. I feel that the biggest tool used by these overseas Pakistani scholars to get the people to yield to their proposed thoughts has been 'guilt enducement' and later on 'guilt exploitation'. By enducing a sense of guilt where it previously ceased to exist, it can serve as a powerful tool for control or influence which can be further reaffirmed through exploitation of that guilt. For example in this instance, guilt is being created in the hearts of minds of people by communicating thoughts that they should feel guilty about their way of life, in other words feel bad about their life style choice as their life style choice is unacceptable in the eyes of God, and even the smallest of things they do can land their soul into the fiery pits of Hell. If one is able to freighten people through guilt enducement, one has the key to the doors of their minds.    Amongst the affluent communities of urban Pakistan, it would be fair to assign a certain amount of credit to such scholars and their academies for radicalization of Pakistani society. As the world heads towards liberalisation, it seems we as a nation have gone backwards into neo-conservatism and heightened religious sensitivity has become so widespread, its put many in a position where people are killing like vigilantes in broad day light in the name of religion and where the liberal thinkers have been silenced out of fear for their own lives. So would it be a fair argument, if the suggestion was made that the diaspora is exporting radicalization?