Comfort Zones

In case, if you haven’t really been following my blog, I generally tend to write about tech, games, some personal thoughts, some thoughts about my work at 13 Llama and some analytics.

What I do not write about is Design … be it any design. Systems design, Visual Design, Brand Design … even solutions design. I know for certain that I have a certain unhealthy fear for engaging with design. So much so that it has now become a mental barrier in my head. Staying away from creativity isn’t necessarily bad, since we do a lot of analytical and logical work. Having said that, breaking down problems into smaller byte sized tasks is now a child’s play and there has become a comfort zone. So much so, that over the past few months I had started to think that we should focus on driving more business in these areas.

What does one do when one doesn’t have an option?

Of late though, some of the mandates we have been getting involved us having to work with and also having to define the design specifications. Some of our new team members were pretty gung-ho about working on design specifications instead of a pure play numbers game.

To add to that, at pretty much the same time, we had a couple of our main clients request that we get involved at a higher level and help guide the marketing briefs.

We could have chosen to keep focused on the analytics niche and not step up to the mantle. However, we decided to step out of our comfort zone and things have been taking an interesting turn.

Stepping out of comfort zones

This often involves stepping into a chaotic situation, spending some time taking stock and then working on multiple fronts and more often than not in an iterative manner. From an engagement point of view, it takes a special sort of client to work with. An organization which understands that is an organization that is also in a sense working out of its comfort zone.

This also means that the team which is actively engaged in stepping out of its comfort zone is very very focused on the purpose at hand.

Instead of worrying about things such as appraisals, office times, leaves and petty office politics, the team is then focused on doing what it takes to get the job done. The line of comfort just disappears and shit gets done.

Organizations and comfort zones

For a lot of organizations, functional teams end up becoming comfort zones. An example of this is when there are functional silos in a firm and cross functional exchanges do not happen as smoothly as expected. This is when both the functions engaging are not stepping out of their zone of comfort. Unfortunately, we have all experienced the adverse effects when customer facing teams do not step out of their comfort zone.

This severely impacts their ability and sometimes even the intent to engage. Symptoms of this condition are cases where the customer facing teams cite company policies, or often play the victim, or end up misinforming or lying to the customer. This builds a trust deficit within and with-out the system.

What can organizations do?

Foster a culture of experimentation and over delivering value. Sometimes force teams to work outside the zone of comfort. Align teams to the grandiose scheme of things and how their mundane job is in fact a purpose centric activity and not a functional silo.

As a concluding note, assuming people are willing to often step out of their comfort zones is such a positive mindset that the rewards of the mindset alone are worth the efforts of stretching one’s boundaries. Over the past few months, I have seen my fledgling team work outside their comfort zones, get over their initial mental barriers and come out for the better. The decision to step out of my own comfort zones has been definitely worth it!

 

Marketing for India2

As someone who has been in the area of Digital marketing for the past few years (close to a decade now), it’s interesting to note and see how it has evolved. Right from the open market economics that AdWords grew upon to the game theory dynamics of Search Engine Optimisation, the way the entire industry has been changing is fascinating.

This article on English Tax and building for the next billion Indian users by Sajith Pai makes you stop and think. At this point, all the marketers and brands are busy selling to that sliver of audience who are online and are english speaking, affluent, willing to whip out their credit cards and make a purchase.

The next Billion

However, there is a larger audience out here, 10 times as much. A billion people, who may not be comfortable with English, who may not have approved credit cards and credit lines … but who are online.

Thanks to the launch of Jio, you now have an audience who may not be affluent, but who are there online. The same audience is being targeted by brands in a language that is not native to them.

English Tax

What is the English Tax? It’s the overhead that a user has to go over to understand what is being said. English is not my mother tongue, however after just under 4 decades of being subjected to both formal and informal education, I have started to think of English as my primary language.

However, that may not be the case of the next Billion. They may not even understand English, and thanks to Google or Apple, they would still be able to browse the web online without even typing a single English letter!

To top it all off, this audience is not being targeted online, not because they do not have a foot print, but because they do not understand the language in which they are being targeted.

This is bad.

Not only would they need re-phrasing of communications, but also a lot of mis-selling and mis-communications would be currently done to them.

Responsibility in Media

Yeah, this section is a joke! However, as digital platforms evolve, can the major players like GAFA take a much more responsible stand on exposing the India2 to the internet?

It’s not as if something is wrong with them. Please note, I am not saying that. However the internet which is most relevant for India2 is in the making and a lot of players are just ignoring this huge blue ocean that needs to be made.

There are content oriented players like BhaDiPa (Bharatiya Digital Party) and  TVF (The Viral Fever) who are making content in regional languages, pretty sure there are many more as well. However, one look at the keyword search volumes in Hindi and Marathi, and I know that we have still miles to go.

This audience for instance may not be doing a lot of searches, however, they definitely are there on Facebook, on WhatsApp, etc.

What can we do to engage as brands and marketers with this audience?

Going Regional

One step is always to speak the same language. I always loved the devnagri script, it just looks graceful when in comparison to the English script. Call me biased. However, as a marketer I would love to see some really good creatives, copy and content being pushed out there in regional formats.

I have seen this being done by some organisations, and just going by their data consumption numbers makes one re-think the language in which they are publishing! Similarly, the concepts of marketing wont change, but since the language is changing, so would therefore the format and forms. Just taking a Facebook update and translating it to Marathi won’t do. It has to be not just re-phrased but even re-thought … some of the memes and mental models that one language/culture has may pretty much ensure that the whole line of messaging be irrelevant.

I think as an industry based in a country that’s slowly emerging online, we are barely scratching the surface on these things.

What’s the real price for free?

I loved this quote by Tristan Harris in the New York Magazine article The Internet Apologizes … “We cannot afford the advertising business model. The price of free is actually too high. It is literally destroying our society, because it incentivizes automated systems that have these inherent flaws. Cambridge Analytica is the easiest way of explaining…

via The Price of Free is Actually Too High — Feld Thoughts

Brad Feld, the author of the above piece is a VC at the Foundry Group. He is also a regular blogger, and when you do find the time, do read through his thoughts on entrepreneurship and start-ups.

One of the discussions that I keep having with founders of different start-ups is how the free now, pay later model is slowly making users devalue the product.

The price of free

So what is the price of free?

Think about the product which is being offered for free. If you are using the product, and you have paid a cent, then, there is a good chance that the product might be using you!

Hence the reference to Cambridge Analytica and Facebook in the article. We use this social media platform so routinely, similar to Google … it has permeated into our very lives itself.

The amount of data that the free product therefore has to gather goes up. The data is then churned, and out of that valuable insights are generated.

Or else, they could simply sell the data!!

Really? Isn’t this illegal? Who does that?

Take places in this world where privacy laws are so draconian, or take countries where the common man is discovering the beauty of the internet (and its dark sides as well), or take areas where the sheer size and volume of the nation makes it difficult to really control … well anything and everything!

Does that ring a bell?

In India, the IT Act of 2000 has been reigning supreme for the past 18 years. Even then, the average joe out here barely even knows what kind of activity makes him liable for a case under the IT Act. Where the laws are not understood, how do you think the population is going to work react?

They are going to react as per their own personal code of ethics and morality. For some, it would be inline with the IT Act, for some it would be a far cry. Sending corporate data over email to a friend … sure! Email spamming a bunch of email-ids … why not!

A lot of times, since the target (or to use a nobler word – purpose) is known to people, the code of ethics is often kept aside. Let the purpose be achieved, no matter what.

In such a “purpose” driven environment, do you think that cyber crimes and leakage of data is going to be noticed?

Think about the product’s purpose

Now, think about the product.

and it’s purpose.

The initial purpose was to solve a problem. However, now we are giving it for free. The purpose shifts to getting these free users to convert. The problem changes. So does the product.

Remarketing campaigns are launched, I already spoke about this. Conversion Rate optimization is taken up … not to solve the users problem, but to get the user to pay.

I am not saying this should not be done. However, if that’s what’s kept at the center of the product, then the product’s very nature changes. That’s the real price of free.

LinkedIn starts Career Advice and Mentorship services

As far as visiting Social Media sites is concerned, I have slowly veered off Facebook and Twitter and gravitated towards LinkedIn and Medium. One of the interesting features that I noticed LinkedIn launch, is its Career Advice services. I am attaching a screenshot of what I saw, this was a promoted post that I saw in my feed.

LinkedIn Career Advice

Curious to see where this rabbit hole leads to, I signed up for the service. Interestingly enough, the link led me to a place where I had to sign up as a mentor and choose the areas on which I could help others out.

This seems like a me-too of Clarity.fm and similar other services. What LinkedIn definitely has is the wide professional network (and thus the social credibility of the influencers). It’d be interesting to see how Microsoft and the LinkedIn team build this further.

One of the major problems in corporate India is the lack of coaches available in the middle management tiers. Perhaps, if played properly, LinkedIn can address this huge coaching and leadership gap.

Shiny tools don’t make a purpose

Recently, I bought a Fitbit. It’s a fantastic tool. Now, I can rave more about the features and go on and on. However, a friend and a colleague asked me an interesting question.

Has it changed you?
No, it did not.

Before I go on, I have to tell you that I am on the heavier side of the weighing scale. Those of you who know me personally would be surprised at the sudden interest in all things health. Yeah, I roll like that.

It’s not about the Fitbit

Like any other measurement tool, the Fitbit is doing a marvelous job at letting me know certain metrics that I need to care about.

They have even gamified the steps by putting in cute little badges and built in peer support (and also peer pressure) to keep me motivated. All this is good as it should be.

At the core of it, it’s a measurement tool. Just like any of the billion other tools we use in Analytics.

Targets and Measurements

On very similar lines, we as marketers or as businessmen often deploy shiny new tools because we think they will help us do more.

Unfortunately, like me in this case, how many of us forget on defining the purpose?

I implicitly assumed that the Fitbit would automatically by some magic give me the purpose of losing weight and leading a more healthy life. Without this purpose, here’s what would happen —

I will wear it to work, and dutifully report the steps taken and life would go on as usual. Some of the badges would come in as time goes by, and it would not really matter to me if I took 2000 steps a day (which is a walk in the park) or 10000 steps a day (I haven’t achieved this yet).

How would I change, if let’s say I choose to give myself a target of say, 10000 steps a day.

Without Purpose, there’s no Change

I would for one have to make time to walk those 10000 steps. I could try walking in the office or doing a much more rigorous transit than an Uber. However, I would have to commit to making the time for those steps.

Thus, this choice of making a change in my routine should be addressed. At the heart of it, the shiny new tool is not at the center. Yes, you have bought Google Analytics Premium and all of that is great … but that’s not really at the center.

At the center, is the purpose. Has this been defined? Has this been clarified and articulated so that the team knows about this?

A tool doesn’t give us Purpose

It does give us a sense of progress towards our purpose. A Measure of Success, if you will. The shiny new tool that we just acquired is useful, but only as long as we keep the purpose at the center.

As people who know how to use a tool, if we do not understand the purpose, the tool will end up regurgitating meaningless data.

TL;DR — When setting up measures, don’t keep the tool at the center. Keep the purpose at the center. The rest should follow.

Game Theory and SEO

This blog has been my place to articulate my thoughts, to propose experiments and my views on multiple topics. Having said that, this is one such piece.

I would love to hear your views about this and feel free to scroll down to that comment box and leave a line (or two).

What is Game Theory?

Taking the excerpt from Wikipedia –

Game theory is “the study of mathematical models of conflict and cooperation between intelligent rational decision-makers.” Game theory is mainly used in economics, political science, and psychology, as well as logic, computer science and biology.

In this piece, I am proposing that we can use the basic precepts of Game Theory and apply them to SEO strategies as well.

Originally, it addressed zero-sum games, in which one person’s gains result in losses for the other participants. Today, game theory applies to a wide range of behavioral relations, and is now an umbrella term for the science of logical decision making in humans, animals, and computers.

In Search Engine Optimization, for a particular query search, only one site can be at the top. At the cost of the search visibility of other sites.

Ergo, SEO is clearly a zero-sum scenario.

Wait, isn’t this between two players?

That’s what we construe of Game Theory … and more importantly with Prisoner’s Dilemma. However, in the real world, and in almost any market driven environment, there are always multiple players.

Such scenarios are referred to as n-person games, or in Gaming parlance – multi-player games. This gives way to something we define as Evolutionary game theory.

What is Evolutionary Game Theory?

Evolutionary game theory considers games involving a population of decision makers, where the frequency with which a particular decision is made can change over time in response to the decisions made by all individuals in the population.

So, in SEO the strategy that I can adopt at any point of time is suspect to change, and over a period of time, most players who are working on their SEO would tend to change their strategy and evolve their approach.

In economics, the same theory is intended to capture population changes because people play the game many times within their lifetime, and consciously (and perhaps rationally) switch strategies.

Ditto about SEO again. In textbook style, I could say don’t do Black Hat. However, you know it and I know it … that at some point of time in our lives we have done Black Hat. Yes yes yes, it doesn’t work and you have to pay the price, but we still have gone ahead, haven’t we?

This change in tactics, resulting in evolution of market dynamics effectively ends up changing the winning strategies of the game. A research article that talks about how the competing strategies change within a network of decision makers is available here.

To read more on Evolutionary Game Theory, here is the wiki link.

Rituals and Evolutionary Game Theory

One more interesting characteristic that mathematical biologist John Maynard Smith realized when studying the behavior of game theory in communities was that in biological communities (his research was based on Darwinian concepts and survival of the fittest) most of the players did not focus on their strategy as a winning one, but treated their strategies as at a ritualistic level.

Ergo, for most members of the population it was not important whether they were engaged in a competitive and winning strategy, but rather that they were engaged in a strategy in the first place.

Wait, what?

Let me rephrase that statement.

Players involved in playing a multi-player game, where the game itself was changing constantly, the winning strategy was not important for players.

So much, as having a strategy in the first place.

Uh, I thought this was going to be on SEO

It is.

In a game of lets-get-on-top (on Google), all of us marketers are running circles trying to figure out the best SEO strategy.

We have seen many of the oft-quoted paradigms here –

  1. Content is king
  2. Great Link profiling
  3. Black Hat

What I am proposing is that it really does not matter which step you take … as long as you decide to take a step as per a strategy and then choosing to evolve your stance after you find out the result.

 

Stuttering Start-ups

Stayzilla, an Airbnb for homestays in India, is closing down its service. The company was founded six years ago and had raised $34 million from investors, including a $20 million Series B in 2015. Now is the time to pause and “reboot” however, CEO and co-founder Yogendra Vasupal explained in a blog post. The company reached a…

via Stayzilla, India’s Airbnb for homestays, closes its service — TechCrunch

Another one bites the dust, as start-ups and investors start rethinking their approach to creating unicorns. One of the largest ones being discussed (and also a poster child for Indian e-commerce) is Snapdeal, who in a recent email announced a lay-off of more than 1000 employees.

So why do it in the first place?

Well, it was good while it lasted, and at least the team that started it knows that they gave it their best and things did not work out – due to whichever reasons … be it a bad business model or unbalanced promotions, or whatever.

Over the years, investors have also become much more skeptical on which businesses would they put their money in.

Invest smart!

One of the things that peeves me off is that the investor success stories which have 1000% gains and great exits had the investors not just invest money, but also time and efforts in different capacities.

As someone who works with multiple ideas, one of the key components that I myself do not have much is time. Money is a transient thing, sometimes you are floating in it, sometimes you do not have much to spare. However, as time goes by … one of the key assets that people should look at is the time required to nurture that unicorn.

If that time is not there, then its best that you don’t put in the money – thinking that some smart people will grow that money and give you handsome returns. Somewhere in that dynamic, people are forgetting to create sustainable value.

What is Sustainable Value?

Any transaction happens because of both the parties seeing a certain economic value in that transaction. A buyer gets a good or a service for a price that he can afford. A seller gets a reasonable price for goods/services that he/she are providing.

For a time being, the buyer or seller can extract more value from the market. This could work due to information asymmetry (or third degree arbitrage). However, as information is made available to every user and as customer discovery becomes faster and smoother, this arbitrage is being worn down.

So, how does sustainable value come from … simple, it comes from fair play, it comes from co-operation and knowing that co-operation is the winning strategy when it comes to game theory.

How many start-ups get the sustainable value creation point is something that I am most interested in.