Monthly Archives: January 2013

Big Deal: How deal sites can shape your marketing strategy?


Over the last one month, I have taken three deals from Groupon.And the experience has been worth the discounted price. As it  emerges as the lone player focused on deals in India, the US based company seemed to have hit the sweet spot with bargain hunting Indians. What made me curious is why should merchants partner with deal sites such as Group on or Snapdeal(which has now evolved into a hybrid deal and e-commerce company). So I asked some of the merchants who had offered deals through Groupon. And the conversations revealed some neat insights on how deal sites can become a part of your marketing strategy. 

Gateway Sailing Club runs yacht  tours on the sea. Its proprietor Rakesh is a smart, young sailor who proudly shows off his three yachts. Business however follows an erratic pattern a part of which he attributes to people not knowing about him. He solved the twin problem of excess capacity and lack of exposure by putting the deal on Groupon. And he is happy with the results. Groupon has provided to be a steady source of bookings and the publicity has also driven non bargain hunters to him. Rakesh runs the business which lends itself to the Groupon format quite well. The target market is young people seeking a novelty at affordable price. Such people would happily lap up deals on the net. On a boat trip every additional customer translates into more money without translating into extra cost. So the loss-leader pricing actually rakes in profits for him. There are identifiable lean periods for his business- week days, summers where any money he earns on the unused capacity is a plus.

 The business model of sites such as Groupon which hinges on aggregating customers delivers a number of advantages to affiliate merchants. On a closer look,  deal site fits into your 4P marketing strategy and becomes an extended marketing platform for you. It helps you reach new market segments. Discover new customers. It acts as a nifty promotional tool as a significant part of the promotion is done by the deal site; their smart copywriters help wrap your deal up attractively. So your customer acquisition cost comes down overall. Plus if you are a small to medium sized business, as many of the affiliate merchants really are, your promotional budget is generally low. The advantage of putting your coupons on groupon is there is an immediate call to action associated with it. As opposed to putting sales notices in newspapers. Or advertising in yellow pages. Customer commitment happens upfront at the point of display.


The deal sites  gives you a new channel of sales and you can design a set of offerings for this channel ensuring you minimize conflict elsewhere. Infact if you are not online, the deal sites give you semblance of a chance of testing the waters online. Deals do mean loss leader pricing and a discount model is not sustainable in the long term without the supporting economy of scale. However as the sailing club said, often new customers who come in through group on come back even when there is no deal. Or drive other non bargain-seekers to it. One of the problems that deal sites has to contend with in India, is that discounts are often associated with low quality; which may put the more discerning buyer off. So I have my reservations whether a lasik eye surgery being promoted on Groupon will find takers. On the operational side, as a small business owner you have to ensure that you can plan capacity to cater to the spike in demand your deal can cause. The fact that sites like Group on work on a model of splitting the value and does not charge an upfront cost, ensures that you are paying only when there is an actual transaction. Which explains why these sites are so hawkish about selecting the merchants. If you pass the criteria and become signed on, chances are you will have found a smart way to promote yourself. And drive the customers to your doorsteps. Even on the odd rainy day.


Aaron Swartz and the capitalist’s dilemma

  Around this time of the year, last year the world was up in arms against the sopa and pipa. fresh from a year of anger which had seen bastions of capitalism challenged by people calling them the 99percent, the regulations spiked the anger a notch higher. Seen as a move to sneak in digital apartheid and a big brother state into the virtual world, sopa and pipa became the twin symbol of digital capitalism. And drew the lines between the radical left-wingers and the hard-nosed right wingers a shade deeper. The regulations were defeated but the aftermath continued. Which again bubbled to the top with the death of Aaron – the virtual worlds prodigal rebel. A digital activist who lived on the fringes of real world rules. Someone who believed in the freedom of information and was shaken by the prospect of spending time with hardened criminals,convicted as he was of stealing knowledge. The coroner’s report declared suicide. And then the uncomfortable questions were posed. Is knowledge a commodity? With exorbitant price tags? Is it a privilege locked up inside high walls that keep the untouchables out? Is it a divisive tool in the hands of an egalitarian society which in its own interests keeps the line drawn? Yes in the real world it is. The price of a good education is high. And the distinctions between the quality of knowledge is sharply drawn out along the lines of the price you pay for it. The elitism of the world thrives on this asymmetry of knowledge. As the son of the millionaire businessman you will be several paces ahead of the watchmans daughter on dint of your private school education. And your only claim on the knowledge is the providence of birth. the books that teach newtons laws will cost an amount that elude the common man. Who gets the royalty? Who has the claim to royalty? And is the royalty for perpetuity? Obviously the resellers of knowledge, the publishers are making a lot of money. The glorified middlemen who broker knowledge for a steep price. Who were caught unawares by the Internet. Which created a million publishers. And a billion teachers. Wikipedia happened. Creative Commons came into being. News came out of the control of the media barons. And the assymetry of knowledge was challenged. Some of the elitist colleges started opening the iron doors. MIT and the robotics project to which the poor boy in an African village can contribute to with as much right as his private school going counterpart in rich America. Ivy league institutes such as Harvard have also joined. However the resistance is much higher than the tentative adoption. Ironically Schwatz was hounded for hacking into the same MIT network. The lobby of the nay Sayers is strong. Who have clamoured for regulations. And restrictions. And waved various rights at us. And have cried foul.  Of course no one is disregarding the ethical implications here. On plagiarism. And copy rights. But a deeper examination shows it often boils down to the question of survival of the opportunist custodians of such knowledge. Whether ot be the trillion dollar education or publishing industry, a lot of vested interests are at stake here. That the Internet has found a way of connecting the creator and the consumer of knowledge doesn’t augur well for them. strange everywhere else we celebrate the demolition of the evil middleman. Why then we keep knowledge inside gilded vaults guarded by gatekeepers charging high entry fees. I remember reading Ayn Rands strong defence of capitalism. Where she talks of a fair and free market where people exchange value. However we know that the market is severely distorted by the forces that control them, putting artificial prices on everything including knowledge. With a bachelors degree in USA costing 100000 $ education and knowledge become the exclusive prerogative of the chosen few. The internet’s principle of universal access and franchise for all seek to level the distortions. And un-commodify knowledge for a greater good. For the fair market is also based on symmetry of knowledge. Which Aaron fought for. And is supported by a large number of scientists, academics, musicians, writers and poets. The creators of knowledge. With whom the last word on the use of their creations for a greater good should lie.

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Bai! Bhai! Mumbai!


Hell has no equivalent of shifting cities in India. Especially if the two ends of your journey are those cacophonous, muddled up masses of humanity Bombay and Kolkata. Where things have an uncanny knack of going wrong. And people do not turn up when you desperately want them to. And nobody has a clue about what is what and who is you see your beloved pieces of furniture loosing a leg here and suffering a dent there because the wrapping expert is apparently an out of job plumber who was hired two days back. You bid a tearful goodbye to your porcelain dolls because you may just not see them at the other end. ofcourse for someone like me who had been hopping in and out of homes since eighteen,the attachment to worldly things has decreased with each successive shift. But no amount of seasoning absorbs the shock of frantic Bombay after easy going Kolkata. The broker is over zealous to sign a deal on Sunday. Blasphemy. Us bongs do not work on Sundays. And specially when you are mourning an antique bed wobbling on three legs and the mover in an unmoved tone waves ‘limited liability’ at you. Barely when you have recovered from this shock you discover your ‘spacious, well-aired’ balcony peeps rather obstructively into that of a neighbour. ‘Itneichme yehchi milega’ proclaims the broker. And you silently calculate that the itneich is a sizeable dent on your monthly dole of peanuts. But then you have taken risks, you tell yourself. A change of profession after a close to ten years debut on the job market. And you shake your head in the style of Amol Palekar and think of all the great things that can happen to you in Mumbai. Bollywood. Girl band. Start up czarina. Vada pao evangelist. Till the bai brings you back to earth with her demand of a whopping salary. And you fondly remember the docile Masi at Kolkata who worked for love and not for money. But if you are not a great cook, you have few other options. Unless you want to shock the stomach smothered by rasogollas with assorted paos and their mirchi-dripping stuffings. Infact cookery skills are necessary but not sufficient to survive Mumbai minus the bai. After a day of precariously hanging to local train railings and fighting pitched battles with autowallahs, you creep up the stairs like a defeated warrior. You then barely have energy left to open your mouth to say a ‘hi’ to your better half, let alone attempt cooking or cleaning. I wonder did we need that 3G pe busy campaign, I mean with local train travels who needs birth-controls. add to it the strain of looking out or suspicious looking bhais and their entourage. And you remember the profound words of your neighbour at Kolkata, speaking in muffled tones from behind layers of mufflers. ‘In Kolkata we have the underground. In Mumbai they have the underworld’ Mumbai? Mumbhai? No my bai wins hands down over any bhai!

But ofcourse then Mumbai as a city grows on you. The unexpected pleasure of finding an ice-cream shop open at midnight. The good Samaritan on local train who leaves her seat for you when you are sick. The talkative bai who says Aila and brandishes her jharu every time she kills a cockroach. The anonymity of the crowd after the familiarity of Kolkata which sometimes became over-bearing. Mumbai in its own way lets you be. To weave those dreams sitting on the brilliantly lit marine drive. From the city of palaces. To the city of dreams. The chasm is not too big to leap across. 
PS: I have finally dropped the ‘Bombay’ and started calling it Mumbai. Though I think the spirit of the city is too free to be straitjacketed into narrow identities. Long live Mumbai. And longer live my kadi-cooking, cockroach-killing bai.

An idiot’s guide to making resolutions stick


New years are the best time to start afresh. Specially a week after the new year actually begun. When you have done all the partying you could .And all the hangovers have finally cleared. It is good to have new year resolutions. And make them stick- fevicol or no fevicol. Write them on nice pink papers and stick them on your walls. In a place where your mom can read. So that she can nag you into bouts of guilt if you are meandering. Why pink? The colour of love. 2013 as a bizarre face book post proclaimed is the year of eros. Try writing the numbers in reverse and then bend them at some angle. And voila! Eros appears. If only your love life was as simple.

You could convince your family to set your resolutions as their hello-tune for you.(With all the crazy schemes that mobile companies are coming up with, I am told this can be done). The flip side could be you will stop calling your relatives which is not such a bad thing to happen either. If you are the really brave sort, tattoo the resolutions in short-hand on a part of your body with high visibility. I have heard that taking a tattoo out is a difficult procedure but then no gain without pain.

There are other more creative and increasingly extreme measures. Like roping in the mother-in-law. And promising yourself you will let her stay on with you till you have met atleast half of your resolutions. If she does not spur you into action, nothing will. Or maybe you are already perfect. And the resolutions are just an action in futility. The opposite of the stick is the carrot(the scheme is for the honey-bunnies I am sure because which human likes carrots?) Promise yourself that sinful Thai holiday if you have done all your resolutions. Appoint a minder so that you do not cheat.

If you love attention, get your resolution stitched on to your t-shirts. Remind me to go to gym. Or the more extreme- You are free to swear if I do not swim. Remember how Coleho and then Shahrukh said that the world conspires with you in uniting you with your super-ordinate goals.

If you are still struggling to stick to your new year resolutions, choose goals with higher happiness returns. Like waking up really early and running to the bus-stop to gawk at the hot neighbour who catches the morning bus.(See how you are killing two or is it three birds with one alarm!) Or going to the gym that your high-school crush frequents. Ah, you are all set for an energetic year of eros. As that intelligent soukl on Facebook proclaimed.