Thursday, January 30, 2014

Be Unique

Be Unique

By Mohnish Nair

In today’s competitive world where price has become the deciding factor for driving sales and when customer loyalty seems to be at an all time low, there also exists a breed of business houses, brands and products that enjoy unbeatable customer fidelity and at the same time dictate prices on their own terms.

What makes a Harley bike so desirable? Why are you willing to pay 100 bucks for a cup of cappuccino at Starbucks but would never pay anything above 25 at your local udipi hotel? Look at Apple for instance, why are customers willing to stand in mile long queues on cold winter nights just to grab hold of a mobile phone and still pay a premium price that no other mobile company can even imagine to demand? The answer lies in what most businesses fail to discover and implement in their business, its all about being Unique!!

Creating the Experience

The success of a business is highly dependent on the core intention of the business. If it is only to make profits, then it may just end up doing that, bring profits, However, if your business and its delivery is designed around something beyond profits, something worthwhile for humanity to get excited about, then  you have found your calling. For example just have a look at the Mission statement of Starbucks. In reality it is just a coffee serving restaurant like millions of other such cafes but what makes Starbucks unique and attractive is its intention which is clearly reflected in its Mission statement -  Our mission: to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time. 

As clearly evident the intention is to contribute an experience in the customer’s life not just through a cup of coffee but to serve it with an electrifying ambiance, cheerful staff, and superior service thus making it desirous. The experience helps you unwind, run away from the rush of your maddening life to a secluded space of warmth, happiness and friendly banter. Starbucks chairman and CEO Howard Schultz explained to Oprah Winfrey in 2007, when he was serving as Chairman (not CEO), sales were plummeting and the stock was sinking. “We had lost our way,” he said. “The pursuit of profit became our reason for being and that’s not the reason that Starbucks is in business…we’re in the business of exceeding the expectations of our customers.” He returned as the CEO because of “love” and “passion” 

Creating loyalty

The note that strikes the loyalty chord with customers is customization. Be it Starbucks or Harley Davidson – The cruiser bike giant. What separates them from the crowd is their ability to cater to individual tastes and preferences, which makes their product highly desirable and unique. Harley Davidson is not a motorbike company. It’s a cult! It evokes the untamed masculinity in you. It pushes you to discover uncharted roads. It seduces you to ride towards freedom. It’s about being wild and adventurous. Now will you pay a premium to have all of the above? Yes sir! You will. This is the emotion that the brand inspires in its followers and that is what makes them timelessly iconic.  

Harley-Davidson was facing major problems, which included slumping sales, forcing them to restructure. They changed the production and management strategies and went on to continued success and growth. The turn around started in 1981 when a group of 13 Harley-Davidson executives led by Vaughn Beals bought the company. These new owners started the Harley Owners Group (H.O.G.) in an attempt to open lines of communication with the customers and bring them closer to the brand. This is known as an affinity group and it involves spending time, attention and money on existing owners. Every Harley buyer gets a free one-year membership and there are trips, parties, and special merchandise. The emotion of brotherhood, fraternity, machismo has lead to an enviable cult following worldwide. It’s all about asking the customers what they would like to have and then delivering the goods as per their personal liking. That’s customization.

Delivering Excellence

It is the obsession to deliver that which no one else can. The obsession to surpass all customer expectations and to delight and surprise the customer. The obsession to deliver excellence in a non compromising way is what drives the success of any product or company. It is this obsession to be above mediocrity and to give the customer a superior experience of using your product or dealing with you that creates an iconic success story. Apple through the vision of Steve jobs got all the above right and more. 

Most of Apple’s products have been recreations of existing products. Apple did not invent the MP3 player; Apple reinvented it and made it better. Apple did not invent the smart phone; Apple reinvented it and made it better. And Apple did not invent the tablet; Apple reinvented it and made it better. It is evident that Apple stays at least two years ahead of its competitors. While those competing with Apple are just getting products to market that are competitive, Apple is already working on the products at least two years ahead. Apple’s customer service and stores represent the gold standard for selling and supporting tech gadgets. Its all about delivering excellence.

To conclude as Howard Schultz of Starbucks puts it “What you do is different than what you’re passionate about. Your product is not your story. Your story is how the product improves the lives of your employees and your customers.”  
So my question to you is what business are you really in?


Monday, January 20, 2014

The day I ran!!

The day I ran!  - Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon 2014

- Mohnish Nair

Oh what an exhilarating experience it was!!!

Bands electrifying the atmosphere with war-cry music, a sea of people dressed in different hues of determination, Loudspeakers filling the air with upbeat bollywood numbers, people wearing jerseys and banners from different organizations - profit and non-profit, Bollywood stars like John abraham, Juhi chawla waving at the super charged crowd, the who's who of politics encouraging their junta, the Nip in the Mumbai morning air, well built men and women getting ready to race and then of course there was me. An over sized 30 year old soaking in the atmosphere and overwhelmed about the fact that I am finally going to participate today in the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon 2014.

Ever since I remember from my childhood days, I have always been extremely bad at sports especially running. I would trip and fall on my face every time I tried to run. I would be laughed at and teased by my school mates and that left a huge dent on my confidence. I always had an excuse saying I have flat feet, hence I cant run. And every time I saw someone running or winning a race I would feel inadequate. I spent my whole childhood feeling weak about my running abilities. And then years passed by and as it happens to every middle class Indian, I got busy earning a bread. The Mumbai Marathon, I suppose, started in the year 2004 and there was a huge excitement about it all over the Media. I wanted to be part of it. I was 21 at that time. Somehow I never gathered the courage to participate as I feared of making a fool of myself publicly. But this time I wanted to experience what it feels to get out of ones comfort zone, I enrolled myself in august of 2013 and then ensured that I would at least walk if not run on the D-day. I just wanted to test what I am really made up of. I practiced walking fast twice a week, took up cycling to strengthen my weak calves, and slowly but steadily built courage over a period of 2 months to publicly test my abilities. 

On 19th of Jan 2014, the year of BHAAG MILKHA BHAAG, It was time to put myself to test and what a liberating feeling that was. I participated in the 6 Km dream run. Initially as the race began, it was almost a slow motion walkathon because of the huge crowd. It was amazing to see so many mumbaikars ready to run on a lazy sunday morning. That sight was really inspiring. I walked for about a km and then slowly as I progressed, the crowd seemed to get lesser and the roads were inviting me with open arms to try out what I always dreaded. What a feeling it was to run on the celebrated Marine Drive. It was simply spellbinding. I started to jog and slowly gained pace. I would reduce and increase my speed every 50 mtrs and before I could realize I was flying past the 2 km mark. In between I was also walking to lower my exhaustion. And honestly speaking I remember nothing after that about the race. Before I knew what happened I was at the 5 km mark and completely drained out. Many fellow runners took a break on the promenade to soak in the sea breeze and that was a tempting offer. I was exhausted, my legs had gone sore and I felt I couldn't do more. I wanted to quit. And then I saw this gentleman wearing a prosthetic leg moving ahead of me. That moment is unforgettable and I think something changed in me permanently after that visual. I decided to continue. I said to myself, "If he can then why cant I?" and so I gave myself a huge motivational talk in my head of how important it is for me to complete this race. Sissy thoughts like "Participation is more important than completion" were thrown out of the window and I started visualizing myself crossing the finish line. And guess what? In about 6-7 mins, I was zooming past the finish line. They say you should never give up because you never know how close you could be to your goal. I completed the 6 km marathon in flat 45 mins. Nothing great to brag about, right? No sir, because in my mind, with all the complexes I had built about running, this was a BIG DEAL FOR ME! I was feeling like Usain bolt. It was an emotional moment for me and it was surreal. I can’t forget this day and I now know for a fact that I CAN RUN!!Next stop 21km – half marathon 2015!