Category Archives: Culture

Facebook and pedigree

The Nielsen Company has published this report (via Plugged.in) on the usage patterns of online social networking trends in India. Excerpts:

The Nielsen Company recently conducted a survey in India using its online research panel “Your Voice” on the usage patterns of Social Networking websites and found keeping in touch with people they know to be the strongest reason for joining a social networking site for the vast majority of Indian respondents (82%). The Nielsen survey also found over half (58%) joined a social networking site to reconnect with old acquaintances they have lost touch with, and to make new friends (53%). Professional networking was a strong fourth for 43%.

And…

Security reasons were cited by 68 percent of the respondents for using alternate identities on sites. They prefer not to reveal their personal details. 35 percent chose to use an alternate identity “Just for fun”.

What (especially) didn’t work for me about this study…

The survey was conducted amongst 301 people across various age groups starting from 15 years onwards.

When one is drawing usage patterns in online social networking in India, would a sample size of 301 suffice? Sounds rather strange.

Anyways, here’s another interesting observation (about the competition in the social networking space in India) from a cover story about Facebook (registered users only) in India’s leading weekly magazine, Outlook:

Facebook, on the other hand, has a whiff of pedigree, privilege and exclusivity about it, since it was founded by Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg and was originally restricted to students of Harvard and other Ivy League colleges; an impression strongly reinforced when a study last year concluded that Facebook users tended to be better-educated and wealthier than those on other networking sites. That Facebook comprises a well-heeled crowd that freely shares its consumer tastes means that even if its numbers don’t quite match Orkut’s, it’s by far the most sought-after hunting ground for market researchers and targeted advertising.

Experientially, I’d agree with this strong generalization (about “whiff of pedigree, privilege and exclusivity”). But, I wonder if the origins of Facebook really have much to do with the kind of people who populate the site? I can understand that being an influencer in the US, where it all started, but would that trend spread to far flung countries like India as well?

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India, viewed through an American lens

Nothing new (reinforcing several stereotypes, in fact), but nevertheless, still interesting to look at your own country through a different lens. Not able to find a way to give a direct link to specific posts, so here goes a collection of several posts from Jojo’s blog:

PDAs : a big cultural difference

I’ve been waiting to get the right picture to make this post since I first observed it. However, stopping to take pictures of men as they pass me seems to garner some unwanted attention! So this pic will have to do.

In the US when we think of Public Displays of Affection some of us think of slobbering teenagers (or perhaps a certain female friend who shall go unnamed!) making out in public places (bars). It’s quite the opposite here. Couples, even married couples, never touch in public. I have yet to see as much as a hand-holding.

From Wikipedia:
In India, the Supreme Court of India – the seat of the highest authority of the law of the land – has described PDA to be in bad taste and an unacceptable act, which may be considered an act of public nuisance, and sometimes leading to conviction and/or fine from the involved parties.

On the other hand, where in the US some guy friends will actually sit with a seat in between them at a movie, men in India are very affectionate with their friends.
I was at first taken aback by the sight of two men walking holding hands, fingers actually intertwined as well as men with their arms around each other. Our connotations of these behaviors is quite different. In India, homosexuality is still quite taboo, and these are purely gestures of friendship.

Just another cultural difference observation from me to you!

Here’s a hilarious picture illustrating the dangers of bad punctuation (again, courtesy Jojo’s blog):

Anu’s-bakery

If you’re not satiated yet, here’s the whole story

Why does Delhi have such wide roads?

Ok. This may be a case of too much “analysis-paralysis”, but let me risk it anyways…

On the scarcity & abundance insight at the TiE event that I posted about last…and this is assuming this theory were true (that Indians have traditionally been oriented towards scarcity more than abundance):

Further clarifying that theme, what is also widely accepted in India is the general “North Indian” and “South Indian” cultural divide (over the recent years, these have been redefined as the West-of-Kanpur and East-of-Kanpur divide).

While there are several generalizations & pre-conceived notions about these two categories, what I’m referring to specifically is the perception of North Indians (those from Delhi, even more so)  being “born-for-business”, people who show-off their wealth, “Live Life King Size” attitude. In other words — an orientation towards Abundance.

Whereas, most South Indians (like me) have been brought up & constantly reminded about how we aren’t “cut for business”…we are the “salaried class”. A majority of our earnings MUST go into savings (to be used only at the time of retirement). Not to show-off one’s wealth. If you got a good job, don’t tell your neighbours until you actually complete your first full week at the new job! And so on. In other words — an orientation towards Scarcity.

So, is it a coincidence that Delhi has the widest of roads and cities like Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai are suffering with narrow roads that are getting narrower, by the day? Also, is it a coincidence that Delhi/Gurgaon seem to have the biggest (really BIG) malls in the country?

I know…this sounds crazy & outlandish at one level. It’s even hard to clearly articulate the innumerable cultural layers that are hidden in the above topic. Nevertheless, it’s just a theory. Who knows…it may actually be true?! 🙂

Event report (Understanding the Logic of Consumer India)

Here’s my post-event summarization & ramblings on last week’s TiE event, Understanding the Logic of Consumer India:

But, before that, a random observation during tea-break: Majority of the glasses that were used for drinking water, had around 20% of drinking water remaining in each of the glasses (sorry, wasn’t carrying my camera with me that day)! On the sustainability side, that’s around 20% of the drinking water that the five-star hotel buys going to a waste. And on the business side, the hotel is spending 20% more than they should be!

Anyways, onto the event notes:

  • Thankfully it wasn’t a powerpoint-presentation oriented event. It was an informal, open discussion facilitated by Vinita Bali. The topics that were discussed ranged from…predictable questions like, why she wrote the book, “We’re like that only!”…to interesting debates around…do businesses (especially entrepreneurs, given the fact it was a TiE event) really need to understand what their consumers’ needs are before going-to-market (this question did become a strong point of discussion among several in the audience)…to how do you know whether “that” is really the consumer’s need…to how one should spend time observing consumers at the point-of-sale/usage…to whether Reliance has got their retail business model correct or not (?), etc.
  • Scarcity & Abundance: I forget whether it was Vinita or Rama who made a very subtle, yet powerful & interesting point about how Indians are fundamentally oriented towards (or come from) scarcity rather than abundance. The context to this discussion was around the need for competition in the market, without which a business can pretty much do whatever it wishes (without taking into account consumers’ needs) and many times, get away with it.
    Vinita/Rama made the point that Indians have traditionally been shy of competition because there is a tendency to believe that, if there is competition, then one’s share of the pie is at stake. And that comes from the cultural background where Indians are so oriented towards scarcity rather than abundance…meaning, there’s this nagging worry/feeling that…what’s there, isn’t enough for everyone.
  • Do businesses really need to understand consumer’s needs: A question was put forth about why businesses don’t want to, don’t like to spend too much time/effort/money on understanding the consumer’s needs. Several people had varied (also, weird) responses to that.
    My take (or hypothesis):

    1. Most of the folks who run businesses are usually the left-brain-thinking, logic-oriented folks. That doesn’t mean they don’t use their right-side at all…it’s probably relatively underutilized when it comes to making business decisions.
      And, why that’s significant is…understanding & decoding consumer’s needs, I think, requires a considerable amount of right-brain-thinking (in addition to the left-brain as well)….which they would much rather not deal with, because it seems to be so “hard to get”.
      And that’s probably why the general attitude towards end-user research has been of “Let’s-do-it-when-we-have-the-time-and-money”. Thankfully, not all clients think that way and people like me do end up putting our right-brain-thinking to good use.
    2. The other side of the coin: Researchers haven’t done a good (enough) job of translating research findings into tangible/measurable business recommendations or solutions. World-over, there seems to be (in my experience) an innate skepticism that research just ends up in a report that one files away, hardly ever to use one’s business decisions. So, researchers need to start talking business and the language of business to be able to really deliver the value that research often promises.
  • While making a point during the discussion, one of the women in the audience talked about a conversation she once had with the store manager of one of the large (departmental/lifestyle) stores in Bangalore. The store manager said that only 40% of the store was allocated to women’s products and almost 60% was for men! The logic being that, women don’t actually buy as much as they spend so much time at the store!!!
  • On a related note…and this I don’t recall so clearly…there was also a point about how some (traditional) business practices & approaches are so different in different parts of the world. In India, the conventional approach to pricing coffee would be to charge more for coffee with sugar (‘coz you’re having to spend on more sugar). But in the west, the practice is to charge more for diet drinks!
  • Unlike most other TiE events (in Bangalore) that I’ve attended, this seemed to have the least participation from the techie crowd. There seemed to be several CEOs and heads of small-medium-enterprises in the crowd. Does it indicate the lack of interest among the techies about creating user-centered products & services? I guess that’s too harsh a conclusion to draw, but this phenomena didn’t seem like something to not make note of.
  • The discussion (especially between the audience and the panelists) kept going back to the unresolved issue about connectivity to the new Bangalore airport that’s coming up in March 2008. One had to be there to experience the irritation, anger, frustration and complete resignation about the state of (infrastructure) affairs, surrounding the connectivity to the new airport.
    Of course, Rama did touch upon the fact that there are people who actually get to benefit from such poor connectivity or infrastructure, the cellphone companies to start with. If you aren’t getting to the airport on time or are even avoiding the travel, chances are you’re using the good ol’ phone to communicate with your business associates or your near & dear ones! Interesting.

Linked to Bill and the billion-dollar question

Here I am, checking out LinkedIn’s new & improved website and right on top of the homepage, there’s a huge, cannot-miss-blurb (ad?) calling your attention:

Bill Gates asks: How can we do more to encourage young people to pursue careers in science and technology?

Obviously, I click on it. I find myself checking out the beginning of a long list of responses (1674 answers). Bill’s LinkedIn profile page isn’t too far away either! Here’s what I loved about his profile page (apart from the fact that I’m a “3rd degree contact” to Bill):

Contact Settings
Bill Gates is not currently open to receiving Introductions or InMail

Anyways, amusing-stuff-to-trip-upon apart, I’m happy to see somebody like him is now just a proverbial click-away!

And, here was my answer to his question, for whatever it’s worth. (Since I do have a hammer in my hand, everything does look like a nail):

First, use ethnographic research to understand the core issue…about why young people aren’t pursuing careers in science and technology.

We need to understand what factors motivate them to turn away or to look at other careers and what factors influence today’s youth in their career choices.

The solution to the above question will be easier to find once these motivators & influencers have been identified & clearly articulated.

So, do I now get the billion dollars? 😉

Reading between the lanes…

Found this awesome advertising campaign on TheCityFix. Ads (including the below pictures) originally posted here.

Billboard-zoomed-out

Billboard-zoomed-in

With traffic jams becoming a harsh reality (nightmare?) of urban life, it would be interesting to explore what services could be offered to (at the very least) minimize the poor user experience for the commuters who’re stuck in never-ending traffic jams?

I’ve personally experienced that listening to the Radio/Music or catching up with friends/colleagues on the phone (while you’re stuck in a jam) are couple of ways of minimizing the stress. What keeps you going?

Buy online to avoid embarassment

Heard about this online startup based out of India (from Plugged.in), ShopImagine. Their claim to fame — “India’s largest luxury lingerie selection”.

Their About Us page says –

“Of all of the complaints that men and women have about buying lingerie, the embarrassment of having to go into a store and buy sexy undergarments that would otherwise be kept private is the number one complaint. At shopimagine.in you can buy babydolls, teddies, camisoles, corsets, bustiers, clubwear, sexy bras and panties in the comfort of your own home at any time of day or night.”

I can understand men having to deal with this embarrassment, but it is rather surprising that women (apparently) feel the same way.

Also, the models used seemed to be all non-Indians and I’m now really curious:

  1. Was this intentional? Or was it more of convenience, as in, using the catalogs of the companies that these guys source from rather than having to organize an exclusive photo-shoot in India with local models?
  2. Does it make a difference to the target audience (both men and women)? Does it influence their purchasing behaviour at all (either ways)?
  3. And, is there an “aspirational” aspect to this at all (like the “Fair & Lovely” phenomena)?

Thoughts?