Mass Customization the only way to sell to your customer


Henry Ford introduced the concept of “mass production” by introducing the first moving assembly to produce cars. Customers settled for black, despite wanting other colors in the cars manufactured, because this car fell into a category that made it affordable. But with the years gone by, things have changed and now customers are looking at customers to tailor to their needs or even anticipate what the need might be.

Mass customization is a production process or a method of delivery where elements of mass production/delivery are married to elements of bespoke tailoring. Here the products/services are adapted to a specific customer’s need and is unique (i.e. no two offerings or products are the same).

In-line with what customer’s individual need maybe, there was one company that was able to anticipate this and built its entire business model around this concept of “mass customization”. This game changer company is none other than Dell. With the advent of the internet, it changed the way people were looking to shop tailored to their individual need and also their need for multiple options that they could choose from without being too overwhelmed over the choices. Dell analysed this need and built a model around this. A customer to get to the dell site and more or less to assemble their own PCs online. Most manufacturing companies operate on a tight line where they will need to invest in inventory and pay the suppliers beforehand to procure the raw material. But dell worked a completely different model. The customer would pay for the pc they were looking to buy and then dell would contact the suppliers and there was no inventory cost, as it would assembled based on the customer’s request, unlike the way IBM and HP operated those days.

So how are the other companies adopting this model? A smartphone is a classic example. The smartphone from any of the device manufactures can be all similar, but every individual customizes it to suit his/her need by adding applications or features in-line with his/her needs. That is why it causes so much inconvenience when a mobile device is lost or stolen.

Another noteworthy example is the car companies that are looking at building cars from scratch. Ford likewise allows its customers to build a car from a set of online options. Another company called Tesla, where one need to be near a store to order a Tesla – just use the online order form to reserve a Model S or start the Roadster purchasing process.

Amazon has been making great strides in this area, where your welcome screen and options suggested is based on your purchase history or your profile. I am sure in a couple of years, on Amazon – if the one you are buying a gift for this person and he/she has an amazon account can tell you what they have been browsing and what you gift them with.

Joseph Pine, and expert in mass customization who has been studying this space for many years, Joseph Pine pushed the idea a step further [1]. In “The Experience Economy: Work is Theatre and Every Business a Stage”, has proposed that we are on the threshold of what he called “the experience economy”, a new economic era in which businesses will have to orchestrate memorable events for their customers. It will not be enough merely to flog products and services, no matter how individualised they are. Examples of early movers into the experience economy include Starbucks coffee shops. The nature of the overall Starbucks experience allows the chain to charge a premium price for its products.

So what does all this mean to an IT services company? It can have multiple horizontal services with a vertical wrapper, but it needs to ensure that every experience that the customer experiences is unique and its tailored to its specific business need, but at the same time it needs to be efficient and not be a drain on its bottom line.

How can it take the experiences of other companies who seem to be successfully executing this concept? We could this in multiple ways,

  • Have ready industry IT frameworks which are customizable thereby reducing lead times for service implementation
  • Provide the customer a mix and match of services across multiple sites
  • Create special service bundles with little or no additional effort
  • Analyze meta- data that is available at every stage, to better the service offered to the customer

What do you think will work for you as a customer?

[1] Source article: Mass customization (economist)

Image Source: Google Images

Create Persuasive Content by Applying 80/20 Rule


The present understanding of the 80/20 rule is greatly derived from The Pareto Principle. It is named after Vilfredo Pareto who, in 1906, observed that 80% of the land was owned by 20% of the population. It was further beefed with the research from Dr. Joseph Juran, who in the 1940s applied it to industrial quality control. After that, it’s constantly customised and applied to all industries and across all functions.

The purpose of this blog is to explain how we can effectively apply the 80/20 rule to content marketing.

I will use an example to explain the rule better.

Arun is a new employee at Company ABC who has joined the marketing team. He is new to the company and tries making friends with his colleagues, but is unsuccessful. Why? Arun only talked about himself. He told the fellow colleagues what a nice house he had; his hobbies and what he liked to do outside office hours; his adventures; about how he was one of the upcoming stars steadily climbing the corporate ladder at his previous workplace. All the talk was only about Arun. And the fellow colleagues didn’t just ignore him, but went out of their way to avoid him.

This gives us an excellent example isn’t it. We marketers are constantly only talking about ourselves, and the more we talk about ourselves, the more the customers ignore us. Despite knowing this, most companies still have their messaging inside out – where we are telling the customer what we do and not what the customer wants to hear to solve his problem. This will only increase the noise that the customer is exposed to, leading them to phase the company out from their focus zone.

If we were to apply the 80/20 rule to content to transform the tone and the way we message – then 80% of the content we create should be aligned to the customer (pain points, drivers, benefits, etc). In the age of relationship marketing all the artifacts we create – be it RFI/RFP responses, FAQs, ebooks, newsletter campaigns, microsites, blogs, thought leadership content are all tailored to customer’s challenges or drivers.

20% of the content needs to be what we can offer to the customer to alleviate the pain or help them meet the benefit and why they need to partner with the company. This is where we beat our drums like Arun.

But what literally happens in many instances, is that marketing team applies what the company can do best to the 80% of the content. This then gets all the ‘good work’ undone.

To create persuasive premium content, I have listed what has worked for me as guidelines in the past:

  • Marketing alone cannot create premium content
  • Premium content needs to only address the industry or customer problems/drivers/trends
  • Premium content is not a sales pitch
  • Customers cannot be peddling the company’s offering – this leads to the company losing credibility
    • For example – for a successful blog if one tries to oversell their offering, then the readers will get turned off and you will lose the target audience
  • Tie in all your premium content to follow a calendar that’s in-line with the editorial calendar of tier 1 or leading publications in your focus area. This will help in marketing the premium content.
  • Design a campaign around the premium content to help generate leads or help with positioning in the marketplace

So now its upto you to decide – are you going to sell through your content or turn into an Arun and your customers avoid you?

Picture source: Google Images

20 Epic Examples of Content Marketing

ImageI have been late in writing my blog and re-visiting it after nearly a month and actually realized I missed writing. I have a routine of visiting a few sites every day in the morning to read key news reflected on the site and see how it applies back into my day job. One such site is

In a recent article on called “20 most “epic” examples of content marketing” – there were three key elements that were discussed. They are:

  1. All content that is being created needs to stay true to the brand and what it stands for
  2. Content marketing is not about hard sell
  3. The winning combination for compelling content is original and curated content used to position the offering

These above three elements hold true and are sacrosanct for any marketer looking to taking their product/services to market.

  1. Being true to your brand: Website WhatIs has a great definition for content marketing:  “Content marketing is the publication of material designed to promote a brand, usually through a more oblique and subtle approach than that of traditional push advertising. The essence of good content marketing is that it offers something the viewer wants, such as information or entertainment. Content marketing can take a lot of different forms, including YouTube videos, blog posts and articles. It shouldn’t really seem like marketing — in some cases, in fact, it should only be identifiable as marketing because the advertiser is identified as the content provider.” Hence content marketing is seen as a medium where one can publish any material pertaining to the brand and usually follows a subtle approach when compared to traditional marketing channels. All great/iconic brands always have all their content reflecting the brand’s core values and essence. This is what differentiates it from a great brand to mediocre brand. One such brand is apple. Where all products, messaging and content developed reflect the apple brand values – of creating cutting edge technology devices which are easy to use that keeps them ahead of its competitors. Its brand value has actually increased year-over-year and that it remains the best in the world.
  2. Content marketing is not about hard sell: One should not forget that the target audience is exposed to sophisticated marketing. He/she does not need a “buy-me” board thrust at them when they read copy or content. All brands must strive to build a “thought leader” image in their mind when looking at the players in that marketplace. For example: when we talk about how to make cities smarter and integrate with technology to help the growing needs, there is just one brand that comes to your mind – IBM. All other large service providers are offering the same services; infact IBM did not even have first-mover advantage in the marketplace. But with consistent content where they are positioned as a thought leader and visionary, they are able to register this positioning in the minds of the target audience
  3. Winning formula for compelling content: Curation is collecting and ordering of things to create a particular experience. Social networking sites such as Reddit and Pinterest enable individuals to collect pieces of content across the globe and create a community who either share the same interests or are seeking knowledge on a particular issue in one place. According to – 2 million new articles published to the web each day, the options can be paralysing for consumers. By curating content from different sources and bringing them together under a branded umbrella, brands can distill the proverbial ‘wheat from the chaff’, so that consumers don’t have to. Content curation also enables brands to create an environment that people continually return to as a knowledge resource on a particular topic or issue. In doing so, brands set themselves up as an authority. For example, iQ — a technology-focussed magazine created by IT company Intel, features a mix of original reporting by Intel employees alongside curated content from the likes of Mashable. By adopting this content blend of differing voices of employees and non-employees, Intel can foster and maintain its image as a top technology provider, without seeming contrived or biased.

So, in order to position ourselves as the trusted thought leaders in the target audience group, companies need to act like media companies and curate the best content on the subject, keep true to brand and don’t over-sell. BUT, the core of all of this must be original and compelling content.

Source: quotes and stats from, and google image

How can content be a pull factor?


Today the trick to sell anything by cutting through the noise is using compelling content.  – it’s about creating compelling and useful content to create impactful marketing.

Findings from a recent Business Wire CMO survey – had over 65% of CMOs going the social media route to reach out to their customers as it’s easy to get economic buy-in this current economic climate and the multi-generation households.  New media/social media channels are becoming critical. But having a great social media or an online marketing plan does not guarantee you success of reaching out to your identified audience. What is that one thing that helps you pull your audience – content marketing.

Content marketing is an art of understanding the wants and need and listening to your customer and delivering the content in a compelling fashion. The engagement invariably leads to driving profitable actions.

The effects of good content marketing is many, I have listed a few that has worked for me in the past:

  • Create traffic – thousands of links from many websites being linked to your premium or tailored collateral
  • Build credibility as an expert and improves the page rank in search engines
  • Used as conversation starter or a tool for lead generation

Since content is critical and is the only marketing left, why is it marketers are not able to find the magic bullet that ensures that every piece of collateral they create hits the target?

From my years of experience, and exposure to creating different types of collateral, I am listing down some key elements to consider when creating and sharing collateral:

  • Understand your target audience – No one wants generic information. If you are writing to a specific audience, research for specifics – geographical trends, industry, problems/issues they currently face, implications of the trends, peers – what are they buying. Work with your sales and front line marketing teams to flesh this out better. This helps tailor the collateral in-line with the current problems faced and will elicit the response from the target base that one wants to acquire or farm
  • How are you going to solve the problem – Do not take an inside out approach to force fit your solution to the customer’s perceived problem. Look at the exact need and work towards mapping the actual problem to some of the accrued benefits that you can offer if they buy your solution. Its adding a customer-wrapper to your existing solutions to make it look tailored to their unique problem
  • Go to market with the collateral – Once the content is created, use a robust go to market plan to amplify the content to your target audience using online and social media channels. Define the right metric to measure the effectiveness of collateral

If used right, content marketing can be great tool for thought leadership, education and customer relations.

Some very interesting examples on how other companies have used content marketing –

Image courtesy: Google

Problems loom large for the enterprise software players?

In early April this year, IBM announced its results; by far this has been the most disappointing results in the last 8 years – a $19 billion loss in market value.  It’s not just IBM struggling, we see HP, Oracle all experiencing similar symptoms.

Do only sales teams have to take the blame for the bad results? This seems like there is more than which meets the eye.

All large system integrators, hardware and enterprise software players – like IBM, HP and the likes – continue to live in the legacy business world. Here a large percentage of their business still depends on the legacy businesses they support and manage. They are also experiencing a new trend where they are seeing the IT decision making is moving away from the CIOs office to the business units. Large enterprise players have nurtured relationships with the CIO’s office over many years and have been able to effectively cross-sell and up-sell their new and related offering. But with the IT purchasing changing pattern where Unit leaders get to choose whom they want to partner with – these players are not restricted to partner only these larger players.

Emergence of open source, cloud and new business models prompts business units to deploy technology outside of the traditional IT purchasing process. New-age companies like Salesforce, Workday, Box, etc have emerged to serve the needs of empowered digital leaders.  These players promise and deliver you agility and innovation that comes from using open source and the cloud.

What does this mean for the enterprise players – the legacy heavy reliant players now have a new breed of players who are also playing their space. Many players like IBM have been making steady acquisitions in the cloud business – but this also has a rippling effect on the rest of their business – it is eating into their legacy business.

According to a recent blog that I read on HBR has explained this model using Walmart, as an example. After suffering several years of Amazon’s online hegemony, Walmart responded with a hybrid approach. Merchandise ordered online can now be drop-shipped for same-day pickup at local stores. This and other creative solutions have driven over $9 billion of online sales to Walmart. (It’s no surprise that Amazon — which has no physical stores — has mirrored the move from the other direction, installing lockers in neighborhood stores to allow for direct pickup.)

It will be interesting to see the new strategies and business models the enterprise players will adopt to combat this trend. How will they blend their legacy business with a new business model that is rising to threaten it?

Social Networking – Key enabler for higher employee collaboration and new distribution channels

Social Media, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud Computing – called SMAC seem to be emerging as the hot favourites for enterprises to transform into the enterprises of the future. Analysts and all predictions are urging enterprises not to look at each of them in isolation, but look at how a strategy which harnesses the power of all 4 simultaneously has the ability to transform an enterprise truly to distinguish itself from competition.

I am writing a series on the individual components of the SMAC stack and its effect on enterprises. The first one is on the effect on social networking and its effect on enhancing employee collaboration within an enterprise and also how it helps develop an alternate distribution channel to reach its customers.

According to an analysis of 4,200 companies by the McKinsey Global Institute, social technologies stand to unlock between $900 billion and $1.3 trillion of value by 2016. Social media can deliver a surprising boost to productivity, customer development, collaboration with partners, product design, branding and reputation-management across global organizations.

Workplace productivity is the key to success in any enterprise and ensures that all deliverables are completely on time. Employers must start to look at social media sites as a success tool for their business. The uses of social media platforms have the potential to increase productivity and the way employees perform their daily tasks at work.

I know many enterprises keep wondering the ROI from implementing a social collaboration tool. What are the benefits? But from research conducted by leading research agencies have established that companies who have implemented  internal social networks provide multiple benefits, including giving employees a stronger voice, helping them pool and share information, and strengthening company culture. It is easier for employees to collaborate as one can post questions or comments, share information and collaborate from around the world in real time. Hence helps with knowledge sharing and also ensures that the interactions are searchable, so one can pull up past discussions, data and more.  This frees up your employees to do actually what you have hired them to do.

A classic example – In a pharma company the biggest challenge is the shrinking drug pipeline and the block buster drugs are also going off the patent block. How can you get your R&D pipeline spread across the world (thanks to acquisitions and globalization) to be productive and collaborating real-time? How can you empower this team with the right tools? There comes the need for social collaboration tools which encourages knowledge sharing and connecting people in real-time.  This helps create an ecosystem of people and information to reduce cost structures and speed time to market with respect to drug discovery.

The other interesting trend we get to see is that – with multi-generation households, enterprises have realised that social media is a channel cannot be ignored. Over 50% of the world’s population is under 30 years old – 96% of millennials have joined a social network. This is generation that would like to confer, read reviews and then make their purchases. Hence companies are increasing adopting social media as a channel. Social media helps launch additional product offerings; upsell and cross sell into existing customers, provide proactive customer service, receive real-time product feedback, and also get differentiation through multiple channel offering. A good social media strategy helps enterprises understand what their customer is thinking, and use that knowledge to improve their business, their people and their process.

Hence for an enterprise, the bigger its social media presence, the more it allows one to tap into selling and collaboration opportunities across multiple platforms to augment a client’s message. Facebook allows businesses to learn about their target audiences and understand their interests and friends. Businesses can also enlist their Facebook community to help crowd-source a new product or idea. The strength of an enterprise doing what its best at combined with a strong social networking platform is a very powerful combination.

Well a classic example of how to connect with customers and help create a brand that resonates with all your target audience. A bank with no physical branches, ING DIRECT has always been an innovative player within the financial services industry. Canada’s leading direct bank since 1997, ING DIRECT recently averted a potential PR crisis by harnessing the full potential of social media. How?

On the afternoon of April 2, 2013, the company’s social media team received a Tweet from a Twitter user alerting them that somebody was sending out text messages in a phishing scam targeting ING customers. “ING Bank member alert!” the fake text shouted urgently, guiding recipients to call a provided phone number to “remove restrictions” placed on their credit cards—by disclosing highly confidential banking and personal information.

ING Text ScamING’s social media team and other departments worked together quickly. Internally, the news travelled through the company at lightening speed. The first public service announcement to warn clients was sent out from ING DIRECT’s social service Twitter account a few minutes after the initial alert, and within the hour a similar mass tweet was sent to all of its major social media channels. By using social media they were able to respond with the speed that we did or alert as broad of an audience as quickly as we did

Social Networking is here to stay and enterprises which will harness its power will be able to get that edge over competition. All Large enterprises like –  Unilever, Henkel, etc, large government agencies, pharma companies,  airports, banks have also embraced and reaping benefits of social media. Have you?

Source: ING direct story – more can found at –

Data Driven CMO

Gone are the days where a CMO is measured only on the leads filled into the sales pipeline. Today the changing demographics, rise in the channels used to communicate to the target audience increases the need for personalised marketing messages. This cannot be achieved by the traditional CMO, but it requires a cloned CMO is data driven.

The evolved CMO must decipher a method to value the assets created, find patterns among the noise and find a way in which the data can be put to use. It means understanding the attributes and needs of the customers, their drivers, pains, strategic initiatives and the benefits that the customer and gain from partnering with you. It also need to justify the need to partner – repeating the same task over and over again yet deliver the same or better results every time, while reducing costs.

This means that the CMOs role is no more in isolation, they need to collaborate with the CIO and CFO office to ensure that technology, tools and data derived across the organisation is centralised and metric driven. One example is creating a common CRM needs to be in place, to understand install base needs to be created to understand the share of wallet. From this – service/product adjacencies to be identified to help cross and upsell into the accounts needs to be identified.

Till now, we have seen a generation of CMOs who have been sell their ideas persuasively using their ability to tell powerful stories and compelling copy.  The shift to the data driven CMO is happening and it’s real. In the last few years, we are seeing that data has crawled from the trunk to the driver seat and playing a key in making the right decisions. Data adds science otherwise to the generic madness that surrounds marketing. Using data to drive decisions is the right thing to do.

Any organization to have successful marketing campaigns or programs needs creative and analytical people working together. It’s similar to a formula one car team – the driver and his technical director to design the race strategy and work together as a one unit to tweak the strategy to get the driver on the podium. The driver or the technical driver cannot achieve it on their own.

Data is not new. Data driven marketing is the new creative in town. Adopt and transform.

Who are you? Do you play to win or not to lose?

I recently heard a HBR podcast, where Heidi Grant Halvorson and E. Tory Higgins shared some insights from their latest book – “Focus: Use Different Ways of Seeing the World to Power Success and Influence”. The book focuses on how people approach life’s challenges and demands.

According to Heidi, there are 2 types of people. Type 1 being “Promotion-focused” people; they view their goal as a way of advancing forward and concentrate on the rewards they will get achieve their goals.  This set is easily recognizable – who are comfortable in taking risks, get work done quickly, who dream big and are able to ideate well. The downside of this set of people is – they are less through, don’t have a plan B and less accurate.

The Type 2 is “Prevention-focused” people; they play it safe and take the well tread path to reach their goals. They are risk averse, more through and accurate. They work slowly and meticulously (dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s), which makes them excellent problem solvers and have high analytical ability.

An organization cannot succeed if you have only one type of people/personalities. What it needs is a fair mix of boldness, speed, and outside-the-box thinking coupled with ability to handle complexity and always having a Plan B (and C and D) ready up your sleeve. Hence an organization will need promotion focussed people to help generate new ideas – which can be brilliant or bad, and it takes a prevention focussed people who can make the distinguish between the two. It will also need a harmonious working relationship between the two groups to ensure that both bring their combined strengths to advance. A classic example of this is – the apple early story. Steve Jobs was able to foresee apple’s technology potential, while it needed a Steve Wozniak to actually build it and make it work.

From their analysis you get to understand that, many people are led by their desire to do what they love as a career. By understanding the type of person you are – you can choose a career that fits with your motivation. Knowing what motivates, helps determine which jobs are best suited to help you advance and achieve your goals.

According to Heidi, studies show that prevention-focused individuals are likely to take up what organizational psychologists call “conventional and realistic” work, as administrators, bookkeepers, accountants, technicians, and manufacturing workers. These occupations require knowledge of rules and regulations, careful execution, and a propensity for thoroughness—they are jobs in which attention to detail is what really pays off.

The promotion-focused are likely to pursue “artistic and investigative” careers, as musicians, copywriters or opportunities in the tech sector or social media. These occupations require ability to identify opportunities in extremely fast paced industries using a creative focus that pays off the dividends.

So if you are starting a new venture or a new offering or service line, make sure that you’ve got a healthy balance of promotion and prevention thinking in the right places.