Saturday, August 04, 2012


E-commerce, QSR's, Islamic Branding and Boards

The e-commerce Gold Rush

By Harish Bijoor

Q: How do you explain the spree of Private Equity funding in e-commerce start-ups? Is this another bubble waiting to burst?
-KP Sundar Moorthi, Hyderabad

A: Sundar, I really hope this is not another bubble. We have had too many going bust in our faces in the past. We don’t want another.

I do believe there is going to be a fund-Darwinism at play. Only the fittest will survive. Yes, in the bargain categories will look like the dotcom bubble categories did, but that is the reality of transition in any space that is funded by PE funds. To overcome all this, PE funds need to believe in research at the consumer end before making key investment decisions. Gone are the days of gut-feel decisions in this space. Stop feeling up your stomach and gut and making key investment decisions.

I see this new trend of consumer research taking off. Let me give you a statistic. Between 2002 and 2009 my company got an average of 6 requests for consumer end probes and research, every year from PE funds wanting to invest. In 2010 we had a total of 17, in 2011 the number grew to 21 and in 2012 as of the first quarter itself, we are on active work on 9 PE investments wanting to probe the consumer gut before making an investment decision! This means PE funds are getting more and more rational in their investment decisions. Rational at the consumer end of affairs. They look today at more than exciting elevator pitches and gushy PowerPoint presentations of idea-evangelists.

Q: Quick-serve restaurants (QSR) like mine are on a constant struggle mode for consumer traffic. What’s the best thing to do there?

-Sonal P Singh, New Delhi

A: Sonal, It’s all in the menu. Remember, a QSR is all about food first. Don’t get carried away with your International brand name, your service, your ambiance, your advertising and all that jazz.

India is tougher still. India is a young market, and young markets are change oriented. There is a higher degree of flavor and offering-fatigue in younger markets. QSR’s in India cannot be standard-menu oriented anymore. This causes for consumer boredom. The strategy of a constant menu churn is one that is relevant for a market like India. QSR's need to think different when it comes to standard and standardized International menus. Change can be in the form of taste, packaging, shape of product and more. Menu-change works wonders, adds zing to the offerings, creates a talking point, and most importantly stops making your QSR look like a ration-shop QSR.

Q: What is this ‘Kolaveri’ about Islamic Branding today? Must my company embrace it as well? I am in FMCG exports.
-Rohit P Ganavelu, Mumbai

A: Rohit, marketers are today looking at newer and newer ways of reaching out to their existing and potential brand user groups. Marketers are seeking high-end goals in markets where the lowest common denominator appeals have dried out or are showing signs of drying up. Such high-end goals are typically being sought more in hyper developed and developed markets, rather than in emerging markets.

Marketers today want to appeal to issues such as green and inclusive in a big way. The idea is to embrace every cause that is relevant to the well being of the consumer at large. Marketers therefore want to be inclusive in every manner. Economic inclusiveness movements are typically followed by socially inclusive movements and these are then followed by religiously inclusive movements. Islamic branding is a part of this effort.

Islamic branding is really not only about the Halal branding movement. There is much more to it than food. Islam in many ways is a way of life. To that extent, Islamic branding is all about using brands as good deeds. What starts with Halal foods, can move on to Halal practice in every industry, be it the pharmaceutical or the entertainment or the cosmetic industry even.

And there's lots more to Islamic branding than food alone. Islamic branding can embrace broader pastures that cover business practice even. Islamic business models are in place that look at how a business has been funded. Islamic banking is a very old practice even, and it's tenets find acceptance in good Islamic business models.

In short, Islamic branding is an idea whose time has come. Hyper developed and developed markets will embrace it in their business models and marketing plans. Over a period of time, expect a unique Islamic branding mark to emerge as well, a mark that will tell you the entire story of the brand, it's generics, it's contents, it's business practice and more. Islamic branding is therefore more in the DNA of a brand, rather than only in Halal certification marks. It’s a good practice. Embrace it.

Q: How does being on the Board of Directors of a company help an individual? Is it a career-enhancing move?
-Shilpi Dutta, Kolkata

A: Shilpi, I have personally not found being on the various Boards that I sit on, as a career-enhancing move at all. It does not add to my career, but it does add to my personal exposure for sure.

I am dealing with issues at the apex point of different organizations. One day I could be dealing with an issue in core technology and on another I could be dealing with Media and entertainment or on the core issues facing a durables company. This exposure is value-add.

Further, on most boards that you sit upon, there is a deep level of experience and exposure you sit around with, with some 9 plus directors sitting around with perspectives that can be mind-opening in many ways. This is learning and exposure. Very valuable on the whole.

Harish Bijoor is a business strategy specialist and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.

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