Monday, February 02, 2009

Gender bias at the top: Harvard Business Review on perception, reputation and reality

The debate on the existence of glass ceiling in the corporate world is endless despite the fact there are outstanding women business leaders.

Among them are the powerful women business leaders like PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi, Biocon’s Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, HSBC’s Naina Lal Kidwai, Kinetic’s Sulajja Firodia Motwani, Apollo’s Preetha Reddy and Central Vigilance Commissioner’s Ranjana Kumar (earlier with Indian Bank, Nabard). ICICI Group has three women CEOs: Chanda Kochhar (ICICI Bank), Shikha Sharma (ICICI Prudential Life Insurance) and Renuka Ramnath (ICICI Venture). In the non-corporate sphere, who can forget late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi? In present times, we have Chief Ministers Sheila Dixit (Delhi) and Mayawati (Uttar Pradesh).

However, there are still perception issues regarding women business leaders. Not only in India, but globally.

“Many believe that bias against women lingers in the business world, particularly when it comes to evaluating their leadership ability,” write Herminia Ibarra and Otilia Obodaru in Harvard Business Review. “Women are judged to be less visionary than men in 360-degree feedback. It may be a matter of perception, but it stops women from getting to the top… But was this weakness a perception or a reality? How much did it matter to women’s ability to lead? And how could someone not perceived as visionary acquire the right capabilities? As we explored these issues with successful female executives, we arrived at another question: Was a reputation for vision even something many of them wanted to achieve?”

Ibarra and Obodaru’s research comes up with several interesting findings. Their research involved 360-degree evaluations of 2,816 executives from 149 countries enrolled in executive education courses at Insead . Apart from self-assessments, these executives invited their subordinates, peers, supervisors and business associates to evaluate them on a set of leadership dimensions. In all, 22,244 observers participated.

The key findings are: “As a group, women outshone men in most of the leadership dimensions measured,” write Ibarra and Obodaru. “There was one exception, however, and it was a big one: Women scored lower on ‘envisioning’ -- the ability to recognize new opportunities and trends in the environment and develop a new strategic direction for an enterprise.”

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Mobile Internet boom: Not yet?

Robin Thomas reports in exchange4media:

Active mobile Internet users in the country number at 30 million, while nearly 100 million people have activated GPRS on their mobile phones.

“I don’t think it’s as niche as we believe it to be, because at mkhoj we are seeing a lot of traffic come through smaller towns,” says Naveen Tewari, CEO, mKhoj. “It will take another two years until it reaches a significant mass level. This is because the handset prices are certainly coming down. So also data charges are reducing all the time.”

“For Internet via mobile to have a deeper penetration in India what is required is a little bit of consumer education, on getting GPRS connection and access to relevant content,” says Pradeep Shrivastava, CMO, Idea. “For the urban users, there is a necessity of more aggressive promotion and a handset that is more GPRS friendly.”

“I don’t think there is a need to target the rural masses right now,” says Viren Popli, Senior VP, Mobile Entertainment, Star India. “I believe the first step really is to get our aids well and get the large cities sorted out. Second is to get into category A and B towns and cities. Mobile Internet is no longer niche, if the mobile Internet penetration is 10 per cent, you are talking of 35 million individuals. I believe as we go forward, what needs to be done for further growth is that the speed needs to be better, accessibility to the Internet needs to be better and most importantly services and content needs to be better.”

“Villages are perhaps the best bet for mobile Internet to breeze through,” says Saurabh Vartikar, Vice President – Mobile Marketing, Mauj Mobile. “In metros or even towns, we have multiple media that we can access, whether for information or entertainment. In rural India though, even a call on the mobile is an event. So, if there are regional portals and operators, people will learn about them and access them. We can then have a winner. Services like commodity prices, regional TV, etc. can fly.”

3G rollout

“With 3G, you are going to get a better GPRS speed on your mobile phone and the 3G users will get high speed, high bandwidth usage and so on, therefore, 3G rollout will definitely change a lot of things as and when it’s going to happen,” says Popli.

“Initially, 3G will be used more for network optimisation since there has been scarcity of spectrum for long,” says Vartikar. “Also, 3G handsets are still expensive for the general public. But, as time passes and handset prices rationalise, we will see the launch of newer and better services, and hence adaptation. We see a 2-3 year time frame for that to happen.”

Downturn, marketing, sales and PR

Public relations is acknowledged as one of the most powerful marketing tools. Several global and Indian giants have been using the tool with increasing effectiveness.

“PR is an important and versatile marketing communications tool,” write Geoff Lancaster and Paul Reynolds, UK marketing professors who have been associated with the Charatered Institute of Marketing, in their book, Introduction to Marketing. “PR forms an intrinsic part of the integrated marketing communications mix. There is a PR aspect to most marketing communications variables whether this is personal selling, sponsorship, exhibitions, direct mail or telephone marketing. This has the effect of improving and increasing the credibility and value of marketing messages from other elements in the communications mix by enhancing the image of the firm and its products and services.”

Whether it is marketing a product, a service or a not-for-profit initiative, PR is credited with boosting both bottomline and topline growth. This cuts across sectors – automobiles, consumer durables, FMCG, healthcare, infrastructure, IT & ITeS, logistics, NGOs or not-for-profit, pharma, realty, retail and telcom.

Rely on PR

“Corporate managers are just beginning to recognize the power of public relations in the building of brands,” write Al and Laura Ries in The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR. “They need to do more. They need to shift their thinking from an advertising-oriented mode to a PR-oriented mode… In particular, PR professionals have a unique opportunity to seize the marketing reins of their clients, to become the leading source of outside marketing counsel, to become the driving force in the building of brands.”

Several Indian brands have been reaping rich gains by relying on PR. With the slowdown affecting India’s economy, more and more corporates – small, medium and large – would now perhaps go the extra mile in leveraging the power of PR for all their key initiatives including those related to marketing.

Dell, Microsoft: Gains from PR

In times like these, where cost is a major factor, perhaps the fourth P (promotion) of marketing should be read as PR. Why?

“Last year (read early 2000s) Dell spent $430 million on advertising and $2 million on PR,” write Al and Laura Ries. “In other words, Dell spent 215 times as much on advertising as on PR. It’s going to be hard for Michael Dell to believe that PR is more important than advertising. Yet Dell is a good example of a brand built by PR, not advertising.”

More recently, Microsoft set a marketing success record through the low-cost launch of its Internet Explorer 7 or IE7. Again the credit goes to PR.

PR and trust

Why is PR so important? As we all know, public relations is the art and science of building/ restoring trust between an organisation and its stakeholders. Trust is the cornerstone of all transactions, both financial and non-financial.

What is more important, there is no alternative to PR in the business of creating trust.

Consider what Anne Gregory, Head of the School of Business Strategy and Assistant Dean of Leeds Business School, has to say. “If a company has a good reputation, the evidence is that people are more likely to: try its new products, buy its shares, believe its advertising, want to work for it, do business with it when all other things are equal, support it in difficult times and give it a higher financial value.”

Topline, bottomline growth

In India too, we have been witnessing the impact of reputation on topline and bottomline growth. There have been several success stories. There have also been badly battered cases including companies in sectors like real estate, IT/ ITeS, automobile, airlines, etc. In all these sectors, waiting for Mannah is one option, as it is being done now. Stealing a march over competition in these tough times with increased focused on corporate communications is another option. This is one of the secrets of success of brands like Procter & Gamble, Colgate and Reckitt Benckiser.

Also see:

Marketing mix: Larger role for corporate communications on anvil

Time to revisit communication strategy: Corporates should connect with customers’ emotions

PR is stealing the show from advertising and direct marketing

Why PR invigorates brands

Recession is the best incubator for ideas, invention -- even PR came into its own during Great Depression: Harvard Business Review

Communications budgets: Marketing lessons from past recessions
Slowdown: An opportunity for corporate communications?

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Communications budgets: Marketing lessons from past recessions

What are the marketing lessons from past downturns/ recessions? By cutting communications budgets during the last recession, did corporates gain or loose?

Martin Runnacles, the former marketing director of Jaguar and BMW and currently marketing director of Ultegra Consulting, says, “The key is to avoid distressful marketing and hold true to the quality of the brand.”

UK’s Marketing Magazine also reports that Mark Simpson, marketing director of Ford of Britain, has learned his economics lesson the hard way.

“At all costs, we have to continue to invest in our future products,” says Simpson. “We didn't do that in the last recession, and we paid the price. We gave every marketing cost a haircut back in 1990/91, including our future product plans, and we emerged from recession with poorer products as a consequence. That decision affected us for about five years, until 1998, when we replaced the Escort with the Focus, which marked a fundamental shift in our fortunes. We could possibly have done that earlier by maintaining our investment in product development… The lesson for big ticket items such as cars is that the desire does not change in a recession, so we have to work even harder to convert that desire into purchase.”

It is early days, of course, but the fact that Ford's retail sales were down only 18%in the year to November, compared with 45% for the overall UK retail car market, suggests that its focused strategy is paying off, adds Marketing Magazine.

One of the biggest differences between this and the last major recession in 1991 is what Hugh Davidson, author of Offensive Marketing and a former Procter & Gamble and United Biscuits marketer, calls 'the compelling evidence' that has accrued, indicating that cutting back on investment, innovation, product quality and customer service results in a market share loss that is impossible to recapture.

In contrast, those that maintain, or even increase, their investment can take advantage of falling media prices to steal a march on the competition.

“Companies like Procter & Gamble, Colgate and Reckitt Benckiser have been applying this formula for a long time,” says Davidson. “They rub their hands when they see a recession coming, because they know they can really score.”