Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Improving Market Share Through the Development of an Interactive Online Presence


PART ONE:

Internet Marketing encompasses a number of discrete disciplines ranging from SEO (Search Engine Optimization), SEM (Search Engine Marketing), Link Exchange, Blog Marketing, SMM (Social Media Marketing), and Online Advertising, among others. Before anyone embarks on this effort, your existing web sites should be carefully evaluated to see if tweaks to the existing site are enough or if your site will require a complete redesign  to maximize the return on investment.

Imagine you're having a dinner party. You're investing in invitations, calls, maybe follow up calls and reminders to ensure your guests will arrive. But once they arrive, there's nothing for them to do, there's no food or liquor (the horrors!), and maybe they keep trying to open doors that go nowhere. Not a nice experience. Are you doing this to your prospects?

As part of this process, establish a baseline of analytics. Big word - basically just means data. You don't need a lot, but these are pretty important to establish before you launch anything new.

IMPORTANT BASELINE DATA TO COLLECT:

  • TRAFFIC: Total unique visitors
  • TIME ON SITE: This is the metric that Facebook is famous for. Time on Site shows visitors are reading and engaging. You want this as high as possible.
  • % INTERNATIONAL: % of visitors from specific regions - base this on where your business focus is.
  • % BOUNCEBACKS: To determine the amount of traffic that showed up, realized your site wasn't what the were searching for and left. 
  • KEYWORDS: Self-determined. Where do you rank when searching for your SEO keyword terms via google, bing, yahoo? Cross match this with what organic searched are actually driving traffic, but eliminate all keywords built on brand or company names (for this purpose).
  • FB FANS: # fans who've liked your Facebook Page. You could also mention #messages by non employees to measure engagement.
  • LI MEMBERS: # members to your Linkedin Group and/or Profile.
  • TWITTER FOLLOWERS: # members to your Twitter Profile, and sweet fancy moses, make sure you get some sort of twitter verification service to keep spammers out of your follower list. You want real traffic from real people.
  • SMM TRAFFIC: By reading your analytics, you can determine the source for traffic by searching for facebook, linkedin, twitter, and the rest of the social media and web sites. Interestingly, Stumbleupon comes up higher than you'd think. You might want to invest some time there...Break these out by site.
  • BACKLINKS: You want to know who and what quality sites are linking back to your site. This gives you credibility to search engines.

ESTABLISH MEASURABLE GOALS:

Examples:

  1. Drive traffic to the web site, increasing unique visitors by 10% each month. (EX: Month 1=100, Month 2=110, Month 3=121)
  2. Drive international traffic to the sites, to ultimately eclipse domestic traffic. Increase international traffic by 10% each month.
  3. Decrease the bounceback from 78% to 45% of visitors within six months.
  4. Increase the search keyword universe to include organic search terms beyond branding – 2 additional non-brand keywords or phrases added to top 100 search terms each month.
  5. Increase fans/members/followers to social media sites by 5% each month.
  6. Demonstrate traffic increases from social media efforts – increase traffic sources from social sites by 5% each month.
  7. Increase Google PageRank from 2 to 3.
  8. Increase backlinks by 20 per month.
PHASE ONE:
Fix your web site to include add-ons that enable the company to offer interactive content and engagement activities for visitors to your web site. Any redesign should focus on the user experience, facilitating the user’s need to fulfill their information requirements and enable ease in communicating with you.

Search Engine Optimization:
Search engine specialists optimize sites for specific keywords and engines so that the sites will rise through the ranks and appear on the first page of search results on Google and Yahoo!.You can either hire an external SEO firm to ensure that our sites can be found on high-ranking relevant web sites all over the Internet, hire an in-house expert if you plan to drive most of your revenue from your site, or try it yourself. You'll figure out that one or the other will probably suit your needs best in the long run.

Incorporating search engine friendly design and content strategies will improve search engine rankings and drive more traffic to your web site. Optimization is the practice of refining and reworking the content and tags on individual pages and graphic files in order to facilitate a search engine’s spider software to evaluate the web sites’ contents as more applicable to certain keywords and categories.

This includes optimizing titles, meta tags, alt tags, keyword tags, comments, and file names to add an increase in rankings.  Individual pages are tweaked for more specific phrases. Keyword density is measured and improved where possible. Site architecture is structured to assist the spiders in listing every page of your site. Many other tasks are done, all with the achievement of a higher-ranking score as the goal. All pages will be optimized for search engine ranking and include google analytics for web site traffic analysis. 

When stakeholders are satisfied with work, work with your ISP to launch the site.

After this, the real work starts. The next post will introduce Internet Marketing principles. See you then.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Top 4 Reasons Why Entrepreneurs Fail

My entire career has been focused on startups and small to medium-sized businesses that are anxious to take their company to the next level. IMHO, I have been quite successful in setting strategy to ensure that we take the necessary steps to take the company to the founder's exit strategy, whether that be selling the business, going IPO, or just growing the business to the next level as a private concern. My strategies usually coincide with investor deadlines - three to five years.

WHY ENTREPRENEURS CAN BE FUN OR CAUSE YOU TO HAVE A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN
Entrepreneurs are different from the rest of us. I'm not an entrepreneur, but I've co-founded a company and I understand their psyche. They're risk takers, they're willing to give up most of their life - family, reputation, money, to make their concern viable. They're focused on a particular idea that means something to them personally. Other entrepreneurs pick their moment, building a company in one direction, nimbly changing their entire strategy when they see things aren't going to be successful. They make hard decisions, calculated risks, shared their office space to make payroll, anything to keep their business profitable. I admire these gentlemen (and they've always been gentlemen for me) because I'm not that type of risk taker and I'm jealous of that, because, while I have an entrepreneurial bent, my personal situation (being a single mother, lack of financial resources - I know - all excuses) compels me to work with my heroes throughout these long years. I'm a good partner for them because I'm completely in tune with them. I want to help them succeed and have the track record to prove it. Since 1991 or so. But you have to be flexible. You have to be able to work in chaos. I am sometimes called the Goddess of Chaos. I can handle it. A lot of people can't. These guys can be ferocious, temperamental, and abusive, but also highly creative, engaging do-ers. It also helps if they have personal charm and a sense of humor. :-) They'll need it to make it past Mistake #1.

1. DEALING WITH EMPLOYEES
I've worked with maybe 100 companies overall, in the U.S. and India, and there is a distinct juncture where I've seen them fail, and it has to do with employees. They started their companies by themselves and did everything. They think they know what they're doing and feel they know best what is good for their company. But now that they have employees, it's not just them anymore.

They fail when they don't take the leash off their senior staff that they hire. They need to trust them to do their jobs effectively. Good entrepreneurs aren't ego driven. They hire the best, and as my first CEO said to me, "You'll get enough rope to hang yourself." He threw me into a job I did not have much experience in and learned while running. We did great work and he has always been the entrepreneur that I compare all the rest to. He was a serial entrepreneur. He wanted to sail the world with his family on a beautiful Finnish sloop call Tekla and I helped him get there. He wanted to sell the company in order to make this dream happen. We succeeded, but as all people know during an acquisition, your internal Finance and Marketing people go first. Everyone who buys a company wants control over finances and the marketing strategy. They always think they know better. I know, when this is the CEO's exit strategy, that this is the death of my future for the company and it's okay. He protected me and I survived another year beyond him. I love that guy to this day.

Entrepreneurs need to hire the best possible people as their second-in-commands across their company, Finance, Operations, R&D, Marketing. they need to trust these people, who typically are experts in their fields, with experience beyond the CEO's companies, to provide strategies for growth, containment of costs while producing the maximum return on investment. They've learned best practices. They know how to hire the right people to meet objectives. Even with an MBA, an entrepreneur can be a fool. They can be total control freaks, focusing on small purchases instead of the big picture. Focusing on introducing new product lines that that don't work with all the investment in branding done over the previous years.

2. FOCUSING ON EGO INSTEAD OF THE BUSINESS
I've had CEOs who wanted speaking engagements on the world stage that could not speak proper English in a heavy accent. They did their presentations as sales engagements, angering the people I convinced to add him to their agenda. They were unfit for this limelight, yet insisted on being the voice of the company in spite of it consistently hurting the company's image. What do you do with a boss, who was once described as "just a farmer in a fancy suit"? He's your boss, he's ego-driven, surrounded by sycophants who tell him he's always right - there is no way to constructively discuss his personal issues.

Other entrepreneurs leave people in positions that they're really not capable of accomplishing and this has to do with longevity and loyalty, which are probably the hardest aspects for a CEO. If a person comes on board as your first employee, sharing your risk, believes in you, wants to do their best, but doesn't have the experience to take the company forward, it's hard on all sides. CEOs are loathe to replace these people, but they have to consider it a business decision. Businesses have no emotions. They look at the numbers. They look at the skill sets. If the CEO doesn't have that particular skill set to mentor them in the position and the person hasn't taken formal training to move themselves forward, it's time to part ways. Many people in India rely on this, and stay successful while impeding the progress of the company.


3. SHORT TERM THINKING
Entrepreneurs are best at making it happen and sometimes, when trying to make payroll for example, they'll take on a customer that is not part of their core business. While in some instances, this can create a whole new revenue stream or radically change the company's core business, it usually backfires in the long run. It ends up using valuable resources of the company in areas of expertise that may not be on par with customer expectations. 

Whenever cash flow becomes an issue, many entrepreneurs cut back on marketing programs that support the sales staff. Sales is the life blood of the company. Without sales revenues no one has a job for long. Marketing needs to support that sales funnel and ensure a healthy flow of qualified prospects are coming in. Sometimes Marketing has to work smarter, think differently, approach prospects in a different way at a lower cost. Work with your marketing staff before canceling that trade show or that film piece. There may be compelling reasons to keep that in the mix, while discontinuing printing 100,000 40-page catalogs every year.

When going IPO, CEOs can focus on the short term gains in order to "make their quarters". In the States, going IPO meant a series of quarterly growth showing continuing gains. I spent a lot of time convincing CEOs that we need to take a hit now and focus on the product development before we do another marketing thrust, because "you don't want to invite people to dinner, in a dirty home with no food to offer." These CEOs ended up in difficult situations, lots of bad press, SEC warnings about their communications during the "black period", all considerably hurting their initial offering price. Sometimes they need to wait, fix what's broken, then move forward, even if it means taking a bit longer to achieve their dream.

4. KNOW-IT-ALL SYNDROME 

As I said before, entrepreneurs started their companies by themselves and did everything. They think they know what they're doing and feel they know best what is good for their company. At some point, with some companies, they've lost focus, started facing month-over-month decline, watched newcomers enter the market and gobble up market share, or the industry itself starts to change in unanticipated ways. Sometimes staffing is an issue  - too many, not enough. They come to a point where they have no clear answer and they need outside help.

I come in as a game changer. It's a tough job. Restructuring teams and companies is probably the most difficult job you can have in business. Entrepreneurs need outsiders, advisors, people not inside their company, that can look at their business without any emotion. The company will tell me their goals and challenges, which is what I have to work with, and I need to put the right people in place across the teams to ensure we meet those goals. It's never pretty. It's always tough saying goodbye to people you genuinely like and wish you had a place for. You have to thank those who accepted positions that were less than they had before and see them become stellar in those new positions. You have to strive to be the best and be that role model for your teams and respect your entrepreneur. He took the most risk. He made this happen. He's responsible for your job. In the end, if he trusts you, it can be very, very successful. It's all up to him (or her!).

Why I'm in Love with Sarah Lacy and How to Improve Pando Daily

Sarah Lacy came to India for research on her book about entrepreneurs, Brilliant, Crazy, Cocky: How the Top 1% of Entrepreneurs Profit from Global Chaos. I was fortunate to meet her and take her to visit villages in Rajasthan where we met people who were benefitting from VNL's solar powered GSM and broadband equipment for rural networks. I think she's great and her work at TechCrunch was phenomenal. When Michael Arrington decided to sell Tech Crunch to AOL, my first thought was "Oh, no, tell me this is not true." I knew TechCrunch would never be the same.

Some time later, Sarah Lacy left TechCrunch and started a new venture called Pando Daily, which I love. It's TechCrunch, but even better. (You have to read this inspiring post from Sarah on why she started Pando Daily.) The writers and executives she's gathered together make for a formidable team and I can only say good things about their future. I joined and get regular updates in my email of valuable content that I can use in my daily life to improve the work I do. I find it that valuable. Really. 

However, I do have a few concerns. How will they monetize their valuable content? Will I pay for it? Probably not. Do I visit their site often? Not as much as I should because the emails come to me fast and furious every day and I read all the complete posts as emails. I suggest they give me one paragraph and a link to get me back to their site. Their reader comments are good though, so I tend to visit on more interesting posts to read them and engage, but there's no like button. I'd love to be able to rate great comments that add to the story. Her readers are just as valuable as her writers in many ways. It's that awesome.

I'd also like a home page that lists the latest posts. I find the navigation to be cumbersome. I want to read more, feel more involved, but I have to decide between deals, people, companies, or culture, when I want to see all. It's not intuitive...

I encourage you to visit Pando Daily today. Sign up and get the posts in your emails. They're a fascinating take on the tech world from a global view point. Because Sarah has traveled everywhere, she understands that Apple in Silicon Vally equals China and beyond and it shows. I'm a huge fan and wish her the best in her new venture.

Do's & Don'ts When Moving Into Emerging Markets


1. Do Your Research
Each market is different and has its own personality, culture and potential for growth. Your first impression needs to match what the market expects and requires. This involved preliminary travel, researching local market trends, making introductions to their equal to a chamber of commerce, local authorities, and government officials to determine how to proceed. Ensure you start test marketing your product or service to get a feel for how the market will respond. You may how to change your offering to fit local needs.

2. Do Hire Local
While your senior staff can initially be foreign, taking advantage of talented local staff, mentoring them while providing them with support and training will provide them with the tools to enable the local staff to lead and grow their market best. Identify partners, cultural exchange specialists, "introducers" who can facilitate meetings for you locally. They're worth the price. Understand that a "marketing executive" in the U.S. means something totally in markets like India and Myanmar - they're usually customer service representatives in these countries.

3. Do Trust Your Local Staff, But Maintain Strict Oversight, at Least at First
Communication and expectations need to be extremely clear. Talking to someone face-to-face, with a head bobble here, a bow there, a gift here, a "yes" meaning "no"… cultures talking English to each other is still a mine field. There will be a LOT of frustration at first. Even emails can be misconstrued, especially when you never get a response when the local staff don't have anything good to tell you - they may avoid to save face. You need to be open but not necessarily direct in your demands for reports, meeting sales quotas, etc. Some markets don't work that way, others handle it well. It's your job to find the right staff on your end to liaison with your overseas staff. Once the language is clear on both ends expectations are usually met.

4. Don't Expect Countries Next to Each Other to Do Business the Same Way
Three words: India, Pakistan and Myanmar. All three are distinctly different. Brand activation, product marketing, business styles are so different as to seem to be from different planets. Burmese are very direct, yet impeccably polite. They are facilitators and will out of their way to help you build your business. They understand partnerships, and in my experience are extremely fair. Indians never do business directly and are only outmatched by the Chinese as negotiators. They can kill you on profit margin to the detriment of the relationship. Pakistani's are primarily relationship-driven. They need to know everything about you as a person, and more about your company, before they'll entertain a meeting with you (and far preferable that you be male).

5. Don't Be Arrogant and Think You "Know" the Place. 
You never, ever will. Expats, foreign MNCs - they all work separately from the culture. We can't be "immersed", no matter what anyone says, unless we spend our formative years here. This is absolutely true and I can show you my son's experience here. An average American living in the midwest until the age of 13, he's come to adulthood here in India, speak brilliantly fluent Hindi and counsels me on etiquette here. I've made big mistakes in my communication. He'd function here similarly to an Indian national. I never will be able to function here with that level of understanding.

With that in mind, emerging markets are changing where the money is right now and that will continue to evolve over the next twenty years. As global companies advance into new territories to take advantage of these markets, they need to act smart, face that the way they've done business in the past may not work in new markets, and stay open and nimble to adapt to developing markets. It's how you'll change the world.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Global Selling 101

Many Indian companies try, and some succeed, in developing markets overseas, but they face stiff competition and outdated stereotypes (sometimes not so outdated). Indian craftsmanship has made considerable improvements over the past few years. More and more companies are being certified as ISO-9000 companies. Their quality can be comparable to anything manufactured in America or Germany. However, their outdated sales style and interpersonal interaction can be intrusive and unpleasant to may foreign potential customers.

Interpersonal interaction is the greatest challenge, something I work on daily when traveling overseas with my Indian colleagues. Some are complete teetotalers, other vegetarians, which makes networking a challenge to say the least. Others, who have servants at home bristle at the idea of serving themselves and treat waitstaff as they would at home. None tip. Very few say please or thank you and most don't understand personal space.

As an American, if I can touch you and you are a stranger to me, you are too close. That's why I can always identify the Americans at international events - they're the ones with their backs to the wall. Canadians can tolerate a little less space, Europeans even less than that, but Indians are used to being up in your face. They'll wait for days in your lobby to get an appointment to meet with you face to face. They rarely use email, and prefer to call, which never gets past the executive assistant. They rarely get straight to the point, wasting the prospect's time. Most busy executives want to know what they want now, not after a series of questions devoted to developing a relationship. They're never going to go on vacation together.

As a rule, Indian companies should hire "introducers", people who know the people in their target audience and understand the cultural standards for the country who can counsel them on the best approaches, and strategies to achieve their goals. For example, as an American, my sales style would not work here, I'm aggressive, do not get to know the person's family and his background - I focus on the product and its benefits and how much money we can make together. I want to close TODAY. The system is completely different here. It's a relationship game here first, who you both know and reputation. As your "friendship" grows, so do the contracts. I focus on minimizing risk for the prospect, making sure he'll look good to his colleagues as I would back home, but saying this out loud is definitely a faux pas. I'm also extremely honest. If I think the product he wants is not the right solution, I'll tell him so.

But what I have found that works is developing your individual sales teams in each country by hiring in-country. Find staff that not only speak the language, but have a history of selling your types of products in your industry. Trust them to do their jobs and provide the right structure for each team that matches the incentives expected in their country. In the US and India, it's money and recognition. All sales people need quotas to reach to justify their salary and overhead. With individual and team incentives in place, your foreign teams will do the best they can to reach them, including supporting or pressuring underperformers.

In an Indian company I worked with, one sales person was bring in 70% of the revenue, yet he was on the same salary with no commission as the guy who never brought in any sales. He had no incentive to bring in the sales, but he had a sense of pride in knowing his value in spite of no recognition for his work. He's planning on leaving the company anyway. In another Indian company, the sales people went on a rampage when their salary was going to stay at the same level while they introduced commissions. This was a good idea, but if your sales staff have not been responsive in the first place, only wanting salary, it may be time to replace them with those who understand and value performance-based compensation as a way to make more money.

Good sales people should be paid as much as you can afford. In two companies that I worked for in the States, the highest performing sales staff made more than the CEO and were worth every penny. Supporting these sales divas can be a whole bucket of trouble, but they pay everyone's salaries and people need to appreciate that. They may not be the easiest people to work with, but they get results, and ultimately, isn't that what you pay them for? One CEO I worked for used this rule of thumb: "Never hire a sales person that you'd want to marry your daughter."

Early in my career, I once had to change the commission structure for one company because the sales staff were focused on a few companies that were easy to sell into and I knew there was going to come a point when these companies had concluded all the training we had to offer. We needed new accounts. On a Friday afternoon, I met with the sales staff and introduced the new commission strategy which provided higher commissions on new accounts and lower commissions on upsells within existing accounts. One sales guy quit immediately. Another threw his policy book at me. Everyone was pissed off. I explained the reasoning behind the scheme and told them all to take the weekend to think about it. The guy who quit was back on Monday and we had our largest spike in business during the next two quarters. My boss was so pleased, he was able to sell the company to a competitor (who unfortunately decided he knew how to manage the marketing and sales team better than me). They're not in that industry anymore. :-)

In conclusion, sales drive your company. You need people that can reach the right people wherever your business prospects are, so be cognizant that your particular sales style and process may not suit the etiquette of the country you want to sell into. Treat your performing sales staff as well as you can because without them, there are no revenues. Do whatever you have to to keep your overachievers - find what makes them happy (money, recognition, liquor, company car, whatever) and overdeliver. You won't be sorry.

Friday, February 24, 2012

How To Market Luxury Goods in India

SO HOW DO YOU MARKET LUXURY GOODS IN INDIA?

Internet

Affluent customers are particularly heavy users of the internet for both gathering information and purchasing online. Globally, up to 90% of them regularly shop online (India's #'s not found.). The internet is their primary source for locating information on a luxury brand. In India, most people access the internet via smartphones and other handheld peripherals, like iPad and Galaxy Tabs. The digital programme is required to match the brand requirements on these items to the rest of the digital offering.

Many of the American and European luxury brands that are making huge profits in India are failing to deliver an online experience that appeals to an increasingly technologically savvy Indian market. In order to make the browsing and buying experience as engaging and appealing as possible to consumers, brands are going to have to bring newer technology into stores, on mobiles and to people’s homes. Luxury brands are going to have to be innovative, creative and at the cutting edge of technology, or they risk being left behind.

Web Site: Content strategy should be to communicate the mythology of your brand, using digital as a piece of the entire marketing programme. Tell the story of your brand's rich history, its craftsmanship, design and the history and background surrounding each product as they are introduced. Position the brand as a cultural tastemaker, and act as a trusted guide to lifestyle enhancement. Encourage a spirit of competition through exclusive online promotions and activities. Talk to younger affluent audiences to convert them to lifelong purchasers of the brand. Offer flawless online service and support. Finally, promote exclusivity via a closed extranet, available only to those who have purchased their products through the company. Within this, provide a Personal Shopping service that can alert them on product availability based on preferences they provide, e.g., a customer may prefer green, love organic materials, and only use a particular product type. With this information, the sales cycle is shortened when a product fitting all these parameters is introduced. (You could also provide this as a virtual personal shopper service on the public site as well or instead.) Users could provide profiles if they wish, and contribute by posting photos of their collection of your products. Offer members-only exclusive content, promotions, and contests that further reinforce the brand's image.

Blog: the focus should be primarily on lifestyle issues and fine living, essentially making the brand an arbiter of taste, recognizing and guiding consumers to cultural refinement. This content can be a valuable way to engage with the brand by associating it with other luxury products, events, etc. You can also provide ongoing educational content on how to care for the product, storage, cleaning, etc. adding value to the web site. Another section can be a virtual museum of your brand's technological breakthroughs and innovations - what makes them special.

Online Advertising:
Top Indian Lifestyle Sites

  •   lifestylehub.com
  •   cscout.com
  •   shopping.indiatimes.com
  •   lifepositive.com
  •   ayurjeeva.com
  •   sify.com
  •   lifestyle.rediff.com
  •   3to6.com
  •   living.oneindia.in
  •   imagesfashion.com
  •   Luxe Lore and Justdial- Lifestyle

Top Indian Travel SItes

  •   makemytrip.com
  •   yatra.com
  •   cleartrip
  •   expedia.com
  •   indianrailways.com


Social Media: Facebook Fan Page, Linkedin Corporate Page, and Twitter accounts should be deployed to act as intermediaries driving traffic to the web site and calls to action, including invitations to exclusive events, new store openings, new pen launches, etc.. Constantly updated content (daily or 3x/week) will include links back to the web site, exclusive content, and links to external sites that fit into enhancing the consumers' lifestyle. Twitter is essential for on-site reports, tweeting backstage from events, posting "live" photos, etc. These tweets enhance the brand's image by providing insight into exclusive events, particularly powerful to the Newly Rich segment and aspirational buyers. Campaigns can be reinforced through posting on social media and enable consumers to respond directly. The online engagement between the consumer and the brand is particularly powerful when these conversations take place publicly, enabling us to address issues and questions once and distributed to many. It also enables us to provide a digital archive of the history of our activities within India for those who missed them. This strategy ties in with building up younger, aspirational buyers and making them lifelong purchasers.

Email Newsletters: Weekly or Monthly HTML newsletters segmented to existing customers, existing leads that have yet to make a purchase, and one-off list rentals introducing the product.

Webinars

Rich Media Posts (Youtube)

APIs: Building phone apps that work with GPS location to identify locations closest to you in any Indian city. Later this can be expanded to included "(Your brand) Selects" - lifestyle-related selections of stores, restaurants, and other locations recommended to our audience.

Outdoor

  •   Billboards (Hoardings) 
  •   Airports
  •   Hotels


Partnerships & Sponsorships

  •   High End Sporting Events (Horse racing, Formula 1, Polo, Golf, Regattas, Sailing)
  •   Fashion Weeks (Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata), Tie-ups with Indian Designers
  •   International Film & Fine Books Festivals
  •   Classical Performing Arts Festivals
  •   Gentlemen's Clubs (ex. Tollygunge Club, Kolkata)
  •   Hotels, Spas, and Resorts: 80% of luxury POS resides here, however, it is a restricted environment with limited footfalls and visual impact.
  •   Airports: Newer, modernised airports are creating dedicated retail space for luxury items.
  •   Upscale Shopping Malls (eg., Emporio in Delhi, UB City in Bangalore)
  •   Guerilla Marketing
  •   Special Events - Exclusive, invitation-only events with special guests and celebrities
  •   Launch Parties
  •   Store Openings
When producing marketing aimed at the luxury target group, ensure your unique voice as a brand establishes you as an arbiter of taste. The people with money travel frequently. They've experienced European and North American service levels. They know what the purchasing experience is like there. They can't get it here, even in the finest malls in the most expensive cities here. You need to define, as part of your marketing strategy, how to differentiate yourself from competitors and provide service levels and purchasing experiences on par with what these customers have experienced elsewhere. Otherwise, you're toast.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

India's High Potential Gold Mine: The Luxury Market


Luxury marketing in India is a conundrum. With a booming economy, India is the newest and most challenging target for luxury goods manufacturers worldwide. Indian luxury goods market which was valued at US$ 4.3 billion* in 2007 has grown manifold. The Indian economy has one of the highest disposable incomes and 126,000 HNIs (High Networth Individuals) and another 3 million households earning above 10 lakhs also ready to consume luxury. The base is huge and the market ripe.

According to Forbes, India has the fastest-growing population of millionaires in the world. But for Western luxury brands operating in the country, grabbing a piece of the market has proven more difficult than anticipated and many are in the process of re-conceiving their India strategies. Part of the problem is that Western luxury brands don’t seem to understand Indian consumers. When they first entered India, they created splashy advertising campaigns targeting the old money elite. But the results were poor, largely because this customer segment consists of frequent international travelers who overwhelmingly prefer the experience of purchasing Western luxury goods abroad, where brands offer them wider choice, better service and more competitive pricing than what’s currently available inside India. This plan aims to counter this finding.

* According to India Luxury Review
** Thomas Kastgen, Chairman, Leading Brands of the World

Across all segments, the Indian consumer is always seeking value for their money. The customer is typically very demanding, expecting to be pampered with personal visits to their home or office, and wants to get extra value adds as part of the purchase. These are the segments of consumers you need too look out for:
  • Luxuriented. Primary consumers of luxury goods. Source of affluence is largely traditional and inherited wealth. Most importantly, they have high levels of exposure and awareness to world class living. Increasingly showing a preference for European goods. Exclusivity, brand invisibility, and product quality are all important triggers for purchase. They are typically urban, and travel internationally a great deal, from 3 times a year to every month. Prefers to shop overseas for two main reasons: price is lower overseas, and the purchasing experience and surroundings are vastly superior. (e.g., picture the buying experience in Tiffany's on 5th Avenue in New York City to buying the same pen in Colaba Causeway, Mumbai or Connaught Place in Delhi.)
  • New Rich. Adequate spending power. Acquiring orientation to luxury. Brand visibility and flamboyance are important, yet price point can be a barrier. Looking for aspirational labels - wants to show peers that they are successful and powerful.
  • Getting There. Acquiring spending power. Spends mainly on high end white goods, education of children, better housing and larger automobiles. 
  • Mid Affluents are also acquiring orientation to luxury, however unlikely to indulge beyond a limit.

Market Growth


The growth rate for the industry is 14.6 per cent. India’s luxury goods market of Rs 717 billion is set to expand dramatically over the next ten years. India’s total retail market has been estimated at $160 billion or Rs 7,170 billion, covering eight million consumers. Of them, one million are considered to be in the luxury brands segment.

There are over one million luxury consumers, which is only a fraction of the eight million plus consumers who have HNW disposable incomes but are unfamiliar with the luxury segment. The growth rate for the industry is 14.6 per cent. India’s luxury goods market of Rs 717 billion is set to expand dramatically over the next ten years. India’s total retail market has been estimated at $160 billion or Rs 7,170 billion, covering eight million consumers. Of them, one million are considered to be in the luxury brands segment.

According to Mr Sanjay Kapoor, Chairman, CII Luxury Goods Forum and MD, Genesis Luxury Fashion Pvt. Ltd., "The luxury industry in India has shown very promising growth over the last couple of years and is set to grow at a minimum of 25% per year over the next few years with India emerging as a luxury shopping destination. We have the right environment in place for international luxury brands to have a retail presence across our major metros. I feel we are at the threshold of a great expansion and it is indeed encouraging to be part of this new drive."

Electronics is growing at the top end, growing at 25 per cent. The fashion industry, cars, and jewelry segments are growing at 20 per cent. Growth in the luxury pens segment is assumed to be similar to the growth pattern seen in the jewelry segment.

Critical Issues

Brand awareness activities should be commensurate with not only this year's middle and upper income group’s spending power, but must also develop their products and their brands so that they can meet the demands of a local economy which will have outstripped many European economies within 10 to 15 years.

Market microsegmentation will be required to ensure the appropriate products are offered to the correct buyer. Messaging, materials, distribution and approach need to be segmented to address their triggers to purchase.

The single most important reason for luxury retail not taking off in India is the lack of luxury retail environments. It is important to see how this segment will evolve in the future considering that existing retail formats in India are in 5 star hotels or as stand-alone stores. I've spoken with a number of high net worth individuals in India who say they'd rather go to Fifth Avenue in New York to purchase because a) the price will be lower and b) the purchasing experience is far better. Stay tuned for my next post on How To Market Luxury Goods in India.

What is 360 Marketing and Why Most Fail at It

Like "Social Media Expert", "360 Marketing" gets bandied about like marketing's prettiest girl at the dance, but she ain't that pretty when her makeup's all smeared, her dress is torn, and she's drunk as a sailor.

This is what happens when your integrated marketing program really isn't one. In my last post, I discussed the importance of branding, and the essence of that branding has to carry over to everything else you do in your marketing efforts.

When I was first training Indian teams on effective social media campaigns focused on Americans, they had the mistaken impression that swearing was necessary in all posts (probably my fault - I am typically the only American they know personally and I swear like a trucker). When you are spreading the "voice" of your brand across all sorts of media, everyone developing that media needs to match that voice consistently, otherwise subliminal feelings of mistrust start to develop in the receiver.

For example, when most Americans buy their new Dell laptop and try to figure out how to configure their Wi-Fi connection, they call tech support. With all the pressure to buy American these days in the States, reaching a call center in Mumbai, with people speaking a distinctly different English, will immediately put most Americans in a bad mood, affecting their impression with the brand.

Another example would be putting your twitter feed into the hands of an intern, who uses it for her personal tweets at the same time. No one wants to know what she had for lunch or about that hunky new guy she saw at Barrista's yesterday and how much she hopes he'll call. If I'm following your tweets, I won't mind hearing about the hunky new guy working in tech support (with a pic, please!) IF the brand has that "voice". If you're a law firm, that would still not be appropriate.

But brands have personalities, just like people, and bringing that personality across everything (including your 404 page) can significantly increase engagement. Facebook pages, Linkedin groups can be places to crowdsource ideas, test marketing promotions, get feedback on your products. Engage, engage, engage, people. Ask lots of open-ended questions (ones that can't be answered yes or no), like, "How would you deal with (insert situation of frustration here that could possibly be associate with your product)?" Use polls as well, like "Would you rather get a 10% off coupon on your next beverage, or a free beverage after you purchase 10?" Making your fans feel included, part of your brand will go far. Expand on this by building promotions that refer friends or make them ask to vote on your fan's contribution on your page. An example of this is to make a contest for a new tagline or product name and having people vote for the best. Have badges for frequent contributor stories. Have people vote for best story of the year - depending on the brand, it could be the craziest thing that ever happened to you while drinking that tasty beverage, or voting on the weirdest story they've read in your newspaper.

Now, for those companies that are much more formal (see: law firms), your "voice" will of course be different, more formal, announcing court wins and new clients, but you can also offer free legal advice (with your disclaimer), post profiles of your newest staff members and their practice groups, etc.

THE KICKER - WHY PEOPLE FAIL
360 marketing also includes print, TV, radio, billboards (or hoardings as they're called here in India). Your interaction with the press and industry analysts also need to use the same "voice". When working out your messaging, it should stay consistent regardless of the source, with minor tweaks to fit said source.

Many companies outsource this because they're not sure what to do or how to do it and they have no idea how to measure success. Using multiple companies will give you a headache - they need to be integrated as well, so go back to your branding guidelines and ensure all companies you use are using your unique "voice" across all media. Sometimes it helps to put all your work in a room and look at it. If something doesn't match, it will immediately stand out. Time for a redo.

Many companies are afraid to engage themselves because they're nervous a staffer will "go rogue" and embarrass the company, or a disgruntled customer will flame mail your social media endeavors. I actually welcome the flamers. For every one that complains, there are ten more out there that won't and you can bet your last dollar they'll tell a friend how badly you treated them, losing you more potential customers. By actively engaging in your authentic voice and over delivering beyond their expectations, you build a fan for life, who will share how you corrected their problem.

For the staffer, it may have been a drunken late night tweet they thought was going to their personal account. A quick apology, maybe retraining or re-assignment for the bad tweeter, and you're good to go. Most bad social media encounters are quickly forgotten (well, except for some very memorable exceptions) as you continue forward. Even a little bad press can get you visitors to your web site, where they may still be converted to customers. As long as you continue to speak in your authentic voice, make a sincere apology, and engage with the people who are upset, you'll win more than you'll lose.

It's these challenges in life that make it fun to get up in the morning. 360 marketing really is da bomb. :- )




How to Market Multiple Brands

One of the major challenges conglomerates have is managing their brands. With acquisitions, new product launches, new company launches, each needs a unique voice that instantly identifies what the brand represents. Some companies choose to let each brand speak in separate silos with no recognition of their parent company, while others consolidate under a specific set of branding guidelines that unify the individual brands, while also reinforcing the parent company.

There are reasons to do one or the other. Both are equally valid strategies, however, the best strategy depends on the products and services under the parent umbrella. For example, if Dow Chemical owned the company that made your breakfast cereal AND your paint thinner, would Dow's branding help or hurt the brand image for your breakfast cereal? I think it could significantly hurt sales.

Another of the challenges marketers face is what to do with the plethora of mismatched logotypes for their brands. Sometimes board members, who approved that PMS #185C red logo back in the early 1980s, really are invested in it, even though now it looks incredibly dated. The light aqua blue for the company you purchased last year, and the lovely green for the solar power company, may work well together, but that glaring red logo - no. The best way to present this to the board is show all the brands on one slide and a suggestion as to how to integrate them as a whole, if that's the strategy you want to pursue. Sometimes it may be similar colours or fonts, or an overarching layout that utilizes the parent company as the tag line.

Boards of Directors or CEOs can be their own worst enemies.Though they may be experts in their respective fields, unless they've specialized in marketing, they don't understand the consequences of their emotional decisions to stay with outdated or inconsistent branding. I've been told that the reason one CEO stuck with a bad logo was because he perceived it as lucky. No other reason. As companies grow and expand, acquire new companies, etc., their brand also needs to do the same.

DEVELOP YOUR BRANDING GUIDELINES
You'll need one for each company. Regardless of which strategy you decide upon, having a clear and succinct description of what the brand means and how it is to be presented, along with rules for how to use your branding will (hopefully) keep your brand from being destroyed by your HR department. True story: the company wanted to eliminate all the paper cups staff used for tea at the office. Someone "brilliant" in HR decided that everyone should have their own ceramic cup with their name on it. They used the logo in a light blue background pattern, with the names spelled out in a deep black rounded serif font. The colour was wrong, the font looked ridiculous. No one used them because the cups were so ugly. Paper cups remain to this day. If your employees are not going to support the brand image, no one else will either.

It should consist of a description of the logotypes, taglines, fonts and standard layouts that are approved for use. It should also show how NOT to use these valuable brand assets. There are numerous sites online to help you with this, but Smashing Magazine has a great list of examples to give you insight and inspiration.

DISTRIBUTE THE BRAND GUIDELINES TO ALL STAFF
You'd be surprised who makes the forms your HR team uses, who designs your recruitment ads, who buys the giveaways for a trade show or what your invoices actually look like. I recommend placing the guidelines online and whenever you add new staff, part of the HR package should include a memo on branding, the location of the guidelines and the consequences for not adhering to them. Each new staffer should sign that they will comply.

DEFENDING YOUR BRAND
Everything that has your logo on it should be vetted by the Marketing team, from internal paperwork to anything going to a customer or prospect. Without this, you're pretty much toast and each time something goes out without proper branding, it's one step closer to deleting your brand from your customer's memory and the carefully crafted impression it was supposed to make.

YOUR BRAND IS NOT JUST YOUR LOGO
Every touchpoint with a prospect, customer, partner or supplier should be treated with as much care as your logo, from how the phones are answered, the hold music you select, the signatures on your emails, to the content - my god, the content!!! If you're supposed to be a happy, breezy, friendly and casual company, your content can't come off as if it were written by your lawyers. (And no law firm wants to sound happy, breezy, friendly and casual either.)

Branding is a vital start to the rest of your marketing mix. Ensure you get it right and the rest will fall into place.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Chaos = India

There's a term in Hindi, Jugaard, that pretty much sums up what living in India is like. Everything you need to do takes several extra steps, extra trips, extra paperwork, and many more passport photos than you could ever imagine.

Jugaard means basically by any means possible (legal or otherwise), using whatever you have on hand to get it done, usually at the last minute. This goes against every fiber of my being. I'm German and Scottish, both countries with tremendous craftsmanship, cultures that require absolute perfection, work environments that prize meeting deadlines, staying under budget, and getting the job done well.

Politics is a big deal here. More than any other country I have experienced. Respect is expected immediately, not earned as it is in the US. I am not political at all. I sometimes treat peons better than CEOs because they get no respect from anyone else. All the security guards love me, because I greet them when I come and go and ask in my very broken Hindi about their day. Due to the caste system (which, while illegal, is still very part of the culture), many people are "too good" to clear out their own wastebaskets or make their own tea. (They would never last in a US startup. At BuzzBoltMEDIA, a web consulting firm I co-founded in Chicago, everyone, including the two co-founders had the take the trash out once a week, vacuum the carpets and clean the bathrooms.) I have worked with a number of CEOs here and I am supposed to call them by their first name, with the "ji" at the end, a Hindi word that denotes respect, so if my boss' name was Sumit, I was supposed to call him Sumitji. I forget this all the time and insult people. I've taken to calling everyone Sir, even though I don't like it.

I have one superior that calls me "Boss" and I just love him. He treats me like an equal and I feel respected and appreciated for the work I do. I try to do my very best work for him. I'll go the extra mile. He's one of the very few leaders I've had the pleasure to work with here. For me, it's never been about the money, it always been about making impact, seeing the impact and having someone thank me for the good job I've done, nothing more. Another boss chastised me for making a public display of how happy I was with a worker's performance. He told that that will decrease his productivity. It didn't.

My first lunch in the basement at a company I worked for, I got my tray of food and went to sit with the staff on my team. They spent the entire time speaking in Hindi. Since it was clear to me that I was not to be part of the conversation, I never went back and ate at my desk. This made people think I was aloof and unfriendly. I'm not. People here isolated themselves from me. I have no Indian friends. All the people close to me are expats. I trust them. Most of them, except one Australian, never stole anything from me. But Indians have repeatedly stolen from me and laugh when I confront them. It's possible some of it comes from the fact that they think all foreigners in India are rich. I'm far from it. It's possible it goes back to the Colonial era and I'm just getting payback... Sticking with expats make me less homesick. They understand just how isolated I am -- we all are, not part of the culture we're immersed in, lost, not knowing how to do even the most basic things like getting cooking gas for our homes.

Chaos is everywhere, from the way people drive in my overcrowded city with no infrastructure, to the lack of electricity, and a wise man I met forecasted that in five years neighbors will be fighting over access to water. I believe him. Gurgaon has no water - they steal it from the poorest sections of Old Gurgaon to fill pools in the high rise luxury apartment complexes. There are no sidewalks and where they are, many small wallas (shopkeepers) have put up lean-to stalls to sell their tea and snacks. Pedestrians are forced to walk in the streets along side cows, trucks, buses, autorickshaws, bike rickshaws, cars and all sorts of other vehicles. People will ride their motorcycles, with the husband driving, a child perched on the gas tank, the mother on the back riding sidesaddle holding an infant in her arms. This seems to me to be one of the most dangerous of options in the already chaotic driving everyone does.

But I still love it here. Each morning we have breakfast ready to go along with our morning CNN news coverage of the world. My clothes are cleaned and ready for dressing - no ironing to be done. Our house keeper would do it for me. She has a good life working for me. They don't live in an unheated, non-air conditioned space on the roof - she has one bedroom in our apartment that she shares with her husband and infant daughter. Some maids in India have to sleep on the floor. We share our food with them and they are thanked all the time for their service to our household. I'm grateful for them and the energy they bring to my house. Outside it may be chaos, but within the walls of my home, we have peace and quiet, love and joy. When we leave the house, in spite of the chaos, India is blindingly beautiful - the brilliantly colored sarees and salwar khameez the women wear, the beautiful peacocks and brightly colored birds, the cows circumventing the cars in traffic (they always have the right of way!), the cute little feral pigs rutting around in the fields, even the packs of wild dogs with their adorable puppies are all part of the magic that is India.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Going Broke in a Third World Country

It's remarkable to think of going broke in a third world country. Because I look every bit American, people here assume I have a fortune hidden somewhere. I don't.

I was reading this article about Dubai (http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/the-dark-side-of-dubai-1664368.html) and I was very much struck by the homeless expat stuck there while her husband languished in debtors prison. Expats are vulnerable to the unique and particular laws of the countries they live in and the vagaries of how they are enforced.

People here can't understand why I'm broke. I'm told by some folks that I'm an expensive asset. I make less than half what I made in the States, but a lot more than the typical Indian office worker and pretty much the same as an Indian at my level. But some of my bills are different than Indians. Here's a breakdown of my expenses, bearing in mind, most expats live a far better life than me, being paid in foreign currency. (Okay, while I realize most people won't publicly declare their finances, I'm doing this as a service to those thinking of moving here and thinking they can live a cheap life here and save a bunch of cash to bring home with them. Seeing what a regular expat's expenses are would have been very useful to me before I moved here.)

MY EXPAT LIVING COSTS IN GURGAON
  • Rent of 3 bedroom ground floor apartment = 30,000 rupees a month (US$ 615)
  • Car & driver service = 25,000 rupees a month (US$ 511)
  • Will's school = 20,000 rupees a month (US$ 408)
  • Electricity = 12,000 rupees a month (US$ 245)
  • High Speed Internet = 6,000 rupees a month (US$ 122)
  • Housekeeper = 5,000 rupees a month (US$ 102)
    NOTE: Her family of three also gets free room and board.
  • Yu Yu's Mobile = 4,000 rupees a month (US$ 81) 
  • My Mobile = 3,000 rupees a month (US$ 61)
  • Will's Mobile - 500 rupees a month (US$ 10)
  • Dog food = 2,500 rupees a month (US$ 51)
    NOTE: We have three dogs.
  • Satellite TV = 1,000 rupees a month (US$ 20)
  • Food & Entertainment = 20,000 rupees a month (US$ 204)
    NOTE: For four adults, 1 infant.
TOTAL = 128,000 rupees a month (US$ 2,412)

Sad, huh? :'-(

Liquor is expensive. We rarely go out for dinner, a ritual we miss. Will and I had a standing date every Friday night when we lived back home, for a nice meal in a fine restaurant when we lived back home, and I really miss that. Having wine is a rare event because the cheapest bottle of imported wine (think the 2-Buck Chuck from Trader Joe's) is 800 rupees (US$ 16.33). A decent bottle of Austalian or Chilean wine will cost you 1200; American or European will be twice as much, so we never have wine anymore. We rent our ACs, so they're 20,000 each for the season. I have to pay for household repairs, which cannot be planned ahead of time. Will's UK exams are an additional 100,000 rupee cost we pay in the final school quarter each year. Did I mention that we have practically no furniture in our house?

Plus there are taxes that I can deduct but corporations make it very difficult to know what can be deducted pre-tax and what is taxable. It helps if you know and trust someone who is an accountant here. Companies won't help you.

This also makes me even more sensitive to being cheated. Just because I'm white doesn't make me rich. Just because I'm white, doesn't make me stupid. Everyone tries to make a little extra off the foreigners because it's easy. We don't bargain at all, don't know how, actually. We usually go into a store and pay the price on the tag. Here, there are no tags - when you ask the price, a shop keeper has the freedom to charge what he thinks the customer can bear and if your skin is white, expect that to be ten times higher than what a local would pay.

Will is looking at colleges and wants to go back to the States or the UK. I've been trying to convince him to get his bachelor's degree here because it will cost less than his expensive private international school I'm paying for now. He was planning to take a gap year to help pay the bills, but that's just stupid. Like I said, I somehow manage to make things with work. There were rough times when we were kids, but we still spent each summer, all summer, away at horse camp or girl scout camp and stuff. I asked her recently how they managed to provide us with all those expensive experiences and she said, "We robbed Peter to pay Paul." Eventually everyone gets paid...

The article above was written two years ago, and depressing as it is, it has to be far worse now than in 2009. Expats have been fleeing Dubai, and the economy has hit expats particularly hard - we're expensive assets - as Indian employers like to remind me (even though I know LOTS of Indians at my level making more money than I do). It's easy to lose the expats when revenues fall and it doesn't undermine the status quo like it would if an Indian leader in the same position were to be let go. The dynamics are different. I've watched whole teams leave at once from a company with the loss of their team leader. Expats don't build fiefdoms like locals do. Simply don't support their visa renewal and they disappear. Quickly, with minimal fuss. We're at the mercy of our employer. We can't just quit our job and look for something else - we have to go home if we lose our jobs or want to accept a new position. It makes it hard to accept another position because the cost to join is high, making it unattractive for an employer. For me, it would require sending my family back to New York for a week - two round trip tickets to New York are around 200,000 rupees, and there's a risk that the visa won't be approved. Most companies don't want to take that risk. They don't have to, in a country with a billion other people.

I've wondered whatever happened to that homeless woman because I could easily see myself in her position. I'm lucky to work for a company that supports me, maybe not with the salary I'd prefer, but in many other ways. They help me negotiate rents and services, helps me figure out how to extricate myself from legal issues or get payments from people who owe me money. These things they don't have to do for locals, either. Being able to travel and see how other expats live helps tremendously as well - it provides perspective and helps me appreciate everything the company I work for does for me.

Follow me on twitter (@jeanneleez) or foursquare, or friend me on Facebook. I usually post there when I travel. Cheers. :-)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Fixing Broken Teams


I used to work for a large dotcom that wanted to increase their market share in the U.S. All of their revenues came off banner advertising on their site, 90% of which came from North America. Since the company was located in Calcutta, they had only Indian staff - I was their first foreigner to work in India full-time.

The team I was to lead had 40 staff members, none of whom had any direction on what they were responsible for accomplishing. True, they were in separate teams devoted to SEO, reciprocal links, micro-sites, blogs, affiliates, etc., but beyond that, the expectation was to grow traffic. They had plenty of staff to make each of these facets of internet marketing work, but the site was still declining month over month. I was going to have to fix what was broken and provide some structure to the team.

The first thing I did was get copies of their personnel files and interviewed each person. I wanted to know what their skill sets were, what their interests were, and where they saw themselves in five years. This was important because understanding what skills were available enabled me to identify the skills that were missing from the team. Knowing what their aspirations were, provided me with an idea of how eager they would be for mentoring and training if their skills did not meet their personal goals.

Second, I spent a lot of time with the CEO to get an idea of the measurable goals we could put in place for the group. We set in place a set of goals for each team and defined each one meticulously. We also developed individual and team incentives to put in place as well that were based on overall performance.

I then starting the painful process of restructuring the teams. Some people were easily identifiable as bad leaders but had brilliant skill sets, others were just completely useless, and others had tremendous abilities that by politics, gender, or simple lack of self-marketing, were completely under-utilized. It was time to let many of them find jobs that were more suitable. On the day, each person being fired was sent to HR. I brought each person who was staying into my office and described what was happening and why I wanted them to stay. Some were kept in their current position, but I described why they were selected over the other individuals, focusing on their personal strengths and skills. Some people were upset to find out that their friends were leaving, but I countered this with the fact that this was a business decision. I personally liked some of the people I let go, but there was no place for them within the new team structure. Most understood. Others were promoted from the ranks to be Team Leaders, while some were demoted from Team Leader and assigned to different teams. These were the most challenging. I focused on sharing constructive criticism and helped them understand where they had failed and suggested ways for them to address their weaknesses as leaders. We were now a team of 25.

Some staff I could not let go due to the politics of the company. These were going to have to be handled differently. One had been the head of the group before me, and his political skills were sharp. Unfortunately for him, he had stolen a lot of the team's ideas and passed them off as his own to the CEO, which had caused a lot of the team to not like him. (I found him to be shady and unreliable as well - lots of excuses and blame placed on his team, rather than accepting his responsibility as their leader.) I did not respect him and the feelings were definitely mutual. I took away his entire team and put him in charge of public relations by himself. Now he was fully accountable for any PR work done for the company, exposing him and his lack of skills. This was enough to make him leave a couple of months later.

Others proved more difficult. I had identified one woman, who seemed to have an amazing skill set and I felt she could easily have taken over for me once I left because she had excellent strategy and project management skills. Her single, quite fatal flaw was her attitude. She was the office gossip, which could have been fine, but she manipulated people, engaged in rumors that worked directly against any team building, within our group and setting us against other groups in the company that we relied on to reach our goals. While I was not in a position to fire her, as I learned more and more about her destructive activities, I spoke to her directly about it and told her how damaging it was, but she continued. At this point, I had to become "The Boss from Hell" to finally get her to quit. It soon became clear to my team that being professional, making your goals, working as a team were going to be instrumental in our success.

And I stressed that it was OUR success. In meetings with the CEO, I indicated to him different successes we'd achieved and mentioned the team members responsible. I publicly congratulated staff for performing well and also publicly stated in front of the team when people were underperforming. In team meetings, we'd go over the numbers, and when someone wasn't on track, I'd ask everyone on the team to come up with ideas to help him/her. We were in it together.

The incentive plan we put in place provided both individual and team bonuses. For example, each linker had to come up with 130 high quality reciprocal links (based on very clear parameters as what made up "high quality"). They were allowed to choose the section of the site to work on based on a list the Team Leader and I had agreed were the focus for that particular month. The highest performer last month got to pick first and so on. If you made your quota, you'd receive a bonus. If the entire team made their quota, they received an additional bonus. We kept a white board with the names of all linkers in their space that the Team Leader updated daily, those on track in green, those not in red. If someone was going to cause the team to miss their team bonus, peer pressure and support sprang not action to ensure they made their money.

Using a coaching or mentoring approach worked really well with the team. Within months we had achieved beyond our expectations and numbers were rising. We reached ComScore's 8th fastest rising site in 2007, and was the 3rd fastest site in 2008.

One of the other attributes I brought to the team was fostering innovation. I was always looking for the next big idea, and my door was always open for people who wanted to discuss something they'd read about or thought of that might be interesting to test. We tested lots of things, from widgets, crowdsourcing, and APIs. Most were extremely successful, while we had a few failures. The team seemed to really value that I pushed their ideas up the chain and ensured that they continued to own their projects. It gave the individuals a real sense of pride, that they'd been able to contribute in a substantial way. While we couldn't compensate them for this, it seemed this was enough for most to keep coming up with ideas for us to try.

I firmly believe that my management style is different than the typical Indian boss. I like getting mixed up in the nitty gritty, working with my staff, not just telling them what to do. But I am also a stern task master - I expect follow through, excellence, and groundbreaking work. There were times when I had to tell someone, "You're an awesome designer. This isn't your best work. I know you can do better," or, "Is this really the best you can do?" People went back, did it again, and really surprised me.

I loved that team. We did some great work there and I'm proud of what we accomplished. One of my biggest regrets was leaving that company. I should have stayed, but visa issues were not handled correctly forcing me to take another job. I wonder sometimes, what we could have achieved if we'd stayed together for just one more year...