I travelled to Chennai this week on AirAsia. I have to admit their hot lachha paratha beat the bun and coleslaw of Jet Airways, but I still felt a wave of nostalgia. In the 2000s, Jet’s mini-dosas were the first taste of home after weeks travelling in the US or Europe on horrible airlines. And their staff were really nice, even when they were unpaid. The seats were definitely much more comfy. What was not to like? Why did they sink? Like Kingfisher Airlines which is still the gold (or red) standard for domestic air travel for many – remember their sofa buses?

At the heart of the matter is how much you are willing to pay for the extras. Jet Airways had a bit more legroom which resulted in less number of seats on each plane. So if, say, I have 25% less seats, I would expect you to pay the difference as a premium. Similarly if a hot meal costs more to lug around, then I’d hope that it would be a differentiator.  But what if the customer says I’m ok to scrunch up my legs, pack my own lunch box and pay less? Every flight makes less than you planned. Airlines are a cautionary tale of what happens when you focus on some Ps (positioning & product) and ignore others (Price in this case).

If you’ve been online reading business stuff you’d have definitely seen the “Amazon will also go bankrupt, says Jeff Bezos” clickbait. You’ll find a bland article about how Mr Bezos has said, against the backdrop of the Sears bankruptcy in the US, that most companies have a life span of 25 years and even Amazon could fail if it does not find the next disruption. (Jet celebrated its silver anniversary last year) My last two Prime Now deliveries have been delayed/cancelled under mysterious circumstances. Is it a sign?

Sears is a 100 year old retailer that started life with a snail mail catalog then became a big-box retailer. Their failure was perhaps in not going back to their catalog business when new tech made it feasible in a whole new way.

But grand old companies like Coca-Cola are still going strong despite all kinds of new trends and competitors – they recently launched “Colour” a Tamil Nadu specific fizzy drink with grape juice. “Colour” is the generic name for soft drinks in that State so this shows great insight. Titan is 35 years old and their CMO, Suparna Mitra, recently participated in an interview series, Mind Your Marketing, with The Hindu group which, amongst other things, touches upon the need for a local approach – it’s an interesting read.

Of course, all of this requires hyper-local insight and old models don’t always work in the new world. I met with Shaukat Shamim of Youplus last month and it is amazing how you can now analyse videos for insights – not just what people say but what they actually mean, adjusting for cultural and language nuances. It’s sort of like a google search for videos. If you enjoy consumer insights you really should take a look at this interview “Understanding a Billion People Through Video

Sometimes brands live on in unexpected ways. Perhaps after the spate of weddings in the family last year the Ambanis are dreaming of nurseries now. Reliance just purchased Hamley’s the quintessential British toy brand from er, a Chinese company.

Happy Rabindra Jayanti to any Tagore fans here!


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