Friday, 27 February 2015

Entrepreneurs go bananas !

As another example of hands-on learning approach that entrepreneurial students favour, this weeks class of Royal Holloway MSc Entrepreneurs enjoyed considering the consumption of bananas and the business opportunities that might be available in this space. This week studying entrepreneurial marketing with MBA Director and marketing specialist Justin O'Brien students were pleasantly surprised when they found a number of bananas on the tables in front of them. Justin is a strong proponent of 'fun learning' as evidenced here at the Chocolate Factory,  with bananas offering an 'out-of-skin' learning experience.

Having escaped the ridiculous regulators of the European Union (who sought to standardise irregular fruit and impose norms of straightness and minimum length @14cm) European consumers are now free to enjoy bananas with abnormal curvatures, whatever that means ! Although relatively high in carbohydrates, bananas can form an important part of a balanced, healthy diet.  Popular with kids, as they are easy to open (unlike oranges) and kind to rupturing gums and milk teeth (unlike hard apples), the big challenge for bananas, with their in-built natural wrapping, is bruising and the risk of total mush-down

Creative advertising conceptualisation
Inspiration for the case study came when a highly entrepreneurial close friend of Justin, who has family in Canada, was offered the UK franchise for a new product in 2005. The highly engaging and interactive case study used real bananas and students were able to inspect examples of version 1 and 2 of the innovative banana guard proposition. The case provides students with the chance to consider the optimal marketing mix that would optimise value from such an opportunity; could revenues confidently exceed significant sales, marketing and operational costs ? 

Students considered Everett's innovation diffusion 'early adopters' and how direct sales at consumer events like the Ideal Home Exhibition and PR through lifestyle magazines could be used to generate sales using premium pricing and innovation appeal in the first year, followed by a lower price skimming approach once the novelty impact had worn off. 

B2B approaches of using a co-branded guard (leading banana company Fyffes, Del Monte or food retailer Sainsbury's ?) might see the modestly priced, but emotionally appealing, consumption enhancing  merchandising item capture additional channels-to-market. Costing around 0.87 Canadian Dollars to produce and retailing for between £4-£7, competitively priced imitators quickly followed on.

Using a relatively simple product proposition, the banana guard case study offers  up a number of positive and negative promotional associations that are considered against key contextual ideas such as healthy eating, convenience, well being, fun, children friendly and humour (but not sexual innuendo).

Students working in buzz discussion groups were invited to identify the key market segments, noting the features and benefits of the banana guard. 
School children's lunch boxes and sporty types were selected, although images with fit and healthy attired individuals eating bananas were found to be a difficult creative conceptualisation. One image concept, that was highly suggestive, was used to provocatively consider the ethics of overt and over sexualisation in the context of what might be considered good taste or appropriateness, in a  brand that had children and parents firmly in its sights. Edgy companies such as Ryanair and Bennetton have persistently used highly controversial images to give their advertising 'outrage' PR amplification. 

Product line innovator Banana Guard also now offer related, branded solutions, with amusingly names such as; 'Froot guard' and 'Froot case' for other fruit shapes and a traditional bread shaped 'S'wich case', using child friendly primary colours and seeking to expand their product offering firmly in the 'lunch box' marketplace.

Fun learning at Royal Holloway

Monday, 23 February 2015

MBA profile: Prashob Vellalath

Prashob Vellalath, MBA

Coming to London to study for an MBA was an important and tough decision for me in some respects. It seemed like a world away as I had never travelled outside of Asia. However, my overriding ambition was to study for an MBA in International Management and to do this in an international environment. Once I had completed my research into what was best for me, I decided on Royal Holloway University of London. I met with the admissions representatives in Bangalore and felt it was a match. 

Successful scholarship application 

There are many opportunities to receive financial aid for qualified students. Receiving a scholarship was the icing on the cake and solidified my decision to study at Royal Holloway. Without the financial help, it may not have been possible for me to go abroad for an MBA. I agree it is expensive to study in the UK but the amount of scholarship is generous. 

You might ask - do I miss India? I do not need to - there are many international students including many Indians at Royal Holloway –a home away from home! 
Prashob Vellalath

What about the food ?

Indian for me is the best and I found that it is possible to eat Indian cuisine exclusively. Campus offers Indian dishes and London as well as Egham has Indian restaurants. [Editor: Curry is Britain's favourite food] However, I am learning that other cuisines can be equally tasty! 

I am slowly exploring London and it helps that we are in such close proximity as the course is demanding, but on the weekends I look forward to experiencing the rich culture London and the UK countryside has to offer. There are museums, sports, movie theatres and pubs to suit all tastes. There must be thousands of beer varieties to sample, but of course I have only tried a few! 

I have been at uni for a little over four months now and not regretted a single day. The MBA for me is not just about education but also an experience of a lifetime. In this short time, I have learned so much from the professors and guest lecturers from many fields of business. I have a much better knowledge of business from marketing to leadership to finance. 

Did you make friends ?

I have made friends with students from all over the world and from many different backgrounds. I have found a supportive, encouraging and motivating community at the College. I do not live on campus but am still able to participate in a few extracurricular activities. There are many clubs for all student interests. When I can, I play football on campus and the access to attend professional games is easy. I have not yet seen a game but it is on my ‘to do’ list. In the meantime, I am able to watch matches live on TV at much more convenient times.

Royal Holloway MBA 2015

Royal Holloway is more than I even expected and I am very happy with my decision. As far as working here after, it will be a challenge for any non-EU citizen to get a job but not impossible. The College offers careers guidance and exposure to companies. Every year, companies in the UK do sponsor some students from the MBA programme. 

I have learned that ‘work hard, play hard’ is the opportunity I have been given. No matter what future career opportunities are open to me, the knowledge and skills I am learning at Royal Holloway will be transferable for any business path.

Prashob Vellalath, Royal Holloway MBA candidate 2015

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Kooza Cirque du Soleil - awesome

What was the creative spark that conceived the idea of two hamster running rings, human scale, rotating about a temporary pivot point anchored 10m above  the stage ?  Or the teeter, see-saw sommersalt jump on two metre high stilts ?  Or flying a kite indoors ?  C'est veritable une celebration de culture Canadianne-Francais, n'est pas ?

We lucked out in early adulthood discovering the then fledgling Cirque du Soleil brand during our first visit to Vegas.  Jet lagged and rather keen to sleep rather than waste $46 on a show that was described as being "sort of like a circus, but not like a circus". Taking a punt on this uncertain theatrical experience was a fabulous moment of pure serendipity that has enriched my whole being ever since.

The global renaissance of the circus movement that this Canadian troupe orchestrated has a number of academic case studies written about it and an INSEAD penned Harvard Business Review paper that introduces the red ocean, blue ocean strategy concept using Cirque as a central example.  In the School of Management at Royal Holloway we use it as a business model innovation case study that brings sumptuos visual appeal and a touch of glamour.

From the minion like character, who popped up out of a man hole in the stage floor to interject a randomly striking mime that marked the transition from one phase to another, the creative designers brought a masterful combination of effects. Kooza is an Asian themed performance that unusually dispenses with the DNA like French accordian musical style and brings flowing saris and macho maharaja costumes with an elephant safari like  bandstand housing the musicians, all glittering with rich reds and glimmering gold.  

Speaking clowns, rather than the typical global audience friendly mime act, offered the opporunity for faster humour that used overtly sexual audience interactions, picking on both genders more-or-less equally.  The pre-show took place  in the stalls seating area and provided ample opportunities for spontaneous and lightly scripted interactions that helped pull the audience together and quickly transition beyond the traditional expectant and apprehensive reserve.

Music was more contextual than centre stage, different from  Alegria.  The darker use of voodoo or Dia-de-las-Muertes skeleton characters perhaps seemed to jar a little, although the loose conceptual story line that usually joins the eclectic mix of spectacluar costume, movement, music and amazing acts of skill was difficult to appreciate.  

No matter, the stage is always resplendent with not one, but two and sometimes more divergent points of visual appeal, really linking the performance elements in too rigid a structure was likely to reduce the spectacle, rather than enhance it.  Trying to keep up and not miss any of the action is for me part of the transcendental experience.  You just want it to keep going-and-going and never finish as you look on in a hypnotic, trance like state.

The extra wide, slightly swinging red velvet seats in the stalls of the opulent Royal Albert Hall setting, not your regular crammed or plastic affairs, offer a sense of luxury as you are surrounded by golden framed red curtained boxes, or loggias as they are dubbed.  The circular access offers less congested interval provision of ice creams and drinks, although the mens facilities were all the way around the other side, which ever way you came at it.  

Basking in the late afternoon winter sun on the steps overlooking this cultural homage domed venue, as a group of young students played skate hockey increased the feeling of indulgence.  The chance to experince this superb public space justifies the ticket price alone, worry little what you are going to see.  

But if you get the chance next year to see another Cirque du Soleil show, book it ! Grab your chance to experience something totally amazing.  Do not fret about the cost and go for the best seats in the house.   Trust me,  It will be worth it !

Images are all author photos (of advertising bill boards outside the venue).  MBADirector is a non-commercial blog.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

GoLoc8: Entrepreneurial Marketing Guest Speaker - Wayne Soutter

Friday saw the Royal Holloway MSc Entrepreneurship students receive an inspiring presentation from serial entrepreneur Wayne Soutter and his current technology start up GoLoc8.

Using a polished business pitch students were introduced to the new business concept, a GSM mobile tracker device for high value packages.  The inspiration for this innovation, that is made possible by significant price reductions in the base circuit board technology, came during a family trip to a London museum which revealed an unconscious need for a child tracker product.

Wayne Soutter Entrepreneurial head of GoLoc8

Eagle eyed MSc Entrepreneurship students

Having assessed the competitive marketplace for children and pets, Wayne and the team at GoLoc8 (an ingenious protectable variant of the functional benefit 'Go-Locate') settled on packages where there was a need for precise and reliable tracking not currently afforded by courier gateway controls that might only offer 0.5km accuracy.  (Lost in Heathrow cargo area - "I'm sure it's somewhere in here ?"  Harnessing low energy blue tooth tech customers will be able to receive exception reporting for temperature variations (e.g. dry ice stored human organs), light exposure and drop shocks (e.g. high value computer servers).  

I have a question: How does this work in the real world ?

GoLoc8 tracker production design
The masters students were given four real questions the business had faced to consider in their discussion groups and Wayne revealed the decision tree process GoLoc8 had gone through thus far.  The product is just about to go into a 500 unit proof of concept production run, ahead of a major venture capital investment that will enable a full scale launch.  

Two key learning points were emphasised by  entrepreneurial marketing lecturer Justin O'Brien following this lively and highly interactive session; 

(1) The importance of serendipitous networking.  Wayne had developed the concept having struck up a conversation with a senior sales person from a leading courier service, on a plane back from Ireland.  

(2) Speed-to-market as an important competitive advantage.  Having investigated opportunities to patent the new tracker product GoLoc8 concluded that customer intimacy and benefit innovation were likely to be their critical success factors, although two design patents are likely to be taken out.  

Hate training days ? & Why is a good lunch so important ?

Arty breakfast bar photo I just liked & had to include...
Ever feel like you are in prison ?
Corporate training events aren't always something that busy professionals look forwards to....
Clearly, it is motivating to see time and cash invested in your longer term development (provided it's not part of a disciplinary process !), but training days & longer can be rather hit and miss  I find.  

I have attended many and even run a few myself but I'd always wondered why a standing joke response  was "It was a good lunch" ? 

Mal Maison, Oxford (castle)
Having hidden under the radar for a number of years, essentially due to logistical family challenges, I finally succumbed to renewed impetus from our enlightened head of school and the inked in development action in this years performance achievement process that stated that I would attend a teaching case writing training event.  I have written lots of case studies, I sense they  are quite good.  Why do I need to develop this capability further I pondered ?
Appealing Irreverent Hotel Brand Personality
I will be brutally honest, I only signed up for this because it was located in Oxford (a nice place to visit that is a couple of hours from my home) and the recommended hotel was a Mal Maison.  I like their sumptuous use of bold velvet like colours and textures that are very much out of the mould.  Better still, not only one of the few hotel chains I actively prefer and will pay a premium for, the Oxford property forms part of the historic castle site & some of the rooms are tastefully renovated from the prison block.  

"If I have to go, at least I'll enjoy the hotel experience."

Maggie, Maggie, Maggie - Out ! Out ! Out !

Emotive ex-Prime Minister
I have a pro-business orientation, borne out of 16 years in marketing roles at a leading Footsie company that looked after its staff pretty well.  Honestly - I have found working in the left leaning university sector quite an eye opener.  BUT, even I was surprised to schmooze into the opulent coffee area and find a dazzling portrait of Lady Thatcher on the wall.   Now, I should have paid more attention at silly-0'clock when I had been directed to the Thatcher wing at the gleamingly new looking Said Business School building that is bang opposite the train station.  I took a quick iPhoto and pinged it to my colleagues, to validate my shock and awe.  I can't ever envision this happening in our institution !  But it is beautiful Oxford, where endowments are huge and money talks.  
Oddly, given my profession, I'm not a great participant at big room events.  I like a personalised learning experience, I need to interact extensively with others as I learn.  I switch off quickly if the pace is too slow or content less relevant to me.  I can keep myself entertained by looking at the participants and the room set up (the exec ed Thatcher wing offered luxurious facilities that included a power socket in every desk, beautiful natural materials and a comfortable environment that was just right), but this only lasts for so long.

So about the 'Good lunch' ?

Healthy puddings - an oxymoron ?

Now that's a cheese board:  pilots be jealous !
A veritable feast even Maggie would have been proud of.  Look ! Friendly staff, lots of high quality choice, hots, colds, even a cold meat antipasto platter.  Puddings and a cheese board to die for.  Never mind the diet, or the soporific effects a heavy lunch often deliver in the graveyard shift.  

So why do I remember sarcastic comments about the lunch ?  I guess, if you don't want to attend a training day, but are given no choice but to... Or you are profoundly jaded by visionary mantras being extolled by 'the management' and would rather just get on with your nice little job, the highlight of the day might really be the lighthearted interaction over lunch.  A hot, pleasant and free lunch.

Perhaps my personal enthusiasm had missed this perspective historically ?

Table politics:  Pixar culture fable

The long rectangular table gave me the perfect spring board to share my power positioning story gleaned from reading up on Pixar this summer.  SIDEBAR context: I have been looking to write something about the clever gender appeal Pixar animations achieve, counter pointing Disney's pink princess prowess with more masculine stories that delivers box office busting whole family (& no-kids grown ups too !) audience appeal.  In seeking to establish the now popular Silicon Valley collaborative, flat organisational culture, John Lassiter ran team meetings that purported to be highly egalitarian.  Perhaps the power of the Pixar product offering has been driven by the frequent open feedback screenings, that encouraged everyone to critique work-in-progress and offer up creative solutions.  However, the long rectangular table shape and the use of name cards that positioned the most senior staff at the centre had the effect of marginalising staff who sat on the extremities, who felt less engaged and able to make their contribution.  Solution, if I remember correctly, a large square set up and absolutely NO name tent cards pre-allocating seating.  

Royal Holloway MBA
We have been having a similar issue this year with our MBA teaching space and successfully changed the rooming in favour of collaborative hollow square, seminar style seating, that is so much more effective.  
It's better: A round the table

Sometimes unconscious, simple things = big impact.

Justin O'Brien: Daring to be different ?
Contrary to the expression 'You can't teach and old dog new tricks' - I got a lot out of my teaching case writing event.  Yes the lunch was amazing and yes the setting and personal space created by just two days away offered a very good tonic.  But my thinking was challenged in a highly positive way, I have already improved two cases I have been using and submitted them for publication, with more to follow.  Learning already put very much into action.  And clearly my motivation is high - when was the last time you read a blog post (this interesting ?...) about a training event ?

Justin attended a two day case writing workshop hosted by The Case Centre and highly recommends the experience.  Find out more by linking here.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Bye Bye boring CV: Hello ! video presentation

I have been experimenting with alternative forms of assessment in my MBA and MSc Entrepreneurship classes over the last year, partly because its fun and reasonably innovative, partly because I have noticed a trend towards personal digital brands being supported via YouTube clips.  YouTube is the number two social media platform, important to remember (especially if you are not a digital native).  

I believe this to be an important professional employability skill that not everyone is comfortable with, unlike personal statements and written applications.

This last week I have been coaching a couple of undergraduates who have been asked to present their applications by answering two questions in a 2 minute video.  On the Royal Holloway MBA we have also experimented with the video interview technique, it can provide a motivation hurdle (the less motivated fall out of the process via self de-selection) and allow for rapid assessment of inter-personal presentation skills that you get in an in person interview, without having to run through 35 minutes of odiously repetitive questions and ticking the 'fair process' box when you've known from minute 2 (or 5) that the candidate is in or out.  

Additionally it may allow for some measure of creative and technological prowess, as the functionality to produce a half decent video clip is now embedded on many smart phones, so not just restricted to film studies types and tech gurus.  The settings in YouTube allow you to limit the discoverability, and although you feel like you are making something very public, you can lock down access to just  the people who you have shared the link with.

It is unlikely to replace interviews altogether, for key roles the intangible 'likeability' factor and getting a sense of presence is only realisable in a meeting context.  But positioned as part of an initial screening process I think this approach is going to become more and more popular. 

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Dunkin retro biscuits: what links frolicking ferns with vanilla creams ?

Derived from the latin "bis cotus", twice baked, biscuits are a quaintly typical British food.  Probably acculturated as a staple for their usefulness in the navy, the dry bake providing natural preservative qualities for epic voyages.   Nations like England, France and Holland built their empires under the power of sails and its interesting to see how enduring its culinary impact has been.  

Another cracking example is marmalade, that really should be called orange jam.  The preserved citrus dose was used to kerb scurvy (vitamin C deficiency) for sailors. Side bar: the American nickname for Brits 'Limey' derives from popular consumption of citrus limes. 

How old are they ?

Rich Tea 17th C

Digestives 1839

Cadbury Fingers 1897

Bourbon 1920

Oreo 1912

Chocolate Digestive 1925

Jaffa cakes 1927

Wagon wheels 1948

Maryland cookies 1956

Hob nob 1986

My favourite - the fig roll (or newton) was probably invented by the Egyptians.

Ferntastic Cream Trivia

Iconically British are the Custard Cream, a vanilla flavoured sandwich with a cream filling, so popular that the name was entered, with cosplay, in the 11th edition of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary.  Historically produced by companies such as Carrs and Crawfords they are now even honoured by Britain's favourite coffee shop, Costa, with an uber sized variant that packs enough calories to deserve a meal sized government health warning. 

The stalwart custard cream was invented in 1908 and since voted 13 times Britain's favourite biscuit.  The McVitie's Carlisle based factory, that employs 125 staff, bakes 6.5 million each day, but you will find a range of brands offering these historic value-branded packs low down and high up on the supermarket shelves, pushed aside by their glitzier stable mates.  The Guinness record holding Custard Cream weighed in at more than 15 kg and measured 59 cm long.  Surely a meal for a small village and not something you would look to dunk in your tea !

Uber sized retro snacks or meal occasion ?

Here follows a piece of trivia you will want to instantly forget, as reciting it will make you appear to be more nerdy than you would ever want to be. I blame listening to too much Radio 4.  The Custard Cream sports an historic design element that reflected a popular, flirty pass time.  The indented, swirling edge patterns are in fact fern fronds.   Ferns, yes - those plain, evergreen, flowerless plants that fester in dark, damp corners.  

Advanced empire technology, in this case Wardian cases, allowed tender imports to be grown in sealed glass cases in Englands harsher climates and collecting different varieties of ferns became quite a rage.  Late Victorian and Edwardian ladies were able to fraternise with members of the opposite sex during fern hunting expeditions. By all accounts, it was a popular pass time and historians draw important cultural links to early emancipation, and insinuated flirting.   

Fern hunting even has its own latin derived label 'pteriadomania' and was perceived to be a healthy, educational and morally acceptable pastime until it fell out of fashion with the onset of the Great War.   Now forget you ever read it!

Too Dunk or Not to Dunk ?

After years of global jet-set living, I have noticed that dunking is a strangely British habit, that of dipping your biscuit of choice into hot, milky tea, whilst taking great care to avoid losing any in the drink.  Battered and slightly cracked plain digestives are my nemesis, the rough oaty texture seems to blossom into a sensual mush that, when timed to perfection literally melts on the tongue.  But, with a larger, circular design that is often too broad for standard mugs, and requiring a multi-dunk strategy, there is a high-to-extreme likelihood of a floating-flop situation, resulting in a totally ruined cuppa.  

There must be some sub-conscious dunk etiquette ?  First up - check with your co-consuming group that dunking is permitted (some do not tolerate such low brow behaviours, never even ask at business dinners), then explain to anyone from 'overseas' that it really is considered ok to sink your baked delight into your warm beverage and finally, note that ideally just two immersions are permitted that should provide 60%+ of the surface area with a good soaking.  Fingers must NEVER touch liquid.  Absolutely no floating floppers allowed.  I must ask Paul Hollywood his view on this, Mary Berry I suspect would tut with extreme disapproval.  

Literal calls to excess consumption

I love literal brand names like Qik-Fit, Dunkin Donuts, Yellow Pages, Black Circles, and alike.  Simple, basic but effective, often being memorable in a highly utilitarian manner.  In closing this blog entry, I share this South African import brand (below) of my favourite biscuits, fig rolls (although perhaps without the figs)  EET-SUM-MOR, uses an inspired corruption of the English language, yet delivers a very clear communication of the brands key appeal.   Yummy, yummy, in my tummy !

South African bluntly Literal 'Call to Arms' ?