Monday, September 18, 2017

Decoding Luxe : Amazing story of a reader (entrepreneur)


This story is about a day when some random pieces of events came together and unravelled a serendipitous but dazzling reward.
That day was no different, we (my wife and kids) were excited to hop on the next flight to Goa to celebrate my kids’ birthday.
We boarded the flight and soon I got into my groove of self reflection while leafing through an in-flight magazine kept there. Suddenly, I saw a feature ad of a book with signature black and golden colour combination, suited enough to convey that it had a luxury element or at least it had the element to draw requisite expensive attention.
Now, pieces of puzzle started to fall in place. I, while being a connoisseur of luxury, happen to be the owner of an e-commerce platform that I acquired recently that operates in super premium and luxury retail. Anything that had the potential of tantalising my grey cells to know more about Indian luxury space, where I have betted my capital and passion was due to be tended very meticulously.
Sitting up straight, I delved in the advertisement and quickly realised the scintillating piece of research by Mahul Brahma “Decoding Luxe” was waiting to have my eyes and hands on it.
An entrepreneur spirit can be overwhelming sometime when it gets on the nerves to have things then and there, its sans time and place, its pure passion, but this time, it was mid-air!
Thankfully the spirit settled in logical space and searched for the places to acquire the book once I land than lunging to the spare parachutes that are kept in commercial flights (You didn’t know that! Did you?)
We alighted at Goa airport, I was busy shuffling through the bookstores' phone numbers than my luggage, immediately contacted 4 of them to face the dejection of not having the book on stands. Next call went to my office guys back in Gurgaon, rushed them to the store there, got a book picked and asked them to courier it to me with a priority delivery in next 24 hours.
I planned my stay at Taj Exotica, a beautiful property, outliving its name, and fairly rooted deep to have that extra effort to be made to savour the fruits of luxury and exclusive experience. Luxury and experience is a give and take relationship, its never one sided, it can’t be, this time, the location of Taj took away my chance of having that book delivered from Gurgaon in the timeframe I was looking to.
I use an amazon.com account, now leaving no stone unturned, I installed one more app in my wife’s phone for accessing amazon.in. Imagine the excitement when I saw the listing on Amazon! But, remember, give and take? Finding the book on Kindle, setting up my new laptop that I brought along and then finally acquiring the digital print of the book took four hours of entrepreneurial spirit and time.
Mahul has done an impeccable job in putting lucid perspectives about what, how and why of luxury in India through this piece of art.
Decoding Luxe connected those dots and solved the puzzles that pave way to my vision and readies me to embark on my entrepreneurial journey ahead with luxury in India!

Thanks,

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Let There Be Colour

The media, especially general and electronic media, is always in love with darkness. The dark side of humanity always gets highest readership and TRP. If you ask the editors, they will blatantly tell you, “It is public demand”. Our appetite as readers and viewers are more suited for the dark news. This is a primary reason why I chose to remain a business editor and not move to general news. I could never choose between dark and darker. But even in business, scams have a higher viewership than the success of a young entrepreneur from the bottom of the pyramid. Human interest sunshine stories are rare, hard to come by. It is during these dark times that festivals bring us back to light. Be it the festival of lights or festival of colours, we free our minds from all the darkness and bask in the light of celebrations.

Amid all the unrest, amid all the troubles, amid all the difference these colours paint our lives in hues of happiness. We again fall in love with light and darkness just disappears. No wonder the texture of news presented also changes during festivities – the gory is pushed away from prime time and page 1.

So let us not forget the happiness that colours bring to our lives. Let us not forget how we celebrate our lives together with our fellow beings irrespective of the differences in religion, caste, creed, gender or skin colour.
  
So next time when we see a sunshine story, let us be a part of that celebration, let us relish the efforts of a humanitarian in making the society a better place, so that the TRP-driven media is forced to broadcast and publish stories on humanity. 

And I believe there is enough hue of humanity still left to be captured by thousands of cameras every day. You just need an open mind because Colours Are Brighter When the Mind Is Open.”

(Reproduced from mjPost editorial)

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Luxury: The Great Escape

A few years back I had a conversation with our Union Finance Minister Mr Arun Jaitley on his penchant for luxury writing instruments. It is a well-guarded secret and very few people know about his collection. When we started the conversation he told me, “I just dictate and I am quite fast at that. I don’t want to talk about it (the pen collection), it is a personal matter.” However, after a little while when he realised that I want to know about his collection not as a journalist but as a fellow collector. And I did keep my word and kept it personal. I was then working on a story on lawyers and how they have a great love for writing instruments. Another senior politician and lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi is also not open to talk about his passion. “Yes, I do have a collection of writing instruments,” he had told me. The legal grapevine has it that he also has introduced some of his friends to fine writing instruments and has been successful in nursing a similar passion in them to full bloom.
What’s with lawyers and luxury writing instruments? If you spot them at the courtrooms you may find three sharpened HB pencils jutting out of their coat pockets. However, if you see them in their chambers, and sometimes at their homes, you will discover their secret passion. They are not very eager to talk about it or flaunt it, but if they discover that there is an appreciation for their penchant for pens, they open up and chat just the way connoisseurs talk about their passion.
Luxury, in its various forms, acts as a great escape. Luxury is a great partner for solitude. One escapes into luxury. Just like these lawyers and politicians who only find time to dictate, secretly find solace in their collection of pens. They told me in their busy schedules they just don’t get any time for themselves, just themselves. So they secretly take out an hour, may be an odd one, and spend time with their collection. They write, they clean and they fill the ink of very interesting colours. “It is like meditation,” a senior lawyer had told me.   
The story is very similar with watch and clock collectors. I call them timekeepers. I have watched them closely since my birth, secretly escaping into this luxury. My ancestral home has a great collection of antique luxury clocks and pocket watches. This was a collection that spans three generations. Both my grandfather and his father, when they were alive, and now my father, spend one hour just winding all the clocks that include the grandfather’s longcase, chimes and pocketwatches, some date back to the late 1800s, of the biggest brands. This was their private time, a time of solitude, no one was to enter the clock room for that one hour. They never used to boast about their collection, it was very personal.
The case is very similar with connoisseurs of say cigar, single malt and luxury/vintage cars. These are very personal and private escapades.
This escapement has always been a very dominant, yet the hidden reason behind the love for luxury. 
The only difference is that brand custodians never looked at this avenue with a magnifying glass.
This escapade, if properly harnessed is the next billion-dollar-churner for all luxury brands across the globe. They just need to recalibrate the positioning. Instead of positioning a brand meant for flaunting the logo where a customer will spend millions of dollars to it show off, position the brand as a great escape where consumers will be spending even a higher amount to buy an escape from their busy and mundane lives where they do not have any personal time, just for themselves. They will pay top-dollar for that one hour a week, or that lazy private beach or yacht holiday, away from everyone, where the brand will be the lone companion to their luxury solitude.
Just escaping into luxury and make the brands richer by billions.

Luxury is the great escape. 

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Festival de Cannes: A heady mix of luxury, aspirations and counterfeits

Palais des Festival, Cannes: I had the opportunity of having a brief conversation with French actor Marion Cotillard (of The Dark Knight Rises, Inception, A Good Year fame) at the Palais des Festival in Cannes, France. She congratulated me on the selection of my debut movie as a lead actor by Cannes jury and then said, “So you also are a luxury writer? Did you find anything interesting here?” I told her that we journalists/writers have a nose for stories, especially in strange places. Marion was wearing a Dior Haute Couture dress, Dior shoes, and Chopard jewellery.
But this piece is not about the razzle dazzle of the Cannes red carpet stars, it is about the people who get ready in their (fake) designer-labelled tuxedoes and gowns and stand outside the barricade from dawn with a placard held high,desperately seeking a pass for screening in the evening. It is also about the co-existence of the dazzling luxury stores and the extensive use of counterfeits or first copies or fake designer labels by people.
(Image source: Getty image)
It was my first screening experience at the coveted Festival de Cannes, my first humble “so-called red carpet” moment at Cannes Court M√©trageand little did I realise how this is an aspiration for so many – young and old – whoare ready in their best rented attires since dawn, begging for a pass. I spoke to one of them to understand how it works.
Julia is an independent graphic designer. She had come in a classic-Valentino-red-gown-look alike. The first red carpet screening will be at 6.30 pm (Cannes time). She will wait with baited breath for 12 straight hours and keep begging for a pass. And some lucky ones do get passes this way, every day. She has rented this counterfeit for Euro 100 for five days. The original Valentino would have needed two more zeroes. She will try her luck. She will wait every day till she gets one. She told me there is a huge market for such copies of designer labels that are available for rent, for men as well as for women. To an untrained eye it is as good as the original. “To me, this is a Valentino”, she told me with a pride of ownership.
The razzle dazzle of luxury brands generate, although unwittingly, a parallel market --a market for counterfeits. The luxury-crazed non-stars want to flaunt as well just like the stars that shine on the red carpet. The dominance of fakes and counterfeits at Cannes amazed me. Every second person, across genders, are flaunting labels, and almost all of them are counterfeits. The most prevalent was in the categories of accessories and leather goods – bags, belts, sunglasses, watches, what have you.
I saw the biggest of the boutiques of all the coveted luxury brands along the Cannes Riviera, but I also witnessed the biggest counterfeit show that surpassed these genuine labels by living mannequins, the non-stars. These non-stars sported amazing variations of Louis Vuitton monogram and Gucci logos, I am sure Marc Jacobs or Tom Ford would have found it interesting too (they were once creative directors at LV and Gucci, respectively).
What I admired the most was the way they were flaunting the counterfeits, with such élan and elegance. To them, they were as good as real.
But at the end a fake is a fake. It is bound to hit the luxury market hard. And this dominance and growth is due to a wrong branding strategy by most of the luxury brand custodians. They give so much attention to branding labels and making them aspirational, that the story of exquisite craftsmanship and design, somehow takes a backseat. A buyer needs to appreciate why the label has become so aspirational and only then they will not opt for a fake Omega, just because they see George Clooney sporting that logo on the red carpet.
Let your quest for luxury continue.
Mahul Brahma

Friday, April 15, 2016

“PR TRANSFORMS CRISIS INTO AN OPPORTUNITY” : MAHUL BRAHMA

Interview with Priyanka Sharma of Amity

Q:  How has been your journey so far?

It has been a very interesting journey so far. I have done my Masters in Economics from University of Calcutta.I have been a senior journalist for a long time and have held senior editorial posts in The ECONOMIC TIMES,CNBC18 and FINANCIALCHRONICLE.Then I started my Corporate communicator career as media advisor to MR. Sanjiv Goenka, Chairman of RP-SG group, and as a PRO of CESC.Later I joined Ambuja Neotia as head of corporate communications & Branding and media advisor to Mr. Harshvardhan Neotia, Chairman and MD of the group.I am currently head of Corporate Communications and Brhttps://priyankasharma12blog.wordpress.com/anding for a Tata Steel and SAIL joint venture, mjunction.

Q:Why do you think corporate requires Public Relations        specialists?

PR specialists plays a vital role in operating the corporate houses in an efficientmanner.PR helps in maintaining the positive image of an organization.They often report directly to the CEO of the company and serve as advisors in strategic planning for enhancing the profile of the company.PR assists in boosting the credibility of an organization,since it works through numerous reliable intermediaries.

Q:What is the difference between Public Relations and advertising?

Both advertising and PR are attempts of persuasion and involves using the massmedia.While both techniques have similarities, yet they are essentially different.Advertisements involves creating paid announcements to be promoted through different types of media.Whereas the role of a PR is to get free publicity for the company. PR based publicity is more credible because it is viewed as a third-party endorsement.On the other hand,advertising appears less credible because the viewers and consumers knows that it has been bought by a company trying to sell them something.

Q:What are the essential qualities of a PR?

Some of the essential qualities that are expected in a PR professional involves the following-
  • Should have strong communication and influencing skills.
  • Possess excellent writing ability to clearly articulate messages.
  • Ability to work under pressure and willing to work for long hours.
  • Updated with the current affairs
  • Should be creative,innovative and possess troubleshooting skills.
  • To build and maintain relevant media contacts.
  • Must have leadership qualities to effectively work in a team.
  • Should be a patient listener.

Q.How would you go about finding relevant contacts and sources?

It is very essential for a PR to maintain contacts and sources.Since I have started my career as a journalist,I have been in contact with large number of people from media industry.That has proved to be advantageous in my profession.Social networking also aids in building contacts with media .

Q:What sort of media outlets do you follow on a day-to-day basis?

Google news is one of the easiest and common medium to keep updated with the current affairs.You get collage and montage of everything that has been published across media.On daily basis, I read THE ECONOMIC TIMES,that has been my old habit and I have also started my career as a journalist in ECONOMIC TIMES.Apartfrom that,as a corporate communicator and branding head in mjunction ,my matter of concern is mainly upon news related to e-commerce,coal,steel or any kind of changes in policies related to it.

Q:What are some of the recent growing trends in the public relations industry?

As far as public relations industry is concerned, the entire system of the media management or public relationship is based on certain basic fundamentals that remains constant.The recent changes consists of the rise of new media, i.e. social media, that has become very important part in building media relationships.Earlier we use to deal only with print & television journalists and now there are new age writers who are experts in social media.Identifying and reaching out to the influential bloggers forms an important part of  building media relations,since they have large number of followers.

Q:Who are the major clients of your company?

The major clients include- TATA. SAIL and coal India.

Q:Do you have any strong competitors in the market?

We don’t have any strong competitors since, mjunction is a unique kind of e-commerce company.

Q:What kind of internal PR strategies being planned for the company?

It is very essential for a corporate communicator to pay heed to internal resources of the organization. The main focus is to enhance company’s relationship with the employees by facilitating  good communication among them. An organization’s success at every level depends on internal PR being  valued at both macro and micro levels. One of the best tool to keep the employees informed and feel connected is through internal newsletters. At mjunction, we have mjpost , which is a quarterly in-
house newsletters that reaches out to the employees. It features achievements of employees, recognitions and other notable moments. Even the internal stakeholders are kept updated by providing
information regarding the new contracts, award ceremonies and other happenings within mjunction.

Q:What are the CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) initiative taken by the company?

As part of our CSR initiatives, mjunction promotes a trust called ‘ejunction’. It promotes basic computer literacy and communication skills free of cost to the underprivileged sections of the society.We also organize a conference where these people are given opportunity to inspire the audience.

Q:What is PR crisis? Have you ever faced any such crisis in mjunction or in your previous company?

PR crisis is the circumstance that arises when an organization faces a challenge to its reputation. It may arise because of an unpredictable event that might have a serious impact upon an organization’s image. The company should accept their mistake if they went wrong somewhere because the media as well as the people will be more willing to forgive an honest mistake than a calculated lie.
Earlier when I was with CESC as a PRO a PRO there was a power disruption at NRS hospital. The most interesting dimension of that job was the brand recall only happened in absence of the service. In a hospital when the power is not working, it is extremely critical because there are ventilators that are on power system and people may lose life because of the power failure, there are critical operations that are going on which due to power failure may result in loss of life. So when a power supply was disrupted, People pointed towards CESC and media aimed it’s PRO. As soon as I came to know about the power failure, I immediately interacted with the media to ensure them that we are looking into the matter and trying to resolve the issue as early as possible. It is important to be demonstrative because the media as well as the public will have their own assumptions if no information is given to them by the company during crisis. Once you’ve got the situation under control, use it as an opportunity for making lasting changes. The crisis should be utilized as advantage for strengthening the image of the company.


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Managing reputation

With the birth of a brand, its reputation is born. Just like the brand itself, the reputation needs to be nurtured and, more importantly, protected. Reputation can’t be built on what you are promising to deliver or achieve, it is only dependent on the promises that you keep, on whether you walk the talk.  
It takes years, even decades, to build the reputation of a luxury brand and just moments to ruin it as the Oracle of Omaha rightly said. So a brand custodian’s primary responsibility along with building the brand is to protect and build on the reputation.
With luxury brands, as these are not personality-dependent, the reputation management is primarily managing the reputation of the product or service in the eyes of the customers.
With the social media becoming all-powerful, this is a medium that needs to be kept under strict observation. One tweet can snowball into a reputation disaster in no time, even for the biggest of the brands. Not very long back, a huge brand, which is primarily into trunks and other leather/canvas goods, had released an ad where it showed that the trunks were hand-made. The reality was different and the trunks were machine-made and only a small part of the stitching process was manual. This truth after it was exposed on social media had dented the reputation of the brand significantly.
So, the first lesson is to know that honesty is the best policy. A brand is basically the sum of its virtues and its reputation is sum of how much it is living up to those virtues. So if the brand is living up to its brand promise then it is able to not only protect but also build its reputation.
A brand has promises to keep. And customer satisfaction is the biggest promise. Ensuring that a customer is satisfied with the promises made by the luxury brand is the biggest responsibility of the brand custodian, besides building the brand. As every touch point of the brand is responsible for making the brand, they can also ruin the reputation in no time. Just one rude behaviour by a boutique assistant can generate an apathy in the mind of the customers and social media can add momentum, mass and voices to this grievance. So, it is literally a walk on the tightrope. Every element of the brand has to ensure that only the best is delivered to the customer as they are the king.
Luxe is experiential. So the premium that a brand charges for the luxe is largely dependent on the experience of the customer. Thus one rude behaviour or even a slight reluctance to serve can break it bad.   
So, reputation management for a luxury brand comprises three aspects: living up to the brand promises, living up to the brand virtues and keeping customer at the centre of its universe.

Let your quest for luxury continue. 

Monday, February 29, 2016

The dark side of luxury

Dear readers you would recall that in my earlier posts I had shared the age-old love affair between branded luxury and our great nation of Royalty. One such example is that in the 1920s, 20% of Rolls Royce's global sales was from our great nation. There are similar true legends about Cartier’s Maharaja of Patiala necklace or Maharaja of Kashmir’s customised Louis Vuitton trucks’ collection.
However, luxury has also been a great tool for one-upmanship and some secret fetishes since ages. This is a very heavily guarded side that all luxury retailers are silent about, however, these were a chunk of their revenues then and so the demand was supplied generously. At that time there used to be dealers, mostly European traders, of these luxury items who primarily used to make their living from the generous commissions of the Maharajas and Zamindars. Thereby hangs a lesson for retailers and brand custodians.
I will share a few of such instances to give you the feel of the other side of luxury that took place in Bengal in the 19th and early 20th centuries. My friend graphic novelist Sarnath Banerjee has shared a story of a certain Zamindar who accidentally hit a chandelier with his cane, knocking it off the ceiling. It fell with a terrific crash. He was so mesmerised with the tinkling of breaking glass that he broke all the glass within his reach that night. Every piece of glass was imported from Belgium and the Chandelier would have cost a fortune, even then. He had a moment of “enlightenment” and realised the more expensive the glass, the sweeter the sound.

Then began a long career of importing expensive glass from the biggest international brands from all over the world, aided by a European trader. A few examples were 16th century goblet from Prague, Ming dynasty bone China, Belgian mirrors, French wine glasses and crystal paper weights from Austro-Hungarian empire.
He made it a private hobby to break these and listen to their “music”. And sometimes he will make a grand spectacle of his passion. Once he laid out four giant-size Belgian mirrors on the street and had his brother’s carriage run over them. Small wonder, his debt rose astronomically and he died a destitude.
Another story that Sarnath had shared in his book was the competition between two of the Zamindars or Babus on how expensive their open-top phaetons (horse carriages, modern day convertibles) were. So they started adding horses. This competition rose to level when one of them replaced the horses with Zebra. This story is not uncommon when were see the competition among the Richie Rich to showcase their imported two- and four-wheeled “beauties” unabashedly.
One-upmanship has been a great driver for luxury brands since ages.
Like modern-day elite car manufacturers, these makers of phaetons were able to brand them as exclusive giving certain features to make them aspirational.

Be it on the dark side or the brighter side, branding has played a crucial role in luxury retailing. Even at that time why did the Maharaja of Patiala want Cartier to design his necklace and not any other jeweller? Why even did Nizam buy Harley Davidson for his personal postmen and not any other motorcycle? Why even Maharaja of Kashmir asked LV to customise trunks? All these brands were able to first establish an Aspiration Quotient. That would have taken years, but they were patient and gave all the time to the custodian for establishing and maturing the brand. And that is the only reason why these brands have stood the test of time. As luxury or luxe is all about perception, the value of the brand will determine how much premium you are willing to shell out.
Every luxury brand needs to first focus of the measures that I had created -- Luxe Factor, Luxe Quoties and Aspiration Quotient. The only endeavour should be to increase them. It is only after your brand has attained a certain level in these measures compared to your competition, you will know that your premium will be accepted by the consumers.
So don’t put the blame on the luxury brands, it is the job of a brand custodian to keep increasing these quotients. It is on the consumer to take it on the dark side. But, that is true even for science.
Luxury brands should appeal to both the dark and brighter sides.

Let your quest for luxury continue.


http://retail.economictimes.indiatimes.com/re-tales/the-dark-side-of-luxury/1230