Marketers, leave them kids alone! Why it’s time to rein in the prying data mafia

A brand needs to have a reason for its existence, beyond its functional benefits. Its power is the experiences that it creates every day. When responsibility fails, so do brands. This is why the biggest risk to brands these days is not competitors, but unchecked, unfettered, dubious marketing practices devoid of any sense of responsibility towards the society.

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Trustees of the Earth

Business responsibility is not a new phrase. Everything that needed to be said about it has possibly already been said in many forums, several times over. Still, there is a gap between intent and action. CEOs say the right things all the time, yet companies continue to bypass every single responsibility paradigm. Why? What stops them from doing the right thing?

Responsibility is an abstract term. So are sustainability, ethics, CSR and values. Embracing responsibility means bringing change in the organisation. And change is never easy. It brings pain. It brings resistance. Change is also not a single event. It is a series of events, involving several things and the biggest of them involves emotions and the inherent human resistance to change. What will bridge this gap between intent and action? Do corporate incentives need to change? Do processes need to change? Do we need more transparency?

Given the scenario that we face, we need new ways of looking at things. One such lens is the concept of trusteeship proposed by Mahatma Gandhi. It specifies that everything we do must be economically viable as well as ethical—at the same time making sure we build sustainable livelihoods for all. When applied to the world of today, it defines the core values of a business which run through how the business needs to conduct itself. Perhaps we need to look back so that we can move forward. Some extensions of it’s core beliefs can be:

Leadership for the fourth industrial revolution has to be about mindfulness. It has to be about people. A new kind of leadership is needed that builds trust, is driven by values and is open to change. The leader has to be a trustee to all the stakeholders, rising above the stereotypes to decide what she will and will not do. As a trustee to the organisation, there is no exit strategy. The leader is responsible for the impact of her decisions. This could be food for thought for venture funded companies that are currently destroying business models without taking responsibility for the damages caused. Their current philosophy is: if we don’t do it someone else will. Perhaps it could it change to, ‘If it can be done, let’s do it right and take people along.’

There are no outsiders anymore. New ways of thinking and acting are required from all stakeholders, including individuals, business executives, social influencers and policy-makers. Deep, meaningful conversations and not just excel sheets hold the key to responsibility. This means thinking not just about what new perspectives might be needed, but finding entirely new ways to create and update our thinking over time in collaboration with other people in the industry, policy makers and customers themselves. The corporate brand needs to move from product attributes, smart logos and great TV advertisements into being more human, responsive and above all trustworthy.

Pro-active responsibility for an accelerating world. Current models of responsibility are mostly reactive. They seek to rectify damage to the environment and social systems. In a data-driven world, there is the potential to cause massive damage with far-reaching consequences. In the next few years existing systems and value chains will need a reboot not just in terms of finding newer markets and growth avenues, they will come under increasing regulatory and public pressure for transparency, trustworthiness and public good. We can’t any longer say, ‘Hey this is a new innovative product that will be loved by millions but there will be a few downstream issues. But, we needn’t look at them now, let’s cross that bridge when we get to it.’ Companies, reputations and lives will get destroyed with such short-term thinking. Trusteeship is about taking the higher ground, about getting the design right in the first place. Proactive is the default norm.

Business responsibility therefore needs a modern context. It needs to bring in the many connections and technology interchanges that really define the twenty-first century, as well as build frameworks that reflect the changing realities. If done right, responsibility for the modern world can define the boundaries of the corporation—and its very soul!

(Original Post)

Agritech needs indepth Customer Journey Mapping

When I was small, I remember that farmers in my village could smell the soil to decide if it was ready for sowing. For people who lived off the land, taking these decisions based on gut instinct and traditions was common. Over time, I noticed that many of them had started talking to the scientists from an agricultural research university which was near our farm. The scientists would give them knowledge about what to grow, how to protect produce from pests and more importantly how to maximise yields on their land parcels. The farmers who listened to them mostly did well, and sometimes I wondered whether other farmers would be able to get the same amount of insight.

Over time I did notice a large number of apps that frequently emerged to address farmer needs around knowledge and market access. We then undertook a study to understand how technology was helping farmers. We found that while a plethora of apps existed, their use was at best sporadic or non-existent. Not just India, this finding was consistent across Bangladesh, Cameroon, Chile, China, Ethiopia, Fiji, Ghana, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Rwanda, Senegal, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Turkey, Uganda, Zambia and more. While the phone had penetrated the rural communities, it was used mainly by farmers to stay connected. The services which technology companies had launched with much fanfare and copious amounts of funding had barely any traction.

Today, five years later, the situation hasn’t changed much, as most farmers as who are in dire need of support barely get any help from solutions which seemingly have been tailor-made for them. While I am no expert on farming, I do know that at a basic level the farming ecosystem consists of land, seeds, equipment, irrigation, labour, finance, market access, information and some kinds of livelihood protection schemes.

Most agri-tech ventures including large multinationals are broadly attempting to organise this sector through some of these services:

  • Organizing and providing access to information
  • Equipment access and delivery
  • Integration with market models and platforms
  • Financing and Livelihood Protection schemes
  • Efficiencies through process automation
  • IOT solutions for soil and water management etc.

The reality though is, while the suite of services and solutions is growing, few are getting enough on ground traction. Whichever way you look at it, the situation boils down to a few fundamentals:

  • DISCOVERABILITY – Getting people in the agricultural ecosystem to be aware of what is on offer and why they need it is a discoverability challenge that needs to be surpassed in a country as diverse as India.
  • NEW MODELS – Twenty-first-century models have moved from ownership to on demand. Explaining this to people is still a complex conversation even in the urban areas. E.g. Ola vs buying a car. A trustworthy person or brand who can build confidence around the offer and ongoing services is needed.
  • SCHEMES – Similarly, there are other decisions around livelihood protection schemes, market access schemes and more which need to be decoded in the ways and nuances so that people can relate to them better.
  • TECHNOLOGY – With IOT and cloud-based solutions being offered convincing the customer on the efficacy of the product or service is invariably another challenge.
  • VIABILITY – Many of the agri-tech companies may be startups whose own source of funds may be limited. Should the farmer be asked to sign up for the latest, greatest today with someone who may not be around tomorrow?
  • REPUTATION – For the simplest of things today we read reviews to judge whether the investment is worth it.  In agriculture-related decision making what is the measure of the reputation of a company?

In other words, the customer journey map has many personas who have specific needs that can be addressed across business models: 

  • People within the Ecosystem, Organisational Stakeholders,
  • Information delivery and User experience
  • Payments and service models
  • Partner Ecosystem
  • Data Management, Analytics
  • Devices and Technology
  • Training and ongoing Learning

We need to keep in mind that this is an emerging ecosystem within an increasingly fragile community. The lessons learnt from the excesses of the recent techno era need to be applied here first. We cannot afford a scorched earth situation for this community in times of climate change. While technology solutions exist, a relevant and trustworthy framework to farming needs and real-life situations is the real need of the hour.