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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Where is Siddika Kabir's Restaurant?

One of the must carry essentials during my student years outside Bangladesh was a book. A book not related to any fiction, fantasy or facts of real world, a book not related to any academic requirement whatsoever. No time for Masud Rana, Sunil or Shirshendu..Humayun Ahmed or Humayun Azad. But that was a book directly related to my existence, my day to day living and well being. A cook book by famous Bangladeshi chef Siddika Kabir that I didn't forget to buy at the 11th hour prior to catching a flight. Amazon describes one of her books as 'The best book for cooking written in Bengali for decades. In very easy and informative way the author has unveiled the secrets of traditional, contemporary, modern and fast-food preparing as well. Since late 70's a copy of this book is available in each household in Bangladesh as well as a part of standard packing for those who left for abroad.'

Among many other things in life, what I don't understand much are paintings, poetry, printers, photocopiers and cooking. The last in the list appears to me as easy at times, but when I get to do it myself, it appears to be as complicated as flying a fighter jet perhaps. Hence this reliance on the Bengali food Bible composed by the respected Siddika Kabir. While I am still flipping through the recipe pages of her book trying to successfully cook and eat (and let eat) some edible items, I was wondering why doesn't Siddika Kabir have any restaurants anywhere in Bangladesh? Its common knowledge that she is a familiar and popular face in cooking shows in many private television channels in the country, but wouldn't it be nice if she did have a flagship restaurant by her own name, owned by her, run by her somewhere in the city? It would be so nice to visit her signature restaurant from time to time to be served with delicious food items prepared by her very own unique recipes. Would be even nicer if she decides to show up occasionally to ask the food-lovers how the food was. She could even arrange some sort of impromptu cooking lessons in the same premises as the diners would be enjoying their food, cooked or directed by the chef herself. In a country where we love to eat, have eateries like mushrooms, its still too crowded with 'me too' restaurants or the frankly fake ones. This sector still has room for authentic food icons such as her.

In my opinion, what Siddika Kabir had been doing since 1965 deserves her to be branded, her knowledge in terms of the recipes are certainly exportable abroad where there is a large Bangladeshi diaspora presence. Same principle applies for Fakruddin's Biriyani too, if we crave over the Biriyani, wonder why this item and the brand have not been exported massively outside Bangladesh so far? Are we waiting for the Fakruddin family to initiate partnerships abroad? Or they are just not interested? Or is it just us who don't want to take the initiative to forge a partnership with them to spread this great Bangladeshi brand beyond Bangladesh, Singapore, Australia and to the US, Europe, Middle East etc.? Try Googling 'Bangladeshi celebrity chef'....we are certainly proud of Tommy Miah but somewhere down the line, I feel we would have been prouder to see the likes of the Siddika Kabir in that search too. Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay, Sanjeev Kapoor etc. might be self-taught, gifted cooking geniuses, but they did not brand themselves beyong their territories by themselves. It is argued that the media, the diaspora had an instrumental role to play in transforming these culinary brands into global level which proudly carry their national entities with them wherever they go. Why can't we do something better with our culinary trailblazers such as Siddika Kabir, Fakruddin's Biriyani, Mamar Halim or Kader (or Mostakim) er Chaap? Lets not wait for foreign consultants to come and show us what great items and achievers we have which should have been rightly promoted/branded long time ago.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Marketing Education from Momtaz Madam

Sorry to disappoint you but today's marketing lessons are not by any head-turner, heart-throb, drop-dead-gorgeous, new female faculty in any of the private universities of Bangladesh. As far as I know, this madam does not teach business or branding anywhere, neither any business-branding gurus of our country ever considered her to be of any worth to exemplify marketing lessons. She is the queen of her own queendom and some call her 'folk queen' of modern times of Bangladesh---our very own 'bukta faitta zay' singer---Momtaz.

Up Down Left Right University of Business Assministration
Assmission Test, June 2025
Dhaka, Bangladesh

Question: Compare and contrast the difference and/or similarities between singer Momtaz and Bangladesh Corporate Blog and discuss the marketing lessons from Momtaz. (Marks 10)

1. Choice of language:
Singer Momtaz's choice of words in her song lyrics are rather informal and to some extent flirts with weird and/or emphatic expressions. For example some of her song titles, lyric include 'bukta faitta jay' (my heart bursts), 'amar ghum vangaiya dilo re morar kokiley' (my sleep was broken by the bloody cuckoo), 'Bhalobashar dengue jor' (the Dengue Fever of Love), 'Piritir ketha dia...' (the blanket of love), 'Joubon ekta Gold Leaf Cigarette' (Youth is a Gold Leaf cigarette) etc. Corporate Blog also uses informal language of business blogging and very frequently calls politicians and theory-heavy business gurus as 'airheads', 'shitheads', 'idiots' etc. However, Momtaz Apa sings in Bengali while the blog blogs in English. However all of them studied in Bengali medium schools.

2. Target Audience:
Songs of Momtaz Begum target the lower income mass music lovers of Bangladesh. Its unlikely that she will be invited to perform at Le Saigon, Spaghetti Jazz or Kozmo Lounge. Bangladesh Corporate Blog also blogs for mostly students, young entrepreneurs, executives in Bangladesh and abroad. Its unlikely that they will be invited to blue collar corporate events, close door brand prayer sessions followed by dinner and fashion shows.

3. Formal training/education:
Momtaz Apa does not possess any formal degree in music from Shantiniketan or any school remotely linked with music. She got the talent in her genes from her singer father and carried on. She even does not know how to play a harmonium. This blog also does not have any formal structure, its not a company, formal entity whatsoever. The bloggers here did not study business from leading business schools in Bangladesh or in the US. They also have never managed big branded companies in Bangladesh or abroad.

4. Looks:
The choice is pretty much clear if asked to decide between singer Mila and Momtaz. Similarly between the bloggers here (please click) and perhaps Shah Rukh Khan or Brad Pitt.

5. Existence:
Even though established, well-educated and well-trained singers of Bangladesh might frown at the popularity and singing prowess of Momtaz Madam, they can't deny that 'she exists' and she is out there big time. They like it or not, there is a sizeable number of people who like her music and treat her as their entertainment queen. Similary, some like it or not, this blog exists big time in the internet, thanks to high organic search results in Google (70%) and total dominance for keywords like 'bangladeshi business blog', 'bangladesh corporate', 'bangladesh blog'.

Marketing lessons from Momtaz Madam can be elaborated as following:

1. Be a People's Brand:
Singer Momtaz sings as if she represents the mass music lovers of Bangladesh. Most of this group either belongs to the rural areas or the lower income urban population. However, recently students, youth are showing keen enthusiasm to her music mostly because of her candid lyrics, flamboyant voice and 'care-no-one' attitude. So think about how your businss/brand represents, connects to the mass. Many fans of Momtaz consider her to be their relative and a household name, source of entertainment and inspiration. Can you say the same for your brand? Do your consumers consider your brand a naturally inseperable member of their family?

2. Practice Brand Conviction:
Although Momtaz Madam is renowned for her bold choice of words in her songs, it rarely appears to be vulgar. This is because she reflects conviction through her voice, its pitch. As if she firmly believes in what she is singing which enforces the conviction through her performances. Does your brand radiate your passion to serve? Does it appear naturally or seems fake?

3. Preach Comfortable Coexistence:
Momtaz as a brand comfortably exists with other singers not only in the folk music segment but in the overall music industry. She does not seem to show off that 'air of celebrityness' or degrade other so called 'established and trained' singers. She is warm and welcome to any other form of music. This openness has contributed to her brand being perceived as generous, down to earth and accessible, thus adding to her viral popularity. Does your brand exist comfortably with your competition and still the consumers choose you among other options?

4. Have a Brand personality:
Momtaz's voice, composition and lyrics are unique, authentic and people seem to talk about it, either to appreciate or tease, but they still talk about it. These elements signify the 'human-ness' of her brand as a person. Does your business/brand have a face or is it faceless? Can you define, feel its personality?

5. Tickle a taboo:
A key element for a brand to become famous or infamous in Bangladesh is if it tickles any social taboo. It works. If we consider a woman singing not only about mushy love and romantic Bangla songs but actually inferring sexual hints, swear words or using street language and metaphors not many musicians would dare to experiment with, Momtaz did it all and it still works for her. Many of her fans like her because she is daring, she is a music maverick and through her antics she seems to tickle many social taboos that exist in Bangladesh. That is why she is popular, for the right reason or wrong...but she is. So if your brand manages to tickle any social taboo, rest assured your brand will gain the essential word of mouth spread that is required during launch or growth. Sex, polygamy, adultery, contraceptions, nudity, even affirmative women are in some cases considered to be sensitive issues not to be discussed in public. If you do, you will throw stones at the bee-hive.

6. Show your Brand Robinhood-ness:
Personal Social Responsibility (shall we call it PSR, as opposed to CSR?) is at the core of the brand Momtaz from the word 'go'. By setting up eye hospitals, by allying with social agencies, NGOs to spread social messages on health, education etc. Momtaz shows the socially responsible side of her business/brand. She seems to be the Robinhood among her followers, fans...robbing the rich of their fakeness, vanity, prejudice and distributing truth, sincerity, love among the masses...that is what she does. What is that 'Robinhood-ness' of your brand? You literally don't need to steal or snatch things away from the rich and wealthy and distribute it to your constituents but it works if your brand shows generousity, acts of free give-aways and free love...consumer love it. Please don't attempt to steal tins, food grains etc. reserved and meant for relief purposes though, that might have a boomerang effect.

End of exam.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Renaming for a Digital Bangladesh

Do you have a new born? Do you know someone who has a new born? Do you dream of a Digital Bangladesh? Do you believe that names have an impact on how the baby would behave when it grows up? Then waste no more time, go nowhere else...some of our creative brains have proposed some innovative Digital Bengali names for our new borns, the future Digital Generation Bangladesh...shall we call them Gen-D?

Since the primary audience of this blog targets English speaking (and reading) Bangladeshi and non-Bangladeshi business readers, I have transliterated the Digital Bengali names. Here is all we have for your naming pleasure.

1. Mouse Choudhury
2. Monitor Alam
3. Mozilla Akhter
4. Opera Khatun
5. Cable Dewan
5. Modem Khandker
6. DVD Khan
7. Google Mia
8. Profile Choudhury
9. Schedule Alam
10. Folder Sheikh
11. Refresh Mahmud
12. Email Patowary
13. Laptop Haider
14. IBM Chattopaddhay
15. Ipod Kibria
16. PC Sarkar
17. Kamruzzaman Excel
18. Intel Chakraborty
19. Asus Majumder
20. RAM Mohan Roy
21. Apple Khan
22. Casing Akhter
23. Duel Rana
24. Audio Hawladar
25. XP Singh
26. Device Adhikary
27. Undo Mia
28. Zafrullah Sharafont

Amazing piece of naming convention and innovation isn't it? Let me know which one(s) you liked the most. I still believe that we as a nation naturally possess great sense of humour, however if we also had put our brains and time in the right places in right time, we should have become more developed than Malaysia by now (sigh). Nevertheless, I hope the policy makers and spoilticians (spoilt politicians) of Bangladesh would greet these digital Bengali names and the act of renaming babies with arms wide open, as they love renaming almost everything in Bangladesh, depending on whoever is in power. So if they are dreaming of a Digital Bangladesh, what best a way than to start renaming the future generation in the true digital way.

I wish we could rename a donkey as a horse and it would soon start running faster and win important races for us. Only and only if it were so simple and easy. Hardly anything would be achieved other than a good laugh and some time wasted, by naming or renaming babies, bridges, hospitals or airports. There is a reason why every programmer is not called 'Bill Gates' or 'Steve Jobs' in the US and why they still lead the global software powerhouses. Rather than renaming, we better relook at the way we go about doing our business, revise our perceptions towards branding, entrepreneurship, innovation, refresh our knowledge about Bangladeshi brands and businesses and rethink the way we want to portray ourselves to the business world.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Eat Chinese, by Chinese, at Chinese restaurant, in Bangladesh

Have you ever thought why many people prefer to look for ‘authentic’ Chinese food from restaurants such as Bamboo Shoot or Golden Rice or for ‘authentic’ Korean food from food joints like Arirang, Koreana etc. in Dhaka city? There had been so many Chinese restaurants in the city successfully catering to the Chinese food lovers for decades. However, many businessmen and families alike have lately grown a liking for the restaurants mentioned earlier not only to entertain foreign guests but also to arrange family gatherings, occasions etc. Other than perhaps the food being of superior quality and alcohol being served on the premises, it is argued that there is the element of true Chinese or Korean staff/owner/waiters being involved in the service process, which adds a great deal to the experience inside those restaurants.

I attended a Christmas party the other day at a French restaurant in London. Other than having names of food written in French in menu with explanations in smaller font in English, French music being played in the background, photographic pieces on French culture, history, the restaurant also had French speaking waiters and waitresses who conversed with guests and took orders in heavily French accentuated English. The accent was so ‘French’ that confusions occurred frequently whether they were speaking in English or making it sound like more ‘Frenchlish’. Nevertheless, the human touch of a frenchman/woman added a great deal to the experience of having French food at a French restaurant in London. In the same note, I realised that most Indian/Bangladeshi restaurants here are run and served by either Indians and/or Bangladeshis, West Indian restaurants served by Jamaicans, Dominicans etc., sushi restaurants run by Japanese and ofcourse the Kebab and Doner shops being run by mostly Turkish people. Certainly this is a no-brainer that Italians are the best cooks for pasta and pizza, Japanese for sushi and so on. Culinary country branding this is.

But interestingly in a country like Bangladesh which is full of food lovers where eating is an important part of day to day life and where there are perhaps equal if not more number of restaurants than shopping malls and mosques, there are only a handful of restaurants which showcase the ethnic human link to the food being served at the same time. Seeing ‘Chinese looking’ staff in a Chinese restaurant in the Bangladeshi capital certainly increases the credibility and authenticity and the ‘Chineseness’ of that restaurant in the middle of the Bangladeshi capital, atleast in the case of Bamboo Shoot and Golden Rice. It cannot however be argued that Chinese or Indian restaurants in Bangladesh which are being managed by Bangladeshis are not making any profit or are not popular or don’t serve good food. The argument is that when the food belongs to a certain foreign country, it makes the experience more complete if its also being cooked and served by someone who belongs to that country and who establishes interaction directly with the consumers when they are in the process of consuming that service—that’s the intangible value addition to the experience marketing. Its true that not all foreign food restaurants should have, or can afford to have foreign staff when there are so many unemployed Bangladeshis eagerly looking for employment. However it seems those which do (showcase foreign staff, chef, owner) seem to draw a certain class of consumers may be still from a niche segment of food lovers.

If you have Turkish friends in Bangladesh, ask two of them to set up and start running a Turkish Doner Kebab shop, where they themselves should be slicing and serving the kebabs. Its highly likely that it will break even in 6 months if it’s the ‘only’ Turkish restaurant in town as of date.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Victory for Red and Green!

I am not sure if you have come across the Shada Kalo boutique at Rifles Square and also in Banani No. 11 Road in Dhaka. I don't know if they have branches elsewhere but they were first of its kind to try produce fashion clothes, accessories, materials as long as they were either white (shada) or black (kalo). Pretty innovative nonetheless and we can discuss about their business strategy next time. But their idea has been the inspiration to me to see outlets around Bangladesh producing, promoting and selling merchandize only based on the two colors very close to our heart--red and green--The main two colors of the national flag of Bangladesh.

Pretty much like the month of Ramadan, when you see an uprise in the number of 'seasonal practitioners', the month of December also sees an inundation of nationalism. Ofcourse this is good but why limit this great sense of belonging and pride to one month only and why limit this expression of solidarity to the flag only and why limit the selling of national flags to the hands of floating traders only in busy traffic intersections in cities? The idea is to have more than one outlets across cities and district towns who would sell more than flags, it could be banners, stickers, mugs, pen drives, t-shirts, ear-rings, desk flags, key rings, coat pins, bag pins, simple pens, card holders, head bandanas, wrist bands, umbrellas, dining sets, cushion covers and perhaps many more....only and only as long as they are either red or green or both.

Please note that accessorising patriotism is a topic we have discussed before where this act of doing business works towards promoting sense of nationalism (atleast in December and in March perhaps) and can even be great source of basic education as well which could be provided right at the points of purchase. For example, how many of us or of the younger generation know who designed the flag of Bangladesh? So an element of nationalistic education could be embedded in any product which uses national events as a hook and can serve as learning tools not only for us but for foreigners too. For example, couple of months ago, I asked Shabana apa to get me some tiny Bangladeshi flag coatpins (yes, like Obamama and Bush) from Amecon Ltd. in Chairman Bari in Mohakhali, Dhaka, as she was travelling from Dhaka to London. I had been donning them since to work from time to time and to external events where my national identity could be 'worn' as an ornament. Many has since asked me which country's flag that was (!) and what does it signify, so the job of the Bangla brand ambassador is a full time one here.

No doubt bits and pieces of patriotic merchandizing already exist in the form of wrist bands, t-shirts, mugs etc. But have a look here what the opportunities are and how we can help spread it not only in December but all the year round! Ofcourse true progess as a nation will not be achieved by wearing red and green lungis or gamchhas or grameen check only, we need to unite, do, act and work harder for that. But there is certainly no harm in showing off our true blood colors, which is not red...its red and green, especially on the eve of the great victory day! Just to remember that 'victory' these days is achieved and need to be sustained not anymore at war fronts but in business boardrooms, TV and computer screens in urban and rural households and more importantly in the mindspace of consumers, citizens etc.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What are you smiling for?

I would admit that when I walked into the Banani branch of Standard Chartered Bank in Dhaka, I was not expecting that the lady at the reception would smile and greet me in. As a reflex I also did smile back, quickly lost eye contact and moved on to fill up the pink slips, still thinking in the back of my mind, 'why did she smile at me? Am I looking funny? Does she know me? Do I know her? Have I seen her before somewhere? Which mela? Which mall? Pink City? Bashundhara Mall?'
Nevermind....I noticed slyly if she was extending the same smiling service to all customers who walked in or was I special, or was she suspicious? My brief 'participant observation' established the fact that she was naturally and willingly smiling at almost every customer walking in, depending on her preoccupations from time to time at her workstation. On the other hand, I tried to notice how the 'smile struck' customers were reacting to this smiling receptionist. Majority of the customers who walked in during my half an hour stay were male, students, business men, young and middle-aged men mostly. Other than a handful of them, most of the king customers either remained indifferent or just pretended as if she did not exist in that side of the room. However almost all of them, like me, didn't forget to throw a sly glance at her from different corners of the office space...probably posing the same questions as I did..trying to figure out the mystery of an unknown Bangladeshi woman smiling at unknown men, who she could be, what could be her family background etc. and all those unquenched curiosity, never realising just simply that its the very basic a staff at reception can, which does not cost anything...every company in the world asks, trains, teaches, preaches their staff to do their customers....but many of them just forget to do it...or just don't do it because of some peculiarities on ground.

Female staff are deliberately kept at receptions not only in Bangladesh but around the world for variety of reasons. Having a sexist discussion would be something to discuss in a different post perhaps, but it is argued that you don't see many female staff smiling at you 'for nothing' when you walk towards the reception at any office premises in Bangladesh. Most of the time I have found staff at reception, both male and female, rather indifferent, cold, uninterested towards whoever is walking in to them. Many times, female staff are not very interested to make eye contacts too...perhaps wary of me smiling at her 'for nothing' :). Well I have heard arguments from both sides on this. Men say that many female staff think that they nearly were crowned Miss World in last year's beauty pageant but due to a twist in fate, they ended up at the wrong place of doing this job at the front desk or at the bank counters. Many also claim that some female executives carry the notion that some male customers might fall in love at first sight if they prefer to smile, act nice and easy with all of them. So to pre-empt and fend off any unsolicited advancement, the female cadre prefer to remain cold and appear as much formal, emotionless as possible.

Female staff on the other hand also argue that due to some peculiar perceptions towards women at work place in Bangladesh, most of the male customers, even colleagues are not 'properly' oriented with how to deal with female staff, colleagues etc. So many of the male customers, colleagues, who sometimes happen to be 'part time losers and lovers in their own right', try to express overflowing emotions of interest, mating and dating in the very first or few instances of receiving so called 'hints' from their female counterparts in the form of smiles, eye contact, showing signs of being comfortable etc. Women at workplace even in developed economies carry an extra burden of consciousness and identity, its no exception in Bangladesh, infact they perhaps carry a heavier load in that respect. However all these are mere hearsays which brings us to ask if there exists or not any research on 'gender issues while providing customer services' in Bangladesh..may be I will ask Parveen Apa.

Have a look at this article which I came across recently which discusses how women can crack the gender code at work place. Its a pretty interesting piece of work where highlights include when the author recommends women to 'dress for success, not for access' at work place (LOL)...also contradictory to what I have been trying to say in this blogpost...the author however advises working women 'not to smile too much' at work place. Not sure if you would agree with all this or not, but its worth giving a thought.

In fine, I think some men at work should realise that there is a right place for everything and every thoughts in the back of the mind...professional environment is perhaps best suited for work related issues better take a casual 'professional' smile as its supposed to be. On the other hand...some women at work better accept the fact that not all approaching men wear dodgy looks and creepy its advised to ease up. In the end of the day, it all falls on how one carries oneself...a 'smile' is harmless enough to cause any major trouble...but powerful enough to create that first link of 'putting at ease' with the customer. So smile, smile back and move on. :)))))))))))))))))))))

Image: That is a 'ficture' of a 'bideshi issmiling afa' taken from here

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Branding of Bangladeshi political and religious parties

I wonder if professional management and brand consultancies in Bangladesh ever wondered to extend their services to political and religious parties of Bangladesh on a commercial basis. Of all, I think these are the two unserved segments who are still yet to realize the full potential of branding their activities.

There are two reasons for this I believe. Firstly, both Bangladeshi politicians and religious leaders firmly believe that they have been assigned the mandates, for former it’s the ‘people’s mandate’ and the latter claiming that they have none other but ‘God’s mandate’ to do what they have been trying to do all along and that is why they don’t need any external services such as advice on their brand image, use of technology to promote and position their causes, how to interact directly with their constituents etc. So one group advocates having ‘people power’ and the other ‘God’s power’ behind them, making them special species of ‘all powerful know alls’.

Secondly, the professional management service providers in Bangladesh also never thought this segment to be of any worth with regards to providing tips and tricks on brand management, social media consultancy etc. However, any sane person in Bangladesh would agree how badly our politics and religion need to be branded or re-branded as a matter of fact.

A Digital Bangladesh will not be built if people at the helm don’t show by example through their personal conduct how that is done. We do seem to have Facebook fanpages of our two beloved political queens of soap opera found here for Apa and here for Madam. Good to see that atleast the pages exist, however I wonder how many people actually know about it and whether the persons in concern actually maintain these account themselves or not to interact with their supporters. Out of the digital world, there is an urgent need that new politicans attend crash courses in business management and branding in leading business schools to know some basic etiquettes of service and cause marketing. I also agree with your doubt that whether this would be enough to change the culture of destructive politics and other ills in the political playfield or not, but its worth giving a though a try.

Similarly, I think the way religious parties (both political and purely religious) preach their rules of play are, in its purest form, good examples of interruptive marketing, making a complete defaming of concepts such as permission marketing, cause marketing etc. When I called up my beloved and much respected Lokman Hujur back in Dhaka to discuss this concept, he asked me if I am ok or not. I was adamant and ready for this reaction, so I tried to convince him if he wants to start using Twitter to give religious tips on contemporary issues, or create a page in Facebook etc. He patiently advised me that the way he has been doing ‘things’ is the best way so far, as it has been prescribed and advised by his peers, mentors. So he asked me to keep my earthly branding knowledge to myself and to the service of the western economies. I didn’t want to argue further in a long distance telephone call, but I could very well figure out that Lokman Hujur represents a group that firmly believes that there is no ‘need’ to brand themselves otherwise, to follow innovative and contemporary methods to do the old things they have been doing (preaching, praying, promoting etc.). However, it goes without saying that many of the current concepts of marketing, branding were derived from the principles of religion only and now the time has perhaps arrived to give it back to the religion itself, as its badly bruised with negative perceptions, practices and principles.

On a careful note, we need to keep in mind that better branding to spread dirty politics and forceful religion in better ways is not something we aim to achieve. We don’t want to advise on how to use social media for example, to help spread hatred, intolerance and only supremacy of any one religion or any one political party. Rather the objective is to bring out the best in both these groups so that the best elements get more visible rather than the not so good ones, which is the other way round now.