Archive for February, 2010

WiFi Device Troubleshooting Tip

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Here’s a quick tip for long time users of WiFi printers and all-in-one devices: Whenever you change the password of your WiFi router, remember to enter the new password in your WiFi device as well. Otherwise, the device will stop working. In hindsight, this is obvious but not when you’re frantically trying to troubleshoot the problem using guidelines that tend to led you astray. 

While installing my HP Officejet J6400 / J6488 WiFi All-in-One (AIO) device comprising of inkjet printer, scanner, copier and fax, HP’s engineer had entered the WiFi password, that was how the AIO could connect to the wireless network, and I’ve been able to use the device successfully for a long time. But, since the AIO was installed more than a year ago, I didn’t remember to change the password on the AIO after recently changing the WiFi router password. As a result, when I tried firing a printout today from my Notebook PC via WiFi for the first time after changing the router password, I discovered that I couldn’t.

HP’s standard troubleshooting steps are: install the latest updates, disconnect the device, remove the power cord, reconnect the power cord after 60 seconds, uninstall the device driver, reinstall the device driver, etc. After trying out the first few steps and getting nowhere, I decided to sit back and think about this problem from first principles. Thankfully, I realized the obvious just before succumbing to the time consuming next step of uninstalling and reinstalling the printer driver. 

After running the Network Configuration option from the AIO’s setup menu and entering the new WiFi router password there, the device is back on the network and is working fine.

If only HP’s website had pointed out this most obvious solution, I could’ve saved a couple of hours of my time and around 100MB from my broadband quota!

FMCG Manufacturers Adopt The “If You Can’t Beat Them, Join ‘Em” Policy

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

According to a recent report, FMCG companies have started manufacturing store brands for leading retailers in India and elsewhere.

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As I’ve written in the past, store brands – also called house brands or retail private labels – are a powerful weapon in the armor of organized retailers to compete with kirana stores (India’s version of mom-and-pop stores) that control more than 85% of the Indian market for retail goods. Store brands are common in milk, juice, eggs, medicine, soaps, lentils, stationery, apparel and other fast moving items. They’re traditionally – but no longer necessarily – packed in plain boxes or bags and bear nondescript brand names owned by retail companies if not the name of the retailer itself. Since retailers incur little or no advertising costs for selling store brands, they can afford to price them significantly lower than leading FMCG brands, even at a comparable quality.

fmcg03_250Now, if a store brand delivers the same quality as an FMCG brand at a lower price, it’s sure to take market share away from the latter. As a result, store brands have traditionally been viewed as rivals to FMCG brands. By manufacturing store brands, FMCG companies seem to be consorting with their traditional enemies. It would be interesting to understand their undelying motive for doing so. Is it, as the official line goes, to keep out other players and fuel upsell of their own brands in other stores? Or, are there deeper factors at play?    

fmcg05_250During the recent recession, as in the previous ones, consumers reportedly switched to value brands. This would’ve resulted in store brands gaining market share at the cost of FMCG brands and in under utilization of production capacities at FMCG companies.  Unlike in the previous recessions, according to this recent McKinsey report, consumers are not likely to return to their free spending days even when the economy recovers. Which means that FMCG manufacturers’ return to full production capacity is a long way off. This realization could’ve triggered the move by FMCG companies to start manufacturing store brands for their traditional rivals as a stop-gap measure to improve their capacity utilization, even if it meant adoping the “if you can’t beat them, join ’em” policy.

Security Can Be Frictionless

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

I was initially shocked to learn from this report released by ThreatMetrix last week that financial services firms worry more about fraud than customer convenience.

On second thoughts, I shouldn’t have been surprised – after all, banks seem to be getting singled out for criticism for all kinds of fraud. Even when people handover their Internet Banking usernames and passwords to Mint, Wesabe and other P2FMs (personalized personal finance managers), often against the advice of their banks to never share this information with anyone, only banks seem to be getting blamed should a fraud happen. As this post in Finextra and the accompanying comments indicate, it’s all fine and dandy for these P2FM startups to remain opaque about the investments they’re making to protect the account access information from being hacked by cybercriminals, but banks are supposed to spend time and money to introduce features to prevent frauds.  

Against this backdrop, kudos to HSBC for going out of the way to boldly declare last week that security should not come at the cost of convenience. This was accompanied by the launch of a secondary password feature that seeks to boost online security without adding to inconvenience.

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Around four years ago, HSBC distributed hardware tokens – free of cost, if I might add – as an additional level of security to its customers in India for accessing their checking, savings and credit card accounts (it’s another story that, two years later, HSBC’s branch situated right in the basement of their global headquarters in Canary Wharf in London could only offer rudimentary security by way of good-old username and password for customers in the UK). Personally, I’ve been satisfied with hardware tokens: they provide two-factor authentication which is the gold standard of online security. However, since it’s likely that many customers might have complained about finding it inconvenient to carry around an additional device, HSBC recently launched the secondary password alternative, which delivers strong enough security, at the same time allows customers to ditch the hardware tokens.

As I’ve written in the past, most web applications, online banking and shopping websites force users to choose between convenience and security. So far, only BOKU, Zong and other Generation Y Mobile Payments and a couple of alternative payment providers seem to have struck the right balance between security and convenience. With the launch of the secondary password feature, HSBC is the only bank I know that is making steps in that direction.

Hopefully, more banks will follow HSBC’s lead, so that in the not-too-distant future, most banks will not only succeed in combating fraud but also manage to deploy frictionless online interaction solutions in order to deliver a superior online banking customer experience.

The Downside Of Generic Brands

Monday, February 8th, 2010

Brands like Xerox, Maggi and, to a lesser extent, SAP, virtually represent entire product categories. With a dominant market share,  such generic brands have not only enabled their owners earn huge revenues in the native product categories – Xerox in photocopiers (viz. getting a “xerox” copy even if you use a Canon photocopier),  Maggi in noodles and SAP in ERP – but have also helped them enter new product categories through brand extensions.

If you take the example of Google – the ultimate generic brand of the past decade – it dominates Internet search so strongly that it has become a verb – you no longer search for something on the Internet, you Google it.

Surely, it’s every marketer’s dream to create a generic brand?

I’m not so sure.

Apart from search, Google owns Google Docs, Google Mail, Google Sites, Google Translate, and many other products that are unrelated to search. However, it’s not a secret that search advertising contributes to over 90% of Google’s revenues. It is tempting to ascribe this lopsided revenue distribution to the relative newness of Google’s non-search products – “when will they come out of beta?”, I hear many of you ask.

But a recent experience makes me wonder if there are more fundamental factors at play behind the negligible contribution of non-search products to Google’s topline.

gb01_300My company recently partnered with a leading computer technology college toward development of a widget, which is soon to be launched as a GTM360 marketing solution (for those interested, called EMAIL360, this email uploader widget will enable websites to collect visitor contact information in a highly frictionless manner). Since Google Gadget was one of the sources of insight regarding architecture for this widget, the research paper based on this project cited Google as a reference. 

However, this reference was promptly rejected on the grounds that a research paper was expected to go beyond listing the zillions of websites that show up when you Google for ‘widget’. The examiners wanted a reference from a company that had a strong presence in widgets and, because Google only meant search to them, it didn’t qualify when it came to widgets.

This illustrates the challenge that Google faces while trying to gain mindshare in product categories outside Internet search. How well Google overcomes this challenge might determine when its non search products will make a significant contribution to its revenues – if ever.

The story doesn’t end there: When presented with a screenshot of the EMAIL360 landing page from GTM360’s website, the college’s brass accepted GTM360 as a fitting reference for widgets!

When someone rejects a reference to Google and accepts one from GTM360 in its place, you know there’s a big downside of being a generic brand!