Spam on Facebook: Social Engineering 101, but the girls are pretty!

There I was, lurking on Facebook with my cousins last weekend…and in came a friend request. This was no ordinary friend request. No Sir! This was an attractive looking woman (let’s call her N_U) who had gone to my high school the year after I graduated. My friends seemed to know her (5 common friends,  I’m told), and I vaguely remembered her name..maybe a friend’s younger sister? Not accepting the friend request was out of question…the evidence was too compelling! I accepted meekly, leaving a note to myself to ask her if she really knew me from school. Fat chance!

Something about N_U didn’t seem right. She seemed too perfect. None of my other school friends had gone to a photo studio to have model-quality photos taken for Facebook. Then, of course, there was the issue of her academic qualifications. She seemed to have taken 6 years from the time she had graduated from school until she finished college. That means she took six years to finish a 3 year degree? Amit and I both went to the same high school, and the school was known more for it’s high academic standards than for the enduring beauty of it’s students. This friend of mine also seemed to have been an air-hostess in Air Sahara until 2004, when she settled into marriage at Lucknow and seemed to have continued to visit the photo studio to have her photos taken alone. Her profile was created 3 weeks ago, and she already had 400+ friends, adding friends at the rate of 30 a day. Wow- she seems to have been more popular at school than I imagined, or remembered!

I couldn’t put my finger on the problem- were the photos fake, was the profile unreal, am I losing my memory, and why did my friends know her and I didn’t?

Watching N_U’s Facebook feed made things a lot more interesting! She was a fan of a weight loss Facebook site- “Inches Off”. She had interesting political views, and had been posting status messages about some recent political developments. Some of these status feeds were commented on by a friend called “Hassan”, who had also commented on one of her photos saying that she looks “very pretty” in one photo. Other posts were basically reposts of articles on Inches Off, the weight loss fan page. Curious indeed.

Follow the white rabbit. So, I follow the link to this friend of my friend. Hassan seemed to be the guy behind the “Inches Off” fan page, and seemed also to have worked in the Sahara India group. Fair enough- that’s where they got to know each other, I suppose. What struck me, however, was that this guy seemed to be what was known colloquially in high school as a “chick magnet”. He seemed to have many perfect women amongst his friends (see below). I guess one could do worse in life than being a sales guy for a weight loss product!

Each of these friends-of-friend-of-N_U seemed to have similar profiles as her! They all seemed to have gone to prominent schools in North India (Spring Dales, Apeejay, Modern School), and had taken 5-7 years to finish graduation, were fans of “Inches Off”, had opened their profiles recently, and had 400-2000 friends.

Looking at the girls’ profiles, and looping back to friend-of-N_U’s profile, I attained Realization.

On the internet, no one knows if you’re a dude pretending to be a chick.

Here it is…your Moment of Zen!

Competing with Pirates

Given the incredibly short life-cycles of entertainment products, piracy can have a serious impact on profitability of content publishers.

Moser Baer seems to have found the answer, and is a classic New-Product-Lifecycle player. Compete, rather than complain.  While all the entertainment labels moaned and groaned about piracy, Moser Baer acquired a portfolio of titles and flooded the market with low priced titles.  How did they do it?  My guess:

1. Leveraged their production capacity for optical disks (classic forward integration)

2. Acquired a large portfolio of titles on the cheap (typically old and neglected titles.  The owners were happy to get anything for them)

3. Reduced packaging costs (paper jackets instead of fancy boxes)

4. Micro-retailed their products to hit the local grocery store – not just the music shops (which are increasingly losing relevance anyway)

5. Took a portfolio view on profitability, instead of focusing on single titles

Over the last few years, the price of DVDs has collapsed in the market (Rs 50-200 for “original” DVDs and Rs 30 for “pirated” DVDs; earlier these numbers were Rs 400-500 for originals and Rs 60-100 for copies).  But the sales of legit DVDs has probably grown.  Interestingly, many of the retailers of pirated DVDs now stock Moser Baer DVDs.  They can’t compete much on price anymore, and as one of them told me “We also want to sell original”.  For Moser Baer, which treated the market like a new-comer and not like an incumbent, it has been a rapid rise.

Are you still trying old-product-life-cycle strategies?  Does your industry run the risk of a Moser Baer coming in?

Apple and the New PLC

Continuing from my last post on the New Product Life Cycle.  I stumbled across some really interesting sales data for the iPod.  Notice how Apple’s new product introduction process coincides perfectly with the decline of each product’s individual PLC.  This is the challenge that companies will increasingly face.  Even a blockbuster product like the iPod requires constant innovation to keep the sales numbers growing.

This may be simple in concept.  But hardly any companies in India seem to have the capability or even the mentality to be innovation leaders.  On this front, at least, the US seems to have little to worry about!

The New Product Life Cycle

Marketing isn’t what it used to be.  In business school, we read about the product life cycle (PLC) – a curve that traced the evolution of sales from introduction to decline.  The traditional PLC was characterised by an underlying “evolution”.  After introducing a product, a marketer would see slow adoption, followed by strong growth, a period of stability where one could milk the product, followed by a slow decline.

That isn’t happening anymore.  PLCs have gotten incredibly compressed – and resemble “fads” in many cases.  The new PLC is characterised by rapid adoption (or failure), a short sharp peak and rapid decline – followed (hopefully) by a long tail.  The true blockbuster product – with the traditional PLC is increasingly rare.  You see this in several industries – entertainment (music, movies), mobile phones, cars, apparel – name it.

All this changes the job of the marketer quite considerably.  One can’t hope for a gradual diffusion of the product anymore.  A new product introduction requires speed and scale in order to be successful.

What are the implications of the new PLC:

1. Intense marketing activity up-front in order to break through the clutter

2. Widespread distribution arrangements to capitalise on the marketing activities and the short sales period

3. Flexible manufacturing capacity that can ramp-up and down rapidly

4. Risk-management techniques to manage exposures caused by intense up-front investments

5. Use of low cost distribution channels to extract value from the long tail

6. Rapid product development processes

Are you configured to succeed in this new environment?  Or, are you still trying to milk the old?