The “Call It As I See It” content marketing update Google must adopt. Now.

Alternate title for SEO:  “Rants from a content marketer about content marketing”

Cartoon from andertoons.com

It was bound to happen. Content marketers (the good ones, that is) spent time and money creating quality content while content farms went laughing all the way to the bank. Then came Google (hero/villain depending on which side of the SEO fence you are in) and turned these content farms out of the playpen. All is well with content marketing.

But Google’s work is not done. Panda, Penguin and other wild animal updates have not touched the real issue in content marketing today. To cut a long rant short, is it just me, or are content marketers looking to make things as complex as possible? Have we ended up creating a hyper- demand for content, and thus become the victim of our own scam? Are we creating content for the sake of creating it?

So here is my update to content marketing that I insist everyone (including Google) need to adopt. Immediately. Presenting the “Call it as I see it” update. Drum rolls please…..

  • Content will no longer be classified as tweet, FB update, LI status, blog, case study etc. All content will be classified based on the purpose – to hoodwink, to sell, or to bore you to death.
  • If content is not original – that is, not rewritten from at least 3-5 different “expert” sources – please call it rehashed.
  • If content is really original and relevant, and cannot be copied, lifted, rehashed, or plagiarized, don’t bother. We marketers see no use for it. Go write a book. And win the Booker.
  • Move over Google. Bing and Yahoo too. We are tired of you dictating what we see. I want a new search engine that brings me only 1 result – exact answer to what I asked. If I ask “When is the next full moon day in January 2013”, why in heaven’s name do I need to see 350,86,456 results in .00002 seconds? Just give me the frigging date for God’s sake.
  • And no, when I ask this question, I DO NOT want to see ads to “Orgy at Newcastle on Full Moon day”. Nor do I want to see “How to create a new full moon?”, “Tired of the current full moon and want a change?” and a list of news, information, images, and events related to full moon. I know I am stretching here, but you get the point, don’t you?

What say, mate?

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No means No. But what are we thinking?

My grandmother had these bunch of homelies that she used constantly to curtail my childish rebellion. One when I wanted to go out and play after dusk – the Gandharva will kidnap you. Or when I did not want to part my hair –  You will not get a handsome husband. But the one that really irritated me no end was the one about being safe – Does not matter if the flower falls on the thorn, or the thorn on the flower, the flower will always get hurt.

Growing up in an extremely close-knit family, where every thought (let alone word or action!) was scrutinized and whetted against an unwritten “Moral Code for behavior set by our ancestors”, I would relegate all these aphorisms as orthodox and behind-the-times. In my mind, my grandmother and my parents lived in an old-fashioned time where a girl could not venture out without her morals questioned.

Such aphorisms are not relevant any more (I would counter in my mind). Men are modern now, more educated and sensitive, and respect a woman for who she is and what she does. The modern man really understands that “No means no”.

Looks like I am wrong. Totally. Especially when when I read newspapers nowadays. While my grandmother, if she was alive, would have been troubled and saddened,  she also would not be surprised – this is bound to happen to girls who cross the line.

Looks like it does not matter how developed we become as a nation. Or educated. Or liberated. Our mind continues to dwell in pre-historic times where men can do as they want, and women need to toe the line.

So here are the top 5 homelies that I am going to drill into my daughters as they grow up in “Modern” India, amidst educated and modern men.

  • Do not step out without a proper escort – ideally 3-4 male and female members of your family – or else the gandharva will kidnap and rape you
  • It does not matter if you part your hair or not – men will always look at you as a piece of meat they can eat any time, any how
  • No dates, no bars or discos, no going to the movies or to shop after 6 PM, no malls, no restaurants, no beaches, no colleges, no education, no career, no nothing. Forget women’s lib – those fairy stories exist only in the farthest recesses of a paleolithic woman’s mind
  • To heck with good touch and bad touch. From now on, NO TOUCH rules. This rule extends to all male members of the family. Including the uncle who loves to pinch cheeks. Instead of asking my girls to behave nicely with strangers and guests, I will insist that they treat everyone with suspicion.
  • Whether the thorn falls on the flower, or the flower on the thorn, you will get hurt. So listen to me.

And grandma, you were right. I wish every girl had a grandmother like you.

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Our annual pilgrimage to Amrita Preventative Wellness Center

Last week was our annual pilgrimage to Amrita Hospital’s Preventative Wellness Center for our routine check-up. Those of you who hate visiting hospitals, sick or not, will find Amrita’s Wellness Center a pleasure. I hope that at the end of this blog that you are not only encouraged to have your annual check-up, but also insist on Amrita for it.

My husband and I have been going to Amrita since 2006 for our annual executive check-up.  We missed 2009, which means we now have 6 visits under our belt, and therefore qualifies us to recommend it wholeheartedly. The biggest surprise this year was that Amrita had shifted their entire wellness practice center into a new building, all departments in a single floor. No more rushing around to different departments on different floors, no more waiting for the rest of the people in our batch to complete a test before going to the next one, and more importantly, no more sitting next to patients who may have active viruses waiting to use you as their next host. Instead we entered a completely clean, efficient, and healthy environment that came close to that of a 4-star hotel.

For Rs 4200 per person, we get a complete check up that includes Chest X Ray, Ultrasound, TMT, ECG, Urine, Stool, and Sugar test, BMI and weight check, Pulmonary fitness, and two interactions with the General Physician (at the beginning of the day around 8 AM, and towards the end (around 3 PM or so), who will advise you based on your test results. And did I mention a vegetarian breakfast and lunch buffet while you wait around for your test results to come in?

Instead of getting into absolute details (their website does that!), here are the Top Five things I observed (and reflected on) when we were there from 8 AM to 3 PM.

  1. No matter how educated and informed we are, preventative health care is not ingrained in our mental make-up. We prefer to hold off visiting the hospital until we are really sick, dying, or unconscious!
  2. I watched both young and old alike walking around stiffly with stool samples and urine containers! They were so embarrassed – shifty eyes, looking anywhere except at these ‘objects of repulsion’, and rushing to get rid of it. Imagine how the lab technicians must feel when analyzing it! Thank God for such angels..
  3. Keralites have a highly developed sense of personal hygiene, but as this wise senior next to us remarked, we are pretty bad when it comes to social hygiene. We saw people dump their plastic bottles into huge green containers that had “BIO-WASTE ONLY” written all over it, strew toilet paper all over the floor even when there were trash cans in every nook and corner, and mess up the cafeteria with food waste.
  4. All of us are paranoid when it comes to our health. And it only gets worse as we grow older. Even though both Mukund and I knew there was nothing wrong and we are relatively healthy, until Dr. Sivakumar went through the entire list of reports and remarked that all was fine, we were in a state of tension alright!
  5. For a country that has given the world the Bhagavad Gita with highly advanced theories of reincarnation, karma, and the infinite nature of our soul, we  absolutely hate talking about death. And incredibly uncomfortable (and terrified) when that subject comes up.

So, how can I jump from this topic of regular health check-ups to theories on spirituality and dying? Because they are all inter-linked. You can either be proactive about your physical health and ensure you follow the basics (eat right, exercise regularly, and have annual check-ups) or resign yourselves to FATE (no matter what I do, I cannot fight my genes and my karma), but end of the day, our spiritual make-up defines our physical health.

Here’s to health and well-being in the New Year and beyond – spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically. Cheers!

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The trials and tribulations of working from home

Work from home? Easier said than done. No matter how many smartphones, ipads, laptops, and wifi you arm yourself with, nothing can make working from home easy. That’s because we forget a small factor called “Life”.

Think I am exaggerating? Hmmm, methinks an illustration is in order.

9:30 AM: The Palak lady – Spend 10 minutes searching for 18 Rs – she needs exact change, and since neither my cook nor the maid has any, they invite me into this. At this point, since my laptop is starting up, I don’t mind the invite.

10:15 AM: Caretaker – to give receipt for the check I had written that morning. Ordinarily he does not ask for me, but the receipt is incorrectly worded, and he wanted to check if that is okay. I say, fine. And then spend 5 minutes chatting on the issue of finding good gardeners and security guards and iron men. (of the ironing kind, not the WWE)

10:20 AM: Call from courier service asking for the exact location of my house. Spent 7 minutes describing the location from every possible direction, since he was not sure where he was going to come from. Sigh!

11 AM: Call from my daughter’s school: Report card is posted online, please check before coming for Parent Teacher meeting on Friday. Additional appeal for donations for the local musical that the students are planning in January. I try, very ineffectively, to prevent my cash outflow, but end up promising to to do “something”.

11:AM to 11:15 AM: Rushed online to look at my daughter’s report card. Could not log in initially, and once I did log in, the report card was not updated. Sent an email reporting the problem.

12:30 PM: The caretaker again: He had corrected the receipt (even though I had assured him that the earlier one was fine) and wanted the other one back. I had already balled it up and thrown it in the trash can, so had to retrieve it, dust it, smoothen it and give it back.

1:30 PM: I call my cook, tell her to tell anyone else who calls or rings the bell that “I am not there”

2:30 PM: My daughters rush in, one excited as I was working from home, the other equally disappointed since she cannot watch “Grey’s Anatomy” on Star World. After explaining in minute detail of their escapades at school, they rush off for their lunch and bath. Time to really get my work done.

3:30 PM: The cook rings my room bell from downstairs, and when I come out of my room, she asks loudly – “Madam are you there or not? The courier man is here.”

I switch off my laptop, sign the courier receipt, join my kids for lunch, and launch into their homework, table tennis, yoga, and music lessons the rest of the day.

Please do keep in mind that the above schedule is in addition to the multiple bathroom breaks (I am a firm believer of the “2 liters of water a day” school), snack and chai breaks, and stretching my legs in front of the TV. Also do keep in mind that not all days are like these. There are worse.

Still think I should work from home? Hold on, there’s the door bell. I’ll be right back. But don’t hold your breath.

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Lessons from my flower seller’s daughter-in-law

When the bell rang at 6:15 am on Monday morning, I sighed. It was my flower seller again. At least her daughter-in-law. She has been ringing the bell at that ungodly hour for the last 3 days with one excuse or the other – which flower do you want, when am I going to get paid, you forgot to keep the puja plate for the flowers. I desperately wished for her mother-in-law to come back from her vacation soon. She never bothered me about such details, and accepted money whenever I paid, without even checking the account book I maintain.

As I held my temper and opened the door, she stood in front of me with the usual jasmine flowers. She dimpled and asked, “Do you want a couple of lotuses also for your Krishna?”

The surest way to my heart is to talk about Krishna, and here she was offering lotuses. Ignoring the possibility of my kids missing the bus and going without their hot lunch boxes, I smiled and extended my hands greedily.

I showed her my new Krishna idol I had purchased just the week ago from Guruvayur, and then asked her if she sells in that temple town. (Her husband buys flowers in bulk from Coimbatore and sells to nearly most of the well-known temples in and around Kochi). She said she would love to, but she does not have the time.

I asked her how she could not have time when she finishes her door-to-door selling by 9 AM. Her schedule for the rest of the day shocked me into sitting down on the doorstep. She wakes up at 4 AM, starts her door-to-door selling from 5 am, wraps it up by 9, then boards the inter-city train to Coimbatore at 10 AM. Reaches there by 2 PM or so, then starts buying up flowers, loads them into an auto, and reaches the station by 6 PM or so.  Boards a return train to Kochi to let herself into her home close to midnight.

Why do you work so hard, I asked. What about your children? Don’t they help out? Her first daughter is doing her final year (Bachelor of Science) and wants to go on and do her B. Ed. and get a lecturer job in a good college. Her second daughter is doing her second year Engineering, and her youngest (a son) is doing a Diploma in Engineering. “I do not want them to work the way we do. I am doing all this for them.”

By now my second daughter was reminding me about lunch boxes and I hastily thanked her for the flowers. She smiled back and went her way.

I have not stopped thinking about my flower-seller’s daughter-in-law since then. Sincerity, hard work, love for her children – these were the easier lessons she could teach me. But her attitude (no expectations of anything in return from them) and her sense of duty and responsibility?

It put to shame my daily grumblings. It exposed my ignorance of a “real day’s work” in the real world. It touched me in a way no status update, tweet, or email from my friends or family could.  It taught me that life’s real lessons will hit me when I least expect it. I wonder how many of these real lessons have passed me by as I huff and puff my way through a day’s work in my world-class office inside an IT park in urban India?

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If you want good customer service from Electrolux, be a man

Warning: This blog is part of my ‘Rant and Rave’ category and contains sarcasm, disappointment, anger, hurt to my ego, and sheer frustration in huge doses. Not to be read by idealists, optimists, and all those human beings who have never called a toll free number to complain to a ‘Customer Care’ (ha!) representative.

I sincerely hope this experience never happens to the worst of my enemies – the Communist Party of India included. Here goes..

Act 1, Scene 1 – March 23

It is more than 16 months since I forked over Rs 12000 towards a 2 year preventative maintenance contract to Electrolux authorized dealer in Kochi. Since the engineer’s phone on the contract was “not reachable”, I decided to call the 1800 number on the back of the contract.

Shock 1: The authorized dealer no longer deals with Electrolux products – so they gave me a new 1800 number.

Shock 2: The 1800 number did not make me wait more than 2 minutes. I was promised a service visit within 48 hours

Act 1, Scene 2 – March 24

I called and was politely told 48 hours not over. What was I thinking!

Act 1, Scene 3 – March 29

I was told that my problem has been escalated to the next level and prompt response will be forthcoming from the Electrolux customer care team.

Act 1, Scene 4 – March 30

Now I was fuming, and my voice indicated clear anger at being ignored. This time I insisted on speaking to the supervisor. “Sorry madam, he has left the office”. The time – 6 PM

Act 1, Scene 5 – March 31

Spoke to the local authorized dealer who mentioned that they will come without fail on April 2 to service all 3 air conditioners. Called Electrolux customer care – and asked to speak to the supervisor. “Sorry madam, he has not come in”. The time – 11 AM. Can I get a job as supervisor at Electrolux Customer care?

Act 1, Scene 6 – April 2

Waited all day for the local dealer to send his technician. Called Electrolux customer care and asked to speak to Supervisor. Finally spoke to him and he assured that the technician will visit. Called local dealer, and she mentioned that the technician is on his way

Act 1, Scene 7 – April 4

Called Electrolux local dealer and she apologized for the no-show – apparently both her technicians were involved in an accident. (Why am I not surprised?)

But the biggest shock was when I called Electrolux Customer care (1800 number) and they said my ticket was closed. Apparently the technician came to my house and did not find any Electrolux air conditioners.

By then I had only one hour to get to the airport for my vacation. Decided to let go. For the moment.

Act 2 – Scene 1 – April 12

Electrolux customer care and local dealer – but ‘Madam did not pick up her phone. We tried calling numerous times.’ This was after I had specifically told them that I would be out of the country and will be back only on the 11th.

Act 2 – Scene 2 – April 14

Spoke to the supervisor at Electrolux customer care and was promised that the technician would come next day. Since next day was a state holiday in Kerala, I asked if he was sure. He swore on his mother.

Act 2 – Scene 3 – April 16

No technician. No supervisor. The 1800 number no longer working. I called back on the number stored in my cell phone (long distance/STD) and was now told that this was the new number.

By now, my husband was tired of hearing me whine and complain about the lack of care in Electrolux customer care. He called the number, spoke in this dead calm voice that my kids recognize as the ‘calm before daddy dances his Shiva Thandavam dance voice’. I nodded off to sleep, but when I woke up an hour later, he had received a call from the supervisor’s supervisor, who again promised him the heaven. Or at least repair of our air conditioners.

As I watched in disbelief, 4 days later (after 3 more phone calls to the local dealer), the technician actually arrived, cleaned,repaired and left.

What can I say? Except, if you want good customer service from Electrolux, be a man.

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When your local department store closes down

Recently, the local department store closed down in my home town. This retail chain was the first to envisage the growth of larger, all-in-one convenience stores as early as 1990, and pioneered the growth of organized retail in our state. Last month, after nearly 55 years in operation, it closed down almost 59 of its stores all over the city.

Growing up with the first Varkeys Department store around the corner, I have always been amazed at their ability to create one of the finest and most loyal customer bases in Kerala. Used, as we were, to go to the local kirana stores to buy rice and dal from huge gunny bags, and walk through slushy pavements to get fruits and vegetables from the local market, Varkeys changed the very elements of shopping  – hygienically packed goods and produce, clear pricing, good customer service, and the ability to walk through a single store and buy everything from erasers and candy to imitation gold jewellery and vacuum cleaners!

And then came the “evil” brands from outside the state – Subiksha, More, Spencers, Nilgiris, and Reliance. When Reliance offered to buy up Varkeys (and were politely refused) I heaved a huge sigh of relief. What do global retail chains know about my shopping habits and tastes?
5 years of rapid globalization of our retail scene in Kerala later, I am forced to change my mind. While some Nilgiris stores and Subiksha stores have closed down, I could not believe this could happen to Varkeys too. But by now I was used to deep discounts, attractive give-aways, and free delivery (not to mention the air conditioned stores with its wide aisles and products from all over the world – salsa and chips anyone?) and am ashamed to admit that I valued these conveniences more than loyalty to my childhood brand.
So why did Varkeys close down? Whatever the true reason may be (some say it was over-expansion, while others talk about real-estate scams), as a customer I know of only one reason – they ignored the dangers globalization (read: competition) brings. Unfortunately in today’s Indian retail market, where the organized retail sector is growing by CAGR of 5% and contributes to almost 39% to the GDP, a 420 billion USD market is sure to attract cut-throat competition, and an all-out price war. Amidst this scenario, no retailer can afford to be ignorant of the dangers of global competition, or take their customer base for granted. No one.

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The best car for Kerala roads filled with potholes

I have been shopping around for the best car to buy. But before you recommend the Ford Figo or Volkswagen’s Jetta,  you need to know what I expect from my new car.

I have analyzed and categorized, and come up with 3 things my new car has to do, before I will even consider taking it out for a test drive. Here goes –

  1. My car should have the ability to fly over potholes – Anyone who has lived in Kerala knows that there are only 2 seasons in this State – rainy season and pothole season. The rainy season covers a period of 6 months, and the pothole season the rest of the 12 months. Yup, I know the months do not add up or make sense, but neither do the potholes…. So I need a car that can literally rise above crappy roads (and crappier politicians and road contractors) and fly over the potholes.
    1. If you think I am making a big fuss about such small holes, read the following statistic that I carefully made up – 89% of cars undergo an emotional trauma when heaving in and out of a pothole. The other 11% become so emotionally distraught that they have to be carted away by ambulances.
  2. Not only should my car fly over a pothole, it should also scan it from a distance, gauge its height, width and girth, and then smoothly take off without jerky or abrupt movements. And to facilitate that, I have already categorized the 4 potholes it is likely to encounter on Kerala roads.
    1. Pothole 1 aka Babies – These include potholes which are slowly emerging from the freshly tarred roads due to rain. The cracks are just beginning to appear, the stones are slowly getting scattered, and the hole can barely be felt by the car.
    2. Pothole 2 aka Teens – These potholes are a menace to cars. Wider than 1 meter, and deeper than 1 feet, these potholes surface unexpectedly on an otherwise smooth road. You and your family are coasting along, and this “Teen” pothole jolts you back to reality. And spills hot coffee and your mother’s “kaya varathathu” all over your lap
    3. Pothole 3 aka Grandpa – These potholes have hidden depths to them. You think it is only a 2 feet deep pothole, but when you fall neck-deep (okay, car roof deep), you realize these dangerous potholes are best avoided. (Or if you have my car, best hovered over). These potholes cover 3/4th of the road, and if you pay close attention, you may be able to avoid these crabby, mean-toothed holes.
    4. Pothole 4 aka Corpse – The mother of all holes, you can actually bury a corpse in these holes.  At least 6 feet deep, 10 feet wide, these potholes are spread across the width of the road and no amount of manuevering will help you avoid it. Your only option is to slowly slip into it and get it over with.
  3. Finally, my perfect car for Kerala roads should be environment friendly. As it hovers over the potholes, it should at least water the plants and trees that the thoughtful citizens (or “too -sozzled-for-words” drunkards) have planted in these holes to warn approaching traffic. It is the least I can do for the environment as I drive into my garage in an emotionally healthy car.

So if you know a car that will do all of the above, please send me an email immediately. Until then I am going to wince every time the Benz jumps into a pothole. And it is not even mine…..

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