Saturday, 7 December 2013

Does 'Font' Impact your Brand Perception?

This is something I've been thinking about even before I became a brand person. As a consumer I used to look at some brand names and find them fresh and to date, and while others looked dull. It wasn't their 'logo' itself, it was more the 'handwriting or font' style and the colours that they played with. Just like fashion dictates 'whats in, whats out' in colours every season, the branding industry too goes through style, colour and tone changes every years. When we were young, hard styled, official looking, formal fonts were in - it meant your brand was serious about their work, about their mission. Later in the early 2000s, as new and more casual online typography became prevalent and as our consumer/customer base and target audience eased out and relaxed a bit in their own personal style, they also started expecting brands serving them to emulate that style to resonate with the audience better. Which is perhaps why some the brand logos like Acer....underwent font and style changes to depict an entirely different image of themselves, an image that would be more appealing and fresh for the consumers.
For the same reason the font style of Vaseline' hasn't remained the same over the years, ven though it's been a brand that has had one of the strongest loyalties based on product performance alone, Vaseline has strengthened its bond with it audience by innovating their look, as the look and the eyes of their consumers evolved. 
So I've been wondering how FONT really impacts the perception consumers have of your brand. Last week I watched 'JOBS', the movie on the life of the revolutionary 'Steve Jobs'. I was surprised to see a scene enacted where they showed how Jobs immediately fired one of his most talented and able engineers because the guy said that 'font types' were not a need of the computer users. This particular engineer mocked at Jobs question 'So where do I change font'...his response to this was, 'This isn't really a pressing need'. This scene was set at the launch of the first Macintosh computer in 1984. Back then no one knew that soon enough in the late 90's font size and style would become such a sensitive issue of preference for both businesses and at-home users. I've worked with some of the big corporations and I have gone through the agony of actually ensuring each heading, sub-heading and text are of a certain size and style, as per the instructions of the higher management. All big companies have standard power point templates (with specific font style, font colour and font size) that reflect the culture of the organisation, work personality of the management and the persona of their brands. For example, pick up anything on Coke, an external communication or an internal document, it must have Red header and a red font in it. Pick up Dove and all documents would be a certain tone of Navy Blue. Somewhere in his head, Jobs predicted a behavior that was revealed 20 years later. This is the quality of a true innovator, who understand what the consumers need before the consumers themselves realize it. 
However back to our 'font in the lives of brands' discussion - I am a firm believer that font really does matter and not only does it make a particular brand stand apart from its peers but also communicates a certain feeling to its consumers. Moreover, I think sometimes font follows cultural development of the users i.e. as attitudes, behaviours, social norms change so do fonts - so that the brands stay upto speed with the psychic trends of their consumers. 

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Buy Now, Decide Later...

It's funny how shopper behaviour changes based on the shopping experience offerred by a retailer/producer. Although it seems it's always the retailers/producers trying to customize the experience to the shoppers' needs; but shopper experience and behaviour actually run in a spiral, one impacting the other turn by turn until the dynamics of the shopping industry are changed. During my time in North America, I was simply amused and flattered by the return policies. 'Buy Now, Decide Later' is the tempting offer by H&M where often the wait lines outside changing rooms are extremely long. 
Ikea flaunts its loving arms with 'It's OK to change your mind' policy of 90 days. Many clearance outlets including GAP factory outlet and Banana Republic Factory Outlet also give up to 90 days to return merchandise. 
I am the kind of shopper who hates changing or trying out new clothes in the change room, specially when it comes to pants! I'm always in a rush with my baby and especially lazy to try on clothes in winters when you're layered up too much or wearing those unfriendly boots that make it difficult to change over and over again so for me the generous return and exchange policies are simply a treat. But I often wonder if shoppers take advantage of this and if merchandisers end up wasting too many man-hours in just beeping down reverse sales. 

Well according to a research many shoppers DO take undue disadvantage of this. Overall retailers estimate that 4.6 percent of holiday returns are fraudulent. However I think most shoppers (including myself) are too lazy to go back for returns and exchanges and end up keeping what they had bought either for themselves or as a gift to someone else, which is why such a policy does not appear to harm H&M. And I do admit that such cozy policies can turn you into a bit of shopaholic!

On a recent trip to Pakistan I got jugs from a small crockery shop in Karachi and when I came home and poured water out of those jugs into glass, it seemed like they had a serious manufacturing issue! No matter how many different ways I tried it, with however less or more water I  tried it, the spillage was inevitable  So at the dinner table I conveniently announced that I was going to take the jugs back to the shop for an exchange or refund at which my brother-in-law quickly mocked at me saying 'This isn't Canada'..., where you can go exchange jugs or whatever else after having an unsatisfactory experience. I stood corrected and never ventured out to actually change the jugs. 

To my pleasant surprise though I've recently been noticing that at least the bigger retailers in Pakistan are showing some flexibility when it comes to exchanges; if not so much for refunds yet. For example Khaadi has a 30 day exchange policy but nothing can be refunded. However international retailers are better at this, e.g MotherCare (Pakistan) has a 14 day exchange or refund policy for most items. I believe as more and more international brands enter the Pakistani market with their generous shopper flattering policies, the more the top tier local brands would be forced to shed some love too - and the lower tiers should follow suit! 
And even where there's no clear policy it's always worth going back trying to return / exchange an item that you honestly consider a shopping mistake - sometimes you would be surprised how lenient that guy at the till can be! Happy shopping and hopefully lesser returning ;) 

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Has motherhood become harder?

Ever since I've become a mom, I've been overcritical of myself in this role. And the more I compare our mothers (the generation born in the 60s or so), with mothers of my age (80's I'd say) I've felt a stark difference in the style of mothering. While on some levels mothers of today are more aware and conscious of whats 'natural is best' for my baby and preferring things like mothers milk over formula, home cooked over jarred - on the other hand we are pressed for time and even more pressed for patience and energy. As younger generations have fled into the workforce, married later and delayed motherhood to a biological age where our energies and health only allow us to do so much for our kids, we are losing out on quality face time with our children. Mothers of previous generations had a lot more patience when it came to disciplining, nurturing, developing and even playing with their kids whereas today we mothers resort to hi-tech baby-sitters like Ipads, computers, battery operated interactive toys etc. But we are forgetting that as mothers are evolving so is the baby generation. Babies are no longer as easily distracted as they used to be, they get bored with one toy much quicker than babies did yesterday and they are definitely more intelligent and receptive creatures today. So here's what I understand mother's of today need to build their motherhood around, to ensure that we do not fall trap to newer challenges while learning from wisdom of the older generation babies: 

1. Mothers today have less patience and energy and toddlers/kids require even more of that today. Kids no longer spend afternoons playing 'ghar ghar' (home-home, the simple act of making homes out of cushions with siblings); they are erratic, distracted, and fireballs of energy looking for some quality entertainment. Neither do our kids today have siblings 12-18 months apart to play with (since our patience and health both force us to keep a good gap between kids and we might not even think of more than 2 kids). So the answer to this is mother support groups. Mothers need mothers to motivate themselves and children need similar age grouped children to play with (even when they are 6 months old). So shun those barriers, get together for mommy-baby play dates. Shrug off your apprehensions, those towering expectations your mom and MIL (mom in law) have from you in terms of motherhood while you talk them to out with mothers in the same game ball as yourself. So if you don't have enough of a social circle of mommies around you, you can find one at Gymboree in Lahore, and at Weldonmoms in Karachi. 

2. Have something interesting and fun to do on the side. Many moms drop out of workforce or higher education pursuits as pregnancy comes their way. Its OK to take that break but get back on track as soon as you feel sane. If you feel a full time job won't let you do justice to the kind of motherhood you expect from yourself then do something part - time a that interests you. That could be as simple as attending a workshop from time to time (in Pakistan you have abundant baby sitting support, in other places it is still worth spending those seemingly heavy bucks on professional baby-sitting to give yourself a break). Staying intellectually, physically or spiritually stimulated it extremely important whether it means finishing that book, being a regular at the yoga class or taking a Reiki healing session. I've noticed every time I come back from yoga class, I feel a little extra love for my baby. I feel like wanting to hold my baby once again after that break, instead of begging others to take her off my arms after spending the entire day with her. You can find interesting activities (including arts, culture, sports) at these places: The Knowledge Factory in Lahore, T2F in Karachi, Kuch Khaas or Minerva in Islamabad.

3. Have at least two 30 min uninterrupted sessions of quality time with your baby everyday (in addition to the bathing, feeding times). Use this time to bond with your kid, reassure your baby that you're mentally there for them. This means, no TV, no cellphones, Ipad or anything of that family. Just you, a quiet and cosy corner , some toys maybe or just cuddling. I've been spending some nice relaxing afternoons with my 12 month old and I feel she loves having that dedicated time, she responds back with giggles and tries to poke in my face naughtily, and we even do rolly-polly on the bed and laugh over silly little actions. Here are some ideas of what kinds of play you can do with your little one

That's my jist from the 1 year of motherhood I've had so far. Add your experiences to the list and let me know how you feel about motherhood ? 

P.S: Yes that's my little one gazing into the horizon (at 6 mos) 

My love-hate relationship with domestic help

I have recently moved back to Pakistan and am actually running a household of my own for the first time in the Pakistani set up; previously lived in London, Dubai and Canada and the home setups were pretty similar in all three places where you have a dishwasher, you do your laundry in the washer and dryer yourself and you vacuum and broom alternate days and its enough for that tiny apartment you live in. Coming back to Pakistan, especially as a mom of a 1 year old I was pretty excited and looking forward to the domestic help readily available at fairly affordable wages. I imagined that I would run my home like I managed my work in the office; I'd have a timetable for the maid, and have responsibilities divided into days and a certain level of expectations set from day one. I had it all sorted out in my head; I wont shout at them like I'd seen my elders do, I'd be polite , treat them nicely, yet firmly - make sure they are clear of my instructions and expectations and that should do the trick to managing the perfect home in Pakistan. I even decided that instead of having 3 or 4 different maids for different tasks, I'd just keep 1 (for a household of 2 people and an infant that should be good), and make sure she's always at my disposal and well trained. Also having only 1 maid means, no politics between servants which is quite prevalent as I hear from my close friends and family. But like they say, 'easier said than done'. I started looking for help; they came, they went within a day or two. Some lasted a week. Reasons for leaving were unknown; weird stories reached me through our chowkidar who gave me a rather masala version of why the particular lady had decided to abandon me. I was shocked to hear the kind of excuses for leaving and accusations against me, including 'baji doesn't give us food!' (not true), 'baji keeps a lock on the fridge (which I hadn't done yet, but yes I used to keep an eye on my fridge very closely), 'baji doesn't give eidee (despite having given them eid clothes)..and so on. In my head it was straight - I pay you wages, you work for me. No extra gifts, or extra pocket money. Whatever I give you for emergency reasons, comes out of your pay. Yes in extreme circumstances there could be a case for additional add on charitable pay or bonus but at least work for me for more than a month or two to deserve even that kind of help. Also, in my head, if you're a christian maid, I don't give you eidee on Eid, I give you gift money or clothes on your Christmas (makes sense No? )
On one hand the help does feel amazing when I don't have to dehydrate my eczemic fingers in hand dish washing; I no longer need to wash bathrooms like I did earlier. I don't have to do all the boring pre-work , chopping for cooking. I get it all done for me and I can just work on the taste and final touches of the food. Sounds amazing...yet since I'm new to this domestic help system, almost any day that my maid decided to take a day off without telling me, I felt a bit of relief (along with the obvious frustration at first); a relief that today I was on my own, my kitchen was mine, a sense of privacy and ability to delay some tasks if I wished to, there's  no one I need to train or mind today, nothing to worry about those rings I left in the bathroom, or about my purse lying in the lounge while I went to the bathroom, no one creeping behind my back and watching tv with me, no one eves dropping conveniently into my skype sessions or phone calls and then at times also referring to those conversations and giving free suggestions (which in my case are never welcome! In my world, you're domestic help, you do your work and stay out of my personal phone calls). I am especially irritated by my driver, who is slightly sluggish when it comes to his real job i.e directions, finding addresses, remembering important landmarks and a bit too over efficient in making small talk which is useless for example when I sit in the car he would go 'Baji I heard you on the phone talking about medicines, are you ok?', or 'Baji how is your daughter today', or 'Baji I hope you haven't forgotten your phone upstairs' - I mean, for Godsake, are you my driver or my personal assistant? Keep your eyes and ears on the road and not on my life! I try to give him the shortest possible 'yes/no' answers and sometimes I rudely stay quiet to give him the hint that his stupid questions are not welcome. Soooo, I do admit that I myself am part of the problem here; domestic help might just seem very normal acting like this to all my other locally based family and friends but to me it is new and its funny how I respond to some of their natural flairs and how I take offense from some the seemingly very much expected behaviour on their side. 
This evening I was told by my chowkidar that the baby sitter who used to come play with my toddler baby girl will probably not come (because she didn't think I gave her good enough eid clothes). To her it did not matter I suppose that she and I had already decided that she would be going to school starting this September and work for me only in afternoons and weekends on the full day wages . Perhaps it wasn't even the girl, perhaps it was her mother who got scared of the thought of school and decided to put her to work elsewhere where she could earn a 1000 a month more even if she didn't go to school. It's sad - I feel sad. I am unable to understand their psyche, and even if I do I'm not sure I can counsel them to think differently. It might be possible, but I'd probably have to become more well versed with the culture and dynamics of the domestic working class for that. God bless me and them! 

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Consumerism broken down & explained like never before!

This is by far the best explanation of consumerism and its impact on the global village I have ever come across. It is explained with great insight into history, politics, and economic and environmental impact. It gives detailed yet simple answers to many of the wonder whys that have sprung in at least my mind over the years. 

I loved the idea of 'perceived obsolescence' the most. Isn't it the look and feel of our phones, kitchen wear, computers, hand bags, and eye shades that makes us feel out-dated and old fashioned and drives us go shopping every couple of months to satisfy ourselves? One of my favourite sayings is: 'I shopped all my life and yet have nothing to wear'

I was surprised to learn that it was in the 1950's the national happiness peaked in the US, a time when women stayed at home, when there were hardly any fast food chains, fewer short cuts to everyday chores, fewer avenues for instant gratification and entertainment, fewer channels on TV and no internet or the "I-phamily" (ipods, iphones etc.) what so ever? A time when US was more like the developing countries today? A time when people had time! 

I love this video for its simplicity and pictorial digestion. If you're a pictorial person like most others, you will feel as you go through the 22 minutes how well you've digested all the numbers, facts and connections because they were graphs, charts and flow charts to go with the  entire verbal presentation. 

Next time I go shopping for something I 'want' and don't really 'need', this whole cycle of consumerism will play in my head and I hope it will make me shop sensibly (buy less, and buy fair trade options where available) and use and reuse until there really is nothing much left of my stuff! 

Following the fashion is out-dated. Brag your old stuff lasting you over the years! Brag your own style. Find a way to stop this cycle of consumerism within your lifestyle and the small circle of influence around you. 

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Chacha valentine!

Many stories have been shared about the origins of valentines day to justify it, or to defame it, to further sugar-coat it or to 'de-myth' it. In the west, where this day originates, lives are busier, more detached, independent - people tend to live in their cocoons through out the year, barring a few days like Valentines when they halt their mechanical lives and spend a breath or few to pay due attention to partners, parents, loved ones etc. Days like mothers day, fathers day, family day make a lot more sense in this format of life where you need to 'stop' to spend time with those around you. And this is so because either children have moved out to be on their own, or because the parents are by themselves near the country side, a different town or an old age home.

But what does a day like Valentines mean to a developing and struggling country like Pakistan? For one, the nation has a divided stance on this topic; as you can see in the picture above, the anti-valentines day campaign by tanzeem and the response to that by Peaceniche, the NGO behind T2F. In a country where the nation faces an extreme divide in terms of  wealth, mindset, education and standard of living - valentines day comes as an added deterrent to unity and harmony. The quite opposite of Love! The billboard and poster here show the lack of harmony in our society. Gradually this seemingly harmless freedom of thought is becoming a larger and more damaging civil war. It's ironic that on this supposed the day of love, we are arguing about the celebration of love. This is because in countries like Pakistan, values of culture, religion, tradition supersede these recently adopted trends and new trends will always be bench-marked or evaluated against the list above.

My stance here isn't 'No to Valentines', neither is it pro-Valentines. What I despise about this corporate-mandated day of Louve! (call me sarcastic) is this 'compulsion' to express love. Not just express but publicly display our love. I know I have a choice not to celebrate this day but Do I, Really? Because while I'm sitting here all chilled writing this post, most of my other friends are making plans of surprising their loved ones and expecting even bigger ones in return. Once they are done, the results of these will proudly be displayed on facebook and then post V-day, there will be phone calls and messages between girl friends flaunting their day, the diamond rings, the bunches of flowers, the dinners and the places they went to celebrate d-day. And I too shall be asked, 'So how did you celebrate valentines day?'. That's when I'm pushed out of my comfort zone to question: is valentines day really a true measure of how much your family, husband, partner loves you? I think its a pretty bad yard-stick to measure or judge love against. Moreover, the majority of our country (barring 1% of the elite, who drive the culture of lavish parties on v-day) cannot afford wasteful expenditure on gifts, cards, flowers or jewels all of which are double the price on this day, but they are somewhat pressurized to do so, because it is gradually becoming the 'in thing to do'. So just like our mehendis and weddings catch-up with the extravagant trends of  society, so will our attitude on valentines day unless we consciously try not to get carried away.

Even worse, valentines day has now been positioned as the day to 'pop the question'. It has sadly been established that if a girl is not proposed to on the 14th of Feb, she will have to wait the entire year to be proposed. According to a survey, 53% females in the US would end a relationship if they were not given a gift on Valentines day (rising expectations?)  and 14% would send themselves flowers on valentines day (talk about self-esteem). It is more sad to see the number of heart broken on valentines day than is amusing to see the public display of love-birds. Just recently a friend called me frantically asking what she should do on this valentines for her boy-friend, and shared her anxiousness on how if he didn't propose this time, he probably never would. Proposals aren't timed against public days, there are timed against personal situations, feelings, commitments, confidence, the ability to support a family and support from parents and family (specially in our Pakistani context).

At the end of the day, like anything else commercially driven, it becomes a rat-race, nothing personal, losing its charm. I'm not against celebrating a day of love with your loved ones. But let that day be special, unique, uncommon with the rest of the world, shared between the two people who care about each other, rather than the whole world. If Chacha (St.) Valentine did ever exist, he would have liked to keep it simple too.

It's love, so let it be personal.

With Love!
- [Not] your valentine