Some of the new technology products from Apple, Sony Microsoft have changed the way we live and do our business.

Just now I read how  Singapore is the number one tech-savvy economy. Beating America to the fifth position in the”Networked Readiness Index” by the World Economic Forum. U.S.lost its top position after a three year reign.  Americans are ahead of others in innovative technologies and  marketing strategies and still dominates in its high quality scientific research institutions and business schools and other indicators of high development including venture capital market which had spurred innovation.

India and China have improved their positions at 39 and 41! Japan and South Korea are close rivals in this game of innovative technologies. Some of the world’s best known brands have come from these three countries.
My own favourite brands, among companies are IBM, Sony and now Apple. A reflection on what these mean for our lives and activities.

A series of coincidences! Yes, that is how I like to describe the  many things that happened or I did in the last few days. These past few days had brought home to me the vast array of new technologies, from computers to latest devices that had changed the way we live, do our businesses and enjoy our work and leisure.

A visit to the Apple Computer Sales office in Bangalore( I was told that it is the only sales office in India, other Apple customers have to visit their local offices  in other Indian cities  to purchase their Apple products) opened my eyes to what Apple  is doing I was all these days only reading about it in newspapers and only this time I had a chance to see things in person. What a technological revolution? Or, what a  technological marvel or marvels I saw! The Apple computer itself was a thing of beauty. I couldn’t take my eyes off! It was such a beauty, so stylish and  yet so tempting to the eyes and the very visual experience! The latest gadget, the latest craze, that is the right word, is of course the iPod, the music player in the size of your small finger! It was too unbelievable.

Indian readers of this column who are not familiar with the Apple story should just remember that when  the last international annual conference of Apple, Steve Jobs (the genius behind the innovative designs, for everything Apple had turned out, the computers, laptops and the musical revolutionary gadget) told the audience at the end of his presentation that “here was the last product”, the musical iPod and he said that it is outside the conference room for sale! All hell broke out! The crowd ran out and garbed every piece that was there! The last Christmas the largest sold music piece, the consumer electronic items ,was the iPOd. So here I am, hooked to the Apple technology and everything that conveys to me! I call it not a technology. It is a new religion. It is  my new religion! Yes, such is the fervour of all Apple lovers. (I bought one iPod, for your information!)

Close  on the heels came the news about another of my favourite  brand. Sony! Yes, ever since I bought the hardcover edition of Akio Morita’s “Made in Japan”, way back in 1985 or so, I was drawn to Morito’s story. So, here was the latest news that Sony is facing business troubles and for the first time, the brand, the very symbol of Japanese technology and  marketing prowess, this was, said a newspaper report” a humbling for a company that defined the Japanese innovation and technological prowess”.

Sony will celebrate its 6o years of  existence, founded after world war II and this time in March a  Welsh-born, Sony executivetakes over as the new CEO of Sony whose global sales turnover is 67 billion dollars with flat profit! Its famed Walkman had been replaced by Apple iPod as the 21st century rival product. Sony has some 1,000  products with no clear single brand, as its once innovative Walkman, the next products in the making face formidable competitors from Microsoft and others like the once inferior South Korean, Samsung which now had come out with revolutionary products on the market. So,  when I saw the new book on Sony “Sony: the private life” (by John Nathan) I grabbed it! The book makes moving reading sometimes draws your tears when it describes how the founders, originally by six engineers in 1945, have lived their lives. The words dedication, determination and vision and grit acquire new meanings once you read through the lives of these men.

The latest Economist (March 12th) has a technological survey and  also a three page write-up on Sony. Here I am running page after page the Apple vs others! Here is one description if what I said of iPod: “Might the Apple iPod,  the coolest digital gizmo of the moment, be doomed? It sounds unthinkable. But at 3GSM mobile-telecom conference in Cannes the mobile phone was repeatedly invoked as a potential “iPOd killer”. The increasing sophistication of mobile phones-many of which now include music playback and hence dedicated music music players, digital cameras and other devices might give way to such convergent technologies. Already hand held  computers, “personal digital assistants “(PDAS) and camera phones outsell digital cameras. We are using in our office  Blackberry (PDAS) e-mail device! Much of our day to day business is now conducted through e-mail only and that is how businesses have evolved. An average Indian businessman now spends 2 hours on e-mail everyday! Our home and office are now connected to broadband, we are on Internet round the clock and so some of our own executives who “work-at-home”. This business model suits our needs as on date. So on and on…!

The most provocative piece of reading for me, however, is the one on media brands: how great media brands thrive and survive, a book that is published in 2004 and this book startled me and made me sit up and read the book at one sitting! Most of the print media are over 100 years old. As you can imagine all these brands are either American or UK, one each for German, Italy and two for France. Yes, there is heavy Western bias and yet we have to realise in this competitive world there is no way to escape from this reality. We can at learn learn some lessons, learn quickly!  20 media companies, from latest TV channels success stories like CNN, MTV and BBC to news agencies like Reuters to world’s top newspapers to magazines.

What the ‘success stories’ convey to readers, for me at any rate, is that the very successful media businesses thrived and survived by their capacity to emerge as successful media brands. Brand building is an American invention and Indians are now learning it!

This is an inspiring story and business lesson and learning though I  had formed my own insights and learnt from experiences (successes and failures only constitute true experience. isn’t it so?) CNN started off as a war time news broadcaster and now it had emerged as the most fast news provider, specially whenever there is a crisis or war. CNN came along during the first Iraq war. The Financial Times as a business newspaper was printed first on a ink newsprint more for its cheap cost and that gave it a distinct brand image till this day! So, every country has its media brand and India doesn’t find a place in the 20 brand covered here. Says the author that in New York in one news stand there are some 7,000 magazines are displayed and yet when you come out you recognise only four magazines as brands that stays in your mind.

In the last 20 years technological revolutions had shaped the media brands. From paper printing to using Internet, you are now into a different technological enterprise and entrepreneurship. Thus multi-media brands is what you have to operate if you are to survive in the media business today. This was exactly my experience too. We had moved along with the technological changes at every step. We were also the first to buy our computer way back when it cost a hell of a price! And we put it in the village! Thus, we started with entering our editorial through the computer screen using local skills, workers and now after 20 years we are exactly where others, more bigger ones, are still lagging behind us in technological savvy, Our Internet venture is on par, if not a step ahead of others, specially in the agriculture information dispensation.
There are media aristocracy and media down-trodden in this business and you have to position yourself in the upmarket or mid-market or the lower end. After experimenting with local language readers we had moved upmarket. The point is that however you price products it would only have a limited audience, India being a poor country and our social values are militating against any non-urban audience. So we price our products high and none the worse for it!

Have a vision. We have loads of it! It is the vision ,the mission that drives us. Build trust. People can expect to be confident of our credentials. Timing. We think we entered at a time when agriculture was entering into the crisis phase. So we find a sympathetic chord among our audience. “Some of the best ideas  spring out of necessity”. This is true for us too. Witty, intellectual, a bit elitist?

Web, mobile, print. Yes, we offer all the three. Maintain quality. We have to work hard, we have to compete, so we strive for highest quality  “Finally, stay relevant”. “A heritage is a wonderful thing, but it makes you vulnerable too” So, we  remain awake, we innovate, we create new businesses, so we keep the old and new experiments in view when we move along. For smaller media ventures like ours, finally what matters, as we see is our intellectual capital. And our vision for a confident India, for a rurally stable strong India, India as an agriculture power and for us in this magazine in particular India as a confident nation is all that gives us relevance and sustains us. Ultimately the one man who built the company and the brand stands out and it is all about values and philosophies that the later generation would get the chance to judge!

Image Source: bindapple.com

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