Leading the Rotman Marketing Association

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Being associated with the RMA has been the best part of my Rotman experience. I loved organizing the Snack n Chat sessions, inviting speakers, networking with industry experts, participating in the MLSE and Eli Lilly case competitions, and growing my passion for marketing. 

The outgoing exec has set the bar pretty high, and if you will allow me, I would like to pay it forward to the incoming class. I want to guide them, and equip them with the tools needed to succeed in a career in marketing, through opportunities for professional development, industry access, career prep, and mentorship, just like the current Exec did for me. 

First-years often get caught in the Rotman academic bubble, and I want to provide students with unique and relevant events that help inform and broaden their understanding of, and interest in marketing. 

Most of all, I hope to be a pillar of support to them as they toil through the intensity of the first year of the MBA program and the trials and tribulations that come with seeking a career in a competitive function like Marketing. 

Finally, I want to drive the RMA to new heights and build on the success we’ve had from this year; and am hopeful that, together, our efforts will be small but significant drops of water in building a strong marketing community at Rotman.

That was my written speech for Rotman Marketing Association’s Executive Team. It’s been a humbling few days for me. The recent development reminds me of the first meeting we had almost a year ago with the outgoing exec as 1st year reps. Like everyone at the beginning of the program, I had a choice about which club to join. And I chose this because I believed in this club, what it stood for, and the people that led it. And I as I went about my year benefiting from all their efforts in making students better marketers, (through career support and guidance, resume review, mock interviews, case prep, BrainStation workshops, articulations series, industry nights); I had the best seat in the house to see how we empowered people to do magical things, all of which drastically improved the student experience. That inspiration will continue to drive me as I step in as President of the third largest industry club at Rotman. As I step into the gigantic, herculean, colossal shoes of JT (also known in popular circles as the “God of Case Competitions”). I’m aware that I can never command the same respect, awe or admiration of his legend, so I guess I’ll be a different kind of President, and look to bring a different set of skills to the role that’ll hopefully help the club pick up from where he let off.

What started off as an excuse to network with people, get to know upper-years who pursued a career in marketing, and develop my passion for following how brands engaged with consumers, has grown into something so meaningful. I couldn’t be prouder of my new journey and all that it has in store.

As someone who went through a below average undergraduate experience and was never involved in student bodies or councils at the high school or even college level, a George Eliot quote instantly comes to mind: “It is never too late to be what you might have been. Sure I’ve managed a subordinate or two at work, but this is a whole new ball game, and I’m raring to go.

I want to expand the mentorship program to more aspiring marketers in the program, integrate a marketing accelerator into the Pre-MBA for career switchers, get Nielsen to do a session on how to work with data (a standard marketing interview question), perhaps transform the RMA podcast into a ‘Day In The Life Of’ video series on an RMA Vimeo channel, backed up by a RMA Twitter account that is a one stop shop for all marketing trends and developments. Speaking of which, a 30-minute session on the latest marketing campaigns and changes in the industry would be something of value to first years who seldom have the time to keep abreast of them on their own. It will also help 2nd years be in the know of what’s happening in the world of marketing as they prepare for full time recruiting. If first years continue to remain in the same section all year, then I’d like to conduct ice-breaker events that help get to know their fellow RMA members, perhaps help them in forming case comp teams based on diverse skills sets, and hopefully result in a close-knit and cohesive Rotman marketing community. The RMA x RED Dinner with Nestle’s CMO was my best RMA experience this year, and I can’t wait to give first years a taste of what that’s like. Speed Interviews/Networking and Career Treks are also on the radar, as will other new initiatives in due time.

As a wise man whose name I’d rather not reveal told me a couple of days earlier, upon hearing my grand plans and vision for the RMA, a leader is only as good as his team. So here’s hoping that the great team we have will see merit in them, and help bring each to life, overcoming the complexities, hurdles and logistical nightmares that may sprout, as we try our best to roll them out.

One thing’s for certain. If (m)any of them don’t see the light of day, it won’t be for lack of trying.

 

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From Left: Thank You to Sharvan Salooja (VP External), John Stevenson (President), Conrad Balbinot (VP Careers), Jainy Tong (Chief of Staff), Amy Delva (VP External) , Suhaib Ahmed (VP Strategic Partnerships), Jason Liu (VP Internal), Ria Dutta (VP Part-Time) and Christine Zhu (VP Internal)

 

The One That Got Away

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A conversation with a close friend

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We ‘crashed out’ of the Rotman Design Challenge this weekend. ‘Crashed out’ being the operative phrase. Couldn’t manage to make the finals. A month long intense design challenge that we invested our time and energies on, than all the case competitions we’d worked on previously, put together. It meant a lot because of everything we were going through as a team and as individuals.

Kyle was between multiple rounds of interviews for an elusive summer internship. Lara’s better half was moving countries, and faced some untoward incidents that kept her up at nights. I made them miss classes, skip meetings, work day, night and weekend.

But we knew we didn’t deserve to win. We ‘recommended’ when we should have ‘designed’. We settled on an idea because we had few that were better. Because we didn’t do too much research beyond what we discussed in meetings. So the first idea that came our way looked more than ordinary, and we went ahead with it without really evaluating if that fit the bill in terms of what was expected. I was burned out too. Just tried to pretend otherwise so the team had a driver. 6-7 hours of classes everyday and 4 hour and 2.5 hour lectures didn’t help.

Maybe I’m not a designer, I’m just a marketer. We needed a design person. Who could have held onto the few thought starters with potential, that we let go of. Someone that could have fought my ‘marketing’ way of thinking. I failed to do that on my own. And I’ll probably never forgive myself for that.

I’m proud of what we did, and how we sold what we did, once we did it. But I’d have dearly loved to go back in time and see if an alternate route would have brought us different returns. And I guess the thought of that will haunt me forever.

After seeing the first few presentations, I instantly recalibrated my expectations as I was blown away by their quality. At that point, all I wanted was for a chance for us to perform. We needed to have worked a lot longer, harder AND hoped for the best to get placed. Clearly we weren’t up for that

But our presentation had potential. As did our presenters. Which is what made this a bitter pill to swallow.

The ride’s over but it was fun while it lasted. Never felt that good about myself in life like that.

JT’s legend just got bigger. Kyle once spoke of how him and I put together could possibly equal JT. Clearly, not even then.

It may have been one case competition too many, but it won’t ever be one I’ll regret doing.

Even if I had known which teams would win a month ago, and was asked to be a part of one of those, I would have still done with my team. Guess winning isn’t everything.

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But don’t let my self pity take anything away from what a fantastic case competition the RDC is. 150 students from over 15 different schools across Canada, USA and Europe.

Saturday started off with us arriving for in the morning for some tasty breakfast and into specially reserved breakout rooms we went, where good luck messages were written on the board by the organizers. Also in the meeting room were a pack of cards, post-its and sharpies. We also received a Goodie bag that contained some gum, a pair of TELUS design socks, select books on design, a TELUS journal and a TELUS stuffed toy.

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Once we presented in the afternoon, TELUS, Doblin (Deloitte’s Design Thinking Wing) and SY Partners conducted workshops.

wk.pngWe then capped the day off with a cocktails and a networking session for 30 mins followed by an exquisite dinner comprised of salad bars, taco bars, sushi bars, 4 types of fried seasoned chicken. A guacamole overdose made me too stuffed to be in a position to attend the after-party at the East of Brunswick Pub n Kitchen. What a weekend it was.

Of the many things I learnt participating in the RDC, there’s one I will take with me wherever I go.

All my life I was under the impression that the whole point of Pandora’s Box was that once you opened it, you can’t close it again.

Yesterday, I got a message from an incoming student who reminded me about the great year I had just had. That’s when I remembered that they’re called Case ‘Competitions’ for a reason. Just because there are so many of them around, doesn’t mean they’re easy to win.

When I moved the folder titled “RDC” out of my desktop last night, it stung almost as badly as it did when I had to last move a folder titled “P&G” but that’s when it hit me. Maybe that’s not how the story ends.

I may have run my race, perhaps it’s now time to see others run theirs. It reminded me that when everything is over, and the worst has happened, there’s still one thing left in Pandora’s Box….

Hope.

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Waiting it out…

Saying that this post is overdue would be an understatement. A lot has happened in the past few weeks.

My team wont the all Ontario finals of the MLSE Case Competition, where we crushed all the other schools. It was a shame that nobody from the winning team went on to work at MLSE.  Shame for MLSE.

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But they did end up treating us to a free raptors game from the box with great food n drink on call, so one of those things that make a rejection that follows so much easier to live with. Oh well.

It’s been a period of narrow misses. On the one hand, I keep getting interview calls, on the other, I keep going till the end only to miss out. The last mile problem. A classic case of so-close-yet-so-far. Over and over again. Like how it took Ted Mosby from HIMYM 7 seasons for it to work out, perhaps it’ll take me a few more interviews before I land the right job.

It’s an interesting place to be in because you have one set of peers who tell you how lucky you are to get so many interview calls, but on the other hand I know that’s nothing more than a consolation. If anything, I’m investing so much time and effort in each of these processes that end up being for nothing that I wonder if I’ll ever be able to focus on academics.

Case Prep. Behavioural Interview Prep. Culture fit and logical reasoning tests. Recorded interviews. Skype Interviews. In-person ones. With P&G, MLSE, Johnson & Johnson, ABInBev, Ford. It’s draining. Physically, mentally. Rejections don’t make you stronger. But having said that, I’ve come a fair way since my P&G rant, because I’ve come to realize that there are people who have it worse. Those pursuing Investment Banking and Consulting who, in addition to interview prep also had to slog all term for that elusive 4.0 GPA. My journey’s been far too easy in comparison. Especially when you know you’re better than everyone but lose out because you’re unable to articulate that in an interview. Luckily, I’ve been able to articulate that, so I guess I need to start counting more of my blessings. And hopefully it’s just a matter of time.

I guess you also need to realize that interviews are like the Playoffs. Great job if you’ve made it till there, but from there on, it’s probably a lottery. And there’s the age old rationalization that if the company thought you weren’t a good fit, maybe they did you a favor and you wouldn’t have liked it anyway. Recruiting processes aren’t total and absolute meritocracies and they exist in their current state more due to the lack of a better/more efficient way to select candidates. So I guess you take the highs with the lows.

And perhaps that’s why they ask you during your admissions interview that crucial question about a failure you’ve handled. Because it matters. Because once you’re in, there’s a very real chance you’ll face more failures in your first couple of terms than you would have in your entire life combined (oh and I’ve had my fair share of failures) And the feeling is accentuated because you’re putting in so much effort in every tiny thing you do that when you miss out, it hurts a lot more. The harder you work, the harder it is to let go. But what it also does is teaches you to bounce back from failures so quickly that you’d wonder if that last failure even counted as one. Is that healthy? Sure it is. Is there any benefit from lingering on things that didn’t work out and not moving on? Closure is overrated. And success when you eventually get it, will taste a lot sweeter. (I fully expect to have an emotional breakdown ala Will Smith in the closing scenes of Pursuit of Happiness when I eventually land my internship)

We’re all learning to swim here. One thing you notice at the start of the winter term is that everyone applies for everything, because most of the good jobs are already taken or gone. And there’s panic before people calm down again and realize their efforts are better spent cleverly.

Academics don’t get any easier. GPAs stop mattering. Operations and Statistics make Finance and Accounting seem like a breeze in comparison. The mood of the class was aptly encapsulated the other day when the Professor stopped to clarify if everybody understood and someone’s Siri went off with “I don’t understand what you’re saying”. GOLD.

One setback was General Mills’ weird recruiting policy of shortening a list of over 100 applications to an interview list of just 4. It was shocking because it made me wonder what criteria a company could use for such a drastic filtering. Anyway, onwards and upwards it is.

I received a shot in the arm through a win in the Eli Lilly case competition last week. It was one of those rare occasions when we felt really happy because of the total team effort. We knew how indispensable every single person in the team was, and that even the lack of contribution from one member would have been the difference between the first and second place. It was also our first oversized cheque, which we were pretty excited about. #LateBloomerProblems

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Case competitions have been the elixir of my business school journey, giving me that much needed fillip every time I’ve needed one, every time I’ve been down. The journey is engaging, intellectually challenging, and most of all, rewarding. I know I’m good at creative problem solving. And I guess I relate to businesses better than I do to assignments and case studies, so this is me playing to my strengths. It’s not a crime.

I’m just lucky and thanking my stars on a daily basis that, in a world where grades matter, I’m in a place where they don’t matter as much.

I mean I’m not saying I’m against it all. I’d love to do school work, but I just can’t afford to. Throw me in a deep ocean and ask me if I want to survive or learn finance, I’d say survive. An internship being the key to survival here.

But honestly, I’m just glad I won’t be one of those guys who’re forty and regret not focusing more on the better things in life, like meeting new people, making new friends, enjoying the final few moments of college life, falling in love (with companies, job postings, career paths, only to snap out of it). Because I know for a fact that I won’t regret not having studied more for an exam.

To end with yet another convenient rationalization in the form of a Mark Twain quote “I’ve never let my schooling interfere with my education”. And with the mother of all case competitions – The Rotman Design Challenge coming up, it doesn’t look like that pattern’s gonna change. And I guess that’s fine. Why? Because your MBA experience is what you make of it.

Brands don’t change lives? P&G changed mine

“We’re finished with the interview now. Do you have anything else to ask us?”

Actually, I have something to say. I read this blog a couple of years ago titled “Why P&G rejected me” about someone who thought he aced his interview only to find out he got rejected, and reached out to his interviewer for feedback. He goes on to talk about how nebulous the word “FIT” can mean. Maybe you have somebody just like me. Or maybe the division that has a vacancy in, has a manager who might not require my skills. Or maybe its not even something you can explain. There’s a theory in economics called revealed preference that tells you to not listen to what people say but observe what they do. Maybe it’s how you feel about a candidate that CAN’T be put in words.

In April 2012, P&G launched it’s first ThankYouMom campaign. A few days later, when I was barely 21, I was asked in an interview with Ogilvy & Mather what my long term goal was. I said it was “to make a ThankYouMom commercial for P&G” some day. And then 2 years later, I left Ogilvy to join GREY, for a lot of reasons but also because GREY handled Gillette, Pantene and Febreze. With time, my understanding of marketing evolved, as did my goals, but the fascination for P&G stayed. The company that made those Gillette ads I used to cut out of newspapers as a kid because they had cricketer Rahul Dravid’s image as brand ambassador, has been the single most important career goal I’ve had for as long as I can remember. My laptops have changed, but what’s been a constant is that folder titled “P&G” on my desktop. Even today, I took out a new Fusion ProGlide I had reserved for this occasion because the copy on the box read “Ready for your first real job? Time for your first real shave”. And if someone took me back in time and asked me who I’d want to grow up to be like, I’d say Marc Pritchard, Chief Brand Officer P&G, one of whose quotes stuck on my workplace desk reads “we need to move from marketing to consumers to servicing people with our brands making their lives better”. Guess what I’m trying to say, is that everything I’ve ever done has led me to THIS moment. So if I don’t proceed further, I want to thank you for listening to my story.

Those were a few excerpts from my interview with P&G last week. Today, I got a rejection email from P&G Talent Supply.

Thank you for interviewing for the Brand Management position at P&G. Unfortunately, we have decided not to pursue your application further.

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I tried.

Application. Success drivers assessment. Online reasoning screening. In-person reasoning test. Sales Experience day and live case analysis. Round 1 interview. Started October when my term began and my term ends next week, but the dream’s ended prematurely. It was fun while it lasted. And I’d like to get some things off my chest in my search for closure. So here goes.

There is nothing more painful than thinking you did so well, left such a great impression only to be proven shockingly wrong and left wondering how to resuscitate your entire belief system that’s just been rocked to its core. There is nothing more frustrating than not knowing where you screwed up, how you screwed up, IF you screwed up in the first place, because everybody around is too polite to call a spade a spade.

Well maybe there is something more painful.

Not getting enough sleep. Checking every single email hoping it’s the one from P&G you’ve been waiting for. Waking up in the middle of the night to check your mail, because FOMO on steroids is exactly this. Getting furious annoyed and disappointed all at the same time when you receive spam emails from Scotia Scene and Black Friday Amazon deals and other irrelevant newsletters. A gazillion periods of waiting with baited breath to hear back after each round. That small muted celebration of joy you experience upon clearing every round but then you pause because you know there’s a long way left to go but at the same time you’re also experiencing a feeling of satisfaction of having crossed one hurdle, the validation that it serves as, that you’re on the right track, that you’re doing okay and you’ll be okay. The herculean effort you put to get a teeny tiny bit of advantage that hardly justifies the cost it comes at – academic neglect. Nothing to lose? I had everything to lose

Rory Sutherland talks about how life is like a game of darts: aiming for the high score brings a higher chance of disaster. He goes:

“Something economists don’t understand, with their narrow focus on utility, which is an artificial additive function accumulated in a series of independent transactions, is that life is multiplicative, not additive. And it is path dependent. In a multiplicative, path-dependent world – one in which we are in competition with others – the rules are very different to the additive rules that economists frequently impose on us with the idea that they are “rational”.

I feel like I could go off like Robin Williams did in the film Angriest Man in Brooklyn, so I’ll just quote his monologue:

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I’m innately not a confident person. Tend to always expect the worst. Be harsh on myself. It all ties into the cynical bastard that I am. Which means that I usually often end up surprising myself by not doing as badly as I had originally thought I would. But in the odd occasion that I’m actually confident about something, it means I must have kicked ass. But ever since my MBA I’m not so sure.

Its a roller-coaster and I’m gasping for breath, struggling for air, praying for calm. It’s like an LSD trip. I’ve never worked this hard. I’m breaching every barrier, every threshold, every limit of resilience, spirit, effort I had. But most of it so inconsequential from the outside. Every bridge I cross feels like I’m loading a gun with bullets, but from a larger perspective all I’m doing is loading batteries into a TV remote. Turbulence is the order of the day.  Perhaps an MBA is a microcosm of life. In 32x speed.

But as I sit here writing this, licking my wounds, reeling from my rejections, trying to put back pieces of my shattered confidence (whatever’s left of it), I realize my journey is just beginning. Like one of my friends said, I need to keep doing what I’m doing because I didn’t come this far to throw in the towel now. I wanted my MBA to challenge me, and here it is doing just that. Maybe getting into P&G would have made it too easy, made me too complacent. Maybe I have a few more battles to go before I win the war, or at the very least, come out of it alive. Back where I came from, business schools give out jobs for free through a concept called ‘placements’. No networking, no proclaiming of passion, no persistent efforts to stay in touch, nothing; an environment where higher the GPA, better your career prospects. I’m better than that. My program is better than that. The stuff we’re made of is superior because we go through more highs and lows, trials and tribulations in a small market with limited jobs. In a finance-consulting school. In a world where companies prefer hiring undergrads for marketing roles. It’s going to be a long, hard, tough winter. But I’m in for all of it.

I really needed this, but I’ll survive. Find a way. I always do. As for P&G, maybe not today. Not next year. But some day.

And even if that doesn’t work out, that corny old line will start to make sense

“If you really love something, let it go. If it comes back to you, its yours forever. If it doesn’t, then it was never meant to be.”

PS: I worked all term on putting together a marketing plan for their key brands. But I finally decided against showing it to my interviewers because I didn’t want them to construe it as something that showed a rigid pre-set mind. As Seth Godin would say, it was just me being a purple cow. Actually in all honesty, it was just me trying to demonstrate how much this opportunity meant to me. It was me showing up in that moment like I was meant to be there, because perhaps in a parallel universe, I really was.

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Update: The candidate who got the offer for the role from P&G rejected it over a better one. Sic vita est.

When life gives you roller coasters, enjoy the ride

It’s been a tough period, which would explain my absence. I didn’t make it to the second round of the Nestle case competition, something I wrongly assumed was more of a formality considering the effort we had put in and the idea we had. It hurt a little less when we got word that Nestle was only looking at undergraduates and did not so much as evaluate the MBA submission. Well, their loss.

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Business School Life….

But the thing about foundations and Term 1 at Rotman is how the heavy curriculum can bog you down. In a sea of high performing quant-astic peers for whom comprehending advanced finance and accounting is just second nature, you often a notice a struggle that a small but significant part of the class goes through. To take it all in, to try and stay afloat. To try to balance their non-academic passions with the rigours of quant heavy subjects.

The first symptom of that is usually an overwhelming sense of wondering if you’re cut out for this, whether you’re good enough to be here. Walking by the admissions office often as you contemplate if they made a mistake. I mentioned to Dr.Edy Greenblatt that I didn’t contribute in study group meetings as much as the Finance Pros we had did. She said that this post facto rationalization was something every qual student in a quant school goes through.

The Nestle rejection was a bitter pill to swallow. It was a setback in terms of giving us a reality check of what we were good at. The immediate reaction is usually that of self introspection, where you tell yourself to get prepared and used to heartbreaks. Because when so much of life happens to you so fast, heartbreaks galore.

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Today, my team won the marketing case competition by Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment. We worked day and night for an intense week neglecting every subject we were already totally out of depths with (Like Finance, Accounting) for something that we were not sure was even worth the risk. Or perhaps that’s exactly why we did it. Because we needed this. We needed reassurance that we were good. We needed to be reminded why we were selected. When Economics, Data, Finance and Accounting told us we didn’t belong here, this win made us realize that it was okay.

And more than the result, it was the process, the journey that was exciting. The brainstorming, the fleshing out, the relooks, the constant and obsessive discussions about how the idea didn’t feel right, the lip smackingly awesome taste of that late night cup of coffee (even for somebody who doesn’t drink coffee), and slice of pizza when all you’ve had all day is a slice of bread for breakfast. Being overwhelmed like this is pretty exhilarating. I would take this every day.

I didn’t come here for grades. Sure, some good ones would be nice along the way, but not at the expense of the all the other i things I can do. I’d rather have done my MBA in India. The way I look at it, I want the MBA to transform me, I want it to take me to another level, make me a different person. Put me in this incredibly fast blender that bombards me with so many other things that at the end of it all, I come out looking and tasting like an amazing smoothie. And so far so good. I’m kinda liking the person that I’m becoming.

I have 3 weeks worth of finance to catch up to, I’ve completely abandoned the habit of doing my readings, I need to get a grip on assignments, contribute a lot more to my study group, and I have my midterms coming up next week. I am also in the midst of the P&G recruiting process, which is the next big heartbreak in store. I’m not sure about whether I’ll proceed to round 3. The reasoning test was tough and if it isn’t evident already, math isn’t my strong suit. P&G is a company I’ve been wanting to get into since forever. In April 2012, P&G released it’s first ThankYouMom campaign. In June 2012, I graduated from college and had my first job interview with Ogilvy & Mather where I said that my dream was to work for either Wieden & Kennedy or Procter and Gamble on a ThankYouMom campaign. It’s been on my bucket list since then. Along the way, I’ve evolved as a person, my reasons for pursuing marketing and becoming a marketer have also grown into something with a lot more substance, but the fascination towards P&G has stayed. As have the unbelievably stunning ThankYouMom campaigns since then. In 2014, I left Ogilvy for GREY, actually I left because GREY’s clientele included Gillette and Pantene. Maybe it’s going to hurt a lot more when I get rejected because I’m laying it bare, letting it all out here, but I guess the point I’m trying to make to myself is that that’s alright. Doubting yourself is a rite of passage for every Rotman MBA. The key is to be positive, to be realistic, set priorities, and compromise. Find a bunch of people similar to you. It’s pretty easy to fall into an abyss when you’re lagging behind in every class eternally trying to catch up. And carve your own niche. When all goes downhill, it will still keep you company, keep you’re hopes up and come to your rescue.

By no means am I an expert on how to handle emotional blows, but there is a certain something I do, almost like a ritual, to keep my spirit up and my willingness to work hard intact regardless of failures and setbacks.

I look back a few years, to all those days spent opening the Rotman website looking at glossy pictures of the campus, realizing how aspirational it was to get in. How awesome it would be to get an admit. So every time I walk through those stairs, I remind myself of how lucky I am to be here. I tell my 22 year old self that he did good and go back to work in the hope that, in a time space continuum, my 30 year old self is at this very moment doing the same to me.

A decade or two down the line, perhaps these small rejections would be insignificant as I sit back in my ergonomically designed chair at a corner office with a spectacular view of the Toronto skyline working with some of the brightest minds in the world. Talking and meeting with equally successful cohorts, whose friendships I cultivated at Rotman.

Or perhaps that will not happen. Maybe I’m just dreaming. But like the tennis anecdote my partner told me when we heard of our rejection in the Nestle case comp “When you’re in the game, focus on winning the next point, don’t worry about what happened in the previous one.”

I am in the middle of the game.

I hope you find this as helpful as I did.

If Millennials Are The Answer, Then What Is The Question?

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A nice clickbait headline for this piece would been “The trouble with Millennials” but then it would have been as meaningless as brands targeting millennials.

Millennials are the generation that came after the Baby Boomers – those born in the post World War II era 1946 – 1960. Unfortunately, they are perceived as just another group that emerged after the baby boomers. Millennials are the most diverse, globalized, technologically advanced and culturally lucid generation ever. They don’t just stand for a group, they signify evolution.

But having your audience as millennials without factoring in anything more is a lazy attempt at defining your target group. It is waste of marketing dollars, human resources, share of voice and shelf space. It leads to generic communication that is irrelevant to everyone. And the only way to cater to a large heterogeneous group is to identify the lowest common denominator, an approach that signals the extinction of truly differentiated ideas. “It’s like saying everything living in the ocean is ‘fish,’” said David Measer, Senior Vice President, Planning for agency RPA. A segmentation approach relying on demographics alone is extremely limited in what it can deliver. Another thing marketers are guilty of forgetting – your product isn’t for everyone, why should your communication be. And with the kind of data that marketers have access to nowadays, personalization is the way forward.

The “millennial” label also doesn’t allow for empathy, instantly throwing up the image of a Pokémon-catching, selfie-clicking, bad-at-saving, always-on-his-phone, entitled young person who’s had it “too easy”.

The only example of a company that has been successful in targeting all millennials with one stroke is AdBlock. With over 40% of it’s users being millennials. That line we’re taught in statistics class ‘Correlation does not imply causation’ could tell us a whole new story altogether though. Perhaps the lazy targeting is what drove millennials to install AdBlock in the first place 😉

From MySpace to High School Musical, Crocs, Wristbands for a cause, to Flash Mobs, FarmVille, Candy Crush and Angry Birds, we’re the most fickle generation there’s ever been. And as a brand, if you think you know what we want, I’ve got news – we’re yet to figure out what we want ourselves.

“Here’s a shocker for you: there are actually 19-year-old guys who watch ‘Dance Moms’ and there are 73-year-old women who are watching ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘Avengers’,” said Todd Yellin, Netflix’s VP of Product Innovation. “What we’ve learned over time is: it’s not who they are in a superficial sense—like gender, age, even geography. It’s not even what they tell you. It’s what they do.” In behavioural economics, this is called Revealed Preference.

The young graduate searching for his first job, the single mom balancing life with 3 kids, the couple that’s just about to buy their first condo, the travel enthusiasts, the culinary explorers, the quarter life crisis millennials. They might all fall in the same age range but their needs, motivations, desires, lifestyles and experiences are completely different.

Which begs the question: Is age becoming an archaic, obsolete factor to target?

Author Jonathan Crowl has this to say about Age-obsolescence “Age-obsolescence isn’t only caused by the sizable Millennial generation. Young adults are approaching their lives in more diverse ways than ever before, eschewing the traditional life stage evolutions of education-career-marriage-children for more eclectic paths that differ even from the choices of their friends. What that means is that age no longer serves as a blueprint for determining a consumer’s place in society. Today’s marketers can less reliably point to a 30-year-old male and posit that he is likely in his career, married, and a parent.”

The solution is not to view millennials as one homogenous group but as sub-cultures or sub-segments defined by more insightful criteria and more relevant and significant variables.

In my time at Ogilvy & Mather, working on the IBM account, I learnt about customer journey maps and buyer personas. Journey maps help you identify where in the purchase funnel your customers are and how you can enhance their experience and give them that nudge to purchase. Buyer Personas, as IBM defines it, are iconic representations of one’s ideal customer; that are research based, grounded in data, stats and interviews. What these do is reveal a lot about your customer’s priorities, whether that’s a feature they don’t really care too much about which you can then afford to leave out of your marketing communication or a very trivial but important insight that might help you identify a potential competitive threat. So what personas essentially do is help you tailor content and make your marketing messages and activities more targeted.

Creating personas using geographic, demographic, psychographic and behavioural insights is one way brands can better target millennials.

A second way could be by championing a particular cause or movement or creating a personal identity through emotional branding – and you automatically attract all segments that are even remotely interested in those. P&G is a proud sponsor of moms and their ‘Thank You Mom’ campaigns appeal to all mothers, brands like Nike and Under Armour draw all segments of youth with their inspiring advertising communication, KitKat wants to get everyone to take a break (and who doesn’t want to take a break!)

Brands that effectively manage to create an experience for their consumers most often are the ones that win. American Express through cardholder bonuses, member exclusive events et al creates an experience. Nike through it’s NikeID, allows customers to personalize and design their own Nike merchandise. Trader Joe’s acknowledges millennials’ demand for diverse tastes and healthy ingredients by marking all of their products with clear indicators denoting the absence of artificial preservatives, gluten, or trans fat.

What’s also important is to not over-target. P&G recently reduced it’s spend on targeted Facebook advertising. For a mass brand like P&G, putting itself in front of as many consumers as possible, so as to drive trials and influence purchase, is key. Targeting needs to be balanced and relevant to each brand carrying out the exercise. And bundling an entire generation into a single group is neither of the two. Whole Foods learnt this the hard way, when it opened millennial exclusive stores, a move that backfired with stock prices falling and negative word of mouth. As Robyn Bolton points out here, “Whole Foods is essentially saying that Gen X and Baby Boomer shoppers are fine with old, cluttered stores that sell a confusing array of stuff at high prices.”

To recollect that age old saying, when you try and target everyone, you really end up targeting no one.

Reblogged on Linkedin