AUGUST 15: TODAY'S BUSINESS TOPIC is Branding. Do your customers know the difference between the branded services you provide and those of your rivals?
Let's see how the experts do it. Bandit gangs in rural India fully realize the importance of 'positioning' in the services industry.Professional dacoits personalized crime scenes to ensure clients know exactly who to credit, er, blame for offences committed.
Arguably the most successful is the notorious Underpant Gang of Gujarat, known in the area as the Chaddi Banian Dhari. Pouring scorn on the standard robber technique of disguising themselves with black clothing and masks, they remove their clothing before every raid. (Deep down, they are shy lads, and always protect their modesty with Y-fronts or boxers.)
Despite heavy competition in their principal market of South Gujarat, the Underpant Gang has quickly become a recognizable brand. A surefire sign of this is the fashion they have triggered among the criminal classes, with many robbers, muggers and housebreakers now turning up for work in jaunty pants and singlets.
Other competitors in the area are trying to cultivate their own trademarks. The Forgotten Tool Gang always leaves a grey screwdriver at the crime scene. It is believed this was an embarrassing slip-up the first time. But senior managers announced it was corporate policy to leave a grey screwdriver at every crime scene, and thus saved face and created a brand. (I swear, all of this is completely serious----I'm not making it up.)
Police are trying to keep up. 'If vegetables are scattered around, it could be a Sansi Gang break-in,' says sub-inspector J.J. Chavda of Kamrej police station, who has noticed the presence of alien vegetables appearing at screwdriver-free crime scenes lately. Victims have been complaining: 'My jewels are gone. But I've found half a kilo of aubergines and an endive salad I don't remember buying.' Since most people in the region are vegetarians, the Sansi Gang arguably stand to become 'robbers of choice' among the victim classes.
Perhaps oddest is the all-girl Call of Nature Gang of Andhra Pradesh. Members rob living rooms and then use them as restrooms. Some police reckon a bizarre rural superstition leads them to believe this action makes them mystically immune to arrest. 'Another reason could be that they strike mostly early in the morning,' says police superintendent Manoj Agarwal of Ahmedabad. In other words, they just need to go.
It's not just India. In Malaysia, the Run 'n' Rob Gang storms into 7-Eleven shops, ties up the staff, slip on their uniforms, and serves the customers themselves. That country is also the home of the Curry Powder Gang, who explode a tin of pungent spices over a victim, and then pick his pocket while he is flailing around, drooling in a cloud of ground coriander and cumin.
Yet perhaps the ultimate example of the power of good branding is Dhanni, King of Thieves. He was born a pauper in New Delhi, but soon became so skilled at theft that he decided to turn his reputation as The Undetectable Pickpocket into a franchiseand was wildly successful. Soon, he abandoned picking pockets, and merely sold his skills to thieves lower down the corporate ladder. His franchisees would sneak onto crowded buses and use his techniques to collect wallets and purses, while Dhanni, now unofficial Chairman of the Board of Delhi Pickpockets, followed in a chauffeur-driven car, keeping in touch with the action by mobile phone. (When he died in 2001, there was widespread mourning. He was considered a good man, since he was a teetotaler and was deeply religious, making his henchmen promise to forego crime on religious days of rest.)
Yes, there's no doubt about it. The key to success is identifying what you are good at, and making sure people know about it.
Meanwhile, if you find an inexplicable turnip or romaine lettuce in your living room, just check your jewels are still where they are supposed to be.