It’s All Services, Stupid: Ask Yourself, Which Businesses Are TOI Or Asian Paints Really In?

It’s All Services, Stupid: Ask Yourself, Which Businesses Are TOI Or Asian Paints Really In?The logos of Asian Paints and The Times of India.
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  • There are huge services businesses that will emerge from this shift in consumer value from owning a product to its use value, and that is where the jobs will be.

In the first part of this series on The Future of Work, we had noted that for the most part jobs will be “contractual, temporary, lumpy and services-led, especially technology-mediated services”.

Expanding on the last idea – that almost all jobs will be services-led – it is time to make an even bolder statement: there will be very few jobs outside services, and even today’s services companies have to figure out how they can became even more services-led. As for agriculture and manufacturing, they will be history unless they integrate forward into services.

Let’s start with the newspaper. What business is The Times of India in? Most people would be inclined to say “content”, but while this is obviously true, it is not really what TOI is all about, though journalists may not like hearing this truth.

A better reply would be that it is in the business of generating responses to advertising, which is where most of its money comes from. TOI was the first newspaper to call its advertising sales department "Response”.

It saw the business as delivering a response, and not just carrying advertisements created by ad agencies in its pages. But thinking of response as its main business too would be a problem when Google and Facebook are eating your advertising lunch.

At some point, people will not pay crores to see their ads printed in costly newspaper columns. They will pay based on actual response, and this is best calculated through digital avenues, where the costs can be measured better against sales outcomes.

But ask yourself a simpler question: would you buy the TOI if you had to walk half a mile to buy it from the closest news-stand or kirana store? Or collect it from the suburban station on your way to work? How many advertisers will pay you top dollar if the TOI were to sell its newspapers only from news-stands or metro stations, and not deliver it to homes?

Here is another answer to the question on what business TOI is really in: it is in the logistics business, and not just content or response. Its agents deliver more products daily and more consistently to more homes for the lowest possible cost than Amazon and Flipkart and all the other e-tailers put together.

It is logistics that is key to selling the TOI as a newspaper. Take away the logistical capabilities, and the TOI management can well expect the newspaper market to shrink steadily and finally die.

The future of TOI is not in content, which can be outsourced and obtained cheaper with fewer employees. Nor is it even advertising, which can deliver consistent revenues only upto a point while TOI waits for Google or Facebook to eat that up too, but in making its logistics strengths deliver more revenues.

TOI is already a services business, but it needs to be delivering even more services through its logistics so that its customers can be truly owned by it. Tomorrow, an Amazon can possibly deliver your newspaper or magazine more cheaply, if you still want the physical product.

At some point, TOI may seek to sell its printing presses (it is already outsourcing a lot of work in this area), and focus only on logistics, branding, and omni-channel responses to advertising carried across print, TV and digital media. Content too may not be central to its survival, for there is an ocean of content out there – and mostly free.

The point of this long digression into what business the TOI is in is to make a simple point: services is where the jobs will be. The rest of the jobs are temporary, and will start disappearing faster in future.

Take Asian Paints. In the popular imagination, it is a company manufacturing paints for cars, offices and homes. That is true. But why would a consumer want to buy only Asian Paints, when other paint manufacturers can deliver the same quality? And if the consumer takes advice on which paints to use from home painters, why would she bother buying any branded paint at all? At some point, the can of paint will become a mere commodity, and Asian Paints will lose margins trying to make it its main business. Without an extension into services, Asian Paints will not be a blue chip company.

Over the last few years, Asian Paints, to quote its own CEO Amit Syngle from the last annual report,

“...has strived to evolve itself into a decor company for its customers, empowering them to create their dream homes. These efforts saw a new high in FY 2019-20 and have resulted in a large focus being placed on providing inspirational décor ideas through our website beautifulhomes.com, exciting customers in a unique way….We accelerated our entry into complete Home Decor providing decor fulfilment through 10 fully operational AP Homes Stores…. In addition, we have taken our ‘Paint Total’ service, offering full Painting Solutions through our retailers forward with a footprint in more than 200 cities. At the same time, we looked at lacs and lacs of customer interactions through ‘Colour Consultancies‘ across our ever-increasing ‘Colour Ideas’ and ‘Ezy Colour‘ Stores.”

The future of jobs will not be in Asian Paints’ manufacturing plants but in its service stores which offer painting and home decor consulting that offer a fully painted and decorated home. In another decade, Asian Paints could well sell its manufacturing units and focus on services alone. People want good-looking homes, not paints or plaster per se.

Remember Xerox’s epiphanic moment when it discovered that people wanted copies, not copiers? At some point, people will buy less cars and seek mobility, which could mean leasing cars or hiring them; people will not pay over Rs 50,000 to own a mobile phone that will be outdated in two years; they will pay monthly rents, and then discard it; they will rent houses more often than buy them. People will pay for hotels by the hour rather than the day.

The ownership society will shrink in the era of jobs which are not permanent in nature. The gig jobs will also be in services. Which is why we should Uber-ise contractual jobs faster, not slower.

There are huge services businesses that will emerge from this shift in consumer value from owning a product to its use value, and that is where the jobs will be.

(Read the first part in this series here)

Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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