Looking for insights in all the wrong places

Image result for Looking for insights in all the wrong placesRecently, an article appeared in the New York Times titled, “Why You Should Read Books You Hate.” I didn’t read it. I already practice what the article was advocating: I only read writing by those with whom I disagree.

I have rationalized this habit by proclaiming: I already know what I think, so I am better served by trying to understand what somebody who disagrees with me thinks. But, as of late, I have come to a different realization. The main reason I read books by people I disagree with is to better understand my own thinking and my work as a strategic planner.  

Like brand strategists across the country, our strategic-planning department was “woke” by the 2016 election. Was there something that we were missing about people living in “red states”? So, we sent a team to America’s heartland to do ethnographic research and inform a talk called “100 Million People You Don’t Know, But Should“ at this past year’s SXSW.

What I found most interesting was the understanding that they brought back about “coastal elites”— about themselves.

Our conclusion was that people like us who work in Santa Monica, Calif., are actually taking cues from everyday living in places like Fargo and Omaha. Commonplace activities like baking pies, knitting and forming close connections with family and heritage are aspirational for my colleagues and me. In Sioux Falls, they are daily life. What we call the “Farmers Market” is just called the market in communities we visited.

For me, this is a fascinating insight about people living in Southern California. It points toward a desire for rootedness or connectedness and brings up questions of how we deal with often competing desires for freedom versus tradition.

Most importantly, this was not the picture of “coastal elites” gained from some of the typical ways we study them. Our team started with an MRI survey and looked for where the coasts differed from the heartland. The profile was of ambitious people, driven by discovery and success. Our team resented this cardboard portrayal of themselves. In the end, our understanding did not come from differences between coasts and heartland, which is what you get from indices. It came from the similarities.

Typically, when marketers study a customer group we look at how they behave, how they live, what motivates them. We do focus groups, ethnographies and look for where they index high in MRI or Simmons. These are all still valid and important. My department has been asking, though, whether this approach leads all marketers to the same place. What if we know too much about who our target audience is—and not enough about who they are not?

As an undergraduate, I studied at Boston University with Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate. His class “Exile and Redemption” looked at exile from a variety of different perspectives. The mark of Wiesel’s teaching was that he didn’t tell us what to conclude. I was led to a simple observation that has stuck to this day: To be redeemed, one must first be exiled. We must venture outside to have a deeper experience on the inside.

As we think about our job in marketing, it strikes me that a similar principle may be true. To understand a particular audience, perhaps we may need to step outside of that audience. Can we enhance our understanding of Gen Z by studying retirees? Can we gain new insights about Hispanics by studying Koreans?

Reading books that you hate is a way to get out of a bubble. We need to start looking for insight and understanding in some counter-intuitive places. Maybe I will see some of you at next year’s Conference on Homelessness, which I will be attending on behalf of several of our home-products clients. To really stretch beyond what we think we know, we must look at the opposite of that truth. It’s true in life and I’m learning that it’s also true in marketing.

David Berne is EVP / chief strategy officer at ad agency RPA.

Inquiry panel report that says Rohith Vemula was not Dalit ‘totally wrong’, says NCSC chief PL Punia

Chairman of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes PL Punia said the Centre’s inquiry panel’s report which concluded that Rohith Vemula did not belong to the Scheduled Caste community was “totally wrong”. He reiterated that the NCSC and the district collector had both found in separate reports that the University of Hyderabad scholar was a member of the Dalit community, not the Other Backward Class, PTI reported on Thursday.

Punia, who is an Indian National Congress leader, said on Wednesday, “The issues raised by the Congress were sidelined, and now the report is being presented that Vemula was not a Dalit.” He also alleged that the one-member panel, comprising former Allahabad High Court judge Ashok Kumar Roopanwal, was set up by the Human Resource Development Ministry to merely justify the Bharatiya Janata Party’s stand since Vemula committed suicide that he was not Dalit.

The Roopanwal Commission had also exonerated the university’s Vice Chancellor Appa Rao Podile and other authorities implicated in the case. Podile had come under fire after Vemula’s suicide for allegedly suspending him from the institute because of his caste. While he had taken a two-month sabbatical from the varsity following the incident, the government had earlier said he would not be transferred.

The NCSC had earlier concluded that Vemula was a Dalit and suggested that his family be granted benefits such as a house, employment and monetary assistance.


Wrong Tax Deduction on Home Loan Can Result in Tax Penalties

Wrong Tax Deduction on Home Loan Can Result in Tax PenaltiesThe purchase of a house, by taking out a home loan, is considered good by personal finance experts, who generally scoff at long-term liabilities.

A house, unlike other personal goods such as cars, is considered to be an asset. There’s tax benefit too. Home buyers can claim an exemption of up to Rs. 1.50 lakh on principal payments for home loan under Section 80C of the Income Tax Act.

Buyers can avail Rs. 2 lakh deduction paid towards interest component of home loan per year.

The above-mentioned benefits apply for self-occupied properties and not for under construction houses. Further, in case of a delayed possession, the tax benefits get reduced substantially. Many a times, tax payers – unaware of this provision – claim full tax benefits on their home loan and get notices from the tax department.

According to Section 24B of Income Tax Act, a person can claim a tax deduction of up to Rs. 2 lakh on the interest paid on a self-occupied house if the possession of the property is done within three years of taking the loan.

In case the possession is given after three years, then the amount of deduction is reduced to Rs. 30,000 per year.

This means in case of delayed possession (when houses are delivered three years after a home loan has been taken), buyers can claim only Rs. 30,000 (15 per cent of the current allowed deduction of Rs. 2 lakh) as exemption.

Those who unknowingly claim exemption can get into serious trouble and may have to pay huge penalties, experts say.

“If the home buyer in such cases still claims interest of Rs. 2 lakh per annum, the tax office could disallow the deduction of Rs. 1.7 lakh per annum which could result in additional tax and interest payable by the home buyer to the tax office. At their discretion the tax office can also levy penalty for claiming excessive deduction,” says Parizad Sirwalla, National Head-Global Mobility Services-Tax, KPMG.

The penalty in this case may range between 100 per cent and 300 per cent of the extra tax deductions claimed, says Amit Maheshwari, managing partner of Ashok Maheshwary & Associates.

Tax experts say that home buyers are getting tax notices for claiming over Rs. 30,000 deduction, despite delayed possession. “As people are getting the possession of the house which they booked five to seven years back now, tax department are scrutinising the returns and people are getting notices from the tax department for the same,” says Sudhir Kaushik, chief financial officer, Taxspanner.com.

Tax experts believe that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in the budget should relook at the tax benefits offered on home loans. “It may be worthwhile to consider an amendment in the provision not limiting such deduction to Rs. 30,000 per annum in cases where the delay in completion of construction is caused on account of reasons beyond the control of the home buyer,” says Parizad of KPMG.

Tapati Ghosh, partner at Deloitte Haskins & Sells, said: “One of the measures that could be considered is the extension of time limit to 5 years at least for the under-construction properties.”