Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Business Lessons from the World of Science- 1


When the great scientist Isaac Newton published the Principia (Mathematical principles of Natura Philosophy) in 1687, he would never have imagined the far-reaching impact of his magnum opus.

It changed the world view on subjects as diverse as mechanics, astronomy and light.

While its impact on science cannot be denied, observed carefully and from a distance, it can have a bearing on unrelated fields like leadership, management, marketing, sales – in short many things to do with human behavior.

See a disconnect somewhere?

Let me try and explain.

Newton’s first law of motion says – Every body (object) continues in its state of rest or of uniform motion unless and until an external force acts on it (things go on as they are if there is no effort to change it).

This is also called the law of Inertia.  

What is inertia, in simple English? It means the tendency to do nothing or remain unchanged.

Inertia should be the most dreaded word in the management lexicon today. Inertia or the tendency to do nothing has destroyed more companies in the last five decades that the environment or competition.

Let us look at some examples…

Remember Blackberry? About a decade back, for every corporate executive, it was a must have. It beautifully bridged the gap between survival and style. It was one of the most prominent smartphones in the world. With a lovely QWERTY key pad and secure mail, it started the concept of Office on the move and 24*7 mail access. In 2013, it is estimated that almost 85 Million customers were using Blackberry, worldwide.

Today, the company that first made it- RIM (Research in Motion) does not exist in its original form. The blackberry handsets sit as relics of the past in some houses.

While Blackberry was booming in the years 1999 – 2013, there were some other platforms that were booming – IOS (iPhones were launched in 2007) and Android.

Unwilling to change its platforms at the right time and unwillingness to embrace the magic of the new smart phone user interfaces led to the collapse of the iconic Blackberry.

Nokia, at one point of time was considered invincible, the leader in devices by a margin. Where is it today?

Simply put, not the market forces, but the mindset - if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it- the classic manifestation of Inertia led to these iconic brand’s undoing,

Related to the concept of inertia is a concept of friction. When a body is stationary, the resisting force that prevents its movement is called static friction (static means at rest). When a body is on the move, the force resisting its movement is called Kinetic (in motion) friction.

Simplifying- think of a heavy dining table at home. The force required to move it would be enormous- possibly would call for a few more hands (this is due to static friction), but once the table has moved an inch or so, to push it further becomes substantially easy as the resisting force seems to have gone down dramatically (this is the kinetic friction).

Scientifically, static friction is greater than kinetic friction.

Linking it back to the corporate world, think of any change that needs to be introduced in an organization. Something as simple as asking employees to come to meetings on time. When the change is first introduced, it is fairly difficult to implement. There is a lot of reticence, resistance etc. This is akin to static friction. Once the members of the Organization realize it is not as difficult as they had envisaged, the meeting attendance and time adherence improve. To initiate change is far tougher than to manage it.

The futurist Alvin Toffler had said – The illiterates of the world will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.

Most successful organizations build knowledge warehouses and processes that make them strong. Over a period of time, this becomes the Organization’s way of working. With each episode in the Organization’s journey, another layer of the way of working gets strengthened. This is part of the learning journey. The Organization starts to believe that it has answers to all the challenges thrown at it. The past learning effectively becomes the millstone of inertia.

Global leaders like General Electric, Ford Motor Corp have seen their valuations drop over five years because they failed to get out their “ways of working”, their unwillingness to unlearn, get rid of their inertia is their undoing.

Going back to Sir Isaac Newton’s law, what can prevent inertia is an external force. The force has to come from the CEO – it is he or she who chooses to unlearn and relearn and decides that the company is no longer a corporate illiterate.

But, the changes mooted encounter friction – remember static friction? But, once the change is pushed through, the resistance to change lessens – remember Kinetic Friction?

To sum up – An organization is bound to fail if it continues to work the way it was (inertia). If no external force acts on it (either leadership or environment driven), it will not change course. While the external force might encounter resistance, sustained effort can bring about radical transformations.


Saturday, February 9, 2019

Modiji - The Master Marketer -2

Modiji- the Master Marketer 2

Disclaimer – this is my attempt to view the current Prime Minister from a Marketing Prism. This is NOT a political view.

I had heard this story, many years back. Possibly apocryphal. Apparently, a man was stabbed in the then state run Pallavan Transport Bus in Chennai because he had spoken poorly of the Tamil Super Star, Rajinikanth.

While reflecting on this, I had said to myself that this kind of personality based frenzy can only happen in Tamil Nadu. Not anywhere else. But, this theory is not holding anymore.

Let anyone post anything negative on the current Prime Minister, anywhere in Social Media space and it gets brutally trolled. So much so that the person who posts either deletes it or pleads that it is personal space and goes into a shell.

Difficult to believe that in this day and age, this kind of personality worship still happens.

What makes Modiji the brand he is?

Among many things, my view that it is the razor-sharp positioning of Brand Modi.

Positioning, the battle for your mind, a book written in 1969 by Al Ries and Jack Trout, is considered a seminal work in the area of marketing. A synopsis of what the book says…

Positioning describes a revolutionary approach to creating a “position” in a prospective customer’s mind – one that reflects a company’s own strengths and weaknesses as well as those of its competitors.

Make and position an industry leader so that its name and message wheedles its way into the collective subconscious of your market-and stays there.

When he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Modiji must have carefully studied the Government at the Centre. UPA 2 had its share of problems- perceived weak leadership, corruption scandals being some of them.

Positioning himself as personally incorruptible and a strong leader, he occupied a slot in the voter’s mind.  This gave his party the massive mandate that changed the course of politics in India.

When the Opposition started positioning his Business-friendly policies in terms of “Suit Boot ki Sarkar” Mr Modi realized he had to up the ante. The narrative had to be bigger than Sabka Saath- Sabka Vikas.

With Demonetisation and the Surgical Strikes, Modiji took the battle to a different positioning plane that the Opposition could not even dream of – Nationalism.

Demonetisation will go down in history as the most beautifully marketed program ever. Mr Modi told us and all of us believed that it was the panacea or the solution for all ills – Black Money, Terrorism, Fake deals etc..

This moved  Mr Modi one notch up. The positioning-  Modiji= Indian Nationalism got cemented rather strongly. The last time this slot was occupied was when foreign correspondents used to say Indira= India.

Positioning is a two way exercise. When you position yourself, you de-position the others. Mr Modi and the whole country is aware that the Nehru-Gandhi surname is the glue that binds the Congress Party together.

If Modi could attack the party here, he could weaken the opposition completely. Mr Rahul Gandhi was his first and primary target. Through masterly management of the Social Media, and relentless criticism, Mr Gandhi was repeatedly shown as weak and lacking in leadership. Every small mistake by Mr Gandhi would go viral and amplified a million times.

Quoting from the synopsis

Build your strategy around your competition’s weaknesses. Reposition a strong competitor and create a weak spot. Use your present position to its best advantage.

Mr Modi, with his brilliant strategy created a weak spot in the competition. It has shaken the opposition so much that it is searching for leaders and brought in a new Gandhi into the fray.

One can’t disagree that it was clinical in focus and execution.

All of this indicates a brilliant marketing brain. Hope you agree.

The authors of Positioning can surely use this as one of their greatest case studies.

But, all this still cannot explain what makes Mr Modi have so many Bhakths across the country and abroad…  the ones who lavish praise on every one of his achievements and brutally destroy opposition on social media.

Maybe only Rajinikanth can explain that…



Sunday, February 3, 2019

Mr Modi- The Master Marketer

Please Note  -This is the view of the Prime Minister as a Marketer and not as a politician.

One of my favourite management books is “ The end of Marketing as we know it”, by Sergio Zyman, an ex Coca Cola Marketing Chief.

The book is fairly old, written a few decades back. It precedes the Telecom Era and, by a margin the Internet era. It still has relevance.

Zyman takes pains to explain that Marketing is not about campaigns that make you feel good. It is about getting more customers to buy more of your products at higher prices.

The area it does not talk about is Politics. Neither does the book understand marketing in the emerging economy.

At 73, Mr Zyman can travel to India to learn these two areas and write a new version. By observing the master marketer, Mr Modi.

We have rarely seen any organization, any politician who has such a good feel of the pulse of the people.

With the announcements of a political Maha Gathbandhan, the situation was suddenly looking grim for BJP.

An opposition that was looking clueless and listless had suddenly found its mojo. With topics like Farm Distress and lack of job creation as its major planks, it was looking as if the ruling party was finally coming under the pump. With elections looming, the ruling party needed something major to wrest the political narrative back.

The interim budget was the last opportunity

A few master strokes like raising the floor for income tax, raising tax bar on FD interest, benefits for farmers were announced. And, Voila, has the mood swung!

As per the 2016 tax filings, almost 20 Million of the 40 Million individual tax payers are in the sub 5 lakh salary band. One small step from the Policy and Modiji has created a new vote bank of 20 Million!

With only about 1.5% of India’s population that directly invests in the stock market, bank and small savings play a vital role for the salaried class. Income tax limits for FD interest being raised was the kind of relief tax payers were looking for.

With a minimum guarantee for farmers, he took the Farmer issue by its horns.

While doing all this, through the release of a movie on the Surgical Strikes, Mr Modi has kept BJP’s military positioning alive.

Only time will tell whether all these measures are beneficial to the farmer and the economy.

But, these measures have positioned Mr Modi as the saviour of the middle class and the farmer, while keeping the patriotic fervour high.

And, with this, the initiative and the brand equity that seemed to be slipping away from him has been firmly pulled back.

How many people or brands can you think of that have pulled off such a perception change in so short a time?

If this is not brilliant marketing, what is?