26/5/2014 0 Comments
That being said, why did I choose to write this post? Being a management professional and a writer, I find it fascinating to learn business practices from other non-business aspects of life. It could be from writing books (as a writer, I have realised finishing a book is nothing short of running a company), from traveling or even from what the city of San Francisco had done for Miles ‘Batkid’ Scott. Likewise, the recent Indian General Elections 2014, which have seen a tectonic shift in the political platform of India, the largest democracy in the world, stirred some thoughts in my mind. The election campaigns by both leading national parties BJP and Congress and the precise planning and outstanding implementation shown by Narendra Modi, the Prime Ministerial candidate of BJP, have mirrored the factors that play quite an important role in deciding the future of businesses too.
In this 3-posts series, I will discuss 10 key aspects of business and the lessons that today’s companies can learn from Indian General Elections 2014.
Do not underestimate the importance of branding
Businesses have long ago identified the importance of branding. From Ford, General Electric and Coca Cola to the newbies Google, Facebook and Zappos (ok not so new), companies have used branding as the most important tool for marketing. They have identified the need to enable customers distinguish the company’s products from those of its competitors. The customers should think of the company and its products as soon as a need arises in their life; just like someone who wants to find information about something might automatically go to Google or Wikipedia today.
Narendra Modi, the present Prime Minister of India, has understood the importance of branding. With several taglines and slogans that filled the people with excitement, thoughts and expectations, Narendra Modi has branded himself and his party BJP as someone who would work towards development if elected. That was his branding strategy. A promise of development. He talked about development and nothing much but development. His primary slogan was ‘Minimum Government, Maximum Governance’ which clearly conveys his brand.
Any company needs to be consistent in its brand image, interactions with customers and products they provide. If the company deviates from its brand image, it causes confusion in customers and could easily lose them to the competitors. Once a company decides on its brand image, there is no going back; at least not in 90 percent of industries.
It is quite important to identify who its customers are and what are their values and aspirations.
Mark Twain said, ‘Sell yourself, not your content’.
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Exploring customer emotions and showing empathy thereby connecting with them is the key to effective branding. Brands are more understandable than technical parameters. They get rooted into the customer minds. They are appreciated on a psychological and emotional level which is far stronger than being related to on a rational level. Branding ensures the company stays at the top of the customer’s mind and often proves to be the most powerful weapon in the company’s marketing arsenal. Modi tapped into this psyche of his audience. Even though there was constant reminder about the particular developmental activities his Government would do for a particular section of people on geographic or demographic fronts, Modi has underlined all his speeches and discussions with the promise of development.
Even for the companies, deviating from product specs is understandable until there is no deviation from the brand image they have garnered. Companies can change their product offerings but all of them should emphasize their unique brand message. For Apple, that is simplicity. For Google, that is not being evil. For BMW, that is speed and style.
They called it ‘For Everyone’. I call it ‘Inclusive’
Sab ka Saath, Sab ka Vikaas — that was the tagline of the whole campaign of Narendra Modi. It means, ‘together with everyone, for everyone’s development’.
An important contributor to Narendra Modi’s success was the inclusion of everyone in his campaign. He had successfully involved the youth who constituted the 1.5 Million newly registered voters in India in these elections. He had also conversed with often overlooked segments of the people such as tea sellers.
For decades, Indian politics have focused on castes, religions and backward sections. But Modi’s campaign focused on the holistic development of the country. His goal was to address the aspirations of everyone rather than just a few focussed vote banks. He included everyone, from businessmen to farmers, from Indian growing middle class families to tea sellers, from people waiting eagerly for better roads and schools in villages to the youth dreaming of jobs, industrial growth and bullet trains, everyone. While the total electorate in Indian General Elections 2014 was 814 Million people, direct interactions by Narendra Modi were with 234 Million people (This does not include mass media campaigns through TV, radio and print media)(Rahul Gandhi, the unofficial prime ministerial candidate of Congress, interacted with 13.3 Million people only). He focused on what all these Indians wanted — development on all fronts.
This is one of the most important criteria companies have to look at when communicating with their customers or prospects.
‘What is the #customer looking for’ is the most important question.
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Another way companies can be inclusive is by enabling its employees involve in decision making. Many companies take the branch or store level decisions in the HQ where they have limited knowledge about the demographic and cultural characteristics that the employees face in local markets. After all, every market is different with complicated market dynamics at play and customer behaviours changing frequently. Such decisions would prove to be futile if employees on the front line are not involved and their input is not valued. This has been seen in many industrial companies such as steel, iron and other similar industries. Nucor was one such company who introduced effective employee engagement programs in steel industry in the USA.
A company that I like today is Zappos. They have recently removed job posts from their careers website. They never tweet about job postings, not even one. They introduced Zappos Insider program to interact with potential employees and whoever is interested in learning the inside stories of the company.
Apple is another great example with its Apple stores and customer experience they provide. Many companies are looking at ways to include employees, customers and communities in their decision making. After all that was one of the criteria for an efficient CSR activities of any company.
Including everyone, developing them and thus developing the company is becoming a new norm. And that is what branding should exactly be.
Technology. Big Data. Not just a choice anymore
We see companies use modern technology through out their operations. But still, there are several businesses, especially small and medium scale, who undermine this resource. Technology today is not a mere choice anymore. It has become an essentially important resource that you need to tap into if you want success. That was what we have seen in these election campaigns.
Collection of the big data and analytics was the central criteria for planning of Modi’s campaign. Tech savvy team formed by brilliant minds in engineering and analytics have monitored all the campaigns undertook by other political leaders from Congress, incuding their speeches and what they had said about BJP and Modi. Then the important quotes were communicated to Modi to which he would respond in his next event. Speech on telephone, a feature where people can listen to Modi talk live by dialling to a particular number, was launched on September 15, 2013. On January 1, 2014, India272+, a mobile app was launched on Google Playstore.
A fleet of GPS equipped vans drove to villages in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar states and showed Modi’s speeches on 55 inch LED screens. The most innovative was using 3D holograms to deliver speeches in some locations. Modi had already won a place in the Guinness World Records for delivering a speech to 53 locations simultaneously in Gujarat Assembly Elections in 2012. This time some BJP supporters had even tried to approach Modi without realising it was just a 3D hologram but not Modi.
Technology has ventured into every aspect of our life. Logistic companies are looking at drones to span the distance in minutes that would otherwise take hours.
Technology companies have waged a war against each other to innovate new products that would solve otherwise impossible tasks. IBM’s Watson is an example of where todays technology might take us to. Driver-less cars are just around the turn and the days of Robots cleaning and cooking for us are not far away (unless they decide to go all Terminator on us and take over the world).
With such advents, technology has also become a prime deciding factor in todays competitive markets. If your competitors aquire new technology or develop their own, then you have to realise that you are dragged into the race whether you like it or not.
Technology is not a resource anymore. It is deciding factor irrespective of your industry.
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Social Media. It is more than Facebook posts or Tweets
Modi had successfully used the power of social media. From the day the elections were announced to the day the polling ended, 29 million people did 227 Million interactions regarding elections in India on social media. 13 Million People have engaged in 75 Million interactions about Modi. Facebook sent an alert to vote on each day of polling and over 31 Million people saw it. With such a huge amount of people active on social media, Modi had took a right decision to use Social Media in his campaign. So effective was it that when Modi had won the elections as the results came out, his photo with his victory wall message had generated more than a million likes and shares. More than 13 Million YouTube videos have been downloaded. 15 Million Facebook likes and 4.37 Million Twitter followers. 10 Million Volunteer base with 2.5 Million actively participating throughout the campaign. SMS texts, WhatsApp texts and voice calls have been made to 130 Million people. With so many people being actively interacting and engaging on Social Media across the globe, it provides the companies the easiest platform to connect with their customers.
With so many people engaging, #socialmedia is the easiest platform to #connect with #customers.
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Potential employees are checking out company cultures on Facebook and Twitter. Product details are being leaked on social media before their official release to spark interest and gauge reactions. But merely being present on social media and posting on Facebook once a week and tweeting once a month is no longer sufficient. Even the company’s customer service culture is clearly analysed on social media. The recent scandal of inappropriate image tweeted by US Airways in response to a customer’s concern is an example of it.
Social Media is the new approach to customer experience both customers & organizations embraced.
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Social media is THE most influential medium to connect with the customers and engage with them. At the same time, choosing the right platform is crucial for the companies. They should identify where their customers are primarily hanging out and should be active there. But again, companies should not drown customers with ads or marketing material. They should instead try to have dialogue, solve problems and confusions and provide value to customers. Zappos is again a company that has identified the value in this. Nike, Coca Cola and Yahoo are also showing what social media is capable of in connecting with their customers.
Please read Part 2 here. Please read Part 3 here.
Note: Some of the facts and figures in this article have been taken from media and public sources. You can find the complete list at the end of part 3 of this series.
This article has been written from the perspective of business management. If you have found it interesting and useful, please share it with your networks. Let us build better businesses.