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Comprehending ‘Consumer Strategy’: Memoirs of a memorable eve


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I am indeed glad to pen my 300th column. It began as a weekly column and due to my challenging commitments, now it appears bimonthly. I am also honoured to devote this special column to share memories of my mentor. In fact, this article is on the deliberations of the second-year remembrance of the late Prof. Uditha Liyanage. 

1From left: Eardly Perera, Deepal Suriyaarchchi, me and Asanga Ranasinghe during the panel discussion 

Overview

The alumni of the Postgraduate Institute of Management (PIMA), together with the Sri Lanka Institute of Marketing (SLIM) and the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), organised an event which revolved around the book ‘Consumer Strategy’, a collection of articles by Prof. Liyanage published posthumously.  

After briefly reminiscing about Prof. Liyanage, Dr. Wickrema Weerasooria and Deepal Suriyaarchchi provided a comprehensive review of the book. Next there was a panel discussion featuring Eardley Perera, Asanga Ranasinghe and me. It was heartening to see my idea of a collaborative event involving PIMA, PIMA, SLIM and CIM becoming a meaningful and memorable reality.

At the panel discussion, I mentioned that I am not competent enough to comment on this masterpiece and suggested to offer a non-marketer’s perspective. Ironically both I and CIM President Asanga Ranasinghe were in the same MBA batch at PIM, being students of Prof. Liyanage. On the other hand Perera, who needs no introduction, had been a teacher of Prof. Liyanage in the MBA program of PIM. 

Deepal, during his emotional thought-sharing, identified Prof. Liyanage as a marketer, strategist, leader and philosopher through his writings in the book. He meaningfully linked the contents of the book to the cognisance of Prof. Liyanage’s life. It reminded me of the way I wrote the forward to the book stating that ‘Consumer Strategy’ is a compilation of comprehensive articles written by perhaps the most conceptually rich person I have ever met. His ingenious ideas have immensely inspired us in inviting us to be intellectually enriched and interactively engaged. I am glad that I had the privilege of being mentored by him but I’m indeed sad that it could not be continued. 

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The 20 articles contained in this volume are all selected by Prof. Liyanage himself some time ago. They cover a wide range of topics in the broad domain of management, with specific emphasis on marketing and strategy. The depth of conceptual appeal and the breadth of concrete application appear as the hallmark of the veteran author. 

The variety of valued marketing models developed by Prof. Liyanage is included in this volume, inviting readers to think afresh instead of blindly transplanting western marketing models. The same is true for strategy as well. 

We were keen on launching ‘Consumer Strategy’ together with a felicitation ceremony for this fascinating human being. Destiny decided otherwise. Nevertheless, Prof. Liyanage will continue to remain alive in our minds through his myriad insights. We at PIM committed ourselves to carry his legacy forward. The publishing of ‘Consumer Strategy’ and jointly organising an evening event to discuss its contents are significant steps in that solid endeavour. 

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Contents revisited 

As has always been the case, Prof. Liyanage invites us not just to read the book but to recognise the key themes, reflect on the main ideas and relate the concepts covered to the current challenges. It should reinforce the way one professionally applies the key lessons in playing a managerial and leadership role in one’s workplace. In essence, knowing should lead to doing and that in turn will deliver results. 



‘Consumer Strategy’ essentially revolves around two key themes, viz. consumer and strategy. Among the articles related to the consumer aspect in the broad spectrum of marketing, Marketing Strategy and Society: From CSR to SRB is an interesting one. 

Prof. Liyanage clearly differentiates philanthropy from strategic Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). We need this clarity, as I saw in the judging process of the previous National Business Excellence Awards, where there is often confusion between the above two terms. 

Among the other insightful papers, ‘Brand Marketing: From 1P to 6Ps’, ‘Five Hats of the Consumer’, ‘Goods-Services Dichotomy: The Place of the Tangibility Construct’, ‘Towards a Positioning Strategy for Tourism in Post-war Sri Lanka’ and ‘Consumer Behaviour and the Anatomy of a Brand’ appear prominently. Also ‘Profiling the Sri Lankan Consumer’, ‘A Customer Value Typology: Beyond the Functional-Emotional Dichotomy’ also offer many insights. 

Prof. Liyanage’s conceptualisation of ‘Sri Lanka’s New Mod-tradi Consumer’ is indeed an interesting one. 

“The seemingly opposing socio-cultural forces of traditionalisation and modernisation have to be clearly recognised in our attempt to profile the emerging Sri Lankan consumer. The force of traditionalisation gathered momentum in the post-1956 period, while the impetus of modernisation was felt particularly in the post-1977 period. Escaping the attention of many, the two forces of traditionalisation and modernisation have been converging over the recent past, giving rise to the post-modern consumer (Liyanage, 2015). 

“The harmonisation of the traditionalist and modernist forces gives rise to postmodernist tendencies in the Sri Lankan marketplace,” observed Prof. Liyanage. 

“A mismatch of the two produces either an overly traditional, and therefore, an old fashioned and obsolete proposition or a hyped rendering of an overt western and modernist proposition.

“The former lacks appeal in that it may be considered to be desirable, at best, but not necessarily, desired. The latter will be treated, other than by an insignificant minority, as an aberration; as one which lacks relevance and social acceptance.

“The challenge of today’s marketer is to sense the emerging postmodernist propensities of the emerging consumer and develop propositions and products that avoid the two extremes of being either overly traditionalist or modernist,” says Prof. Liyanage.  

“Such an endeavour must be based on the recognition of the points of confluence and fusion that appeal to a new breed of postmodern consumers. This in turn would be possible only through the deep-going understanding of the psyche and the behaviours of the new and emerging Sri Lankan postmodern consumer.” 

Strategy focus 

Prof. Liyanage gave a new twist to the often hacked term, strategy. His bold arguments are present in the article ‘Planning is not Strategy: Big 5 Strategy Questions’. 

“Strategy is often confused with planning. The many definitions and delineations of strategy, which highlight one or m

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ore aspects of strategy while ignoring the others, have led to a state of confusion as to what strategy really is. This is evident in the content-analysis of the vision, mission and value statements of a number of companies. Not only were the analysed company-specific statements vague and general, they were also unrelated to one another. Specifically, the espoused values were generic and terminal in nature and unrelated to the tasks and goals at hand (Liyanage, 2015).” 

In order to avoid the confusions in the minds of practitioners, and as reflected in the literature itself, Prof. Liyanage proposes a Strategy Quadrant consisting of Stand, Standing, Shared Values and Supportive Resources and Capabilities, and Steps. 

“Seeing strategy as action is also flawed. ‘Our strategy is to merge …’, and ‘….to double our research and development expenditure’ are commonplace expressions which tend to pass off as strategy,” observes Prof. Liyanage. “Putting the planning cart before the strategy horse is a blunder that bedevils many an organisation in its attempt to hone strategic action,” he opines. 

In a more applied manner, Prof. Liyanage has elaborated on how strategy execution took place on the battlefront. This article is based on the content analysis of two comprehensive post-war presentations made by military experts. The way he compares the adaptation of suitable military strategies to marketing is indeed insightful. 

“Don’t be an ‘armchair’ leader but a ‘behind-the-wheel’ leader! When the leader has superior knowledge of a particular area of activity, not making full use of it in his direct engagement with operations is a waste of a vital resource. The often-espoused leader role hinders such a direct approach (Liyanage, 2015).” 

Among the other interesting articles related to strategy, ‘The Myth of Pay-for-Performance’ and ‘In Search of Resilience: From Pilot to Architect’ also offer salient points to ponder. 

“Letting a turbulent environment get the better of you is fraught with the prospect of extinction. Responding to turbulence with resilience is the way forward. The Darwinian approach of adaptation as reflected in the rebound cycle is natural. Its intent is to get through the crisis and emerge unscathed as far as possible. A more Singarian approach, characterised by an internal locus of control as reflected in a renewal cycle is to continually renew oneself in order to stay ahead of unfolding patterns and the trajectory of turbulence (Liyanage, 2015).”

Way forward 

The well-attended and memorable eve to discuss the contents of ‘Consumer Strategy’ highlighted the impact Prof. Liyanage has made in many a life on multiple fronts. Each one gathered there was touched by his insightful intellectual interactions. We at PIM are indeed proud of our profound management legend and will continue to preserve his intellectual capital for generations to come. ‘Consumer Strategy’ has begun to meaningfully connect with readers by showcasing the management sage of our age through his distinct deliberations.

(Prof. Ajantha Dharmasiri can be reached through director@pim.sjp.ac.lk, president@ipmlk.org, ajantha@ou.edu or www.ajanthadharmasiri.info).


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