What Ruchir said
When I was watching the election results on 8 January, my mind went back to the oration by the J.P Morgan Managing Director Ruchir Sharma at the Central Bank’s 60th anniversary. The essence of his presentation was that any state leader’s duration of leadership was two terms whilst in the third if one is elected it is due to cutting edge reforms or for one being a dictator.
We can see that the reality has dawned on Sri Lanka and my friend Ruchir’s doctoral research insight has held true in Sri Lanka. In fact I called him the day after the final election results was announced. His answer was simple. The final decision in any purchase decision is the consumer. In this case the voter. Just like any other brand, we buy for our household. This was an interesting dimension given that we had coloured the issue at hand. The Sri Lankan consumer verdict was loud and clear.
Power of message
Being a marketer, my key pickup from the presidential election 2015 was the ‘power of the message’ in relation to the customer need will beat the higher spending competitive marketing campaign. Even though the old adage was that Share of Voice (SOV) = Share of Mind(SOM) = Share of Market – meaning the more you promote a brand the more a person can remember that will lead to a proportionate market share – did not hold true on 8 January.
If the theory was true may be a market share excess of 70% should have been to the brand ‘Mahinda Rajapaksa’ given that the share of media was absolutely skewed to the said candidate. In fact there was dominance of the brand.
From the information I have, advertising agencies were blocked and media was blocked on Government vehicles whilst staging meetings was blocked or attacked. Then the question is, how did the less-marketed brand get selected by 52% of the people?
The answer is that if the message communicated is powerful, then it can beat the strong share of voice of a competitor. For the 8 January showdown the message was ‘for a country free of corruption and good governance’ vote for change. This is exactly what the behaviour demonstrated.
Sri Lanka’s value
The next insight on the presidential campaign was the values that drive a brand purchase when it comes to a political candidate. It is very clear once again that whilst economic prosperity sounds interesting, corruption and bad governance was shunned by a typical Sri Lankan. This may be have been aggravated due to the pressure on the consumer purse but the fact of the matter was that people wanted change due to the rampant corruption at every level and the absolute lawlessness in the country.
I have heard the line Sri Lankans have no gratitude towards the person who eradicated terrorism. To my mind the logic is that the repeat purchase that happened in 2010 with a 60% market share was testimony to this fact. But, for the third time purchase, which in marketing terms we call brand loyalty, to happen, the relevance of the product must be very high with a strong emotional bond.
Passion over talent
The last insight on the 8 January epic drama was the team behind the brand Maithripala Sirisena. Whilst the brand Mahinda Rajapaksa had a star-studded team with almost all ad agencies and social media experts from India supporting the campaign, the team which was absolutely
passionate was the former.
A small team that had to be absolutely creative to get share of voice and media time was able to yet cut through the clutter and thereby drive a behavioural change that was truly inspiring to many of in the world of business.
As a sportsman I always believed that a passionate team can beat a superstar individual performance, like for instance the US athletic team that fields top four sprinters in their 4@100 meter relay team. But the fact is that they have lost more in the last five Olympic Games than actually winning. This is exactly what happened on 8 January in Sri Lanka.
Challenge for Sri Lanka
Now the question is what needs to be done to impact consumer behaviour. Given my marketing background, the baseline that I will work on will be from a consumer perspective. The latest consumer behaviour insight is that the people in the A, B and C socioeconomic groups are affected the most on the escalating inflationary pressure and overall economic conditions.
The E social economic group may be due to the social welfare nets at play have had their overall living conditions improving drastically with the ownership of colour TV, mobiles, electric irons, rice cookers and gas cookers increasing in penetration whilst the in the other upper and upper middle income groups we do not see this same trend in ownership.
This may be the reason for most of the urban markets the voter behaviour change to be so drastic with the highlighted point of corruption and governance being a sore point. This becomes the single-minded challenge for Sri Lanka in the next five years.
In conclusion, the presidential election 2015 was not just a power base transfer. It was an evaluation of a person after a tenure of work which brought out cutting-edge marketing at its best, where the winner was the consumer whilst removing all the masks and window dressing to understand the core issue of the country from a household perspective.
(The author is an award winning marketer and business personality who sits on many a board as Director in the private and public sector whilst also attached to the Global Multinational entity. He is an alumni of Harvard University. The thoughts expressed are his own and not the views of any organisation he serves in Sri Lanka or internationally.)