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Modi lessons for Sri Lankan economy post-Harvard analysis

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Tuesday, 12 January 2016 00:01

As a passionate practitioner of marketing, I have this love to admire good marketing practice. Good marketing practice involves the management of the ups and downs of a brand life across time, which is where Indian Premier Narendra Modi scores strongly in my view.

This calls for that rare skill to pick opportunities that the world throws at you when the chips are down, and then exploiting the opportunity drive brand health. From playing drums in New York to plane diversion to Karachi, these are some of the tactical gigs that have worked for Modi in my view. Let me go through the Modi mantra of marketing in detail and the pick up to the Sri Lankan economy post the Harvard analysis.


Modi and Sheriff walk hand-in-hand after the birthday celebration

Pakistan call

When the Indian Premier called the Pakistani counterpart to wish him on his birthday, the spontaneous decision to accept a birthday party invite which was an announced stop to security hotspot Karachi sure shocked the world. Research reveals that any Indian leader who has extended the olive branch to Pakistan has not helped their popularity rating on home ground. But as at today, the visit sure impacted to silence the incidents in the line of control between the Indian and Pakistani border.



Modi – the marketer

Post the birthday bash the share of voice (SOV) on world media was very strong. My mind went back to the Indian elections where research from the exit polls predicted 286 seats for BJP and 123 seats for Congress but the actual read 339 and 59 respectively. This performance was more than a 15% behaviour swing which was way above the normal average on consumer behaviour.

This performance was significant, given that the purchase cycles are around five to seven years when it comes to selection of a political brand, hence the attributes evaluated are more complex in nature. Let me pickup to the Modi mantra of marketing.



Modi lesson 1: TV still works

Even though digital media is very popular and has been a buzz world in every interview that a political candidate shared, the insight is that TV still was a great influencer to move consumer behaviour. In certain rural areas of India, there were situations where a typical Indian home did not have furniture in the sitting area but a TV was there. In fact there were two TVs – one for the parents and one for the children.


"Given the George Soros insights into the downturn of 2016 globally, Sri Lanka must latch on to the economic model of Gujrat for transformation rather than the Singapore model"


Modi and his team identified this insight early in the campaign and focused their main message on the TV medium so that there is a strong emotional connection in the living room of a home.

Pick up to Sri Lanka: Even there is hype on social media, the fact remains that brands still spend almost 80% of their marketing spend on traditional media channels like TV, radio and press. In fact TV takes the larger chunk. The Sri Lankan consumer behaviour swing is yet on the TV medium and lately Hiru, Sirasa and Derana is attracting more eyeballs than the traditional state channels.



Modi lesson 2: Credible product

In 2002 the riots and the alleged linked to this incident dented Modi’s brand image. He distanced himself from the media and until he DFT-12-INwas given a clean sheet from the Supreme Court in 2012, Modi focused on rebuilding his brand.

In 2009, when the economic downturn was in play, Modi focused on developing Gujarat to be the economic powerhouse of India at a GDP growth rate of 10%. The partnership with the private sector in driving the economy was commendable. The best case in point is Tata setting up the nanotech company in Gujarat.

Pick up to Sri Lanka: George Soros last week in Sri Lanka reinforced the global economic down turn in 2016 and the implication to Sri Lanka whilst Nobel prize winner Joseph Stiglitz mentioned that fortunately we have neighbours that are demonstrating strong growth which Sri Lanka must latch on to. In this light, may be Sri Lanka must latch on to the economic model on Gujarat and see what transformation is needed to have a BOP positiveness by 2013 that Prime Minister is visioning for Sri Lanka. Maybe it’s best the Singapore economic model be kept in the backbench.



Modi lesson 3: Right brand values

With the focus on developing Gujarat to be a model state in India, what Modi achieved in the last five years was strong brand equity in the minds of people. The brand values that began to be associated with the Modi brand was decisiveness, progressive, aggressive but strong governance, modern due to being tech savvy, humorous with good communication.

The brand values that surrounded brand Modi were exactly what India wanted; the logic being the architecture was slap-bang with the challenges that the environment threw to Modi – fight corruption at every level, women’s safety, protection from terrorism, international diplomacy and the ability to tell the real picture to the people. I guess the 339 seats won and 63% of India voting for brand Modi is a testimony to the fact that brand Modi had the right values that the people wanted.



"R&D was not highlighted at last week’s Sri Lanka Economic Forum; Sri Lanka’s investment is just 0.47% of GDP"


Pick up to Sri Lanka: When it comes to marketing a brand, the task is somewhat easier given that the values we want the brand to be wrapped around can be orchestrated. To be effective, use qualitative research and map the values of the competitor brand with which the consumer will want to be associated. Thereafter develop the communication so that over time a sharp identity can be carved out in the target consumer’s mind. The key point to note is consistency of communication. Ad hoc work must not be done. Given the George Soros insight that the hot spot for Sri Lanka being tourism, let’s at least now pick up the pieces and launch a global tourism campaign which the private sector has been crying out with the support of a PR campaign.



Modi lesson 4: Divergent team

When Modi decided to contest the 2014 elections, he first put together a team of professionals. There were 200 in number. This included graduates from the best universities from India – IIT and IIM. Some resigned from top jobs at JP Morgan, Deutsche Bank, McKinsey, Boston Consultancy Group, etc. A former UN Mission Chief for Africa, a member of the Citizen for Accountable Governance (CAG), a statistical whiz kid, a digital marketing strategy expert called Hiren Joshi from the RRS, a top campaign planner for TV, radio and press from London. The overall media planning was by the marketing communication company Madison with advertising veteran Piyush Pandi also on the team. Burson Marsteller and Dentsu India, a Japanese publicity company, was also part of the team powering the Modi team. I guess this is what it takes to manage a brand and its campaign when wanting to get the plum job in the largest democracy in the world. Pick up to Sri Lanka: It’s important to have a cross functional team and if need multicultural based on the brand marketing task at hand. I remember once in my career of marketing we had a 12-member team that was across the world and being part of a global launch of a national campaign. It was in fact a virtual team. The key thing is that based on a task to be achieved marrying of a skill set must be done. This same thinking must be adopted by the Sri Lanka economic development team rather than sticking to the 2002-2004 team that faced a different market dynamics.



Modi lesson 5: Bold objective

Modi was very clear on the objective. He wanted 272+ seats. The bottom up exercise had been done from the grass root village to a town and then to a state how the numbers stacked up. I guess a clean sweep of zero to 10 seats in Delhi is a classic case in point of the planning that had gone in by the team. Modi had travelled 300,000 km, attended 5,187 events and 477 rallies in 25 states, coming in contact with 230 million people on the votes of 800 million. Pick up to Sri Lanka: It goes without saying but the implication to marketers is that based on a gains and loss analysis study, clear ground-based targets must be set on a regional architecture. The overall volume growths of a brand must be broken down to the region and then to households and usage rates. With this kind of planning comes clear communication objectives on SOV, awareness level and TOM awareness levels, which in turn can be moved to trial and repeat purchase scores. I remember my boss making me churn out these numbers when I was handling the Dettol brand. It’s traumatic but that’s what it takes. The brand twice won the best Marketing Achievement Award but the real winner was the importance of marketing research.



Modi lesson 6: Phased-out campaign

Something very interesting was the phased-out campaign that Modi executed. The initial phase was targeted at making the senior party members to get Modi to be the face of the BJP campaign. The second phase was getting every Indian to associate brand Modi with their lives. The third and final phase was the rallies attended and driving the campaign at grass root level for behavioural change at the ground end. Pick up to Sri Lanka: Even for the launch of a product, we do this. At the initial stage is stocking and correcting the distribution especially if it’s a national launch and distribution complexities exist. Then comes the communication break out and making consumers experience the brand. Thereafter it’s tracking the retention rate. I guess if clear KPIs are not there in each of these phases, it will be tough to achieve success in the market place. We follow this same discipline in driving the power brand Sathosa in the Sri Lankan retail sector, where the trial to retain score is as high as 67%. The brand in December crossed the 2.6 billion number in December 2015 when in October it was just 1.6 billion on top line. The essence was following the above basics of business with almost zero marketing spend.



Modi lesson 7: Take the high ground

Modi and his team decided in taking the high ground was important if brand Modi was to touch every Indian. So what they did was to feature Narendra Modi in global media like Economic Times, Time, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, etc., so that every Indian was swelled with pride. He allowed competitors like Rahul Gandhi to play the national media which was dogged by corruption scandals. Modi’s high ground strategy was very successful as Indians get motivated for inspirational communication that gives leadership to the world. In fact Gujarat has many communication campaigns on the theme first in Asia, biggest in India and largest in the world themes.

Pick up to Sri Lanka: it’s important to understand the power of CSR. It must not be done just to add to the brand equity. It must be done to drive the category and take leadership in the industry. For example Dialog driving connectivity of every Sri Lankan is a case in point, as is Lifebuoy taking the high ground on germ protection to the whole family. 2016 must be a year where brands taking a more social cause than just topline and bottom line.



Modi lesson 8: Innovate with technology

Another milestone of the Modi ideology was that he wanted to give India a first in digital communication. The first hologram 3D technology being used by a political candidate was by Modi. So whilst he addressed a particular state on stage, simultaneously he used hologram technology to talk to remote areas of the state that made the brand live. Some say that after the address Indians wanted to go behind the hologram screen to check if Modi was actually behind the screen.

Pick up to Sri Lanka: Whilst the Harvard analysis was fantastic with my teacher Ricardo Haussman being at his best, the fact remains that Sri Lanka loses out at the implementation stage. We must find a way to drive gold standard implementation which sadly has not been addressed. The previous regime addressed this issue with a centralised decision making process and authoritative management style. This suits ideally the lackadaisical attitude of an islander mentality. But, this style of management does not help win global support. This needs to be addressed.

On a separate note the importance of R&D was not highlighted at last week’s Sri Lanka Economic Forum given that the countries that were similar to our country on the economic landscape was Thailand, Turkey and Costa Rica. The last data revealed that only 0.47% of the GDP was invested in Sri Lanka on R&D. South Korea invests 4%.



Modi lesson 9: Why digital media?

Modi and his team drove digital media very strongly to reach the young voter. A classic was when he took a selfie when he met his mum after the victory and hosted it on the net. To date he has 2,263,673 followers on Twitter and 3,598,400 likes on FB which just explains the detailed planning and execution that has been done. Pick up to Sri Lanka: Even though traditional media is effective and digital media is very time-consuming from a brand perspective, we have no option but to get into the war of communication digitally. I recommend that we use digital communication more as a feedback loop than just for consumer awareness. From an industry perspective the tourism industry must use digital space given that 77% of people make decisions on travel use digital media.



Modi lesson 10: Force competitors to panic

Finally, Modi being a sharp strategist identified that his competitors were very weak on communication. Sonia Gandhi hardly addresses the media. Manmohan Singh is very media shy whilst Rahul was considered young. Given this landscape Modi rode on his charismatic behaviour and made strong impacts on all forms of communication. The challenges that Congress had to react to like scams, governance issues, etc., added to the congress campaign having to move to panic campaigns.

Pick up to Sri Lanka: The challenge in brands is to stick to the strategy even when competitors carry out guerrilla attacks. On this front I admire the current coalition Government where even with all the issues passed the 19th Amendment, Budget with 2/3rd majority and now driving the constitutional agenda. Interesting learning for the global political knowledge database.


(The author is an award winning marketer with over 20 years of experience British and American multinationals. He is an alumnus of Harvard Kennedy Executive management school and former Chairman – Sri Lanka Export Development Board and Sri Lanka Tourism. The thoughts expressed are his own and writing is a hobby he pursues.)

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