Porter’s Five Forces, Politics, Power and Brand Anna (9)

If team Anna wants to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill they must first contest elections. Laws can only be made in Parliament not on Ramlila Maidan

The above sentiment was echoed by many members of Parliament. It struck me as to why did they say that? This could not have been proverbial ‘slip of tongue’ or ‘off the cuff remark’. Probably hidden truth in this statement is that people interested in ‘upsetting the present equilibrium’ cannot cross over to the corridors of power because of some kind of ‘entry barriers’ imposed and institutionalized by the present day political system. Here I try to figure out.



Amongst many contributions made by Michael Porter in developing understanding of competition, one framework is five forces model. It explains how forces influence industry profitability or capacity to generate surplus. If we assume that politics is an industry then the above statement certainly implies a position of privilege , which cannot be ‘disturbed’ by a new entry (Firm Anna) because of the obstructions imposed by these forces. People inside the industry are able to ‘gain control’ over the industry by creating an ‘advantage’ which is ‘sustainable’. It indicates presence of ‘mobility barriers’ which do not allow ‘mobility’ of the challenger (Anna) in the industry.

Let us look at these forces:

Threat of new entrants:
Can an ordinary person make a swift entry into politics? Probably the answer is negative. Consider the barriers to entry and how these work in favor of incumbents: 1. absolute cost advantage (relative superiority of cost of production) is hugely skewed in favor of incumbents. Two driver of this are economies of scale (parties operate on a large scale in terms of seats contested) and experience curve effects (the regulars have learnt the ‘tricks of the trade’). Second access to inputs necessary to contest elections is beyond the reach of an ordinary citizen (very specialized team of skilled and motivated workers and logistics). Third is the capital required to participate which works out very huge for an individual (anywhere in between 10 to 15 crores). Final factor is competitive retaliation- a new entrant is not expected to go ‘unnoticed’ and is certainly likely to invite strong ‘fight back’ response.

Buyer Power:
On the surface buyers seem to be powerful because they can easily switch the supplier. Take a look closely. Buyers enjoy pseudo power. Consider the factors. First and the foremost determinant of buyer power is ability to switch but the set of available alternatives are almost similar (switching does not yield better outcome). Second, buyer can draw power from the ‘volume of purchase’ but here one buyer means just one vote. Third, buyers can be a ‘countervailing force’ if they are ‘concentrated’ which they are not. Forth, informed buyers are powerful but they are not in our case. And finally a buyer does not have option to ‘integrate backwards’ to become producer and consumer.

Threat of Substitutes:
Threat of substitutes intensifies competition with in an industry and significantly challenges profitability. Here is an industry more or less devoid of the threat of substitutes. The price-performance between the substitutes is not significant (this is echoed in the sentiments ‘all are same’). The outcome generally is the same (that is the reason why many people do not participate in the election process). Secondly, political maneuvering and mechanizations systematically reduce inclination to switch (stultifying intelligence and objectivity and stirring emotions by way of caste or religion, mannerism or some other variables).

Supplier power:
Supplies for politics come from different ‘interest groups’ (business, religious etc) to get a ‘say’ in the corridors of powers. In some cases the suppliers depend on politics for ‘survival’ (favorable policies) not the other way round while in others cases these demand ‘perpetuation of ideology’. The bargaining power of suppliers is limited because supplier either could be switched easily without any cost (more suppliers and substitutable inputs) or suppliers are dependent on a particular party or group.


These five forces determine competitive rivalry. When these five forces are powerful, firms ‘improve’ and ‘innovate’ to reverse their effects. In our context these forces are ‘powerless’ therefore change is slow to come by. Firm Anna is nothing but stimulus to disturb so called political equilibrium. It seeks a change for the betterment of masses. It seeks to empower the powerless. It is new firm making an entry in an industry in which these five forces are adversely placed.

That is the reason why some members of Parliament insist that Anna should first contest elections because the outcome is obvious to them. But now Anna has reversed the equation.

Anna Brand (6): Brand Is Bigger Than Product

I am reminded of a verse by Guru Nanak:

“0 Nanak! Be tiny like grass,
For other plants will wither away, but grass will remain ever green.

The meaning as I understand is that grass survives but big and tall trees get uprooted when the storm hits. The ego lays ground for destruction. The perception of being ‘big’, ‘tall’, ‘beyond’, ‘unassailable’, and ‘the best’ germinates the seeds of the fall. Ego and arrogance are two of the worst enemies of a human being. The ego, according to Geeta is the attachment to the body rather than the soul. The body is transient but the soul is immortal. Lord Krishna tells Arjuna to surrender his false ego completely for achieving transcendental peace.

Like human beings big companies and big brands are also vulnerable to ego. The bigness- of aspects like size, market share, sales, and scale often breed seeds of decline. Bigness promotes inertia. Long time back in 1985 Alvin Toffler wrote a book titled ‘Adaptive Corporation’ which dwelled upon how organizations fail on account of not being ‘adaptive’ to change. Adaptation is ‘the’ way to succeed in a changing environment.

Consider long standing brands like: Xerox, IBM, Lifebuoy, Coke, and Ford. These brands are able to stay afloat because of ‘flexibility’ and ‘adaptability’. A brand is constant entity in a dynamic environment. True branding is about achieving timelessness by developing an escape route from the operation of product life cycle. Although Lifebuoy is still on the horizon even after decades but it must be understood that it owes its existence to ‘humility’ of being subservient to the cause, the brand. The soul is timeless but the physical elements have limited life. The physical aspects have surrendered completely to the ‘soul’ (the health and hygiene). IBM as a business has undergone great change (the body) but it has stuck on the brand soul (providing solutions). Horlicks as a product has come a long way since it was launched. The product Horlicks has undergone many changes (body) but its soul (nourishment) lived for decades.

Often success of a brand makes the entire enterprise product focused. A success formula of marketing or the product (the means) becomes so important that it displaces the brand (the end). The attachment to the product (the body) breeds arrogance and ego and there starts the decline. The soul (brand) is supreme, the product is only instrumental. Understanding the distinction is the key to creating long life brands. The products can come and go (akin to soul changing body) but the soul is supreme. Imagine how difficult it would be for Nokia to make a transition into services to provide a ‘solution’ which people seek.

One of the important traits of the leader is to keep focus on the goal. Goal is supreme; the leader who leads the team is the means to the end. Leader does not operate in a stagnant environment. So the means cannot be constant in a dynamic environment. Rigidity and lack of flexibility is dangerous. The leader (product) cannot dictate the brand (mission or goal). The leader, the product must adapt to evolving circumstances. Anna Brand stands at crucial juncture where rigidity (fast which worked brilliantly) could be self defeating. Now in the changed circumstances Brand Anna should move to a new level (product reformulation, ingredient changes, augmentations etc) sticking on to the brand DNA (non violence). The success of the brand in the first stage should not intoxicate (ego). The Band Anna is now on the next stage. Leader is a powerful resource; leader can ignite damp gun powder. The leader must understand the instrumentality of the leadership. The cause is supreme.


A brand is a perceived reality. It stands for ‘meaning extracted’ from the symbols disseminated by the sender. Critical to the success of a brand is the clarity and relevance. Brand is a symbol created out of exercise of symbols and symbolism. At the heart of brand building lays ‘meaning transference’. Typically brand strategists employ a variety of messages and media to build a brand but what is crucial to successful brand building is convergence. All signals create a clear brand engram (associative network in the mind). Divergence of associations in the mind is brand killer. Brand name is a sign the meaning of which is created in prospects’ minds. Symbols are instruments in the creation of this sign.
Confusion fails a brand. Anna brand has managed to evoke a phenomenal response. It is a case in the use of symbols. Express verbal communication plays a part in brand building but the dialogue at the subliminal level is more powerful (‘Aankhon Hi Aankhon Mein Ishara ho gaya’;’ Isharon Isharon Mein Dil Lene Wale’). Words convey meaning but symbols do those more powerfully and the beauty is that here communication escapes the scrutiny of cognition. Consider the following symbols and their symbolism which went into building Anna Brand:

  • Anna as person: his frail body, cap, simplicity, earthiness, spectacles and his presence against the backdrop of a huge Gandhi banner draws ‘conditioned’ response.
  • Anna’s dress: he sports ‘white’ (spotless) as against ‘black’ (blemished). It is ‘clean’ against ‘unclean’. It is ‘day’ against ‘night’.
  • Fasting: the term ‘fast’ is positioned against ‘feasting’; ‘self harm’ against ‘harming others’; ‘sacrifice’ against ‘self aggrandizement’; eating is ‘common’ fasting is ‘uncommon’; clearly it positions the powerful in a different lowly light. Fast is the common thread that creates a subtle mental link between Gandhi and Anna.
  • Ramlila Ground: ‘ground’ is against ‘high rise’. ‘earthy’ against ‘heavenly’, ‘discomfort’ against ‘comfort’; ‘humble’ against ‘arrogance’.
  • Anna Bands: these are tied to biceps indicative of ‘power’, ‘muscle’, ‘courage’ against the aggressor
  • Waist Bands: ‘fasten seat belts’ it is difficult time ahead, symbolizes ‘readiness’ ‘preparedness’.
  • Tricolor: In Mahabharata the discourse is about under which flag ‘you want to stand’: the right or the wrong. People assembled for the ‘nation’ not for ‘any party or group’, signals ‘unity’ against ‘division’; ‘transcending boundaries’ against ‘created boundaries’; ‘one identity’ against ‘multiple identities’. The flag: ‘higher ideal’ ‘ambition and aspiration’. Flag  held by hands in protests indicates importance and closeness and importance of the ‘goal and ambition’ as against ‘not holding’ or ‘giving up’ or ‘detachment’ (flag erected on ground).
  • Anna Cap: cap is headgear; head is house of mind. It symbolizes ‘particular philosophy or thinking’. The cap signifies subscription to ‘Anna thinking’ as against ‘Non Anna thinking’. Why wear cap: because now is the time to clearly show whether one is ‘with Anna’ because government is ‘not with Anna’.
  • Candle March: is ‘light’ as against ‘darkness’; ‘day’ versus ‘night’; light is used to ‘scare the creatures of the night’; creatures of night in mythology are demons and evil. Why march- to scare these off. March is movement; it is ‘progression’ as against ‘stagnation’; ‘it is movement towards the goal’.
  • Voluntary contribution: to contribute means ‘to be a part of’; ‘efforts made’ ‘share’ as against ‘not be a part of’, ‘no efforts made’. Contribution is required when the task ahead is ‘difficult’ or the opponent is ‘strong and mighty’. It is symbolic of a fight between two unequal: ‘government or establishment’ powerful and mighty. It is an opportunity to be a part of something not within the realm of ‘individual achievement’.
  • Raised hands and closed fists: fist symbolizes ‘grit’ ‘determination’ ‘strength’ ‘readiness to fight’ against ‘hands down’, ‘lose’ and ‘open palms’. When the hands are raised in unison upon a chant ‘it is willingness to rise up to a challenge’; ‘team spirit and togetherness’. This raises adrenalin. Fist is to ‘muscle up’ , ‘to collect’. It is ‘to scare birds or crow’ from the field.
  • Songs: the music connects to ‘heart’ as against ‘mind’. You don’t ‘think’ music you ‘feel’ music’. Songs and slogans trigger emotions and create bonding. Emotions elicit better commitment than cognitions. Rhythm and rhyme is ‘flow’ ‘movement’.

Collectively these symbols negotiate meaning at a deeper level and create a brand engram to which people seem to be connecting.


Anna and Competitive Response (3)

The competitive response to Anna has been very poor. It is bad retaliation and poor counter strategy. The competitive assault by dissenters like Ms Roy and people in power seem to miss the entire essence of on what the retaliation strategy should be based. All the counter assaults seem to be devoted  to fighting the Anna Brand’s manifestation- the person in flesh and blood. If brand Anna is equated with Anna, the person,then you get involved with the shadow or symbol. It is shadow fighting and it does not take you anywhere. If fact the more you fight a shadow the weaker you become. It is gross wastage of resources.
Brands are perceptual entities. Brands inhabit the perceptual space. Brand Anna has appropriated an idea which enjoys huge resonance with the people. For some it may also be a dissonant idea (people in disagreement) but probably these are few in numbers otherwise Anna would not be what he is today. He would not have been a serious challenge for the establishment. Anna in this context now owns a ‘first mover advantage’. In positioning terms he ‘identified a mental slot and filled it’. Now brand Anna singularly and very powerfully ‘owns’ a position just as Dettol owns antiseptic position and Nirma ‘economy’. Brand Anna not only resonates but it is highly different from current brand of political brands, be it parties or individuals. So Brand Anna is highly differentiated on a dimension that is significant for people. It is visible how Brand Anna is favorably discriminated by people.
Once a position has been occupied it is not a good idea to copy that or come near that position because the challenger becomes  dwarf in the mind of prospects. Therefore the brands that borrow ideas and copy, end up becoming shoddy ‘me too’ with a very low appeal. Now the opportunity for parties in power or opposition or people in search of establishing political credibility is lost. They probably cannot own ‘anti corruption or freedom from corruption’ position. When it comes to thinking  soap for beauty ,‘Lux’ dominates the mind and when one thinks of PSPO ‘Orient’ springs up. You can’t just ‘rub off’ the brand from the mind. It requires ‘unlearning’ which is extremely difficult if perpetual references are made to what one is trying to ‘unlearn’. You remember how ‘Devdas’ was reminded of ‘Paro’ when he saw ‘Chandramukhi’.The more she tried to occupy her positionthe stronger became the image of ‘Paro’.
You can’t fight a brand which resonates with its target audience. Brand gains its strength from the value delivery which could be physical or perceptual. Had it not been true all mega corporations would have killed all smaller players. There would not have been any Chik shampoo, Priya Gold biscuits and Action shoes, and Micromax mobiles. If the prospects have ‘made up’ their minds it is extremely difficult to change.
Many people argue that it is media created mass hysteria and frenzy. This thought undermines the human intelligence. As if people cannot make a conscious choice. If this were true then why could Coke not create mass hysteria for its New Coke which set the company poorer by close to $600 million. Why could Apple not turn Newton into a huge success? Why Sony lost on its Betamax technology? These are all big corporations capable of pumping in millions of dollars capable of whipping up hysteria. Out there, in the market cold blooded customer logic prevails. You either make sense or don’t. People are rallying behind Brand Anna probably not because he is a magician (‘gili gili gili and you are sent in a trance’) but because what he signifies makes sense, that too without paid advertising. Mind you, you are dealing with present day generation which is more discriminating (try getting a small child into liking what you want him or her to) and is better  informed. The information is just a click away.
For all times when ever the word ‘corruption’ would be mentioned the name ‘Anna’ would also get activated. These two are now closely tied in memory. So what are the options for the competition? Anna is imprinted in minds as ‘anti-corruption’ or ‘corruption less India’. This advantage belongs to Anna. It can’t be stolen like a physical object because Brand Anna belongs to perceptual world.
One of the strategies in this situation is not to contest rather to leverage upon the strengths of an established player. I am reminded of Avis when it faced a huge giant in the name Hertz, it impressed upon customers:
“We’re number two, we try harder”
There is no point in taking ‘against’ position because there is no slot like that. Instead build your brand by relating to Brand Anna, not by challenging but by relating.
Can you think of a proposition?