Allen Solly, Sony Bravia, ABVP, Brand Proposition, and Millennial Generation

What do the following mean?

# FLEXIBLE

‘Respect every colour’

Denotatively the word ‘flexible ‘means ‘capable of bending easily without breaking’. In order to interpret the second statement (‘respect every colour’) let’s explore meaning of its components on  the dimension know as syntagmatic axis. These are three words chained together to form the sentence.  Their dictionary meanings are as follows:

  • Respect- cherish, admiration, deference, honor, value and revere
  • Every- all individuals, each and every
  • Colour- hue, shade, tint, tone and tinge

Now if I ask you to tell me their meaning.  In all probability the answer would be there is nothing to give, it is very obvious.  The flexibility is a characteristic of a material. And the second statement gives a call to treat all shades of paints or colours as equal.  These are headlines of two brands, Allen Solly and Bravia (Sony).  Let us delve into their meanings at deeper level.

Image result for allen solly flexible ad

In case of Allen Solley, the brand apparently seeks to lure customers by the promise of ‘flexibility’ that stems from the use of materials which enhance wear comfort.  The built in flexibility of a chino would allow its wearer to perform different jobs with ease.  It is an important benefit.

But does it give sustainable differentiation? The fabrics and stitching can easily be copied.  Then how does the brand connect with its young millennial consumers? In order to be valuable, brands must make sense beyond surface attributes and forge connections at deeper level. One such method is to add value by relating the brand with consumer values.  Values are  life guiding beliefs that define a person in terms of what he or she stands for.

So what does ‘flexibility’ means from a person’s perspective? It denotes a particular kind of personality as someone who is not rigid, unyielding and adamant. Flexibility can also mean accommodating attitude and not having a worldview that hardliners have.  Flexibility in this sense conveys a lot about the millennial mindset who show tolerance to dissent and are open to rational persuasion. They are flexible and do not side with extreme binaries. They are pragmatic in their approach to things in life. This meaning operates at second level of signification.

In case of Bravia, the headline- ‘Respect every colour’ makes sense only when it is seen through larger socio-cultural space. The meaning is hidden in the world ‘colour’  The word colour in an indirect sense may signify race, religion, caste or other social categories and hidden power asymmetry. The most obvious categories that come to mind are white and black people.  The usage of the word ‘colour’ in a television’s context is very obvious. It conveys that the television does not discriminate between colours and produces high quality images on screen.  But this is not the actual message. The brand seeks to forge a meaningful relationship at the psychological level.

The brand stands for the ideals of equality and non-discrimination.  It conveys its position against prejudices and biases plague society.  The millennial mind set is not committed to binaries that have been perpetuated by orthodoxy that find expressions   gender roles, religious and social practices.

The newspapers on this Sunday carried the ads of Allen Solley and Bravia but what made me ponder over was another news item  (HT Sept 4, 2017) which went like: ‘ABVP routed in student body polls: chips down for RSS backed student body as they perform poorly in Hyderabad, Guwahati and Punjab universities’.

The writing is on the wall. The narrative of BJP and ABVP is not resonating with the youth. It is time to revisit the values that it wants to stand for before it is too late.

Advertisements

BJP, Modi, Criticism and Refutational Communication

  • ‘India’s democracy was under assault”
  • ‘Govt talking big on economy, but nothing happening on ground
  • ‘Intolerant India’
  • “When it came to making speeches, Modi government got into the T-20 mode, when it was about announcing policies, it became a one-day match, and when it came to implementing promises, the government behaved as if a Test match has been abandoned,”
  • “Chhe Mahine Paar, U Turn Sarkar”

These  are some of the slogans that have surfaced at different points in time criticizing Modi government. Politics is a competitive game. It is same as when two or three dominant brands attack each other to gain supremacy. Consider, how Amaze directly or indirectly hits out at Desire and the battle between Coke and Pepsi gets direct and dirty. Marketing is also an attitude building, sustaining and changing game. Leadership implies that a brand enjoys positive consumer attitude and behavior. In the last general elections, BJP was voted into power which also implied that it enjoyed an attitudinal and behavior advantage over its rival Congress. The challenge for the leader brand is to defend and sustain its market by maintaining attitude. The challenger brand, on the other hand, can thrive by shifting and changing consumer attitude in its favor.  So consider the following:

·         “We are Number 2 but we try harder” (Avis Rent a car)

  • Volkswagen’s ‘Lemon’, ‘Think Small ‘ and ‘Lemon’ campaigns

This campaign by Avis allowed the company to gain significant market gains by the power of what in communication is called ‘refutational’ appeal or advertising. The communicator first raises a negative matter and then demolishes it. Volkswagen, after the Second World War launched Beetle car in the US with campaigns including the one in which it boldly claimed its car to be ‘Lemon’  followed by text refuting the claim that the car in the ad is plucked from the assembly line (lemon) by the engineers due to scratch on the glove compartment so that ‘you get plums’.  In a similar vein, Listerine which creates burning sensation in the mouth first admitted its burning sensation (negative belief, possible attack opportunity for the rival) followed by a refutation that this sensation is sign of its effectiveness. This strategy is also used by expensive brands. They first admit that their brand is expensive (therefore target of attack by lesser price brands) and then refute this claim by focusing on their long lasting quality. Why do firms adopt this strategy?

The idea behind refutational communication is to ‘inoculate’ the consumer/audience against competitor’s counter claims and destroy them. So what implications follow for the BJP government? The need is to study these attacks that the opposition is making or is likely to make in future and then use them to inoculate the audience and then refute them by showcasing what has already been done. It is better to erect perceptual defences before the enemy mounts attack.

How to shrink BJP? Forgotten lessons in marketing: Balancing customer and competitor orientation

Newspapers and television channels have used several expressions to describe the debacle of BJP in national capital. The newcomer, AAP won 67 seats (seats in 2013) and BJP, the ruling party at the Centre shrunk to 3 from a near majority number of 32 seats in 2013 elections. And the grand old party Congress, failed to even open an account.  It is a quite shocking result for a party which scored victories on all the seven seats in last Lok Sabha elections in 2014. The Indian political landscape has been subtly undergoing a profound change. Although for the political strategists and stalwarts who are generally soaked in bias and operate from rooms covered with thinking consistent posters, artifacts, slogans and people mostly fail to recognize change. I will use the expression used by Ted Levitt to say that they ‘look into mirror instead of looking out of window’.  The constructed environment acts to reinforce and strengthen beliefs however misplaced they are. Looking out of the window is the way to develop strategy closer to ground.

The marketing orientation is one of the superior philosophies of running a business enterprise. It commands that business must cultivate mindset, structure, processes and strategies which aim to satisfying customer needs and wants better than competition. It subordinates the enterprise to the will of the market. It establishes the instrumentality of business as means of making the lives of target consumers better. Accordingly what is right or correct for a business is articulated from consumer’s point of view not from that of managers. Jaworski and Kohli distill it as organization wide dissemination of market intelligence about customer needs and wants and responding to it. The idea is to generate superior value for consumers as compared to competitors.

The failure of BJP in Delhi elections is manifestation of its failure in promising a product/value that was in sync with target customers and better than its rivals (AAP). But then, the same BJP won all seats in national elections last year. What explains this? The BJP’s success in national election was primarily due to deftly executed brand repositioning based on demographic shift (younger population or now generation). The brand BJP was emptied of its meaning as saffron party and it was given a new meaning. It fought elections on the plank of ‘growth, governance and inclusion’ (‘sab ka saath, sab ka vikas’). Its governance agenda usurped anti-corruption and Modi’s performance in Gujarat lent it credibility in perception notwithstanding its fact based criticism.

But than what happened in Delhi? This can be explained with two aspects of market orientation: customer orientation and competitor orientation.

Customer orientation: implies keeping an unwavering focus on evolving customer needs and wants and developing responses to meet them effectively. Delhi, although it is same physical place with same inhabitants but competitive reality in these two elections has not been the same.  In terms of consumer choice, the consideration set in national election was made of primarily two brands- BJP (with governance, inclusion and strong spokesperson) and Congress (riddled in corruption, lack of leadership). The frustration with Congress and carefully executed election strategy (inclusion and governance) of BJP lead people to vote for the latter. What happens when you try out a brand with enthusiasm and brand fails live up to your expectations? You look for a change. Remember the young voters which swung in favor of BJP in national elections shifted to AAP (Congress lost its status as alternative) because the discourse in media (easy to spread) shifted back to saffron (love jihad, conversions and reconversion, attack on church and jibe by some MPs).  It may have been satisfactory for inelastic hard core BJP supporters but it was certainly disappointment for new rational and discriminating younger class.

Further, BJP strategists failed in recognizing the shift of people or shall we say customer migration that happens when an existing brand is perceived to be near end (Congress).  There was huge opportunity for BJP to win Muslim voters. The beginning of a shift to BJP of this population was nipped in the bud by BJP itself when some of its leaders assumed center stage on media on triggered debates away from inclusion and development.  So when a car brand like Ford recalls its cars due to some flaw it is natural for its customer to look for alternative in Toyota or Hyundai. It is a huge mistake if one does not read this as an opportunity.

 Competitor orientation: it implies a mindset when a firm keeps its competitors (analysis of their strategies, strengths and weaknesses) in the center of its strategy development process and takes upon itself to beat them at all costs. It is aggressive and reactionary mode of operation. Often this comes at the cost of ignoring customers. Beating the competition is not the mission of any business. It assumes significance when competitors come in the way of reaching out to customers. Being obsessed with competitors is sure recipe for a disaster.

BJP’s strategy in Delhi was entirely driven by competitor orientation.  Its campaign focused on AAP leader in aggressive and personal manner. Consider the words like ‘upadravi’, ‘thief’, ‘monkey’, ‘toxic’, ‘liar’ and ‘anarchist’ in its campaign in outmaneuvering Kejriwal. Further, its radio campaign which tried to paint Kejriwal in poor light on the message like ‘bhagoda’ was irrelevant for the voter.

Customers and competitors are two important constituencies of the market. Both need to be given due attention and balanced. BJP‘s failure in Delhi is attributable to getting obsessed in beating the rival at all cost.

How to shrink BJP? Forgotten lessons in marketing: Balancing customer and competitor orientation       

Newspapers and television channels have used several expressions to describe the debacle of BJP in national capital. The newcomer, AAP won 67 seats (seats in 2013) and BJP, the ruling party at the Centre shrunk to 3 from a near majority number of 32 seats in 2013 elections. And the grand old party Congress, failed to even open an account.  It is a quite shocking result for a party which scored victories on all the seven seats in last Lok Sabha elections in 2014. The Indian political landscape has been subtly undergoing a profound change. Although for the political strategists and stalwarts who are generally soaked in bias and operate from rooms covered with thinking consistent posters, artifacts, slogans and people mostly fail to recognize change. I will use the expression used by Ted Levitt to say that they ‘look into mirror instead of looking out of window’.  The constructed environment acts to reinforce and strengthen beliefs however misplaced they are. Looking out of the window is the way to develop strategy closer to ground.

The marketing orientation is one of the superior philosophies of running a business enterprise. It commands that business must cultivate mindset, structure, processes and strategies which aim to satisfying customer needs and wants better than competition. It subordinates the enterprise to the will of the market. It establishes the instrumentality of business as means of making the lives of target consumers better. Accordingly what is right or correct for a business is articulated from consumer’s point of view not from that of managers. Jaworski and Kohli distill it as organization wide dissemination of market intelligence about customer needs and wants and responding to it. The idea is to generate superior value for consumers as compared to competitors.

The failure of BJP in Delhi elections is manifestation of its failure in promising a product/value that was in sync with target customers and better than its rivals (AAP). But then, the same BJP won all seats in national elections last year. What explains this? The BJP’s success in national election was primarily due to deftly executed brand repositioning based on demographic shift (younger population or now generation). The brand BJP was emptied of its meaning as saffron party and it was given a new meaning. It fought elections on the plank of ‘growth, governance and inclusion’ (‘sab ka saath, sab ka vikas’). Its governance agenda usurped anti-corruption and Modi’s performance in Gujarat lent it credibility in perception notwithstanding its fact based criticism.

But then what happened in Delhi? This can be explained with two aspects of market orientation: customer orientation and competitor orientation.

Customer orientation: implies keeping an unwavering focus on evolving customer needs and wants and developing responses to meet them effectively. Delhi, although it is same physical place with same inhabitants but competitive reality in these two elections has not been the same.  In terms of consumer choice, the consideration set in national election was made of primarily two brands- BJP (with governance, inclusion and strong spokesperson) and Congress (riddled in corruption, lack of leadership). The frustration with Congress and carefully executed election strategy (inclusion and governance) of BJP lead people to vote for the latter. What happens when you try out a brand with enthusiasm and brand fails live up to your expectations? You look for a change. Remember the young voters which swung in favor of BJP in national elections shifted to AAP (Congress lost its status as alternative) because the discourse in media (easy to spread) shifted back to saffron (love jihad, conversions and reconversion, attack on church and jibe by some MPs).  It may have been satisfactory for inelastic hard core BJP supporters but it was certainly disappointment for new rational and discriminating younger class.

Further, BJP strategists failed in recognizing the shift of people or shall we say customer migration that happens when an existing brand is perceived to be near end (Congress).  There was huge opportunity for BJP to win Muslim voters. The beginning of a shift to BJP of this population was nipped in the bud by BJP itself when some of its leaders assumed center stage on media on triggered debates away from inclusion and development.  So when a car brand like Ford recalls its cars due to some flaw it is natural for its customer to look for alternative in Toyota or Hyundai. It is a huge mistake if one does not read this as an opportunity.

Competitor orientation: it implies a mindset when a firm keeps its competitors (analysis of their strategies, strengths and weaknesses) in the center of its strategy development process and takes upon itself to beat them at all costs. It is aggressive and reactionary mode of operation. Often this comes at the cost of ignoring customers. Beating the competition is not the mission of any business. It assumes significance when competitors come in the way of reaching out to customers. Being obsessed with competitors is sure recipe for a disaster.

BJP’s strategy in Delhi was entirely driven by competitor orientation.  Its campaign focused on AAP leader in aggressive and personal manner. Consider the words like ‘upadravi’, ‘thief’, ‘monkey’, ‘toxic’, ‘liar’ and ‘anarchist’ in its campaign in outmaneuvering Kejriwal. Further, its radio campaign which tried to paint Kejriwal in poor light on the message like ‘bhagoda’ was irrelevant for the voter.

Customers and competitors are two important constituencies of the market. Both need to be given due attention and balanced. BJP‘s failure in Delhi is attributable to getting obsessed in beating the rival at all cost.

Brand Modi and BJP: Which is Bigger?

I was invited to write by the Business Today to write how Modi became bigger brand than BJP.

I wrote the following:

It is not uncommon in the world of marketing for a brand to become not only bigger than its creator but also to revitalize and rejuvenate it back. What iMac and iPod did to Apple Inc is what Modi has done to the BJP.  

 

Prior to Modi, the BJP brand was on the brink of irrelevance for what it stood for. Its Hindutva identity resonated deeply with the partition generation but its effect had weakened for the successive generations. Demographically, India is one of the youngest nations with more than 65 per cent of people below 35 years. Modi’s ability to become bigger than the BJP lies in his ability to listen to murmurs and whispers of this India, tapping into their simmering anger and hopelessness.

FULL COVERAGE: Lok Sabha Elections 2014

Modi created an identity that resonated with far more people and deeper than that of the BJP. Like brands make sense at surface and deeper levels, Modi’s discourse on economic development and prosperity intersected at the surface level of consciousness. The Gujarat model threw in words like governance, roads, electricity, women’s safety, peace, industry and education, supported by statistics. This satisfied the questioning mind that hankers for reason.

But reason is often the alibi for non-reason. Modi’s ability to become taller than his party lies in his symbolism. He tapped into despair, hopelessness and sinking feelings and arrived on the scene taking on the symbolism of the outlaw and the ruler combined. He is perceived as an icon of disruption and rebellion against the way things are done. It is this counter cultural streak that appeals to youth who desire change. And his traits like being organised, proactive, and confident, and in command of things, subtly connect with the ruler archetype.

Modi’s becoming bigger than the BJP is also attributable to his subtle push from parliamentary to presidential-style campaigning. By directly engaging with the top Congress leadership he acted as a warrior who could take on the establishment head on. Modi’s direct confrontational approach made politics a game close to the WWF in which the camera focuses on the fighter, not the sponsors.

Jan Lokpal, Resignation, Middleclass, Enchantment or Disenchantment

Arvind Kejriwal ‘s resignation over his not being able to table the anti-corruption Jan Lokpal Bill in the state legislature has sparked speculation about erosion of his support base. Both the BJP and the Congress legislatures were very visible on media in their vociferous attempts to block AAP’s efforts to get the Bill approved. All the three parties played out their strategies guided by their intentions to create right effect on electorate.  The Congress and the BJP defended their actions on the grounds of constitutional violation of the Bill’s direct introduction but expressed support to the idea of establishing  anti-corruption ombudsman. AAP accused both the national parties of collusion to thwart their attempts to get the Bill approved.

 

After 49 days of AAP’s rule in the capital and Kejriwal’s resignation, two extreme kinds of opinions seem to be circulating. Some believe that AAP’s support base would increase and they are likely to perform better in Delhi and it will establish firmly in forthcoming Lok Sabha elections by leveraging the anti-corruption sentiment.  However there are also people who believe that the Kejriwal’s 49 days of power has damaged his support base, especially the middle class voters (thinking voters) for his dharna, populist moves and now resignation.

How would these unfolding of event affect voter behavior? These events are unlikely to have any significant effect on hard core supporters of both the national parties (brand loyal). It is because their perception of reality is filtered through commitment to the ideas and ideals of the parties of their choice.  Hence the core constituencies of the Congress and the BJP will see CM’s resignation going in their favor, a bias created by perceptual mechanism (perceptual defense, distortion and filtration). They would end up picking that portion of reality which supports and reinforces their initial attitude/ liking for their political brand.  That is the reason why, the argument is raised so vociferously against AAP for violating constitutional procedure. The point of constitutional invalidity is likely to resonate well with loyalist of both the Congress and the BJP for its congruence with their initial attitude (you see what you want to see).

AAP has carved out its voters from support base of both the national parties.  How is the CM’s resignation likely to influence them? Heider’s  Balance theory can provide some insights here.  He distinguished between two types of relations between separate entities (e.g. attribute-high calories, brand-Pepsi and consumer): unit and sentiment relations.  Separate entities become a cognitive unit when they are perceived as belonging together like Abhishek and Amitabh or Suffola and heart and now AAP and anticorruption. Sentiment connection or relation indicates feeling or valuation that someone gives to an entity (positive or negative feelings towards Amitabh and Abhishek).  

A balance state for a person is when relations among the entities fit harmoniously fit together.  For instance, if I like (+) Amitabh and I don’t like (-) Abhishek and both are perceived as a unit (+), this is an imbalanced state.  Imbalanced states are stressful and cause friction. Therefore it will push me for moving towards balanced state by some mental (further thinking) and physical effort.  Thus Kejriwal’s resignation over Jan Lokpal Bill is unlikely to create erosion for people who see anti-corruption and Kejriwal or AAP as one unit (+) for they will have positive sentiment towards the both Kejriwal (+) and Jan Lokpal (+).  But if these event have altered the unity between Kejriwal and anti-corruption (-), he may be seen as wanting to become PM or escapist or populist or regressive (new unity between Kejriwal and escapist/populist etc, it would subtly produce tensions and people would move towards achieving a balanced state by revising their attitude towards AAP. This is likely to result in erosion of AAP’s voter base.

The strategy therefor for Kejriwal is to not this unity not get diluted. This is the reason why he has resigned as Delhi’s CM. Secondly do not let the issue of corruption move out of the center of the national debate in coming elections.

What should BJP camp do in this situation? Mounting attacks on Kejriwal is likely to make his brand stronger for he has preempted and appropriated the issue of anti-corruption singularly. The issue of corruption can only be decentered by not attacking AAP (it will create negative sentiment against the attacker).Rather place a bigger issue next to anti-corruption in voters’ perception which will create dwarfing effect.  BJP is right in focusing on growth and governance but it must avoid attacks on AAP for it path to majority in Parliament goes though AAP’s voter base.

Rahul Gandhi, ‘Selling comb to the bald’, Innovation and Marketing

 The Congress VP, in his new found aggression of tone and tenor, mocked his political rivals, BJP and AAP. He said at the AICC meet, “Opposition parties can say anything. Their marketing is very good. They have used everything, name, shine and song. They are the ones who will sell combs to the bald”. “Now, some new people have come. The earlier ones used to sell combs to the bald; the new ones are giving haircuts. They are giving a haircut to the bald. Do not fall prey to what they say,”

His statement could be intriguing to many and confusing to others. Why did he get rousing applause when he mockingly said that rival parties’  ‘marketing is very good’. The people in the audience probably did not understand the real meaning of what he said.

Prima facie it is not possible to sell comb to a bald but if you are really a marketer it is not impossible. How? It all depends upon the extent of clarity that one has about marketing and selling. These are two alternate ideas or concepts or philosophies of running business.  But most people in the absence of understanding of fundamentals consider selling and marketing as same. But reality these concepts are diametrically opposite of each other. In this context Drucker wrote that the purpose of marketing is to make selling superfluous. Marketing and selling differ in terms of understanding of what constitutes ‘means’ and ‘ends’. That is if you practice marketing then the need for selling ceases. And with the practice of selling, marketing is preempted.

Then what is the difference between the two and what is their connection with comb and bald? Marketing is about creating satisfied customer (end/goal) by understanding customer needs/ wants by designing and delivering value (means) according to them. This diminishes the need for selling /manipulation (fitting square peg in square hole). Selling on the other hand focuses on conversion of goods into cash (end) to satisfy seller by all kinds of persuasion and manipulation (means)- fitting square peg in round hole. In political marketing, most of the times the candidates are thrust upon voters and the lack of choice forces voters to choose from a limited menu. Political markets are not fully competitive or perfectly competitive for the want of free entry.

The true practice of marketing requires innovation. The process of innovation implies that an idea is converted into something that creates customer satisfying value. It is about a new way of doing or making something. The goal of innovation is to make something better or making someone better (customer). Now consider selling or marketing comb to a bald. It is very in the box or un-innovative to connect comb with hair. In this scheme of things a comb is means to satisfying need for combing and which only a person with hair can have. So combs cannot be sold to bald. And the idiom ‘selling comb to the bald’ becomes a joke.

Now wear innovation hat on your head and think out of box. Free comb from its established connection and take a real close look and list all the wonderful needs/wants it could satisfy: scratching back, gift to your wife or girlfriend, decoration (imagine a big comb in your drawing room-pastiche), tucking bed cover with comb, use it as a scale, to make rangoli & draw patterns, brush your coat, to scrub corners and the list goes on. I am reminded of a case of a hair color marketer who discovered that his color was used by buffalo traders to give them a darker shade because dark animals fetched high price. In Punjab, many dhabawalas use washing machines to churn lassi in big quantities .Dettol by liberating the brand from narrow confines of nicks and cuts managed to stay relevant by innovating new uses and making people better.

So there is nothing to laugh about when he says, opposition parties can sell comb of the bald. What he meant was they are very innovative.