Product life cycle, Political brands, Killing the self and blaming AAP

There was a time when people loved their Facit and Remington typewriters, Weston and Televista televisions, Murphy and Busch radios, Amkett and Moser Bayer floppy drives, Sunlight and Swastik detergents, Kelvinator and Leonard refrigerators, and HMT and Allwyn  watches. But then these brands do not even figure in cognition of consuming public. Managers and strategists make crucial mistake when they begin to believe in the power of their brand or product.  Levitt’s classic paper began with the lines  ‘Every major industry was a growth industry, but some that are now riding a wave of growth enthusiasm are in the shadow of decline. Others that are thought of as seasoned growth industries have actually stopped growing. In every case the reason growth is threatened, slowed or stopped is not because the market is saturated. It is because there has been a failure of management.’

 

 

Now consider the latest TOI (Jan 9, 14) political opinion poll. On the issue of prime ministerial choice (who do you think would make the best PM?), 58% people preferred Modi, followed by  Kejriwal (25%) and Rahul Gandhi  (14%).  In Ahmedabad 31% preferred Kejriwal to Modi.  The survey also revealed that about a third of surveyed people felt that AAP would win 26-50 LS seats, while 26% expected AAP to win 51-100 seats and 11% expected it to win more than 100 seats.  A five percent of respondents felt AAP would get majority seats.

 

What do these surveys convey? In marketing, especially in contested markets, customer satisfaction surveys and opinion studies are important tools to get how a brand or firm is perceived by its target customers. The feedback helps companies to craft responses according to evolving market conditions.  Companies adjust their market focus, change marketing mix, rejuvenate brands, and improve quality in order to ensure that their customers remain satisfied, new customers are  attracted and customers from rivals are attracted. Broadly there are two types of satisfaction surveys. Customers’ feedback needs to be sought with respect to their expectations (how a product/service measures against customer criteria). Secondly, marketing is a competitive game. Therefore, it is important to explore how a firm’s (eg Congress or Samsung) delivery fares in comparison to rivals (BJP or Apple).  A brand can succeed when it beats the competition on relevant customer expectations. 

 

Marketing is about innovation and adjustment because everything external to a firm is dynamic but a firm is likely to be a constant unless consciously made organic. In politics, all the political entities/outfits need to evolve with time.  Who is to be blamed for the birth of AAP? The blame squarely goes to existing players. New products and brands emerge not because of competition but due to the failure of existing players to cater to changing and emerging needs.  Both of the national parties failed to understand loud voices and silent whispers of citizens (customer expectation). Second, they stick to their old ideologies and policies (stuck up with structure) notwithstanding measuring how they perform against evolving customer criteria. The result is self-evident. AAP spokespersons publicly say that they are forced to enter into politics. It is current political parties which compelled them to become a political outfit.

 

What the options available to the old political parties in this situation? Viewing the political products from product life cycle perspective, the following options exist: product modification strategy- which involves changing an existing product by incorporating new functionality like modifying a detergent by adding fabric softener or improving its performance (making a car more fuel efficient or improving speed of a microprocessor) ; market modification- extending the customer based by appealing to a new customer group (youth is a new market for political parties), new geographies and rival’s customers. For instance Fair n Lovely sought to target men segment,  Dabur Honey made a pitch for young women segment, Pepsodent is currently trying to snatch customers from Colgate (130% better toothpaste).  Finally, a marketer can use marketing mix modification strategy- this involves changes in product, price, place or promotion strategies to capture or retain customer.  BJP’s candidate may need to reposition himself as secular to broaden his appeal or new communication mix strategy could be used (less reliance on conventional advertising).

 Competition is not what kills a company or brand. It is the failure of the strategists to recognize what market wants them to do. Managers kill their own brands.  AAP is only an evidence of this failure.

 

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ANNA BRAND AND ANALYSIS PARALYSIS: LESSONS IN CORPORATE DECISION MAKING (5)

Competition:

“Our top rival is planning to launch a product which would obliterate us from the market. It is a serious issue. How should we react?” said a junior executive.

 “Don’t worry. You don’t have to. We know how their Board operates. It is a highly intellectual group. We will use ‘intellectual paralysis strategy’, just leak the news and they would get diverted away even from their areas of strengths,” observed, the grand master.

 The company:

Board room discussion and voices of competent intellectuals-

“People are dying because of malaria and dengue. They need a cure. It is a golden business opportunity.”

“How can you have cure of malaria and dengue it is everywhere?”

‘Yes you are right but let me tell you it is not only everywhere but it is there from time immemorial”

“We already have a mosquito repellent product, so why a new one?”

“You are short sighted to focus on only one thing; people also suffer from typhoid, sun stroke, infant mortality, poor quality of water”

“How can a remedy be developed for malaria and dengue, we can’t control rain, water accumulation and bushes?”

“Let us make the existing product better?”

“Why don’t you call people from water harvesting, horticulture, aquaculture, marine biologists and entomologists?”

“Why don’t we try an ‘all in one product’ cure of everything?”

“We don’t have money, where will the finance come from?”

“Where are the suppliers, our current suppliers cannot supply required parts and components?”

“To be honest, how will we distribute the product?”

“Our engineers cannot design this product- let us outsource designing from the US”

“Why the US, your advice is politically motivated?”

“Why don’t we do a formal extensive research on what do people actually want, do they really want cure to mosquito menace. We need conclusive proof?”

“There are different types of malaria which one are you talking about?”

“We are a commercial enterprise we don’t want to get into welfare or betterment business”

 And the arguments go on and on…..

 Brand Anna stands for one well defined thing/meaning. There are two sides to this equation: the Brand and the Competition (or rival force). The forces internal to the Brand itself are degenerative. So called people who ‘in principle’ agree themselves seem to work counter to the brand driven by their own ‘territorialism’ and ‘tunnel vision’. This myopic territorialism first aims to create a ‘cocktail’ (a kind of ‘be all brand’) which appeals to none because everyone is ‘somebody’ but not a lousy mix of ‘everybody’. The global mission stands to get compromised by these doses of ‘territories’. Rather the territories should be viewed from the ‘brand’s lens’. Local territories in their bids to prevail, compromise the ‘collective’.

 The supremacy of the mission must prevail upon those who agree in principle. Refinements can be made later. First allow the brand to take off. Let the baby be born. Most of the brands start their journey as ‘imperfections’. Imperfection is real and perfection is surreal. Take Tata ‘Indica’ which was not best engineered car to begin with and see how P&G refined ‘Whisper’ overtime. The ambition to create the best solution sometimes leads to no solution.

 In the present situation the competition does not require a strategy to ‘fight’ if the tendency to ‘over analyze’ is fostered. The idea would crumble under the burden of its own arguments and counter arguments from within. Homogenization and convergence ‘within’ is the key to get the brand off ground. The real threats to brand building first originate from within.  There lies a beautiful opportunity for the competition.

 Isn’t it true for Brand Anna? It is weakened by forces within. It is falling victim to ‘analysis paralysis? The competition just has to buy time. Pick a newspaper and ‘dissent within’ in class which ‘in principle’ agrees emerges as a ‘the’ threat to the Brand.  The woods are being missed for the trees. Everybody seems to be springing up with a sapling.

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?