Citizen movement, business and democracy

Systems are designed to deliver. Business organizations are meant to ‘create customer’ by providing satisfying value. ‘Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production’ (Adam Smith). Consumer formed the centre of neo classical economics. Marshall proposed that goods that provide consumer with greatest satisfaction, pleasure or utility will be bought. But are consumers actually provided with goods which do greatest good for them or for the producers? The market mechanism eventually creates a power structure tilted in favor of the producers and consumers generally are reduced to receiving end.

Consumer movement took roots in the US in early twenties with the publication of a number of books which brought the fraudulent and unfair business practices. In response to subversion of consumer interest the fragmented atomized structure of consumer system began to organize into a cohesive countervailing force. An organized chorus was raised for the State to enact legislation designed to protect consumer interest against unscrupulous business practices. The response of business to this development was predictable. Consumer movement was perceived to be a direct threat.

Democratic system produces two classes by a process of free electoral selection. The exercise of franchise produces an asymmetric power distribution. The very idea of ‘for the people, by the people and of the people’ gets subverted when people here implies the people elected not the electorate. The organization of people either as consumers or citizens is symptomatic of malaise in the system.
Faced with disillusionment, initially it is an attempt in communication which can escalate into seizure. The business took organizing consumers with a pinch of salt, like a threat to their interest. Similar seems to be the response of people in power to recent outpouring of people on Indian streets.

 

There cannot be a better gift than an idea for improvement. Many companies consider consumer complaints as free feedback about what plagues the system. The complainers are often rewarded and encouraged. British Airways under stewardship of Sir Marshall systematically promoted complaining behavior in order to discover areas of improvement. Systems exist for the so called ‘subjects’. The recent public outcries about laws against sexual crimes and corruption are two important ‘ingredients or features’ that people want from ‘product’ of governance. These two presented a golden brand revitalization opportunity to politicians and political parties but they failed miserably.

Like marketers and their products must reflect the needs and wants of their consumers, the government must produce outcomes that are in sync with the sentiment of its people.

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Parliament, its instrumentality, anti-corruption crusade and marketing

The recent anticorruption movement has been perceived as a ‘threat to Indian democracy’ and ‘attack on the parliament’ by many. It is a matter of perception and debate whether the anti-corruption crusade is an attack on the ‘institution’ or its current way of functioning. It is important here to establish the ‘instrumentality’ of the institution. Some issues are important to consider here:

  • Is the institution of parliament an end or means?
  • If it is a means then its ends must be located outside its boundary?
  • What are the terminal goals or ends that it seeks to achieve?
  • Where are these goals located?

What happens when the members of an institution hijack the institution into serving their own goals?

The instrumentality of the Parliament is established by the preamble of the Constitution:

WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens:JUSTICE, social, economic and political;LIBERTY, of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;

EQUALITY of status and of opportunity;

and to promote among them all

FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation;

IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY this twenty-sixth day of November, 1949, DO HEREBY ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION.

There is no ambiguity in the stated goals or ends for the achievement of which the institution of parliament exists. But the cause of concern an agitation is germane in the fact that to a large section of Indian citizens it appears that the institution has been made an instrument of self-satisfaction and self-aggrandizement. The detachment and distinction between individual goals and institutional goals is critical first condition for the effective functioning of any system.

The same principle governs the working of business systems. An incorporated firm or company is bestowed with a separate and distinct status from its owners or managers (technically called separate entity concept).   A strict separation must be maintained between goals and interest of the Parliament and its members. Like the companies have charters and vision/mission statements, our Parliament has the Constitution to provide goals and guides to its functioning.

Business firms suffer a risk of becoming instruments of satisfaction by its members (internal goals displacing the organizational goals- goal displacement). The internal constituencies and their heads (different business departments and their heads) have an inherent tendency to view the organization from their own narrow angles and perspectives.  Almost similar tendencies could be found in our institution of governance. Different scams and instances of miss governance provide evidence to this goals displacement. 

It is one important jobs of the top management to align and synchronize these often opposing forces. The contribution of a system is not to be viewed from the perspective of insiders (how much they have gained) rather from the perspective of outsiders (in business customers or shareholders). When a system does not create value for the outsiders, it is generally pushed out of the market.

Is this anticorruption movement a symptomatic manifestation of the lack of goal alignment between the people (parliamentarians) who run the Parliament and the ones for which it is meant (citizen of India)? In the US, the failure of business to satisfy customers led to consumer movement/ advocacy. One of the early pioneers of consumer movement was Ralph Nadar who questioned the safety record of American car companies in his book Unsafe at Any Speed.

Someone observed that the rise of consumer movement against the ill practices of business is a ‘result of the prostitution of the marketing concept’. If marketing is about customer satisfaction, then true practice of marketing preempts the rise of customer movement.

What is this anticorruption movement all about? What does is manifest?

Anna Brand: From Promise to Delivery (8)

There are top brands and then there are the also rans and then there are named commodities. The route to the top is tough and difficult. Brands are not ‘advertised products’. Advertising and other forms of communication is the essential first step in etching ‘what the brand stands for’ in prospects’ minds. It is an ‘imprinting’ process. The brand name is ‘burnt’ or ‘etched’ in mind space. Unlike a few who reach to the top, thousands of other brands just don’t. They end up confusing ‘essential’ with ‘sufficient’. Burning a brand name certainly requires establishing an invisible conduit between the brander on the one hand and the target customer on the other.

This invisible conduit (communication) conveys the brand meaning as a starting point in developing relationship. Brand Anna is very clearly and firmly etched in terms of its meaning (anti corruption). It does not mean that the brand is established. Right now only ‘name’ or ‘symbol’ is planted. Brand ‘performance’ or ‘delivery’ is yet to begin. The onus on Brand Anna is very high as a very high level of expectations (or ‘promising’) has been created. Normally cardinal principle in brand management is to always ‘under promise and over deliver’. What is next for the Brand Anna?

Consider top brands like:Toyota, Gillette, Disney, Nokia, Apple, and IBM. Clever communication alone has not created these brands to be what they are. The defining aspect of these brands is their ‘value delivery’. Hundreds of ‘commodity with name’ brands are launched only to fail because managers fail to attend to the delivery challenges. The superficial aspects take precedence over the substantive aspects. Having firmly ‘appropriated’ a concept (like Gillette razors- freedom from  dependence on barber or Toyota – provision of a ‘reliable personal transportation’) these companies invested in the creation of back end processes (manufacturing and supply chain) and ‘continuous’ improvements such that the ‘delivery’ at the ‘moment of truth’ does not fail the brand (‘brand is a promise’). The true brand never fails the customer expectations and wins customer confidence (‘brand as trust mark’).

Take a brand like Gillette to see how a razor has been improved over time by continuous improvements. Brand Anna now needs to move over from ‘awareness to delivery’ mode. It must create structures and systems that people are able to actually ‘fight corruption’. The brand must go beyond rhetoric which relies on an oath that “I shall neither take nor give bribe”. It is easier said than done. Bribe is ‘inconvenience monetized’. The system sometimes is systematically orchestrated to reduce the ‘choice’ for the hapless citizen. It is sometimes difficult to take on the system singularly. Hence this is the time for the creation of an ‘anti corruption system’ outside the system which is to be fought with.

All good brands start with a ‘narrow’ front. Toyota is still a car, Gillette is primarily a razor and Rolex is a watch.Toyota’s ‘relentlessly pursuit of perfection’ in automobile manufacturing, Gillette’s ceaseless perfection of razor and Rolex’s boundary breaking innovations in horology has made these brand a cut above the rest. Brand Anna has achieved a brilliant success at the first stage of brand building. Now is the time to invest in systems and processes which would allow hapless people to easily ‘plug and play’ into a structurally sound ‘counter system’. There can not be fair play between two unequal parties. The system of corruption is strong therefore the anti corruption must also take the form of an equally powerful ‘anti system’. Worldwide consumer movement could only become a serious ‘countervailing’ force only by moving beyond the ‘movement’ to ‘system’. In the US Ralph Nadar took head on heavy weights ofDetroit. In India Anna has done the same for corruption. In the absence of systems the brand has a risk become becoming hollow. Now is the time to give the brand a high performing ‘organization’.