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A brilliant marketer?

Aug 22, 2011 2:39:51 PM - www.ft.lk

Coming from a marketing background I tend to view the happenings of the world from a lens that can be different to many. Last week’s developing story of the Anna Hazare episode in India was unique, in my perception.
A man who does not own a computer and is 74 years of age, with little knowledge of the modern techniques of marketing, was able to get millions of people on to the streets of India and make it to all the news media of the world as the man who was successful in bringing the largest democracy to its knees. This intrigued me as professional marketer.
Anna Hazare

After serving 15 years in the Indian Army, Anna Hazare voluntarily retired from the 9th Maratha Battalion and returned to the drought prone Ahmadnagar, at the age of 39. He found that farmers were struggling to survive and pioneered the rainwater conservation project that made the little hamlet he lived into the international map as the model village for rainwater harvesting.
He was a man who had the thirst to find out the deeper reason for one’s existence. He continued his quest by addressing the key issues of the people of India. Given his success in the rainwater project, Hazare moved into a more challenging task of fighting against corruption in India.
He has taken this fight to the highest level where the Government power exists. Leaving aside the political dimension, last week’s episode from a marketing perspective was really interesting. Let me capture some key pickups.
Pickup 1: Weapon
Just like any consumer brand, success hinges around how an idea gets communicated to the world. Some use conventional forms of communication like TV advertising whilst in the recent past we have has seen the use of YouTube to do this role.
Whichever method of communication one uses, there has to be a strong proposition that hinges around a strong brand. In the case of Hazare, what I saw was that his message was to highlight and make the policymakers combat corruption and his weapon was the technique of fasting unto death.
The pickup for marketers is that we have to be very clear on the reason that you give a consumer to purchase a brand and then develop a strong weapon that can be used to get consumer attention.  If I am to cite a Sri Lankan brand, Orange light bulbs ideally fit this template. The weapon used was that from every purchase a sum is allocated to help the blind. Even though the company had to go through an overnight change of brand name, it was able to retaine its market leadership in Sri Lanka.
Pickup 2: Timing
A man who does not own a PC with absolute precision decided to fast unto death last week against the cause of corruption that exists in India and garnered a set of followers right up to the Thihar jail.
When he was released the same night, he refused to come out until the conditions by the Government were in line to his ideology. But by this time the whole of India has erupted to his call and millions were on the roads of India with all social media vehicles upbeat on the cause. Be it Facebook, YouTube or Twitter, the momentum had been garnered. On Sunday Mumbai saw the biggest crowd in its history parading in support of his cause.
I guess the pickup from Sri Lanka’s business landscape is the telecom industry. It is worth one billion dollars per year and contributes to 5% of GDP indirectly. The fixed and mobile phones connectivity is at 20.8 million which means that it has sure captured Sri Lankans’ hearts and minds with timing and sharp brand marketing just like what Hazare did in India.
Pickup 3: Middle class
Be it the 2G scam or the Commonwealth Games, the cause has been taken by the middle class and not the upper end of consumers. This is similar to what was seen in Iraq and Syria that championed the Arab Spring.
Some say that last week’s development was the Indian Spring, given that it has now spread to Sydney, Seattle and Paris. Be that it may politically, from a marketing perspective the pickup is that unless the ‘early majority’ is won by a brand, we cannot say that a brand has captured a market.
I can see this in the Sri Lankan market with the diffusion of the Blackberry and iPad where the brand has moved forward from the consumer groups of innovators and early adaptors and is now entering the early majority, which means that the mark has been made in the Sri Lanka market place by this global brand.
Pickup 4: No PC
Even though Hazare is not modern management-savvy at 74 years, he had a core team supporting across the value chain. From the time of fast, arrest by Delhi police, Thihar Jail, released and brought in a procession across the centre of India via freedom gates and then to the open air park where the 15 day fast begun, the core team propagated his idea and today it is in the centre stage of media not only in India but globally.
I guess the pickup is the same for a brand. A core set of consumers must be garnered so that they become the brand ambassadors who generate the market hype. In Sri Lanka one brand that really demonstrated this trait is the household brand Singer.
The brand won the ‘Most Popular Brand’ award for the sixth time at the ‘People’s Awards 2011’ edition.
It’s worth investigating the logic behind this success especially in the semi urban and rural areas of Sri Lanka. It cannot be just the pricing mechanism. I strongly believe it is the overall brand proposition and selection of outlets together with the core set of customers that have propagated the idea in every village and town across Sri Lanka.
Pickup 5: Global
Hazare was termed the second Gandhi of modern times and may be a man at the right time at the right place. But his core challenge was to fight the echelons of power on the alleged 39 billion dollars of corrupt deals that had engulfed brand India.
What is significant to me was when globally the economic meltdown was just taking form with the US stock exchange losing 12,000 points with so many stock markets declining and wiping away as much at three trillion dollars in just two weeks, this one man made it to all the global media and moved the world.
As at yesterday the protest campaign had moved global with Sydney, Seattle and Paris joining in.
I guess the pick to us in the world of marketing is that if we really want to make a mark in a given market, passion and commitment must be ruthless.
My pick from Sri Lanka is the Munchee brand. Even with all the policy issues the company has revolutionised its brand with new products and cutting edge brand building initiatives that has resulted in the business winning a multitude of awards – be it the ‘President’s Export Awards,’ ‘National Business Excellence Awards’ or the SLIM ‘Marketing Excellence Awards,’ just to name a few. This demonstrates that with commitment even a challenging task can be conquered.
(The author is an award winning marketer and business personality. He is an alumnus of Harvard University. The thoughts expressed are his own and not the views of the organisations he serves in Sri Lanka or overseas.)