Stage Flight: The Emergence of the Confident Consumer


Stage FlightThere are many who believe this increasingly connected virtual world is negatively impacting social skills.  People tend to talk lesser to each other all of us have become Phubbers. Kids are replacing time spent playing with other kids with their eyes glued to one of the screens.  Social networking sites alleviate any guilt associated with not keeping in touch with loved ones.

While it is a lead in, this post is not to debate the case merits of the “multi-media world”.  Suffice to say that there are extremely good arguments on both sides.  This post attempts to reveal one such dimension or an insight.

The author believes that despite the virtual world having created these bubbles or silos that we live in, the people today are more willing to let themselves be judged than ever before.

The past decade or slightly more has witnessed the inception and growth of what are termed “reality shows” especially the talent or skill based variety.  What separates one from fame and money (read success) today is not chance or opportunity, but their individual skill or talent.  These shows and the advent of social networking have given wings and fuelled aspirations of millions.  They have given rise to a new breed that does believes there’s a place in the spotlight for them. Whether it is singing, dancing, writing, acting, playing an instrument, cooking or for that matter something as inane as the ability to spit with precision on a target!  There is a platform available to showcase ability. Opportunity today is ubiquitous.

Contests, competitions and pageants have been around a long time so what really has changed? It is the scale.  The connected world has removed the subjectivity of the talent scouts and placed in the hands of the audiences. While it might not be the right way to do it, it has definitely democratized the process of selection.  The opinion of the few is being supplemented with the taste of the masses.   This for whatever its worth has lent itself to the perception of “fair play”.

More and more people are venturing out of their protective cocoons, unafraid what the world will say. In fact, the world is the promise and failure or ridicule, a very small price to pay.  Talent and skill are just exaggerated manifestations of this insight.  The gains need not always be monetary, they can be personal boosters too.  The willingness to be judged is evident in every single act of in the social networking space.  We put up our photographs, air our views, and share our moods all of which are being judged in real time. Likes, +1’s, re-tweets, views, comments, shares are the new determinants of success.

This new found confidence transcends demographics, culture, social strata you name it.  From babies to octogenarians nobody seems to have an issue with stage fright anymore. As an audience what is on view ranges from the amazing to the ridiculous.  There is no such thing as infamy, popular is the bottom line.

You generate the content and put it out, the seekers of the content will gravitate towards it.  The number of home-made or amateur or non-professional efforts that have viraled in the recent past are testament to this.  Bloggers and twitterati with following are an integral part of digital marketing plans. Every day more and more content is put up on sites that give a platform to users.  From e-books to self-produced music videos it’s all there.  Every passing year talent hunts get unprecedented participation and ever increasing social footprint.

 Overnight success is no longer an infrequent occurrence or a fairy tale it is expected.  There are several more Justin Biebers knocking on the doors of fame.

As they say it’s not spreading your wings but courage that makes you fly!

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The Art of Electioneering


Art of Electioneering

“Where absolute superiority is not attainable, you must produce a relative one at the decisive point by making skillful use of what you have.”

Karl von Clausewitz, On War 1832

As I write this post I am aware that hundreds like me are analyzing what the world’s largest democracy has witnessed and trying to put in perspective.  As the election juggernaut rolled through the country under intense media attention the various angles to the 2014 elections in India have been explored, analysed and have been discussed threadbare.

One of the things that has bubbled up to the top and been referred to often with an accusatory tone is how India’s PM designate was a well marketed product.  There is little doubt that what has just concluded is a milestone election in India’s history. One that introduced several elements into the Art of Electioneering.  For sure there will be cases made out this election that students of business, social and political science will delve into across universities. I have in a previous post talked about how the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) captured the imagination of millions in Delhi. What the creators of the Modi campaign have achieved is far bigger and far reaching in its impact.

“The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand.”

SunTzu, The Art of War

In hindsight what has been executed and arguably to perfection have been text book strategies.  Be it SunTzu, Porter or Aaker or Prahalad what the strategy cell of Bhartiya Janata Party has done is research, organize, propagate and execute or as I call it the ROPE trick.  For the purpose of this discussion I shall attempt a retro-fit of my observations of the campaign to popular models in marketing strategy.

Customer MotivationsAlong the lines of the adage “Customer First” we’ll take a look at how the BJP campaign tested on understand the drivers for this election and the needs of the voters i.e. Customer Motivation.

The marketing brains behind the BJP campaign ticked these boxes well and proper. They clearly identified the mood of an electorate that was young and aspirational.  From an Indian perspective, we have as marketers devoted hours cracking the code and allocated millions of rupees trying to win the youth over. The BJP campaign identified the Youth as mainstream.  As per the 2011 census 65% of India’s population is below 35 with a median age of 29 putting an eligible workforce (15-64) at a whopping 430 million, higher than the entire population of the USA!

poppyra

The strategists at the BJP HQ caught on to this early in the day and having identified their target segment distilled their motivations.  So what were the motivators they identified? Speaking of the high level motivators (since each has contributing factors and dimensions), a strong yearning for growth and opportunities, a need re-assert pride, a secure environment and a decisive leadership were what were chosen as the pegs of the campaign.

The campaign planners were also smart enough to place their communication not just on traditional media but where the Youth were on the internet constantly communicating with each other using a variety of social networking tools from BBM to Instagram to Pintrest to Google Hangouts! This enabled BJP to speak to them at an individual level as well as a collective, influential mass. More importantly, this was not just at the time of the campaign.  The social leg of the BJP campaign started a couple of years ago with senior leaders writing blogs, active on twitter etc.  The buzz around BJP was atleast 3X their nearest competitor in the sociosphere the AAP.

Several articles have been and will get written regarding the extensive use of digital media by the BJP in election 2014.  The use of technological wizardry with the 3D rallies or the beat and booth level mass outreach mobile screens carrying their leaders message the campaign exploited every possible touch-point.

So was it just a media and technology blitzkrieg based on consumer (read voter) understanding or was it more?

Here’s where I would introduce another text book model to which in perspectives will answer what the BJP went about doing. This is about understanding your competition better than anyone else. The BJP used this understanding at every step of the way and in all their communication verbal, written or visual to attack them.  Again in hindsight, the way the numbers panned out they seemed to have done it well.

 Competitor Actions

The strategy cell of the BJP along with their campaign creators seemed to have blended their understanding of the voter and the ruling Congress to create the perfect potion that cast a spell over the electorate.  The silence of the Prime Minister, the reactive nature of the Congress campaign, the disconnect of their leadership all became weapons in the BJP campaign arsenal.

The respective campaign taglines represented the middle of the road, motherhood tenor of the congress versus the more exhortative call for action from the BJP. Much again has been written and talked about this having been a “Presidential style” election.  The author disagrees. Granted that this was an election of personalities like never before, but to say that this was the first is incorrect atleast as far as the past four or five elections are concerned. The BJP always has portrayed a leader whether it was the former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee with the slogan “Ab ki baari Atal Behari” during the 1998-99 elections or L.K. Advani with “Majboot Neta Nirnayak Sarkar”.  Even in the past whether declared or not the contenders for the top post were always clear.

Endnote: The victory of the Bhartiya Janta Party in these elections was a result of a very well thought out strategy and smartly integrated ground realities.  It was a journey that began well in time. Yes the leader himself had a role to play, but the magic was him resonating with the youth of this country. Voicing their aspirations and promising a better future. Clichéd and overused as it maybe it goes without saying that with great power comes great responsibility.  The burden of the mandate will now be on the BJP it is for them to perform to their promise. The nation hopes for deliverance.

The Bollywood Dancers Theory


We all are born different, look different, react differently to things and want to be seen differently yet, at some level, each one of us has this strong urge to blend in.

My interactions with people across a cross-section of society during numerous Consumer Home Visits have reinforced this belief that people want to “Blend In yet Stand Out”. The Ryder to that one however, is that no one wants to Stick Out either.

Is there a difference? You bet.Image

A big part of growing up is the time one spends with friends or a peer group of some sort. It is here, in my opinion that the seeds of this Blend In yet Stand Out philosophy are sown.

You want to listen to music, you play it out loud! You make sure you stand out by being the one who either has the latest releases or the guy who knows all the lyrics or the one who has the coolest “system”. You do not want to be seen as the guy who is unaware, out of touch or as the one with a radically different taste in music (try playing Boyzone out loud in an all boys hostel).

Blending in does not mean not having respect for an individuals choices. You hang-out some guys drink, some do not, some smoke, some others do not. But you definitely do not want to be the guy who throws up after a few or if you do not drink the guy who’s gotta be dropped back early coz Mama’s gonna be wild 😉

It’s not just a guy thing. Not that I am an authority but I’d wager that girls have their own set of what constitutes being a part of the gang and what is seen as not being with it. American diamonds perhaps are one such controversial area (cannot fathom whether they belong to the with it or not category for the life of me, was told once that they are good only if they are not obvious)

We grow up and move on into doing different things but this feeling stays with us. It manifests itself in things we do or things we buy. Take for example cars we all buy cars of our choice (make and model) however when was the last you heard of a friend who bought a yellow or orange or some other bright coloured one. Might like it but won’t buy it coz you do not want to stick out.

This therefore is the essence of what I have chosen to call the “Bollywood Dancers Theory” and it perhaps lies somewhere in the Esteem Needs zone of what Mr. Abraham Maslow talked about.

People inherently want to stand out in the context of their immediate environment

Like a typical Bollywood dance sequence while the protagonists want to express their love to each other by singing and dancing around trees or montage sets they need to be seen as gyrating to the same beat and doing the same steps as a host of other dancers (who appear and disappear as miraculously as the invisible orchestra does) they always wear a different colour. Blending in yet, standing out!