September 2, 2011 1:09:53 am
If Anna Hazare is a great example of how to build an iconic brand (as I explained before in Branding Anna Hazare,IE,August 20)) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is a disappointing case study of how to destroy a great one. How does a man responsible for the largest democracys turnaround in 1991 come to personify inaction,inefficiency and tolerance of corruption when clearly these were never his brand values?
Here are lessons from Brand Manmohan Singhs last two decades and its downfall that marketers just cant ignore. And some plausible solutions that Brand MMS could quickly adopt to make a turnaround.
Dont shift your identity away from what you stand for: Specially when the nation has hailed you as a symbol of its Great Middle Class story. Dr Singh has to pull himself out of the trap of Machiavellian politics. Bata,one of the strongest brands ever,during its struggle times,couldnt decide whether to stand for high fashion or the masses. And in trying to be both,it rapidly lost connection with its consumers.
Solution: Brand MMS must quickly reach out,particularly to loyal old consumers in the urban middle class. Shed the public-speaking phobia and speak out his thoughts,through set-piece speeches,if not interviews.
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Dont forget to remind people of what your brand does: Without Dr Singhs reforms,India would not have emerged as a confident global power. But no one can rest on past laurels. Nirma,a brand success,changed the game for the big ones and shook up any monopoly in the washing powder segment. Today,it exists in the minds of only a few and its spectacular past is at best a case study in marketing books. Nirma couldnt move beyond its initial killer price offering. The momentum was lost and so was its success.
Solution : So many reforms still remain on Indias agenda. Dr Singh should look at those and particularly address areas of governance to keep the momentum going. Dr Singh and the Congress party must communicate their actions and its impact to people. Act first. Talk later.
Stay focused on core strength: Dr Singh was Indias Dr Reforms. In the past seven years,he has shifted focus,by force or by choice,to taking all brickbats,not only for poor performance but also for overlooking corruption. He has lost his own identity.
Solution: Its not too late,though defending yourself too much will only make things worse. All public statements and appearances must exude confidence,honesty and renewed responsibility. To start with he needs to hire a good speechwriter.
Dont fool around with your flagship brand: Dr Singh was the Congress star brand,which rode on his name and image for two elections. Whether it was the partys own insecurities or foolishness,he has been kept subdued ever since he became prime minister. By design,by default or by daftness,the damage is done.
Solution : Dr Singh has to go beyond being a symbol : Of reforms,of the party,of disarray. He needs to quickly regain glory by new action.
Dont bank on one brand alone: Markets are cyclical. No brand is spared a downturn. Nor is it always possible for one brand to extend its appeal to all. Dr Singhs appeal,while targeting the middle class,could not extend itself into the rural and tribal markets. The party should have created a flotilla with strong sub-brands flanking the flagship,to satisfy an electoral market as diverse as Indias. The Gandhis constant scurrying off to empathise with rural areas has somewhere resulted in middle-class India believing it is left to fend for itself. Instead,the party should have created a portfolio to cover the entire market opportunity.
Solution : Currently the Congress party seems disjointed,with each key leader pursuing a personal agenda. A clear strategy for the Congress needs to be evolved. And an equally clear plan must be implemented.
Face and manage any brand image erosion immediately: Dr Singhs image was tarnished not because of his actions but rather his inaction. Silence is quiet acquiescence and a perception of acquiescence to corruption is lethal. Brands have their most graceful moments when they speak up,accept their shortcomings,and address an issue. In 2011,Toyota pulled 2.17 million cars from the US market for a defect that could endanger the driver. They had earlier withdrawn 14 million cars from around the world for another possible risk. No wonder,then,that Toyota continues to be one of the most trusted brands ever.
Solution : All is not lost. The first thing Dr Singh needs to do is to address the people immediately,touching upon all that has irked us about Brand MMS of late.
Today,this brand is making attempts at revival. But becoming defensive is not the answer. Confidently facing the challenge and taking charge will need more than just one parliamentary intervention. A brand leader must act like a leader. Always. Or else it could prove to be its Waterloo.
The writer is CEO,Product of the Year India
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