08 May 2013

Branding 3.0

By Anvar Alikhan, Senior Vice President and Executive Creative Director, JWT Mindset


In 2003, singer Barry White and comic actor John Ritter died of heart attacks within a few weeks of each other. Their deaths were followed by an extraordinary amount of buzz about “CVD”, or cardiovascular disease, generated on the Net, in the media and in public spaces. This swelled into a full-fledged movement called the “Boomer Coalition”, named after the baby boomer generation that seemed to have got together to fight the cardiovascular disease cause. It was a wonderful thing to have happened, but nobody knew quite how it had been triggered off. Not until Scott Goodson wrote this book recently, and confessed that it had been his doing: he was the one who had triggered that movement, on behalf of his client, Pfizer, which had a range of innovative products for treating CVD, and wanted to raise awareness among the baby boomers, the group that was at the highest risk of the disease.

Welcome to the concept of “Movement marketing”, at the leading edge of which are Scott Goodson and his company, StrawberryFrog. It’s a radical new way of going beyond the usual consumer insights that form the cornerstone of the conventional communication strategy, to identify a wider cultural movement – or an “idea on the rise in society”, as Goodson puts it – and then being able to ride that movement, shaping it into a major wave as you go.

Goodson goes on to explore how, having identified a cultural movement to ride on, one can then engage today’s cynical consumer. And the secret of doing that, of course, is: not targeting the consumer with any selling message, but encouraging her to work towards the cause or passion that’s close to her heart — making your brand an indispensable enabler in the process. How subtly you do this is the key to success, or to failure. All this has become possible today, for the first time, thanks to the new media options available to us – social media, online content, blogs, Twitter, virals and apps, supported by events, promos, giveaways and on-the-ground activities – which form a convenient platform upon which the members of the movement can come together. Conventional media, like TV, is used only tactically, if, indeed, it’s used at all. The campaign that results from all this is rather like a political campaign, except that it’s created for a brand.

It’s not an easy game to play, because the old familiar rules don’t apply any more. You are not in the driving seat any more, the consumer is; you’re merely sitting beside her and facilitating her as she goes off in her own direction.

But the biggest hazard in movement marketing is the risk of the brand behaving in a manner that’s seen as “un-authentic” or overtly commercial by the members of the movement. And if that ever happens you’re in trouble, as they will quickly turn upon the brand, quite mercilessly; and the pay-off, rather than being positive, can become stingingly negative. Yet, in a world where consumers are becoming increasingly cynical, and products increasingly commoditised by technology, this – like it or not – appears to be the way of the future.

Goodson obviously knows what he’s talking about. After all, his company has created case-study campaigns for global clients like Procter & Gamble, Coke, Pepsi, Microsoft, Walmart, Pfizer, Morgan Stanley and Emirates Airlines, and some of those cases are presented in this book. But one of the clients he seems to be proudest of, interestingly, is the Mahindra group.

One of Goodson’s core beliefs is that in order to come through as being completely authentic – a fundamental requirement for success in movement marketing – a company’s first task is to convert its own people to the cause, before it can convert consumers outside (for example, long before Apple launched the “Think different” campaign in the marketplace, it had clearly established that idea within the company). And that is the kind of thing StrawberryFrog has evidently been working on for Mahindra. Its ambitious “Rise” campaign case is discussed here in some detail: how the idea emerged from research, which showed that its people felt the need to “rise to the challenges of today”; how this was crystallised into a manifesto and sold into the organisation; and how the programme was then rolled out internally, through a variety of workshops — as well as externally, through the online “Spark the Rise” programme, which invites people to submit ideas for social and technological change. These ideas are then voted upon and funded by Mahindra for implementation.

It’s unusual in a book like this to find that one of the most important cases discussed is a case from India. But then India seems to figure prominently in the way StrawberryFrog looks at the world: it currently has two offices, in Amsterdam and New York, and is in the process of setting up a third, in Mumbai. The company has been talking about it for a long time, but maybe it’s a question of not finding the right people to drive it. As the Pink Floyd song asks: Is there anybody out there?

This article appeared in Business Standard, June 7 2012

Instant creativity

By Anvar Alikhan, Senior Vice President and Executive Creative Director, JWT Mindset


David Ogilvy hated the word “creativity”, which, he pointed out, wasn’t even there in the dictionary until a few years ago. The earliest work on how to be more creative was done in the 1930s and 1940s by advertising men James Webb Young and Alex Osborne, but interest in the subject really started in the late 1950s when the Americans suddenly realised that they had fallen behind the Russians in the space race. In today’s pressure-cooker world of business, creativity is a subject of great interest for everyone from entrepreneurs to bankers: suddenly everybody realises they need to be more creative. Which is what makes Imagine the right book at the right time.

The basic premise of this acclaimed book is that creativity is not a gift one is born with; anybody can be creative, if he only learns what to do. Jonah Lehrer, the author, trained as a neuroscientist and philosopher and he now writes for publications like Scientific American, Wired and the New Yorker. He takes us on a journey from the neuron to the classical symphony, revealing in the process the amazing potential of the human mind and what we can do with it.
Lehrer brings in a wealth of scientific and sociological research, along with an eclectic mix of examples and cases. For example, how Procter & Gamble invented its blockbuster floor-cleaner, the Swiffer. How Bob Dylan brought himself back from the verge of creative burnout. How Steve Jobs designed the offices of Pixar to encourage creativity. And how Don Lee became one of New York’s most sought-after bartenders by thinking like a chemist, not a bartender (and inventing award-winning cocktails, like rum-and-Coke with melted butter and popcorn). Lehrer then presents all of this in a slick pop-pundit style reminiscent of Malcolm Gladwell. It is a killer formula.

The creative process is notoriously mysterious and unreliable, as even the most “creative” people will tell you. But Lehrer argues that creativity can be studied and understood and, what’s more, it can be nurtured and cultivated. Everybody, in other words, has a creative “button” that they can learn to push at will.
The book is divided into two parts: “Alone” and “Together”. They explore, respectively, how we can learn to be more creative as individuals and collectively, in groups. Lehrer interweaves the narrative with thought-provoking examples of creative people, like William Shakespeare, cellist Yo Yo Ma and Spencer Silver, the inventor of Post-It notes, as well as of innovative organisations like Apple, 3M, Google and Innocentive, the well-known crowd-sourcing website that is an important R&D tool for companies like Eli Lilly, GE and P&G.
One important point that Lehrer makes is that there is no one single thing called creativity. Creativity is made up, instead, of a variety of distinct processes, each of which we need to understand and activate. (As creativity guru Roger von Oech put it, there are four separate, serial roles to play, of “Explorer”, “Artist”, “Judge” and “Warrior”. Or, as Edward de Bono has it, we need to successively put on our “Six Thinking Hats”.) Lehrer goes on to present concepts like “alpha waves”, “incubation”, “conceptual blending”, “horizontal sharing”, “rotation” and “collisions”, all of which mark the difference between the commonplace and the creative. He also assures us along the way that, yes, smoking a little marijuana can help us come up with a more innovative solution to the problem at hand. Alcohol, on the other hand, will hinder us.
I have one small problem with this book. Lehrer tries to discredit the technique of “brainstorming”, saying that it does not really work. Having run several brainstorming workshops myself — and having seen the remarkable results they can produce — I disagree. Brainstorming, when used according to the techniques of Alex Osborne, its inventor, remains one of the most powerful creativity tools there is.
To take just one example, in 1996 when Coca-Cola was sponsoring the cricket World Cup, the advertising agency I worked for got a sudden opportunity to pitch for Pepsi’s business. We needed to come up with a real breakthrough idea, but had just about 48 hours to present our campaign. I did a brainstorming workshop in the agency. And within 20 minutes we cracked the idea: if Coke was the “official drink” of the World Cup, Pepsi needed to be the “un-official drink” of the World Cup. It fitted Pepsi’s irreverent positioning perfectly, and could demolish Coke every time it sponsored any event, anywhere in the world. We presented this to Pepsi, who listened in stunned silence. Thank you, they said finally, but please destroy all these creatives, and swear you won’t talk about this idea to anybody: you see, we’d briefed our current agency long ago, and this is exactly the same idea that they’ve been working on for three months now, in top secrecy. And that, of course, was the famous “Nothing official about it” campaign — a version of which we had arrived at, entirely independently, in a fraction of the time. Brainstorming was the tool that made that possible. Which is why it has become a way of life at, for example, Ideo, the celebrated US industrial design firm, whose creative product is so highly respected that the firm has diversified into the creative consultancy business as well.
No, Imagine may not be the ultimate bible on creativity that the buzz is making it out to be. But it is an excellent book, and essential reading for anyone in business today.

Down with dilbert

By Anvar Alikhan, Senior Vice President and Executive Creative Director, JWT Mindset


What makes good corporate strategy? Not wishful thinking but analysis, says Anvar Alikhan in this review of a book by “the strategist’s strategist”
Military history is a useful hobby for any CEO or corporate strategist. The Battle of Trafalgar, for example, was one of the turning points of world history. Napoleon Bonaparte was poised to invade England in 1805 and the only thing that stood between him and his prize was Horatio Nelson’s naval fleet. Nelson’s ships were fewer, smaller, and less heavily armed than Napoleon’s, and in a conventional battle they would have stood little chance. But Nelson devised a radical new strategy, which negated the strengths of Napoleon’s fleet while maximising his own strengths of manoeuvrability, innovative signalling techniques and seamanship. Instead of engaging in a conventional set-piece battle he sped head-on into Napoleon’s fleet, dispersed it, and then picked off the French ships one by one in close combat. The lesson for the contemporary businessman is obvious.

Richard Rumelt’s Good Strategy/Bad Strategy is interesting for many reasons, one being the excellent examples and cases. They are drawn not only from the world of business but also from military history and politics. (Strategy, after all, originally meant “the art of generalship”.) Rumelt is one of the world’s most influential thinkers on strategy. The McKinsey Quarterly calls him “the strategist’s strategist”. He trained as an engineer and worked at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory before turning to management and teaching at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, both in California. Hence he is left-brained and rigorous in his approach — unlike some other strategy gurus.
Good Strategy/Bad Strategy, which was shortlisted for the Financial Times/ Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year award, comes down heavily on what might be called “Dilbert strategies” — that is, fuzzy strategies based more on wishful thinking than on cold, hard analysis. These are obviously the “bad strategies” of the book’s title. They are worse than no strategy at all, because they create an illusion of direction.
Too many companies today, says Rumelt, are driven by such strategies. A strategy is not what you wish would happen, he points out, but “a clear and differentiated point of view that supports forceful and coherent action” — a plan of action specifically designed to move you from a carefully diagnosed Point A to a carefully cerebrated Point B. A strategy is also not a dhobi’s bundle of all the various things that different groups in the organisation would like to see done, but rather a sharply focused programme to achieve a few key objectives which will make the decisive difference.
Rumelt shows us how to create good strategies (and how difficult this really is). There are no simple tools, techniques or fill-in-the-blanks templates to generate good strategies, he tells us. They are born, instead, from deep insight and judgment, which can be stimulated by looking in the right places.
The book is organised into three sections. In the first, the author gives us a wonderful helicopter view of his thinking on the subject. The second section is where the real work begins, and Rumelt identifies the elements and drivers of good strategy and where to look for the leverage that enables a strategy to succeed — stuff that immediately triggers ideas to apply to your own context. The final section teaches how to “think like a strategist”, with insights on how to create, evaluate and execute good strategies. In the course of all this, Rumelt discusses nitty-gritties like the tools of anticipation, the concentration of effort, the importance of logic and how to build on competitive advantage. All of this is brought alive by Rumelt’s thought-provoking anecdotes and cases, of both “good” and “bad” strategies.
One example is Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), once a leader of the minicomputer revolution, which by the late 1980s was losing ground to the competition. In the early 1990s DEC had a high-level discussion on strategy. Three schools of thought emerged, all equally strongly represented. The first argued that DEC had always been a computer company and should continue integrating hardware and software into systems. The second argued that DEC’s competitive advantage was its customer relationships, and it should therefore pursue a solutions-based strategy that solved customer problems. The third argued that the heart of the computer industry was the chip, and that the company should therefore focus on designing and building better chips.
But the company had to choose: the “solutions” and “chips” strategies, for example, were diametrically opposed. DEC’s CEO Ken Olsen made the mistake of asking the discussion group to reach a consensus, and it finally arrived at a truly Dilbertian masterpiece of fluff: “DEC is committed to providing high-quality products and services and being a leader in data processing.” Shortly after, Olsen was fired. And a few years later DEC itself was acquired by Compaq (which, in turn, was acquired by Hewlett-Packard). Even Nelson could have told DEC that it was making a big strategic mistake.
Rumelt — like Michael E Porter, the Harvard Business School strategy expert — believes that there are only two ways for companies to achieve long-term success: they must either invent their way to it, or they must exploit some change in their business environment, whether in technology, consumer tastes, competitive activity, pricing or laws, and “ride that change with quickness and skill”. The second route is usually more do-able.
Good Strategy/Bad Strategy is obviously of importance to any corporate strategist today. It is also, less obviously, of importance to strategy-makers in fields like policy and politics. The Congress party would do well to read it before the BJP does. And vice versa.

Business as unusual (By Anvar Alikhan, Senior Vice President and Executive Creative Director, JWT Mindset)


As the saying goes, if the pace of change in your industry is faster than the pace of change inside your company you’re in deep doo-doo. And, as a corollary, if the pace of change in your professional peer group is faster than your own pace of change, then you, personally, are in even deeper doo-doo. That’s the fact of life in our new age of discontinuity (ask Kodak, or any of the 18,000 people who worked there until a few weeks ago). And that’s what makes this book so relevant.
Scott Anthony is the managing director of Innosight, a leading innovation and strategy consultancy, which has worked on developing innovations for companies like P&G and General Motors, so he seems to have all the right credentials to talk on this subject. And, being a consultant, rather than an author or academic, he has organised the content of his book into 28 modular, easy-to-internalise, workshop-like exercises. The way he puts it, innovation is rather like fitness: it’s all a question of getting into the habit, hence this “28-Day Plan”. It’s true. The book really does get you into the habit of looking at business more creatively.

The first question Anthony asks is: how do you know when it’s time to start innovating? And the answer is that you need to keep scanning your radar screen for the first early warning blips because, as he says, “the urgency of innovation and the ability to innovate are inversely proportionate”. By the time a threat becomes big enough to notice, it is often too late to do very much about it. He cites the example of the US Postal Department, which is, of course, now mortally threatened by the Internet. So when was the right time for the Postal Department to have woken up to the need for innovation? Way back in 1994, Anthony says, when the new-born Netscape launched its first browser. Or, if not then, then certainly when it saw Netscape start to grow exponentially, a year or so later. “Anything that has doubled in size is a potential disruptor, regardless of size,” he says in one of the book’s many nifty business aphorisms.
There are several great strategic thought-starters in the book. For example, Anthony’s advice to look at “intersections” and borrow liberally from other business contexts. He gives the example of entrepreneur Rick Krieger, who spotted an opportunity for himself in the problems of the US healthcare industry in the 1990s and asked himself, “What would a McDonald’s of healthcare look like?” That provocative question led to the creation of an innovative healthcare business, with a chain of convenient, quick, affordable clinics, which he later sold off for a few hundred million dollars.
There are also lots of interesting cases that Anthony plays around with. One of the most thought-provoking is the Kodak story. It was not that the company was blind to the threat of digital imaging: it was already working on a digital strategy in the 1990s, even as its core photographic business kept on growing. In 2001, when Kodak was still in pretty good shape financially, it bought Ofoto, an online photo-album service, and it was, in Anthony’s words, “just two steps away from Facebook”. If only Kodak had pushed the idea a little further, he says, if only they had made it people-centric (instead of photo-centric), if only they had, indeed, heeded their own slogan, “Share memories, share lives”, business history would have been so different today.
Coming closer to home, another interesting case – illustrating Anthony’s dictum to look at “non-consumers” for ideas, rather than looking at consumers – is Godrej. In 2006, Godrej went to Innosight (one of whose key offices is in Bangalore, by the way) and asked, “How can we get out of our refrigerator death match with General Electric, Whirlpool and LG?” Innosight flipped the problem on its head: instead of competing with the biggies for 15 per cent of the market, why not look at the 85 per cent that did not buy refrigerators? The result was ChotuKool, an innovative, bottom-of-the-pyramid cooling device that is compact, portable, runs on a battery, is top-loading (so that its cooling doesn’t dissipate when the door is opened) and costs only about Rs 3,500, so that it’s accessible to the rural poor and slum dwellers.
This “Nano” of refrigerators has been shortlisted for the prestigious Edison Awards and is now being marketed, appropriately innovatively, through community networks and micro-entrepreneurs. I understand they’ve sold about 15,000 units in Maharashtra – which is not very much – but the company says their marketing thrust has only just begun, and they expect sales to grow exponentially. It is certainly an idea that deserves to succeed.
The Little Black Book of Innovation is one of the most thought-provoking business books I’ve read recently, one of those “whacks on the side of the head” that one needs from time to time. I have just one quibble: why are the photographs and graphics in the book so shoddy and amateurish? I really don’t expect this kind of shabbiness from someone like Anthony, or from a publisher like Harvard Business Review Press.

Tweedledum and Tweedledee (By Anvar Alikhan, Senior Vice President and Executive Creative Director, JWT Mindset)


A couple of years ago, pop pundit Malcolm Gladwell gave us Blink, his much-talked about theory on why we really don’t need to think too much, because – according to him – we have inside us a sophisticated intuitive mechanism that enables us to make spontaneous judgements that are as good as (if not better than) the most carefully cerebrated ones.

And, in support of this, Gladwell produced a delicious collection of anecdotes, like that of museum director George Despinis, who was able to intuit, at one glance, that the Getty kouros – an ancient Greek statue, authenticated by expert testing – was, in fact, a fake. Gladwell attributed this to something he termed “thin-slicing”: our supposed ability to make better decisions, with limited information and instant judgements, than we can with volumes of analysis and cerebration. It was, as is the case with all of Gladwell’s writings, extremely seductive.

But now here comes Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman to gently tell Master Gladwell that he’s quite wrong. Kahneman is arguably the most important psychologist of our time — a man who has helped change our understanding of cognitive psychology, decision-making and behvioural economics, and bridged a space between Sigmund Freud and Adam Smith. His book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, is magisterial: a distillation of four decades of research into an encyclopedic explanation of how the mind works. That may sound intimidating, but the real beauty of the book is the lucidity, richness and charm with which Kahneman presents all his material. One can read it as easily as a collection of short stories — which, indeed, it resembles, with its concise chapters, elegantly crafted prose and engaging anecdotes.
Kahneman’s thesis is that we have, inside our heads, two parallel, interconnected systems, “System One” and “System Two” which, between them, make all of our decisions. System One is fast, automatic, impressionistic, intuitive and arrives at snap judgements, with often insufficient or distorted information. System Two, on the other hand, is deliberate, methodical, carefully reasoned and deeply contemplative. They are like a Tweedledum and Tweedledee inside our heads. Or, come to think of it, uncannily like a Malcolm Gladwell and Daniel Kahneman.
The problem, however, is that System Two, which should really be in charge, is lazy (it has to be, because it uses up a great deal of energy). And it is perfectly happy to sit back and let System One run the show, which is something System One loves to do, in any case, rushing around, making 1+1 equal 2 … or 3, or 4, depending on the circumstances. Too often, System Two, instead of watching over System One’s impetuous follies as it should, and stepping in in times of need, is content to accept them, and even provide its own justifications for them.
Kahneman offers us a wealth of wonderful examples to illustrate all of this, ranging from the quirky to the downright scary. In one experiment, for example, done after a spate of terrorist bombings, one group of travellers was asked how much they’d be willing to pay for an insurance policy that would cover them against death. Another group was asked how much they would pay for an insurance policy that would cover them against death in a terrorist attack. The second group, quite illogically, offered a significantly higher premium than the first. It was, as Kahneman explains, an illustration of how the group’s System One, typically, replaced a complex question that it couldn’t answer with a simple one that it could answer: how frightened am I by the media stories of terrorist attacks?
If that is quirky, there are other, scarier aspects of how our minds work — or don’t work. Kahneman tells us that dumb luck accounts for much more of our lives than we realise, and yet we are naively, hair-raisingly, optimistic about our ability to affect our outcomes. For example, in another experiment, a group of senior CFOs was asked to predict the performance of the stock market index in the following year, by giving two numbers, one which they were 90 per cent sure was too high, and one they were 90 per cent sure was too low. It should have been easy enough and yet, worryingly, 67 per cent of the CFOs got it wrong. (Which probably helps explain the fact that a few years ago, when the Sensex was teetering around 20,000, a senior private banker – no names mentioned – was trying to convince me that I was wrong to think that the market was over-stretched!)
Too often, says Kahneman, we don’t know what we’re doing, and we don’t know why we’re doing it. So what does he suggest? Well, for that you really need to read the book. But one thing to remember is that when our System Two doesn’t effectively monitor our System One spontaneously (which it usually doesn’t), we need to engage it consciously to do so.
Or, in other words, to make sure that our own internal “Kahneman” keeps watch on our internal “Gladwell”, and prevents him from getting us into trouble, as he often does.

Great by planning (By Anvar Alikhan, Senior Vice President and Executive Creative Director, JWT Mindset)


Why did Amundsen make it to the South Pole and back in 1911, while Scott died trying? The answer, say the authors of Great by Choice, reveals why some companies thrive in hard times. Another potential Jim Collins classic.
In 1911, two teams of explorers set out to be the first to reach the South Pole: an English team led by Robert Falcon Scott and a Norwegian team led by Roald Amundsen. It was a race, in unpredictable conditions. The conditions were summed up in an advertisement that Scott had put in the London papers: “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.”

In the course of their epic race, the two teams apparently displayed significantly different behaviour patterns. While Scott used new-fangled motorised vehicles, hitherto untested in those sub-zero conditions (and which finally failed him), Amundsen used tried-and-tested dog sleds, which he had learned about from Eskimo tribes he had consulted. While Scott placed flags on his supply dumps to help locate them on the way back, Amundsen placed markers 10 miles around his dumps in every direction, for greater visibility. While Scott carried one thermometer (which broke at a critical moment, with disastrous consequences), Amundsen carried four backups. While Scott’s team marched long distances in fair weather, but took shelter in their tents in bad weather, Amundsen’s team made a strict discipline of marching 20 miles — no less, no more — every single day. The difference in these behaviour patterns led to dramatically different outcomes: Amundsen beat Scott to the South Pole by more than a month and returned home safely with his men to a hero’s welcome. Scott not only lost the race, but perished tragically with his team, just 11 miles from his extraction point. Collins and Hansen use this saga as a metaphor for the way different companies respond to conditions of turbulence, unpredictability and chaos.
Collins is, according to Fortune, “perhaps the most influential management thinker alive”, and his speciality is the study of “enduring great companies” — how they grow, how they attain superior performance levels, and how companies that are merely “good” can make the transition to “great”. His earlier books, Built to Last and Good to Great, are considered classics. And now Great by Choice picks up where Good to Great left off and asks the big, hairy question: why is it that some companies thrive on uncertainty and turbulence, while others cannot? It’s an enormously relevant subject today, as businesses the world over come to terms with the fact that, like it or not, chaos and disruption are here to stay.
The subject, admittedly, is not new. After all, Peter Drucker (who was Collins’s mentor) published his Managing in Turbulent Times as far back as 1980, and Tom Peters published his Thriving on Chaos in 1992. But the difference is that this book is typically Collinsian in its appeal: empirical, engaging, pragmatic and eminently implementable. Based on nine years of research, it identifies the unique behaviour patterns that have enabled select companies to become truly great over an extended period of turbulent time, and end up becoming what the authors call “10x companies” — that is, companies that achieved shareholder returns at least 10 times greater than their respective industry norms.
To do this the authors used a methodology similar to that of Good to Great: they chose a set of companies that achieved outstanding results while operating in highly volatile environments for a period of 15 years or more — companies like Southwest Airlines, Intel, Amgen, Stryker, Microsoft and Biomet — and compared them with a set of similar, but less successful, “control” companies, like Pacific Southwest Airlines, AMD, Genentech, United States Surgical, Apple and Kirschner. They then did exhaustive research into the behaviour of the two sets to discover their discriminators. And what they ultimately arrived at were what they consider the three key discriminators of a 10x company: (1) Fanatical Discipline, (2) Empirical Creativity and (3) Productive Paranoia. These, plus the “Level 5 Ambition” discussed in Good to Great, can all be learned and replicated.
One thought-provoking thing about the book is its rejection of the idea that innovation is the best route to success. In their comparisons of companies in the same industry, the authors found it was, indeed, almost always the less innovative — but more consistent — company that delivered significantly better returns over the long term. Sometimes, they suggest, it makes sense to be one leap behind.
Another interesting thing is the authors’ examination of “luck”, an issue rarely dealt with by a management book. The authors counter the common perception that luck plays a role in determining outcomes by pointing out that these 10x companies were not empirically luckier than their peers. What was dramatically different, however, was these companies’ “return on luck”, or what they did with the luck they got. The more prepared a company is to face an unexpected stroke of luck, good or bad, the better the results it gets when misfortune strikes: an observation that seems in sync with the book’s overall case for discipline, consistency, creative paranoia and the avoidance of unnecessary Big Bangs.
There are certain Indian companies I know for whom Good to Great has become a corporate bible. Great by Choice will take them on the next step up the learning curve.

(This article appeared in Business Standard, January 14 2012 http://www.business-standard.com/article/beyond-business/great-by-planning-112011400056_1.html)

The consumer as audience (By Anvar Alikhan, Senior Vice President and Executive Creative Director, JWT Mindset)


One of the world’s most influential admen, who built campaigns for Johnnie Walker and Axe, says brands are moving towards fashion and entertainment.
John Hegarty has an interesting way of looking at a brand. He calls it “the most valuable real estate in the world: a corner of someone’s mind.” Hegarty is an influential name in the advertising business today. He’s the Chairman of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, the cutting-edge agency that has built brands like Johnnie Walker, Levis and Audi — though it is perhaps best known for the remarkable work it has done for Axe deodorants (as a result of which it is now one of Unilever’s global agencies).
When Hegarty speaks, people listen. And that’s what makes Hegarty on Advertising important reading. Its title didn’t happen by chance. It is a cheeky reference to David Ogilvy’s famous Ogilvy on Advertising (1983); but if that was yesterday’s manifesto, this is tomorrow’s.

A brand, Hegarty points out, only exists in a consumer’s mind. It is not so much about a product’s features as it is an agglomeration of stories created around a certain brand vision. The art of storytelling has always been at the heart of any great brand. Technology may enhance its impact in the future, but good old-fashioned storytelling is the most powerful form of communication we have for engaging, entertaining, persuading, learning and brand-building. And it always will be.
So where are brands heading in the future? Hegarty tells us in a word: “fashion-tainment”. While performance is still important, he sees brands — across categories — moving inexorably towards the worlds of fashion and entertainment. Indeed, our entire lives are increasingly driven by fashion. Not just the clothes we wear but the homes we live in, the foods we eat, the cars we drive, the places we travel to, the causes we support, even the organisations we work for. The issue is not how a product works (that is taken for granted today) but “What does it say about me?” In other words, the brand as a fashion statement.
That’s also why Hegarty hates the word “consumer”. He considers it old-fashioned and demeaning, assuming complacency, mindlessness and a subservient, one-way relationship between producer and buyer. Instead he prefers the word “audience”, which immediately changes the terms of engagement: audiences, after all, seek to be entertained. They engage, they enthuse, they show commitment and, if you treat them right, they come back for more.
On the issue of technology, Hegarty says that today, thanks to technology, a brand can have conversations with its audience in ways we couldn’t dream of 10 years ago. But then, that same technology also enables the audience to talk about the brand among itself. Which means that the consumer owns and controls the brand more than ever before, and plays an even more important part in shaping it and its success or failure. Any brand custodian who misunderstands this relationship does so at his own peril.
This kind of technology is also is a marketer’s wet dream, because it enables the marketer to target the consumer with greater precision and cost-effectiveness than ever before. And with that, naturally, comes the temptation to rely on this technology to the exclusion of conventional broadcast communications. But that, Hegarty warns, is dangerous. For a brand is not only made by the people who buy it, but also by all the people who know about it. Selling may be the primary function of advertising but it is ultimately the brand’s fame that adds value, and protects the brand against competitive pressures. And fame, obviously, can only be built by broadcasting, not narrow-casting. Unless those of us in marketing include broadcast in our brand strategy we will find ourselves talking to an ever-shrinking audience. When managing a brand, Hegarty says, this is something we can’t afford to forget.
One part of the book I found especially interesting was Hegarty’s response to the question, “Which is the world’s greatest brand?” The reason for my interest was that some years ago I had made a tongue-in-cheek presentation on how the Catholic Church “brand” was built, by using a brilliant combination of market segmentation, symbols, music, “store design”, “brand rituals”, “sponsorships” and a deeply motivated “sales force” (a presentation that went on to create some interest in Ogilvy’s Asia-Pacific network at the time). So I am flattered to see that John Hegarty seems to agree with me. In a discussion on the world’s greatest brand — Apple? Nike? Coca-Cola, Marlboro, Volkswagen Beetle? — Hegarty says it is none of these but instead the Catholic Church, which he calls “the world’s first truly global brand”.
As he says, “Coca-Cola’s global expansion was masterminded by the legendary Robert Woodruff, with his rallying cry of, ‘Within an arm’s reach of desire’. Well, the Catholic Church pioneered that concept 2,000 years earlier.” He goes on, comparing the Church’s “outlets”, for example, with today’s Apple Stores and Nike Towns, saying that the latter, while superbly done, can never generate as much passion as the former. There’s just one thing, however. As I pointed out in my presentation, despite the brilliant brand it has built, after over 550 years in the Indian market, the Catholic Church still has a market share of only 1.7 per cent. There’s a moral in this story, somewhere.