Monday, May 19, 2014

Demystifying Modi- A marketing perspective

The General Elections of 2014 have officially gone down as the biggest democratic exercise globally and the mandate has been an epic one for India. For the first time since 1984, a national party has the majority to form the government on its own and based on some indicatives, possibly the first time after 1972, a national leader selected by the people out of choice rather than the lack of it.

Yes, the BJP has emerged absolutely dominant across 5 states and enjoys over 80% votes in 5 others and the credit for this should go down to the grass root party workers. But for holding over 200 public addresses, inspiring and infusing enthusiasm in the party workers and building himself as a force to reckon with; it will be a complete three act dominated by Narendra Modi.

Leaving the debate whether brand Modi won the election or was it anything else to the political experts, I am only going to apply basic marketing principles to the success and place forth a simple perspective.

Give the people what they want: The very definition of marketing is focussed towards the needs of people. One factor India has been missing for a long time has been a strong and decisive central leadership. Possibly Indira Gandhi was the last known exponent of this trade and it reflected her resounding re-election in 1972; all thanks to her transformation from the ‘moom ki gudiya’ to the lady behind the victory in the Bangladesh liberation war.

Beyond elections have been just a series of counter actions and replacements to previous governments but never based on leadership. Morarji led coalition in 1977 an outcome of public dissent against the Indira governance. The re-election of Mrs Gandhi was due to the failure of the Janta Party. Rajiv Gandhi in 1984 got a massive sympathy wave, VP Singh in 1989, succeeded on the misdeeds of Rajiv, Chandrashekhar was a stop-gap and Narshimha Rao in 1991 got the benefits of another sympathy wave for Rajiv.

The 13 day Vajpayee government in 1996 failed an absolute mandate, Deve Gowda and I K Gujral were again stop gap arrangements. Vajpayee managed a coalition finally in 1999, but it failed to be decisive as it was always held at ransom by its allies. Manmohan Singh in 2004 was a last minute socially acceptable alternative and in 2009 there were little or no alternatives.

Narendra Modi in 2014 was a sign of definite leadership put forth before the Indian electorate. Who will be the PM had a definitive answer for months leading up to the elections and it was the biggest thing to have worked. Critics, party members and even media has come out saying that in a record turnout voting exercise; Modi was instrumental in installing confidence in the minds of a voter to give up on their inertia and apathy towards the government and exercise their vote.

A robust product: As a 3rd term CM of one of India’s most rapidly developing state, Modi had suitable credentials to back him as a leader with decision making abilities. Gujarat under Modi was becoming a model state. The biggest beneficiary of the Sardar Sarovar project, water had now reached desert regions of Kutch and combined with hydro and solar power projects on the Narmada canal, Gujarat was now a power surplus state.

From an economic perspective, the swift action for the shift of the Tata Nano project in Sanand with the record time approvals and land allocations was a demonstration of the commanding stature of Modi against other state governments. No one could make such a profound statement by getting the approval from Tata, the gold standard in Indian industry, for their dream project.

Modi has gradually developed as a mark of decisive, progressive and development led governance. This was a much higher product promise presented to the Indians in a long time.   

Power of promotion: Like most others who have risen through the ranks of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Modi has the mass appealing oratory skills that we seek in a leader. He had been a crowd puller with his well-articulated language and confident words.

In addition, the BJP left no stone unturned to build a nationwide campaign across every form of media. Apart from the effective use of social media, television interviews, radio ads, ground activities, rallies and even use of holographic at places- it was a complete and through media campaign.

Going places: Addressing 185 rallies in 45 days leading up to the final phase of elections is no mean feat; it averages to 4 rallies everyday across various parts of the country. To add to it, Modi never stayed over at any place post his address and made sure he was back in Gandhinagar every night. What this super human effort achieved was connecting to the last mile of voters and a gratification of sorts to every single person that the man has taken the effort to meet me in my town.

Multi- appeal positioning: Modi was remarkable positioned to appeal to every Indian in some or the other way to counter the political shortcomings on his resume. A 3rd term CM with a reputation for global recognition towards good governance was the solution at hand for a country ridden by corruption and scams. For the corporate world, he was a morphine shot in the waiting to aid a crawling economy. His modest backgrounds echoed the sentiments of a commoner while his rise thought the RSS ranks was an encouragement to his party workers.

If religious fundamentalism was a stumbling block, the development model was a redeemer. If zero national experience was a flaw, his work under similar conditions in Gujarat was a strong point. If his age was a spot of concern as compared to other campaigners, his experience overruled the matters.

In an overall, there can be many more factors which we can draw; these were some prime in my opinion. The only hope I hold in my mind is for the faith rested by the voters on this one man leads him to make an incremental change to the lives of every Indian. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Who moved my manpower?

I had a new guy join us in accounts recently and in a casual conversation I got know that his father owns and runs a workshop for two wheelers in the suburbs. I went ahead and asked him that did it never occur to him to join his father in his business. The reply- my father told me to get my hands greasy only if I failed with the pen. It is a dying trade and getting mechanics to work for you is difficult.

The answer was a familiar one considering most of my father’s friends were connected to the auto business in some or the other way. The one who was an expert in auto engineering had only two mechanics and one electrician handling all the work for an average 7 cars daily. A day when either was away meant he either had to send the car to another place or hold the job for the time being.

The other who managed the tin work was short on painters. The act of hammering a body part to shape was abandoned as there was no one available for the job. Cut- replace panel-weld-paint was the new mantra as it was less dependent on skilled labour availability.

All the three maintained one opinion; this was a result of acute shortage in people who wanted to work in these professions any more. They would rather like to while away time all day not doing anything. If someone did join in, they would spend a few months, get to learn on the job and set up their own shop with the limited know how. The result: they do a shoddy job and loses credibility for everyone.

Workers for such jobs are both local and migrants. The local usually comprised of the ones who did not wish to work unless they felt the job was up to a level they are happy with. They would rather prefer a job as a loader or cleaner in a mall. Why spend the whole day in smoke and greasy palms when they had the option to spend the day in AC to lift a few boxes or clean a lavatory once in a while? The migrants were not looking for long term jobs. They were all up for making the quick buck and spending 3 months in their native on agricultural jobs on their own land.

Bottom line- in an urban space there is work and odd jobs for the taking; the problem is there are few takers.

But this problem is not reserved to the urban landscape of India alone. A typical problem in Indian agriculture has been majority of the farm lands being small and which are not suited for use of large tractors, harvesters and mechanized farm equipment. As a result, most of the work has been majorly handled by farm labourers and landless farmers who toil in the slashing rains and sweltering heat. But in recent times, farm labour has become scarce and expensive.

A traditional woe I used to hear from in around my piece of land was that rapid industrialization offered better opportunities for the youth to earn better and throughout the year and it was eroding the agrarian labour force. What I recently also came to know from the news lines is a new giant has come up to disrupt the rural economy- NREGA.

Launched in 2005 by the government, the purpose of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act was to facilitate small and landless farmers with employment opportunities during the months when agricultural activities are on a standstill. The government would engage the labourers for a minimum of 100 days per year in rural developmental activities within a radius of 5 Km (10% extra wages if they had to go beyond) for rural developmental activities like irrigation facilities, afforestation, all year access etc. Since the claim was towards creating jobs rather than build rural infrastructure, I felt this was something on lines of what Roosevelt has done post the depression in US.
As noble as the idea was, the news reports claimed that implementation of NREGA has been shoddy and planning and timing of the projects was not as per the season cycle for agriculture. ( With minimum wages of Rs 175 per day, NREGA was in effect siphoning off farm labour that otherwise worked for as low as Rs 80 with small farmers. This has given us two damaging results: rural labour becoming scarce and what is available is expensive. This in turn is hurting the agricultural produce.
And again, human nature has the power to defeat an ideology based government policy. NREGA offers employment and money to go around while Food Safety bill ensures there is something to eat at the end of the day- so why should one work? I found this report in another newspaper which further gave an insight into a small farmer’s plight. (

I would like to refrain from making any sweeping statements here; but one thing is for sure- rural or urban, people have lost their pride and dignity in labour. If livelihood is being offered on a platter- the labourers will grab it wholeheartedly and leave their employer wonder who does my job now?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

India Inc. versus Rest of the World

The Great Indian Political Tamasha, the general elections are over and as we await the results and the new political equations to take shape, there is a positive vibe created in the business arena. The stock markets are breaking into new highs every single day and the likelihood of a pro-growth and investment financial policy is building the new hope.

The biggest talk is around a change in the FDI policy and we are still in fear about 100% FDI in retail sector. Retail is a primary sector catering to the billion plus Indians directly and while it might be the most attractive area for FDI, India Inc. has fears that it has the potential to destroy the domestic retail segment.

Honestly, I find this as no threat at all and have complete faith in the enterprising attitude of Indians. Retail in India may get organised, supply chain may get streamlined and middle men may find it difficult. But increases in competition from both national and international players is likely to erode the margins and pass on benefits to the consumers. But will it destroy the mom-pop shops or the local baniya- unlike many I don’t think so.

Organised retail in India has been around for close to 15 years and has had little impact on the so called unorganised retailers. Pantaloons and Future group along with Spencer from the south might be credited with the first noticeable impact in modern retail in India, many others soon entered the arena. Today, along with Big Bazaar, More (Aditya Birla Group), Reliance Super Mart, Star Bazaar (Tata), D-Mart are all selling from groceries to clothing under the same roof. Competition is growing with e-retail has now entered every segment (even groceries).

But this has still not eroded the local baniya, vegetable vendor or clothing store. Yes, there is a change in buying behavior from the urban middle class who have changed to modern retail. But there are some factors which are very intrinsically Indian which have kept the local retailers alive. I sight these as a reason for closure of some of the Big Bazaar outlets and change over to KB’s and the end of Subhiksha retail and Truemart (a now defunct retail chain by Piramal).

So what differentiates Indian compared to the rest of the world in terms of buying behavior? Three simple rules: Indian customer appreciates being treated like a king, shown a variety of products with a recommendation from the sales guy and that opportunity to touch and feel product before they buy.

Let me pick a small example of buying a shirt to illustrate. What consideration goes into picking a shirt? Colour, pattern, design, size and pricing- mostly standard. But what about variety? How often do you leave a store in a mall saying I didn’t like anything and how often does it happen in a local store? Spell a desire for X style in Y colour in a Z size and if not available today, a local store will get it organised in a few hours or a day. If there is time- they would even customise.

The difference lies in the attitude. For a store in a mall or a super market; you are just one customer; for a local retailer, the attitude changes to a feeling of being the customer. The difference in salesmanship from someone in a mall to a Sindhi/Punjabi salesman in Gandhi Market is amazing. I challenge anyone to walk into a store in the market and walk out not having bought something they wanted.

Let us talk groceries now. Most of the local groceries in Mumbai are run by the Kutchi or Marwadi communities. Stories about how these people manage their business and finances are legendary. But apart from being a shrewd business oriented (and not stingy as shown in movies) and community driven set, they are also enterprising beyond imagination. Let me just illustrate how well they function by a live example.
Bhandarkar Road in the prime Deccan area in Pune once had an outlet of Spencers, Trumart and an assortment of local kirana stores. The advent of Marwadi run shops slowly entered the area and simply based on their enterprising attitude and range of products eliminated shops run by local Marathi people (Not a difficult task considering they are known for not so great customer outlook and pride for ‘We have no branches’).

The next they took over the organised market; armed with very simple tools- service hours of 6 am to 11pm and free home delivery in two hours- irrespective of order value. Trumart meanwhile lost the plot under management issues and exited the arena, leaving Spencers to wage a lone battle against the local stores. This too did not last long and today has resulted in a scenario where the entire road has nothing but two Marwadi grocery stores catering to them.

Bottom line; Indians engaged in the retail sector are culturally very strong and enterprising to be subdued by any form of retail invasion from rest of the world. If any, it will only inspire the existing organized retailers into improving their standards and offer better quality, pricing and service to the consumers.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Terabyte Problem

I recently came across an online ad of an online retailer- Forget GB, welcome to TB; objective was very simple: push the sales for the external 1TB hard disk into high gear. Does it work- well if I cite personal examples, they do. I have one for the last 3 months, but to this day I have not stored a single file on it. The main reason is that I have another one of 320GB and even that is not utilized to the full.

I am at a loss to understand how I ended up this way. I upgraded my desktop (I still have one) to 500GB, have a laptop with the same, my father has two laptops with 320GB and 50GB at hand. What is now lacking is content to fill up all this space. My desktop is my active backup for all my media and has a mirror on the external. This also included taking data off DVDs which I burnt when I college.

Even then, at present I am facing a very peculiar problem which I never have faced before- a problem of plenty.

I take pride in the fact that I am amongst the generation which welcomed computers into Indian homes. Honestly, this also gave us a chance to be witness to changing data storage devices. My friend from childhood across the road had a Sinclair machine with a tape drive. We actually had to insert game on magnetic tapes to play. The somewhere in 1994, my brother got home a 5 1/4” floppy from his computer class which was like a prized possession. A year later we had a 286 at home and 3 1/2” floppies made their debut and I can say we lasted on 1.44MB data limitation till 2004. Sure the CDR and CDRW had arrived but USB pen drive was like a paradigm shift in portable data.

While in MBA, the minnows had 128 or 256MB pen drives and at that time, the Data Lord was my roomie with a 500GB HDD in 2006-07. But most of these Data Lords I have seen,  have a disorder of a compulsive type- they cannot survive without downloading; mostly movies. For them, pride runs in the fact that I have an unlimited high speed internet and movies and music spread across 3 to 4 external drives of terabyte capacities. What is a disaster though is most of these guys have no idea of what all they have and where. Worse is they have not even seen half of the stuff they have downloaded (my roomie was an exception here)- a colossal waste in my view of time and space resource.

One thing I have realized is that a lot of data space was lost in duplication of content. With me, the same movies existed in three different folders- Downloads, English and New Movies and as a backup also on some DVD which I had now completely lost track of. The same was also true for music; same songs under genres, artists and parts of folders that were exchanged between friends and family. My mission to clear out duplication resulted in deletion of unwanted archaic data as well as leaving me with load of space.

So bottom line- how much is enough? I really don’t know. But what I am sure of is that there is no use filling up terabyte space with movies, music and other stuff unless you go back to it time and again. Coz honestly most of it is not so rare and so unique that you will not find it again someday.