While the US President continues to agitate the world with his out-of-the-box decisions that have resulted in his approval rating dropping to a low of 36%, Indian President Narendra Modi gave him a bear hub which sure shook the world.
Knowing the marketing skills of President Modi, analysts were quick to highlight the moment but speculated over the tough decisions that were to be taken over the next few days of his meeting with President Trump. Initial reports coming in say that the meeting did not go well. I guess time will bring out the exact details of the decisions made by two of the world’s most powerful countries, along with their implications for countries like Sri Lanka.
SL’s tough situation
The logic for stating that Sri Lanka is in a tough situation is that from one end the dengue epidemic has demonstrated the Government’s skill set in managing difficult situations which has resulted in all-time low occupancy in the city hotels that has taken the shine off the tourism industry.
From another end, the GMOA has made a hard decision to drive for a close to the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine issue which has left those within the ranks of the Government divided, resulting in varied messages being relayed including a ‘hora’ meeting that was reported in the media which did not augur well for good governance. But the news that hurt the Government was the announcement of the resignation of the Secretary to the President, which sure damaged Brand Sri Lanka. This decision further dented the deteriorating confidence that the private sector has in the Yahapalana Government and it is the view of opinion leaders that this must be addressed.
The weekend media highlighted the alleged corruption scandals and why there was no action, with the current Government failing to communicate the progressive agenda that was announced way back in 2015, defying the very ethos on which it rode into power. I guess it’s time that Sri Lanka picks up the Modi mantra to resurrect the flagging popularity of the incumbent Government. Let me highlight a few of the ways in which this can be done.
Modi lesson 1:
TV main medium
Even though digital media is very popular and we see how key websites report information that offers insight into the inner workings of the Indian Government, the fact of the matter is that Narendra Modi remains one of the most powerful brands in the mainstream Indian media. The share voice that he commands outweighs the negative media that gets emitted through social media. If we analyse the PR mechanism of President Modi and his marketing team, on a weekly basis he emits a main message through the TV medium so that there is a strong emotional connection with those in the living room of a home rather than on an individual mobile or TV screen where people read from websites that disseminate negative information.
Sri Lanka: If we examine the Sri Lankan landscape, out of a total of Rs. 125 billion spent annually on advertising, almost 70% is consumed through TV and only 20% through radio. Digital media, although powerful, does not account for more than 10% at the most optimistic level and it is time that the Government uses the media with one voice so that it communicates strong leadership.
As we speak now there are so many contrary stories that are being communicated, such as with the GMOA issue, which leaves the impression that there is rudderless behaviour within Sri Lanka. This affects investor sentiment and overall consumer confidence.
Modi lesson 2: Credible product
The 2002 Gujarat riots and Modi’s alleged links to this incident dented his brand image. He distanced himself from the media until in 2012 he was given a clean chit from the Supreme Court and he then focused on rebuilding his brand.
In 2009, when the economic downturn was in effect, Modi focused on developing Gujarat into an economic powerhouse of India with a GDP growth rate of 10%. The partnership with the private sector in driving the economy became a case study for the world. The best case in point is Tata setting up a nanotech company in Gujarat.
Sri Lanka: We must take a cue from Modi and maybe focus on the growth of the Sri Lanka tourism industry and utilise Modi-like behaviour. Be that as it may, the last new product developed by the Sri Lankan tourism industry came way back in the 1970s – the Pinnawela elephant orphanage. If we take other brands in tourism like Malaysia, Singapore or Dubai, they launch a new product every two to three years and this attracts a new segment of visitors to the country.
Modi lesson 3:
Right brand values
With the focus on developing Gujarat into a model state in India, what Modi achieved in his final five years helped establish strong brand equity in the minds of people. The brand values that began to be associated with the Modi brand were decisiveness, progression, aggressive but strong governance, a modern outlook by being tech-savvy and humour with good communication.
The brand values that surrounded Brand Modi were exactly what India wanted and thus brought him into power. The logic here was that the architecture slap bang met the challenges that the environment threw to Modi – fighting corruption at every level, women’s safety, protection from terrorism, international diplomacy and the ability to convey the actual picture to the people. I guess the 339 seats won and the 63% of India which voted for Brand Modi is a testimony to the fact that Brand Modi had the right values that the people wanted.
Sri Lanka: When it comes to marketing a brand, we have had some success internationally by securing GSP+. As the former Chairman of the Sri Lanka Export Development Board, I consider this a big win. But the impact will not become a reality unless we focus on and develop a supply chain. Let’s accept it, Sri Lanka does not have a issue with demand creation. We are more challenged by supply chain consistency and meeting world standards. A point to note is that the incremental revenue from GSP+ is only $ 0.5 billion, which means if we add it to the $ 10.5 billion in export revenue we are far away from the $ 20 billion target that we are looking at reaching by 2020.
Modi lesson 4:
When Modi decided to contest the 2014 elections he first put together a team of professionals. This team numbered 200 and included graduates from the best universities in India – IIT and IIM. Some resigned from top jobs at JP Morgan, Deutsche Bank, McKinsey, Boston Consultancy Group, a former UN mission chief for Africa, a member of the Citizens for Accountability Governance (CAG), a statistical whiz kid, a digital marketing strategy expert named Hiren Joshi from the RRS and a top campaign planner for TV, radio and print media from London.
The overall media planning was handled by the marketing communication company Madison, with advertising veteran Piyush Pandi also on the team. Burson Marsteller and Dentsu India, a Japanese publicity company, was also part of the team powering the Modi team. I guess this is what it takes to manage a brand and its campaign when you want to get the plum job in the world’s largest democracy.
Sri Lanka: Whilst Sri Lanka now has a divergent team from two parties at the political level, at the technical level we see that the Government machinery is not working cohesively. This is demonstrated by the conflicting ministerial statements aired on mainstream news shows and the conflicting thinking that is occurring at the technical level. This has to be corrected. This can be cushioned by strong private sector leadership at the Chairperson level but then again there needs to be support. The best case in point is the SriLanka Airlines situation. We must support the private sector-led board and not allow the political economy to creep into the system and undermine thinking.
Modi lesson 5:
Modi was very clear on his objective at election time. He wanted more than 272 seats. The bottom-up exercise had been done at the grassroots level, from villages to towns and then to the State level and how the numbers stacked up. I guess the clean sweep of zero to 10 seats in Delhi is a classic case in point of the planning that was put in by the team. Modi had travelled 300,000 km, attended 5,187 events, 477 rallies in 25 states and come into contact with 230 million people for the votes of 800 million.
Sri Lanka: It goes without saying that we will have to use this same strategy and solve the key issues Sri Lanka is up against – the dengue epidemic and the garbage issue. Even today we see that there is a poor understanding at the ground level which has resulted in many foreign visitors cancelling their trips or moving away from Sri Lanka due to this issue. The low occupancy at city hotels testifies to this fact.
Modi lesson 6:
Take the high ground
Modi and his team decided that taking the high ground was important if Brand Modi was to touch every Indian. So what they did was feature Narendra Modi in global media, like the Economic Times, TIME, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, etc. so that every Indian was filled with pride.
He allowed competitors like Rahul Gandhi to play the national media, which was dogged by corruption scandals. Modi’s high ground strategy was very successful as Indians get motivated by inspirational communication that gives leadership to the world. In fact, Gujarat has many communication campaigns on the themes ‘1st in Asia,’ ‘Biggest in India’ and ‘Largest in the World’.
Sri Lanka: It’s important to understand the power of CSR. It must not be done just to add to brand equity. The abuse of key natural environmental aspects, namely through the extensive use of vehicles in Yala and the intrusion into the natural habitats of whales and dolphins by visitors must be managed. Sri Lanka can bring in legislation on these two fronts and take the high ground globally to protect the two largest living mammals on earth. With this idea we can be showcased globally. Sadly we are focusing on internal issues and thereby losing out on an opportunity for Sri Lanka to put its best foot forward globally.
Modi lesson 7: Why digital media?
Modi and his team drove digital media and were number savvy to reach the young voter. A classic example was when he took a selfie when he met his mother after his victory and posted it online. To date he has 2,263,673 followers on Twitter and 3,598,400 likes on Facebook, which reveals the detailed planning and execution that has been conducted.
Sri Lanka: The pickup for Sri Lanka is why are we chasing after four million tourist arrivals? The fact of the matter is that Sri Lanka does not have the resources, mainly food and water, to cater to this demand. One of the reasons for the increase in food prices is the extra two million mouths that we have to feed. Some say that one million will be the ideal carrying capacity but the then what happens to the 25,000 hotel rooms coming up targeting a three star traveller in the next three years? Sri Lanka must do some careful number crunching and strategic planning.
(The author is an award-winning marketer and business personality who can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. The thoughts expressed are strictly his personal views and do not reflect the stance of the organisations he serves).