Where Are The People?



Have we reviewed pricing to see if we’ve covered the cost with our base margin profitability requirement? We need to ensure that this quarter’s earnings are on track and we follow through on market consolidation.”

 Sounds familiar?

A regular corporate meeting-speak taking place week in week out across most corporate offices in Asia. Are you able to spot what’s missing?

As a marketer, who’s worked across industries and countries in Asia over two decades, I’ve noticed that businesses, irrespective of size, operate on a product-centric basis and today that amazes me! It amazes me because, at the end of the day, business is all about people! It’s done by people, with people and for the people.

Yet organisations rarely focus on ‘people’ when it comes to doing business. We focus on product, market, pricing and profitability.  But we don’t take into account the people involved!


Why People?

People make everything happen.

An organisation exists because of the people it interacts with– staff, partners, customers and other stakeholders. People who make up its eco-system. Take any example from our daily life and you’ll see that we interact with people whatever be the medium.

Yet why is it that business is never people-centric?

Is it due to the way we are conditioned into doing business? In thinking along the lines of ‘controlling business outcomes? If so those days are far gone.

Business growth still appears to be using the classical approach of having a ‘USP’—unique selling proposition—from a product perspective. Not that this is wrong but it just isn’t the right tool for the current times.  


Where’s Business Happening?

Asia is where global business growth is occurring. Keep in mind it is home to 48 countries each having its unique sociocultural foundation.

Business in Asia has been heavily impacted upon by social practices stemming from post-colonisation developments, and more recently the global financial crises and rapid proliferation of social media. 

This sociocultural foundation drives the Asian citizens in their daily behaviour. This in turn impacts upon any organisation operating in Asia.

Can we afford to ignore this?


Business-As-Usual in Asia?

Asian population numbers often throw off product centric projections. It’s not just a case of a having a great product at a better price made available easily! There’s more to it.

The Asian market-space has two distinct market segments with one foundation. Whilst global growth is occurring in Asia, there exists a hyper-growth opportunity segment titled the 3rd Billion, or the global Muslim community.

62% of the world’s Muslim population is in Asia. If we look through a numbers filter it’s an awesome market size; enough to make any CEO salivate!

But proceed with caution!

Asian Muslims come from the same sociocultural fabric like their other Asian fellow citizens.
Faith is one part of their identity. Culture is the other.

Culture forms their behaviour. But here two key differences come about:

  1. As a group they are very young with people under 30 making up 58% of the population .
  2. Their value system is from their culture which coupled with social media and spirituality, makes them seek rich, interconnected experiences.

Quoting Dr. Jonathan A J Wilson—Senior Lecturer & Course Leader, University of Greenwich and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Islamic Marketing,–“The global consumer artisan as a second supplementary career who seeks rich interconnected experiences and views the world through multi-screens”.


This Impacts Business.

Businesses spend millions on research, intelligence, technical competencies, and product & process innovations, all for growth.

Who does all of this? People!

But what’s need is to ensure effective integration of both soft & hard skills that result in internal and external efficiency of a business.

In doing business in Asia and specifically with the Muslim community this comes into acute focus. Ensuring this integration from a people-perspective becomes a must.

A shift needs to take place within organisations, to truly place their most valuable asset people at the top of their priorities. Organisations who do this, can guarantee a domino-effect on their processes.


That’s Challenging.

It involves understanding the sociocultural trends affecting the environment and figuring out how you can create a relationship with that environment.

The starting point is behaviour. Are the Asian Muslim consumers and the non-Muslim consumers behaviourally different?

Whilst by the faith-filter the Asian Muslims outnumber their counterparts; by the sociocultural filter Asians have strong commonalities, behaviour wise.

How do we go about it?

  1. On board the behavioural indicators of all groups of people connected to the business. Understand why these behaviours occur.
  2. Take the understanding and look at employees. See the work culture in a new light and align this to the organisational mission. Bring about alignment of employees’ personal goals with organisational goals.
  3. Lastly take a collaborative approach and share the organisational mission with all involved in the business. It’ll result in having a strategy with a value proposition that fits the environment.

The next time you go into your corporate meetings have a conversation that goes like: “How’s our Authenticity, Balance & Communication scorecard? Let’s keep tracking the engagement and the referral we should be generating.”

Every journey starts with a small step. Now’s the time to look at people and adapt your business to be of value to them.










Business is By The People For The People

People 2

It’s amazing how little we actually focus on ‘people’ in business in spite of the fact that its people who make everything happen. An organisation exists because of its staff, partners, customers and other stakeholders i.e. people. The value proposition of any organisation, and any industry, is totally dependent on the people involved.

Yet organisations do not put enough emphasis on understanding the people involved in their business eco-system. Business strategy development still appears to be using the classical approach having a ‘USP’—unique selling proposition—from a product perspective. Not that this is wrong. But given the massive behavioral changes that has occurred in the last decade, not acknowledging the impact of those changes, in business strategy is akin to ignoring reality.

Globally behaviour of people, across countries and across socio-economic strata, has changed vastly. Impacted by the global financial crises and the rapid proliferation and use of social media people are now interacting more and more as interest-based communities.

How does this affect organisations?

  1. Culture:

With business growth opportunities shifting towards Asia & Africa, organisations are now faced with understanding what the new consumer behaviours is like in these new markets. Within such vast markets the end consumers’ behavioral patterns differ across and within countries. Simultaneously, organisations have had to look at on-boarding knowledge workers and millenials in their work-force in order to manage this growth. Knowledge workers and millenials have different behaviours based on age, experience and environmental background.

So today the need of the hour for organisations is to take on board how these diverse behaviours from the people connected to their business, are affecting their performance and acceptance of their brands. Internally these behaviours impact the work culture within an organisation. This culture, in turn, manifests externally, and focuses on the way relationships are built with the external stakeholders.

  1.  Leadership & Engagement:

The people or staff of an organisation is the physical manifestation of that organisation. The behaviours the staff displays are, in essence, a representation of the organisation’s culture and values. This brings to fore an emphasis, for the organisation, on its leadership & employee-engagement.
Increasingly the demand on leadership is becoming one of creating influence and social buy-in. or in other words, developing engagement based on aligning personal values and mission (of an employee) with that of the organisation.
Leading to having, as far as possible, engaged and happy employees in order to ensure the organisational brand is seen as delivering authentic value.

  1. Involvement:

Engagement leads to having the employees at the center of the overall brand experience. This focus involves understanding the organisational culture prevailing, discussing change areas if needed, fine-tuning desired behaviour and communicating it to the employees in a manner that brings about acceptance.  Active involvement of employees becomes critical as without this the brand vision and brand delivery cannot be achieved.

So what can organisations do?

Focusing on people means re-calibrating how business strategy is approached.

Instead of a product-centric approach, one has to move into a people-centric or behaviour oriented approach that fits the environment. This is best summed up in the diagram below taken from Dr. Jonathan Wilson’s talk—
The Quest for Transformational Leadership & Brand Singularity’.

In my humble opinion this is among the best and simplistic explanations of how an organisation can be successful when their strategies fit the environment i.e. taken into account the entire behavioral patterns of their eco-system. 

Org Strat JW

Culture and It’s Impact on our Daily Life

I’ve always been intrigued by culture.

Being a marketer and business planner by profession and having worked across industries, courtesy advertising, I’ve always come back to ‘people’ and what makes them behave the way the do. People are what makes a business. Be it the staff of an organisation that represents the organisation or be it the customers of that organisation.

Yet, there are many industry sectors, that do not seem to see or get the fact that people are changing. This change is a result of cultural trends that impact on behaviour.

I found Dr. Jonathan A J Wilson‘s article– ‘Why Culture Matters and Where?’  to be extremely fascinating in context to this and so decided to share it with you:



The Magic Word is Involvement

Teach me


A brand experience is the sum total experience one has with an entity and the perception one has of that entity. One of the key areas where this experience is strengthened or destroyed is the way the brand’s eco-system– its consumers, partners, vendors– perceive the brand through their interaction with the employees of the brand. This interaction has the maximum impact on a brands’ reputation than all the brands’ combined advertising.

So how do we ensure that key employees deliver the desired brand experience?

Current corporate cultures are, still largely, governed by ‘command-and-control’ practices. Such practices tend to alienate the employees instead of engaging them and making them the focal point  for a brand in developing  relationships.

By putting employees at the center of the brand experience, a few important processes are impacted upon:

  1. Change in organisational culture– employee engagement & participation in developing the brand vision become a team process that leads to employee recognition & reward based on the positive customer experiences delivered.
  2. Employee  Performance– Being engaged enables the employee to align personal career growth through the desired performance to that of the organisational goal.
  3. Delivering the Brand Vision– By having employee at the center of the brand, the core values and key brand messages, get aligned with key organisational deliverables.

Yet, in-spite of the oft spoken line of ‘people are our main asset’, the road to employee-service-profit chain, success is mired in obstacles.

If employees are distrusting and alienated from their organisations, what are the chances that they will provide customers and colleagues alike with a positive brand experience? And a positive experience is a must in order to have a repeatsale/usage of the brand and, more importantly, to get referrals.

So how do we get employees to build trust with the brand and be engaged and involved with the organisation?

Engagement programs are just that—i.e.: they provide a one-way street of communication. Commanding what should be the perceived brand image communication. Providing content to gain a buy-in.

But not really providing any means of engagement or involvement from the employee.

Involvement, is the critical element.

Intuitively we all understand what involvement is and how powerful (a force) it can be. When we are told to do something, we do it and then tend to forget about it. But when we are involved in something, we tend to be possessive and own it on an emotive level. And when emotion comes into play, passion comes out. Where there is passion there is a strong and enabling experience that takes place, leading to formation of trust. When trust grows, relationships are strengthened leading to repeat usage and referrals.

When looking to enhance the brand experience managing the cultural change becomes a top priority and a must in order to ensure that the end result of a positive brand experience is achieved.

In order to be successful in this, it’s critical to get the employees’ involved. This involvement requires that a strong group process is in place. A process where the meetings and interactions take on a deeper meaning than just to meet in order to agree to the content of the meeting. A deeper meaning where one focuses more on honest conversation, high involvement and participation leading to strong and trusting relationships.

All simple, effective and yet in a corporate set up, at times, hard to do elements.

The key here is to get a strong group process is in place. A strong group process impacts on creating  strong relationships based on individual involvement. Then implementing the rest of the brand experience plan, in terms of content and communication channels and programs, is not hard.

By virtue of the ownership that each engaged employee will bring into their function role, the brand vision will be communicated with warmth and honesty.  All of which lead to having a positive brand experience output.

Provide Value to Get Value

Happy Customers. Visual Courtesy: www.sumall.com

Happy Customers.
Visual Courtesy: http://www.sumall.com

Social media has made the world a highly inter-connected place today. A place where consumers, in matter of minutes, can build or destroy a brand simply by sharing their brand experience online on their personal social media networks. This referral has become a key influencer for CEO’s and CMO’s  concerned with their brands’ reputation.

This, social media based consumer world, has a very important lesson for us. A lesson in developing value in a relationship. A lesson that highlights one simple fact—Provide value in order to get value.Yet, many a brand out there still communicates with the sole intention of the short-term sale and not the  long-term relationship!

Strategic business processes, in organisations, are geared towards profitability. Profitability, primarily, in financial value. There was a time when this focus was helpful and it worked. Today, after the global financial crisis, consumers world-over have changed in their buying behaviour and in their engagement process with their brands.

A rising need for transparency, interaction and creating trust has come about.

In turn, this has impacted on leadership practices, organisational management, talent development. Coupled with rising numbers of millenials coming into the work-force, which has impacted on organisational culture, organisations have been forced to re-think their value proposition and their engagement strategies with their stakeholders.  The need to deliver a clear value-benefit is now the reality on-ground if any brand is to ensure sustainability.

Developing a well articulated value proposition has its roots in the brand vision and the organisations’ culture. It begins with a “what am I getting” query at both ends i.e. the stakeholder & the organisation.

Whilst (as a consumer) I’ve seen consumers try the brand — give it the opportunity to provide the expected experience—as a CMO I’ve come across the (all famous) need to simply have the “sale” and move on! Both aspects of this scenario answer the what am I getting query. But for the CMO focussing on just getting the sale this is a very, very short-term and myopic answer!

The proliferation of social media and its usage  has changed the way consumers are now clustered or grouped. It’s also changed behaviour resulting in very differing habits in terms of social media usage. The online consumer is found in  communities that are   ” interest”  based. Such communities  cut across age, income, religion and geographic locations. Friends, family, colleagues and associates form various but specific networks for a single individual depending on his/her interest area. Each of these interest based communities is extremely powerful and need to be taken into account whilst developing a brand’s strategic progress within a consumer segment.

The question that’s oft asked is how is it possible to take into account the huge number of interest groups of the consumer segment?

Well, just as we used to identify key consumer segments using research in the past, we need research our stakeholders to understand their online and social media behaviour. Based on this we then need to see if there are enough numbers for the brand to take a business decision to engage with that segment.

FMCG’s or Fast Moving Consumer Goods have already done this very well.

Non-FMCG businesses that are directly consumer oriented, such as those in service categories for e.g.–retail finance, hospitality, telecommunication– would benefit from taking the learnings from the FMCG’s practice and utilising the same among their identified stakeholder groups. Understanding, through research, the key needs, wants and interests of these groups. Then taking those insights to develop their brand direction whilst ensuring that the brand vision and values remain constant.

Entrepreneurs and medium-sized business owners need to keep in mind, that whilst generating revenue is important, ultimately having a sustainable business strategy that has a clear value-proposition for its stakeholders, is what’s going to bring about growth and profitability.

In the next post we’ll look at how businesses can actually undertake this simply.

Think Before You Speak


Communication– Visual Courtesy “Dilbert” by Scott Adams http://www.dilbert.com

Have you experienced the feeling of utter dread immediately after uttering a very cynical or hurtful statement? In that moment, you wish you could erase the words you said so that the situation that unfolds didn’t occur! Alas, a bullet once fired cannot be recalled back by the gun that fires it.

As a C-level leader it’s so very important to be careful about the words one uses, the tone in which it’s spoken and the impact the words will have.

Why so?

As a leader your team is constantly picking up direction from your verbal and non-verbal cues. What this means is that, inspite of policies and processes being in place, people at work have an un-written behaviour of constantly observing each and every interaction the leader has and interpreting the same their own, individual, ways. This interpretation is not a one-size fit all but is based on the:

  • individuals’ attitude
  • position at work
  • life & work experience

Combined these, three attributes, provides the mental and emotional backdrop of the sociocultural behaviour the employee brings to the table.

Thus, what could be a seemingly innocuous statement uttered in context of the point being debated, can actually be interpreted as offensive and even rude.

In such cases the impact of the spoken statement can have devastating effects in the long-term. In the short-term, it impacts on the credibility, integrity and trust that the leader commands.

People are emotional beings. At work, whether we like that fact or not, we have to accept this. A lot about ‘leadership by heart’ is out in the public domain (here’s one of the best so far, in my opinion). What’s important for organisations today is to acknowledge, accept and use that to increase engagement between employees and the organisational leadership. As the increasing engagement has a direct correlation to both effectivity & profitability.

Let’s come back to our ‘think before you speak’—we know communication, for leaders, is a vital skill. However, the techniques of communication do not tell you what to communicate or, in other words, the content or words that a leader speaks.

As a leader you need to be careful of the words that you use and you need to evaluate the impact those words would have against the outcome you want. A technique I’ve always found helpful is the ‘pause 1..2..3..

This is where you pause for 3 seconds before you speak. How does this help you? It allows the first set of words in your mind to be quickly reviewed and amended. Why do so? So that you can speak honestly and be interpreted in the same manner and get your desired outcome from the statement without your leadership communication skills being put to question.

It’s just a simple exercise in self-restraint and developing the habit of providing clarity. Done on a regular basis across professional and personal life, you will notice the increasing discussions that your colleagues and family will be engaging in with you.