Tuesday, March 18, 2008

5 lessons Companies can learn from the Malaysian General Election

So the ‘poor’ Malaysian Voter I referred to in my last post has finally found his voice, bringing in the dawn of a new age.

The way the BN conducted itself in these elections teaches the corporate world a few lessons, especially those that are incumbent market leaders.

1) Never assume anything.
The BN assumed the malay majority would continue supporting them while non-malays deserted them. Instead, it appears malays in Selangor, Kedah and Perak, helped the non-malay popular vote swing to the opposition.

In business, the incumbent must never assume anything. A realistic assessment of the market with its inherent risks and opportunities must always be done on a periodic basis.

2) Listen to your customers

For 50 years, the BN has expounded its own brand of divide and conquer policy and assumed that Malaysians would continue buying into the same medieval message for the sake of national stability. The reverse came true as dissastified citizens rejected their arrogant assumptions and voted instead for ideological issues like social justice and accountability.

Leading businesses always take a dipstick of their market, testing their products, listening to their consumers and keeping up with demands. If people are unhappy, find out why. Don’t assume they will always be loyal to your brand.

3) Keep up with the times
The BN pumped in millions in advertising dollars in old world media. The opposition, with a fraction of the budget, uploaded videos onto youtube, seeded bloggers and created online forums to reach younger and more internet savvy voters. It amuses me how many Malaysian businesses still think that all you need is a newspaper ad, doesn’t matter where or what size, just a print ad, and customers will start calling. It somehow is more comforting to see something on paper and say that it will attract customers rather than do some extra work, understand how your customers behave and what their motivations are before embarking on any marketing campaign. Don’t misread your consumer and spend marketing dollars unwisely. As Spencer Johnson says, know when the cheese starts to smell old.

4) Practise Integrity.
The BN campaigned under the banner of a “Promise of a Better Tomorrow” outlining progress they claim to have made in creating sustainable broad-based growth, narrowing income gaps and reducing hardcore poverty. Whether this happened or not, the very fact that many of their senior office holders, councilors and officials were caught in questionable practices reduced these achievements to shreds.

If your business promises superior services or products, make sure you can deliver. Check how your front-line staff are interacting with customers and whether your product quality meets the grade or your customers will find alternatives.

5)Don’t just promise, deliver.
Empty promises and empty rhetoric – that was what the BN brand campaign was beginning to look like to the jaded electorate. After one term of promising more integrity and better governance, the coalition had failed to deliver even when voters gave them a resounding 90% endorsement in the last elections. Much of it fell apart at the local/state office level where corrupt practises by these office holders destroyed whatever chance of success the BN’s lofty goals might have had.

Implementation excellence or the lack thereof breaks or makes a company. Ensure that your implementation plan is thought through from conception to implementation and then have a post-activity evaluation. Even a crappy product could do well at the market if its implementation is done well (ahem... most Microsoft products)

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