Stay connected or be disconnected

Stay connected or be disconnected

Many of the world’s major companies have been in business for a very long time.

logoSome, like Coca Cola, Nestle, Mercedes Benz, Louis Vuitton and Rolex, were established more than 100 years ago.

In that time, although they continued to make the core products for which they were originally founded, they had also reviewed, reinvented and innovated those products many times over.

Their corporate identity also has evolved.

They cleverly adjusted in an unobtrusive manner. Drastic changes were avoided as they could affect perception of product quality and damage market loyalty.

You don’t see any difference in Coca Cola but the product image has changed over the years.

Scenarios created in the past to show people drinking Coca Cola because it was tasty were dropped with the increasing awareness of the health risk of excessive consumption of sugar. Today, the company promotes the soft drink as refreshing.

The Mercedes, long a status symbol of wealth and prestige that attracted mature car buyers, is now marketed through fashion and music to young successful people by building an image of the car around a lifestyle.

Big international corporations spend time and money to invent, enhance and protect their image. They do their research, they get feedback, they are always right there with the consumers.

They know well the consequences of misjudging their market. If they are out of step, they will be out of business.

They plan their business precisely, competitively, creatively.

Because of this, they have grown bigger, better and more competitive.

They are the most competitive in everything they do – be it new products, new concepts, new services, new ideas. They never stop innovating.

Every generation of consumers knows them as the best.

They continue to succeed through many generations because they stay connected with their ever changing market. They flow with the times and the contemporary lifestyle.

The lessons of survival

Image building and marketing a political party is no different. Its objectives are no different from those of a business.

For a corporation, the bottom line is revenue and profit which will enable it to survive and expand in the market place. For a political party, the bottom line is ‘votes’ and ‘majority support’ without which it will fail to win market share and disappear.

To succeed, both will need to adapt to changing consumer (voter) demands, increasing competition and diminishing awareness of heritage among younger consumers (new voters).

The first lesson of survival for corporations and political parties is that nothing lasts forever.

Lesson number two is that no organisation can claim a natural right to succeed or to rule.

Global private banking giant Merrill Lynch, founded in 1914, collapsed in the United States financial meltdown last year and was absorbed by Bank of America as a subsidiary.

Century-old General Motors, once the largest company in the world, was rescued from bankruptcy early this year and is now majority owned by the United States Treasury.

Across the world, the political landscape is littered with discarded parties that seemed to be on the way to rule for eternity.

Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is the latest casualty after more than half a century of nearly uninterrupted dominance.

The Indian National Congress, the party which secured India’s independence, ruled for 31 years but was toppled in 1977 although it made a comeback later at the head of weak ruling coalitions.

Paraguay’s Colorado Party lost the 2008 presidential election, ending its 61-year grip on power.

Even the all-powerful communist party that ruled the former Soviet Union for more than 70 years finally fell and was replaced.

In Malaysia, after 50 years in power first as the Alliance Party and later morphing into Barisan Nasional (BN), the ruling coalition suffered its worst electoral losses in general election last year.

The BN is led by Umno, the party of Merdeka, and the coalition is profoundly identified with the transformation of first Malaya and then Malaysia from a primary commodities exporter to a modern industrial economy.

Yet, it performed poorly in the polls in the peninsula, rebuffed largely by the same electorate that gave it a landslide victory just four years before. And support for BN continues to slide as seen by the results of by-elections in the past 18 months.

In business-speak, the BN was outperformed by its competitor and its market share eroded after it lost the confidence of the market although it remains the leading brand in the country.

If it was the case of a major company faced with such a precarious situation, it would immediately address the problems and identify the solutions.

If it is a product problem, the company would create a better product so that it would sell better. If it is a brand problem, the company would revamp, reinvent and innovate itself to reconnect with the market and regain its confidence in order to recapture the leadership position.

A party for the 21st century

In business as well as politics, connectivity is the key to survival and success.

All the major companies with a long successful history are very aware that they can be replaced easily by competitors if they don’t stay in step with changing times and tastes.

That is why they keep on evolving; they never stop innovating in quality, design and pricing so as to stay ahead.

Those that didn’t keep up with the changes have fallen by the wayside.

As in business, political parties trapped in the past were punished in the country’s last general election.

Malaysian voters have changed and young people, whose voice is now decisive in elections, have changed the most. The ways they think and communicate have changed. The ways they acquire information also have changed.

They are more informed, more vocal and more willing to push boundaries.

Slogans and jingles, the stock in trade of advertising, don’t work as effectively with today’s generation as in the past. New technologies have opened up more options to young people.
A political party experiencing a diminishing brand must change its ecosystem so that it is able to embrace new concerns quickly and communicate them meaningfully.

The language it uses to communicate its message must change so that the message makes sense not only to the older electorate but also to new young voters.

The way it communicates its message must change by adopting technologies popular with the new generation such as interactivity and sharing and social networking.

All successful companies know that before anything is bought, before a message is sold, a connection has to be made. It is no different for a political party.

A political party, to stay relevant, must be able to connect with today’s world. Either it belongs in the 21st century or it won’t survive in the 21st century.

tansri photo

About Tan Sri Lim

Tan Sri Dato’ Sri Paduka Dr Lim Kok Wing, the Founder and President of Limkokwing University of Creative Technology, does not fit into any ordinary mould that would describe most entrepreneurs.

His journey has been closely linked with the economic and social development of Malaysia.

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