Brands as champions of integration – Echelon magazine interview

Nimal Gunewardena, Chairman and CEO of Bates Strategic Alliance, is not satisfied with the present model of advertising that promotes a style of consumerism which made millions obese and diabetic. Instead, advertisers should shift to promoting goods and services that are good for consumers and good for the planet, he says, noting that obesity and diseases like diabetes are on the rise in Sri Lanka too as in fast foods economies like the USA.

Sri Lanka is transitioning into a middle income country. What does this mean for the advertising industry? What do you anticipate will be the major challenges for the industry of this transformation?

Sri Lanka has joined this group of 86 countries termed ‘middle income’ but even in this group there is a wide variation between per capita GNPs of the countries ranked above and those at the bottom with whom Sri Lanka belongs. Though it’s termed middle income, there’s one-third of the world’s poor still in these countries. The question is whether this automatically means we will have a growing ‘middle class’ that will be able to afford consumer goods that they didn’t have before and whether there is an opportunity then for marketers and advertisers to push along and grow these markets.

Despite rising food and utility costs the middle class will have more people who could be persuaded to become consumers for new things they didn’t have before. Also, there are a lot more young people at work who will form a new group of consumers with new needs and wants. But I am increasingly taking a consumer’s point of view and saying, and even sort of questioning, whether we as marketers and communicators want to promote a consumerist society based on the old model, or whether today we have an obligation and opportunity to create goods and services that are good for the consumer and good for the planet.
If you take food and drink alone, the consumerist, fast foods economies like the USA have created problems for consumers in terms of obesity and diseases such as diabetes. Suddenly, there is a backlash against those kinds of unhealthy foods and sugared drinks.

Do you see this as a responsibility of the marcom industry, promoting healthy lifestyles?

It’s an opportunity. Marketers, who have promoted consumerism, will now have to think of products that will do good and look after the health of consumers, and come to grips with sustainability and pollution issues and make sure that they don’t harm the planet. Those kinds of concerns are coming that weren’t really there in the last century. Because consumers are also getting sensitive to that. Marketers have widely ignored the problem of waste and pollution caused by the packaging they create. Packaging is an important communicator, enticer and value-add in marketing, but the issues of packaging and product disposal and littering as well as waste disposal and green practices are things marketers need to address.

You have demographic change, income inequality and an emerging social conscience you are talking about. Relate this to your industry, how do you capitalize on these trends?

I think we have to work closely with the marketers to deal with these issues of sustainability, the importance of planning. We ourselves as communicators can make people more aware of the social side of things. Brands, which are bigger than the products they represent, can stand for something and endear themselves to consumers through addressing these needs. Brands can promote good social values and environmental practices. I think we as communicators need to promote those social values. I would like to see a brand that genuinely champions integration and tolerance of diversity in Sri Lanka. This is the challenge for the brand strategists and ad industry.

What about media spend: how has it been over the last few years and what are the anticipated trends?

The number of media options has grown. Traditional media expenditure has been going up. Now the question is whether this traditional media still works.

I can identify two clear directions in which creativity and advertising as we know it must change as the world changes. One is to realize the shortcomings of the broadcast advertising model and the reality of people today spending time and seeking information and entertainment on-line. Can we put our marketing spend to better use than spend most of it on those intrusive 30 second TV commercials that hammer away repetitively with our messages which get ignored after a while? If today’s consumer is watching less TV and spending more time on-line, those are trends we need to recognize and see how our brands could show up on-line, entertain them, and get talked about positively. The effectiveness and the ROI of broadcast media have declined for various reasons. There are more channels, the audiences are fragmented, it is sort of interruptive, viewing habits have changed – instead of families now individuals are viewing their thing.

The second direction is to consider whether sending more and more ‘buy-messages’ about our brands is what we should be doing. A lot of brands are already well known. The real challenge is to get consumers to love them and continue to buy them. Today’s citizens, whom we marketers have tagged as consumers, have many interests and concerns about the society they live in. They are more concerned and passionate about these issues – social, health, justice, environment – than about brands. If brands want to be loved and bought, they need to genuinely embrace and champion these issues. Leaving aside brands, creative people in the advertising community should use their skills of communication, opinion leadership and influence, to promote good societal values and fight injustice and intolerance.

What percentage of advertising spend goes to new media?

Very little.

And do you anticipate that to change?

You have to push it. There is a huge spend on TV – TV is the biggest media and then print and radio. New media will develop as marketers embrace them, which hasn’t happened yet.

In recent years, a new useful classification has come into play in looking at media – that of Paid (traditional media where you buy TV spots or whatever), Owned and Earned Media. Anybody can start a blog and you are now a publisher and you own the media and so brands can do that. Brands can be there 24/7 with websites, rather than on traditional media for 30 seconds and they can create the content and entertain and engage the consumers in the way they want with the help of agencies who are operating on this field, as we have been doing. This will help them provide helpful information that consumers are seeking, and become brands that consumers will have affinity for. This is far more effective that trying to out-shout your competitor on broadcast media.

So is this an opportunity for your industry or a threat?

No, not at all, I think it is an opportunity for us, a new revenue stream, a new arena to work in. It is already shifting globally and in the Asia Pacific. In the Asia-Pacific region, expenditures in Earned and Owned Media have together approached that of Paid Media, which is today 54% of total expenditure, and by 2015 owned and earned media together will be bigger than paid media, going up to 57%.

Apart from their distinctive and complementary benefits, it has been measured that more and more of the consumer’s brand experience is through these forms. So this is good proof of the new consumer habits that provide further justification for getting into these forms of marketing communication.

It may be useful at this point to clarify – paid media is clear, you explained what owned media is, what is earned media?

Earned media is where you work to get good word-of-mouth and where you earn recommendations for your brands. Research has shown that WOM is the most influential form of communication for brand adoption. Through a TV commercial you can create imagery, we can give awareness. But when you want to buy something, it is what you might ask your friend and what your friend or family or somebody recommends that’s going to carry a lot of weight in what you select. So to generate these positive conversations and recommendations, if we can get consumers and opinion leaders to talk well of our brands and recommend them – that’s what earned media is about.

You talked about only about half the spending in Asia Pacific being accounted for by paid media, which means the rest is owned or earned. Here it must be like 95% paid media, perhaps even much higher. Why are we so far behind?

I think we need to make a little adjustment there. Owned media is not only online, you can own, for example, an experience centre or even your store can provide an experience centre. So that’s an own facility that gives consumers this exposure. Some of that money would be coming under owned media, so I think to that extent there is expenditure in that area even here. The actual online sort of component is still kicking in. But the reality is that a lot of our marketers are still very diffident about getting into this area. They really haven’t understood the value and different benefits that these provided vis-à-vis traditional broadcast media, or how to justify expenditure in this new media to their bosses.

As we know, computers are now there in 26% of homes, and in addition people access internet through cybercafés, their offices, and at friends and relatives’ homes. As smartphones become accessible with lower and lower prices, more people will begin to access internet through these mobile devices. Over 1.5 million Sri Lankans are on Facebook. According to Nielsen, one million people get on the internet daily and another million at least once a week. You can look at it and say ‘oh that’s only 1/10 of the total population’. But, if you look at it, hey, there are two million people, 70% of them are under 30. So if you are trying to reach a youth market or life style market that may be a good portion of your market.

One of the ways in which you provide value in the online media is through apps. On-line, apps rather than ads score – to provide value, entertain and engage. You can create a wonderful app that provides some kind of benefit to the consumer and if the consumer is using that, begins to like that and it gives value to him, he is engaging with your brand all the time. So we are saying online ‘think apps, not ads’.

So, tell me about Bates – it’s crossing a milestone isn’t it?

Twenty years ago, we were one of the first agencies to get into PR, when nobody was really talking about it and none of the other agencies had PR. We went to the media and talked to them and media was very cooperative. So yes, we been evangelists for PR and we’ve grown that and we’ve gone and tried to understand the PR discipline and used it well beyond what we call media relations. PR which was once seen as a corporate practice alone, is today used successfully to drive marketing of consumer brands.





July 29th, 2013 by Nimal Gunewardena | No Comments »

Optimizing Paid, Owned and Earned Media

Take-outs from a new report from Campaign Asia-Pacific & ZenithOptimedia

The region’s influential media magazine Campaign Asia-Pacific recently released a noteworthy report in collaboration with ZenithOptimedia that provided an update on how marketers in the Region were traversing the new media landscape and provided a number of useful insights into the issues marketers continue to grapple with in using marketing communications and the integration of new media into the communications mix. This article seeks draw attention to the new classification of paid, owned and earned media and raise some questions for local marketers and agencies on how much in sync we are with regional trends or whether we remain doing what we have been doing for years without innovating.

Marketing Communications evolves
There was a time when everything was called Advertising. And marketers put all their money in it, even though it was believed that half of it was wasted and nobody could figure out which half. Marketing communications and our understanding of it and has changed dramatically over the years but still a lot of Sri Lankan marketers continue to put most of their money in broadcast advertising and hammer away with their 30” commercials, despite changing trends elsewhere. Marketing communications changed with the advent of direct marketing, PR, digital and other forms of promotion, and the terms ATL and BTL (above and below the line) came to be used, though some of these newer forms of communication remained less understood and utilized. As media was redefined with the advent of digital media, from the internet to the mobile phone and social media that created a networked world, and consumers themselves became information sharers, content generators, bloggers, broadcasters and wielders of the most powerful of all communications forms – WOM (word of mouth) now also disseminated instantly, globally and virally through social media, a new categorization and evaluation of media has now come into play. “Everything communicates” said Silicon Valley marketing guru Regis McKenna and the many varied forms of marketing communications that we have come to recognize today can now be more insightfully categorized as paid, owned and earned media.

Paid, Owned and Earned Media
Paid media is what we have known and still use in the main, carrying over from the last century. We pay for and buy TV and radio spots, or print and outdoor ads and put a lion’s share of our marketing investments in what we call advertising. In the new age, we have also started to buy ads on-line such as banner and Facebook ads or may even pay for going up the ladder in an on-line search. Despite the increasing downsides of traditional paid media, of fragmented and smaller audiences due to the proliferation of channels and publications, high costs, its interruptive nature with resultant ad avoidance, and changes in viewing habits from family to more individualistic times, they still deliver on mass audiences or targeted ones, full message control and ability to measure – albeit eyeballs.

With the advent of the internet, the ability to communicate widely shifted from media owners alone to anyone who wanted to start a website or blog, open a Facebook page and link these with other own social media sites on YouTube, Twitter etc. Owned media depends on the ability to draw and accumulate fans but also requires the ability to create and maintain interest for them to keep coming back and interacting frequently. Owned media has the benefit being your very own with 24×7 exposure, and allowing you to create entertainment and brand experiences and includes off-line sites such as experience centres, entertainment and events. Owned media importantly provides the ability to interact with and collect data from visitors to one’s sites.

Earned media is thought to be the most credible and influential because it involves others communicating about your brand, and such word-of-mouth from peers, colleagues and those whose opinions consumers respect (KOLs) has been seen over and over again in research to be highly influential in brand adoption. But, marketers trained in controlled messaging through advertising have fought shy of buying fully into earned media. Despite controls available and the ability to interact with and get feedback from consumers, our marketers have only very hesitantly embraced social media. Earned media includes planned efforts to generate positive editorial coverage through public/media relations efforts and the generation of brand conversations on-line.

What the report covers
The latest study published by Campaign Asia-Pacific and ZenithOptimedia evaluates the extent of consumer experience and influence of each of these forms of marketing communications, and compares this against trends in their adoption and changing trends in marketing expenditure as owned and earned media are integrated into the equation. Trends in Asia-Pacific are benchmarked against the global picture. What is important for us in Sri Lanka is to see how far behind we are in effectively creating and using owned media and seeking to generate valuable earned media to combine with paid media, where our marketers have tended to put most of their marketing funds.

At first glance, it may seem that owned and earned media provide a lower cost alternative to paid media.  The study indicates that while there are definite qualitative advantages these have over paid media, paid media will still have a significant role to play, and the task is rather to see how to combine all three forms in an optimum, synchronized and synergistic way to deliver on the essential elements in the consumer’s decision making on the purchase, adoption and recommendation of product and service brands. In today’s networked and peer influenced world, this process is not a linear progression that marketers previously believed they could follow in leading consumers to buy their brands. Nor can we persist in our old beliefs that if we bombard consumers heavily enough with repetitive and interrupting ads run through broadcast media, that would continue to work in the new scenario. The study underscores the fact that today’s brands have to do more that blast away on their superiority. They have to be a friend, and provide useful guidance, value, comfort and entertainment to be considered, adopted and recommended.
A significant aspect of the study is that it shows today’s marketers in Asia-Pacific  increasing investments in owned and earned media and now spending half of the marketing budget in these forms, a trend that is projected to grow even further in the next few years. Sri Lankan marketers who in my estimation have not come anywhere close to these figures, will progress in this direction once there is a deeper understanding of the value, potential and significant roles in the consumer’s decision and influence making that earned and owned and paid media in all its forms can play, and begin to combine these effectively with paid media.

Adding owned and earned media into the marcom mix

One of the persistent challenges to marketing people from their Boards and top management is on accountability in terms of return on marketing investment. One of the barriers to the use of new media and communication forms has been the difficulty to assess its value, compare it against paid media and shift marketing budgets to experiment with these. So marketers may play safe with established ways rather than innovate.

What ZenithOptimedia has provided in this study is a measure of the ‘Share of Brand Experience’ that each of these media forms command. While this would change between countries and product categories, the APAC chart given here for all categories is an eye-opener. This together with the reality that Paid, Owned, Earned media play important complementary roles in brand adoption gives the evidence and justification that brand managers need to bring a greater use of owned and earned media into their marketing communications mix.

While paid media may still play a vital role in emerging Asian markets like Sri Lanka, where presence on TV and use of celebrity endorsers give credence to brands, the trend that this report highlights is difficult to ignore.  Though on-line is still the smaller but growing part of the Paid, Owned and Earned media, there a clear incentive to consider off-line options while experimenting with on-line.

Campaign Asia-Pacific reports that APAC marketers are equally divided between Paid and Earned media, as the most important. The case for investment in generating earned media is its important role in brand adoption. Word of mouth and recommendation by friends and relatives remains the most influential source of brand adoption. In today’s world of social media, brands could benefit from consumer generated brand conversations. Yet marketers who have protected their brands and themselves by sticking to the ‘total control’ of the message that paid-for advertising provides, are averse to getting into the more public conversation of their brands that opens up in earned media.

While ad agencies here may have been happy to work in the traditional paid media arena, far-thinking agencies should however work with their clients to create owned media and content across social media, interest-based blogs and branded entertainment which will generate high levels of consumer engagement and feedback, and be rewarded for their ideas and work. Agencies with PR and social media capability should convince their clients to let them help generate valuable earned media for their brands. This may range from strategies to generate positive editorial media presence and endorsement as well as KOL and peer recommendations both on-line and off-line.

March 14th, 2013 by admin | No Comments »

Generating Brand Conversations

Once upon a time when advertising was young, and I was just out of school working at the feet of an advertising guru of the day, I would put my music and composition skills to work to make up jingles that we would broadcast to sell brands such as White Wizard that magically turned ‘tennis shoes’ white, or Rebecca Lee Wildflower talc that would keep you dry and fragrant all day long! I remember writing a lengthy defence of a lilting ¾ time piece of music I had created for that brand to convince the client to break the rules and change his mind from the catchy upbeat jingle he was demanding.

That was a few years before TV came to Sri Lanka in 1979. In the early days of TV, with a choice of 2 stations, the 5 member family and the next-door neighbor faithfully gathered every evening to watch the prime time teledrama, and made up the living room audience with their eyes glued to the TV. My former ad agency colleague had now become a hot teledrama star, and commanded a ratings as high as 65 when he acted in the most popular soap of the day.

Those were days when broadcast advertising brought great returns! The world has changed since, and now we have more of everything. More brands, more competitors, more choice, more channels – both radio and TV. Audiences have got fragmented with channel proliferation. Each channel draws a much smaller audience except when we are playing cricket or watching the next superstar. Of course the prime time teledramas are still a sell, but with a third of the previous audience at best.

Sri Lankan marketing managers and agencies still believe in the power and value broadcast advertising and so we continue to make TV commercials and write those jingles and those irritating radio spots that drive you up the wall during drive time. Can your TVC generate a conversation about your brand? If so, you are doing good and engaging your audience.  Is it so cool that a fan snicks it puts it on YouTube and does it then generate many more views than broadcast advertising ever could? Then you have moved from engaging mode to sharing mode. Does it become an ad that people ‘google’ to see? Then you’ve moved to the search mode, when people are stalking you. Ideally, this is where we want to go today.

Why are we slowly getting disenchanted with broadcast advertising? The reasons are many. Audience fragmentation is one. Smaller audiences mean that marketers have to spend more money across multiple channels and programmes to reach their markets.  But if only those audiences would be attentive! Today’s multitasking and remote empowered audiences are simply not! They are now doing their own thing and watching TV when they want to and not necessarily together with their families. They may be downloading the movies they want to watch from the Internet, or watching a movie from a multi-channel cable TV or DTH operator. So what happens to your commercial? How do we move from broadcast commercials to commercials that engage and get talked about and shared and go viral? How do we beat the diminishing returns of broadcast TV?

How can we engage our audiences rather that shout at them and hope we are making headway? How can we create conversations about our brands?

Conversations you say? Now, why are conversations so important? What have conversations got to do with people buying your brand? Quite a lot, when you come to think of it. Think of it, when did you last rush to the store after seeing a commercial to buy something? Think of it, we can no longer bombard people into becoming consumers. Think of it, what did research say was the most powerful form of communication? Advertising? Try again. Yes, WOM it is. Word of Mouth!

We buy stuff when our friends and peers recommend them. We stay away from brands that our friends say didn’t match up to advertising claims. So wither advertising? Advertising can still work for us and it does in many ways. Ads create imagery and perceptions about our brands. Ads that are likeable make us like the brands they advertise. Advertising is still “the most fun you can have with your clothes on”. But today ads have to do more. They have to engage. They have to be interesting enough to generate interesting conversations. It’s only when people are interested and engaged with your brand that they talk about and recommend it to their friends.

So, it’s time to start thinking beyond that 30 second commercial. It’s time to combine the power of TV with the connectivity and engagement power of digital and social media. It’s time to explore new formats. Two-way conversations, rather than one-way broadcasts. It’s time to talk to communities who have common interests. It’s time to relate our brand to those interests. For instance, there’s a whole lot of people out there “going natural” with products that are natural, herbal, good to eat, or good to put on yourself. So if your brand can relate to that community and generate positive conversations among these communities then we are on our way to getting adopted. (Check out the “way of natural living” blog we created for the herbal personal care brand Kumarika and you’ll see how it works.)

To make this happen we need to talk broader than our usual sales talk. Broader than our features and benefits spiel. We need to cater to the broader information and entertainment needs of our audiences and keep them engaged on an on-going basis with our brands. We need to give them a platform or place where they can share their thoughts and experiences with others with similar interests. Repetitive commercials do not do this. Interest-based blogs do.

So, if we can start from scratch and see how we can keep our audiences engaged with our brands and conversing among themselves about our brands, then that’s the way to go. TV is not out, but we need to find new ways to use TV. And radio. And print. To combine them with the vast possibilities that exist in the digital and social media that people are using as channels of conversation today. We need to recognize Facebook as a WOM delivery channel. We need to recognize its power to move people as it did in the Arab Spring or Wall Street protests. We need to ferret out and generate interesting stories about our brands and their fans.

The times they are a changing. And most rapidly. It’s time for our thinking also to change. To see the reality of life today of those who would be our consumers. Those who would be our fans. Our brand ambassadors. Those who would listen to our stories and tell their friends their own stories about their experiences with our brands. Because it’s only when these conversations happen, that our brand stands to become interesting, liked and adopted. And then, even loved and recommended in turn.

November 25th, 2011 by admin | 3 Comments »

The Digital Revolution is here!

Report from Spikes Asia 2010

Sir Martin Sorrell moderating the Spikes Debate

Spikes Asia, now in its second year is fast becoming the region’s hot advertising festival, with a multitude of distinguished speakers jetting in from across the globe to join the their Asian colleagues to share their views on where the ‘ad world’ is going, or ought to be, to reach and engage the region’s changing consumers. Add to those engaging seminars, the Spikes Asia Awards, being judged by panels of eminent worldwide and Asian Creative Directors to spot the most innovative and engaging creative work across print, electronic, digital, outdoor, promo, design and integrated categories and the opportunities for young professionals to learn and shine at the Spikes Academy and the Young Spikes contests, not forgetting the after-hours parties typical of the industry, and you have a mind-opening experience for the region’s creative communicators.

No wonder the Sri Lankan delegation this year topped 38 industry professionals from its top agencies, who are once again looking optimistically at the industry’s future, and what they could transform it into with learnings from what is happening out there in Asia and the world. Sri Lanka also selected and sent two teams of young professionals to the Young Spikes contests this year, and has entered some work for the Awards as well.

Starting with the first session on Sunday afternoon, where three creative greats reviewed the most inspiring work that won at Cannes this year, all the sessions on the first full day on Monday clearly showed that the ad world is heading digital, not only because that’s where their consumers are spending an increasing portion of their time, but also because it presents opportunities to engage, influence and mobilize them for the benefit of their clients’ brands in a manner not known to the more traditional forms of advertising. The lesson for Sri Lanka’s marketers is to shed their skepticism and think more progressively in embracing digital advertising to reach their consumers who are now fast joining their counterparts across the region in enjoying their new ‘digital lifestyle’ – whether on the Internet, through their mobile phones or through other convergence devices that technology is rapidly enabling to as vehicles of the 21st century lifestyle.

Digital media is different in many ways to traditional media – the most prominent feature being its two-way interactive capability. Its global connectivity and networking capability also gives digital media users the ability to share thoughts, conversations and good ideas instantly through social media channels becoming opinion leaders in brand building or destruction! And probably the best opportunity that has come about is for marketers to make today’s on-line consumers and communities co-creators of their brand story-telling and marketing campaigns.

The other key aspect that received attention was how CSR was becoming not just essential corporate good behaviour but a path to corporate success. Several presentations on the first full day threw up evidence and examples of this. Air Asia’s Group CEO the irrepressible Tony Fernandes showed how his airline was practicing the philosophy that CSR begins at home by first growing their rapidly growing team and championing their dreams. From becoming the airline with the most number of female pilots, including a Miss Thailand, in the region, to helping realize the dreams of young Malaysians as motorcycle racers and F1 drivers in their Lotus team, Tony walked the talked internally and then externally in helping communities-in-distress in post-tsunami Aceh and post-bombing Bali. David Jones, Global CEO of EuroRSCG showcased the One Young World programme he helped to found to bring together young people who would change the world. Dentsu Asia’s Digital Director Angeli Beltran underscored the CSR thrust in her talk that spoke of “Good Innovation” as businesses doing good for human sustainability and using digital communications as a catalyst for change.

The Spikes Debate moderated by WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell needled an eminent panel from Yahoo!, Nokia, Diageo and OCBC Bank to give their expert views on the challenges in Asia and how marketers and agencies were working together, or ought to be,  and using the new technology in building for the future.

Then came the agencies, from Ogilvy who showcased their Big IdeaL thinking, which connected a brand’s ‘best self’ to society’s challenges to realize the strategy and creative expression for their campaigns; and Leo Burnett who spread their “Humankind” philosophy that human purpose was the starting point to leveraging people, popular culture and participation to effect change; to JWT who underscored that time is the new currency and that brands had to create ideas that people wanted to spend time with; and Draft FCB who took the baton to drive that further with their finding that advertisers had no more than 6.5 seconds to capture a consumer’s attention and the proposition that a magical number and an inspiring insight may avoid the risk being ignored.

Campaign Asia interviewed BBDO’s worldwide chief Andrew Robertson to uncover his journey of success and his advice to young ad people. Microsoft Advertising’s Carolyn Everson talked about trends and insights in the new digital era, and sneak-previewed their new gaming X-box 360 – Kinect.  The inspirational talk of the day came from 78 year-old author of “The Power of One” and former CD of DDB Bryce Courtney who roared, wept, knelt and rolled on the floor in telling his amazing life story and exhorted the audience to realize their potential and their dreams.

September 22nd, 2010 by Nimal Gunewardena | No Comments »

Vision must inspire and mobilize people to create the future

Vision or the “image of the future we seek to create” is vital not only for the enterprise but also for aggregate industries and aspiring nations in providing direction, mobilizing people and driving growth. Nelson Mandela achieved his vision of a South Africa free from segregation and Barack Obama persists in driving his healthcare and Wall Street reforms together with a changed approach to foreign relations in his quest for a new America that protects and cares for its citizens.  In Sri Lanka, our apparel and tourism industries have bought into shared visions of what we could be and where we want to go and have taken steps which include ethical manufacture, eco-friendly operations and exclusive boutique hotels that our western customers demand, in pursuit of the vision.

How do Sri Lankan companies stack up when it comes to being truly visionary and what does it take to stand out on this count? The importance of painting and driving an inspiring Vision, has probably received less attention than it should in the rough and tumble of day-to-day business management. True, many companies have spent a lot of time and effort in writing up Vision Statements but many of them are less than inspirational, and remain as embellishments for corporate profiles and websites.

Corporate Vision is best generated by entrepreneurs and insightful business leaders who drive it from the top down in pursuit of their dreams. It requires the ability to spot trends and leverage opportunities while being committed to innovation, breaking new ground and sailing the ‘blue oceans’. Richard Branson, who uses his charisma to the fullest in driving his Virgin brand in a multiciplity of fields and pursuing his wildest dreams of commercial space travel, and Steve Jobs, who pursues his vision to ‘Think Different’ and create cool stuff that not only looks good but rides on aspirations and lifestyles as they do on technology, continue to amaze us with their on-going innovations and successes.

Sri Lanka has its share of business leaders who have led the transformation of their companies by responding to consumer trends, or international opportunities, or simply producing the good things they thought Sri Lankan consumers should enjoy. The best way to spot the visionary ones is to take those on LMD’s list and see where they were before and what they have now created. Family businesses and colonial companies have been transformed to meet the ethos, lifestyles and aspirations of today’s Sri Lankan consumer.

Vision is of the greatest importance for a company’s managers and employees, who have to believe, achieve and live the dream. Equally, effective communication of an inspiring and credible Vision plays a vital role in obtaining the consent of people for business transformations as it is for winning elections. The low voter turnout at the recent general elections indicates that Sri Lanka’s citizens were less than inspired by the Visions of any of the parties, despite the slogans and surreal visions of a first-world Sri Lanka that the TV commercials gave us a few months earlier. While the Idiri Dekma promises economic transformation, this can best be achieved if it is built less from the centre and more through inclusiveness and participation from all sectors public, private, NGO and civil society.

This brings me to my final point – that LMD should now put the spotlight on the last two mentioned sectors by creating a listing of the Most Respected NGOs/CSOs whose vital contribution to nation building has been overshadowed by our preoccupation with the business sector. My Vision for Sri Lanka is not only of an country measured by GNP growth but one that has achieved economic development with equitability and inclusiveness, bringing wide participation and distribution of wealth across all segments.

August 13th, 2010 by Nimal Gunewardena | No Comments »