Dealing with dinosaurs - why most Indian companies are still not ready for the new digital world
22nd April 2013

dinosaursWhen I think of dinosaurs I think of slow, massive, lumbering beasts that went extinct thousands (maybe millions, forgive my lack of Jurassic knowledge) of years ago. Most Indian companies today seem like those dinosaurs - slow, lumbering giants, completely unprepared to face the new realities of the digital world.

I recently sat across from a team of senior managers who shot down my ideas for digital strategy saying that the organization was simply not ready for it. What was sad was, it seemed, that they were resigned to the fact that their organization would never really change. They politely but firmly asked me to give them some conventional solutions and knowing which battles to fight, I tamely agreed.

Will such organizations survive the next 20 years? Maybe. Will they dominate? Unlikely. The fast and nimble will eat their breakfast, lunch and dinner.

So what are the obstacles that come in the way of creating a truly digital world oriented company? What are the factors that make a company ready for the digital age?

Decisions by committee and consensus is out. Quick fire decisions are now necessary.

While I have clients who change their websites every year; I have also come across prospective clients who take a year just to decide to change their website and another year to decide on how to change it and so on and so forth. Unless you take lightening fast decisions, the decision you previously took might already be obsolete.

Decisions on which initiatives to follow, what mediums and channels to spend on, which tools to use have to be taken quickly. Analysis paralysis is suicide in the new digital age.

Be prepared for wrong turns, false starts, and a bit of waste - try everything and keep what sticks.

In the new age of digital marketing you have to try a lot of things and when you try a lot of things, some will work but most might fail or not give results. You have to be prepared for a much higher failure rate.

In most Indian companies failure is not an option. A manager who takes decisions that do not pan out could find himself sanctioned or even fired. This attitude must go. Encourage executives to try out various ideas with the express permission that some of them might not work.

Not all blog posts can be hits, not all videos go viral and not everything the company produces will be considered golden. The idea is to keep churning out stuff and once you know something works, turn on the gas.

Small skirmishes versus big battles - guerrilla marketing is in, trench warfare is out. Nothing is permanent anymore.

Modern digital battles are fought as small skirmishes rather than a full fledged trench warfare.You hit whenever you see an opportunity. You use whatever tools are available to you. You milk it for whatever its worth and then you move on.

Top Indian executives still have a world war I mindset to marketing - large budgets, large campaigns and blanket coverage. What they do not realize is that the market has become highly fragmented and niche oriented. Rather than take a hammer blow approach, quick rapier jabs would be more effective.

Identify a niche target. Quickly create an offering. Unleash it. Take the results. Move on.

Transparency, openness, creativity and freedom of expression are critical in the new digital age.

The Indian culture does not allow transparency, openness and creative freedom. Most employees are never given an opportunity to shine. Do your job, go home, rinse and repeat is the credo.

Can your accounts guy write an inspired blog article? Is your sales person a twitter master? Is your front desk lady a master at engagement on face book? Do you know or care? Even if you did, would you allow them to express on behalf of the business? In most Indian firms the answer is a resounding no.? 

What are they afraid of? That the employees might inadvertently reveal confidential information, might make fun of a senior manager or might piss off a customer? All these are valid fears but can be managed with good policies, oversight and incentives.

But the problem at most Indian companies is not about what employees might or might not do but that they are not supposed to. If its not in the job description, forget it.

Over-reliance on vendors, not partnering for marketing and slow adoption of tools and technology.

Indian companies traditionally operate in silos. Most times their only outreach is through their vendors. They only partner when its critical to their operations. Marketing in the digital age requires quick partnerships, fast adoption of new tools and technologies. An opportunity can go to waste simply because the company did not reach out to the right partners.

The level of engagement with marketing partners might be that of writing a cheque for an ad or sponsoring an event with their logo on the banner. Beyond that, there is no effective marketing. No leveraging of opportunities to its fullest.

Vendors take advantage of this mentality to increase their billing and protect their turf aggressively. Its not in the vendor?s best interests to allow third party partners unless they go through them.

The bottleneck at the top - the MD or the CEO.

This is perhaps the most frustrating part of dealing with Indian companies. No matter what the job title, the manager has to finally take approval from the MD or CEO. Decision taking ability of middle management is a myth in most Indian companies. I cannot express the number of times even simple decisions languished at the CEO or MD?s desk. Decisions that could safely and easily be taken by the middle manager. Micro-management is the standard operating procedure.

In the digital age you cannot afford such bottlenecks. Decisions have to be taken fast and managers must be trusted to take a call. They must be supported even though the MD or CEO might not agree completely with it.

In conclusion - its a culture thing.

I keep repeating myself, its a culture thing, its a culture thing. No changes will take place unless the culture changes to one of trust, openness and a can do attitude.


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