Abhinav Sinha

Archive for the ‘Holism’ Category

Holistic Brand Management

In Brand Management, Holism, Systems Thinking on October 22, 2010 at 4:24 am

When someone asks you, ‘what’ would your next car be; ‘how’ do you answer? Would you call the thought process that gets triggered, rational? or analytical? skeptical? emotional? or none of them may be. Or maybe, all!

Whatever your answer to the ‘what’ may be, what I want to dwell upon in this post is the ‘how‘ part!

With my background in a variety of customer centric roles with the automotive industry, this question is also of immense professional interest to me. So, I like taking this personally.

On a number of occasions, my inquisitive self has asked this question to a eclectic mix of audience ranging from friends to family, all age groups and varying social strata. I avoid picking colleagues from auto industry though, and am happy about it!

Most people, come up with their snap second responses. Not just quick but firm and confident ones as well. No one has ever asked me for a KBC style set of four options to choose for an answer. Although, while making a a real purchase decision they probably would take into account most options available, but in this case they just seem to know it.

My next act of devil is when I start getting deeper. I quiz them on the power output that their ‘choice’ delivers. Majority does not have a faintest idea, but they somehow believe that it has to be good! I ask them if their ‘choice’ has an airbag option? a tilt steering? or  electrically operated outside rear view mirrors? etc. The most consistent answer that I have got for whatever choice of the car they have come up with is, ‘I think…’

Then ‘how’ do they answer? How could they be so confident in giving out a name, while virtually having no idea of the specifics!

The answer probably lies in the definition of what we delightfully call a ‘brand’. I researched my sources and stumbled across hundreds of definitions but none more satisfying and complete than this one:

‘A Brand is the costliest real estate; a piece in the corner of a consumers’ mind’.                 

To elaborate further, it is a collective set of perceptions that a consumer carries about a person, product or service.  Although a brand is something that provides an identity to that product, it in itself remains intangible.

This takes me to my answer. ‘How’ do people answer flash question pertaining to their choices. The piece in the corner of their minds shouts the answer out and the mouth just rattles it. All of them seem to have a  holistic perception about the product or service, and that is what drives their opinion. Simple! Rest are just details.

However, what isn’t as simple is getting your name plate up on that piece of estate. Brand managers slog their personal and family lives away in wanting to get their first. While getting there is important, what is even more critical is leaving the right impressions behind.

Management of brands is a highly complex business task. For many brand owning companies, brand value is the key driver for the company’s overall strategy. Though it may be considered from a number of viewpoints, one insightful starting point is to recognise that brand value is linked to ‘preferential choice’ for a brand relative to some other.

Organisations that are system thinkers at large and able to see a holistic image of reality, are concerned with not just the choices that their customer make but also the choices made by other stakeholders like employees and shareholders. 

Choice is affected by a host of factors both internal and external to the business. Most evolved companies, including the one for which I work for, have good tools to manage and control internal operational processes and the cost side of the brand management.

However, in my opinion far fewer companies will have the processes to manage the ‘intangibles’ and other consumer processes that are fundamental to the revenue generating part of the brand management. Competitive advantages in delivering the ‘intangibles’ can create substantial value that will be ‘hard to copy’ for the rest.

These processes could be hugely complex in nature and in the absence of systems thinking and a sharp understanding of the causality between drivers and outcome over time, brand management would continue to be dealt ‘intuitively’.

The dominant business tradition called the ‘spreadsheet thinking’ is designed to isolate key variables in order to reduce complexity using a bottom line focus and linear thinking. Most marketing managers would give their right hand away to trade it for a larger number of ‘spot enquiries’ generated out of a brand activity, while completely failing to mention the ‘long term value creation’ objective.

A balance of short term deliverables along with long term targets for the brand is desirable, but hard to achieve. This is where the opportunity exists.

In my very personal opinion, the key objective of successful brand management is to maximize the population of loyals. Thus brand strategy involves the identification of appropriate management actions to create loyalty amongst its stakeholders.

A brand manager in today’s world need to be cognizant of the fact that retention is as much a part of his portfolio as acquisition is.

The study of brands from the perspective of dynamic system theory is enlightening because it leaves the nature of the brand, especially their holistic and dynamic character, fully intact.

Holism versus Reductionism

In Emergence, Holism, Systems Thinking on June 29, 2010 at 10:03 pm

The way I learnt to spell Czechoslovakia, was to break it into two halves. Memorize the tricky and more difficult part ‘Czecho’ and then confidently add the easier and the more obvious ‘slovakia’.

How we all learnt to multiply 13×12 mentally, was by breaking one of the multipliers in its simpler factors and, add! It is much faster for most of us to mentally calculate (13×10) + (13×2) = 156. Frankly, I never had the memory to remember those tables all the way up to 20. Thankfully, factors came to my rescue.

Elementary science text books educate young students about smaller and smaller division achievable. All matter is made of molecules, molecules of atoms and atoms from electron, proton and neutrons.

It is not difficult to realize why analytical behavior is a natural instinct for most of us. Reductionism or attempting to understand visible complexity by breaking it into smaller constituent parts forms the core of our primary education structure.

Systems thinking however incorporate ‘Holism’ as one of its primary tenet.

Holism stands for the idea that all properties of a given system cannot be determined or explained by its component parts alone.

But how do we visualize holism around us? As we saw above, Reductionism happens all around us. Appears in every analysis we do. Where do we search for Holism? Why does it not make itself evident?

Indeed, holism is all around us. All we need is to train our faculties to look at the larger picture and not merely at the constituent parts. In fact, there are certain systems that not be explained at all, by a purely reductionist approach.

Let us look around, holistically. Let us look at ‘Life’.

Life itself is a holistic phenomenon. In case of living systems, nobody would deny that an organization is a collection of atoms. The mistake is what certain reductionist scientists make very often. To suppose that it is nothing but a collection of atoms.

Such a claim is as absurd as asserting that all Ustad Bismillah Khan’s masterpiece was nothing more than a collection of notes played on his shehnai or that a Shakespeare’s classic is nothing more than a collection of words.

The property of life, the theme of the tune or the plot of Shakespeare’s play is what is known as the ‘emergent’ property. Emergence is largely an outcome of holistic view and is also another tenet of systems thinking.

You would realize that the ‘emergent’ properties only make sense at collective level and are rather meaningless at the component level.

It is important for us to acknowledge at this point in time that the idea of this article is not establish superiority of one mode of the two ‘isms’ in understanding or defining the system.

The component level description, does not contradict the holistic description. Instead the two are complimentary to each other. The two point of views are both valid and useful at their own level. The use of either one of them depends on what you want to know.

I have come to realize that a graphical or illustrative representation of a newly introduced concept, leaves a much lasting impression on the reader’s memories. Keeping inline with this understanding, I have fetched for you the following –

While you look at the whole, what you get is the Monalisa. A historic work of art that invokes impressions of beauty,  mystery, sophestication and grace in your heart.

Next, while you put on your reductionist lens this is all that you get –  

With reductionism, all that you are left with with is 3,604 cups of coffee, with different proportions of milk and coffee.

If you are wondering, where did Monalisa along with feelings of beauty and mystery that she invoked in your hearts, go? Then don’t.

All of them are emergent properties of this system, that only have an existence at a holistic frame of reference. A part of this system, a cup of coffee surely does not have beauty or mystery as an intrinsic property. 

Will await your comments, feedback, questions or contributions.

Request your participation and sharing. Sharing of knowledge is the only reduction, that leads to holistic growth.