What Mamata can learn from Surf, BBC, Sony and Nokia

Mamata, Bengal's stormy petrel and street-fighter, is now in government. She needs to change her story line from blaming the Left to governance.

hidden May 19, 2012 14:57:42 IST
What Mamata can learn from Surf, BBC, Sony and Nokia

By Vivek Kaul

Vidhu Vinod Chopra, producer of the superhit 3 Idiots, made a movie called 1942: A Love Story.  The movie had soulful songs and could have been a big comeback for that great music director RD Burman. But, alas, that never happened. Pancham da died of a heart attack before the movie was released.

The movie set, during the days of the British Raj, starts as a love story between the hero Anil Kapoor and the heroine Manisha Koirala, who keep singing all the beautiful songs composed by Burman in the first half of the movie. But throughout the first half all the characters other than the hero and the heroine keep saying this one line: “Shubhankar da aa rahe hain”, building expectations in the audience for his arrival.

What Mamata can learn from Surf BBC Sony and Nokia


Shubhankar da (played by Jackie Shoff) finally arrives around 30 seconds before the interval. Until that moment the movie was a love story. Then on it becomes a movie on the freedom struggle, which in this day and age would have been called a political thriller.

As was the case in the movie, there comes a time in the life of individuals, as well businesses, when the story has to change. The past has to be dumped and made insignificant and a new story needs to emerge.

This is something that Mamata Banerjee, rabble rouser par excellence, and the only angry young person in the country with the days of Bachchan long gone, needs to realise. She built her career and life around trying to throw out the Left from West Bengal and finally, after more than two decades of hard work and sheer persistence, she succeeded.

If ever there was an example of an individual not giving up and finally succeeding she was it. But after becoming the Chief Minister of West Bengal what is her story? She still seems to be working on the same story of rabble rousing against the Left everywhere, all the time, and holding them responsible for everything that is happening in the state. From rapes of women to lack of governance!

The irony is that she is the government now. Her level of paranoia against the Left is reaching extreme proportions now. Most recently she called the students of Jadhavpur University CPI(M) cadres. As she said: “They are the CPI-M cadres. I am not going to reply. I will give reply to questions from common people. I am sorry to say you belong to CPI-M. You are SFI (Student Federation of India, the student wing of CPI-M) cadres. We know all of you.”

While Bengal may be full of CPI-M cadres, this is like stretching it a little too much. It is time that Mamata Banerjee changed her anti-Left story.

There are a few things that Banerjee can learn from businesses from around the world which experience this phenomenon time and again. Some learn and adapt, others don’t and for some others, by the time they realise that things have changed, it’s already too late.

Take the case of Nokia, the largest mobile phone manufacturer in the world. The company started in 1865 as a groundwood pulp mill. It gradually became an industrial conglomerate and, among other things, produced paper products, tyres, footwear, communication cables and consumer electronics.

In the early 1990s the company realised that its story had to change. It decided to concentrate on the telecommunication business. It gradually sold out a host of its other businesses. The change of story helped the company become the largest mobile phone manufacturer in the world.

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But the company missed out on the smartphone revolution completely. By the time it changed its story and started concentrating on smart phones, other companies had already moved in and captured the market. A host of smaller companies from Micromax to Karbon Mobiles and many more are giving Nokia a run for its money in the Indian market.

Why did this happen? For the simple reason, like Mamata, the company remained attached to its earlier story.

There are other such examples as well. When it came to reliable, trustworthy news, there wasn’t a bigger brand than the British Broadcasting Corporation(BBC). The company did not see the story changing and the rise of 24-hour news channels. CNN grabbed the opportunity and broadcast the Gulf War live into homes.

Sony is another great example. The company changed the entire music business with the launch of the Walkman. But failed to see the story changing and handed over the mp three-player market to the likes of Apple on a platter.

Bharti Beetel, which revolutionised land line phones in India by launching push button phones, failed to see the story changing and remained stuck to selling push-button phones, when more and more consumers were moving to mobile phones. Ironically, its sister company Airtel became the biggest mobile phone company in India.

The company has recently started selling mobile phones. Now imagine, during the days when Airtel was a growing company, Bharti could have sold its own mobile phones (under the Beetel brand) to consumers who bought an Airtel connection and thus could have been one of the biggest mobile phone companies in India.

Those who do see the story changing and change their stories accordingly benefit from it. An oft-quoted example is that of Nirma and Wheel. The Nirma detergent started selling at Rs 3.50 per kg at a time when Hindustan Lever’s (now Hindustan Unilever) Surf used to sell for around Rs 15 per kg. The low price of Nirma made it accessible to consumers, who till then really couldn’t afford the luxury of washing clothes using a detergent and had to use soap instead.

To Hindustan Lever’s credit they did not remain stuck in their past. They realised that the story had to change, and thus went ahead and launched their Nirma killer “Wheel” detergent, which eventually beat the sales of Nirma.

The moral of the story from all these examples, from Surf to Nokia to Sony to Bharti, is simple. At times in the lives of individuals as well as companies the story that had worked previously needs to be dumped.

It is time for Mamata to come up with a new story. She is no longer in the opposition when blaming the Left for every problem in the state of West Bengal was her story. Now she is where the Left was earlier.

If she doesn’t change her story and come up with a new one, her innings as a Chief Minister is going to be short-lived. The people of West Bengal need to know what does the new Mamata stand for?

Vivek Kaul is a writer and can be reached at vivek.kaul@gmail.com

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