Sanjeev Kotnala: Do you have the Yellow Umbrella?

15 Jul,2015

By Sanjeev Kotnala


I was sitting in the office of Ashrafbhai, an understated person well known for his ability to create wealth. He had invited me to help him recruit a candidate for his go-to-market strategy. Like many owner-driven organisations, in his office too the master colour control screen of the CCTV cameras was mounted on the wall facing him. The frames kept changing from time to time.


I was busy drinking the lovely tea that is served in his office when he suddenly asked ‘So, who do you think will get recruited today’?


I had not seen the complete set of resumes. We were yet to start interviewing and here was the sharp-eyed Ashraf Bhai was asking me a predictor question. I raised my eyebrows saying how would I know.


‘It will be that guy with the yellow umbrella’ Ashraf Bhai announced to no one in particular.  He clicked on one of the many remotes that were on his table and one of the smaller screens got enlarged. It was now covering the complete TV screen. I could see a frigidity semi nervous well-dressed young person sitting among the candidates. I was not sure of what and why did Ashraf pointed him out. There was nothing much there for me to observe.


When we closed in the evening we had two finalists before us.


One was the man with the yellow umbrella and another the girl with a transparent umbrella. It was natural for me to now ask Ashraf, what made him bet on them before start of the interview rounds.


Even at the risk of handing Ashrafbhai the talking stick for the next half an hour or so, it was me being real polite and selfish. I had learnt a lot of my marketing in his office and respected his observations. Here was he again sharing something that will some day could come handy.


“The yellow umbrella was the reason the person stood out from the rest. I am sure that whenever that umbrella was bought, this young man had a lot many options to buy from but he chooses the yellow one!


“Tell me Kotnala,” Ashraf continued, “which young man buys and uses a yellow umbrella. More so, even if he has one, which person would want to take that to an interview.  Only one with high self-belief! A person who measures himself with is own action and performance and not with others. Only who is willing to go against the grain.”


“Yet his umbrella was not only yellow, it was of the regular size and not the foldable variety. It to me symbolises that he is cautious and takes extra precaution as per the situation. More over he willing to even take few along with him.”


“To be truthful, Kotnalaji, I was already biased with that yellow umbrella.”


“But Ashraf, what if it was an umbrella presented to him and he did not buy it, or it was the only option he had.”


‘Oh that will be better, Kotnala… It will only mean that even people understand him perfectly well, they understand him to buy him a yellow umbrella… Wow, that will be great… do you want to call him back and check’


“And what about that girl with transparent umbrella, what’s your logic there?” I asked, the logical rationally-tuned professional in me wanted more.


“Well, you do disappoint me there (I could hear, it is elementary dear Watson in the air), it is clear, umbrella to a girl is more than just a protection from rain.  Hence they are mostly dark, short, easy to handle’ I nodded and that gave him the licence to continue. ‘Her’s was transparent, as if she was willing to be evaluated by everyone, there is nothing to hide for her and she is the one who will live in her own terms’


I got my answers and was leaving when Ashraf bhai called me.


‘Do you know, even if I want or not, he will now always be the yellow umbrella man for me, won’t be surprised if he is known like that in the organisation and outside. We get branded and these things that stick with us becomes our identifier and the calling card’


I was slowly starting to understand what Ashrafbhai was hinting at.


“Kotnalaji, I remember you used to have a few yellow umbrella yourself. But for the last one year, I have not seen you with one. Baarish ki kya Zaroorat, Yellow Chaata toh jab chayeh tab khol loo, aapki pehchaan hoti hai woh’. (what is the need for waiting for the rains to get your yellow umbrella out that is your identity).


I decided to go home and after due deliberation pick one yellow umbrella that I will move around with, One yellow umbrella that I will be known for.


Meanwhile, go ahead close your eyes and try remembering if you and your brand have a Yellow Umbrella. As impressions are being created while the audience distort, delete and generalise your messages according to their model of the world.


If you don’t have a yellow umbrella, time you acquired one. 


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