Sanjeev Kotnala: Is your brand ready for business calamities like a cloudburst or an earthquake?

09 Dec,2015

By Sanjeev Kotnala

Sajeev is one of our emergencies and disaster preparedness experts at Aide-et-Action. He learnt a lesson in the Chennai floods.  Being a disaster management expert, he is always ready with sufficient stocks of essential food items, milk powder, candles, torchlight, basic medicines, etc. However, after two days of power cut in the Chennai floods, when he wanted to fill petrol in his bike, he realised he is left with only Rs 200. The power cut meant that none of the ATMs were working.  We are over-dependent on Plastic Money and ATM. ATMs are clearly NOT  “any time money”.  So, Sajeev has added one more thing in his list of preparedness: sufficient cash. Your money is not your money in such situations.

I remember a few months back after strong tremors were felt in Delhi, my sister-in-law called to share her fears.There had been too many earthquakes in recent past. She was worried. She stays in Patparganj, which is reclaimed marshland and is more at risk. The news media keeps reminding her that Delhi is on the earthquake fault line, the pressure in Himalayan belt has been building up for long and a big one is due.

She is smart. Along with her friends she bought a light and small-but-sturdy trunk. The metallic one. Inside went important documents including land deeds. It is kept in an easy-to-access area. It is different that her new generation son has stored all scanned images on the cloud. But to her, the trunk is more dependable than something she does not understand, see or feel.

In case of an earthquake striking Delhi, she believes she will have time to rush out with the trunk. I just hope that no earthquake of high magnitude hits and she ever needs to test the system.

The year 2006 in Mumbai saw people buying small heavy hammers with pointed tips. A special variety in fact did brisk business. After the effect of 2005 Mumbai rains, even the Mumbai police asked people to carry it in their cars. The hammer is meant to break the windshield in case one gets locked inside their cars. In 2005, many were trapped when the sophisticated centre systems that controls all functions malfunctioned due to rising rainwater. Many could have survived only if they had something to break their strong laminated glass windows. The hammer is precautionary step. In the last 11 years, I have never heard of anyone using it. Slowly the hammer moved from the glove compartment to some obscure part of the car.  If today you were to ask these hammer owners, they are most likely not to know, where have they kept the hammer?

We are human. We are trained to react. We adapt fast. We have selective memory. We relapse into safe feeling too fast. We take reactive measures. ‘We’ here include all brand owners, custodians and management teams.

We may be better prepared for predicting rains and future impact, but we are not prepared for the rains. We are still trying to understand earthquakes. In the case of earthquake it may happen the next moment or may keep building the pressure for next decade.  We have two situations, predictable and unpredictable.

The business environment is no different. The market you and your competitors currently operate in is no different. There are predictable actions (rains) that your current management is hopefully trained to handle. But, if a business is caught with an equivalent of Uttrakhand or Chennai situation, the best of the trained will find tough to cope. There is no template of response processes, accountability and responsibilities. You may have a hammer in place but it is useless.

On the other side, there is that constant disruption and innovation (earthquake). A result of shift in current technology, consumer needs, product designs or services. The pressure in any stable category or service is always building up and the switchover is sudden. Look at the impact of WhatsApp on mobile voice. The impact of services like Uber and Meru. These are tectonic shifts.

The business earthquakes have too many tectonic plates in friction. The pressure around product, service, process, technology is always building up. Even a simple consumer reorientation creates havoc. The only way to face it is to live in earthquake-proof buildings where the best you can do is minimise the impact and hope for the best.

The creation of such an impact-bearing structure in business needs brands and organisations to be proactive. Maybe create planned obsolescence. Continue living on the edge and defining newer and better technology and service. It is better than a new trend-fad-disruption redefining your business. Be ahead of the consumer dreams curve. Do not only listen to consumers and keep track of technology development to catch the early tremors. Define the new business plates. Experiment with things that your consumer may not be able to tell you.

But, maybe you already have a trunk for your brand. And that makes you happy. That makes you feel safe.

When the earthquake hits, the trunk will be of no use. My sister-in-law knows her special trunk is at best a salvation device. It is not the solution. To be doubly sure, she plans to move to a better location, which is on firm land, and the building is constructed with earthquake-proof technology. I know unless there are more tremors in near future, she will take this action out of her priority list. ‘It will not happen to me’ is the easiest trap we fall into. So did Sony Walkman, Kodak Films, Pagers and many more categories.

The firmness and longevity comes from constant evolution and proactive behaviour. It does not come from waiting for the next rain, earthquake or pollution reports.

You will have to decide what you want to do. Yu want to be happy with the hammer and trunk for your brand or you want to create a brand protocol and system – an earthquake proof zone. If you tell me it is the latter, I know you are lying.

May you never need your hammer and trunk.


Sanjeev Kotnala with 28 years of corporate experience is the Founderof Intradia World. A Brand, Marketing & Management Advisor, hefocuseson IDEATION (Harvest and Liberate) and INNOVATION (InNoWait) process and workshops. He is devoted to enhancing human potential. He is also a certified Life & ‘Mid life transition’ coach.Email tweet @s_kotnalaweb:,


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