Marketing is all about the moments of truth

29 Jun,2016


Mainak Dhar wears many hats. The Managing Director of General Mills India Private Limited is also a much-published author. An alumnus of IIM Ahmedabad, he has set himself a goal of writing one book every year. Brand Shastra, his latest, is on the stands though an official launch event is scheduled to happen soon. Also being released virtually simultaneously is his new novel 03:02. Pradyuman Maheshwari talks to Mainak Dhar about his books, balancing personal with a busy professional life and most importantly, finding the time for writing,


You are on to your 14th and 15th book, and you have a pressing day job at General Mills. How do you manage both?

Writing is something I have been passionate about ever since I was a child. My father was in a government job, so we moved around a lot. By the time I finished my education, I had gone through nine different schools. When you are moving constantly, you are alive in your own imagination. Ever since I was very young, I wanted to write. When you are passionate about something, and you decide that it is going to be a part of your life, you make time for it.


And it’s your ambition to write a book a year. That is a huge ask, alongside the demands of the top job at a  company like General Mills…

The passion to sustain anything has to be coupled with discipline and deliberate choices. Passion can get you through one book. But if you want to make anything sustainable — whether it is writing, exercise or a hobby — that needs to be coupled with discipline and clear choices. My priorities are very clear. Number One is my family; Number Two are the people at work whom I am accountable to because ultimately that is where all the things in business helps people succeed; and Number Three is how I make time for health, fitness and what I want to do. My writing is in those spaces in my routine when I am not with my family or with people at work. Every morning I run for an hour, and that is when I am thinking about writing. Every day, I keep half an hour aside for writing, and it all adds up. My target is 500 words a day. If I can sustain that for nine months, you have a reasonably-sized novel. I also get a lot of writing done when I am travelling on work. When I am on a flight, at a hotel, sitting in the lounge at the airport, I write.


This is your second book on brands…

Yes. My first was Brand Management 101, which was about the real-world application of marketing. That book was written nine years ago, so at that stage of my life and career, what struck me was that there was a certain kind of marketing you learn in schools and case studies, and there is a whole different side to it in the real world. So Brand Management 101 is really focused on how you would deal with the ‘P’s of marketing, and taking all that into account.


Was this when you returned to India?

No, I was still in Singapore. I was abroad for 15 years and came back in 2014. Brandshastra is about moving nine years on, at a different life-stage, when I am married with a kid and dealing with larger organisations. A lot of energy, passion and thinking is put behind building brands [today]. I have an eight-year-old son, and so much of our effort as parents goes into how you teach kids the right habits, how do you encourage them to repeat desired patterns of behaviour and such. [The marketing equivalent of that are] loyalty programmes and hotels and airlines do that. And how do brands do it? Through positive reinforcement. Also, a lot of us make resolutions which we don’t stick to. All those resolutions involve changing our habits. You have a certain pattern of behavior, and there are habits you want to break. Marketers have been doing it for years by convincing someone using a bar soap to use a detergent, and someone who has not used a disposable diaper to use one etc. That is the genesis for this book.


Several captains of industry have written books which are either memoirs or about case studies. Yours is a totally different and original take on the subject.

Fundamentally, marketing is about understanding people, their motivations and about influencing their behavior. And we have doing it for thousands of years. The framework of marketing gives us a way of thinking about it in a structured way, which is then used to impact various parts of our lives. The first chapter, which is called ‘Adam’s Apple to Acche Din- A brief history of Marketing’, basically says that what we accept as a marketing tool, is the basic of influencing, understanding and shaping perceptions, which people have been doing since time immemorial. That is what inspired me. I think we can unlock a lot of power in our everyday lives if we make those connections. People build billion-dollar brands on the basis of understanding perceptions, motivation and behaviour. So how can we take something from that to impact people around us, and our lives and our behaviours?


Often, when people from industry write books, they talk about how successful they have been in doing things themselves. Have you looked at some of your own successes in this book?

No, I have not focused on things which I have done personally. But I have built on learnings and experiences, and observations. But there is a lot that I still have to learn. I think the book is more about somebody who has walked several miles in the shoes of people who build brands, run businesses and make connections to everyday life, and that is how I would like to pitch the book. It is more of an expedition — what are the possible ways of thinking about our choices differently. I have [adopted a tone] which is more conversational, exploratory and certainly [offers] no definite answers. If there were definite answers to all these questions, we would all be leading very different lives.


What according to you, in the facets of everyday life, is perhaps the best use of a textbook marketing strategy?

One thing which has wide applicability is, in the Indian context, the concept of moments of truth. In the industry they say there is a zero moment of truth, there is a first moment of truth, a second (which is the actual results) and a third moment of truth which is what people say about you. I think the way we grow up, our educational system is the single point moment of truth, which is the percentage you get, rank, did you get in to the job- that is how we train our kids. Now that I see kids growing, that is the context a lot of us have grown up. And, then people bring that attitude to the workplace, to their relationships which is have I met my target? Target is the second moment of truth. The perceptions that people are forming about you from what you have done in the past is your zero moment of truth. How you communicate, motivate and influence people is your first moment of truth. The stories that people tell about you when you are no longer in the room, is the third moment of truth. That is a work example, but the same thing holds in terms of how people interact with each other. A lot of the focus is on ‘let’s get the results’.


Lastly, what would you ask marketers to learn from everyday life?

In everyday life our strongest relationships, whether it is a friendship or marriage or any other relationship, are the ones we build by engaging with people without necessarily any end in mind. Our best friends are people we met over random conversations and we saw that there was a match of values, outlook, beliefs and fear. And that is how our deepest relationships get built. In today’s day of social media, it is a wonderful opportunity for marketers to think how to engage in conversations without saying ‘I have something to sell you’ or ‘I want you to think in a certain way about a brand’. In everyday life, our strongest relationships are the ones which do not start with a transaction.


This interview first appeared in dna of brands on June 20, 2016


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