Mahatma Gandhi, the ultimate Marketing Guru!



Gandhi has been my favourite for seminars on leadership and management for years! In fact, in the last chapter of my first book Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch, I described him as the ultimate successor of Krishna as a management guru! The reason is simple! To me, there is no greater a management guru than Krishna; and the Gita is my ultimate guide to management! Krishna guides a handful of five brothers to victory against the army of a hundred brothers in the mythological Mahabharata, and in a similar way, Mahatma Gandhi guided us to Independence against all odds! Whether Krishna was true or not is debatable, but Gandhi was for real! And what we all know about Gandhi is that when he died, he said, "Hey Ram, He Ram, He Ram," – though now even that is debated by various scholars. However, what many of us don’t know about Gandhi is that he used to read the Gita daily and called it the most important guide to success.

So what is it about the Mahatma that makes him such a revered figure even when it comes to management and especially marketing? For that, we have to perhaps study a little bit about his past and look at world history on the whole. World wide, freedom from the oppressor always meant violent struggles! Freedom was always synonymous with violent revolutions. You conquered with the power of violence and you got freedom by fighting violence with violence! But India had a peculiar problem! The problem was our prevalent religion. Gandhi himself called Hindus cowards. I wouldn’t say that, but we sure were complacent, patient and tolerant and relatively the most peaceful race in the world. We had not developed in us the spirit of war and violence! And therefore, when it came to motivating Indians and bringing them out for a violent revolution, even the man who defeated Gandhi’s own candidate in the Indian National Congress (INC) elections and became the President of INC – Subhash Chandra Bose – failed miserably. His war cry – "Give me blood, and I will give you freedom" – would’ve worked in every part of the world... but for India! And Bose finally had to leave India to collect his army from outside India to fight the Indian war of Independence! Gandhi, of course, was a keen observer and a quick learner – a key trait of a great marketing man! This man, with a burning desire to succeed in getting India freedom and realizing that violence didn’t appeal to the common Indian man, changed and did what was never done world wide – again, a great trait of a good marketing success story is being first! And Gandhi surely was the first to bring to the world, the concept of non-violence! This concept made him the TIME magazine’s Man of the Year way back in 1930 and won him followers ranging from Martin Luther King Junior, the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi amongst others over the years.

At first, non-violence was looked as the stupidest tool of revolution. But Gandhi knew what he was doing. He knew how to market his concept because he knew he was satisfying an existing need – the need to participate in the freedom struggle and throw the British out, which was combined with a desire to not be forced to take up arms and risk one’s life in a violent manner. He knew that his concept was a great solution to this need. The next thing he had to do was to connect with the masses and spread the word. In those days, when newspapers were a luxury, telecommunication absent and even transport and connectivity a rarity, getting the message across the length and breadth of this huge nation was the biggest possible challenge. Gandhi decided to go about it man to man! He always had a great respect for the end customer. He had said, "The customer is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favour by serving him. He is doing us a favour by giving us an opportunity to do so." And in his struggle, the end customers were the masses. To connect with them, he gave up his suits and ties. In fact, to connect with them, his marketing campaign included burning of foreign clothes and making khadi. Many like Tagore didn’t find it logical. But being a marketing man, Gandhi knew it was helping him connect emotionally with his audience and convey his message across. The common man often understands symbolic gestures better than great works of poetry. And Gandhi reveled in such symbolic gestures. Being a great leader, leading from the front was never an issue, but what many Indian leaders fail to do even now in these days of easy connectivity, he did way back in the early 1900s. He went to his masses and became a part of them. He walked with them and inspired them to walk along with him. His new attire – the khadi – was something the common man identified with; and his half-naked clothing was symbolic of the man whose support he wanted – the unfed and suffering Indian looking for salvation. As they say, there is nothing to beat a great word of mouth! The word of his work with masses spread like fire and soon the entire country was finding out ways to follow the activities of this man of peace, who was talking of giving India independence and looked closer to achieving it than anyone had ever had!

His half-naked clothing was symbolic of the man whose support Gandhi wanted As a great marketing brain, he had done a great SWOT analysis. He knew his opponents and competition – the British – well. He knew that unlike, say the Nazis, the British were more cultured and believed in being fair and had a court that they were answerable to. So he knew that it would be almost impossible for the British to kill him if all he did was to walk and talk of peace. He used their weakness to be ruthless to his advantage and used intellectuals amongst them for his own PR! Not to forget, he used fasting as a great tool to drive home the message – that he was not scared of losing his life when it came to the cause.

But perhaps the biggest marketing tool behind a great success story is always the art of owning a simple uncomplicated line in your customer’s mind… Marketers spend millions to do it! That’s what marketing is about finally – owning that one line in your customer’s mind. Be it "Just do it" or be it "Taste the thunder", if you own this one line in your customer’s mind, you have cracked the marketing code. And Gandhi owned the line "non-violent movement". It was the perfect positioning line for him for the market he was catering to. And thus, success had to be his. Today, years after his death, our nation is using Gandhi to market itself, by printing his snap on all currency notes; celebrities across the world are wearing him on their t-shirts to market themselves better, United Nations is using him to market itself by declaring October 2 as the International Day of Non-Violence; and the Congress party is marketing its NREGA programme by calling it the Mahatma Gandhi NREGA programme! Commercial companies are not far behind, with Mont Blanc making its India presence felt with the launch of its Mahatma Gandhi Limited Edition pen. Inevitably, when it came to this year’s Hall of Fame issue, we felt Gandhi on the cover was the best way to market our magazine to you… no doubt he was the Mahatma of marketing!

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