24 October 2011

Kenya: Nation's War On Al-Shabaab Offers Vital Lessons in Battle for Market


I have a policy of not taking investment advice from my barber. However, I always listen to his talk. Last week, I heard him asking his colleagues why Kenya has gone to fight in Somali.

According to one of them, the battle was ignited by the abduction of tourists. In their wisdom, we should not go to war because of a foreigner. In short they disapproved the war as unnecessary.

Personally, I thought they were missing the point.

When I saw our military forces get into Somali I felt a sense of national pride which inspired this article.

It occurred to me that the military is a good example of what the recent campaign, Nitakuwepo (Swahili for I'll be there), which Brand Kenya launched recently, calls for.

The campaign is a promise by Kenyans to be ready to stand up for the country when called upon to do so. Another school of thought quote part of the national anthem -- firm may we stand to defend, as the rallying call.

I sought for the opinion of a military expert who explained that we are not at war in Somali.

Our defence forces are just fulfilling the mandate we have given them under the Constitution, which is to protect the sovereignty of our republic and its integrity.

Once an institution has a clear mandate I think the execution should be left to the trusted hands of the appointed authorities. Whether we support the execution or not is irrelevant.

According to the expert Kenya has not invaded Somali, our forces are just pursuing criminals who have been interfering with our national interest.

Anyone who interferes with the country's strategic interests such as tourism is a big threat to our progress as a country.

The expert helped me to understand that the need for self-defence is all about ensuring your survival chances so that you can live to tell your story and do all that appertains to being alive.

Therefore, most defensive actions are like a knee jerk reaction to protect you from real or perceived threats.

In marketing and life, we say that perception is reality.

This, therefore, means that it doesn't matter whether a threat is real or perceived -- it is a threat. Many times, justification for going to war is never clear to citizens but all the same there are threats that they may not be aware of.

The battle offers lessons for businesses.

According to Philip Kotler's Marketing Insight from A-to-Z, in all battles, be it military, business or marital, victory goes to the party that has better information. This means that you need to invest in intelligence so that you know where and when to strike.

You can also choose to fight another day. The fact that Kenya has been identified with peacekeeping over the years may mean that this time round we were pushed too hard to maintain our brand as a peaceful and stable country.

As I have written before, different times call for different strategies and businesses have to keep changing their approaches in line with market realities.

This suggests that we have very clear information on what we are doing as a country and any move that is taken is totally informed.

Likewise, businesses should invest in market intelligence and research to inform their next battle in the market. Remember if you stay stationary, you get shot.Another thing, which is clear is that you have to defend your brand and what it stands for.

Your brand DNA or essence is the purpose for its existence. If that purpose is not guarded then its survival may be threatened.

I also advocate businesses to respect competition. Many competitors challenge established businesses and in some cases make them close shop. Major media players dismissed CNN as 'Chicken Noodle News' at its time of launch, they wondered how anyone could watch news for 24 hours.

Goliath also dismissed David, he wondered how a boy with just a stone and a sling could even imagine to face him for a fight. But both CNN and David proved their critics wrong.

This points to the fact that any battle is about confidence, it is for this reason that soldiers pay meticulous attention to their grooming. Successful salesmen share the same sentiments with the soldiers in terms of grooming.

Again there is a lot of team effort and thorough planning in the battle front, which are lessons for modern businesses to emulate.

Mr Ngahu is the marketing director of SBO Research.

Email: bngahu@sboresearch.co.ke

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