Change with a capital C

CHANDU NAIR reviews S. Ramchander's book, which shows how innovation is necessary for businesses to survive and prosper.

WHAT are the true sources of consumer value? Can a link be established between the value added to the shareholder and the consumer's value added? Is value a chain, a cycle or a spiral? How can we use new ways of looking and discovering how to provide better value to customers? These were the prime drivers behind S.Ramachander's recently launched book, Ascending the Value Spiral: From Insight to Innovation, which is a welcome addition to India's rather bare cupboard of books regarding marketing thought and practice.

As a practicing manager-turned-consultant-turned-academic, Ramachander has worn several hats in many organisations. Such diversity has resulted in the fusion of several disciplines and streams of thought in this book. For instance, Ramachander acknowledges the significant role played by "a brilliantly conceived module on `Creativity, Innovation and Management of Change' in the (British) Open University's MBA course, (which) triggered a new line of thinking for me and provided the much needed answer to the `how to' questions." This probably explains why his book begins with a strong assertion "The starting point of this book is the inevitability of innovation for survival in business."

Not just innovation but competitive innovation, basically seeing something in a way no one else has, and marrying it to strong strategic intent and execution. In a place like India, where marketing is still largely sales driven, that is push still dominates over pull, such an approach would mean junking a whole lot of historically acquired management and marketing baggage. And that means Change, with a capital C!

For instance, a key change would be how companies, especially the owners and/ or top management look at "Marketing" itself. Typically, marketing has been viewed as a means by which goods are moved off from the company's premises onto the dealer's shelves, if not the customer's home or factory. But to survive today, top management needs to clearly recognize that Marketing is not a post-manufacturing activity. "By the time you reach the prospect's door, the fate of the product has already been sealed ... (and) almost all its competitive edge has been predetermined," asserts Ramachander.

Marketing in India still continues largely at the "Operating Dimension" or functional/departmental level (concerned essentially with the `how's' of product design, pricing, sales schemes). In some relatively savvy companies, it has moved into the "Managerial" realm (getting into the `what's' and `when's' — integrating the 4 Ps with brand goals, long term plans). It is only in the enlightened company that marketing is woven inextricably into the vision or strategic direction of the enterprise. However, it is at this topmost level, the level of the strategic decision makers, opines Ramachander, where most marketing disasters originate.

As India evolves and becomes a more open economy from the closed, protected market it was virtually till the 1990s, businessmen, managers, consultants and academics alike are trying to come to terms with what "Marketing" is all about in such a nation-economy. Clearly, there is an urgent need to move from the hitherto widely used step-by-step, sequential approach to marketing to a more holistic, dynamic and non-sequential approach. This necessitates that top management clearly articulate the vision and mission of the enterprise, that is, "a point of view about the future".

To develop such a point of view, it is perhaps necessary to change the viewing point. As Marcel Proust so delightfully put it, "The real voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes." To help develop such eyes, Ramachander first takes the reader through a range of subjects covering value, including the value cycle and value spiral (Chapter 3), how customers perceive value (Chapter 4) and building a user-usage interface matrix (Chapter 5).

While in its simplest form, value is merely the excess of benefit over cost, it acquires a somewhat different incarnation from the marketing perspective. At the end of the day, value is still a perception. Two, for any enterprise, only the customer pays the price; all the others tend to be elements of cost. Ramachander posits that customer value can and must be continuously improved, and proposes a 4D framework for doing precisely that — Discover— Define (or Design)— Develop— Deliver. For an organisation to be consistently successful, it not only needs to continuously be on the 4D cycle but also needs to ensure that by doing so, it spirals up the value equation from the customer point of view.

Thereafter, he gets into what is clearly this book's singular obsession viz., discovery and innovation. This he first explores by talking about encouraging creative discovery, the search for new values and creativity techniques (Chapters 6 to 8) before clearly demonstrating its applicability in organisations and to markets by discussing a behavioural model of the market, modelling the market structure and delving into insights that lead to successful innovation (Chapters 9 to 11).

To quote management guru Dr. C.K. Prahlad from his foreword to this book, "... Creation of value at the customer interface ... (and the) process of discovery and innovation ... are the two themes persistent in the book ... The value spiral is an important contribution. The traditional value chain analysis is an internally oriented view of value creation. The value spiral focuses on the `consumer in' perspective."

The book pre-supposes that the reader is Indian and also quite familiar with Indian brands and companies. As a result, the relevance of certain brand names (many times with no indication of the product category or industry) may escape any other reader. So too is the use of company or other abbreviations (e.g., TISCO, SAIL page 42 or NBFC page 64).

Ramachander makes a plethora of points right through the book; in fact, he piles one point rapidly on top of another giving the reader barely any time to savour one ere he encounters the next. It's almost as if he's decided he's got to say IT all in this one book itself! Just as parents tend to be anxious with the first-born and rather blas� from the second child onwards, I am sure that Ramachander too will deliver his next tome with greater ease and aplomb. And, in his own way, add to India's marketing wisdom.

Ascending the Value Spiral: From Insight to Innovation, S. Ramchander, pp. 286, Response Books, Rs.250.

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