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The first commandment:

Adopt marketing, not propaganda.

3rd September 2018

      In my introduction to the ten commandments, we established the fact that leaders need to be visible. So, the first question we must ask is how does one become visible?

      That requires you to build a personal brand. You must stand for something. People should associate you with something. For example, when you mention the name ‘Steve Jobs’, you immediately associate it with perfection and great design. Or when you talk about the Dalai Lama, the first thing that comes to your mind is peace and contentment. 

      All the lessons learnt in marketing about how brands are built apply to you as an individual. And what you stand for must be AUTHENTIC. You cannot take a useless product and get people to buy through great marketing collateral. Once they are disappointed, they will leave faster than they joined. Whatever you are marketing must be genuine. Similarly, as an individual YOU must be genuine and authentic. A lot of effort must be put into building what you stand for. And marketing is only effective when done right. When not done right, it becomes propaganda. And propaganda is always discounted. Good marketing ensures genuineness. What you say must align with how you are perceived. Propaganda is associated with things like fake news because people create distorted facts which are self-serving.

Fake Video
Play Video

Video circulating on Whatsapp*

Full video of Ashok Gehlot*

*These videos neither represent my political opinion, nor do I endorse them. They are just a great examples of how propaganda can be created by manipulating content.

      So, when you are building a personal brand it cannot have a self-serving agenda. The agenda should stand for the ‘broader good’. Now ‘broader good’ doesn’t mean everybody must fight to eliminate world hunger. ‘Broader good’ can mean that someone is making their business grow; not because they want to become rich as it grows, but because they have the right solution for a set of problems. And when they solve that problem, there are many others who will benefit from it. Vodafone is rich as a company, but because of them you can speak with your son or daughter even when you are travelling. Intel is a behemoth, but the technology disruption they have created has many applications which have improved the quality of life for all of us. A good business always makes money, but making money is the SECONDARY element. They are really trying to solve a problem. And money is one of the ways of getting compensated for solving that problem.

      Let’s take the example of a country like North Korea. Kim Jong Un controls information that is being fed to his people because he wants to stay in power. He is not wondering whether his people are living good lives. As long as he lives a good life, there is no reason to care. Therefore, information is very tightly controlled. Even in countries like China, they have a Department of Propaganda. Marketing is all about making your capabilities known for a cause which stands for the broader good of society. On the other hand, propaganda is self-serving. In marketing, you stand for something which is bigger than you as an individual. There has to be a purpose. People will align with you for that purpose and then you can solve the problem. In the case of propaganda, one manufactures facts to get what they want. And that eventually backfires on you at some point. When people start realising that what you do is only for yourself and not for anyone else, it backfires much harder. That is how revolts and civil wars originate. The minute people understand that you are manipulating them, they rebel. The same principle applies to companies. There was the case of a phone called ‘Freedom 251’. I think that was a lot of propaganda. Everybody talked about it but nothing was delivered in the end. Even if the founder had good intentions, he lost his credibility. If you spread propaganda, you can only delay the inevitable. And when it backfires, its results in the end of careers. Hence it is essential to find the right balance; marketing is genuine and propaganda is not.


      Leaders must be authentic. And they must think about a broader purpose than themselves. The purpose for which the leader stands is bigger than the leader himself. Gandhi stood for India’s freedom which was much larger than Gandhi himself. If Gandhi had not done the Dandi march he would have not got the attention of the British. He had to become visible to bring about change. When Richard Branson drives a tank down Fifth Avenue, the intent behind it is to get visibility. Only when you are visible can you make your point known and then your purpose would get attention. Good marketing is about the purpose and not about the individual. The individual indeed has a role to play. If the individual doesn’t establish a brand, the purpose may not be achieved. For marketing, the purpose is important, not the person. For propaganda, the person is important not the purpose; there may not even be a purpose.

The line between marketing and propaganda is very thin. And leaders must be very conscious of that. 


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