From Assembly Elections to Industry the Need to Address Change is Universal

Along with announcing the schedule for elections in 5 states a few days ago, India’s Election Commission (EC) also imposed certain restrictions on how parties and candidates can campaign during these elections. The limitations on rallies and gatherings- the most popular platforms for all political parties- were the result of the continuing spread of Covid cases across India. It was also partly in response to the criticism of the EC for not preventing large gatherings and political rallies during the previous round of assembly elections held in 2021. The EC has said it will review its restrictions after a period of time.

Expectedly, some murmurs have begun about how such restrictions will create a non-level playing field against smaller and regional parties. This concern is probably not entirely invalid; the EC’s action will definitely have an impact on how different parties campaign (and possibly, the results too, in some cases). However, I prefer to see the bigger picture. Specifically, I see two key messages in the EC’s recent action. The first is the acknowledgement that even in our country, political processes are not immune to change. The second is that while many forces of major change are unpredictable (e.g., the pandemic itself), the human race is by and large equipped to adapt to them.

Responding to changes takes time, and these timelines vary with the context of the change. For example, climate change related actions have taken much longer than ideal. Also, not all solutions will be ideal. And as solutions are deployed, newer problems may emerge (e.g., the virus mutating to new strains). It will therefore be interesting to see how different parties and individual candidates utilize digital tools to reach out to the people in their constituencies and convey their poll messages. In some sense, election campaigning is a lot like marketing, so a mix of physical, electronic and digital avenues will need to be used. The restrictions on rallies will tip the scales in favour of electronic/digital and hybrid channels will emerge.

It is just as important for parties to keep track of which of these channels gives them the highest RoI, so that they can refine them and build on them for future use. There is no point in adopting campaign channels that do not deliver. All change must be looked at in the context of its impact on consumer behaviour. In elections, the voters are the consumers of the political messaging; elsewhere, it is the paying customer.

In the world of business, as in life, it is tempting but naïve to look for one-to-one mapping of cause and effect. Consider the example of disruptions to global supply chains that have adversely impacted certain industries more than others. The automotive industry, for instance, has been affected because customers are keen on buying a certain model of car/SUV with certain preferences- and if those are not available (because carmakers do not have the chips or other components), they defer their purchases.

The emergence of Electric Vehicles (EVs) as a distinct industry with its own ecosystem is another major trend. The high price of fossil fuels, government policies, reducing cost of EVs, availability of charging infrastructure and rising environmental consciousness around the world are all contributing to a shift to hybrid/EVs. This is a threat to conventional carmakers whose products run on internal combustion engines. Unless they pivot, they will find it difficult to stay relevant in the years ahead. I do not expect conventional petrol/diesel powered cars/SUVs to be replaced by EVs in the next decade. But players will need to transform themselves to meet the challenges posed on both the supply and demand side.

The rise of the Direct-to-Customer model in FMCG may well provide a template for carmakers as well. Rather than mass-producing a large number of cars of a certain model/colour etc. and shipping them to dealers around the country (where they remain as inventory), the industry may evolve to a model where customers can pre-order vehicles of their choice and get it delivered on a certain day/date. This has already started in India, with Ola adopting this approach for its electric scooters. But as with anything new, teething troubles are inevitable. Just as companies have to get used to not having the cushion provided by dealers, customers too will have to get used to the absence of the middleman- the dealer- whose neck is the first one to catch if there is a delivery delay or problem with the vehicle.

I cite the above example only to illustrate my point. Multifaceted change and the consequent need to respond to these forces is not limited to any particular industry. While the underlying drivers of change or the pace may vary, enterprises in every industry will need to transform to remain relevant. Even the professional services industry (lawyers, accountants, consultants etc.) is not immune, simply because the kinds of problems they will increasingly be called to help solve will not be similar to the ones they have dealt with in the past.

Image Credits: Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash

Multifaceted change and the consequent need to respond to these forces is not limited to any particular industry. While the underlying drivers of change or the pace may vary, enterprises in every industry will need to transform to remain relevant.