It has certainly been an exciting two weeks, hasn’t it? Some say it was an emotional roller-coaster on the night of the General Election (GE) results on May 9, 2018. Whatever the case, we now have a new Government and fresh regime after 61 years! Hurray for Malaysia!
Was the GE14 won by accident or by a stroke of luck? Certainly not. The planning, strategising and execution of Pakatan Harapan’s (PH’s) campaign was immaculate, flawless and brilliantly executed.
Much has already been written about the focused determination, selfless drive, energy and foresight of Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. What I would like to do here is to share several principles we can learn and apply in business from the lessons gathered from the GE:-
1. Thoroughly Understand Your Target Audience
Just like any good marketer, PH has a deep and thorough understanding of the voters. They knew that the “urban voters” were more savvy and have a pretty good understanding of 1MDB and other scandals. However, they also realised that victory hinged on their ability to appeal to the “Malay Heartland” – what marketers might call their primary target.
This was where the toughest battle needed to be fought and won. And here, although the audience had some differing characteristics – their common denominator lies with their daily struggle with bread-and-butter issues. The more relevant issue here would be the sharply rising cost of living that has been linked to the imposition of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in recent years.
Key Lesson:- Carefully analyse your market segments and determine which segment should be your primary focus. Then, construct and design your message, offering or value proposition accordingly.
2. Know Your Terrain Intimately
In their campaign, PH made Johor their central battleground. Knowing about the growing dissent among Johoreans, they capitalised on the Muhyiddin Yassin factor and continued the attack started by Pakatan Rakyat in the previous GE.
They took the high ground and focussed their attack on the bastion of Barisan Nasional (BN) upon which UMNO was founded and where several MCA leaders previously won in Malay majority constituencies. They were able to penetrate the vital FELDA settlers and drove home the message about the Felda Global Ventures Holdings Berhad issues.
Key Lesson: Understand your competition’s frame and market dynamics intimately so you can develop effective plans to neutralise or overwhelm your competition.
3. Communicate Clearly and Powerfully
With an intimate understanding of the rakyat at different levels, PH was able to formulate clear and specific messages to each segment of the voters. The central theme of their message was the dire need to remove a corrupt and kleptocratic regime that was fast destroying our beloved country.
However, there were also pertinent sub messages addressed to the different voter segments such as the removal of tolls and GST, working towards racial harmony, transparent local council elections, more and better jobs, etc.
These messages were powerfully presented at the many ceramah talks held all over the country. The whole atmosphere of the ceramah was simply electrifying.
And, knowing that they had no access to traditional and mass media, these messages were strategically disseminated via the internet and social media, including livestreaming, YouTube, WhatsApp and digital news portals. Many of the campaigns went viral because the message hit the customer or voter’s sweet spot.
Key Lesson: Once you deeply understand your target audience, the market dynamics and competitive frame, craft your message for maximum impact. Master the dynamics of digital marketing – an essential – if not central part of marketing today.
4. Strategy & Detailed Planning Supported By Brilliant Execution
Intimately understanding the target audience (voter base), market dynamics (“rules and regulations” as well as other restrictions) including the competitive frame (deep pockets, control of mass media, inside information about their mindsets, etc.) all helped PH formulate a powerful strategy to bring about change.
There was also a lot of detailed planning by various teams to ensure nothing would divert or jeopardise the strategy and plans. Whether it was Project Invoke or comprehensive Polling & Counting Agents (PACA) training, nothing was left to chance.
Key Lesson: No matter how brilliant the strategy, results only come through great execution. Detailed planning isn’t glamorous, but it enables flawless execution.
5. Create A Powerful Vision For A Brighter Future
The promise of righting the wrongs, overcoming injustice and using the rule of law to bring to book those who have trespassed the law, coupled with improving the livelihood of the lower income groups by lowering cost of living were indeed powerful motivators.
Saving the country from financial misfortune and restoring it to its past glory definitely connected with the audience. The message was right and timely and the sense of hope was almost palpable. It moved people to take action.
Key Lesson: In business we must always create a clear and aspirational “brightness of the future” that resonates with our stakeholders. It has to be believable to stir people into taking action.
6. The Power Of Having A Fully Aligned Team
The strong leadership of Tun Dr. Mahathir, underscored by his credibility spanning 22 years’ experienceas Prime Minister of Malaysia, helped galvanise the Pakatan coalition of four separate and different political parties into a single cohesive force.
The ability and willingness to set aside differences and past animosity for a common goal was essential to success in order to topple the fortress of the deeply entrenched BN regime. Had the four individual parties not been galvanised into a singular powerful opposing force, it would not have been able to crush the almost impregnable BN fortress.
Such is the power of a fully aligned team – totally united in achieving the common mission of saving the country from certain ruin. Disagreements about seat allocation and other matters it was clear, had to be firmly resolved. Agreeing and announcing the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister designates helped people visualise the potential outcome as well as believe and trust the coalition.
In the end, the chief architect of many of the restrictive systems in the country today had to be the mastermind in order to breakthrough the previous regime.
Key Lesson: Simple or grand, strategies need to be well-executed to succeed. Having a fully aligned team is a pre-requisite for this to happen.
7 Lead with Authority & Conviction
Ultimately, it comes down to leadership. Tun Dr. Mahathir had the drive, gumption, resolute power and wherewithal to take on a highly formidable administration that controlled every facet of Government – from the Registrar of Societies and Election Commission to the Attorney General’s office, media and more.
He acknowledged past mistakes and worked tirelessly to drive change. He showed his human side and was prepared to be vulnerable.
At 92, he had nothing to prove. Any wonder that there’s now a call to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize?
Key Lesson: In the end, it was a strategy of pre-eminence, of upholding the interest of the rakyat (read – “your clients and customers”) and the country first and foremost as well as having the integrity and boldness to act accordingly.
These 7 lessons are by no means exhaustive. I look forward to hearing your thoughts, feedback and insights.
Thank God for a New Malaysia!