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The Elephant Problem

So American Idol is over. And again the best singer did not win. In fact he got knocked out in the penultimate round. Nearly everyone agreed that Joshua Ledet was a fantastic singer. But Philip Philips was the more likeable guy.

On the Formula 1 circuit Hamilton and Alonso are easily the best drivers. But they are also the guys most viewers would like to not win.

The PAP is doing a pretty good job running Singapore, yet large swathes of the country would like to see them lose the elections. (more on them later)

Anyone who works in any organisation knows that, the people who rise to the top are not necessarily the guys who are the smartest.

This is a fundamental issue brands face, need to face and have faced for eons.

Something that works well is just a product.

Something that makes me want to act in your favour is a brand.

In the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard they refer to the analogy of an elephant and the mahout(rider).

The elephant is our emotion. Our feelings.

The rider is our head. Our logic.

The elephant is huge and can sweep the rider in any direction it chooses. Yet through skill, smartly deployed the rider is able to direct the elephant as needed.

Strong brands talk mostly to the elephant.

I looked at the BrandZ Top 100 list for 2012 and here are the top 5 brands.

Apple, IBM, Google, McDonald’s, Microsoft.

Apple we know is such an Elephant brand. Enough’s been written about them. So will leave them out of this blog.

IBM. It is a b2b company and typically would be a ‘rider is king’ brand. Lots of ink is spent on saying that b2b brands are driven by logic and not emotion. That is probably true. However, through the campaigns IBM has run over time from ‘Solutions for a small planet’ to the current ‘Smarter Planet’ one they have consistently talked to the elephant and the rider.

Google. It delivers great search results. So would typically be another rider brand. However, they’re constantly talking to the elephant through the things they do with their properties. And curiously their continuous fiddling with what used to be sacred : the logo, is probably the coolest thing they do..nearly daily.

McDonald’s has a history of creating warm memories and is clearly an elephant brand. In fact they want the rider blindfolded, lest she/he sees the junk food they sell.

Microsoft : Is a brand that needs to talk to the elephant. They are too staccato in their efforts, and though their products are used by more people than any of the brands that precede them they languish at No 5.

Which brings me to the recent by- election in Singapore. Read the details here.

As I look at the parties in the fray using the above glasses, it is clear that the ruling party is talking to the rider. The opposition to the elephant.

I believe, at its core there will be no fundamental difference to the policies of the government no matter who comes to power. Given the size and nature of the economy many decisions are forced upon the country.

Yet the ruling party is disliked by a large majority. They are run by some very smart people. People with integrity. People with a good track record. But they have no emotional equity with the voters.

Unless times are really tough, voters are led by their inner elephant. If PAP wants to win in the next general election, without skullduggery, they need to talk to the elephant in every Singaporean.

This is not meant to be a PAP strategy piece, (an UNblock blog awaits) but just to make the point that sometimes having a great product is not enough. The emotional equity is key.

In a battle between the elephant and the rider, the elephant will always win.

When ever you use I want..it is the elephant leading your decision making.

When ever you use I have to use…it is the rider.

Good brands know that.

Smart brands ensure the mahout enjoys the elephant ride too.

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