May 2013

ImageLiving and working around the globe has been an interesting, often challenging situation.  For me at least its been the constant awareness that the world has more problems than it has a fountain of solutions to correct the situation.

Here in Southeast Asia like many developing areas around the globe elections are always a highly contested event.  Its common place to see advance benevolences as a way to get a person to vote in a particular way, getting surrogates to vote (without rights) and to stuff the election with fraudulent votes.   All with the single purpose of affirming control and whatever agenda that is common place to the country.

The two most recent elections in Malaysia and the Philippines has been fraught with controversy.  Yet as I see it, if you need to sway an election to gain/maintain control, then you will face an ongoing challenge to affirm a following and the completion of an agenda to advance your cause.  But enough pontificating about the why lets look at how we can potentially reduce voting fraud.  The ability to do so has to be more than a solution, it must require that those in the political electorate must be willing to give up voting control.  Now I guess this might be a bit difficult given that if you are one of the groups that manipulate results why would you want your best devious endeavors to be resolved, right?  But lets assume that a nation really wants to add purity to electoral process there are solution opportunities.

It would start with voter registration and establishing proprietary access controls.  Countries, like Estonia, have already gone in that direction by providing the ability of its citizens to register and cast votes.  Other countries like the US and UK have done similarly for local referendums but have not embraced this for major candidate elections.  The time will come when this will make entry and you will be able to cast a vote as easily from your home computer as you can from your smart phone.  The obvious advantage is two fold, machine control (single registered voter, single registered vote).  Countries can either deliver their own point of registration or allow consumers to do so by providing key qualifying information in order to obtain voter identification.  But where the real potential exists is in the subsequent administration of the voting process.  This is not something that is a simple walk in the park.  A government would have to relinquish control to a third party that would maintain a highly secure, redundant system and insure the complete and unquestionable integrity of the votes.  Most governments, despite their not so great integrity in this regard are not always willing to give things up (especially if the controls get tighter or they feel that they in someway have compromised the sanctity of their sovereign rights over a key process).  But let’s assume for a moment that the third party was able to deliver a tight and nearly infallible solution, it would not mean that the national representatives would not have an obligation to watch the gate keeping third party provider in the discharge of their services.  On the contrary the blend of provider and benefactor further adds to the strengthening of controls.  If compromise was to occur then it would be through collusion.

ImageThe cloud offers a single solution to be reached on a global basis.  This would eradicate the need for absentee ballots, the unsettling handling of votes (whether in manual or electronic file form).  Even for those who did not have smart phone or computer access their manual votes or electronic votes at a polling location could be brought into the cloud.  Could be processed and the results be kept in an instantaneous fashion.  No more days of delay in announcing results, cut-offs could be firmly established, and significant Big Data Analysis reports could be produced to not only signify outcomes but also produce voting statistical behavior that would further support voting legitimacy.

I thought about these ideas as I thought back to similar high risk (big gain) ventures.  The one that came to mind was parimutuel wagering on horse races.  The racing odds are provided through a highly secure but widely reaching totalizer company.  As bets are placed, like votes, the odds are adjusted to determine final pay out numbers.  If odds and bets were compromised then great financial gain would be the outcome, for that reason secure but instantaneous management of big data is essential.  I liken this to the high risk voting venture and the potential value to be achieved from results.  The tracks often used their own team of accountants and statisticians to tabulate odds manually and realized that it was not only error prone but it took inordinate amounts of time to complete.  Thus the willingness to abdicate control to a reliable source made perfect sense, especially when this wasn’t their core business competency.  The same can be said for governments and the electoral processes.

The business value is significant if a large number of nations, especially those in the developing/emerging world that have always had the aire of questionable integrity, were to engage a cloud/big data solution.  The provider would have to view and take precautions beyond the norm… you are talking about outcomes that can shape the future of nations, affect its citizens and reshape world policy.  The solution is here, the ability to implement the solution is possible and now is the time to see whether the world is ready to abdicate the task without giving up the responsibility for voting integrity.

I hope that within my lifetime I see this come to be.  No more blue or purple fingers used to indicate that you voted, a simple electronic footprint would secure the integrity of the vote.  Let us hope and let us reaffirm the need for voting integrity.

ImageAs a consumer, advisor, user and evaluator of marketing I have reached the conclusion that we are going about it in all the wrong ways.  It can start as early as the formation of a company or the existence of a product that major marketing mistakes get made.

Our approach may be as haphazard as taking our business and its products to a new location saying “here I am… buy from me”.  Even those who have said “I want to sell to this region or this type of company” are unwittingly fallen prey to the abyss of failure prone marketing.   What I have learned is that marketing fails because we fail to understand the market itself.  In just about every single case the market is ready for something, but we extend an offering that is not appropriate.  Our minds believe that we know best, and it may very well be true that we do.   However, it makes little difference if we are unable to transition our target prospects.

By way of example let’s take you common consultancy service.  Most have an array of advisory services, possibly a methodology product and an array of supporting educational offerings.  Each of which smartly embracing the other for the purpose of selling added value over the course of time.  As we enter a market, usually outside of our region (whether domestically or internationally), we unfold our offerings like a merchants unfolds their crafted carpets.  This is our first step destine for failure.  Why?  We start failing because we have not ascertained market context, need, buying power and value.  But we have also failed to understand the domestic product capabilities which represents our competition.  A consumer in China is more apt to find a supply, at domestic pricing and easy of access to be a bit more comforting than one somewhere else in the world.  Even though you may be putting forth something far superior to what they have, the jump may be too daunting and in of itself a bit difficult to embrace.

Can these forces be overcome?  Everything is possible but the question is whether they make sound business sense.  In the context of the consultancy example market entry can be achieved through a partnership with a domestic supplier.  We must address the costs to train domestic staff, establish a firm placement where your products are sold and not used as a second option to pre-existing domestic solutions, and that there is a remaining market ready to accept them.  If the partner company is already doing well (and you will want to align yourself with strong and productive companies, not faltering ones) then why do they need you?  Well it could be that it will help to accelerate strategic goals or achieve growth ambitions.  Thus your relationship is a tool for them, but bear in mind that you want market presence, not just sales.  As is often the case,  you sit in the shadows as the servant without the value glory of being put front stage center.  The partner reserves this place and all that goes along with it.

Inside out / upside down marketing is applied after the fact.  It takes what you have and markets it, whether it be the company or a product.  Truly, if given the chance, marketing should be blended into the formation of the business or the product line.  It should view matters in stages of evolution.  Why launch on a completely global basis when rapid market establishment and penetration is a necessity, and growth becomes an outcrop from the firm base?

There have been loads of books that look at marketing as a science and not as an art form.  They look at market studies, consumer profiles, buying dynamics, and the thousands of other measures used to set sights on targets (when taken together become a market of focus).  This is pragmatic, requiring both vigilant attention to details and exhaustive “what if” analysis.  The art is how to put forth the framing of the business and the product/services.  Domestic success does not equate to international success.  Countries and consumers have views about the nature, origin and virtues of products and their sponsors.  There may be geopolitical, racial, religious, and ethical opinions that can jeopardize success.  So although you may be convinced that you can sell ice cream to Eskimos, to an Eskimos the suggestion of ingesting a cold food may be met with a totally different opinion.  There are other things ranging from birth control, written text and clothing that may work in some areas and are taboo in other places.

ImageThe word is to be positive in your marketing.  But positive in this context means not just achieving results but doing the right steps in order to make sure that you are promoting in a socially responsible and respectful fashion, to a market that is in fact the benefactors of your glorious services and products.

In the middle of election activities from around Asia I am compelled to share with you a bit about how the effects of these elections can and should influence your decision to do business here.

ImageI want to start out by saying that Spandex isn’t for everyone.  While you may be able to fit your shape into the form hugging material it isn’t right for everyone.  In fact it often shows much more what would be best to be kept secret.  The elections are taking steps in the right direction, they are far from perfect but I would argue that they are equally challenging even in Western countries where the term ‘Democratic Process’ is unrelenting challenged each and every election (despite pretty good controls to restrict fraud potential).  With that said anyone business looking to step beyond its shores, especially into the Asian landscape, must reconcile and recognize that its not all bad… but it remains a work in process.

The Spandex in the Asian countries resides in the commerce element.  Businesses in progressive countries with an ambitious agenda have in place incentives to encourage commerce development and foreign direct investment.  Like Spandex, it gives us an appreciation that maybe, just maybe, we have to do a bit of work in order to make our form be true unto itself.  That squeeze into the flexible material bring to the surface the realization that we have to work at it.  In other words, if it fits it doesn’t mean that looking better will not require hard work.  Any country who sets an easy entry and development agenda is setting a bad tone for durable and lasting commerce.  A little work, and mutual sharing of effort, is where the right outcomes can be realized.

Spandex can hide both good and bad realities.  On one hand the fit works, maybe the frame isn’t all that majestic but it may mask situations and conditions that need to be known.  I recently had a person make mention about the importance of doing a sound investigation of foreign businesses.  Totally and without reservation agree.  So why is it that we get ourselves into a problem when it comes to these so called investigated companies?  To a small extent we get distracted by the persona presented.  Information is taken at face value without suitable corroboration.  Likewise we accept some information and confirm it when


we all know that nothing is apt to be discovered (like customer references…. do you really think anyone would give a ‘bad/unacceptable’ one??).   The other, more common problem resides in the fact that foreign business relationships are not a regular everyday occurrence.  We simply don’t do enough of them to have crafted solid experience.  Add to this the poison of a frail and inadequate evaluation framework and voila we have a formula ripe for chaos.  While the country may be moving in a positive and constructive fashion, the climate may be such that easy entry creates not so sound and viable businesses.  For the last 25 years I have been involved with over 500 viability assessments using a framework that was created.  This insured consistency, comparative abilities and completeness as it relates to the measuring the durability of a business regardless of where it is.  It also helped to raise up those elements, native to the country or region, that were unique and required special handling.  Few companies have these sorts of tools, but there again… is such a tool really needed given the number of relationships being established (or do you simply utilize what someone has already crafted to fulfill your mission)?

ImageSo back to Asian voting in the year 2013.  My comments and observations are made in contrast against my country of citizenship.  This doesn’t mean that we are right or hold the magic answer, it is far from it.  But when I hear and see election result discontent, and the finger is pointed to voting fraud, I can’t help but want to wonder why the anger is placed on the outcome and not focused on the means to reduce fraud potential.  I asked the question, “why not have automated voter registration systems to track registrations and voting” and the reply was the lack of automation.  This I found a bit interesting given that these are countries promoting the technological and intellectual talents but are still stuck in the era of paper, pencils, and ink placed on a finger tip to reflect whether someone has voted or has not.  It begs not just a question about change but whether there is the ability to think beyond the norm to solve problems, not perpetuate them.

Having visited nearly every Asian country over the last four decades, and now living here, I have learned to accept what is.  But this doesn’t get in the way of putting a bit of energy into guiding them in how they can become better.  For some nations, this change is so painful that its has little possibility of becoming a reality.  For others its the appreciation that the hard work to fit into the Spandex and look excellent will require work but its all worth the effort.