The interesting subject of common sense is the topic of a superb, recently published book. The Ministry of Common Sense, written by Martin Lindstrom, provides countless examples that prove how common sense has become a scarce commodity in many organisations.
Held to hostage by pointless rules, endless meetings, seductive technology and a conspicuous lack of empathy towards customers, marketers and their colleagues in other departments, are getting impractical in so much of what they do, and the products which they offer us. Lindstrom’s book brought to mind the following examples of lack of common sense that we often encounter in India.
* In most Indian homes, fresh vegetables are consumed every day, whereas we consume frozen food far less often. Yet, the refrigerators marketed to us mostly have the freezer right on the top, where it is easily accessible. On the other hand, the vegetable compartment is right at the bottom, so, of course, we have to bend over several times a day to get our veggies. A perfect recipe for painful back ailments.
* My 85-year old mother gets her medical tablets in beautiful looking blister strip packs, which were recently upgraded and redesigned. These new blister packs look really lovely, but for an elderly lady with unsteady hands, there is one important problem — they are virtually impossible to prise open.
* When I stay in luxury hotels, I am often faced with shower control knobs that resemble the complex control panels of a spacecraft. The big issue with these high-tech showers is that one is not quite sure what movement leads to what precise action — hence, I am often doused with ice-cold water, and once been scalded by boiling hot water.
* Some remote controls, of television sets and room air-conditioners, have so many buttons on them that it takes great intellectual effort to figure out how to switch on the evening news, or set the air-conditioning so that the draft does not blow directly in your face.
* On packs of toothpaste or tea, it is often impossible to locate essential things such as the date of expiry. There are arrows that ask you to look up, down, or sideways, but it takes some searching before you eventually see the date.
* Many Indian brands, which wish to appeal to large numbers of consumers in smaller towns and semi-urban areas of our country, feature only English text on their websites and various other touch points. They do this, notwithstanding well-known data that only around 6 per cent of the Indian population can read and speak English.
Why sense is uncommon
Martin Lindstrom blames this recurring lack of common sense on the way modern corporates tend to function. A lot of attention is paid to internally generated issues, organisational politics, ivory tower thinking, and the constant need to impress the powers-that-be.
There are lots of long meetings that suck out valuable thinking time. And a host of archaic rules. He points out how so much organisational time is spent looking internally, to resolve entangled reporting lines and break organisational silos, whereas relatively far less time is spent with customers.
Lindstrom also lays part of the blame at the doors of technology, which has “invaded our lives” and has delivered many benefits for sure, but is often the enemy of common sense. For instance, marketers may well conclude that relying on data and analytics, powered by artificial intelligence, is a good substitute for meeting customers. But this may result in a total lack of customer empathy.
Bringing back common sense
The book offers many useful suggestions to bring back common sense, including the creation of a “ministry” of common sense, to eliminate everything that does not make sense.
Two specific Lindstrom recommendations that appealed to me: First, the need for marketers to spend quality time with real customers, and understand how their products or categories are actually used. Nothing brings more common sense into our thinking as much as the process of interacting with customers, understanding their needs first-hand, and, also experiencing our own company’s products as customers, ourselves. That is why Bhaskar Bhat, my boss at Titan for several years, used to spend time visiting stores regularly, speaking with franchisees, observing and interacting with customers.
A second recommendation is that each marketer should figure out the simple “human” purpose that his or her brand stands for, and then do everything to reinforce that one word or phrase in the customer’s life, through all the products, services and experiences that the brand offers. For instance, Volvo stands for “safety”, Disney is “magic”, Nestle is “health” and Tata is “trust”. This helps bring simple, sensible thinking that can cut through dense and complex corporate jungles.
As this book rightly concludes, it is time to put common sense back in our lives.
Harish Bhat is Brand Custodian, Tata Sons. These are his personal views. He acknowledges the inputs received from Bhaskar Bhat in the writing of this article.