Thursday, 20 October 2016

Islamic State :: As a Brand Success & Failure

ISIS or ISIL is a stunning success in the world of terror. It has captured the imagination of every wannabe terror entrepreneur who one day dreams to be a CEO [Chief Extremist Officer] after passing out of IIM [International Institute of Mujahideens].

Jokes apart, what makes this organization so unique, if one removes the lens of religion and extremism is the way it conducts itself as an organization, that has contributed to its success. If one keeps morality and ethics on the side-lines, there are spectacular parallels between successful organizations and this terrorist organization in terms of building a brand image.

As NATO and other allied forces converge upon Mosul, the last major stronghold of ISIS, it may be worth a thought what made ISIS such a strong brand name in the world of terrorism. As a student of management, could not help but draw the similarities between a successful brand and ISIS – what it has done right so far and also where it has and will go wrong [hopefully]. Let’s evaluate.

The Success Factors:

1. Brand Communication

The group has been highly successful in establishing its brand image as the true liberator of Islam through its PR and social media. It has found powerful mascots in the form of “Jihadi John” and others who portrays the true brand image that ISIS wants to portray. It is very active in the cyber space and has utilised it fully through its gory videos and has extensively used twitter, Facebook and other channels resulting in high brand recall – the next pointer.

2. Brand Recall

ISIS Brand Recall is extremely high. It has been high for the past 3 years or so. Only very few brands in the same space with the exception of al-Qaeda has had a successful brand recall for such a long duration. Every day on newspaper, internet, radio, one gets to hear about ISIS and their atrocities. They manage to stay in news. They are able to successfully ensure that ISIS is a dominating force in daily news and there by improve its relevance to the world and its followers – our next pointer.

3. Brand Relevance

It is borne out of the following 4 key tenets:

    a. Customer Obsession: Ensuring that its true customers, the jihadists are obsessed with ISIS Ideology that it has successfully done.

    b. Distinctive Inspiration: It has inspired those who never dreamt of picking up arms earlier, faithful to the cause. It has transcended boundaries and nationalities and has inspired teenagers, married couple, educated and elite to join the cause alike. It also has distinguished itself from other jihadist groups and factions who dare not to call themselves ISIS. It has a distinct ideology than al-Qaeda and even al-Qaeda is appalled at the gory and merciless killings perpetrated by ISIS. The utilization and positioning of ISIS itself not only against the West, but also against other sects of Islam, like the Sunnis, Yazidis or Kurds – was something that even al-Qaeda did not even dream of. ISIS took it a notch above. It is insanely ruthless and ruthlessly insane and above all pervasive to the point of being rash, resulting in too many fault lines. But again, this has been one of the success factors for ISIS’ rise.

    c. Pervasive Innovation: It has the mindset of the innovator. Just when the West thinks that it has given a resounding blow to ISIS and its tactics, ISIS comes back with a renewed vigour with a new tactic under its sleeve. America and its allies despite a multination effort has not been able to defeat ISIS even after 3 years of direct confrontation. It has been possible only because of the way ISIS has innovated on the battleground using scarce resources, using local intelligence to the fullest, driving a state of fear in the hearts and mind of people and above all trying to be a step ahead in the game. In one of the latest attempts, they have bought drones from Amazon, jury-rigged with bombs and have effectively used it against the coalition forces.

    d. Ruthless Pragmatism: They are very serious about their growth and goals to remain relevant and are relentless working in their pursuit. There is absolutely no doubt about it given its track record.

4. Brand Cannibalization

In the world of marketing, this happens when a reduction of sales volume of a product occurs due to introduction of a new product by the same producer.

This is not explicitly true for ISIS, but for the terrorism industry as a whole.

Many erstwhile supporters of al-Nusra front and those of al-Qaeda, especially al-Qaeda in Iraq [AQI] were founding members of ISIS. Brand cannibalization typically is detrimental for a brand, but for ISIS, it has worked wonders. Hence it is one of the positives, rather than a negative, in my opinion in case of ISIS. Though it has been detrimental for al-Qaeda in general.

The Causes of Brand Failure:

1. Brand Ego:

This becomes the biggest cause of failure when a brand believes that it can support a market singlehandedly beyond its means. It over emphasizes on its importance than it can allow itself to, with limited means at its disposal.

ISIS is already facing heat as it has opened too many war fronts – Iraq, Syria and Kurds. It is fighting the Sunni Militias supported by Iran. It is being bombarded by NATO coalition jets from above. On the ground, there are technical advisors from Russia advising Syria Democratic Forces while special operatives from American Military are embedded with Iraqi special forces unit fighting ISIS.

Its resources are dwindling as world is cracking down on its financial resources. Mosul, the biggest city under its capture in Iraq has been a haven for cheap oil that has fuelled much of its war-chest, second to selling antiquities.

Its human resources are also decreasing steadily as most of the operatives are now disillusioned with the ideals and hatred that is being spread with little expectations that has been met that were promised at the time of induction and has quit or thinking of leaving. Also those travelling to join ISIS are well aware of their consequences after returning to their native countries – that will be detrimental for their own well-being as well as their families – except Sweden maybe [where more than 300 fighters joined ISIS and few have returned back but were not arrested by Swedish Police].

2. Decreasing Brand Loyalty

This is a major challenge that ISIS faces right now and is going to haunt them eventually. One cannot fool over a long period of time. Teenagers and those who left their creature comforts of the home from the West to fight for the Islamic Caliphate now understood the harsh conditions and realities of their stay, coupled with the terrible manpower management and little expectation setting. There is no 360 degree feedback which also takes into account how juniors feel about their seniors and their ways of working. These dissatisfied customers will be the biggest strength of the West and its allies as they pass on valuable information and intelligence that can help bring down ISIS as and when they quit ISIS.

3. Brand Deception

This is kind of tied with the above pointer of Brand Loyalty. One can say that Brand Deception is directly proportional to decreasing brand loyalty.

In case of ISIS, the dreams and those fabulous castles shown by Abubakr-al-Baghdadi hasn’t materialised that has left many ISIS supporters disillusioned. The harsh living conditions and constant fear of death has turned an ordinary citizen, who believed in true Caliphate, feeling deceived and hurt; unable to fulfil its promise; breaking the Golden Rule in the world of Branding.

4. Brand Paranoia

This happens when a brand faces increased competition from its competitors and hence there is a fight on the claims, trying to outperform its competitors.

It is especially true in case of ISIS – wherein it has proven itself extremely distinct from its competition by mass execution and innovative strategy of drones or lone wolf killings – that keeps its competitors at bay. This has also resulting in loathing of ISIS within terrorist fraternity by those who doesn’t have the stomach for such gruesome deaths.

5. Brand Fatigue / Over Marketing

Too much marketing of a particular brand, causes fatigue in general and makes the brand undesirable as per brand marketing.

This should also hold true for ISIS. As it becomes more and more infamous, as more of its atrocities and inside workings are exposed to the world, its grotesque nature and shameful ideologies that it has twisted in the name of religion and jihad is laid bare in front of the world to see, should act as a detrimental factor for new recruits, thereby stemming the tide or influx of new fighters into the region.

A brand manager always wants to ensure that her brand does well and performs beyond market expectations. For the sake of humanity, and most importantly, for the sake of Islam and its 1.6 billion followers who believe in peace, let’s hope that ISIS does everything, as mentioned above under cons, destroying itself as a brand sooner than expected – so that this menace of terrorism is overcome, bringing it to a long awaited conclusion. The Brand should be destroyed effectively, so that there are is no remaining residual brand value to pick and build upon in future.

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