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What geopolitical history can teach marketers.

Just how important is the geopolitical history in influencing consumer behaviours and attitude today?

I spent 3 years in Moscow in 2000 -2003 and so was delighted to be invited to a presentation and panel discussion last week on the topic of “Should we demonize Russia?” hosted by the excellent Lausanne chapter of the IMD Alumni. The esteemed panel put together by Elena Pance Petrova included an ex-colleague, Bernard Lukey, now Executive Director at Yandex Europe, Eric Hoesli, Professor of Russian studies at EPFL and the University of Geneva and Flavien Schaller, the Chief Observer of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) on the Russian - Ukrainian border.

Understanding the collective psyche of a nation can be the first gateway to understanding how and why a consumer behaves as they do.

Despite high poverty levels, (13.3% of the population lives in poverty in 2015, (according to the World Bank), down from 24% in 2002 but back up since the sanctions were imposed in 2014), President Putin is enjoying an extremely high approval rate of between 70% to 80%, but Western perceptions, influenced by the media, are of an enemy; someone of whom to be fearful. Can both be right?

It depends upon the lens with which you view the situation. Eric Hoesli, in response to the question of the Russian stance today vis-à-vis Europe, USA and China, said what all marketers know and, hopefully, do; put yourself in the shoes of the Russian people, (and Mr Putin); understand their motivations and you begin to understand the political rhetoric and posturing (it doesn’t matter if you agree with it or not). And to be in the shoes of the Russian people today, one must understand the past that created those behaviours. (I won’t go into the debate here – it’s a marketing blog not a history lesson!)

As marketers we must always put ourselves in the shoes of the consumer, but in doing so we should ask why they behave the way they do; what’s happening around them in the larger political and economical world may well influence an individual’s behaviour. Today we will need to consider this in the light of political changes in the USA, UK, and subsequently in France, Italy and beyond.

Nothing prepares the marketer better than deep consumer understanding; just as studying political history helps us understand nations’ or presidents’ actions today, a good comprehension of what’s influencing a consumer’s life is a great place to start.

Thanks again to the IMD Alumni committee for creating such an illuminating evening on a topic as rich and fascinating as Russia.

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