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Infinite Possibilities: Soft Power in The Professional World

The deployment of soft power, as illustrated, represents a unique opportunity for businesses to involve themselves in cultural representation, allowing them and their origins to carve a niche for themselves in global discourses.

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“Coercive power forces people to do things. Soft power inspires them.” Derchat Keltner, social psychologist

Joseph Nye, the former dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, coined the term soft power in 1990 in the context of foreign policy, meaning the ability to attract, persuade and co-opt, instead of using force or coercion. In the business world, he said in a speech before the Center for Public Leadership in 2004, he said, "Smart executives know that leadership is not just a matter of issuing commands, but also involves leading by example and attracting others to do what you want." Nye’s interventions are crucial in a world where influence has increasingly become the new buzzword for creating opinion, demand and opportunity. From social media influencers to lifestyle journalists, individuals have captured mass audiences through influence and we inhabit a world where soft power has become of great efficacy in the world of business and individual endeavour.

Soft power enjoys borderless currency, as exemplified by the popularity of Yoga in the first world which earned India worldwide praise. This image built through non-coercion enjoys legitimacy because of its rootedness in cultural and societal relevance. Saleability and popularity is thus channelized not through conventional means like patents but through painting an image that something held by us is desirable for others. This has massive implications for individuals and organizations.

On a business front, entrepreneurs and innovators can tap into cultural networks to make their offerings popular. Soft power for a brand essentially translates to its ability to create demand, to get people to want to use the product or service and very importantly, be willing to pay the price asked. An investment in persuasive campaigning can be thus instrumental, the prime example being advertising which can make or break a success story. For example, Dove enjoyed plaudits upon first launching its ‘Real Beauty’ campaign, comfortably leading the gender politics debate. After many years of skyrocketing sales, a 2017 three-second GIF ad on Facebook damaged the company’s reputation. Intended as a ‘beauty of diversity’ display, the image of a black woman removing her brown shirt to show a white woman in a light shirt was rather interpreted as a ‘dirty’ black person cleansed into whiteness.

In the realm of soft power, a desirable image worthy of emulation is all that counts. For nations, these images evoke strong emotional connections that are highly effective in conveying characteristics and perceptions that are associated with the location. As BrandFinance notes, using the example of Singapore Airlines,   location branding also creates a symbiotic relationship between nations and corporate entities where corporate brands act as brand ambassadors for the nation on the world stage. Singapore Airlines has become an iconic brand ambassador for its home city-state, with the airlines’ heritage, history, and branding are deeply rooted in the nation’s identity. This is evident in their marketing that frequently features local elements which can be considered both an advertisement for the airline as well as a tourism campaign for the nation. The deployment of soft power, as illustrated, represents a unique opportunity for businesses to involve themselves in cultural representation, allowing them and their origins to carve a niche for themselves in global discourses.

On a personal level, soft power can be the key to professional fulfilment and accomplishments. SHRM documents the story of  Jule Kucera, who worked in the HR department Equity Office Properties in Chicago and was initially barred from joining a strategy meeting by the vice-president because of her department. However, she managed to get into the room and after observing the team, she zeroed in on a manager who the vice president regarded highly. She looked for a problem that the manager had that her expertise could help solve, and then offered to work on it with him. The team's performance improved, the vice president took note, and the manager credited Kucera's assistance. One year later, she was invited to the strategy meeting. Three years later, the vice president wouldn't hold a strategy meeting without her. This is the impact of leading through persuasion and signifies the gains which can be made through soft manoeuvres. 

Since soft power runs primarily on influence and persuasion and not on materialities, it manifests as indefatigable and is a resource that enjoys replenishment simply based on human drive. The rewards to be harvested, thus, are limitless. Soft power is a way to manoeuvre through the ossified hierarchies and cut-throat regimes of the professional realms and is a most worthy investment to make, unfurling enormous possibilities of change and success.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Viiveck Verma...

The author is Chief Impact Officer - Recykal Foundation

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