Modi, Kejriwal, Delhi Elections and Brand Positioning

Most common understanding about positioning is distilled in the phrase, ‘it is about creating an image’. But critical to positioning is also an equally powerful consideration that involves deciding who do we want our brand to compete against.  Positioning is about defining your competition. Inherent in this process is the concept of categories or categorization.

Consider a situation. Suppose a severe earthquake has rattled a house.  As result the contents of its refrigerator have fallen on the floor, littered all over and mixed up.  The challenge you face is to place them back. Are you going to place them one by one next to each other depending upon which you are able to grab first? So first comes a tomato followed by egg, fish, honey, eye drops, cauliflower, water bottle, chicken, sauce, milk and so on. Or your placement would follow a classification or categorization scheme? Things are likely to be placed in categories and you will put them in different places or compartments like bottles, vegetables, meats, and drugs. The concept of category is based on perceived similarity. Similar items are placed within a category. Hence they belong to a space.

Like items stored in a refrigerator, the mind also stores a pattern in storing available brands. A brand is likely to be placed in a category if it is perceived similar (POP) to important or prototypical category dimensions (like different vegetables are similar in their character). Depending upon where a brand gets placed determines its competition. So cauliflower competes with cabbage, beans, potato, turnip and lady finger.

In the political space, the mind has its own categorization scheme of politicians. These categories include honest and dishonest, BJP and Congress, Lok Sabha and Rajya  Sabha, UP and  Bihar, men and women. Another important way  of  classification is Member of Parliament, state legislature, municipal level. Each category has its inhabitants and thus competition. Modi has been a state CM but his ability to cross over to national level into the category of PM lay in a careful strategy of relating and comparing himself with  PM (Manmohan Singh instead of with other CMs. Recall his direct attack on Congress’s possible PM candidates like Rahul, Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh. He even directly addressed the nation on August 15. What did this result in? It amounted to a category jump from CM to PM.

Kejriwal’s rise to a higher position/category as a competing brand with Modi is partly caused by BJP’s strategy to running a campaign with Modi and his development agenda as a ‘core proposition’ and down playing its leaders at the state level. Further, a negative campaign on which BJP spent a lot of money and time in pulling down Kejriwal on issues such as bhagoda, bungalow and collaborator with Congress contributed indirectly to his publicity. When PM  Modi makes a direct attack on Kejriwal  they automatically get paired in a competitive situation. It is something like a big brand like Apple attacking a small newcomer phone brand like Intex. This is likely to benefit the attacked brand. Remember how Micromax and ‘ i can’ campaign  resulted in linking it with iPhone. In Delhi, BJP is responsible for pitching Modi against Kejriwal. Last time it was between Harsh Vardhan and Kejriwal. The catapulting of Kejriwal to a direct head on engagement with  PM Modi  is an exact replay  of what Modi did prior to the national elections.

Notwithstanding how many claims are made by the BJP that it is not a fight between Modi and Kejriwal, the bracketing of the two in the same category sends signals to the contrary. Positioning is a game of perceptions not reality and perceptions tend to be stubbornly averse to change.

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