How to shrink BJP? Forgotten lessons in marketing: Balancing customer and competitor orientation

Newspapers and television channels have used several expressions to describe the debacle of BJP in national capital. The newcomer, AAP won 67 seats (seats in 2013) and BJP, the ruling party at the Centre shrunk to 3 from a near majority number of 32 seats in 2013 elections. And the grand old party Congress, failed to even open an account.  It is a quite shocking result for a party which scored victories on all the seven seats in last Lok Sabha elections in 2014. The Indian political landscape has been subtly undergoing a profound change. Although for the political strategists and stalwarts who are generally soaked in bias and operate from rooms covered with thinking consistent posters, artifacts, slogans and people mostly fail to recognize change. I will use the expression used by Ted Levitt to say that they ‘look into mirror instead of looking out of window’.  The constructed environment acts to reinforce and strengthen beliefs however misplaced they are. Looking out of the window is the way to develop strategy closer to ground.

The marketing orientation is one of the superior philosophies of running a business enterprise. It commands that business must cultivate mindset, structure, processes and strategies which aim to satisfying customer needs and wants better than competition. It subordinates the enterprise to the will of the market. It establishes the instrumentality of business as means of making the lives of target consumers better. Accordingly what is right or correct for a business is articulated from consumer’s point of view not from that of managers. Jaworski and Kohli distill it as organization wide dissemination of market intelligence about customer needs and wants and responding to it. The idea is to generate superior value for consumers as compared to competitors.

The failure of BJP in Delhi elections is manifestation of its failure in promising a product/value that was in sync with target customers and better than its rivals (AAP). But then, the same BJP won all seats in national elections last year. What explains this? The BJP’s success in national election was primarily due to deftly executed brand repositioning based on demographic shift (younger population or now generation). The brand BJP was emptied of its meaning as saffron party and it was given a new meaning. It fought elections on the plank of ‘growth, governance and inclusion’ (‘sab ka saath, sab ka vikas’). Its governance agenda usurped anti-corruption and Modi’s performance in Gujarat lent it credibility in perception notwithstanding its fact based criticism.

But than what happened in Delhi? This can be explained with two aspects of market orientation: customer orientation and competitor orientation.

Customer orientation: implies keeping an unwavering focus on evolving customer needs and wants and developing responses to meet them effectively. Delhi, although it is same physical place with same inhabitants but competitive reality in these two elections has not been the same.  In terms of consumer choice, the consideration set in national election was made of primarily two brands- BJP (with governance, inclusion and strong spokesperson) and Congress (riddled in corruption, lack of leadership). The frustration with Congress and carefully executed election strategy (inclusion and governance) of BJP lead people to vote for the latter. What happens when you try out a brand with enthusiasm and brand fails live up to your expectations? You look for a change. Remember the young voters which swung in favor of BJP in national elections shifted to AAP (Congress lost its status as alternative) because the discourse in media (easy to spread) shifted back to saffron (love jihad, conversions and reconversion, attack on church and jibe by some MPs).  It may have been satisfactory for inelastic hard core BJP supporters but it was certainly disappointment for new rational and discriminating younger class.

Further, BJP strategists failed in recognizing the shift of people or shall we say customer migration that happens when an existing brand is perceived to be near end (Congress).  There was huge opportunity for BJP to win Muslim voters. The beginning of a shift to BJP of this population was nipped in the bud by BJP itself when some of its leaders assumed center stage on media on triggered debates away from inclusion and development.  So when a car brand like Ford recalls its cars due to some flaw it is natural for its customer to look for alternative in Toyota or Hyundai. It is a huge mistake if one does not read this as an opportunity.

 Competitor orientation: it implies a mindset when a firm keeps its competitors (analysis of their strategies, strengths and weaknesses) in the center of its strategy development process and takes upon itself to beat them at all costs. It is aggressive and reactionary mode of operation. Often this comes at the cost of ignoring customers. Beating the competition is not the mission of any business. It assumes significance when competitors come in the way of reaching out to customers. Being obsessed with competitors is sure recipe for a disaster.

BJP’s strategy in Delhi was entirely driven by competitor orientation.  Its campaign focused on AAP leader in aggressive and personal manner. Consider the words like ‘upadravi’, ‘thief’, ‘monkey’, ‘toxic’, ‘liar’ and ‘anarchist’ in its campaign in outmaneuvering Kejriwal. Further, its radio campaign which tried to paint Kejriwal in poor light on the message like ‘bhagoda’ was irrelevant for the voter.

Customers and competitors are two important constituencies of the market. Both need to be given due attention and balanced. BJP‘s failure in Delhi is attributable to getting obsessed in beating the rival at all cost.

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