Political Parties, Competition, Positions and Strategies

Conflict is an inescapable aspect of business. The firms compete with each other when they target the same potential customers or employees. Competition is common to people, animals and companies. When a resource cannot be shared organisms compete. And the natural outcome of this is application of mind to outmaneuver or outwit the opponents. Politics comes very close to what transpires in a business situation. And there arises a need to craft a winning strategy in to action. One of the important starting points in strategy formulation process is analysis competition. Just as HUL fights P&G in dandruff shampoo space or Lenovo competes with Dell, Acer and HP in laptop market, political parties like BJP share the competitive landscape with other parties like the Congress, CPM, Samajwadi Party, JDU or AAP.

One of the important starting points in strategy formulation process is gaining a sound understanding of competitive landscape. This involves identification of players and their strategies. Logic demands that conflicts with the powerful must be avoided. And running into a conflict with a dominant player without a smart plan to dodge is an exercise in self destruction. Apple did not engage IBM directly in computers and Micromax did not create a conflict of interest with Nokia. Sun Tzu, a Chinese military strategist and general wrote that war is about planning and positioning. He emphasized the importance of knowledge: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself,you will succumb in every battle”. But he laid supreme importance to winning without fighting: “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”

There are many ways in which competitive landscape can be analyzed and competitors can be identified. One such method is framework looks at players based on their market positions and strategies as: market leader, market challenger, market follower and market nicher. This framework can be useful diagnostic tool in uncovering the competitive dynamics of political landscape in India. It will be a good idea to develop strategies based on this analysis.

Leader: this position goes to the firm that enjoys highest market share, for instance Nokia and Titan are market leaders in mobile phone and wrist watch market. Congress enjoyed the largest vote share close to 28% (182 seats) in the last elections. A good leader does not rest on its laurels; rather it takes to a higher level by attacking itself and reinvention. By leading it leaves behind the follower. A good example is Intel or Gillette. Congress is taking it agenda forward by not letting the discourse on minority (Muslim reservation), oppressed (possible reservation in private sector) and poor (NAREGA) die.

Challenger:  it is a position that goes to a firm that is next to the leader and enjoys strong position but not as strong as the leader. It is this reality causes this firm to challenge the leader. The BJP is the second largest party with a vote share of 19% and seat share of 116. Challenging is all about attacking the weakness or finding weakness in the strength of the leader. Jerry does not attack the weakness of Tom, rather converts his strength into weakness by shifting the place of fight. Nirma attacked HUL from the flank (economy detergent) and Ujala hit Reckitt Benckiser’s strong brand Robin by mounting a ‘by pass attack’ strategy. The current regime led by PM Manmohan Singh shows many chinks in armour of Congress led UPA which include inflation and corruption (governance deficit, trust deficit), which can be potential targets of criticism.

Follower: Like a challenger a follower is also a strong player but lacks dominance. As the name suggests its style of functioning is to join the ranks and not challenge the equilibrium.  Political parties that do not differ much in their ideologies with a dominant party (inclusion, secularism, backward and minority class considerations) come in this category. For instance parties like Samajwadi (UP) Party or JDU or BSP or NCP share political discourse with the Congress. 

Nicher: A niche brand or company is the one which concentrates its efforts on a space which is left out by major players for some reasons.  In the political context there are parties which focus on a small market segment (geographic or identity group). Some of the examples include TDP in Andhra Pradesh or BJD in Odisha or INLD in Haryana or Shiv Sena in Maharastra. Niche firms build their success on the basis of narrow specialization. For instance Rolex operates in super premium niche of watch market and Thorogood makes shoes for fire fighters. Anchor toothpaste occupies niche comprising of vegetarians and Creative Line woolens brand is aimed at women group of customers. Sticking to knitting is the best way forward for niche brands. Ambition to move on to a bigger market may come at the cost of their specialization which will have a corrosive effect on their core. For instance Trinamool’s active participation in Centre’s politics has shifted its centre to the periphery. Naveen Patnaik’s singular focus on Odisha exemplifies true niche strategy.

The battle for the next general elections is all set to begin and traces of minor skirmishes are becoming visible. With the Congress and the BJP pitted against each other in leader and challenger positions, the most obvious and move of least contemplation is to attach each other. But this is unlikely to yield outcomes significantly different from the outcomes of the last round of fight. The strategy does not lie in mounting more and bigger attack on each other, rather creating a paradigmatic change in the way people arrive at their preferences.


HUL, Sustainability, Dry Shampoo and Consumer Values

Given the threat to the planet earth many companies have begun to incorporate sustainability in their vision and mission agenda. Consumers, though in small number now have begun to evaluate their consumption factoring in their effect on environment. On the other hand, many companies have begun to embed sustainability in their business strategy. Environmentally sustainable practices are no longer moral or legal ‘impositions’ rather these make good business sense.
HUL in one such company which has committed itself to sustainability and it seeks to achieve this goal by innovations. The company has undertaken many initiatives at the back end (supply chain and manufacturing) to curtail its environmental footprint. Its eco efficiency programmes are aimed to reduced energy consumption, wastage, and other resources like water. On the front end, the company is focused on developing innovative products to meet its sustainability goals.
Surf Excel Quick Wash reduces the water consumption reducing the need for rinsing clothes less number of times (usually people rinse four times that needs four buckets). Now clothes can be cleaned with only two rinses without compromising the quality of wash. Dry shampoo is another innovative idea in this direction. One approach to saving water is to urge consumers to use less water while shampooing their hair but dry shampoo completely does away with the need to use water. The product comes as a spray which absorbs oils from hair and lends volume.
An innovative product, notwithstanding its merits and technical superiority must ‘make sense’ to customers. A product is an idea codified in a physical form. The acceptability of an idea depends upon how it ‘fits’ in a larger scheme of things where it seeks to find a place. New products often create cognitive and behavioral disruptions which manifest in resistance to adoption. For instance when pressure cooking (pressure cookers) were introduced, for many consumers the idea was unacceptable. It militated against the long held belief the slow cooking produces best taste. Almost similar resistance was faced when cooking gas was introduced. Though gas offered huge advantage over stoves and coal ‘angithi’/ stove but people associated coal cooking to be the best. Even now many people are wary of microwave cooking because ‘waves’ are perceived to be harmful and ‘food cooked is not as tasty’.

HUL is also likely to face similar challenge. Shampoo is used to wash hair and washing and cleaning are intrinsically linked to water. So the idea may clash with long held value system. Theoretically dry shampoo is disruptive in nature- it disrupts the way shampoo category is thought about and also the way shampoo is used. These double disruptions are likely to obstruct acceptance of idea and later call for behavior modification. It is here marketing strategy has a role to play. It must attend to the challenge of reconciling the two discrepant ideas. The transition from double edged blades to twin was much smoother for Gillette but is slightly difficult in case of shaving creams to foam. It took long for microwave brands to make people open to the idea of wave cooking.
The battle for HUL is set in the minds of people. The oxymoronic perception requires reconciliation for this product in order to win consumer acceptance.

Kissan Ketchup, Customer Engagement and Co- creation

In an intensely competitive world, a good product is essential but not sufficient. Product similarity, especially in the low involvement category typically degenerates into customer ‘indifference’. A brand may enjoy customer stickiness (repeated patronage) sheer out of convenience but not love or sentimental connections. Operating under such conditions can be difficult and challenging. In the absence of emotional commitment, brands woo customers away from each other by offering indifference breaking promotional temptations. Shares tend to be unstable as customers switch easily.


Kissan operates in such a market. Ketchup holds very little ‘meaning’ for most of us. Its absence may hurt but presence does not elevate our existence. The category holds very little psycho-social relevance and therefore it is called low involvement. The new campaign of Kissan (‘Welcome to kissanpur- where what you grow is what you eat’) aims to take the brand-customer engagement to a new high. Under the existing brand building model , the product is entirely created by the company in its factory and customer is informed by one way communication. The campaign seeks to break customer indifference by getting them to co-create a product which typically is ‘factory made’. Quite like ‘dirt is good’ campaign by Surf Excel, the brands seeks to give children an opportunity to experience nature by growing tomato in their own home (artificially created spaces) which would have a chance to be made into ketchup.

The first ad came with a pouch containing tomato seeds glued on the paper of a newspaper. The first ad showed five step process graphically (collaborate and engage) to grow tomato: take seeds, plant seeds in a pot, grow, upload picture of the plant on ‘kissanpur’ site and get a chance to have your name printed on the bottle of Kissan ketchup. The second ad (‘…where every childhood store is set in the lap of nature’) explains how childhood in the past meant growing with nature (playing cricket in open, chasing butterflies) but children grow away from nature (indoors, online chat and gadgets- artificial environment). The brand seeks to give children an opportunity to bond with nature (soil hands and see how nature throws its bounty).

Cocreation implies that value should be created jointly by the firm and the customer (blurred roles of producer and consumer and direct customer role) like Lego, Linux, Skype, Wikipedia, and E-bay. ‘Kissanpur’ may not exactly be a correct example of co creation but it certainly allows customer to be a part of brand building- either as an ingredient inside or as a name on the bottle. Despite being an FMCG, the brand certainly leverages the power of social media to create higher customer engagement and brand ownership. Two words that Kissan brand is likely to gain by this campaign are ‘nature’ and ‘real’ which may prove an important source of differentiation in future.