BJP, Visual Identity Change, Symbol and Opportunity Loss

Brand is intangible entity.  Intangibles are difficult to grasp mentally. Brands must be understood and fully grasped before go on to take part in consumer evaluation process.  Brands need to communicate with their target audience what they stand for. Without meaning transfer and meaning extraction it is impossible to have a relationship. Therefore brands commission their visual elements to convey their meaning or essence. And these elements include brand name, color, typeface, colors.  Take a close look at a brand around you and try to understand what that brand carries a name (e.g. Dove), colors (predominant white with blue), logo (bird), shape (box and product shape), feel (soft and creamy), smell (sensory activation).  All these elements must converge on to a single image/ association- and this is what a brand tries to establish in prospect’s mind.The Bajaj Chetak

Brand are constants (unless they are made variable) in a dynamic environment. Obvious to this reality is danger of losing fit. Consider a company like Bajaj which to Indians was nothing but a good and reliable scooter (but only scooter) but as market shifted to motorcycles the business of the company also changed. In such a situation the brand visual signature ( which carried meaning like trust worthy, reliable, two stroke engine, middle class, down to earth, value for money, Chetak, ) which was of great value for scooter buyers. But now the company targeted young urban customer who desired speed, passion, new technology, power, and modern feel.  The company reconciled this by changing its visual identity system by which it tried to retain some of the association (valuable even in motorcycle market) and added new ones ( which it did not have).  The logo evolved in to white and blue reverse hexagonal, the letters which were small changed into new bold capital typeface. The logo signed as ‘inspiring confidence’.  On the whole the new logo was centered on the concept of excitement- through technology, research and development, precision and perfection. The ‘B’ symbol become stylized with an embedded symbolism of something flying and movement.

The Bajaj’s case illustrates that identity is something internal which is expressed through visual system.  A visual identity change without preceding substantive change in values, systems and process become a hollow exercise. It is like ‘dressing up’ or an indulgence in manipulation. Recently, BJP approached the EC to change its election symbol (Lotus) to make it bolder (the argument that its present symbol looks lighter).  The deign remains same but new symbol will be printed in black and white on EVMs and publicity materials. The party sought this change because it was felt that the present form of its logo was not very visible in comparison to symbols of other parties.

The BJP could have used this as an opportunity to indicate brand rejuvenation and fundamental change in its core ideology (which is what Mr Modi is trying very hard- a shift from ‘hindutva’ to development). The rising popularity of Mr Modi with his pure economic agenda provides testimony that his idea enjoys resonance with new India. By taking the saffron out of its symbol, it could make a powerful statement about emptying the party with its previous saffron agenda. The party is in urgent need to expand its appeal in new territories, especially minority groups and pro progress youth.  

But symbols change appears a lost opportunity. People don’t vote for a party because its symbol is more visible. They vote for party and its core agenda.  Even people with marginal backgrounds are not sentimental about symbols but what a party stands for. This information age and everybody is far more aware and informed.  Mr Modi’s push to reposition the party as progressive and clean with huge push that he is making gets reversed with every news and event that links it with a religious group. The party needs to get ‘white’ inside like its symbol and write its new agenda with connects with groups that are frustrated with the current regime.

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BJP, Congress, AAP and their Brand Propositions in Delhi

Every brand makes proposition. But proposition making process is not simple as it may appear. For many strategists a proposition is equal to sloganeering and some take it as an opportunity to release their creative juices. Some marketing minds assume more is better/effective and hence end up linking their brands with many (too many) and conflicting propositions. Strategists also fail to appreciate the difference between their jobs as creator/designer which is essentially is high cognitive state and consumers’ state is usually passive or inactive. Brand propositions can touch chords which may range from lower to higher end.

Crucial to designing a proposition is that that it must end up motivating prospects/customers into desired behaviors. Proposition must clearly signify what a brand offers in terms of attribute, benefits and values. Most successful brands singularly stand for something which has high resonance value and it also stands the brand apart from others in the fray. People often equate brand proposition with unique selling proposition. Propositions differ in their extent of connection development. Consider the following:

  • AAP’s proposition is anticorruption or honest government (Swaraj)
  • Congress: development, basically infrastructure or material development
  • BJP: unclear message- vegetable prices, electricity prices, ‘sewak’, development.

 

Let us test the effectiveness of these propositions.

Clarity- clearly AAP and Congress score over BJP for it is not clear what their core proposition is to their voters. This has resulted from inconsistency of messages and their lack of convergence on to broad theme.

Level: how do these propositions stack up in their hierarchical ordering-lower level/tactical to higher order value? The value embedded in AAP’s proposition appeals to soul or high order existence. It allows you to be a part of a great national transformation. It taps into the need to achieve high order consciousness. Congress’s proposition appeals to material wellbeing. BJP’s discourse on price of vegetable and electricity does not go beyond daily mundane existence. Consider the brilliance of AAP’s proposition, it promises clean governance and once that happens the infrastructure and price rise will automatically get in line.

Connection: brands become powerful when they develop emotional connections with their audience. Explore how powerful is the promise of honest governance and what impact do white caps have when they announce, ‘mujhe swaraj chaheye’.  Symbolically they invite everyone who has been victim of corruption (probably everyone) to join the second battle for the country. You are reminded of Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, Azad, Shastri, and others who sacrificed not aggrandized. AAP seems to be giving ordinary people an extraordinary opportunity to contribute to nation building. It has positioned itself as a movement against the establishment. It is Pepsi in Delhi’s political scene, antiestablishment, rebel, and challenger.  

Congress’s development platform invites negative emotions for flyovers, cluster buses and roads are not the perfect substitute for high inflation in commodities of everyday consumption. The happy faces in ads do not resonate with sad faces of real people who are bitten by inflation. They invite strong counter arguments. In Delhi BJP’s campaign lacks focus and appeal and hence a diffused and suffers from ambiguity. Consequently it fails to hook up an emotional connection with people who are either fall into the category of ‘indifferent’ or ‘swingers’. It is these people who are likely to be the kingmakers this time.

Political strategists often fail to target their campaigns at people who matter- swingers and indifferent- instead create campaigns for those who are already their loyalists. It must be understood that campaigns are designed by loyalists but not for loyalists. 

Ordinance for Criminality, Chameleon, Morality and Rahul Gandhi

Government and business are organized entities.  The very act by which they are created is likely to create power asymmetry between the ‘creation’ and ‘creators’.  There are abundant instances to show how consumers have suffered on account business’s misdemeanor (unsafe products, misleading ads, price discrimination). Even in democratic systems, power transforms politicians in to lords and citizens become subjects, denied of their genuine rights.

Both business and government are formed for their role. They assume positions of decision makers. In an ideal situation, their rationality must stem from their instrumentality.  Government exists for citizens and business satisfied customers. But this often does not happen. Firms produce dangerous products and make money or government passes an ordinance that favors criminal politicians. These decisions lead to uproar and protests ‘outside’ but insiders justify their acts. Failure to do the ‘right’ thing does not vanish without effects. Disrobing of Draupadi led to war called Mahabharata.  It invites reaction.

Consumers have a long history of protests against corporations starting with Ralph Nadar who penned a book titiled ‘Unsafe at any speed’ to expose car makers of Detroit and Rachel Carson wrote ‘Silent Spring’ exposing damage to environment.  The oppressive governments are challenged by peaceful or violent citizen movements including Indian freedom struggle, civil rights in the US, and French revolution.   

The sudden ‘U’ turn by Mr Rahul Gandhi is appreciable, after all everybody is entitled to revisit a decision, question his or her ethics. But what has transpired between the passage of the ordinance and the press conference that a decision earlier constructed to be ‘right’ has become ‘wrong’.  If it is political calculus, this is not going to go too far. But if it is an act coming of enlightenment, then Rahul Gandhi in new avatar is welcome.

All acts require code or standards or normative framework to judge their ‘rightness’.  Some politicians including Anil Shastri and Jay Panda expressed rejection while others supported it either silently or with voice. This demonstrates how different people ‘look at’ things by applying different norms/standards and arrive at moral judgment. There are two broad categories of theories of ethics: deontological and teleological.

Deontological theories focus on principles that guide behaviors. Kant talks of ‘universal imperative’ which means actions do not count rather the principles that govern those. What is right for one should be right for all.  Actions must be judged on the basis of their inherent ‘rightness’ or ‘wrongness’ (intrinsic good or bad) regardless of its consequences. The teleological theories are also called ‘consequentialists’, the morality of an action depends on its consequences.  Accordingly acts do not have intrinsic value rather they must be judged on the basis of their outcomes. Utilitarianism (Bentham) employs criteria of the greatest good for the greatest number. Ethical egoism proposes maximization of your own interest-how beneficial an action is to an individual. Within ethical egoism is a theory of ‘enlightened self- interest’, that self- interest should be viewed from long term perspective.  

Rahul Gandhi’s recommendation that the Ordinance should be torn and thrown away raises interesting questions:

Is he doing it because it is ‘intrinsically’ good?

Is he doing it because it is going to bring ‘the greatest good to the greatest number?’

Is he doing it because it is in his ‘own interest’ (most favorable consequence for himself)?

Is he doing it because he is considering the ‘long term effect on his decision on all others’ (society)?

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.

Citizen movement, business and democracy

Systems are designed to deliver. Business organizations are meant to ‘create customer’ by providing satisfying value. ‘Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production’ (Adam Smith). Consumer formed the centre of neo classical economics. Marshall proposed that goods that provide consumer with greatest satisfaction, pleasure or utility will be bought. But are consumers actually provided with goods which do greatest good for them or for the producers? The market mechanism eventually creates a power structure tilted in favor of the producers and consumers generally are reduced to receiving end.

Consumer movement took roots in the US in early twenties with the publication of a number of books which brought the fraudulent and unfair business practices. In response to subversion of consumer interest the fragmented atomized structure of consumer system began to organize into a cohesive countervailing force. An organized chorus was raised for the State to enact legislation designed to protect consumer interest against unscrupulous business practices. The response of business to this development was predictable. Consumer movement was perceived to be a direct threat.

Democratic system produces two classes by a process of free electoral selection. The exercise of franchise produces an asymmetric power distribution. The very idea of ‘for the people, by the people and of the people’ gets subverted when people here implies the people elected not the electorate. The organization of people either as consumers or citizens is symptomatic of malaise in the system.
Faced with disillusionment, initially it is an attempt in communication which can escalate into seizure. The business took organizing consumers with a pinch of salt, like a threat to their interest. Similar seems to be the response of people in power to recent outpouring of people on Indian streets.

 

There cannot be a better gift than an idea for improvement. Many companies consider consumer complaints as free feedback about what plagues the system. The complainers are often rewarded and encouraged. British Airways under stewardship of Sir Marshall systematically promoted complaining behavior in order to discover areas of improvement. Systems exist for the so called ‘subjects’. The recent public outcries about laws against sexual crimes and corruption are two important ‘ingredients or features’ that people want from ‘product’ of governance. These two presented a golden brand revitalization opportunity to politicians and political parties but they failed miserably.

Like marketers and their products must reflect the needs and wants of their consumers, the government must produce outcomes that are in sync with the sentiment of its people.

Politics, Involvement, Brand Kejriwal and IAC

One of the reasons why undeserving candidates get elected to Parliament is the attitude of indifference towards politics. In branding terms, this kind of reality is triggered when meaningful difference between brands ceases to exist. Hence it does not make any sense to waste cognitive resource on evaluation and selection (brand parity). Pulling out of decision process by supplanting the ‘thinking’ with ‘routine’ is a logical approach. Branding is all about achieving resonance through relevant differentiation. But most of the political brands appear to be devoid of meaningful differentiation and a large portion of citizens have ‘pulled out’ from the election process.  The consequent reality is low voting rate. This particularly is beneficial for the political class if parties scratch each other’s back.

Kejriwal and IAC’s contribution to political marketing is in the form of ‘disruption’ of the equilibrium. They have brought the issue of corruption at the centre of the political discourse. Corruption in politics has been taken for granted and hence had become a low involvement issue (all brands similar wrt to corruption). But by their aggressive and innovative approach they have managed to highlight corruption as one of the most important aspects in political brand selection process. Almost identical strategy was once used by Godrej in refrigerator market. Godrej sought and successfully managed to differentiate their brand on the platform of PUF (which was a common insulation used in fridge). The brand appropriated an attribute in consumer’s mind to achieve discrimination. The campaign’s focus was to pull customers back in to decision process and make them evaluate brand with a modified criteria.

People can be categorized on the basis of their involvement with politics. Majority is indifferent and has situational involvement (when the need arises or elections take place). The other group enjoys enduring involvement (as shown by high level of interest in product/ election).  People differ in their approach to handling problem depending upon their level of involvement. Involved people deliberate and process information extensively but people with lower level of involvement resort to short cut heuristics (in our case looks of candidate, name, and ease of recall). This is how bad candidates get elected because they escape scrutiny because of low involvement.

The campaign of IAC has triggered the interest (arousal) of this silent majority into politics by shifting people from ‘habit to decision making’. Now people are beginning to look at their affiliation with political brand with the new angle of corruption- which had become dormant.  The selection based on ‘peripheral’ aspects is getting replaced with critical evaluation (central route to persuasion).  This shift is good for Indian democracy.  When Indian electorate begins to discriminate political brand on the core aspects then only good people would make it to the Parliament.  People are encouraged to think hard about their selection of political brands.

In a situation of equilibrium based on product parity, the best strategy for an entrant is to ‘disrupt’ consumer cognitive frame. IAC has done precisely that. People are taking a look at politics, politicians and political brands in new manner.  By this shift from ‘habit to decision making’ IAC has managed to ‘cut through the clutter’ and carve out a position for itself.

Good or bad, that’s debatable.  Now political parties whether like it or do not like IAC, they just can’t afford to ignore it.

Voter Indifference, Youth, Political Brands and Indian Democracy

The Hindustan Times Youth Survey 2012 found that 41.9% of the subjects (18-25 years) responded negatively to the question whether they voted in the last election.
At the same time the Election Commission of India ran an advertisements trying to convince this India that voting is ‘in thing’ and it is ‘happening and cool’.
In public debates and discussions, the learned and the opinionated urge that the strength of democracy is when people exercise their right to vote.

Is this attitude of indifference good or bad? The answer depends upon which class you are representing: the nation or the politicians.

The youth’s indifference to the political process and politicians cannot be summarily condemned. It is quite possible that in their scheme of things this is the best way to deal with a situation.

What would you end up with if one tries very hard to evaluate and select an egg from a basket full of identical others? Would it not be better to save this cognitive energy and time to actually select a potato from the heap where choice can actually be exerted?

The consumer psychology to be indifferent and withdrawn is completely legitimate when brands in consideration are alike (lack of perceived differentiation). Most of the political brands notwithstanding their claims tend to have high degree of commonness on issues that are important to the youth of this country (technically called decision mediators and evaluative criteria). In the perception of the Youth the most important challenges facing this country are: corruption (29.1%), global warming (19.1%), cross border terror (18.5%), population explosion (15.6%), poor education system (11.1%), and poverty (10.2%). The others include lack of infrastructure, poor health system, and lack of entrepreneurial spirit.

The major political brands inIndiacome very close to each other (commoditized) on the aspects important to the youth like corruption and bad governance. Hence there is no excitement about voting. No matter how hard one tries to be discriminating and discerning in the political process (extensive or elaborate decision process) the conclusion is likely to be ‘all are same’ (criminal background, muscle man, professional politician not statesman, hunger for power, ideological ambiguity) or that their distinction lies on an aspect irrelevant to the youth of this country.

Closeness of brands in terms of their identity and image sucks the market into commoditization spiral. This perception of similarity causes customers to be indifferent and withdrawn because it is not worth it. Rigor in evaluation and selection does not leave the customer with a better result (more satisfying outcome).

One of the best findings of this survey is that  youth  in this country are apolitical (34.1%) and secular (29.1%). That is, they are not burdened by the baggage of the past and hard dividing lines. This certainly is indicative maturity. And here lies opportunities to create meaningful political brands (brand identity changes and rejuvenation). The political brands should revisit their core (brand essence) and align and evolve to incorporate what is important to the Indian youth. Brands must resonate to create power and pull (discrimination at the point of voting machine). The youth are intelligent; it is for political brands to burst the commodity perception (POP- ‘they are just the same’) and create (POD- ‘this brand is good for us’) that is relevant and meaningful.

Why would you go out of your way to locate and buy a brand? Because it delivers   what you want better than others.