Catalyst

Looking at the Congress through a brand lens

Karthik Kumar | Updated on October 15, 2020 Published on October 15, 2020

Assessing the party on differentiation, relevance, esteem and knowledge reveals useful insights

The latest salvo fired at the Indian National Congress (INC) has come in the form of Khushbu Sundar resigning from the party and joining its key rival, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Coming as it does after a season of discontent in the Congress, it’s time to examine whether this move is just politics as usual or if it reflects a deep-seated malaise that is beginning to explode. One way to do this is to view the INC as one would a brand owned by a company.

A framework that can be used for such an analysis is the BrandAsset® Valuator (BAV) developed by Young & Rubicam circa the mid-1990s. The BAV is an apposite framework for this analysis as it provides actionable diagnostics for brands to course-correct or maintain their position, based on an underlying database of consumer research. For this analysis, while we don’t have the database, we apply the principles of BAV to diagnose what ails the INC of today based on information available in the public domain.

The essence of BAV is captured in the given graphics.

Based on this, let us examine the different factors at play in the Conngress’s situation today.

 

Widely known but not well regarded

Differentiation: The INC, standard bearer of the Indian freedom movement, segued from its anti-imperial policies to the foundational liberal policies of democracy — individual freedoms, secular, nationalist, etc. Ideally, these should have remained a strong differentiation for the party. However, over time, this differentiation has eroded, not just because the party’s values have eroded, but because other parties, equally validly, claim the mantle of democracy. Thus, the INC is now only one among many.

Also, whether owing to the lack of intra-party democracy or the inability to walk the talk of democracy, the party has itself contributed to the erosion of its differentiation.

Thus, at best, the Congress is moderately, but not very well, differentiated.

Relevance: Given the INC’s role in history, its relevance should have been very high. However, this relevance has been overshadowed by two factors. One, the composition of the electorate has completely changed from when it first came into power and now. Immediately, post-Independence, the electorate comprised Indians who had fought for freedom under the Congress banner. Today, the electorate likely comprises less than 15 per cent of that cohort.

Second, with the passage of time, the flavour of democracy itself is likely to have undergone change, with different expectations and perceptions. The INC, moored as it is to the freedom movement and the ‘democratic principles of the founders’, is adrift of the aspirations and perceptions of the majority of the electorate for whom:

The ‘freedom struggle’ is an abstract concept in their history books

Democracy is taken for granted, and newer aspirations have taken hold

Ergo, the relevance of the Congress for today’s electorate is much diminished, almost to the point of non-existence. The sceptic may well smirk at this conclusion and point to the 30 per cent or so vote share the INC continues to enjoy. The reasons for that are rooted in 54 of the 73 years that the INC has governed India and the inertia this has created in its pillars for brand stature — esteem and knowledge.

Esteem: About 15 per cent of today’s electorate still belongs to the ‘freedom’ cohort of the population. They may still have fond memories of the party and are willing to look beyond its current travails. Second, in its long innings at helming the country, the party did contribute to significant development activities. The combined result of this is the relatively high regard in which the INC is held among a sufficiently wide section of the electorate.

Knowledge: Like esteem, the history of the party and its constant presence in the news is certain to ensure that the electorate knows about it or at least has a sufficient perception of its work. It is likely that this knowledge of and esteem for the INC leads to whatever support it enjoys currently.

The future of the Congress

The BAV framework paints a picture of the INC as a brand high in Brand Stature (Esteem + Knowledge) and a low-to-middling Brand Strength (Differentiation + Relevance). Brands with these kinds of metrics are usually commodity or eroding brands. Their chief characteristic is that their past glory creates a high critical mass of Brand Stature, which keeps the brand going well past its ‘sell-by’ date. The signal, though, is clear that the end is nigh.

In the BAV framework, Brand Stature is a lagging indicator, in that it masks what the future holds; while Brand Strength is a leading indicator, which signals the direction the brand would take. For the Congress, its lagging indicator is strong, giving it the false comfort of a sanguine future, but its leading indicator is weak, which shows the brand is destined to perish. Quite simply, today, the INC is living off its past, while the future doesn’t look so bright.

If things were left as it is, what the analysis shows will happen. On the other hand, were the INC to wake up and take remedial actions, it could regain its sheen. The choice is up to the party’s leadership.

Knowing what the people want

This analysis was not based on any data, so one cannot make any specific recommendations of what the party should do to get back on the winning track. However, the recent’ Mood of the Nation’ survey, done by a leading news magazine, gives some pointers:

The nature of the electorate has changed. To this generation, the freedom struggle is a footnote in history and democracy, and democratic values are table stakes that are no longer a differentiator between parties.

The electorate is quick to see through hypocrisies, so when a party preaches democracy but practices monarchy, the voters see through the charade. The electorate knows there is no place for dynastic succession in a democracy.

The poverty alleviation story is over. Today’s electorate wants national pride and an opportunity for personal growth.

Ad hominem attacks on everything the government does, without an alternative, only adds to ruling party’s popularity, while diminishing the INC’s. It would do well for the party leadership to remember where ‘chowkidar chor hai’ got them. The hallmark of intelligence is not to repeat old mistakes, but to make new ones.

Only time will tell if the INC will pick up the gauntlet or continue with its ostrich-like posture.

Karthik Kumar is a Director at Rage Communications, and has over 40 years of experience in analytics and marketing communications

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Published on October 15, 2020
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