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Lessons from the Narendra Modi campaign

Ramanujam Sridhar | Updated on November 24, 2017

Man with a plan: Narendra Modi

Connecting to people in the remotest parts of India via 3D hologram technology ( left), to BJP merchandise, he was here, there and everywhere


From serving NaMo tea

Like a street-smart businessman, Modi has a clear vision of what he wants to say

It’s all over. Narendra Modi has swept the Lok Sabha polls in a manner that has left his opponents perplexed and searching for excuses and scapegoats. I am no political analyst and am better served by talking about some of his strategies that may have greater relevance for students of management and marketing.

Yet, even before we eulogise the leader, it might be worthwhile to remember that his cause was aided and abetted by a previous government that was clueless about governance, fuelled inflation and nurtured corruption. People like me were completely frustrated and looking for change.

Right product at the right time

Marketing abounds with success stories of products that “were at the right place at the right time with the right marketing mix”. Recall the days of Nirma, coincidentally a product from Gujarat, taking on Hindustan Unilever with its acceptable quality and affordable price. It is important to remember that successful products, services and people generally make their appearance when the market, and in this case the country, needs them. The time was opportune for Narendra Modi and that is precisely the reason why he has been so phenomenally successful.

Change the rules of the game

Traditionally in India, elections are fought between parties. The DMK fights the AIADMK and the Congress fights the BJP.

This time round Modi changed the rules of the battle by making the Indian election similar to the US presidential elections where leaders like Bush, Clinton and Obama have been the face of their parties.

People vote for the individual even more so than the party they represent. Clearly the BJP had the edge in leadership that was stated well in advance while Rahul Gandhi was at best a reluctant leader.

The BJP and Modi capitalised on this lack of clear leadership and even ran a commercial during the T20 world cup where the umpire goes out to toss and finds to his consternation that the captain of one of the teams has just not landed up for the toss! Identifying your strengths and highlighting them even as you draw attention to the weaknesses of your opponent is a strategy as old as the hills, but very effective.

Pepsi has constantly been telling us that Coke is an old person’s drink while Apple constantly reminds us about the problems with Windows.

Modi, the Sachin of the BJP

There was a time in Indian cricket when Sachin Tendulkar’s individual performance was more important than the team’s to the average Indian fan. There was the famous Amul slogan that read “Tendu ten don’t!” referring sarcastically to the non-performance of the rest of the team.

This time round the BJP realised that people wanted to vote for Modi more than the BJP. I know that I voted for Modi even though the candidate in Bangalore South had no track record, but I wanted Modi to lead the country. I am sure there were a million others like me and once again at the risk of repeating myself, I reiterate that the BJP’s strategy of designating Modi as the leader well in advance was its greatest coup.

Strategy is sacrifice

Very often brands fail because they try to say too many things and end up confusing the customer.

On the contrary brands that are focused, single-minded and clear in their communication and offering succeed. In manufacturing we talk of “core competence” and in marketing we talk of clear positioning. Modi kept talking about development and good governance. Clearly the prospect of jobs and prosperity went down well with the millions of young Indians who were voting for the first time. Contrast this with the diffused claims of the Congress party. The AAP which started out in a much focused manner lost its way in the hurly burly of Indian politics. Why is Volvo so successful globally? It stays with “safety”. Why do more and more people fly Indigo? It keeps reminding us that it is on time.

Be clear about your strategy and stay with it is my learning of Modi and other successful marketers. Apple, one of the most successful brands of this generation, has a host of people who are passionate about Apple and keep advocating it online and offline. I own several apple products like an iPad, iPhone and iTouch and will not use other products. I tell all my friends to use Apple even if it is expensive.

Modi got hundreds of educated people, lawyers, MBAs and accountants to take sabbaticals from their work for three months as they worked day and night for his success. A leader inspires people to follow him.

I read an interesting piece about a person from Singapore who had left her family and had come on sabbatical to work on Modi”s campaign for nearly three months! Some of the biggest names in industry too were helping Modi with his speeches and policies. What it means is that Modi was an inspirational leader.

Ab Ki Baar

Finally, successful brands have powerful, visible multi-media campaigns that capture the imagination of the people. The line ‘Ab ki baar Modi sarkar’ written by Piyush Pandey, and Madison’s capabilities as the largest Indian-owned media buying agency took the country by storm. Let us not forget the online campaigns of Modi on Twitter where he has a phenomenal following, and his TV appearances. His media interview with Arnab kept the country enthralled. Contrast this with the poor showing of Rahul Gandhi who started with a whimper and continued to go downhill.

Sum and substance

It would be premature to call Modi a marketing genius or even make this a business school case study, yet. But to me Modi is like a successful, street-smart business man who has a clear vision of what he wants to do. He is backed by successful people and works with the best professionals in the industry who are furthering his cause. If that does not make him a marketing success, I wonder what does.

The writer is the Founder CEO of brand-comm. He teaches at various management schools and offers an online course on brand management

Published on May 20, 2014

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