Given that 2 January was announced by the weekend media to be the presidential elections, my mind took me to the sharpest marketing campaigns that we have seen in South Asia that might be relevant to the Sri Lankan candidates. Let me capture the relevance of the key strategies.
Voter behaviour trends
If I go back to my brand marketing days in the South Asian region when I managed the Dettol brand, and the subsequent national campaigns that we have done in the tourism and export sectors at a national level, we worked on the basis that consumer research can predict consumer behaviour on the propensity of purchase to around 50-60% which again is based on the sample size.
However, the real value of research was that it can reveal trends in behaviour and these insights must be captured and factored into the marketing strategy. Let me capture the essence of Modi’s campaign and the link to Sri Lanka in the next two months.
Modi lesson 1: TV main medium
Even though digital media is very popular and we saw last week a popular brand of biscuits had to withdraw their communication campaign due to a backlash on social media, TV is still a great influencer to move consumer behaviour. In Sri Lanka on a total spend of Rs. 75 billion annually almost 70% is focused on TV and 20% on radio. In India, Modi and his team indentified this early in the campaign and focused their main message on the TV medium so that there is a strong emotional connection in the living room of a home.
Sri Lanka: Even though there is hype on social media, election campaigns will have to focus on TV as the main medium. The challenge is which channel to focus on. Currently there is a war on the viewership ratings. I guess research trends and pre-booking of media will be key to getting a higher share of voice.
Modi lesson 2: Credible product
In 2002 the riots and the alleged links to this incident dented the brand image of Modi. He distanced himself from the media and until in 2012 he was given a clean chit from the Supreme Court, Modi focused on rebuilding his brand. In 2009, when the economic downturn was in play, Modi focused on developing Gujrat to be the economic powerhouse of India at a GDP growth rate of 10%. The partnership with the private sector in driving the economy was commendable. The best case in point is Tata setting up the nano tech company in Gujrat.
Sri Lanka: My cue here is that we must not be in a hurry to launch products into the market. Do the research not only on the product but also shelf test, drop test to check packaging and more importantly the distribution trial so that product quality in different weather conditions can be tested. The launch must happen only when the confidence level is right on the product. Do not allow competitor actions to force one to launch early to the market and then have to face the embarrassment of doing product modifications and take back stocks from trade post launch. Minor changes can be done on the run but not major changes; this holds ground on a political campaign too.
Modi lesson 3: Right brand values
With the focus on developing Gujrat to be a model state in India, what Modi achieved in the last five years was strong brand equity in the minds of people. The brand values that began to be associated with the Modi brand were decisiveness, progressive, aggressive but strong governess, modern due to being tech-savvy, humorous with good communication.
The brand values that surrounded brand Modi were exactly what India wanted, the logic being the architecture slap-bang met the challenges that the environment threw to Modi – fight corruption at every level, women’s safety, protection from terrorism, international diplomacy and the ability to tell the real picture to the people. I guess the 339 seats won and 63% of India voting for ‘Brand Modi’ is a testimony to the fact that ‘Brand Modi’ had the right values that the people wanted.
Sri Lanka: When it comes to marketing a brand, the task is somewhat easier given that the values we want the brand to be wrapped around can be orchestrated. To be effective, use qualitative research and map the values of the competitor brand and what the consumer will want to be associated with. Thereafter develop the communication so that over time a sharp identity can be carved out in the target consumer’s mind. The key point to note is consistency of communication. Ad hoc work must not be done.
Modi lesson 4: Divergent team
When Modi decided to contest the 2014 elections he first put together team of professionals. There were 200 in number. This includes graduates from the best universities from India – IIT and IIM. Some resigned from top jobs at JP Morgan, Deutsche Bank, McKinsey, Boston Consultancy Group, etc. A former UN mission chief for Africa, a member of the Citizens for Accountability Governance (CAG), a statistical whiz kid, a digital marketing strategy expert named Hiren Joshi from the RRS, and a top campaign planner for TV, radio and press from London.
The overall media planning was by the Marketing Communication Company Madison with advertising veteran Piyush Pandi also on the team. Burson Marsteller and Dentsu India, a Japanese publicity company, was also part of the team powering the Modi team. I guess this is what it takes to manage a brand and its campaign when wanting to get the plum job in the largest democracy in the world.
Sri Lanka: It’s important to have a cross-functional team and if need multicultural, based on the brand marketing task at hand. I remember once in my career of marketing we had a 12-member team that was across the world and being part of a global launch of a national campaign. It was in fact a virtual team. The key thing is that based on a task to be achieved, marrying of a skill-set must be done. It will be interesting to see the compositions and the advertising agencies that will declare their interests. Last week’s media revealed some but I guess we will see more in the next few weeks.
Modi lesson 5: Bold objective
Modi was very clear on the objective. He wanted 272+ seats. The bottom-up exercise had been done from the grass root village to a town and then to a state how the numbers stacked up. I guess a clean sweep of zero to 10 seats in Delhi is a classic case in point of the planning that had gone in by the team. Modi had travelled 300,000 km, attended 5,187 events, 477 rallies in 25 states and come in contact with 230 million people on the votes of 800 million.
Sri Lanka: It goes without saying but the implications to marketers are that based on a gains and loss analysis study, clear ground-based targets must be set on a regional architecture. The overall volume growths of a brand must be broken down to the region and then to households and usage rates. With this kind of planning comes clear communication objectives on SOV, awareness level and TOM awareness levels, which in turn can be moved to trial and repeat purchase scores. I remember my boss making me churn out these numbers when I was handling the Dettol brand. It’s traumatic but that what it takes I guess. The brand won the best Marketing Achievement award twice.
Modi lesson 6: Phased-out campaign
Something very interesting was the phased-out campaign that Modi executed. The initial phase was targeted at making the senior party members get Modi to be the face of the BJP campaign. The second phase was getting every Indian to associate ‘Brand Modi’ with their lives. And the third and final phase were the rallies attended and driving the campaign at grass root level for behavioural change at the ground end.
Sri Lanka: Even in a launch of a product, we do this. At the initial stage is stocking and correcting the distribution, especially if it’s a national launch and distribution complexities. Then come the communication breakout and making consumers experience the brand. Thereafter it’s tracking the retention rate. I guess if clear KPIs are not there in each of these phases, it will be tough to achieve success in the market place. This can be extended to political candidate too in a different context.
Modi lesson 7: Take the high ground
Modi and his team decided that taking the high ground was important if ‘Brand Modi’ was to touch every Indian. So what they did was to feature Narendra Modi in global media like the Economic Times, TIME, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, etc., so that every Indian was filled with pride. He allowed competitors like Rahul Gandhi to play the national media, which was dogged by corruption scandals. Modi’s high ground strategy was very successful as Indians get motivated by inspirational communication that gives leadership to the world. In fact Gujrat has many communication campaigns on the theme ‘1st in Asia,’ ‘Biggest in India’ and ‘Largest in the World’ themes.
Sri Lanka: It’s important to understand the power of CSR. It must not be done just to add to the brand equity. It must be done to drive the category and thereby take leadership in the industry. For example, Dialog driving connectivity of every Sri Lankan is a case in point, and so is Lifebuoy taking the high ground on germ protection for the whole family. The best CSR in a political campaign is one’s own family. Even Obama went and visited his grandmother at the height of the campaign. This is the best CSR.
Modi lesson 8: Innovate with technology
Another milestone of the Modi ideology was that he wanted to give India a first in digital communication. The first hologram 3D technology being used by a political candidate was by Modi. So whilst he addressed a particular state on stage, simultaneously he used hologram technology to talk to remote areas of the state that made the brand live. Some say that even after the address some Indians would want to go behind the hologram screen to check if Modi was actually behind the screen.
Sri Lanka: This might be a challenge but with Pinterest, Instagram, Tweeting, YouTube and many other ground-based marketing communication techniques, one can experience a brand in novel ways. I guess it will be worth pursuing new options so that on technology one can take first in market leadership. I guess for Sri Lankan politicians Facebook will be key and the viral magazines.
Modi lesson 9: Why digital media?
Modi and his team drove digital media very strongly to reach the young voter. A classic was when he took a selfie when he met his mum after the victory and posted it online. To date he has 2,263,673 followers on Twitter and 3,598,400 likes on FB, which explains the detailed planning and execution that has been done.
Sri Lanka: Even though traditional media is effective and digital media is very time-consuming from a brand perspective, we have no option but to ourselves into the war of communication digitally. It is recommended that we use digital communication more as a feedback loop than just consumer awareness, which requires very strong focus and fast action.
Modi lesson 10: Force competitors to panic
Finally, Modi being a sharp strategist identified that his competitors were very weak on communication. Sonia Gandhi hardly addresses the media. Manmohan Sigh is very media shy, whilst Rahul was considered too young. Given this landscape, Modi rode on his charismatic behaviour and made strong impacts in all forms of communication. The challenges that Congress had to react to like scams, governance issues, etc., added to the congress campaign having to move to panic campaigns.
Sri Lanka: The challenge in brands is to stick to the strategy even when competitors carry out guerrilla attacks. Especially today at the retail end there is a war for consumer attention. The brand that wins is a brand that does not go for panic behaviour. Let’s see how the presidential candidates position themselves in the near future.
(The author is an award winning marketer and business personality. He has won the Marketer of the Year award twice and also a global award in brand building. Apart from brand marketing, he also has experience in national global marketing and was the youngest Chairman of the Sri Lanka Export Development Board.)