By Vikasa Gautam:
As the election fever keeps rising in Uttar Pradesh, so does the momentum of political campaigning. Whatever be the results on March 11, 2017, the marketing tools and strategies used by the professionals, employed by the political parties, are catching the eyes of the voters.
I love interacting with people. Conversations with unknown people always excite me. I work with a startup, where I conduct interviews and train people to hone their ‘interview skills’. Because of my field of expertise, I was assigned to conduct focused group discussions and in-depth interviews of politicians (from the Congress) to understand ground-level issues and realities for deciding campaign agendas. This assignment took me to the hinterlands of Uttar Pradesh in the hot dusty summer. Since I interacted with many politicians and party workers, and devised some of the interesting political campaigns last year, I will try to share what I learnt from this interesting assignment.
Campaigning for political parties involves making rigorous marketing strategies to magnetise votes from the citizens and thereby win the elections. These marketing strategies have been experimented with and are expanding over time on various fronts. With the world rapidly moving towards a majorly digital and technological era – social media marketing, search engine optimisation (SEO), political blogs, awareness, pay-per-click and other forms of digital marketing campaigns are on the rise.
However, traditional methods of campaigning are still ubiquitous in India with prospective political candidates going door-to-door distributing freebies, promising the well-being of people, extending courtesies, and portraying themselves as models of transformation and evolution. The reason that these door-to-door and traditional campaigns have prevailed till now is the belief associated with personal contact and communication.
Personal contact generally brings more impact. This is executed by distributing freebies, announcing and requesting for votes through blow-horns on rickshaws, television and radio advertisements, broadcasts, campaign posters, vouchers, and so on. Hence, political parties have been attempting to balance and strategise their marketing campaigns between conventional and digital modes, and between conventional forms of media and social media.
Primarily, there are two significant components that political campaigners aim to sync: the ‘candidate focus’ and the ‘environmental forces’. Under the former, there are four sub-categories, namely, ‘party concept’, ‘product concept’, ‘selling concept’ and the ‘marketing concept’. The latter component is party to ‘technology’, ‘structural shifts’, ‘broker shifts in influence’, ‘political action committees’, ‘consultants’ and ‘pollsters’.
These two factors are blended and organised systematically through the marketing campaign along the stages of the political campaign. In the marketing campaign, the initial step is a market or voter segmentation. The campaigning team has to assess and evaluate the needs and exigencies of the voters. This assessment should be followed by creating a general profile of the voters and then identifying the segments of the voters.
Moreover, marketing and political campaigning is not just all about the voters and their responses. but also the fact that the prospective candidate holds a balanced, quintessentially prominent significance in the entire picture. Firstly, the campaign has to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the candidate. On the grounds of these strengths and weaknesses, the competition of the candidate is circled out, evaluated and compared. Lastly, once the campaigning team figures out the target segment and relates it to the professional, the image of the candidate is established and portrayed to the society in a good light, so as to highlight their involvement, efforts, diligence and credibility.
Once the voter and the candidate are thoroughly scrutinised, strategy formulation and implementation commence with a product-campaign platform, push-marketing and grass-root efforts, polling and organisational development and control.
For instance, the campaign of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is an epitome of how political parties follow marketing campaigners to the tee. To begin with, notice their strategy of analysing their voters and segregating them on different levels, so as to persuade and gain the trust of people, and thereby guarantee the maximum number of votes. The vote-acquisition took place by identifying the values of the voters in terms of their ‘functional values’ (such as Swadeshi and its juxtaposition with globalisation, free market and foreign policies), ‘social values’ (such as Dharam Rajya, secularism, security, justice and efficient development), ’emotional values’ (such as Hindutva and a uniform civil code), ‘conditional values’ through temporary events, and lastly, ‘epistemic values’ (such as innovations, varied orientations, and incumbency factors). Every citizen, irrespective of caste, creed, gender or race is a voter, and hence, this voter has to be the highlight and the objective of the entire campaign. Considering the example of the BJP, we could claim that the cognition and emphasis laid on all these factors from a ‘universal standpoint’ is what led to its victory.
The ‘brand imaging’ of a political party or a leader is one of the most essential and quintessential factors that go into the political marketing campaigns. The US elections focus excessively on the ‘branding’ of the party. It is a ‘brand’ that helps acquire votes and eventually trust. In this digital era, campaigning has expanded by leaps and bounds and has been absorbed into various arenas such as forums, hangouts, chats, tweets, blogs, unique agendas for promotions and other social platforms. Therefore, problems can be addressed while campaigning and simultaneously, user participation can also be encouraged – thus proving the worth and ability of the political party or the leader.
The most ideal instance of exemplifying the most accurate and best use of social media and campaigning strategies would be the case of Mr. Prashant Kishor and the seminal role that he played in the electoral victory of Modi and the BJP during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, and also for Nitish Kumar.
Prashant Kishor chose to channelise the marketing strategy for the Bihar elections through a different style of campaigning – by targeting the opponent and trapping the competitor in a web – thus diverting their attention from their original motives and agendas in the campaign. Just before Modi was about to give his speech at a rally in Bihar, Prashant Kishor attacked Modi’s Twitter wall with a plethora of questions, being well aware of Modi’s temperament and plan of action. Through the medium of this platform, he succeeded in ‘diverting’ Modi’s attention towards replying to his word attacks, instead of focusing on his own goal. He states, “He walked into our trap. Instead of saying what he wanted to, he started his speech by replying to our tweets. Our purpose was limited: Do not allow a Modi hype to build.”
Kishor’s team was well-knit with lawyers, web professionals and financial managers with whom he planned the marketing strategy while taking every aspect into account. Around 10,000 phone numbers were added on the list of people who were informed about the latest developments via audios, videos, infographics and pre-recorded messages. Bicycles were distributed, and every action clearly projected the purpose, objectives and capabilities of the progress-driven political party. The strategy also involved collaborating with allies and chalking out actions to overpower a particular opponent (Kishor also collaborated with Lalu Prasad).
The functioning of Prashant Kishor’s campaigning team is an epitome of how marketing strategies and new trends can be efficiently and precisely implemented in political campaigns while catering to the youth as well as the aged. Prashant Kishor is very much clear in his thought processes and always demands what he finds best for the client – whether it’s a projection of a ‘Brahmin face’ as a Chief Minister candidate from the Congress, or a month-long Kisan Yatra from Deoria to Delhi by a senior leader, or open interactions of ground workers of a party with senior leaders.
His philosophy, in his own words, is “Go Big or Go Home”. He always wants to capture the minds of the audience with larger-than-life campaigns – be it ‘chai pe charcha’ (discussion over tea) or ‘har ghar dastak’ (visiting and knocking on the doors of every house). His strategy is always simple and backed up by data and analytics. However, its execution is tough, and this makes Prashant Kishor the modern ‘Chanakya’ of Indian politics. Who would have thought, even in their wildest dreams, that a coalition between two fierce political rivals, Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav, was even possible!
However, the purpose of such campaigns must be extended. The goals of such campaigns should be long-term and more focused on the citizens and their welfare rather than for votes and a seat in the Parliament!
The author is an IIM Bangalore Alumni, Entrepreneur, Interview Expert, Founder and also the CEO of PInterview, an online platform for interview skill training.