The first time I heard Narendra Modi speak was at the India Today Conclave in March 2008. He was talking against vote-bank politics and how he works for the development of all 5.5 crore Gujaratis and not for any specific religious or caste-related person. Gujarat had already become one of the front-ranking states by then. This thinking came as a whiff of fresh air for me. ‘Here is a bold man who will make a difference to India’s progress’ was my conclusion six years ago..
Then I had the privilege of personally interacting with him over a private lunch in November 2010, when he came to Chennai to promote Vibrant Gujarat that was scheduled in January 2011. I took this opportunity to discuss wide-ranging issues like education, women empowerment, national security, industrial development, agriculture, subsidies, etc. It would be an understatement to say I was impressed with his take on many things – both local and global. What he was doing on some of these issues was all well thought through and thorough.
On 2002 riots, he came across as a person who did everything he could to defuse the tension then and he also admitted that he had failed to principally convince the English media to see his point of view and that truth will eventually prevail.
I subsequently met him at an interactive session in August 2012, organised by All India Management Association in Ahmedabad. There too he enthralled the audience with what he is doing for the development of the state with no appeasement for any particular group or religion. And last year on September 30, I had the privilege of having him as IAA’s Chief Guest at IAA Platinum Jubilee Global Marketing Summit, where he spoke of his vision of Brand India. He was already declared as the Prime Ministerial Candidate of BJP by then. His office had asked me to prepare a speech and I had toiled over it for days to get one ready with impressive statistics and what I thought was worthy of his stature. But, when he spoke, he had completely ignored the draft given to him. He spoke about the fundamental things that make up ‘Brand India’ and how all of us are collectively responsible for building this country as a coveted Brand. His wit, his ability to weave the various issues that make up Brand India, put him as a visionary leader with all the 400-odd leaders present there.
Within a few weeks after he was chosen as the PM candidate, he launched his marketing blitz with three core themes – Mission 272+, Development agenda and Congress Mukt Bharat. He communicated these themes with varying emphasis across all touch points.
Like a true marketing man, he knew that he couldn’t win the Lok Sabha elections without Uttar Pradesh voting for the BJP handsomely. He, therefore, sent his most trusted man and strategist to UP. He knew the importance of ‘owned media’ (media assets owned and controlled by him), particularly for the young/ first time voters. He, therefore, had his website operational and updated. All his rallies were covered by webcast through his website. He had set up a team to handle his social media. His Facebook page and Twitter handle were the most followed because he ensured his team seamlessly updated his followers on his speech and views on important aspects.
He was soon seen as the newsmaker and this brought with it enormous ‘earned media’ (free media space based on popularity). He was given disproportionate TV time and print media space carrying his ‘views’. According to his website, he had addressed over the last eight months, 5,800+ rallies and programmes and had travelled 3 Lakh+ KMs. Many of the rallies were attended by a few lakhs of people. Care was taken that all participants get to see Modi clearly with many high quality giant screens along with clear audio systems. And feedback was formally taken from people attending the rallies so that the party could assess where they stand with the electorate. A very professional way to go about marketing indeed! BJP used ‘paid media’ (formal advertising campaign) only towards the very end. This was more to be present in media to remind that Modi cares for the electorate and is a strong leader.
In contrast, the Congress did not embrace adequately the ‘owned’ or ‘earned’ media and focused, from the early stage, on ‘paid’ media. The result is there for everyone to see. Out of 55 crore votes polled, NDA polled nearly 38 per cent, while UPA managed about 22 per cent. Congress did not win a seat in 19 states and Union Territories and very insignificant presence in nine other states/ Union Territories.
Modi seems to have performed when measured against his set goal of Mission 272+, his theme of development agenda and Congress Mukt Bharat. A true Modi juggernaut rolled on.
The author is Chairman, RK Swamy Hansa.