Guest Column: Rahul Gandhi proves, and proves a few unwritten tenets of branding: Adve Srinivasa Bhat
Top ranks in the Congress deserve credit; though there is nothing to say that Rahul Gandhi's onslaught on the BJP govt on the land bill was indeed orchestrated hard; though the content of his speech at the Ramleela Maidan which was called 'fierce-full' by the media lacked a certain strategic comprehensiveness, says management consultant Adve Srinivasa Bhat
Top ranks in the Congress deserve credit; though there is nothing to say that Rahul Gandhi’s onslaught on the BJP govt on the land bill was indeed orchestrated hard; though the content of his speech at the Ramleela Maidan which was called ‘fierce-full’ by the media lacked a certain strategic comprehensiveness; though the entire episode of the Congress on the ‘BIG political Sunday’, as also tagged by the media, indeed was turned so by the force and the near clarity in the speech of Mr Gandhi which was largely, largely unexpected.
Though ‘surprise’ is the factor that gives Rahul accolades the resounding branding impact that arises out of it which gives the Congress hope to regenerate from the pits is caused by the true upturning of an extremely negative brand attribute to one that is potentially very good to evolve as extremely positive. Brands evolve to become powerful in their sphere by the sum of multiple values built into them, with positive values largely outweighing relatively minor negative ones. Nonetheless, brand value is invariably led by a very few but very dominant values that remain in the threshold of immediate memory of people. They may be just one, may be two or possibly three and are highly positive in successful brands and highly negative in failing brands.
Dominant brand attributes remain by and large resilient in established and comprehensively mature markets but are subject to drastic changes in their power and even in their constitution in evolving and under developed markets. Lower the maturity more is the change and also the possibility of change. The market in the context of democracy is unique. In India, politics is characterized by; highly mature product (constitution of India), very vast but slowly maturing demand (voters) and deficient and hardly evolving competition (political parties) in spite of the impact of AAP. And therefore, by the very characteristic of the market the dominant attributes of political parties don’t just keep changing by degree but also change from being positive to negative, negative to positive and even keep shifting among equally-good-and-bad parties – though only by relative perceptions.
With a series of losses in the elections over the years and widely felt incoherent arguments in his talks Rahul Gandhi, arguably, severely restricted by the massive and multiple corruption allegations against the regime, could only slide to become highly negative for Congress – so very helplessly that the rejection of him continuously grew and even turned explicit right within the party. The branding lesson, even for businesses, from the Congress recharge by Rahul Gandhi is that; “certain severe brand value loss can be effectively recovered only by correcting the negative attribute that caused it and when that happens in absolute terms it yields superior brand advantages equivalent to that attribute being exceptionally good and thus powerful”. V2 of anything results in progressive recovery in proportion greater than the extent of relative issue in the V1 is settled and if the issue is settled in absolute terms it yields exceptional advantages. Santro could shift to gear three in sales only after fixing the awkwardness of its exterior design at the rear, Indica gained better sales with V2 upon fixing its technical issues and Nano continues to struggle with its still indeterminate issues right with the car. While it is absolutely true that advertising (promotion) of Nano makes a very good lesson on “how not to promote an innovative product and a popular brand” (nano was a popular brand over a year and half well before the first car was delivered) Tata Motors would find it all wasteful should they continue to push the car trying with renewed promotion blitz without knowing for sure of the real devils that are holding it up. The implicit critical insight from the Rahul Gandhi phenomenon is that; in the event of failure, working on V2 is not just a very serious option but a highly potential opportunity, and surely is not an aspect of shame.
Competition, though generally believed to be good for the consumers is not all true in all situations. Cartels rob the consumers with high costs in markets where consumers are ignorant or helpless. And in a democracy where competition (among political parties) is grossly immature, as is true of almost all under developed and developing nations, citizens often feel awfully helpless in less than a year after elections. Anti-incumbency is already a normal excuse and unfortunately there is no shame about it among the politicians. Immature competition is typically beset by multiple chronic negative attributes across leading competitors in detriment to the consumers. Under immature competition with the negative factors being neutral to competition the competitors (political parties in the context of politics) indeed thrive at the cost of consumers (citizens). The classic example of this in business is the business of property development. All, including the govts, thrive at the cost of first time home buyers owing to flawed fundamentals.
Corruption being neutral among parties in politics, particularly between Congress and BJP – Congress could get a shot for good from the rare dare of Rahul Gandhi simply because Congress (UPA) was, as evident in the allegations between them, only worse on corruption (as compared to BJP (NDA) ) by their dare and the sheer scale of it. And in politics a lot more than as it is true of businesses parties win not all because of themselves but also equally because of the negative decisions and deeds of the competitors. In fact, BJP won the last general election largely because of the big and multiple charges of corruption and Congress in turn could get even with BJP so soon with just some daring talk because of the negative perceptions BJP couldn’t manage to stop – piling up against itself in just a few months. That tells of the low impact of corruption in politics owing to it being neutral still. In business, entry into markets where competition is immature is easy and highly feasible so is it in politics too. That explains the resounding success of AAP though it made it look so complicated and tough losing its focus upon being hit hard by the crude competition tactics politics in India has yet mature away from. In a little more mature political scenario both congress and BJP would have lost lot of their market share just by the disgraceful way they opposed the entry of AAP, in their effort to sustain the negative neutralities for their own selfish good. In business, in India, new entrants are not discouraged as insensitively, which tells of the depth of the pits our politics is in. But markets mature and old world brands learn to stay the course and possibly even thrive by the new rules or vanish in time. In politics it happens only much too slower.
The five year term I believe keeps the comfort level of our politicians right till the end of it. Congress battled all the serious allegations in vain and became nervous only as the elections began. BJP would still not know of its temporary brand power, which gave it the authority to conduct the govt – being negated swiftly by stronger and lasting negative attributes it has created so very quickly. Professional companies in business in the private sector resort to market research to know the consumer sentiments in ensuring right decisions. Political parties too can mature their play should they talk to right sets of respondents with absolutely unbiased questions about their work and decisions. BJP needs to carry out one to know of the hardening negative attributes which strangely seem to be beyond the grasp of their leaders’ intuition. BJP should know that some of the negative attributes it is ignoring are not neutral and therefore can prove to be more harmful than the neutral ‘corruption’.
However, Congress is grossly mistaken should it believe that the slim hope wrought by Rahul Gandhi’s rhetoric-against-rhetoric would change its fortunes in the coming state elections. Branding hardly happens with flashes of brilliance once in a while with business as usual in between, the way politics is usually done. With the kind of rout both Congress and BJP suffered in Delhi they are surely failing to read the loud message on the real inflection chance in the political play in India, caused by the entry of AAP in spite of the organizational upheaval it is currently suffering. Against the ill founded hopes of both Congress and BJP, the strong idea underlying AAP will find decisive traction, in time, either by further evolution of AAP itself or of its clones. That opens up the opportunities even and for all, including BJP and Congress. While BJP still has some good time with power to revive its brand equity with some fundamental corrections and good performance the option for congress is narrow, for good if it would consider it as such.
Looking at it from the branding perspective; Rahul Gandhi’s branding effort could have surely packed-in a lot more power by articulating competently a few other highly relevant negative attributes which BJP had acquired in these eleven months, alongside his take on the land bill. On the contrary, the nett impact of the effort was in fact discounted substantially all by himself by his pilgrimage to Kedarnath which prompts a YIK (Yeah, I know) impact from even the average citizen irrespective of whatever explanation there was to that. YIK is a typical negative branding response from the larger audience with hardly any exceptions and without any doubts. YIK branding impact often happens in business by the obvious false or overstated claims in the advertisements. Remember; Boost, Complan, Horlicks, Kellog’s, Saffola, Fair & Lovely and the magical benefits the advertisements claimed – and the govt action many of them invited. In politics, politicians’ loose comments, arguments and even promises elicit YIK response routinely and therefore such comments remain neutral in the competition.
The narrow opportunity for the Congress is in objectively leading the political change in all earnestness; with honesty and with appreciable competence and demonstrate it convincingly in the way it would realign its organization for meeting that objective. Apart from the real scope it has in delivering commendable change in the very few states it has the mandate, it also has the opportunity to prove that the party in the opposition, irrespective of being too few in number, can indeed lead positive initiatives for the good of the country thereby shifting the opposition’s approach to politics effectively from the restrictive play that has distressed the citizens for ages.
The author is a management consultant.
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