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The 4Ps of Modi's marketing mix: Why it's working while Congress's is not

One of the stupidest criticisms raised against Narendra Modi is that he is all marketing and no substance. Can a product that has been in the market for 12 long years, which has been tested in at least one major market, and which is still gaining popularity all over, be the result of just a marketing effort and nothing else? If this is so, marketing is something anybody should be able to do. All it needs is just resources and luck.

Two fundamental truths about marketing should end this controversy: no product succeeds today without marketing, so if one wants to sell a product with no marketing, it will either bomb in the marketplace or remain confined to a small experiential niche. Moreover, a bad product that builds up sales too quickly through sheer marketing will, in fact, fail faster. So if Modi was the product of pure marketing, he should have failed in Gujarat; if his pan-Indian marketing campaign is pure hype, he will be out of a job rather quickly even if he wins on 16 May.

But marketing is what Modi's Congress rivals hold against him - among other things. Rahul Gandhi has been dismissive of his marketing, and so have other Congress leaders.

As Modi said in his interview to ANI last week, it wasn't just marketing that was making him popular. "What is wrong if I am marketing myself? But I have done work. If I just do marketing people won't believe me."

There's no doubt marketing is a critical element in the Modi-mix. He is successful because he combines his core product attributes with effective marketing.

The late management guru, Peter Drucker's central message, as enunciated in this article by Jack Trout in Forbes, is marketing. Trout quotes Drucker thus: "Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two - and only two - basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business."

What applies to businesses applies equally to political parties in our consumer age. The politician's purpose is to find a willing voter. He needs to do this with effective marketing. This is exactly what Modi is doing.

In fact, if the UPA appears to be up the creek without a paddle, it is because it has failed to market what deserved to be marketed. While falling growth, rising inflation, policy paralysis, poor governance and an explosion of scandals have been its big failures, its successes include a dramatic reduction in poverty, especially rural poverty, and significant improvements in the country's social indicators.

But its real crime is deliberate demarketing of its most saleable face: Manmohan Singh. This was done ostensibly to burnish the messianic images of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul, as Sanjaya Baru suggests in his recent book, The Accidental Prime Minister: The making and unmaking of Manmohan Singh. Baru's book paints Singh as someone who withdrew into a shell after he ceded power to Sonia as he believed there cannot be two centres of power. The Prime Minister's Office, in a belated effort to contain the damage, last week put out statistics to show that Singh was very much the PM and that he made nearly 1,200 speeches while his office issued over 1,600 press releases.

This demonstrates exactly the difference between pushing a product out in the market and really marketing it. If thousands of speeches and press releases did not a brand out of Manmohan Singh make, it is a colossal marketing failure. As The Economic Times pointed out in an editorial today (21 April): "It scarce matters if Dr Singh gave over a thousand speeches or mumbled in his sleep ever so many more times. The point is that the PM did not communicate, particularly when it mattered. "

Marketing is all about communicating around a brand. And nothing explains marketing better than the basic four P's enunciated in marketing theory: product, place, price and promotion.

In contrast to Manmohan Singh's inability, or his party's unwillingness to market him and his achievements, consider how Modi effectively used the four P's formula to make himself a serious contender for 2014.

Product: A product or service offered can succeed only if it is clear about what consumer need it is trying to meet, what its key features are, and what the competitors offer, etc.

In Modi's case, from day one it was clear that the product on offer was Modi himself, not his party. The party was the packaging and gift-wrapping, but in itself nobody would buy just the wrapping.

Political pundits may believe that the marketing of Modi like soap indicates an authoritarian streak, and Modi is in effect building a personality cult. While some of this is certainly true, the fact is a brand is about building a persona around the product that consumers can be enticed to buy. If a brand does not have a personality, it is no brand at all. Collective leadership and team work is fine, but these are about how a brand is produced - and important for back-end operations. These features do nothing for the brand itself. For the consumer, the product is what she is buying, not the factory and the supply chain.

The Congress product, in contrast, was like a brand in two minds: it wanted to market Sonia Gandhi and Rahul as the real brands, but these two were missing in action for most of 10 years. The party did not want to market Manmohan Singh, and he was duly demarketed. Consumers saw both Manmohan Singh and Rahul as two features of the same Congress brand. They didn't like this schizophrenia and confused messaging.

That the BJP is selling Modi rather than any other product is clear from its slogan: Ab ki baar, Modi Sarkar. The product messaging is clear. Modi is being sold, not the party. It seems to be working.

Place: The second P in the marketing mix is place - it is about figuring out where your buyer looks for the product, how she can find it, and which distribution channel does she use.

Modi's marketing wizards have figured this out better than his competitors. First, they figured out that the next election is going to be driven by young people - with nearly 10 percent of the electorate being first-time voters. That's nearly 80-100 million first-time voters. Hence the huge reliance on social media and internet advertising. No leader has been more prominent - barring Arvind Kejriwal - on social media than Modi.

Remember, Modi's first public address after the Gujarat election was at Delhi's Shriram College of Commerce - another youth connect indicator.

Next, Modi's handlers figured out that their product, in order to have a wider appeal, needs to be made available to all potential customers near their homes. No leader in this election has been longer and more visible on the stump that Narendra Modi. Between last year and now, Modi would have addressed more than 200 election rallies across all states - with his visibility being greatest in areas with the most potential customers (Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Maharashtra). Today, as the Modi campaign goes flat out in the final stages of the electoral marathon, he is talking to voters in multiple places through 3D projections of his image.

Modi is less visible in areas where the voters have already bought into the BJP. Thus, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh, where there are strong local BJP brands that can deliver results, Modi has been willing to make minimal marketing efforts.

Price: Price is about what value the product is delivering to the potential customer - or what she sees as valuable. It is about the real and psychic benefits your product delivers to the customer vis--vis the competition at the indicated price.

What does Modi deliver, and for what price?

Hear Santosh Desai on this. He wrote in The Times of India today that Modi offers few specifics or promises to the electorate given his powerful brand. Then what is his real promise of value? According to Desai, Modi's real promise to customers is his intent to perform: "In his case, that core promise has much more to do with intention than with specific action. If there is a Gujarat model, it has much more to do with a new intention (of) energising existing and often moribund institutions than any specific set of policies. It is Modi's ability to work with existing frameworks and structures that is his real claim to fame. The promise that issues would be treated on merit rather than through the prism of any other interest is what lies at the heart of his appeal."

Put another way, Modi promises change within the existing political structure. This helps the status quoists, even while offering hope to those currently left out in the cold.

Modi is the lowest priced product now on offer to the voter for the one thing the electorate craves after 10 years of UPA: better governance and hard work from the man elected to do it.

In contrast, what is the Manmohan promise? Just speeches and press releases, and a track-record of governance collapse.

Product Modi has been positioned as the problem-solving, hard-working people's agent to get things done. It is filling a clear need in the consumer for effective governance - exactly the ingredient missing in competing products like the Congress, which offered more features at a lower price - more freebies, more rights, etc.

The voter, if she elects Modi, will be effectively saying that Congress it too expensive for the value it delivers.

Promotion: The last element in the marketing mix is promotion. It's about how to get your marketing message to your target consumer at optimum cost.

This is probably the best part of Modi's marketing, for his promotion has been world class, with different messages being given differently to the micro-markets where he expects to gather votes - all within the overall brand message of change and improved governance.

As the elections enter the last lap, we can see how Modi is ubiquitous on hoardings, radio, TV, internet and other media.

But there is another form of subtle messaging and promotion also going on. This is why he sent his most trusted lieutenant, Amit Shah, to his largest market - Uttar Pradesh.

For the last one year, Shah has been studying the micro-markets of Uttar Pradesh to figure out the most effective form of promoting the Modi brand. He saw that Brand BJP had no distribution network, and only the Modi pull would work. As this story in The Economic Times today (21 April) shows, Shah is a sales and marketing genius. Among other things, Shah has been identifying core customers in all 80 constituencies of the state, and making sure that the sales pitch is focused on local consumer connect.

To entice the new voter, Shah sent the older leaders packing. In every constituency, he picked locals with a strong local connect - so that the Modi message of change and service delivery gets across clearly. Everyone is UP is thus voting Modi, and there are no mixed messages coming from the older BJP leaders. Putting up new candidates reinforces the message that Modi is about change. In the absence of a strong cadre, Shah is using the pull of the Modi brand to bring the voter to try out the product. It is a pull strategy, not a push one.

Since the UP vote will depend on how the OBCs behave, Shah has pitched both Modi's own aspirational OBC credentials (from chaiwala to PM), even while bringing in new messengers on the ground who wear the same product features as Modi. Hence the reinduction of Kalyan Singh, the projection of small OBC castes like Kushwahas and Kurmis, and special pitches to non-Jatav Dalits.

The promotion of Modi on the ground is not only being done through advertising, but many of the messengers themselves are the message.

If 16 May throws up a Modi victory, you know that the marketing mix has worked wonderfully. If it hasn't, we have to blame something other than marketing for its failure.

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Updated Date: Apr 21, 2014 19:56:11 IST