This morning, a colleague said now that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has "arrived" on the Indian political scene, the party should jettison the jhadu symbol - and its supporters the trademark white topi - because it is… well… too cattle class. I disagreed just for sport but it got me thinking how, without getting too out-of-the-box, Arvind Kejriwal's team hit on a symbol - and a formula - that could forever change the way politicians are branded and get elected in this country. And it was no rocket science. It was plain insight and some clear thinking that moved the needle just far enough to ensure that spectacular debut.
The AAP may not be at the top of the polls currently, but it is light years ahead of its opponents in the way it has collected, analysed and used massive amounts of data to identify, connect with and mobilise potential voters for the just-concluded Delhi elections. Having followed the election campaign closely, I have come to believe that there are important lessons to be drawn for success in leadership branding and getting people to vote for your brand - both on a political and business level.
Strategy trumps tactics
Take a relatively unknown quantity in politics. Younger than most of his opponents. Consider his first opponent: three-time chief minister Sheila Dikshit. And his second opponent: A practising doctor and one of the senior most faces of the Bharatiya Janata Party party in the national capital, Harsh Vardhan. But it didn't matter. Kejriwal had a better marketing strategy than either of them: "Change."
Instead of sticking with the traditional, disjointed tactics so commonly found in political campaigns, Kejriwal's campaign team had a well-defined strategy from Day 1. It took time to understand the dynamics of this election and deftly segmented the audience into clearly defined voter groups such as women, auto-rickshaw drivers, municipal sweepers belonging mainly to the former "untouchable" community and so on. While his opponents took potshots at each other, he chose things that mattered to the common people - corruption and price rise - and made them central to his campaign idea.
Competitive positioning is far from dead
Like any good marketer, Kejriwal also borrowed freely from the best ideas of others in the fray. The party itself was the offshoot of a movement led by Anna Hazare, and the concept of aam aadmi (common man) was actually a Congress campaign slogan (Congress ka haath, aam aadmi ke saath) until it was usurped by the AAP. Kejriwal's salesmanship lay in converting the India Against Corruption movement into a political formation positioned for the mass market. And then he kept everything consistent with that positioning - starting with the way the team descended on people gathered at marketplaces, puja pandals etc, the language the party-people spoke, what they wore - all of which became news and ensured AAP stayed top-of-mind.
I don't know if Kejriwal started out to be an agent of change - for that matter, every politician running for office today presents himself or herself as an agent of change. What Kejriwal actually did was to repeat the "change" message over and over again, so much so that potential voters came to identify him with the concept. Now, he "owns" the property of "change" in the electorate's mind.
Ignore digital at your own peril
In a world of smartphones and tablets, YouTube and Twitter, quick and easy access to the internet is right at our fingertips making the traditional tools used in spotting and communicating with target markets ineffective (take cold calls: remember Namaskar. Main Atal Bihari Vajpayee bol raha hoon of 2004? Will it work today? Don't know). Today's voters are this very set of people -always on, engaging in social conversations, sharing opinions and stories and building connections virtually. And they want to be part of a conversation, not spoken to.
Here again, AAP played by the new rules. Right from sharing details of the donation it was receiving from people in India and across the world to giving planned interviews, it was always there. It urged NRIs to leave video messages of support to the party on YouTube. The best part, it did not restrict itself to the usual suspects, Facebook and Twitter. It used Google Plus and LinkedIn in a big way, and the latter proved to be a major source of donations. Quora too had a lot of threads where people spoke about AAP, and the party made sure these threads were updated. Interestingly, when the party wanted people to stop donating money for the elections, they announced it on Twitter.
If you can wrap your head around this, the campaign raised approximately Rs 20 crore through marketing and most of that money was raised through online marketing. Mind you, it wasn't email marketing in the form of a daily blast to millions of faceless Indians, it was digital marketing, tested and clearly targeted.