W Power 2024

In election season, lessons marketers can learn from politicians, and vice-versa

As the politics heats up and politicians get about their campaign, it's a good time to look at the learnings, writes Lloyd Mathias

Published: Apr 4, 2024 12:24:19 PM IST
Updated: Apr 4, 2024 01:15:09 PM IST

In election season, lessons marketers can learn from politicians, and vice-versaMost politicians understand the power of storytelling. People are more likely to remember and be inspired by a compelling narrative than just facts and figures. Image: Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP

1.4 billion Indians have begun the process of electing their next government with the once-every-five-year general election kicking off. Spread over two months culminating on June 4th, the exercise is unmatched in scale. At 969 million registered voters, the size of India’s electorate is more than the combined population of all nations in Europe. The Centre for Media Studies estimates a spend of US $14.4 billion. (₹1.4 trillion) making the Indian General Election the largest and the most expensive campaign by far.

As the politics heats up and politicians get about their campaign, it’s a good time to look at the learnings. What marketers and learn from politicians and what politicians can learn from marketers. Remember, both fields involve persuading and engaging with people to achieve specific objectives.

Seven things marketers can learn from politicians

  1. Politics is the art of persuasion and most politicians are masters of persuasion. Smart politicians speak to their audiences in a manner that resonates with them and make them believe in the fact that they will deliver. Marketers can learn from this approach. By understanding your target audience and tailoring your messaging to address their needs and aspirations, you can create a powerful connection that drives action.
  2. Working the markets: Since elections are fought ’on the ground’ politicians and parties spend most of their time meeting voters and addressing rallies. (Sadly, though, many politicians do this only before elections – but this seems to be changing). Marketers needs to spend as much as time as possible with customers understanding their pain-points. There is no substitute for customer immersion and time in the field.

    Also read: Explained: The Model Code of Conduct

  3. Most politicians understand the power of storytelling: People are more likely to remember and be inspired by a compelling narrative than just facts and figures. Marketers can take a page out of their playbook by framing their brand message in a way that tells a story and elicits an emotional response from their audience.Politicians typically build a strong personal brand: They recognize that many voters want to vote for a person they trust and like – even if their loyalty is to a particular party or ideology. If they are to win over voters, they need to be seen as approachable, trusted and reliable – and someone who can advocate the constituency’s concerns in a larger forum like parliament/ assembly. Marketers can apply this same principle to their own brands, by establishing a clear and consistent identity that resonates with their target audience.
  4. While mass mobilisation happens more easily in politics given thousands of party workers and cadres, marketers can take a leaf of a politicians playbook by building support via their partners, associates and loyalists. Marketers can learn from politicians how to engage with consumers at a local level, foster community involvement, and build authentic relationships that drive brand loyalty.
  5. Use of influencers: Politicians cleverly use influencers - both the social media one and the traditional ones (e.g. panchayat pramukhs; or local community leaders). Influencers have credibility, help them build support at the local level, and help shift control from established media.
  6. Social media usage: Political parties and their social media cells work on an unending supply of short format videos, memes and propaganda. These are cleverly propagated though an army of fans and followers aided by their party handles.

Five things politicians can learn from marketers

  1. Using independent research to understand consumers/voters: Most marketers use research tools like focus groups to mine consumer insight and track changing behaviours and attitudes. While most politicians believe they get what’ in their voter minds, often third party research can unearth matters that may not be apparent. Also politicians tend to rely on party workers who are blind sided by their own biases - so they tend to paint a rosy picture. The unexpectedness of the Brexit referendum and the 2004 results after the ‘India Shining’ campaign could be explained by this.Tracking trends and mining insights: While this may seem an extension of point 1 above, in reality genuine insights emerge from unspoken desires – that needed to be tracked systematically. And as brands have realized, reorienting the product is often far more effective than changing the messaging. Sadly most politicians choose to ignore this.

    Also read: Will elections make interim budget 2024 inflationary

  2. Consistency in communication and messaging: Political messaging is often diffused and inconsistent. This is because unlike brands which have tight messaging and clearly articulated guidelines – most politicians run blind. Creating tight messaging dossiers and clear and un-violable campaign collateral, should become part of a politicians arsenal.
  3. Testing and iterating: Marketers often conduct A/B testing and experimentation to refine their strategies and tactics. Politicians can apply similar methodologies to test different campaign messages, policy proposals, and outreach methods to determine what resonates best with voters.
  4. Measuring and analysing both success and failure: Politicians can learn from marketers the importance of measuring success not just in terms of votes won but also in terms of impact, influence, and long-term outcomes. By setting clear goals and metrics, politicians can assess the effectiveness of their efforts and make informed decisions for future campaigns. Losses need to be analysed objectively, beyond standard introspection via chintan-baithaks.

Lloyd Mathias is a business strategist & independent director. He has held marketing leadership roles in PepsiCo, Motorola & HP in India and the Asia Pacific region.

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