November 1, 2008

Since February 2008, I have been closely following the US Presidential election. I can't help getting amazed by the marketing savviness of Barack Obama, the Democratic Presidential nominee. This brilliant man, with the help of out-of-the-box marketing strategy, is on the verge of creating history. What is his secret?

Well, his entire political marketing strategy revolved around the following pillars:
  1. Universal message of hope to transcend across religion, community, socio-economic conditions, age, and sex. Particularly in times of distress, the message of hope and grassroot empowernment gelled well across various segments of the population.
  2. Engaging segments of population, particularly youth, which are generally disenchanted by politics. Taking an idealistic high ground, making the whole political campaign fashinable, and communicating in the language of youth worked well to bring a large segment of population, which in normal circumstances is aloof to politics, into his fold.
  3. Using the power of digital marketing to create an enthusiatic tribe of followers and convert a political campaign into a change movement. Dominance over virtual world ensured that the message kept spreading like a wild fire. It also helped in encouraging many members of the virtual community to volunteer for building physical communities around the movement at grassroot level.
  4. Using the power of Internet technology to turn drops of political contribution into an endless ocean of money to fund the entire campaign.
  5. Expand reach and multiply frequency by supplementing the predominantly digital and 'word of the mouth' marketing effort with tradinational media vehicles like TV and radio.
The strategy seemed to work and all indicators suggest that Barack Obama is poised to become the President of United States of America despite starting off with a big baggage full of political disadvantages.

My question is - can this model of well oiled political marketing strategy work in Indian context? In all likelihood, yes. Five years back, in last general elections, Indian politics saw a glimpse of political marketing. "India Shining" and "Common Man" campaign of the last general elections were organized advertising campaigned developed by professional agencies. But these were more of an advertising campaign rather than an integrated marketing campaign.

This time around Indian political scene provides an opportunity for an integrated political marketing campaign. Any political party that invests time, energy and resources in understanding the new reality may reap huge benefits in coming elections. Here are some important facts to consider while developing an integrated political marketing campaign.
  1. High penetration of mobile telephony in urban as well as rural areas. India has >300 million mobile subscribers (includes GSM as well as CDMA subscribers)
  2. Growing internet usage (>50 million Internet users)
  3. Low involvement of urban youth in politics.
  4. Growing percentage of youth in population distribution.
  5. Rising aspirations of people, particularly in smaller towns and rural centers.
For any integrated political marketing campaign in India to succeed, there are three essential elements.

First is focus on mobile marketing. Since mobile phones have penetrated almost all sections of society, mobile marketing could be the most effective pan-India marketing vehicle for any political message.

Second is an aggressive digital marketing in form of viral, blogs, and social networking to target the urban youth who has lost interest in politics. Any political party that captures the imagination of these youth is bound to improve its performance by several notches. A secondary benefit of high decibel digital marketing is that it has the potential to influence mainstream media, which in turn could help the political party that is active in digital arena.

Third is the message that taps on the rising aspirations of people in general and youth in particular. If a political party can come up with a credible message of how it is going to provide platforms for people to fulfill their dreams and aspirations, it is bound to resonate well with the people of India.

If any political party in India can combine these three elements with their regular campaign strategy, it is bound to reap rich dividends. If Indian politicians learn the Obama lesson, the coming elections would herald the arrival of full fledged political marketing in India.