8 marketing lessons from the AAP’s stunning victory in the Delhi elections

AAP everywhere.
AAP everywhere.
Image: AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal
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The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) didn’t just win Delhi on Feb. 10. It triggered an electoral landslide and amassed 96% of the seats.

In marketing terms, a relatively small brand just captured almost the entire market by dislodging a super brand—in this case Narendra Modi.

So, how did brand AAP manage this, and what lessons can marketers learn from this?

1. Don’t believe your brand is infallible

A classic mistake that marketers make is to believe that their brand is infallible. Marketing graveyards are filled with brands that made this error in judgement.

Brand Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), after its massive success in the 2014 general election, fell victim to the same belief. It assumed—wrongly, in hindsight—that they were infallible given that they had dislodged the Congress completely.

Marketing history is also replete with numerous case studies of smaller, nimbler startups completely dislodging stodgy established companies and transforming themselves into market leaders. In the 2015 Delhi election, the two-year-old AAP did just that.

2. Understand your consumer’s needs

Businesses succeed mainly because they listen to their consumers. Marketers who take the trouble of conducting frequent market visits—and talk to retailers, consumers and distributors—have a better sense of what the marketplace looks like.

Something for everyone.
Image: AP Photo/Altaf Qadri

For brand AAP, it was no different. Through Mohalla Sabhas and Delhi Dialogues, their representatives spent most of the pre-election period keenly understanding what the common man’s key issues and problems were. By virtue of listening to their voter base, the AAP was in a far better position to address these issues as part of their election campaigning. And that strong connection paid significant electoral dividends.

3. Your product should address your consumer’s pain points

There is a reason why fairness creams exist in the Indian marketplace. Marketers have understood the psychological pain points of those who are less fair and addressed them by positioning their brand as the panacea.

In the same way, the AAP got the pulse of Delhi and crafted a manifesto that provided solutions to a wide section of voters. From free water to subsidised electricity bill, from toilets to free Wi-Fi, they had something for every class of consumers.

4. Don’t overexpose your brand messaging

Another classic trap that many marketers stumble into is overexposing a brand ambassador and the brand line.

The consumer fatigue curve is short when it comes to advertising messaging, which is why creative agencies have to continuously think of new ways to bring excitement to the brand. Short, sharp bursts of communication are recommended to reduce brand messaging fatigue, especially when one tends to use the same advertising line in every campaign.

For the BJP, the Delhi election was an overexposure of their brand messaging. Unlike other markets, Delhi’s consumers are exposed to campaigns that happen elsewhere in the country thanks to 24*7 media. So, the same winning campaign that delivered rich results since the 2014 polls in other states simply crumbled in the national capital.

5. Have a relatable brand ambassador

Brand AAP had an extremely relatable brand ambassador in Arvind Kejriwal, and they nailed it with his symbolic cap and the earthy muffler.

On the other hand, the BJP had to project two brand ambassadors—prime minister Modi and Kiran Bedi. Ignoring the fact that the brand ambassador has to be relatable to the geography and market, the BJP played up Modi rather than Bedi. And of course, it didn’t help that Bedi was far less media-savvy than her rival, Kejriwal.

6. Take your trade along with you on your journey

Often, the key to building a great brand is pulling along trade partners and the distribution channel. That’s because a good distribution channel and motivated trade team guarantees about half of a brand’s ultimate success.

In the Delhi election, the AAP had scores of highly motivated volunteers from all over the country to campaign for the party. The BJP, meanwhile, had to crack the whip and bring in their heavy hitters alongside thousands of workers to combat the channel clout of the AAP.

In trade marketing, it is often the foot soldiers—the cycle salesman, the sales executive, the distributor’s salesman—who win the small battles in every locality rather than the senior management team that comes in for market visits.

The AAP’s charged-up volunteers were clearly more than a match for the BJP’s top generals and hired workers.

7. Have a great marketing team

It’s a fallacy to believe that one man is responsible for a marketing success. It is rarely so.

While one man can drive the vision, it takes a team to implement that vision, handle the operational logistics flawlessly and work on the day-to-day detailing.

The hiatus between the 2014 general election and the 2015 Delhi polls gave the AAP enough time to put together a team that could work cohesively.

For the BJP, it was a struggle until the last minute to put together an effective team. Most decisions appeared to percolate from the BJP headquarters rather than the state unit. When there isn’t a great team, it’s pointless to expect an exceptional outcome.

8. Don’t expand until you’ve got steady revenues

When the AAP was launched as a national brand in early 2014, it failed to make a dent. This, despite massive media attention that the brand had got across national television and print.

That’s because as marketers, the AAP made a rookie mistake—expanding their brand nationally after a limited success in one geography. Launching a brand nationally calls for a different marketing strategy.

But the AAP learnt its lesson, and subsequently decided to focus its efforts solely on the Delhi market.

The result of that marketing move is now evident, and how.

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