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Corporate Lessons from the October 2019 assembly polls


October 2019 Assembly polls came against a backdrop of the April Parliamentary Polls where the BJP scored a stunning victory and completely decimated the opposition to the level of being demoralized and almost paralysed. As per many analysts, most party workers and political stalwarts, the October 2019 assembly polls in Maharashtra and Haryana were just a formality and the opposition would be routed further, humiliated and almost rendered defunct and ineffective. The exit polls also showed the same picture.

However when the actual results came out and though the BJP still emerged as the largest party, the picture was not that rosy for them. The BJP barely managed to cling on to their majority. In fact they fared worse than 2014 and lost quite a few seats to the opposition. The Opposition registered significant gains even though they fell short of a challenging majority. The Opposition suddenly gained recognition and was kind of resurrected. From this election results, there are a couple of significant learnings for the corporate world.

1. Hubris

In this elections, one could see a distinct element of hubris among the BJP leadership and cadre. PM Narendra Modi had created an aura of invincibility around him. The BJP was supremely confident on riding on the success of the Parliamentary elections. While confidence is a good thing, there is a very thin line between confidence and arrogance. Buyers do not like an arrogant seller. Hubris leads to arrogance. You tend to ignore all the signs and signals given by the buyers especially if they are negative.

Buyers for a company are the same as voters are for a political party. They behave exactly the same. Hubris leads to at least some amount of inaction, especially so if the action needs a lot of efforts, time, money or all of these. You tend to avoid the hard work and rely upon your bloated ego that replaces your rationale or instinct.

Many managements have gone through this. Kodak chose to ignore the convenience of digital photography. Blackberry chose to ignore the rising popularity of smart phones. Both these happened purely because of an arrogance that we know our market better, we are the best and our customers can’t afford to switch over. Customers can choose to select the products they like. Voters can choose to reject the candidates that they do not like. Hubris makes you ignorant of this freedom of choice.

2. Underestimated the voters intelligence

Not just the BJP, but also the observers and analysts underestimated the power of the common voters, their ability to think for themselves and the issues that would make them think. Many a times, large companies also underestimate the power of the general buyers. Pricing strategies, product enhancements, product bundling etc that are created without considering the buyer’s pulse are quite likely to fail. Ultimately, just like a politician seeks a vote from the common man based on the actual results delivered or the results promised or a combination of both, a company also seeks the dollar from the buyers wallet based on the product benefits already delivered or a promise of benefits or both. Just because you say that your product will deliver a particular basket of benefits, the buyers are not going to fall over each other to buy from you. They need to be convinced that the promise will be delivered. More than that, they need to believe that they need the benefit that your product promises to deliver.

Buyers of today are intelligent as well as resourceful. They have a lot of information at their disposal and they have a lot of accessible reference points to assist in making a decision. Hence all the strategy must be based on the basic assumption that buyers will think for themselves and they will do so based on facts and verifiable impressions that you have created about your product.

3. Unrestricted Inductions – compromise on core values

In the last few months the BJP had inducted many heavy-weight politicians from rival parties. The logic was simply to break the back of the rivals by neutralizing their strongmen. Most of these ‘imported’ politicians had never been with the BJP. Voters looked at BJP as a party of a strong cadre with discipline and values where people worked their way up from the ranks and had the BJP values embedded within their DNA. PM Narendra Modi or CM Devendra Fadanavis were themselves shining examples of common rank and file workers who rose to top positions by sheer hard work and impeccable political acumen. All these strangers came with a set of values completely different from those of the BJP. The entire value system got compromised.

You must never do this kind of compromise on core values that are fundamental in building your brand. Barings bank was built on core values of trust and keeping people’s money safe. When over ambitious managers threw these core values to the wind, the bank promptly came down.

4. Wrong positioning. National issues at assembly elections

The BJP kept harping mostly on national security in the assembly elections. This was contrary to the argument during the parliamentary elections that national elections should be fought over national issues. Obviously the local elections had to be fought on local issues. The government was not able to give convincing answers on local issues like employment, roads, education, farmers issues and others. The opposition kept hammering at the failures of the BJP government and the only answer that came kept revolving around article 370. Even if the BJP had any answers, they did not come out clearly enough. The actual performance score cards were talked about, but not enough. The din was more around national security.

Voters were seeking something different. They were offered something else. This is a classical case of wrong positioning.

Positioning is all about getting the right benefits to the right segment at the right time. Somehow Indian government run organizations are extremely good at mispositioning. AC local trains are launched in peak winter, have a schedule inconvenient to most of the commuting class and has very limited stops. Naturally it runs in losses. It keeps surviving simply because the government keeps throwing good money after bad. Same is the case for AC buses of the BEST.

5. Underestimation of the competition

This kind of behaviour is a direct fallout of hubris. Since arrogance blinds your vision, ignorance of competitors becomes compulsive. Sharad Pawar’s muscle was completely underestimated. BJP kept believing that since they had inducted many NCP strongmen, the party would be maimed and disabled. They may not have candidates to contest or even lead an electoral campaign. Sharad Pawar’s personal strength as a leader was completely underestimated while the 80 year strongman fought almost single handedly and emerged reasonably successful to say the least.

Ignoring a competitor, however small or powerless he may be, has the potential of being a great blunder in business. Maruti when they started in India was ignored by Hindustan Motors and Premier Automobiles. The rest is history.


– D.B.Prabhu

ResposeIndia ( www.resposeindia.com )

(The author is an alumnus of IIM Bangalore, holds a master’s degree in Public Policy and an entrepreneur and business mentor)

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