The common adage that ‘politics is the art of the possible’ reveals the determination, ambition and resourcefulness required to win an election and survive in the game. It also points to the highly energised campaigning period which is usually followed by an anticlimax when the fight is over and the winner gets down to the work of governing, which frankly is not a spectator sport. That’s why most victory speeches include the statement ‘our work has only just began’ pointing to the fact that the campaign itself was only the means to get through the door.
Our politicians can learn a lot from marketing practice especially from the Brand Asset Valuator (BAV) from Y&R advertising. The BAV model measures brand value based on four broad factors namely differentiation, relevance, esteem and knowledge. Differentiation refers to the ability to stand apart from all the other competitors, giving your voters a valid reason to select you. Relevance is the voters perception of your candidacy and indeed your leadership and how it will affect their lives and the well being of society. Esteem defines the emotional connection you have with them, and if they trust you and are prepared to support your campaign. Knowledge is all about name recognition and visibility.
Differentiation and relevance together asses your growth potential and your ability to deliver successful campaigns over time, and esteem and knowledge depict the stature or your current brand power. Kenya’s political parties are generally strong on knowledge and esteem and weak on differentiation and relevance. This means that they are brands in decline and unless they work on differentiation and relevance they will disappear in the next few years. It seems that the only party that ever had differentiation and esteem in our history was KANU, and that was driven by the fact that they reigned during the single party era. Thereafter few parties have survived for more than one term before they are dissolved and new ones launched, even through they may have won decisive victories.
The ballot papers are becoming increasingly crowded as a surge of qualified aspirants are vying for the leadership positions available and this is bound to make voter segmentation more sophisticated, as tribe and cultural issues are substituted by economic and social priorities. Addressing matters around quality of life cut across the various ethnic communities and the entire set of candidates should be doing this as a minimum. Your job, therefore, will be to ensure that you are more visible than they are and that the people are convinced that you are credible and will deliver on their needs.
One of the differences between the 2008 and the 2012 elections is that the gap in advertising spend between the 2 major presidential campaigns was larger in 2012 than it was in 2008. The similarities, however, are that the parties with the bigger advertising spend in both cases won the election. Visibility is an important factor as you not only need to reach out to the undecided voters, but your media presence also energises your own supporters. In the next election, intensive use of interactive advertising, online media, social networking and video will be determining components.
To build brand esteem, simplify your message and ensure that it is aligned to your actions and the events you are associated with. A simple message gives your brand advocates and supporters the verbal tools to win new voters for you, as they will be able to deliver the message widely and create a perception of popularity that is hard to beat. In order to be truly relevant to the majority you have to bring their needs to the front and centre of your campaign, and align your initiatives accordingly.
The most critical factor for aspiring brands is to have a highly differentiated product, and this stems from a ‘reason-for-being’ or in our case, the ultimate purpose of the politician. A well crafted campaign message strategy that emphasises his or her strengths in a manner that is unique and not easily replicable by the competitor is key. A good campaign strategy is easily translated into a great slogan such as Bill Clinton’s ‘Building a Bridge to the 21st Century’.
When our politicians start to view themselves as brands and learn to to apply brand building principles they will gain the ability to engage voters across language and demographic groups and escape the confinement of the tyranny of numbers.