By Nishthar Idroos –
“It’s the battle for your mind” “It’s the battle for your mind” voiced the lanky character in the “Hampada” denim and casual T shirt in classroom no 4. His husky voice reverberating through the corridor. It was our Marketing Instructor lecturing in a cramped-up room many years ago in downtown Colombo. I was able to unearth the notes of this exercise kept in a remote section of my house and infested with small insects. The Instructor was explaining to the class the concept of Positioning in the complex and often absorbing realm of Marketing. He continued “it’s not as what you do to the product, but what you do to the mind, not anyone’s mind; it’s the mind of the prospect, voter, traveller and whoever the target may be. It’s the communication process between two distinct, identified sources” It was a very interactive class, exhilarating and immensely informative. I vividly recall discussing many situations concerning the topic in a distinctly Sri Lankan context. It ranged from Siddhalepa to President Premadasa.
What I remember most was discussing President Premadasa’s ascent to the pinnacle of his political career and the corresponding positioning strategy that took him there. The class represented members of both sexes from all religious hues with a median age of 32 hailing from a typical semi-urban demography. One of the tasks we had to accomplish was to describe the President in one or two words without the neighbour noticing it. The real challenge was to describe him in just a word or two. We were given small sheets of paper; we had to write on it, roll it up and hand it over. We were roughly about 25 in the class. I remember just over 20 students representing roughly 85% described the President as a “Common Man” “People’s Man” “Our Man” and many descriptions with similar connotations. This was quite fascinating. There was near unanimity or cohesiveness of perceptions.
The concept of positioning starts with the product or what the product’s value base represents. The product may be a service, person, political party or candidate, country, idea or whatever. The political candidate should be able to conceive, enumerate and cogently articulate his or her positioning strategy. This is critical. All politics is perception, posturing and positioning. “No other business spends as much money and time crawling around in people’s minds” says positioning expert Jack Trout. Your views should be able to resonate well with the constituency or country in an amenable and meaningful way. Your message must be authentic and credible; the strategy should be laboriously worked to gain uniqueness. The sum total of this will offer the differentiation strategy which will then be crafted by Message Merchants (Advertising Agency) providing a persuasive, sensorial and easy to understand message with a well encapsulated positioning strategy. This preparation will enable a successful political campaign using the knowledge of the structure of the political brand (e.g. candidate, party) in order to develop competitive advantage and win support of as many voter segments as possible.
The whole process revolves round a clear cut strategy and a clear cut objective to elicit a favourable and desired response. The process may be loosely defined as a management and creative process that aims to make a brand occupy a distinct and favorable position, relative to competing brands, in the mind of the customer. If the product is a political candidate the task at hand is to secure a worthwhile positioning in the voters mind. Jack Trout again remarks “Our perceptions are selective so is our memory. We are cursed with the physiological limitation of not being able to process an infinite amount of stimuli” He further states ”Seeing is not akin to photographing the world, merely registering an image”
Marketing Guru Philip Kotler defines a brand as a multidimensional construct, involving the blending of functional and emotional values to match consumers’ performance and psychosocial needs. Obama is a brand and so is Lady Gaga or Madonna. A brand can be defined as “a name, term, sign, symbol, or design, or combination of them which is intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of competitors”. One of the goals of branding is to make a brand unique on dimensions that are both relevant and welcomed by consumers. Success in a market depends on effective brand differentiation, based on the identification, internalization and communication of unique brand values that are both pertinent to and desired by consumers
Getting back to our classroom, we were asked by the Instructor a very pertinent question “was President Premadasa’s behaviour natural or choreographed”? It was discussion time. The class was urged to participate. Opinions started to crisscross and steadily expanded upon. One student said that it’s difficult if not impossible to sustain choreographed behaviour. Such an unnatural behaviour is bound to show down the line. It further revealed the common man perception was based on an amalgam of attributes derived from myriad factors integral to President Premadasa. Multi-disciplinary, multi-platform connecting multi-inter-faces. They included. core personality, mannerisms, demeanour, style of communication, style of interaction, simplicity, dress code, parents and ancestry, style of governance, chosen residence, people association and many more. The process we were rehearsing was an entry level exercise on perceptual mapping. Perceptual mapping is a diagrammatic technique used by marketers that attempts to visually display perceptions of customers or potential customers.
During the 2012 US Presidential Election we all remember Mitt Romney the challenger to Barack Obama. Political analysts have it that his faux-pa about the infamous 47% remark, secretly captured by a member of the audience cost him the job . He said;
“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That, that’s an entitlement,. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what … These are people who pay no income tax.”
These kinds of statements passionately articulated by politicians often constitute their core beliefs. No amount of apologies will rectify the damage. This is a classic case of not being able to sustain choreographed behaviour.
Obama too had great slogans in 2008; they worked because he affected a much better campaign in an environment that complemented good slogans. Without a resounding performance, “Hope” might have seemed a trifle silly slogan. Even the “Change We Can Believe In,” was complemented by profound resonation that jelled with the zeitgeist of the day. Obama strived really hard to define the two slogans “Hope” and “Change We Can Believe In” to surreal status.
Just as much as strategic positioning is important so is the idea of repositioning. If the previous strategy did not resonate with the people it must be ditched forthwith and a new strategy formulated. In 1992 George Bush Snr failed to reposition himself. Instead he stood pat while the electorate’s attitude shifted. America wanted change and an end to gridlock. Americans weren’t happy with the economy. Bill Clinton had positioned himself as a new-generation leader who could change things in Washington. How should have Mr Bush repositioned himself? Always start with perceptions. First, he should have started with the positive perception the public would have accorded him, that of “world leader.” Foreign policy also happened to be Clinton’s biggest weakness. Being Governor of Arkansas doesn’t give you much international experience. Critics noted adding James Baker to the product Bushes’ best asset would have helped him a great deal. This could have been achieved by making him the Vice President and sidelining the inept Dan Quale.
Jack Trout states “The ultimate marketing battleground is the mind and the better you understand how the mind works, the better you’ll understand how positioning works.”