The Congress party of India has been in power for 49 of the 67 years since India became a democracy in 1947.  From a brand perspective, it is an interesting case study, because it has successfully repositioned itself thrice – at first it was a part of India’s freedom movement, the second position was as a party with strong socialist leanings, and the third was as the party responsible for the Liberalization and globalization reforms in the early 1990s.  

And though, yes, the Congress has been dominated by the Nehru-Gandhi family a key pivot, Liberalization, happened under P V Narasimha Rao.  For much of its history the Nehru-Gandhi family has acted as a brand custodian and appointed a “CEO” either from the family or from the ranks of loyalists.  While this has many parallels in the world of family businesses, it isn’t that easy to do in a functioning, vibrant democracy.  So what’s working and what’s not? Like we did last week with the Aam Aadmi Party, park your political preferences and view the Congress through the ABCD branding lens.

Added Value:

In an unusual step, the Congress Party is seeking public opinions before stating its manifesto.  This makes the question of what it stands for a bit difficult – crowd sourcing is all very well but rarely does any organization seek its vision statement from non-members.  In the past the Congress has authored some excellent ‘taglines” garibi hatao (eradicate poverty), Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan (Hail the Soldier, Hail the Farmer).  Generally it has positioned itself as pro-poor and created many populist schemes to support this theme.  This position however is being threatened by newer parties like Aam Aadmi Party which are also pro-poor, with even more populist schemes.  The newer party also has the advantage of being able to start with a blank slate whereas the Congress can be measured on its track record.

Behavioral Change:

As the incumbent party for many years, the Congress has grown a bit set in its ways.  It may want to reconsider its leadership selection process. They may benefit from setting up a professional cadre in addition to the current loyalty/family based slots.

The challenge for them is that other brands are encroaching on their current positioning pillars.  The pro-poor populist plank is being adopted by Aam Aadmi Party whereas the newer, globalization/development plank that appeals to urban and rising middle class is occupied by the BJP.

As their positioning gets usurped by newcomers – both regional and national – they need to play to their strengths – historical track record and stability – and craft a positioning that resonates across the country.  They may also have to look at education and manufacturing job creation as a means to help the poor as a part of their manifesto.  The challenge is similar to that faced by older brands like Lifebuoy or Lux – how to change from being grandpa’s favorite to hot new product.

Complexity:

As the oldest amongst the key contenders, the Congress has more legacy perceptions to deal with.  I mentioned three pivots – but in the minds of voters this is likely to be rather fuzzy.  Is the Congress pro-growth or pro-poor?  Is it socialist or globalist? Is it the champion of stability or is risky populism ok? As ‘niche’ contenders appropriate pieces of the Congress positioning for themselves, the Congress needs to have a clear answer to these questions.  And currently the complexity levels for their message are high as it isn’t easy to answer the question of what they stand for.

Diffusion:

The Congress’ level of virality is low compared to its potential.  It continues to rely on face-to-face grassroots level efforts to add new followers.  The brand symbols are well known and easily recognizable – however it is not common for adherents to flash these symbols outside of a political context.  As the incumbent, the Congress also needs to make a greater effort to be in the news – it is neither new nor exciting. 

In the run up to the elections later this year it will be interesting to see how they re-architect their brand.  It helps that they are listening to folks like my old super-boss, Nandan Nilekani, who in many ways was the brand think tank of Infosys.

 “Image courtesy of [vectorolie] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net”

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