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3 Communication lessons from political campaigning

1 Feb

Disclaimer – while this post may come across as politically biased, it’s not. It’s purely about communication tactics that worked and those that didn’t.

As India gears up for elections in 2014, the last few months have seen a barrage of political communication across channels. And interestingly, the contesting parties have gone digital. They are making effective (and some not so effective) use of social, email, and mobile channels to spread their message (or propaganda if you please). And there is an immense machinery of content marketers, PR specialists, digital media experts and campaign managers supporting them. News channels are also using social media to gauge public sentiment in real time.

We all take pleasure in political gaffes and debates and conversations run ripe with who-bested-whom-in-what-area. This time social media is abuzz with chatter and Twitter seems to be the platform of choice with a multitude of #tags and pseudo-IDs. Facebook is not far behind with political memes doing rounds. On mobile, chat services such as Whatsapp are helping circulate news and/or poking fun at political big-wigs. This time the political conversation in India is definitely cheekier and in your face than ever.

And with our very vocal and public lives, there is no cupboard for the skeletons any more, as ridiculous as they may be (Kumar Vishwas had to explain an old poem that someone dug out!). So in this new political arena, what are the communication lessons for us?

  1. Prepare – The first lesson is of course ‘prepare’. We all saw what happened to Rahul Gandhi on national TV when a very mellow Arnab interviewed him. It was a political disaster that left the opposition laughing and his party-men cringing. He really did look like he was thrown in a lion’s cage with nothing to fight with. His responses were barely coherent! It was the interview of the decade. His first ever. And the nation had great expectations. What he delivered instead was comic relief. If only he had been briefed well, had clear objectives of what to leave the audience with, perhaps this could have been avoided. But instead, he ended up opening another can of worms for the congress (as if they didn’t have enough).
  2. Align – Ensure that all your stakeholders are getting and circulating the same message. Congress has bungled this alignment many times in the past year with Rahul Gandhi publicly dismissing decisions of other prominent member of the party. That is a communication disaster and sends a message that you are not sure of your own goals and objectives
  3. Give your message an identity – The face you put to your message makes a difference. People associate with the conviction the brand ambassador puts in their message. And one can always tell when someone doesn’t believe in what they are saying. BJP has done it very effectively by projecting Narendra Modi as its face. While there is deliberate ambiguity in who is actually going to be at the helm of congress.

I think I’ve run on long enough. What are your views on the war of words we are witnessing around us?


When just making a change isn’t enough

4 Jan

In the office where I work, we recently got a new swanky coffee machine, to replace the one that was so out-of-date that it was almost an antique. It had more options, better coffee and instant options. Almost everyone hated it. Why? Because no one knew how to work it! It was a shocking change. We went home one evening with our good old coffee maker in place, and came back the next day to this new, shiny contraption that denied the morning cuppa to almost everyone.

This is what Facebook has also done to its interface; it has made too many changes too quickly for users to adapt to it. See the response of a Facebook user, who went on a vacation and came back to find his social universe incomprehensible:


In a book about innovation that I was reading, there was an example about re-inventing the toothpaste cap to make it more user-friendly. Apparently due to the traditional screw on design of the cap, a lot of people would leave the tube uncapped and wasted a lot of paste. To overcome this, the company came up with push down caps. Sales dropped!  Consumers, used to screw on caps since childhood, were unwilling to change their behavior and weren’t comfortable with the new caps. Ultimately the company had to come up with a new version of the cap that took into account the consumer preference.

There are many such examples, perhaps the most memorable being the “New coke” vs. the “Classic coke”. Why do these changes fail? We’ve all heard that to stay ahead of the competition we need to constantly innovate, evolve and change and we run about trying to do just that. But change for the sake of it just leads to a waste of time, efforts and resources.  

What can one do to avoid this scenario?

  • Take customer behaviors into account. Long standing habits, cultural preferences etc. can be hard to break.
  • Introduce the change gradually
  • Educate the customer about the change. What have you done, why was it needed, how will it benefit the customer
  • Take a dip-stick survey to find out if your customer is happy with the “new and improved” you are offering
  • Re-trace your steps and don’t hesitate to pull back if something is not working

Have you had such an experience with change?

3 simple rules of clear communication

31 Dec

This being my first blog post as a marketer, I thought why not start it by writing about the most important thing that a marketer needs to do? I.e. communicate! Label it what you will – MarCom, product marketing, services marketing, branding, advertising, content marketing; these are just ways, means and channels of creating, packaging and distributing the message.

The goal of every marketer is to get the message across to the customer/ stakeholder and engage their attention and interest. Period!

However, in this age of information overload, the challenge most marketers face is getting their message heard and understood over a hub-bub of millions of other such messages. Today, an individual receives overwhelming amounts of complex data and information throughout the day.  Think personally, how many commercials, mailers, jingles, banners do you come in contact with on an average day? A 100? 500? more? Would you care to stop what you are doing and make sense of all that? Hell no! We, like everyone else around us, want something that is simple and conveys what’s in it for us clearly without beating around the bush.

So how do you ensure that your message has a good chance of being received? For me the 3 simple rules work:

  • Clarity – Be clear about what you want to say. If you are confused about your message, rest assured that your customer will be too. Internal flip-flopping and misunderstanding will garble a message to make it incomprehensible to the end consumers leaving them with a feeling of “eh! What was that again?”
  • Brevity– Be brief. Don’t write a book where two words will do. Obviously I’ll leave it at that J
  • Consistency – Stick to your message whatever the packaging. In every communication that goes out from your organization make sure that the message is reinforced. You might feel you are repeating yourself but your customer out there might be hearing it for the first time. Repeating a message is a must for making it stick and stickiness will determine the success of your campaign.

What according to you would be the most important thing about communication that marketers need to understand?