• Competitive Strategies in Politics & Marketing

    After the STP approach of a political party, I was planning to do a 4P analysis for them. However, I figured that it would be a tad too boring and academic. So, I thought of a much more interesting, and probably the most exciting topic in marketing: competitive strategies.

    I agree that it seems a bit cold to view the political parties driven by their ‘passion’ for ‘education’, ‘social equity’, ‘inclusive growth’ etc as ‘market leader’, ‘challenger’ etc. However, I hope you’ll agree with me after going through the 1,000 odd words below.

    Let’s consider the competitive marketing strategies as described by Mr. Kotler & Co.

    Leader: Defender
    No. 2 or 3: Challenger
    No. 4-10: Follower
    Smaller players: Niche
    The ‘market leader’, i.e. the ruling party tries to defend its market share, i.e. vote-bank. The challenger(s), i.e. strong contenders give the leader a strong fight and aspire to replace the leader. More often than not, the leader and the challenger(s) are national parties. Then there are some regional parties, which are seasoned players but lack the capability to reach the top. These parties are generally content as long as they are able to hold on to their ‘market share’. Last in the decreasing order of market share are what can be called ‘niche’ players in the electorate. These parties are generally non-conventional in their ways, their promises, and sometimes, their representatives too. As with the niche marketer, these parties are able to identify the needs and aspirations of a small section of population so precisely, that it becomes impossible for the larger parties to attract that segment. Thus, size of their ‘target segment’ is significant enough to keep them going, and insignificant enough for the larger parties to ignore.

    Let’s consider each of these strategies one-by-one.


    It generally said, “Reaching at the top is easier than staying there.” However, as Al Ries & Jack Trout put it in their book Marketing Warfare, in marketing, it is opposite. The leader has the advantage of its position and is very difficult to displace it. Ries mentions that the leader commands power through its size, its understanding of the market, a better connect with the customer (in most, if not all the cases), budget for R&D, promotion etc. Drawing a parallel with the political parties, the ruling party obviously has the maximum support among the people. They are in a position to take some actions, make some policies, and see the results before making any long-term binding promises; that is their R&D. Further, they can use the policy making power to complement their promotion campaign. Through the actual efforts, they have something tangible to support their claims during the promotional campaigns. Thus, it leaves very little scope for any other party to dislodge the ruling party unless the latter itself goofs up during its reign.

    If we observe close enough, we can identify nearly all the strategies of a defender mentioned by Mr. Kotler & Mr. Ries in the political world, being followed by the ruling party. I would have loved to state some examples, but my lack of current affairs knowledge stops me from putting some solid facts here.

    The challenger is the no. 2 or 3 players in the market. These are the players, who have the potential to be at the top, and are on the lookout for every opportunity in the market to advance to the ‘top of the hill’. In politics terms, this role is played by the opposition party or in case of multi-party political systems like India the major party in opposition. Let us focus only on the Indian context (as multi party system is more similar to the average market today). The national parties like BJP or Congress are the ‘challengers’ in most of the Indian state legislatures. It has been suggested by Mr. Ries that a challenger should attack on as narrow a front as possible to maximise the chances of success. The explanation he gives, is based on the fact that a focused attack on a small area would lead to much damage than a scattered attack on the whole ‘empire’ of the leader. Similar is the case with the politics.

    We observe that the opposition parties, when attack the ruling party, focus on relatively small issues, and try to create hype around it, rather than building campaigns to criticize ALL of their programs. Every now and then, the opposition party would come up with some issue focusing on the one or two programs/policies of the government, which would have gone bad. The impact of the attack gets magnified if the topic is already (un)popular among the public. Probably, this is one of the reason why BJP often revisits the Bofors case while attacking Congress, and the latter doesn’t let go of Ayodhya Ram Mandir while criticizing the former (based on whoever is ruling in that particular state).


    Followers, defined as the also-rans of the market, are the regional parties in the political sense. Neither do they intend to be the leader, nor do they have the wherewithal to become one. Their motive in the ‘market’ is mere profitable existence, without ruffling many feathers. These players are the first ones to come under the radar, when the leaders and challengers look for acquisitions once the market moves towards consolidation. Similarly, the regional parties are the most sought after, when BJP & Congress look for alliances. Regarding the specific strategies to be undertaken, these parties do as per their classification, ‘followers’.

    These parties seldom come up with any revolutionary idea/unconventional promise etc for the public. They either follow the age-old techniques for politics, or adopt whatever their alliance leader promotes.


    These are the most dynamic of them all, and probably the most exciting to study. Though they are the smallest players in the market, they are responsible for most of the innovations. There are two types of players who leverage their size well in the market: the leaders and the nich-ers. The big size, in terms of marketing fund, R&D spend, consumer knowledge is important to the leaders in warding off the challengers. However, the niche players benefit from their small size; being nimble footed and being the most efficient ones in capturing the opportunities.

    Coming back to the political scenario, there is no specific formula for a niche player, apart from the fundamental strategy to target a very small segment of the electorate and capture their demands precisely. Consequently, these parties become the ones with the most unconventional promises, and given their small size, unconventional promotional techniques (not unlike the marketing field). Parties like Youth for Equality (promising anti-reservation in educational institutions), Shiv Khera’s Bharatiya Rastravadi Samanata Party (targeting the educated upper middle class Indian by highlighting the doctors, engineers and judges as members of the party) form excellent examples.

    I hope now we’ll look at the decisions of the political parties in a new light while keeping the marketing fundamentals in mind. I started this topic with the previous article on STP of a political party and asked a question. I’d like to answer that and also make a statement here:

    Political strategies are derived from marketing theories.

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