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The Building Of India's M&S Brand

Ideally, under precarious circumstances, we could be discussing Marks & Spencer whilst referring to M&S: but in the context of India, it would be perhaps both timely and wise, to study the influence and writ of Brand Modi and Brand Shah: and of course the reference here is to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Home Minister Amit Shah.

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Never before in the history of India, other than the Nehru-Patel duopoly, have we seen a political partnership of the kind we are seeing in Modi-Shah. A partnership that is strategic; firm and clear in what it wants to achieve. The fact that both men care very little to offer explanations to various cabals makes them even more appealing. And obviously, more feared. But then this is the new norm of political strong men across the world. They need to (and eventually do) drive both fear and avowed loyalty and its almost as it they whilst striving to unite, often polarise like never before. A fortnight ago, the Government pushed through legislation which obliterated a holy cow like Article 370: since 1950, no one wanted to rock this boat but Modi-Shah did. They did it because they could and that is the first trait of the M&S brand: they are convinced of what needs to be done and they set out to do it. You may disagree with the idea or the implementation but you cant fault them for being decisive. Decisiveness is a trait loved by the people in their leaders. This will work brilliantly for M&S.

In order to understand the workings of these two gentlemen, you must also take into account a historical context: they were both pushed against the wall, together, whilst in Gujarat. They were, certainly to themselves and their supporters targets of abuse and hatred whilst no court of law in the land had actually indicted them. Their vilification by the outside world brought them together: in many ways they took refuge in their isolation as also in their troubles: which is why when Modi ran for Prime Ministership, he leaned on Amit Shah to deliver not just the party but equally the elections, which Amit Shah did with aplomb. Which is their second virtue: both these men had had a track record of delivering on what they promise. Delivering on a promise is a critical trait for any successful brand: and I have always maintained that consumers don’t buy the brand: they inherently buy the benefits.

Many people took umbrage at the comments that Narendra Modi first made when he took over. One was related to corruption whist the other was a swipe at the prevailing Lutyens Culture. Amit Shah in his response to queries in Parliament on Article 370 adopted a similar approach: while defending the Government’s decision to abolish Article 370, he also made it abundantly clear that this was a legacy issue for the Congress and that they in the BJP were merely correcting an enduring historical wrong. Thus what we’ve seen in almost everything that Modi-Shah have done, is to disrupt the status quo. To use surprise as a lethal weapon but with effectiveness and stealth. Disruption is a tremendous tool employed by great brands to draw both consumers as also shift the battleground qua competition.

Political strategy is like a game of chess. You always plan the moves but never make them known. It’s not about arriving for the game and then planning your moves. What the Modi-Shah duo have mastered, over the years, is a sense of discretion. Discretion in a country like India is both potent and necessary because given the leakages, many of the best laid plans can come asunder. They used discretion in almost every major policy initiative: be it demonetization; the surgical strike or more recently Kashmir. Discretion amongst brands leaves competition second-guessing, which again, is both a unique and profitable trait of successful brands. Akin to a brand launch.

In sum, India is now seeing a new political idiom and not just a new political force. The tone and manner of this brand duopoly is different from any other that we’ve seen in the last hundred years, I would wager. It is about firmness and focus and built on the 4 Ds.

Decisiveness. Delivery. Disruption. Discretion.

And now compare it to the competitive political brands we have in India and you will see why they are wallowing in the kind of misery that they are.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Suhel Seth

The author is Managing Partner of Counselage

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