What the Indian army needs to learn from Modi?
By Aditi Kumaria Hingu
Now that the euphoria over Narendra Modi's win has subsided, it is time to explore the feasibility of discovering a replicable model of his campaign that can be applied to the Indian Army.
To most, it will appear to be a preposterous proposition - even a superficial glance shows that Modi and the army are at diametrically opposite ends of the spectrum.
Modi is an individual who is proud of his nationalist roots. He is a technology embracing politician with focus on all-inclusive development of the country. He dreams of a modern, futuristic, technology-savvy and strong India. Undoubtedly, it is a colossal challenge. To succeed, he needs active support of all segments of the society.
On the other hand, the Indian Army is a highly disciplined and cohesive organization. Although it is hierarchical in structure, it does not derive its sustenance from a single personality. Well-evolved traditions and conventions make it fiercely conscious of its responsibility of ensuring national security. They seek no quid pro quo dispensations. For soldiers', it is a matter of honour.
However, a closer look reveals that the army and Modi have numerous similarities as well.
However, a closer look reveals that the army and Modi have numerous similarities as well.
To start with, both are resolute in their devotion to the nation. Whereas the army is considered the last bastion of honesty and integrity in the country, even the harshest critics of Modi cannot accuse him of corruption and misappropriation of governmental resources. Both the army and Modi never shirk responsibility and accountability. They lead from front and are always ready to face flak for mistakes.
If Modi creates a buzz by working for 18 hours a day, the soldiers endure far longer periods of operational hardship, both physical and mental. Sacrifice of familial ties and bonds is another common trait. If Modi has chosen to sacrifice his family life to dedicate himself to the service of his motherland, prolonged tenures at the borders make soldiers spend a major part of their lives away from their families.
Finally, both are victims of vicious pejorative campaigns by inimical elements.
The diagram below is a simplistic rendition of the above similarities.
For better understanding, a closer look at Modi's prime ministerial campaign will be helpful at this stage. What did brand Modi do to endear itself to the countrymen? Essential elements were as follows:-
Need for Substance: At the heart of any successful strategy is a brand that has substance. The best of strategies would fail if the brand did not have the ability to deliver on what it is promising. Modi's consecutive three terms as Gujarat CM and the strides made by the state was a testimony to his governance abilities.
Understanding the Market: Would 'Ab ki baar, BJP sarkar' have had the same traction as 'Ab ki baar, Modi sarkar'? Most probably, no. Grassroot responses indicated that Modi had higher recall value than BJP. Therefore, Modi was made the prime ministerial candidate and the campaign became Modi centric.
Deciding the Target Audience: Modi tapped into the wide disillusionment prevailing in the country and decided to focus on 'change seekers'. An analysis of his speeches indicates that the broad message across his campaign was that he would bring in change. The 'change' was articulated in different ways for different sections of the society. Appealing to first time voters (100 million) was part of this strategy.
Sharp Positioning: A successful brand needs to own mind-space in the audience's mind. If a brand does not stand for anything, it can be replaced by another brand. There is no loyalty as opinions are fickle. Modi was positioned as 'the catalyst for progress.' His nation-wide campaign asking people to vote for him (as against voting for BJP/alliance partners/local candidates) was a step in this direction. People voted for Modi because he was seen as the only one who could usher in progress.
Compelling Message for Communication: To communicate effectively with its audience, a brand has to convert its message into pithy, brief and easy to comprehend sound-bites that resonate with the audience. Couplets like 'Bahut ho gayi mehangai ki maar, abki baar Modi sarkar' and, 'bahut ho gaya auraton par vaar, abki baar Modi sarkar' reminded voters of the different malaises afflicting the country. Modi was projected as the sole messiah.
Intelligent Use of Media: Modi understood and harnessed the power of all facets of media intelligently. It was a holistic campaign. With over 4.5 million followers on twitter, he became accessible to more than 10 million people through multiple re-tweets. Radio was used to popularize 'Ab ki baar, Modi sarkar' message. TV highlighted national issues. Local print media emphasized local issues. Rallies and 3-D projections helped establish direct contact with the voters.
Incorporation of Experts: Appreciating the need to impart professionalism to his campaign, Modi reinforced his core team with experts like Piyush Pandey, Prasoon Joshi and Sam Balsara. Resultantly, media management was handled in a highly skilled manner to ensure that Modi's message was delivered in a relevant, compelling, effective, efficient and engaging manner to the right audience.
Lessons for the Army
To Indian soldiers, a grateful nation's recognition of their contribution to national security acts as the strongest motivator. Their dedication to duty, loyalty to the nation and willingness for the supreme sacrifice are driven less by material considerations and more by an overwhelming urge to earn love and respect of their countrymen.
Every survey carried out by different agencies shows the military at the top and other bureaucratic institutions at the bottom of peoples' choice for probity, loyalty and selflessness.
Unfortunately, a premeditated media campaign is being orchestrated to damage the standing of the army. Instead of lauding the fact that in a 1.3 million strong force there have been miniscule aberrations of indiscipline and indiscretion, the media paints a negative picture by repeatedly referring to 'Ketchup Colonel,' 'Booze Brigadier' and 'Frisky General'.
Therefore, there is an urgent need to project the correct picture of the army to the public. For that, the Army has to realize that like battling external enemies, it has to fight and win the battle of perception within the country.
Therefore, the army needs to embark on an outreach programme to address some of the misconceptions in the minds of the countrymen. Here are the lessons that they can draw from Modi's campaign:-
Need for Substance: The army is already is doing a phenomenal job of keeping India secure and safe. All it needs to do is to make the challenges faced by it known to the country.
Understanding the Market: The army needs a tangible and recognisable anchor around which its outreach programmes should be structured. It could be a soldier for whom defence of the country is a matter of honour. In addition, there is a need to correct misleading impressions created by ludicrous Indian movies.
Deciding the Target Audience: The army must identify the target groups and evolve communication strategy accordingly. One message does not work for all. Whereas an innovative mass media campaign is required to create a positive image, the strategy has to be entirely different to attract youth.
Sharp Positioning: The army must strive to occupy favourable mind-space in the target audience. The word army must generate positive vibrations like dedication, bravery and discipline. There should be no unfavorable reverberation.
Compelling Message for Communication: Although the army is using pithy and effective slogans like 'do you have it in you', there is a need to make them more succinct, engaging and interactive to improve awareness about the army and its ethos. For example, like popular character 'Chhota Bheem', a serial under 'Army for Kids' can prove highly productive.
Intelligent Use of Media: We are living in an information overload era. Only those entities are recalled who stand out of the media clutter. A look at the digital space shows that the army is woefully lacking in this. The army website is archaic, dreary and devoid of any meaningful information. Efforts must be made to demystify the army by putting maximum information in the public domain.
Incorporation of Experts: Media campaign requires specialized skills, capabilities and networking. As the service officers are not trained in these functions, it is imperative that help is taken of the professionals.
Finally, the army must never try to 'manage/manipulate the media'. It pays to be honest and accept blame, where due.
The army must tell the environment that like normal social organisations, military consists of living human beings with their normal share of failings and idiosyncrasies. An effective self-correcting mechanism is in place to correct aberrations.
In today's connected world, being insular and divorced from the rest of the country is not an asset.
Public-relation for an army is an all encompassing reflective paradigm with the aim of building understanding with countrymen and retaining their goodwill.
Through a well conceived public-relations exercise, misconceptions and prejudices entertained by some segments of the society can also be removed.
if the Prime Minister of the country needed the help of marketing, media and PR experts to reach where he is, why should the army hesitate in seeking their assistance to reach out to the countrymen?
Image: PM Narendra Modi seen in the cockpit of MiG-29K fighter aircraft onboard the recently dedicated INS Vikramaditya, India's largest warship, in Goa.
Aditi Kumaria Hingu is a marketing graduate from IIM Calcutta, currently working in an MNC. She comes from an army background.