Brands, products and politicians

In politics and in the marketplace, there is an endless parade of new products each year. These introductory products go head-to-head with the established products in growth, maturity and decline phases.

Similar to the world of politics, consumers vote with their rupees or dollars in the marketplace. In the last elections in India, many people voted a straight party symbol. Political pundits undoubtedly took this as an evidence of the electorate’s lack of knowledge or interest in the political process.

However, the electorate is quite smart to realise the cost involved in terms of time and effort in evaluating every candidate for every office on every salient attribute. Candidates are made up of bundles of attributes, as are any other products. Much like a shopper makes choices in a crowded supermarket aisle, voters look for the brand name they know and trust.

This could be a sign of low-involvement or habitual decision-making. But what is so terrible with brand loyalty? All the major political parties spend a great deal of time, effort and money building brand equity. Then, lo and behold, when it actually works, it is rendered as voters’ lack of intelligence or motivation in making an informed choice.

Of all the decisions made in introducing a new product, the most important may be that of the brand name. Does one focus on an individual brand name or a family brand name? The latter may already be loaded with meanings and associations and its use will have obvious consequences on marketing strategy.

In politics, the strategic options are quite evident. Some candidates focus on their own qualifications and experiences (individual branding). Alternatively, some candidates hope to get elected solely on the strength of their association with a given political party (family branding). The problem is, regardless of a candidate’s emphasis, consumers do consider the family brand as a criterion in their decision-making.

This holds true in the marketplace as well. You can call it an Indica, but we all know it is a Tata. And, with it comes the associated initial teething problems. Our past experiences with a given brand are often generalised.

Hence, for both, candidates and products, family branding is a double-edged sword. If a consumer likes a particular brand of ketchup, he or she is more likely to purchase the same brand’s cooking paste?

Conversely, if the consumer dislikes the ketchup, the likelihood of him or her purchasing that brand’s cooking paste reduces significantly. Therefore, politicians should be like guardians if they are concerned about the perceived character of their political party, the reputation of their shared family brand.

Voters and consumers learn and associate brands with meanings. Consumers have limited resources. The brand name serves as an easy surrogate for all the other dimensions of a product or a candidate. Who remembers all the claims companies and politicians make, anyway? But they do remember the family brand name.

So what is the moral of this cautionary tale? You need not “beware" family branding, but you best “be aware” of family branding.

Shankar Shinde is managing partner at Geometry Encompass

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