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BRAND MODI

The image issue

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HARISH BIJOOR The author is a brand-expert and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.

My favourite brand names in the world are four-letter brand names. I wrote a research paper on this some eight years ago. I researched out some 2, 000 plus brand names from across the world, and the conclusions were simple. 
If you are starting afresh in the world of branding, start with a four-letter brand name. Such brands are crisp, quick to recall, long enough to be remembered and not short enough to be forgotten. Four-letter brands that have two syllables in them are even better. Even a baby can remember and articulate it. Tata. Bata. Pepe. Fila. And now, Modi.

Modi the brand has surely much more to it than the semantics. I, therefore, explore Brand Modi in this piece from two perspectives. Firstly, an intrinsic view of Brand Modi. A view that emerges from his immediate turf of action, success and paranoia even: Gujarat. The second perspective would be one that comes from the rest of the geography outside of Gujarat. An extrinsic view of Brand Modi, if you will.

Narendra Modi, the brand, has therefore two avatars - one that is seen, revered and respected within Gujarat (by a majority, of course) and another that is felt, perceived and acted upon outside of Gujarat.

The view from within is a strong view;and it is the one that is relevant with assembly polls in Gujarat round the corner. It's a perspective that has been seeded, nurtured and cultivated by all the careful pieces of good work the CM of Gujarat has ensured across two very successful terms of governance. Two terms that have turned the tide of sentiment in Gujarat. Brand Modi not only did good to Gujarat in real terms, he succeeded in showcasing all the good as well. The point is simple. In the world of branding, you must not only be good, but appear to be good as well.

Narendra Modi has played the branding game well. The classical marketing bit has been played out to good advantage in Gujarat. A keen understanding of the market, its demographics, needs and wants, and more importantly, its desires and aspirations was handled first. And having understood it well in terms of both numbers as well as the soft sentiments that drive people in an electorate at large, Modi put his business plan for Gujarat into motion.

He looked at the basics, and approached them all with panache. Just as good work was going on in the realm of irrigation and infrastructure development, he put together the cosmetics right as well. In came the wide roads, the movement towards world class sanitation, and all the publicity that accompanied it. Every piece of development had the unmistakable Modi stamp to it. And guess what? If you look keenly at the various advertisements that the government would put out, everything was Modi-centric. The government of Gujarat meant Modi and Modi meant Gujarat. This singular focus has helped build Brand Modi to what it is today within Gujarat. In many ways, Modi is a regional party within the national BJP. And the regional is more important than the national in this case.

Modi played his cards well. He researched sentiment, he made plans, got them implemented with an iron fist, show-cased everything that was done carefully, and subliminally even, and finally used the tool of celebration as the icing on the cake of achievement. Modi brought "utsav" (celebration) politics to the fore. "Vibrant Gujarat" was for a macro audience that comprised NRGs (Non-resident Gujaratis) and people of foreign origin alike. Other "utsavs" whether "Rann Utsav" or "Bhadrapad Ambaji Fair" were for the local audience.

The idea was simple. Research, plan, implement, evaluate publically and celebrate it all with festivity and pomp. Government moneys and sponsorships from all over backed the plan to the hilt. Gujarat has not seen a deficit in its funding plan for a decade now, thanks to Modi.

The Brand Modi, within Gujarat, is par excellence. A brand that is seen to be decisive, very Gujarati and very much about development and taking Gujarat onto the path of prosperity and glory.

Modi outside of Gujarat, however, is an issue. What Gujarat feels about Brand Modi is possibly not what those outside of Gujarat feel about it. This is where the debate begins about the relevance of Modi on a pan-India platform. Do a dipstick around your own circles of influence. The moment you talk Brand Modi, in comes the stigma of Godhra.

Take the dipstick around to deeper markets still, further away from your own circles of comfort. Take it to your maidservants and drivers, and I am afraid the talk is of divisive politics. The talk is of a certain degree of emotional, if not physical, ghettoisation. What Modi lacks, in brand image terms, in terrains outside of Gujarat is the inclusive feel of an entity that can carry an entire nation of divided people along.

Keep taking this dip-stick deeper and deeper into the gut of the Indian nation, or for that matter take it to overseas markets where the Modi brand is known, and you will find the response typical. The response sticks with one dominant memory alone. People outside of Gujarat, sadly, do not remember the development that Modi has contributed to within Gujarat. That geography is far way, and so are the positive strokes. People are happy to remember the negative more than the positive. These are the people who do not partake of the positive touch directly. They are in the habit of sticking on to the negative. And that is Brand Modi's undoing when it comes to his ambition in national politics.

In many ways this is totally unfair. Narendra Modi is a CM who has delivered on all his promises to the state of Gujarat. He has tried hard to undo every negative aspect to his imagery post the Godhra-riots. While he has succeeded internally in the immediate geography of his influence, externally, the challenge remains.

But Brand Modi's imagery outside of Gujarat is totally different from what it is in Gujarat. If Narendra Modi has plans to dominate national politics, there is a need to demonstrate to the rest of India what he can do in terms of inclusive politics that does not depend on divisive language, tone, tenor and decibel. Unfair. But true. Sadly, the brand is a perception. And perception is more important than the truth in this space.

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