Changing face of Political campaigning strategies in India

August 9, 2016 - 6 minutes read

new face of indian political campaigns

Campaign strategies of Indian political parties have a rarely moved away from traditional methods of broadcast campaigning of printing campaign posters, playing tv and radio ads and door-to-door campaigning. These methods have given them results in the past and so few campaign managers saw reason to change a winning strategy. There is always apprehension about adopting something new and politicians were in unchartered waters when it came to moving a large part of their campaign to a digital format. Moving towards a digital medium also poses the threat of leaving out the rural voter bank who have limited access to smartphones and internet. The biggest issue faced was that there was no completely accurate voter files available to leverage targeting.

Past election campaigns made an ideology to define their party goals and it would be their loudest message. But issues and concerns are not the same for every voter and a blanket approach to campaigning does not give the desired results.

For national campaigns, the biggest reason for not adopting digital channels into their campaign is because majority of India’s voting bank is rural. To win an election, a campaign needs to only target this large voting bank. Old ideas have worked well and will continue to be an easy bet. When it comes smaller campaigns like state elections, urban cities count for a significant size in the voting bank.

Digital adoption by political campaigns in India

The Obama campaign in 2008 became a proof of concept for Indian political campaigns. Their campaign had a 100-strong analytics team that helped him rally voters and win the election. The Obama campaign brought the advantages of big data to the attention of Indian campaigners. 2014 saw a new face of election campaigning in India when Modi hired the political strategist, Prashant Kishor to manage his election campaign. Kishor and his group of data analysts went to work collecting and analysing huge amounts of data across various demographics in India. Their efficient use of big data propelling Modi into the front seat. Data analysis helped the team micro-target their audience and tailor messages for every demographic. It helped them raise funds and determine efficient ad placement, exponentially increasing the campaign’s reach.

The BJP had data on each of the 543 constituencies. They knew how many mobile and Internet users were present in each constituency. The same holds true for social media users. Alongside, they used analytics to understand which polling booths had voted for the BJP in the previous elections. For each polling booth data analytics was used to segregate voters into blocks to determine who were pro, undecided or against the BJP. They first used deep analytics to understand group communication behaviour and then used appropriate technology to communicate with them.

The 2014 Modi campaign heavily used social media data to target voters and market their candidates. The 18 month long campaign was backed up by meticulous research done over the span of 3 to 4 years. They got voter feedback and addressed voter concerns and issues in real time. It bridged the gap between the candidate and the average voter. With millions of people feeding them real time data, analytics saw to it that status updates on social media would reflect the opinions of voters. Modi used voice broadcasting to target mobile only voters. Understanding the voters preferences also helped in placing ads where there is a higher chance of them being seen and clicked on. Modi’s team carefully monitored social media conversations where BJP was being discussed and promptly responded to concerns voiced. The campaign spread over internet and mobile with numerous social media campaigns to bring together BJP volunteers on the ground. With the advanced use of analytics the Modi campaign targeted 810 million voters, 543 constituencies across 1.13 million polling booths.

During the Delhi state elections, AAP swept the votes with their out of the box approach to campaigning. AAP used their limited funds wisely by not spending large amounts on TV and radio. Instead they carefully planned every step of their way. Using a brilliant marketing team, AAP ran many creative campaigns such as putting up posters in Delhi autos and getting auto drivers to hand out questionnaires to get voter feedback on policies and issues, handing out visiting cards with a message in the Delhi metros and ‘Gully Prabhari’ where they appointed one person in charge of a street who does campaigning in that area. They took measures to learn consumer pain points and modified their campaign manifesto. This helped AAP understand their voters issues and keep their message focused on their voters needs.

With Modi’s success in using analytics to decide the course of his campaign, other parties are playing catch-up to update their technological prowess. Any future campaigns that do not take use big data while making campaign decisions run the risk of being left behind at the polling booth.

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