One of the fundamental rules of forecasting is to make as many forecasts as possible and then publicise the ones you get right. On August 4, 2012, I wrote a piece on Firstpost, in which I compared what would become Aam Aadmi Party(AAP) to a disruptive innovation.
The term disruptive innovation was coined by Clayton Christensen, who happens to be a professor of strategy at Harvard Business School. He defines it as “innovations that transform an existing market or create a new one by introducing simplicity, convenience, accessibility and affordability. It is initially formed in a narrow foothold market that appears unattractive or inconsequential to industry incumbents.”
A great example of a disruptive innovation is Micromax. Micromax and a host of other Indian phone makers built up significance presence in the smartphone market, while the biggest player Nokia was busy elsewhere.
Bharti Beetel, which produced India’s first landline phones which had buttons on them, did not wake to the opportunity of the mobile phone market. This despite the fact that its sister company Airtel was India’s biggest mobile phone service provider.
RCA, America’s leading radio company, did not see the rise of battery powered pocket transistors which were first made by Sony in 1955. Sony changed the way the world heard music by launching the Walkman and the CDman. But it handed over the digital music player market on a platter to Apple and other companies. Sony did not capture the mp3 player market because it feared that it would play havoc with all the music rights that it owned.
When it comes to low cost airlines Southwest Airlines first woke up to the opportunity. None of the bigger players in the market like Pan American, British Airways, Lufthansa, Delta etc, saw the opportunity at that point of time. Even in an Indian case, a rank outsider Indigo has captured the low cost market, instead of incumbents like Air India and Jet Airways, which continue to make huge losses.
There are scores of such examples in business, where the biggest player(or players) in the market has been rattled by a new player. AAP is a similar disruptive innovator. In the August 2012 piece, I had said that what “works to the advantage of disruptive innovators is the fact that the major players in the market ignore them initially and do not take them as a big enough force that deserves attention.”
And this works to the advantage of the disruptive innovator, which can quietly keep doing its thing. The bigger player is not interested because the market that the disruptive innovator is catering to is too small for them to take seriously. Take the case of smartphones. Smartphones have been around since the late 1990s, but they only took off in the last few years. Hence, Nokia never got around to take them very seriously.
When Sony first launched pocket transistors they catered primarily to teenagers. This led to RCA ignoring the market, because the bigger market was elsewhere. Apple’s first personal computers were targeted towards the youth, leading to the existing players who manufactured minicomputers ignoring the market completely.
Along similar lines, the Bhartiya Janata Party and the Congress, looked at AAP as a party which catered to the frustrations of the middle class. And given that the middle class in this country does not care to vote, the existing political parties felt that there was no point in paying attention to what the AAP was upto.
In fact, Sheila Dikshit, the chief minister of Delhi for the last fifteen years said so in several interviews. In an interview to the Open magazine published in early November, Dikshit said that “he(i.e. Arvind Kejriwal, the National Convener of the AAP) is not even on our radar.” In a rally without referring to Kejriwal, she even called him ‘barsaat ka keeda’.In another interview to Tehelka, Dikshit said “My reaction to the Aam Aadmi Party is nothing..absolutely nothing.” By the time Congress woke up to the threat from the AAP, it reacted the only way it could, by ordering a probe into the foreign funding sources of the party.
The Bhartiya Janata Party also woke up around mid October, six weeks before the election, and decided to project Dr Harshvardhan as its chief ministerial candidate. As the India Today reported on the issue “Highly-placed sources in the BJP have told indiatoday.in that the party wanted to go into the elections with a leader who had a clean image and that made it go with the doctor.”
The only possible explanation for this change is the fact that the BJP came to realise slightly late in the day, that the AAP was no pushover. Hence, it had to project a chief ministerial candidate with a clean image. And this got Dr Harshvardhan into the picture.
The fact that it wasn’t taken seriously by its opponents allowed the AAP to go about building itself right from scratch in Delhi. The results suggest that what the AAP has managed to do in a small span of a little over a year is unprecedented. No other political party established right from scratch has ever won the number of seats that it has, since independence, in its very first election.
On various discussions that happened across television channels yesterday political analysts brought up the example of NT Rama Rao. NT Rama Rao stormed to power by winning the January 1983 assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh. His Telgu Desam Party won 199 out of the 294 assembly seats. In comparison, AAP’s performance looks pale.
But its worth remembering here that NT Rama Rao was the biggest Telgu film-star at that point of time. He may have been contesting elections for the first time, but everyone in Andhra Pradesh knew who he was. And given how crazy Andhra Pradesh was and continues to be about cinema, NTR did not have to start right from scratch like AAP did in Delhi.
Some others also compared AAP’s success to the defeat that Mamata Banerjee handed out to the Left Front in West Bengal in 2011. While what Mamata did was huge, it is worth remembering that it took her almost three decades to do that. And when she moved out of the Congress Party to form the Trinamool Congress, a large section of the Congress Party moved with her. This meant that there was some sort of organisation that was present at the ground level when Mamata seriously thought of taking on the Left parties on her own.
When the success of AAP is looked at with these factors in mind, it really is unprecedented.
Another point that comes out here is what marketing gurus Al and Laura Ries make in their book The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR. In the last few decades the biggest brands have been made through public relations and not through advertising. As Al Ries told me in a October 2008 interview that I did for the Daily News and Analysis (DNA) “Almost all of the recent brand successes have been public relations (PR) successes, not advertising successes…In its first 10 years, Starbucks spent less than $10 million (total) on advertising which is a small amount in a country of 300 million people. The Body Shop has never advertised. Yet recently, L’Oreal paid $1.1 billion to buy the company…Red Bull today is a worldwide brand with $3.3 billion in annual sales, yet the company does little advertising. Same is true about Google, Facebook, Twitter, which are now some of the biggest brands in the world.”
In fact, the success of AAP is a very good example of the same. The party did not have enough money to go through the conventional advertising route of advertising on television and in newspapers. They came up with innovative ways of advertising which did not need a lot of money, like getting their volunteers to stand with banners of the party at strategic traffic points. They also advertised on autorickshaws, which was a cheap and effective way of reaching a large number of people.
In fact, they got spectacular coverage in the media by exposing corruption in business and crony capitalism. Arvind Kejriwal and the AAP were on the front pages of newspapers all over the country, for fairly long periods of time, over the last one year due to this. In the end, this strategy was overused, businessmen cracked the whip and finally a large section of the media stopped covering there exposures. The door to door campaign in Delhi that it carried out was also a spectacular public relations exercise.
As I said earlier, the big boys never really took the AAP seriously. They asked all the practical questions. Where would the AAP raise all the money to fight an election? How would they be able to put an effective organisation in place, in such a short period of time? How would they manage to achieve all that we have achieved in the last sixty to hundred years, in a period of one year?
The party did this and a lot more.
It raised money directly from people, something that has been unheard of in Indian politics. The party also innovated when it came to reaching out to people, something expected from a disruptive innovator. It organised small mohalla sabhas attended by a few hundred people at a time, all across Delhi. Of course, existing political parties used to large rallies, did not see much worth in organising events where at best a few hundred people turned up.
The AAP also used social media very effectively when it came to drumming up support, something no one other than Narendra Modi, has tried to do.
The question is will the AAP be able to replicate its success in Delhi through other parts of the country? The answer is not simple. The incumbent politicians would like to believe that it will be very difficult for the AAP to play the game of caste so important in large parts of the country.
But what should give them hope is the fact that the larger political parties are still not taking them seriously. A senior BJP leader said on NDTV India yesterda that comparing BJP with AAP was like comparing “Raja Bhoj with Gangu Teli”. Another BJP leader challenged them to win even a single seat out of the 48 Lok Sabha seats in Maharasthra.
This tells us that the incumbent politicians are still not taking AAP seriously and feel that they will find it difficult to replicate their success outside Delhi. How successful AAP is outside Delhi, only time will tell us.
To conclude, AAP’s spectacular debt in Indian democracy was best summarised by anchor Punya Prasun Bapai on Aaj Tak yesterday, when he said “Jhadu, Tiranga Ke Saath Lehra Raha Hai”.
The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on December 9, 2013
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He tweets @kaul_vivek)
It is never really a great idea to compare a political party to a management concept, given that politics is more messier than business ever can be. But that is what I had done, over a year back, when a section of what had come to be known as Team Anna, decided to form a political party.
I had compared the Aam Aadmi Party (as it subsequently came to be known) to a disruptive innovation (You can read the article here).
Disruptive innovation is a term coined by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen. “These are innovations that transform an existing market or create a new one by introducing simplicity, convenience, accessibility and affordability. It is initially formed in a narrow foothold market that appears unattractive or inconsequential to industry incumbents,” is how Christensen defines disruptive innovations as.
The business landscape is littered with examples of hundreds of disruptive innovations. It typically involves a small entrepreneur coming up with a product which big business of the day is not interested in. A good recent example is that of Indian mobile phone brands like Micromax and Karbonn, which took on Nokia, which was the biggest mobile phone brand in India until a few years.
The Indian brands concentrated on selling low priced smart phones, mostly sourced from China, something that Nokia was not interested in. This allowed the Indian brands to gradually capture a major section of the market. By the time, Nokia woke up, these small Indian businesses had already become big boys. Micromax recently signed Hollywood star Hugh Jackman as its brand ambassador. (To its credit Samsung did not fall into the Nokia trap and is now the leading mobile phone brand in India)
Another great example of a disruptive innovation, which I have often used and which fits the situation beautifully in this case, is that of home grown detergent Nirma.
Karsanbhai Patel introduced Nirma detergent in 1969 and priced it at Rs 3.50 per kg. Those were the days when soaps were more popular than detergents when it came to washing clothes. A major reason for this was the fact that detergents were expensive. Hindustan Lever’s Surf (now Hindustan Unilever) sold at Rs 15 per kg. And the lowest price detergent was sold at Rs 13.50 per kg.
Given this huge disparity in price, Nirma sold well and continued to grow. Hindustan Lever kept looking the other way for a very long time simply because it was not interested in servicing the end of the market where the margins were low. By the time Hindustan Lever reacted, Nirma had established itself as a pan India brand.
Hence, there are two ends to a disruptive innovation really. One is the new business which launches something which caters to a specific section of the market. The other is the established big business which is not really interested in that section of the market. This allows the new business to grow itself. By the time big business starts to see the smaller business as a threat, it has already grown big enough. The disruptive innovation thus challenges the status quo product.
Along similar lines, Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Aadmi Party are the disruptive innovation, and the existing political parties the status quo product. To their credit Arvind Kejriwal and his supporters understood that urban voters wanted a change and tailored their campaign in line with that. They understood that there was an opportunity for a political party which fields honest candidates and does not work along narrow caste or regional lines.
This basic idea seems to have worked. A pre-poll survey carried out by CNN-IBN, The Week and CSDS Pre-Poll has projected that the Aam Aadmi Party will get anywhere between 19-25 seats in the upcoming Delhi assembly elections. It gives the Bhartiya Janata Party anywhere between 22 to 28 seats and the Congress party 19 to 25 seats in a 70 member Delhi assembly.
If AAP were to get even one third or half of the projected seats, it would be unprecedented. No political party established from scratch has ever done so well.
So what has worked for the Aam Aadmi Party? There promise of providing a clean corruption free administration has gone down well with the Delhi voters. Cynics might turn around and tell you, what is the big deal about that? Every political party worth its salt promises a corruption free administration.
While that is true, a promise of a corruption free administration coming from politicians who are already corrupt, does not mean anything for the voter. When the same promise comes from someone like Arvind Kejriwal, an IITian who worked for the Indian Revenue Service, and then quit to run an NGO, it holds some value. It tells the voter that there is still some hope left in the world. Hence, more than the message, who is saying it, turns out to be more important.
The other factor that worked well for Aam Aadmi Party is the fact that the big boys Congress and Bhartiya Janata Party were looking the other way, like often happens in the case of a disruptive innovation.
The big boys never really took the Aam Aadmi Party seriously. The feeling was that where would this new kid on the block raise the money required to fight an election? How would the new party put the organisation required to fight an election in place?
The Aam Aadmi Party turned the conventional wisdom right on its head when it came to raising money. It has been raising money directly from the people. As far as setting up the party organisation is concerned it has done a remarkably good job in a very short period of time.
The party has also innovated when it comes to reaching out to people. It has been organising small mohalla sabhas attended by a few hundred people at a time, all across Delhi. The existing political parties, used to big rallies, have not seen this as a threat. This has helped the party consolidate its position all across Delhi.
The Aam Aadmi Party has also been innovative when it comes to advertising, using auto-rickshaws as well as humans standing with banners at key junctions in Delhi.
Also, the existing political parties were confident that it would be next to impossible to reach the voter in such a short period of time. In this case the Aam Aadmi Party has been helped by the media, for which Kejriwal and his party have been a new and an exciting story, full of hope. And hope always sells well among readers. What has also worked is the fact that Kejriwal has been extremely media savvy, always willing to give an interview.
All this has clearly rattled the Bhartiya Janata Party and the Congress. In a recent interview to the Tehelka magazine, chief minister Sheila Dikshit
of the Congress Party said “My reaction to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is nothing..absolutely nothing.” Only a person who is rattled could have said that. The Bhartiya Janata Party has been forced to project Dr Harshvardhan, as its chief ministerial candidate, instead of going in with its Delhi unit chief Vijay Goel . It’s obvious that the party wanted to project someone with a clean image to take on Kejriwal. But it left that decision to very late in the day.
What has worked well for the Aam Aadmi Party is the fact that Delhi votes majorly along class lines and not caste lines. Its real test will come when it starts contesting elections in other states, where caste and other political factors will have a major role to play.
The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on October 31, 2013
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He tweets @kaul_vivek)