The political landscape is an incredible mirror of the culture and business world you and consumers operate in today. Though you may not have considered it, this blood sport we call politics is actually marketing. Here are just a few observations from this year’s election cycle that business marketers can learn from…
Abbreviated, edited post originally appeared on momentology.com
So far, less than half the states have had their say over who will be their party’s nominees for president. And as the road to who will occupy 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue tightens, one thing can be said for sure: it’s been a crazy political season. We’ve had a socialist, reality TV celebrity, neurosurgeon, governor, senator, business leader and many more throw their names into the ring. There’s been name calling, personal attacks, accusations, unprecedented turnout… and it’s just March.
What does all this have to do with your role as a seasoned marketer? Well, as crazy as it all is, this political landscape is an incredible mirror of the culture and business world you and consumers operate in today. Though you may not have considered it, this blood sport we call politics is actually marketing. And in the end it comes down to what message the candidate is selling and what message the population is buying.
As the days and contests of this primary season run out, there is an ever-increasing need for the candidates to make the most of every opportunity. And there’s an opportunity for business marketers to learn from the things that have worked… and haven’t worked so well.
Here are just a few observations from this year’s election cycle that business marketers can learn from:
Influence the Influencer
Before the first votes were cast, candidates had a state, just one, to focus on before moving on. Although they only had to focus on one state, each individual state is made up of dozens of counties. One candidate can only be in so many places at once. In Iowa, the Republican winner Ted Cruz, certainly did his fair share of shaking hands and showing up in counties across the state… but he’s just one man… from Texas. The real secret was his ability to use his influence with local religious and organizational leaders.
IT WAS THOSE PEOPLE that then wielded their influence inside their circle. It’s one thing for an outsider to say “Trust Me,” but quite another when an insider… who has experience with the outsider… says to his group, “Trust TED.” In Iowa, the race was won on “ground game” and Cruz carried that state as a result of his influencers. But here in March more and more of the nation is voting at the same time. That makes it more difficult to be all the places a candidate wants/needs to be at the same time. Influencing the influencer was important in the early races… but it’s even more critical as the contest expands.
So what about you? How can this apply to the work you are doing and the brands you are building every day? Great question. It’s unlikely that your brand is talking to consumers in just one market. You are more likely operating in multiple geographies. No matter how large your budget, it’s nearly impossible to afford and be everywhere you’d like to be. But more than that, people don’t trust brands or what brands have to say… but they do value what their networks and inner circles say. Begin today to grow your list of power users and power influencers. Who has the audience you’re looking for and has celebrity status with them? Find those people. Chances are good that their words and actions carry more weight than your brand’s ever will.
It’s Often Emotional
The Republican front runner, Donald Trump, has taken more than a few shots from others who claim he is extremely light on policy. Late night comedians and talk show hosts dedicate precious air time for man-on-the-street spots to reveal just how little the average person knows about the person he or she may be passionately backing. It’s both funny… and sad.
For supporters of Trump, policy specifics haven’t really mattered. He has tapped into an underlying anger and is simply reflecting that back. And the stadiums have been full to overflowing to hear him speak. Bernie Sanders has tapped into something similar on the Democratic side. Although not able to yet turn that into a nomination bid, he has managed to move the presumptive nominee, Hillary Clinton, further and further left. You see, our environment is not as logical and ordered as we think. Everything is highly emotional… And the population has rewarded those candidates that stand outside of the normative pattern.
Not convinced that emotion really matters? Think about all the ways that Clinton is working to connect on an emotional level. Often coined robotic and cold, you now see her in television commercials playing the loving grandma that won’t let a young girl be deported… or hitting the comedy shows to poke fun at herself. Why? Her resume is full of credentials that could be argued make her highly qualified for the job. Your product or service may have a long list of incredible attributes and features too… But here’s the danger, if you don’t tap into how you make life better or how to move a consumer forward, your amazing product might be overlooked in favor of something, well, more relatable.
Smarts are Great, Charisma is Greater
Whether you agree with a candidate’s policies or not, it’s hard to say that any of them lack smarts. To most people it’s clear that they had to have something going on upstairs in order to get to the level they are at. Jeb Bush is smart. John Kasich is smart. Ben Carson is smart. Martin O’Malley, Lincoln Chafee, Lindsey Graham… they are all smart. When the threshold of smart (and willing to serve) is achieved, then what? Jeb Bush lacks energy. Ben Carson doesn’t get worked up enough. Lindsey Graham can’t cut through. John Kasich is too cerebral. Clearly, it takes something more.
Those that have risen to the top are said to have boyish charm, or internal fire, passion and compelling stories. In a phrase, they’re charismatic. What about you? Chances are you pass the smart threshold too… If you run an agency, like I do, you’re competing against other agencies that do smart things too. If you’re leading a team, there are other smart leaders vying for attention. If you’re marketing to consumers, “smart” is cost of entry. Are you able to articulate a compelling story or share a driving passion? If not, take a look at the narrowing field of presidential candidates to see how it’s done, and how those hanging on by a thread could be doing better.
Pick a Lane
Turns out that the style Trump brings is not only great for a television show’s ratings, it fills stadiums. It’s must see television to see someone lash out and hurl insults. “Loser, lightweight, choker, disaster, horrible, liar”… these are just a few of the terms routinely used to talk about Trump’s competitive set. Physical appearance, intellect, ability, even “your mom” jabs (just ask Jeb Bush) have all been fair game for the front runner. But as the field has narrowed, Trump’s last two debates have allowed more time for policy positions rather than slogans and sound bites. And Trump’s performances, according to most, have been less than stellar as a result.
In early March, prior to Super Tuesday, Marco Rubio made a shift and began returning the insults against the front runner. He stopped talking plans and policy and started talking about hand size, sun tans and other trivial things. The positive optimist turned negative and it sent supporters and pundits in a tailspin wondering who the real Rubio was. Did it help? Maybe in the short term. Maybe not. It’s yet to be seen what will transpire as a result of Marco Rubio’s 180… But even the candidate will agree that it’s not him and it’s not something he’s proud of – even if he felt compelled to engage in those tactics.
How does this example transfer to your marketing role? Simply put: avoid letting the crowd get you off your game. Double down on your strengths and realize that being true to a core position will result in you becoming more important to the people that respect those things. Own your space. Even if you see temporary increases when you mimic your competitive set, in most cases, you will likely lose more ground, and loyal brand evangelists, when you try to be everything to everyone.
Competition Makes You Better
Pundits agree that you’ll now start to see Hillary Clinton move more to the center. In her campaign against Bernie Sanders she certainly became a more qualified candidate and more refined in her message. Should Donald coast to the Republican nomination, he will also be better for the process handling or solidifying his talking points against any issues that may have been thrown at him.
As a marketer, consider your competitive set a gift. Whether you’re competing for a position at work or taking share in the market place at large, competition is a valuable tool to help you refine your story and double down on your differentiators. Without competition, you become complacent and innovation stagnates. With it, passion, excitement and loyalty grows.
Politics is marketing. As the rules of business continue to change, this election cycle is proving to be an incredible case study that savvy marketers can learn from with at least eight more months of political theater to gain insights from.
I’d love to hear any insights you’d add to this list… In the meantime, let me say, I approve this message.