Time is ticking down on the presidential election in the United States. We’re less than one-month away from going to the election booths to cast our vote for our next president. This has been a political battle between two candidates, more so than two parties or, perhaps, even the issues, that has clearly divided many American citizens. While I feel my wife of nearly 39-years and I can talk about virtually anything and everything it seems we cannot talk about the candidates and their running mates without it escalating into misunderstanding. We are not unique. I’ve heard similar stories from many other couples, families, colleagues and friends.
The two candidates, Senators John McCain and Barack Obama, could not be more different. And, while they promise peace, prosperity and security for the American people they have very different definitions of what that would be and how it might be achieved. While they present their qualifications, express their outrage over the current state of affairs and the past administration (welcome to the “universal” party), and make bold promises to the electorate, marketers are operating behind the scenes to sway voters and win the election for their candidate.
Political marketing has come a long, long way. The stakes are high. It’s “win or go home.” It’s four years or maybe even eight in office. The marketing is sophisticated. We are hopeful that all of you, regardless of your country, are observing this contest. Why? It provides many important lessons for marketers that may be applied to help drive preference for the brand.
Here are some thoughts for your consideration:
BOATS & HELICOPTERS:
It’s about the Brand – There are at least two brands in play here: the Republican brand and the Democrat brand. At least that’s what the political pundits call it. They actually use the language “Republican brand” and “Democrat brand.” It doesn’t sound any different than going to the retail shelf to select a brand of toothpaste. A brand has meaning. Each party has a meaning to its constituency that differentiates it from the other. The Republican brand boasts that it is for free enterprise and capitalism. The Democrat brand claims it is for the everyday man and woman who struggle for a better way of life. Oh yes, there are plenty of features that they highlight but in the final analysis the expectation is that voters will identify with the broader “meaning” of the brand. It’s what connects with their constituencies and drives loyalty for the political parties, and our marketplace offerings whether they are products or services. What is it that your offering means to customers? Perhaps, employing our “Benefit Laddering” tool can assist you in identifying that meaning for your brand. It will help lead you to crystallize the constellation of values that connects with your target-customer.
There’s a story behind every candidate – Senator John McCain is the “maverick,” one who bucks the system to go his own way to do what he believes is right for America. He’s a former military man and POW who claims he learned that life is about serving others and his nation before serving himself. He’s feisty. You can expect he will fight for you in Washington. Senator Barack Obama is a Horatio Alger type character who has been able to overcome humble beginnings and racial prejudice to realize the American dream. He has been blessed with the finest of educations, a wonderful family life and an opportunity to become president of the United States. You can believe that Senator Obama understands your plight and that he wants you to realize the American dream too. If you watched each of the conventions where the candidates received and accepted their respective party’s nomination to run for the presidency you would have seen and heard their story as it was presented in a series of slides and film. Does your brand have a story? Take time to write one as if you were writing about a person. Importantly, relate that story to your target-customer. Find a way to use your story to gain the customers’ trust and/or inspire them. Use it to differentiate your offering from the competition.
Segmentation is critical – There’s a lot of segmentation being conducted in political marketing, both strategic and tactical. The parties and their candidates are segmenting by psychographics, demographics and geography. If you viewed the recent town hall debate on Tuesday between the two candidates you know that it took place before a citizen audience who peppered them with questions regarding issues that were important to the questioner. This audience was comprised of what is judged to be less partisan, independent minded citizens. It appears the battle is on to win the “independents,” those people who claim allegiance to no particular party. These folks have also been labeled “swing voters.” It is claimed, again by the pundits, that it is critically important for the candidates to win these swing voters it they are to win the election. That’s merely one of many segments. Then there’s the minority vote, young versus old, blue versus white collar, Joe “six-pack,” wealthy versus middle and lower income, the right versus the left, “hockey moms,” the “religious” right, blue versus red versus swing states, etc.
Each segment has a different mindset and different set of needs. (Whoever gets elected will need to be a unifier. Is there any way one could truly satisfy all these segments? No way!) Messages are crafted for each segment. There’s one message for voters living in the rust belt another for pensioners. As Professor Philip Kotler has stated, “If you are not segmenting you are not doing marketing.” What is your segmentation model and whom have you targeted? Use our “Strategic Targeting” tool to assist you in clearly and completely defining your target once you have completed your segmentation. Importantly, who have you not targeted? Just this past week it was announced that Senator McCain was pulling funding from Michigan since he believes he cannot win there and is focusing his efforts on critical states where it is imperative for him to win if he is to defeat Senator Obama. Segmentation is all about making choices, whom you will serve and whom you will not. It’s about concentrating versus fragmenting your limited resources to ensure the critical mass needed to win in the marketplace.
Make it a campaign – The Democrats’, and Senator Obama’s, campaign is about “change.” They lay the blame for our nation’s, and even the world’s, ills at the foot of eight years of the Bush administration. They are attempting to capitalize on our disaffection with the current leadership as evidence by extremely low approval ratings of the president. They promise to bring about change for the better. On the other hand, the Republican party’s, and Senator McCain’s, campaign stresses “reform.” They claim that our problems are the fault of a system gone mad. Our representatives in the legislature have lost touch with the American people and far too many practices are antiquated or corrupted. They promise to reform government. These are the fundamental messages of the two campaigns.
We believe that it is essential for our brands to be supported with strategically appropriate, single-minded campaigns. Our promise needs to be relevant and meaningfully differentiated to set our brands apart and drive preference for them. It needs to be presented to our target-customer in a way that generates sound strategic communication and persuades customers to purchase our brand. Use our “Campaign Idea” tool to help you determine whether your brand has a campaign idea.
Additionally, the campaign needs to touch the customer where it will do our brand the most good. And, it has to be integrated such that regardless of the medium the message comes through in a clear and compelling way. Both parties are employing a plethora of mediums to reach their targets. They are engaging in conventions, political rallies, fundraisers, television commercials, public relations, special appearances, and town hall meetings among other mediums. To each they communicate the campaign of “change” or “reform.” Review your brand’s activities. Do they represent a campaign with a single-minded message presented in a clear and compelling way in all mediums? Or do you have a series of unrelated activities that fail to focus on a relevant and meaningfully differentiated proposition? You need a campaign to leverage your resources to make an impression on your target-customer. Also take a critical look at how you are reaching out to your target. What are you using to reach your target and how effective are these mediums? Where is your target-customer that you are not and should be?
Motivate behavior and ask for the order – Politicians know the importance of winning votes. These votes represent behaviors. And they know that in order to motivate behavior they must first win minds. When we talk about winning minds we are referring to the attitudes and beliefs of our target population. Minds lead to votes which, in turn, lead to winning the election just as attitudes lead to be behaviors which lead to achieving business objectives of sales, market share and profitability. This is so basic yet many marketing plans do not reflect this important causal relationship. Not so with the politicians. They know what they need to do, even if they may be out of touch with the issues.
Another thing about politicians is that they are not afraid to ask for the order: “Vote Republican - vote for McCain and Palin”; “Vote Democrat – vote for Obama and Biden.” Vote for us. Don’t vote for the other party. Buy, use, prescribe, install us. Not our competitors! They are not even afraid to ask for money to support their campaigns. They conduct fundraisers; they solicit via the mail and the Internet among many ways of gaining funding. Do you know what you want from your target-customers? It’s not sales, nor market share nor profits. That’s the result of behaviors. What behaviors do you need? What will your target-customers need to believe and/or gain in order to achieve your specified behavior? Be clear.
Grow the market – It’s embarrassing that many Americans do not exercise their right to vote. Some, like the elderly and infirm, have legitimate excuses. But far more do not. Both parties work to “get out the vote.” This is about registering people to vote. We would call it “penetration.” It is about growing the market for your brand. How is it done? Foot soldiers in each party will go door to door. They will inveigh upon organizations to allow them to petition their members. They will seek endorsements and efforts from key influencers. They are even using the Internet to reach and persuade people to register and vote for their candidate. In many cases it’s easier to win a new voter than it is to change the opinion of partisans from another party whose mind is already made-up. It is believed that the televised debates the candidates engage in change little among partisan voters. Our world is subjective. We see and hear what we want to see and hear. If they are for the candidate and his party then he’s clearly the one who scored the most points in the debate. Or, at the very least, the other candidate didn’t deliver a “game changer” (i.e., get me to change my mind).
It’s no different for our brands. Share battles are long, drawn out campaigns that can be quite costly. The exception is when is a “game changer” such as the MasterCard “Priceless” campaign. Oftentimes it is cheaper for companies to acquire a competitive company for their market share than it would be to attempt to win it. Get beyond thinking about winning market share. Identify what you might be able to do to grow your market – for your brand! And when you are thinking “market share” think about how you can create a “game changer!”
Dialogue and adapt – There isn’t a day that goes bye in which the candidates’ marketing teams, or the press, isn’t conducting a poll to determine voter sentiment. They want and need to know whether they are registering with voters. Do they have the right issues? Do they have the right messaging? Are they winning minds? Are they getting the vote? Importantly, they are adapting their plans and messaging based upon what they learn, and they are doing it in real time. Years ago we at BDNI created a service product we trademarked as “Rapid Returns.” This product assists in new product marketing. It leads the client team from idea generation to concept development to marketing research assessment in two weeks. That’s right – two weeks! (We still do it too! If you would like more information regarding Rapid Returns please don’t hesitate to give us a call.) When we were first developing this service product the sticking point was getting the marketing research completed in a week. Traditional marketing research companies needed months to field, tabulate, analyze and report the results. One of our friends and colleagues suggested we contact a marketing research firm doing polling work for politicians. They get results over night. The politician airs a commercial and the next day s/he knows exactly how the public received it – favorably or unfavorably.
Think about it. Isn’t it important to know whether you are connecting with your target-customers? And, we are not talking about “pass or fail” research. Instead, we want to gain an understanding so we can adapt what we do to drive preference for our brands in creating brand loyalty. How well do you know your target-customer and what makes her/him tick? How are your marketing initiatives working for you as evidenced by the voice and action of your target-customer? Without this knowledge the business manages us. We do not manage the business. Without this knowledge we cannot intelligently adapt our strategies and tactics to iterate our way to success. Make sure your marketing plan identifies important marketing research to stay in touch with your target-customer.
Undoubtedly there are many more lessons that we can learn and apply from political marketing. Take a step back and observe what is going on in the “2008 Race for the White House” to identify your own “boats & helicopters.”
Before we close just two more observations regarding some flaws in political marketing and their lessons for brand marketing. The first is that our messaging must pass the toughest scrutiny. In the U.S. we have the likes of the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) who regulate our messaging. Each country has similar bodies that serve as regulators, or watch dogs, regarding commercial claims and messaging. However, there doesn’t appear to be anyone or group who regulates the messaging of our politicians. The claims are so outrageous, particularly as they relate to a given candidate’s opponent, that we do not know what to believe. Our trust in them is further undermined by our collective perception that politicians typically do not make good on their promises. Will they, or even can they, make good on their promises. Our claims need to be supported by incontrovertible reasons-why if potential customers are going to believe our promises. By “incontrovertible” we mean that we have the appropriate evidence such that our claims hold-up in a court of law.
A second observation is that our politicians have a way of changing their messaging to fit whomever they are addressing. One day they may address one segment of the population and make promises to them that they contradict the very next day when facing yet another target segment. We brand marketers cannot and should not attempt to be all things to all people. When we attempt to be all things to all people we dilute the meaning of our brand. Furthermore, we undermine credibility. On the one hand the target-customer might not realize our point-of-difference. On the other hand, people will not trust us. And, compound this by failing to deliver on our promise and it doesn’t matter whether there are regulatory authorities or not, we will lose the customer, a precious relationship and the business. As it relates back to the election it’s four more years of … Well, let’s hope not.