It’s silly season and I love it. As I write, election fever is bubbling and already the Twittersphere has gone into overdrive (and potentially seen the first candidate tweet himself out of the race).
October 16th will see a percentage of us trooping to the polls to place a carefully thought out cross against our chosen candidate’s name. How many of us make the effort will be influenced by many factors – the candidate’s performance in the election race but also frustration over previous broken promises, referendum cock-ups, if the candidate is a family member and whether or not it is raining on the day!
Elections ARE marketing - a brand / candidate, communicates a promise, to convince and convert a customer / voter, to retain loyalty to that brand / person over a period of time. You throw in factors that any given candidate can’t control (aforementioned weather, family connections and so on) and it’s a case of making the very best job of the bits you can influence.
What can we learn from the election marketing bubble?
In the US the last presidential election was the most expensive on earth – an eye watering $6 billion over two years of campaigning and electioneering. The end result? United Republic, a nonpartisan non-profit, clearly believed, and proved, that money won congressional races 91% of the time.
This reflects the norm of our marketing world – brands are pretty much free to spend as much as they like on campaigns, running for as long as they see fit. So yes, often you see the one that shouts loudest enjoy the bigger flow of customers. Of course level of spend will attract customers (you’re in their face far more than your competitors so you force them to pay attention) but you then have to deliver. Often, the ones with the biggest budgets see an exodus of customers / supporters when they realise what you offered was a hollow promise that failed to deliver.
Level playing field
For me the beauty (and benefit) of the campaign trail in many countries, including our fair island, is that the playing field is made level: short time frame and a limit on spend. In Jersey that means one month campaigning, with a budget of £2,800 for Senators and £1,700 for Deputy or Connétable. This is when things get interesting. No longer is it about puffing out your chest and throwing oodles of cash at the challenge. Now you have to get really smart.
know your customer
It’s about knowing your customer. What matters to them? What keeps them awake at night? How can you solve their biggest fears and make their dreams a reality? Finding that out and creating a proposition that resonates with them creates a solid foundation for any campaign. This is where you need to consider humour carefully. “Thank Name It’s Friday” and “Name, like Darth Vadar, Only Prettier” may work in a school election but won’t wash with an older electorate.
know the enemy
Who else is in the race? Know the ‘enemy’ so you can position yourself to allow your uniqueness and brilliance to shine through. Focusing energy on your campaign rather than dissing the competition is a strategic decision. When you knock the competition you sound petty; you imply you’ve got nothing better to offer; you come across as desperate and you put customers of the ‘enemy’ on the defensive. So it’s a risky strategy and one that can destroy your own credibility. But, sometimes the opportunities are too great to overlook. Think 1978 Conservative Party poster that showed a long queue outside an unemployment office with the powerful ‘Labour Isn’t Working’ tagline. That campaign worked.
Take it online
Take it online. It’s never been easier to convince and convert by backing up online what you have declared in public. Social media was a game changer in the recent Indian elections, which saw Narendra Modi, or NaMo to his followers, elected Prime Minister. These elections were fought in cyberspace using social technologies. NaMo is arguably one of the most tech-savvy politicians in the world and he successfully engaged India’s Gen Y to boost his following. With a massive 21.5 million Facebook and 6.4 million Twitter followers he continues to use social media to reach the 814 million Indian voters.
John Lennon is reported to have once said that in Britain, the difference between Labour and the Conservatives was miniscule. But Lennon immediately added that this tiny, tiny difference was also the space where most of us live our lives. The same is true for mainstream marketing. The difference between brands is often miniscule. Knowing what and how we make the difference; that one core thing makes us stand out from our competitors and resonate with our target customers is the key to success.