Brand or Die!

A Small Business Survival Guide

Marketing and the Presidential Election

For those that are familiar with me, I tend to have a winner-take-all approach to marketing. Not that I play dirty, but I do play to win. The marketplace is crowded and it takes an all-or-nothing approach to cut through the noise and make your audience pay attention to your message.

In my experience, the only thing more ruthless than business is politics and this campaign was an excellent case study in Ruthless Marketing. No matter what your political affilliation is, or who you voted for, there are some key lessons that can be learned from the process and most importantly, from the winner. While there are several, I'll only list 3 main ones here...

Lesson #1 - Find your message and stay on it.

From the beginning, Obama ran as the "change" candidate. He ran on that message all the way to the White House. But more than being catchy, it followed two basic branding rules (1) your brand should be a reflection of who you are, not who you want to be and (2) use your competitive advantage as your main brand leverage point, especially if you can use it to mitigate a potential weakness.

His resume wasn't as long as his opponents and that could have been a disadvantage, but he obviously had some savvy MarCom people working for him and they used his youth and short resume and positioned it as an advantage in a marketplace tired of the "old." This is a great tip for startups in a market with older, more established names. The disadvantage of being new is that you don't have an established history. The advantage is that you don't have an established history. You're starting with a clean slate, and no negative marks on your record. No disgruntled customers or bad service experiences. Use that to your advantage and let it differentiate yourself from the competition.

Lesson #2 - Always sell to your strengths, not the competition's weaknesses.

This is a basic sales strategy that was played out on a grand scale in the election and you can see the results. Obama's campaign focused wisely on their core strengths (for the most part), and used those as contrast points, without specifically tearing down the competition. The assumption was that the audience already knew the competition's negatives, so by making simple benefit statements, the comparison and contrast would be understood.

Conversely, the McCain campaign focused almost exclusively on Obama's percieved weaknesses. In a sales scenario, this is one of the first things they tell you NOT to do. It diminishes your credibility with the customer if you spend the whole time running down the competition. If you want to position yourself against a competitor, do some research and find out what the common negative perceptions of the competitor are. Then create a marketing message that positions you as an implied contrast, without addressing the negative directly.

A great real-world example is Visa's "everywhere you want to be." The perception of MasterCard or Discover is that they're not accepted in as many places as Visa. Rather than say that explicitly, they use a simple statement that defines their advantage over the competition's percieved weakness.

Lesson #3 - Operationalize your brand

What does that mean? It means that your brand, in order to be effective, has to be reflected throughout your organization. Not just in your logo or your tagline, but in the way the phones are answered an in the way your sales staff sells. It's in your billing and collection practices as well as your customer service procedure. It should show up in the entire operation of your business and every employee should know it, understand it, believe it, and exemplify it.

Every campaign had surrogates, but the Obama campaign's surrogates seemed to have the same script wherever they went, and it was the same script that Obama had. Their message remained consistent from the senior level, to the volunteer level. They had several checks and balances built into their organizational structure designed to keep every aspect of the campaign on-message.

Your brand should be seen and felt throughout your organization. This allows for consistent communication of your brand to every customer, every time. Without that consistency you won't be successful in establishing penetration for your brand.

There are lots of other great lessons to be gleaned from the election cycle. Let me know if you agree or what others you might have noticed.

1 people have left comments

Joyce said:

excellent. looking forward to other marketing parallels from this election cycle.