What Politicians Can Teach You About Marketing

Haven’t we all heard at least once that political campaigning is as much marketing as it is anything else? After all, it has a lot in common with any other business: facing stiff competition and looking for a message that will resonate with an audience and earn their loyalty.

In 2004, Howard Dean showed us the power of online channels like Meetup to enhance traditional media for communicating a message and organizing constituents.

And in 2008, the Obama campaign demonstrated the importance of social media in the marketing mix, from videos on YouTube to get-out-the-vote sharing on Twitter and Facebook.

So what can we learn in this campaign cycle? (In a completely neutral, non-partisan way, of course.)

While the 2012 presidential election may be over a year away, the party primaries are within months. With a large field of Republican candidates, and a Democratic president running for re-election, the push to catch voters’ attention — and grab their loyalty — has already heated up.

While the final lessons will be analyzed later in November 2012, this is what we’ve already learned about political marketing.

It’s not just about online.

Even as more and more online channels have been incorporated into political marketing, they’ve never replaced other more traditional forms of media. As wired as your audience may be, they’re still watching TV and listening to the radio—and even reading magazines and newspapers. Know where your audience is and meet them there.

It’s not just about social media.

Yes, the Obama campaign got a lot of attention for its wide-ranging embrace of social media. And any online campaign must evaluate the use of these channels, even if it’s only for monitoring customer sentiment. But the Obama campaign also continues to use other online channels, particularly email. Not everyone who’s online uses social media; but, virtually everyone who’s online uses email.

It’s not just about Facebook and Twitter.

Even within social media, the landscape is constantly changing. Newt Gingrich, for example, used Google Plus’s Hangouts feature — a web-based video chat room — to hold a video town hall with interested voters and respond directly to their questions. You can’t ignore Facebook and Twitter, of course; but what other channels suit your marketing efforts? Would you be better off posting informative videos on YouTube or answering subject matter questions in LinkedIn Answers? One note of caution: not all new venues may be worth your time; the jury’s still out on the long-term success of Google Plus — and the Gingrich campaign.

Don’t forget mobile.

Political strategists shared with Mashable a list of 5 ways QR codes can help campaigns, from field organizing to getting out the vote. If a campaign’s website isn’t optimized for mobile, it may fail to reach a large percentage of potential voters — especially younger ones. And even SMS can be leveraged to provide instant responses to constituent and voter questions. What’s true for voters is true for your customers.

And one final lesson: pay attention to the numbers. Political campaigns are constantly analyzing results and adapting accordingly. Watch your analytics and make changes if necessary. Online campaigns aren’t carved in stone.

Your turn

  • What have you learned from watching political campaigns?

Whether you’re a small business, Fortune 500 corporation or political campaign, Innate can help you make sense of the marketing landscape. Contact us to learn how.

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