Marketing: Voting For Candidates, Products & Brands

In my first career I worked in party politics, ran a congressional campaign and worked as volunteer on a Presidential advance team. From marketing people I jumped into marketing products. These ranged from credit cards, consumer loans to information, communications and entertainment (ICE) products. While marketing and advertising the promotion of candidates for high office is exciting and challenging, it is also remarkably similar to selling products.

Campaign management is like the Lean Start Up Model and the launching of Minimally Viable Products (MVP). In some cases you have as little as one year to identify a set of needs, source a candidate, develop a plan, develop a USP and execute on the strategy. And yes, find venture capital or in this case donors. Every aspect of the art and science of marketing is deployed. Data-mining, segmentation, push pull strategies, messaging and GOTV (Get-Out-The-Vote). In the process you are shaping and creating a brand or, in other words, the sum total of all the ingredients necessary for establishing a net impression and have it stick.

Memorability like marketing a product is crucial. Positioning a candidate and message to attract the broadest appeal for the target market or in this case the likely voter is fundamental. It is best to have low barriers to entry and high exist costs.

In politics like marketing products it is important to capitalize on friction or in other words cognitive dissonance. This is the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs  and attitudes as it relates to consumer or voter behavior. For example most people know smoking is bad for you, smoke anyway but feel guilty about it and try to fight their decision to smoke.

The challenge for any marketer or campaign manager is creating the friction necessary for people to reconsider a held position and switch. Most candy manufactures set their respective brands and lock-in customers for life by the time someone is 7 years old. Challenger brands or challenger candidates have a time convincing people to switch and vote or buy against an incumbent product or candidate. A construct for electing candidates for office also has applications for selling products.

One 4 step process used to this day focuses on 1) Build Positive Name Recognition, 2) Deploy Contrast Advertising, 3) Negative Advertising and lastly reverting to 4) Positive Advertising. Typically once you have established significant Name recognition voters will still vote who they know. Then the cognitive dissonance or friction begins to be created through Contrast Advertising. The challenger lays out how they would vote versus the incumbent which aligns with likely voter beliefs.

To further dislodge incumbent loyalty Negative Advertising is executed which typically creates the necessary environment to reconsider long held beliefs and opens the door to alternative decisions. The bad news is that the process tends to taint both candidates. This is where switching to Positive Advertising towards the end of a campaign brings the challenger votes home.

While there may not be direct correlations to political and product marketing both professions can learn from the other. Political marketers are exposed to a wide range of interactions within very short periods of time. As a result they benefit from cycles of learning that may take others outside of campaign management many more years to accomplish.

Similar to a business they have to create an organization and make it succeed and only know the fruits of their labor at the end of a campaign. Along they way they get buying signals through polling data. For products it is consumer research, testing and actual sales indicators. The common denominator is a consumer and constituent both vote with their feet.

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