Marketing Lessons from the 2012 Election
Two nights ago, the United States’s Presidential election cycle came to a close. For many, the end of the election season is a welcome reprieve from the constant barrage of negative ads, vitriolic debate, and nonstop horse-race coverage.
Now that the winner has been chosen, it’s a great opportunity for marketers to look back at the campaign and see what we can learn. This isn’t intended to be a partisan analysis, and we’ve tried to stay away from any particular partisan viewpoints. After all, as marketers, we need to be able to look at data and campaigns objectively in order to evaluate and learn from them. Here’s what we have taken from the election so far.
- Big Data has big consequences: Despite pre-election predictions of a very close electoral college race, Obama team’s strategy clearly led to a near blow-out (the popular vote is another story). How did they do it? Big Data. They looked deeply at their voters and how many votes they needed–district by district. This turned out to be an incredibly effective method for reaching audiences that have become almost impossibly fragmented. TV ads alone wouldn’t cut it alone. Knowing detailed information about voters, their interests and many other datapoints, allowed the Obama team to pinpoint their ground game. The result wasn’t just the win, but it was also the precision with which the Obama strategy was put together.
- Shifting brand positioning overnight can be dangerous: While it’s not unusual for political candidates to play to their base in the primaries and move more to the political center during the general election, that shift needs to make sense. It needs to tell the story of the candidate’s ascendancy. It needs to be an extension of his or her branding, not a wild swing. In the case of Romney, his shift was incredibly dramatic. Many pundits have commented that Romney felt he needed to be very far on the political right to win the primary, which didn’t give him a lot of space to move back to the center during the general. So, to many non-party voters, this seemed like a wild swing, which left them unclear about Romney’s true brand position.
- Messaging, Messaging, Messaging: If you look back at Obama’s 2008 run, you’ll see that his messaging was incredibly nuanced. While that may or may not have been true this time around, we saw the messaging coming out of the Romney campaign as incredibly sloppy. In fact, we were very, very amused by the Say Anything image that floated around. Moreover, the Obama campaign was able to capitalize on this by painting him a flip-flopper (though not nearly as effectively as Bush did to John Kerry in 2004). The point here is that your brand messaging needs to be precise and consistent. You can’t say one thing one day and something completely different another.
- When you’re in the public eye, everything you say is public: There were many times when Romney suffered from classic “foot-in-mouth” disease, but perhaps none were more apparent when he made the now infamous 47% comment. Brands, like politicians, need to remember that they are under scrutiny of the public eye 24 x 7, no matter where they are, what they’re doing, or whom they’re talking to. As such, they need to be true to their brand at all times (see our note on messaging).
- Give your brand away: Whether you’re running for office or you’re running a brand, there’s really no stopping this one. People who love will take your content and make something new out of it, praising you. At the same time, people who don’t love you (or even hate you) are going to do the same thing, only negatively. Brands have to recognize that this is, to some degree, out of their control. The best way to deal with this is to harness the power of your brand supporters and make it easy form to create awesome brand-centric content. If enough people love your brand and are willing to stick up for it, detractors will have a more difficult time tearing it down.
What insights have you gleaned from this election, and how can you apply them?