In the next couple of weeks, the Republican and Democratic parties will hold their conventions and the general election will officially be underway. A campaign season that has already produced so many historic firsts and unpredictable moments will no doubt continue to confound pollsters, analysts, and the rest of us.
One thing this race has already confirmed though is that smart companies are increasingly approaching their customers in the way political campaigns approach voters.
Political campaigns, and especially candidates running for president, must connect with voters on an emotional level. Voters have always gone with their gut. When I worked on John Kerry’s 2004 campaign against President Bush, we were dismayed by voters who told us they agreed with Kerry on the issues, but were voting for Bush. Their reasons they gave were that they liked him, or trusted him, or simply said, “I don’t know, I just feel better with him as president.”
Logic leads people to conclusions. Emotions lead people to action. If you want people to see the logical benefits of your company, provide information and let them make a rational choice. If you want people to believe in your brand, to be moved to act, then appeal to them on a personal, emotional level.
Consumers have more choices than ever before—and are more open to shifting their purchasing habits than ever before. They have access to unlimited information. They expect higher standards of corporate behavior and transparency. If this didn’t make matters hard enough for companies, today’s consumers are also the least trusting and most cynical group we’ve ever known.
That’s a volatile mix. As a company, every day you’re being scrutinized and judged. Every day could be the day a tidal wave of public sentiment turns and washes over you.
How do you make an emotional and lasting connection with people in this environment?
Again, there are clues in the way political campaigns operate.
Candidates are judged on what they do and on what others say about them. Paid advertising is a distant third.
Behavior. If you want voters to believe you when you say you’ll prioritize funding and policies that help children, then you better have been fighting for that cause your whole career, or no one will ever believe you. If you want people to think you will deliver bold change and shake up the system, then you need to have been associated with that kind of behavior your whole life. Candidates who change their position to fit the polls, or who are seen as “flip floppers” never stand a chance. For companies, your actions must be seen as genuine.
Successful candidates don’t have a message. They are the message. By staying true to their core business and living their values, wildly successful companies like Google and Apple have figured that one out.
What others say. Voters and consumers alike are discounting it. Sure, it’s what you say about you. But they want to know what others are saying. Today the answer lies in earned media coverage, digital strategy and stakeholder management.
Campaigns have long mastered the art of stakeholder relations. If you need votes in a particular region, get the local Mayor and County Commissioners to endorse you. Convince the head of the Chamber of Commerce and local business owners to support the campaign.
Nowadays, campaign run very sophisticated social strategies where they are leveraging their supporters’ personal networks. Getting a recommendation from a friend is the most powerful predictor of voter and consumer behavior.
For companies, more people will learn about your brand through Wikipedia, Yelp and Facebook than they will through your paid advertising or owned sites.
Lastly, campaigns are out there every single day. The poor candidates must fly from city to city, holding rallies and town halls. Making statements. Driving their message. A massive apparatus that surrounds the candidate is pushing the message through stakeholders and social. It’s an aggressive, complex machine designed to generate news and influence people. For brands, that means a content marketing strategy delivered to the right audience and relentlessly measured must be the standard in a saturated media and entertainment environment where people are increasingly difficult to reach.
National political campaigns are giant startups that must scale quickly to survive. The successful ones ends up re-writing the rules of engagement for reaching and influencing audiences. As our two parties begin their sprint to the finish line, all companies, regardless of politics or ideology, should be looking closely.