Last month, I traveled up to the Boston area for my college reunion, and I enjoyed reconnecting with old friends and classmates, among them my friend Scott Brown. During our Tufts basketball days he was known as "Downtown Scottie Brown," thanks to his reputation as a long-range shooter (before the days of the three-point shot). Now, of course, Scott's the Republican junior Senator from Massachusetts.
We got talking about how he first became involved in politics, and Scottie, I mean Senator Brown, mentioned that it all started at a meeting he'd attended in his hometown about some civic issue. When he questioned his elected official, the fellow replied defensively, "If you're so concerned, why don't you run for office?"
So he did just that. And a bunch of years later, the stars aligned and he was elected to Teddy Kennedy's seat in the U.S. Senate. The rest is, and will be, history.
In business as in politics, it's critical to challenge the status quo. That's why we all do what we do, isn't it? We see that there must be a better way to do something -- connect with the right consumers, enhance a technology, innovate, streamline a process -- and we do our best to change the way it's being done.
That's not the sole intersection between business and politics (or the business of politics, I should say) that comes to mind.
As anyone who watches, reads, or listens to the news knows by now, we're rolling into an election year. There's been a significant amount of evolution and innovation in technology and media since 2008, and I don't think it would be outlandish to suggest that campaigning politicians might want to take a closer look at how that technology can be harnessed to help them win the coming elections.
While we won't know who the Republican presidential nominee will be for some time, there's no question that primary season will bring a broad battlefield populated with candidates campaigning to the conservative base. Come the general election, however, we're likely to see a race to the middle as President Obama and the Republican candidate shore up their respective bases and go after swing voters.
More certainly than ever, the results of our national elections will come down to the opinions of relatively few voters in several key states. Strategists are already wondering how their candidates can reach the voters they need to win.
One way would be by borrowing a play from the business world. After all, marketing a candidate is remarkably similar to marketing a brand.
In fact, I often use the analogy of "swing voters" when meeting with advertisers to describe the type of consumers that they should be targeting. Many of our customers and their brands and agencies are looking to find the programs and networks most watched by what we refer to as the "heavy swing purchaser": consumers who spend a lot in a given customer's category but aren't loyal to that customer's brand. That's who campaigns need to reach, too: the swing "purchaser."
In both brand and candidate advertising, the old age-sex demos do not deliver effective results. For instance, conventional wisdom would lead us to believe that if you wanted to reach politically engaged left-leaning voters, you would advertise on CNN. To reach the right-leaners, you'd target Fox News. But it turns out that this strategy would reach only a fraction -- less than 10% -- of the total politically engaged viewer audience.
Campaigns must place ads that target the voters they most need to reach. They have an excellent opportunity in the upcoming election year to leverage new advertising technologies -- but that means looking beyond the major news networks to find voters.
Wouldn't it be nice for campaigns to be able to place ads not only in swing states, but also on those specific programs in those swing states being watched by swing voters? Now they can.
And if they do, can you guess who's going to win? The campaigns whose dollars will go farther as they deliver the right messages to the right audience; the national and local broadcast and cable outlets, who will be able to price their inventory more efficiently; and yes, you, the voters.