Between the blizzards, droughts and the Olympics, “the news cycle” has yet to gear up serious coverage of impending midterm elections. But don’t worry -- you’ll be hearing a lot more about lame-duck midterms very soon.
Political-marketing experts are already hard at work on the 2016 presidential race:
Brand marketers might ask how this is relevant to them, while political marketers may believe brand best practices “don’t travel” well in the political realm.
Yet you might be surprised to learn that enlightened practitioners on each side of the marketing aisle approach the art of successful persuasion in a very similar fashion. And if you’re selling a considered-purchase product every two to four years, you ignore best political marketing practices at your peril.
The Considered Purchase: High Prices, High Stakes
When it comes to casting a vote for a brand or a candidate every two to four years, the marketing mandate is remarkably similar.
The purchase cycles of automobiles, financial services, home appliances, high-end consumer electronics and travel packages are both predictable and unforgiving.
Unlike fast-moving consumer goods and services, where multiple brands can be consumed in an ongoing stream of multiple-brand purchase, trial, rejection and adoption (think breakfast cereals), the considered purchase cycle mirrors the election cycle. A winner-take-all, big-ticket decision that comes down to a singular vote for a car, appliance, mobile device or vacation package. The marketer must get it right on voting day, and there is no silver medal for second-place.
Nurture Your Base And Identify The Swing
High-stakes brand and political marketers must deeply understand how to nurture and maintain their base — e.g., keep a car buyer or a voter in the franchise when the lease-term is up — as well as successfully identify and target buyers whose votes are up for grabs
But who is that swing voter in the brand or political world…not demographically, but at a deeply behavioral level? What matters in their life that a marketer can rub up against and engage with that will drive deep emotional attachment for their brand or candidate? And what is that core, authentic offer—some combination of the emotional and the rational—that “flips the vote switch” and moves a citizen or consumer into the marketers’ camp?
Putting The Voter At The Head Of The Table
Enlightened marketers embrace one core principal before laying out their plans: They put the voter at the head of the table and empower them to drive the entire go-to-market or go-to-voter strategy.
Here’s a private quiz you can give yourself. How often have you said you fully empower your consumer or voter to drive your strategy, and how often have you actually done it?
The marketers that live by this code begin the planning journey with a deep understanding of the people who really count: their “base.” The buyers or voters who they can depend on to turn out for them; even more importantly, they identify and dig deep into the “swing,” the high-value persuadables who are the key to driving increased brand market share or to winning elections.
When marketers listen to their “base” and the “swing”—truly, deeply listen, then shape core business and go-to-market strategy (not just “ad strategy”) around them, they win a higher share of that high-stakes vote and gain market share or public office.
The Shrinking Swing Voter Pool
Whatever that learning surfaces, today’s smartest marketers also realize that moving the “swing” is getting harder, whether in a voting booth or in a car dealership, particularly when that “vote” only comes around every few years.
Analysts peg swing populations in national elections at an all-time low: only 4%-5% of likely presidential voters. And the same dynamic is playing out for mainstream marketers of considered purchases thanks to advanced loyalty marketing practices that serve to shrink brand AND political swing voter pools and raise barriers to switching.
Sophisticated database and relationship marketing, including frequent buyer/flyer programs and year-round outreach, regardless of the purchase or voting cycles, are firming up the base in key brand and political races. Digital and social promotion are also helping to deepen loyalties, while the proliferation of tiered, preferential pricing and service levels can also create ever-higher barriers to brand switching.
Yes, don’t believe everything you read about the Internet’s power to loosen brand and political loyalties. Indeed, more information is out there, more deals can be had, and the power of negative word of mouth is inarguable.
But marketers who believe that the latest digital tactics can change core human behavior overnight ignore the core human motivations that drive the vote for higher-stakes, considered purchases or political leaders. Motivations that have driven tribal affinities, social behavior and loyalty dynamics and, yes, even wars, for millennia.