Commentary

Should Brands Emulate Political Marketing?

The 2020 election season demonstrated the hallmarks of a marketing campaign that could be titled "the good, the bad, and the ugly." Some stand-out tactics worked well for candidates and are worthy of emulation, while others have no place in business.

Learn to Adapt

The political brand-building playbook has traditionally depended on candidates personally connecting with voters. Considering the COVID-19 environment, the creativity used to connect, inform and engage with the public in the recent election has been admirable. While there were fewer in-person events and opportunities to “press the flesh” at fairs, festivals and rallies, candidates leveraged social media effectively, and communicated virtually, at drive-in rallies, and at physically distanced town halls and outdoor events.

What also worked well was zeroing in on the one or two issues that matter most to audiences. “You can't stand for everything, so pick the things that will resonate,” notes Wendy Zajack, faculty director and assistant professor at Georgetown School of Continuing Studies. “The more you can stay on-message and repeat your message, the more it sticks.”

Is Bad Behavior Always Bad?

Recent political campaigns have increased the public’s tolerance for questionable practices. Now we have come to expect press conferences where candidates dodge questions, deflect blame, or make baseless charges. 

Sometimes we were presented with false information, but despite reliable corrective facts from think tanks, pollsters and media analysts, voters disproportionately trusted non-credentialed influencers on social media or ideologically driven media outlets.

In the corporate arena, this won’t cut it. Brands that overhype or share misleading data have consequences to consider. Heavy fines, banishment from stock exchanges, expensive lawsuits, and challenges at board meetings can easily lead to the loss of customers and investors.

Negativity Has Its Limitations

During debates and on social media, we witnessed candidates and political action committees unleash sarcasm, bullying, and bait and scare tactics against rivals.

Brands often go head-to-head with competitors to establish themselves as challengers, affirm superiority of benefits and features, or dominate a conversation. However, “tearing down your opponent doesn't win in the end,” explains Zajack. “Stay focused on what your brand delivers rather than what your competitors are not delivering…to build the kind of long-term consumer fan base you are looking for.”

Elevate, Not Emulate

Political campaigns don’t play by the same rules as corporate brands, so brands would be foolish to imitate any approach that could undermine their organizations’ ultimate objectives. 

Brands must weigh their decisions against their values. If, in order to reach revenue goals or reward investors, a brand goes against its own values, it is gambling with the trust of its customer base, investor confidence, and share price. Similarly, brands backing a social cause without ensuring an ideological fit run the risk of losing credibility in the marketplace and with their audiences. 

While marketers shouldn’t emulate every tactic deployed in politics, they can learn from both the good and the poor choices made by candidates and campaigns. Today’s consumers align with brands that show heart and reach for a higher purpose, which should be encouraging to marketers who’ve set their sights on elevating their marketing game.

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