Marketing Musings from the Presidential Campaign Blue Edition

Fascinating! It’s really the only word you can use to describe what is happening right now in the 2016 presidential campaign cycle and in particular, how we can learn marketing tricks to help us in our own work. This will be the first of what I hope to be a few dalliances with this topic over the next eight months in the run-up to the election.

Hopefully, what we’ll be able to do is pose a few questions that might shift the perspective on your work and have you think about your own challenges through the prism of how these candidate campaigns have formulated and executed their plans. What you will not get here is any political ranting in favor or against any candidate, unless of course it offends or excites me as a marketer.

I do not position myself to be a political consultant. Actually, I’m far from it. But what I am is an enthusiastic observer and hopefully an acute learner from the lessons being taught when hundreds of millions dollars are being spent on advertising and marketing campaigns. Sometimes the money is spent on ideology, but the majority of it is spent on brands – those of candidates and political parties.

As of this writing, immediately the Nevada Democratic Caucus and South Carolina Republican primary, the races have been winnowed to two candidates on the Democratic side and four on the Republican.

Let’s look at some of the interesting items on the Democratic side first.

Hillary Clinton’s candidacy was a foregone conclusion eight years ago. For the better part of the last decade she and her team have built the campaign that is now being executed. Yet an upstart self-proclaimed socialist in his 70’s is giving them a real run for her money – especially among the youngest voting constituency – those in their 20’s and 30’s.

One may ask, is this exactly what Team Hillary wanted? After Joe Biden took himself from the race, it appeared as if her nomination was a slam dunk. However, having someone in the role of antagonist, allows the team to stay sharp and on top of their game. Sure there must be some sleepless nights, but it’s forcing the entire team to do their best work and not rest on their laurels.

Meanwhile. Sen. Sanders has tapped into the same grass roots that propelled the current President to office. The small $25, $100, $500 donors are the ones who have created a war chest that has exceeded Clinton’s fundraising for the past month or two. Of course, one might argue some of Hillary’s supporters are staying on the sidelines until the money is really needed in the fall. But if one doesn’t secure the nomination, there truly is no tomorrow.

On the other hand, as we know from our work, simply flipping a switch to turn supporters into donors is not an easy task. It takes time to cultivate and if small, grass roots donations have not been part of the Clinton strategy from the beginning, it may be difficult to ramp up in a short period of time.

Now, let’s look at this from a marketing perspective.

On one hand you have an established name with almost immediate brand recognition. But it appears as if the brand has some of its own challenges. Rightfully or wrongfully, there’s distrust not only in Hillary’s history but also as an establishment candidate. This uneasiness in the electorate seems to be the pathway that the Sanders team has chosen to follow and amplify to great success.

One secret to great marketing is always is to take the perception and leverage it to your own advantage. Call it marketing jujitsu. If you’re promoting a product or event that already has carved out space in the public’s mind, it is imperative to use that for your own advantage. One of the reasons new events and new programming too often fail is because there’s no brand recognition with the public at-large.

In the case of Sanders, they understand Hillary’s weakness and have continued to push the progressive approach which has forced Clinton to move further left than she may want, at the same time as trying to ride the coattails of the current administration.

My own personal perspective is the Sanders team is doing a better job of creating a vision for folks to buy into. Clinton, on the other hand is being much more pragmatic. She has been on the inside and knows the challenges of politics as they exist today – and in her view – what they may look like at the point of the inauguration in 2017.

Sanders on the other hand is building upon the enthusiasm, especially from the young millennial generation, that anything is possible and a revolution can break the stalemate that has frozen Washington for so long.

Here’s another point to make in the world of marketing. Having the opportunity to create a vision for your customers or donors is sometimes more important than all of the pragmatic approaches you can list. This is not an easy strategy; similar to one saying “you need to tell your story.” Most marketing professionals are competent on one side of the ledger or the other but not both.

Pragmatic vs. Visionary. How do you approach your marketing and fundraising? Can you tap into both sides and have folks see the future as you and your organization wish it to be and then contribute or attend or engage? The difference between mediocre success and wild accolades may be the difference in you being able to connect both sides.

Lastly, one of the most interesting statistics I’ve viewed thanks to the geniuses at Nate Silvers’ fivethirtyeight.com website is the impact of Facebook on this particular campaign. Check out this link: http://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/facebook-primary/

Bernie Sanders is substantially ahead on the number of likes across the country, well in excess of Hillary.

One might think given the importance of social media in the last campaigns – particularly in 2008, that the Clinton team would’ve embraced a strategy to build legions of followers and “likes.” However, they have seceded that territory to the Sanders campaign, and one might argue it has worked extremely well for the challenger.

Of course, ‘likes’ are not votes, but you would have to admit it would be an indicator of trends across the country.

Now for a little inside baseball. As we’ve all learned, the youngest are no longer avid Facebook users. Rather, Instagram and Snapchat are what are particularly hot on college campuses these days and Facebook has taken on the platform of choice of those in their 30’s+. So I’m not sure what we can learn from all of these analytics, but it certainly has me contemplating the disconnect between Sanders popularity on Facebook and the strength of his support offline with the millennials.

What is to be learned of all of this? Of course, we don’t have access to the inside data the campaigns have, but from what we can extrapolate, the ability for the Sanders campaign to engage through social media is one reason for his success.

Is this because of the message of “revolution”?

Is this because social media is equated only with big, major changes?

Or is it because those on Facebook want to check in on the gruff musings of a New England politician?

Whatever the case, there’s much more to come in the next few months.

Next time we’ll look at the Republicans and the fascinating way that social media has trumped a $100 million candidate.

About

Sean King has been consulting with small businesses and non-profit organizations for 25 years. Currently, Sean is a principal in the Aspire Consulting Group providing solutions and training for arts, events and non-profit marketing professionals and their organizations. Clients include Youth Education in the Arts (YEA!) and a growing list of satisfied organizations. Sean speaks regularly throughout the U.S. including at the IFEA Annual Conference, Arts Reach Conference, AFP, 92Y, CiviCRM User Summit, PA Council on the Arts, Michigan Festivals & Event Annual Conference. Sean serves as the Marketing Chairperson for the Hamilton District Main Street, a program of the Allentown Chamber of Commerce in Allentown and is a Co-Chair of the Arts & Culture Committee for the Upside Allentown initiative. You can follow Sean on Twitter @skingaspire or email him anytime at sking.aspire@gmail.com

Posted in Brand, Marketing, Politics, Social Media

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About Sean King
Sean King has been consulting with small businesses and non-profit organizations for 25 years.  Currently, Sean is a principle in the Aspire Consulting Group providing solutions and training for arts, events and non-profit marketing professionals and their organizations. Clients include Youth Education in the Arts (YEA!) and a growing list of satisfied organizations. Sean speaks regularly throughout the United States including at the IFEA Annual Conference, Arts Reach Conference, AFP, 92Y, CiviCRM User Summit, PA Council on the Arts, Michigan Festivals & Event Annual Conference.  Sean serves as the Marketing Chairperson for the Hamilton District Main Street program in Allentown and is a Co-Chair of the Arts & Culture Committee for the Upside Allentown initiative. He also blogs a artsmarketingblog.org.  You can follow Sean on Twitter @skingaspire. Sean resides with his wife Natalie and son Haydn in the global crossroads of Fogelsville, Pa.