Marketing Musings from the Presidential Campaign: Red Edition

In the last post I wrote about the Democratic side of the Presidential Campaigns, this time we’ll focus a little on the Republicans.

Per the usual disclaimer, I will not speak to ideology or of specific politics, but rather as an interested observer of all things marketing, the presidential campaigns fascinate me and I believe there are some lessons to be learned for all of us that don’t have hundred million dollar budgets to take away as marketing truisms.

Heading into Super Tuesday, the Republicans are being led by an upstart, political newcomer who has mastered the merging of social media and celebrity to engage an unsatisfied population. While, the old school establishment has not found the answer as to how to address this new challenger. A classic case of the old brand doesn’t know how to pivot to take on a new brand.

In a primary campaign that once had sixteen or seventeen candidates, now only five remain. Two are dwindling with single digit poll numbers, while the second and third place candidates represent what is left of the establishment.

Gone are candidates who represented different factions of the party, some which were on paper to be exceptionally capable candidates, but who failed to connect with the voting public.

The Jeb Bush campaign, with incredible name recognition and a war chest of $100 million plus, was unable to go toe-to-toe with the appetite for change within the country. Unfortunately, even with some progressive ideas, the Bush brand simply did not have the luster needed to propel the candidate into a meaningful position within the competition.

This is a lesson to be learned by brands and entities that think by simply doing the same old, same old, you’ll carve out your space. When in all reality, you’ll get a shrinking slice of the pie as newer, more agile competition takes your market share. Sound familiar to my colleagues in the arts world?

Back to Jeb… his stump speeches seemed lackluster and were not able to capture the excitement and enthusiasm necessary to engage the masses. Asking for applause is never a good sign.

The Bush campaign is a political version of a “New and Improved” product that really wasn’t and failed to resonate with the audience. No matter how much money you put into marketing, campaigns such as these are destined to fail by not connecting to the imagination and vision for the future. Of course, the political world skews this concept due to heaviness of the subject matter (economy, trade, healthcare, foreign policy), but one can project these same challenges to any event or fundraiser that simply lacks the energy to drive people to do something.

What do you want me to do? Give me a vision of what it’s going to be like when we get there!

In too many cases, good marketing folks wring our hands saying “we didn’t have enough resources (money, time, personnel)”, when in most cases it really is the concept of what we are selling that is not connecting with our audience.

On the other hand, Donald Trump is the ideal candidate in a world that the 21st Century has created. In this social media-driven, what’s trending, brash is best, speak it like it is, reality-tv world, Trump is the natural evolution.

Trump has proven many of the marketing truisms that are out there. Celebrity is best. Speaking in sound bytes is how people like to learn their news. Twitter is the perfect platform for personalities to share their worldviews.

What’s better than Twitter to share your thoughts if you are a star of the political, entertainment or sports world? But just because it works for them, doesn’t mean it works for every marketer.

Twitter has always been the perfect platform for celebrity, which is why it is having a tough time growing to the next level. Innately, there’s only a percentage of the population that wants to share what they are thinking or doing at a specific point in time.

Twitter is the platform for anyone that has a following. The entire platform is driven by celebrity – whether a movie star, sports icon or a high profile personality local to your community or activity. Most organizations fail on Twitter because there’s no there “there.”

But for a political candidate that doesn’t want to get too deep into detail, too deep into policy, there’s nothing better than 140 characters. And having the mainstream media report “(Candidate X) tweeted today…” Is making it easy for journalists to do their job “reporting” the news.

People want what Trump (or his staff) to give it to them straight. Unvarnished. Right from the horse’s mouth.

When organizations or events use Twitter in that same way, we fail because there’s not a building of a conversation and it’s simply a moment in time. We haven’t built the following necessary for people to hang on our every word. We can use Twitter to broadcast information, but to really tap into our follower’s imagination and make it mean something, more engagement is necessary.

That fact, combined with the small percentage of the population on Twitter, causes it to not be worth the time invested by our colleagues at non-profits or departments where time is the most precious resource.

One of the other marketing stapes that the Trump campaign has been able to master is to find the right tagline and stay on it. Trump has been speaking the words people want to hear. “Make America Great Again.” Pretty simple stuff and staying on message. Despite where the other candidates may take the conversation, he always wins because he’s claimed the space of what his targeted audience wants to hear.

What’s not been determined is whether or not that message is what everyone wants to hear. Is the divide so great between the Democrats and Republicans that most people will overlook the controversial because so much is wrong with the nation? Or will the counterpoint to this message be “America is great and always has been.” Both Republican John Kasich and Democrat Hillary Clinton have tested this messaging. Time will only tell if it catches on.

In the analysis, the results have been pretty remarkable. Through the first series of caucuses and primaries, the Republicans have come out in droves to vote at participation levels higher than the past few election cycles.

Trump has tapped into a common man ethos or the Republican mindset. What stands yet to be realized is whether the cult of personality will eventually win in the general election.

Will the popularity of Trump transcend both parties, even though there are clearly divisive planks in his platform?

From a marketing perspective what is interesting to watch is how Trump’s aggressive style and personality and “winning” messaging plays to so many different demographics. One of the pillars I believe of successful marketing is to “go big or go home.” And it is clear Trump is using this strategy in spades.

If one were writing this script, and who knows someone might be, what is the next, bigger, more controversial statement that can be made by candidate Trump that will simply feed the next news cycle.

The Trump team has been able to suck the air out of the room while the traditional campaigns struggle to gain any foothold, much less try to go on the offensive. It is definitely difficult to move forward when you are constantly on defense and defending your candidate versus making the other candidate protect their turf.

Momentum in advertising is a difficult thing to harness and the Trump campaign at this point is generating more and more each given day. Another lesson to be learned for marketers or fundraisers. Just as it appears his rivals make headway in the last debate before Super Tuesday, Trump regains the momentum unveiling his first major political endorsement thus far from former adversary Gov. Chris Christie. The announcement was perfectly timed in the mid-afternoon of a Friday when he essentially could grab the headlines and own the entire weekend with no chance for his closest competition to answer. Brilliant!

It is clear that politics has changed in this cycle and maybe forever. Establishment is gone. Dealing straight with the public on your terms is the norm. But what of the minorities who feel not included? Will it matter? What of the centuries of political decorum?

The next few weeks and months should be interesting.

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, Content Marketing, Marketing, Politics
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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.