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Six Things Brands Can Learn from Election Campaigns

Politicians and political parties may not be the first thing that comes to mind when we think of the great marketeers and brands of our time, but I believe brands could learn a few things from political campaigns (at least when they get their act together). With the general election around the corner, here’s my take on what those learnings are:

1. Audience Segmentation and Targeting

Political parties are very aware of the target audience they are trying to reach. Using traditional polling and advanced data analytics, they identify the audience segments they most need to influence, develop policies aimed specifically at them and then relentlessly target them. Crucially, they also tend not to waste any time or resources on groups that are never going to buy what they are selling.

2017 has seen psychographic targeting emerge into the public consciousness. Social media has given birth to vast amounts of data that reflects the personality, values, opinions and interests of its users. Political parties are using this data to isolate target audiences with even greater specificity. Case in point, data firm Cambridge Analytica played a critical role in the Brexit vote, identifying 6,000 touchpoints per person that could be exploited.

How many brands truly have this level of insight into their audience, and the bravery to focus on their target segments, rather than trying to appeal to everyone?

2. Clarity of Message

While actually running a country is endlessly complicated, many iconic political campaigns are run on an extremely clear positioning, distilled down into a simple message: “Take Back Control”, “Make America Great Again”, “Strong and Stable Leadership”.

This clarity has two advantages. First, it gives the voter a simple, memorable device for understanding the core positioning of the party or candidate. Second, it automatically implies that their opponents must be the opposite of that statement. Every time Theresa May repeats “strong and stable leadership” she’s hoping that her target audience will associate Jeremy Corbyn and Labour in general with “weak and chaotic mess”.

This is classic brand positioning and the use of slogans and straplines is very common in the commercial world, but I’d argue that not many brands achieve this level of clarity in their messaging, especially when it comes to positioning themselves against their main competitors.

3. Repetition

Between 1976 – 1980, Ronald Reagan ran for president and infamously gave the same speech over and over again. His Deputy Chief of Staff questioned the repetition, to which Reagan replied, “I like the speech, you should get me a new audience.” Reagan became President in 1981. Theresa May adopted much the same strategy in 2017, relentlessly repeating her “strong and stable” mantra until the failure to effectively communicate new policies in her manifesto enforced a change in direction.

Repetition is a major rhetorical strategy for producing emphasis, clarity, amplification, or emotional effect. It doesn’t always feel glamorous, but it works. Whether it’s the polling booth or the point of purchase, people usually make decisions based on what they can recall most easily.

Too often, brands abandon their positioning and message too quickly. A combination of short-termism and marketing directors feeling the need to shake things up results in brand positioning and messaging being changed far too often, with the result being confusion in the minds of the audience. The best brands stick with the same core message for years, even decades.  Just Do It.

May_Strongstable

4. Integrated Communication

Election campaigns make use of the full marketing mix, and the best ones are fully integrated: TV ads (party political broadcasts), PR stunts (poster unveilings, battle buses, tablets of stone…OK maybe not that one), influencer engagement (co-opting celebrities to support the cause), media relations (endless press conferences and TV appearances), direct mail and highly targeted digital communications. A winning election campaign brings together all parts of the marketing mix, again with that relentless core message focus.

Not every brand has the budget to use every available medium, but too many still appear to struggle with integrating their campaigns and miss out on the benefits of engaging with people consistently through multiple channels.

5. Substance & Preparation

Politicians know that every claim or promise they make will be ruthlessly challenged and picked apart by their opponents and the media. This forces them to stress-test everything to a high level, ensuring that they can back everything up with facts and figures, and that everything aligns with their core values. They don’t always get it right (hence the occasional U-turn) but I can think of a few brands that would have benefited from some Paxman-style interrogation of their product claims or campaigns prior to putting them out into the world.

6. Influencers

In my opinion, it is here that politics can learn something from brand marketing. Political parties generally struggle to find the right way of working with influencers.

Jeremy Corbyn recently teamed up with grime artist JME to encourage more young people to vote. A valid aim and one that at least shows that Labour is plugged into youth culture, but it has been treated with some scepticism – the juxtaposition was too much and it came across as a slightly cynical tactic. Conversely, Rag’N’Bone Man’s recent vocal support for Corbyn came across as much more authentic (probably because it was).

Clearly it’s a lot easier to work with influencers in a credible way if you’re selling sneakers or headphones, but the brands that get this right work hard to identify the right people, over a long period, resulting in a more authentic and believable association. All too often, political parties seem to engage in a desperate election-time scramble to get someone, anyone, famous to give them an endorsement. Voters – especially the young people that are already cynical about all politicians – will see right through this.

Unlike politicians, brands face the decisions of the public on a daily basis. However, it rarely has the finality of an election campaign. Use that to your advantage. Ignore the short term noise and integrate the best of political campaigning into your brand marketing strategy.

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