Tonight, we will all go home and finally watch polls close across the country for the 2012 Presidential election (note: I make no claim that we will actually see a winner tonight, but maybe). The last year and half, and more specifically for me, the past three months, have been truly fascinating. Yes, politically, but also in terms of observing the communications strategies of both campaigns in action.
Here are three lessons that I’ve learned after watching the last several months unfold:
1) The facts matter. And everything you said can and will be used against you. First, let me state the obvious: Spin doesn’t EVER work. Communications, in its truest form, is about the facts and the record. Thanks to both social and mainstream media, public fact checking is now a knee-jerk response to any brand’s message. Also, focus on what you’re saying without ever forgetting what you said. It doesn’t matter if it was a comment about the 47 percent or making a prediction that unemployment would come down to 5.5 percent within four years – a candidate, and any brand’s record, will always be remembered.
2) Every move made by both candidates was grounded in a deep knowledge of their audiences. Every decision about how to raise funds, about message priority, about where their next speech was going to take place, about who was going to speak on their behalf, about advertising placement – all of these decisions, they weren’t made based on how registered voters as a whole would respond…they were based on igniting action among an incredibly small sample of registered voters. It’s important to remember that you have a target, but then you also have a target within that target that has the GREATEST propensity to act. It’s this portion of your audience that defines market share, your bottom line or, in this case, the electoral college. It’s what we at Emanate call Relevance Marketing.
3) No brand (or candidate) is ever entitled to loyalty – you have to earn it, and then keep earning it. This is not a political statement, it’s simply an observation about challenger brands vs champion brands. Coming out of the DNC, Obama was, by pretty much all accounts, ahead in the polls. So then what happened at that first debate? I guess none of us really know what was in Obama’s head, but it seems to me he made the mistake that a lot of “champion brands” make when they have a majority stake in market share and there’s a challenger brand at their heels. They make an assumption that customer loyalty will always remain with them. This assumption can have devastating effects on a business’s bottom line. It reminds me of BestBuy and Wal-Mart’s response to Apple on April 28, 2003 – the day iTunes launched. BestBuy and Wal-Mart were the two largest music vendors in the U.S. iTunes sold 1 million songs in its first five days. The two champion brands watched and took notes. And on February 26, 2008, iTunes surpassed Best Buy to become the second-largest music vendor in the USA behind Wal-Mart…and then took the number one spot less than two months later on April 3, 2008.
After the unbelievable amount of money spent on the two campaigns this year, some polls suggest that voter turnout will actually be down compared to both 2008 and 2004. Why? I don’t know…respond to this blog and tell me what you think. Maybe it’s because it’s easy to forget how much of a gift it is to live in a county that lets us elect our leaders, and for that matter, choose the brands we want to buy.
And a final reminder – go vote!