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Marketing Viewpoint by Ruth Winett

The Business of Politics:

Six Lessons Learned from Politicians


In "The Roosevelts An Intimate History," a recent PBS TV series, you see Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt campaigning by train, stopping and meeting and touching/reaching thousands of people. Each Roosevelt created a distinctive personal brand. Politicians--and business professionals--are the brand. Both must be likable, and both must build trust in their characters, their values, and their expertise. Business people can learn from politicians and political campaigns.


You can't be all things to all people: You must segment voters or potential customers and target the most promising segment(s). A Republican candidate is unlikely to win over both Tea Party supporters and progressive Republicans. A technology company will have a hard time selling to both defense companies and healthcare companies.


Branding matters: It is very difficult for candidates to change parties or positions. Hawks have difficulty later presenting themselves as doves. IBM successfully changed its focus from hardware to software and ultimately to services. However, IBM has more resources than most companies or candidates.


Packaging matters: People dwell on outward appearance. "Hillary haircut/hairstyle" has 946,000 Google entries! "Coke can design changes" has 25.9 million Google entries. To look like a regular guy, Scott Brown, now a candidate for New Hampshire Senator, wore his barn coat and drove his truck to campaign. Apple wins awards--and customers--partly because of the elegant designs of its products.


Personal behavior is just as important as professional behavior: Candidates and business people have had to drop out of campaigns or resign from their positions because of sexual or financial impropriety.


Communications must be appropriate at all times: Offhand comments about voters or opponents made when a mic was supposedly off have sunk many a campaign. Similarly, corporate spokespeople who make unsubstantiated product claims or make other inappropriate remarks jeopardize their companies' reputations and profits.


Budgeting matters: Do you spend all your funds on primary elections (or product launch), or do you save some funds for later on? Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley had to spend much of her war chest on the primary and now has less money than rival Charles Baker. Product launches must succeed; yet, they, too, can drain the coffers.


Your competitors can become allies: After a primary, winning candidates must rally their competitors and the supporters of these candidates to win the final election. Companies often form partnerships with former competitors. A former competitor could purchase EMC, the storage company.


Businesses and politicians appeal to both the rational and emotional side of voters and customers. In both cases everything matters--the brand, the packaging, the communications, and the operations of the business and the campaign. Candidates and businesses are never "off camera."

Copyright © 10/14  Ruth Winett. All rights reserved.     

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