Monday, March 17, 2008

Obama's Pastor Problems - Marketing Analysis

I like to look at political campaigns from a marketing perspective. After all, it all leads up to influencing individual decisions on a specific date. A daunting challenge for any marketing professional. So what can we learn from Barak Obama's latest problems regarding the fiery, seemingly anti-American sermons delivered by his pastor of twenty years, Reverand Wright?

I think this is a case study in niche marketing vs mass marketing. The Reverand Wright has tapped into a segment of the market that is extremely suspicious of the US government to say the least. This is probably something like 10-15% of the general population. One can understand the appeal. After all, if you are aware of the complex and evil conspiracy being perpetrated by authorities and most of the rest of the people are not, doesn't that make you smarter and wiser than most people? This is an audience eager for validation. One can become very successful and very wealthy going after a share of that 15%.

However, Obama needs much more than a percentage of 15% to win the presidency. He needs to appeal to the mass market. In this case, the two don't mesh. We are a country at war and the majority of people are not likely to embrace a candidate who seems to think that Al Quaida may have a point. I don't think Barak Obama actually believes everything that the Reverand is selling (frankly I think the Reverand probably doesn't either). I think Obama saw in this high profile, energetic congregation a ready-made, grass roots support group. Had the views and proclaimations of the congregation's leader not come to light, this may have been a useful tool. Now it has become a liability instead.

The lesson here is to know what you're selling and to whom. If you can accomplish your goals with a small percentage of the total market, niche marketing may be a good way to go. You can make a good living selling the best sardine sandwich in the country. But if you're trying to support a nationwide network of thousands of fast food franchises, McSardines is probably not going to fly. The more you associate yourself, your product, your company or service with a narrowly defined segment of the population, the more you risk alienating the public in general.

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