Saturday, October 25, 2008

More lessons from the campaign trail

It's time to take another look at the presidential campaign from a marketing strategy perspective. I've said before that election campaigns are the ultimate marketing challenge. You're not trying to influence decisions over a period of time. You're trying to influence a single decision at a single moment in time. The only thing that counts is the state of mind of the voter at the moment they cast their vote.

That's what makes political campaigns great case studies. I think one of the biggest mistakes John McCain and company have made over the course of this campaign is in trying to "out-Obama Obama".

McCain has been playing the "me too" card in running against George Bush and even his own party. Dedicated Republicans had a hard time warming up to McCain in the first place and were bouyed a bit when Palin, a fellow true believer, was added to the ticket. Now they've been subjected to criticism from their own candidate, who seems to be constantly telling the country what a bunch of scoundrels they are.

The problem is, if someone is basing their vote largely on an anti-Republican sentiment, why would they not vote for the Democrat? Why would you pick the second most anti-Republican candidate?

Just as in marketing, you don't go head to head with your opponent in areas where you know they are stronger. You look for where you are strong and they are weak. McCain's strength had been his reputation as a fiscal conservative. He had a golden opportunity, when he suspended his campaign and went back to Washington DC to deal with the "rescue package". Had he worked to his strength and stood up and said "hell no!" to the bail out, even if he had been over-ruled, he would have been a hero. He likely would have run away with this election. Instead he went to meetings and put his stamp of approval on a modified version of the original plan, which contained such crucial additions as aid for toy wooden arrow importers and money for wool research.

In stark contrast, when Obama is confronted by the right, he shrugs it off. He has not made a big deal of his association with Bill Ayers or his choice of words in saying we should "spread the wealth around" because he knows his base doesn't have a problem with those things. He's not trying to pander to free market capitalists because he doesn't see a need to. He's simply ignoring them.

The lessons? Discover your strengths. Know your customers. Reinforce your strengths. Take care of your customers. If you are a broccoli salesman, don't pour a lot of resources into sponsoring the "We hate broccoli" convention. Tell those who like broccoli why more is better and how you're going to enhance the quality, value and distribution. Don't tell those who are on the fence "Don't worry, I wont try to sell you that much."

I'm not buying what Obama is selling, but at least I'm pretty clear on what he's selling. But, the fact that I'm not buying Obama doesn't mean I must buy McCain. It's not enough to dissuade people from patronizing your competition. You must give them a reason to patronize you.