By Ed Duffy
As I've said before, political campaigns, especially Presidential campaigns are a great case study in marketing. In most commercial marketing, companies try to influence decisions on an ongoing basis. You may not choose to buy X Brand chewing gum today, but maybe you'll buy it tomorrow, or the next day. In Presidential elections, your target makes one choice, one time, every four years. If your marketing effort fails just once, it's game over. You're out of business.
Republicans were feeling pretty good going into the election. It seemed like Romney was on a roll. The President's performance record was pretty bad and Mitt thought he had positioned himself as a viable alternative. What went wrong? What lessons can be learned?
Lesson one - Know your customers. The President caught a lot of heat in some circles for doing "fluff" interviews on shows like The View, David Letterman, Jay Leno, MTV and such. It was said he should be doing serious news shows and talking about "real issues". The American voter wanted substance, not fluff. This argument totally missed the mark.
Most American voters do not watch several hours of hard news every day. They watch The Voice, The Cardasians, Leno, The Daily Show, and other amusing entertainment shows. You have to go where your audience is, not where you want them to be. The biggest political TV event of the campaign drew 70 million viewers (the first Presidential debate). That includes children, foreigners and non-voters. There were about 120,000,000 votes cast in the election. I think it's safe to say that over half the voters didn't even watch the big event.
President Obama went to where the voters live. Mitt Romney did not. Voters were familiar with Obama. Romney was a guy they heard about, but didn't see much.
Lesson two - Engage your customers. President Obama won the overwhelming share of the minority vote. Is this because minority voters are genetically Democrat? Of course not. But Democrats aggressively recruit candidates and voters by putting boots on the ground in minority communities. If Republicans ever want to get a significant share of the minority vote, they'll have to go get it. It's not enough to sit in a studio 100 miles away from an ethnic neighborhood and say "Look, we have some black guys and Hispanics in our party." You have to show up. The crowds might be sparse and the returns small at first, but if you don't make the investment, you're just going to maintain a big piece of a shrinking pie.
Most American voters are not economics majors or experts on cultural issues. They're focused on work, family, hobbies, sports, playtime and generally going about their daily lives. If you want to reach them in a national political effort, you have to insert yourself into that routine. Otherwise, it's like having a website but not advertising it. Yes, technically everyone can access it, but what's going to bring them to it? You have to go where they live and tell them about it.