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Get the Vote: Use Political Marketing Techniques to Power Your Campaigns

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As I write this, I am monitoring the election feed. It's like unadulterated crack goodness for a political junkie like myself, instantly addictive, a moment-by-moment zeitgeist loop. 

In 140 characters or less, people from all across America are posting their thoughts and sharing links. While I read, I also have my marketer's hat on, and see some fascinating opportunities—and shifting paradigms—for B2B marketers.

Love 'em or hate 'em, politicians are some of the most effective marketers out there. Let's break down how they achieve their ends, and how we marketers can cop their best moves to win the vote—for our products and services.

Create a narrative—and let it go

This year we've heard repeatedly that people need to "get to know" the candidates. Apparently, this no longer simply means understanding where they stand on issues or what their policy proposals are. Rather, it's come to mean creating a narrative.

In this election, we have an experienced war hero "maverick" squaring off against an only-in-America, raised-by-a-single-mother character worthy of Horatio Alger. These narratives provide the emotional hook that candidates need to connect with voters in an age of sound bites and quick hits.

Dropping the narrative is equally important. It's a phase that ends. In this campaign, the financial crisis put the kibosh on the storytelling and refocused attention on the issues at hand. In the marketing realm, emotion and intrigue will get you noticed, but if there isn't steak with that sizzle... customers move on.

Cultivate, cultivate, cultivate

The lifeblood of any campaign isn't red, white or blue. It's green, as in financial contributions. And smart campaigns know that what triggers a donation from one person will be totally different for another. So they reach out. Constantly.

Every news release emailed out to the base is accompanied by a strong call to action. Donate now. Make a difference. While some politicians are more successful at this than others, what we can take away from this is that frequent communication coupled with a clear action path results in conversion.

Mix your media

It's a switched-on, 24x7, YouTube world. Embrace it. That's what the savviest campaigns are doing, and it's yielding benefits galore. Blogs are just a starting point. The most successful campaigns are also incorporating the following:

  • Mobile updates
  • Twitter tweets
  • Cell phone ring tones (check out these from Senator Obama's campaign) 
  • Videos of speeches and behind-the-scenes meetings
  • Mashups of all kinds (video, audio, technological)

The barriers to entry are low and the tools for creating compelling content are robust, giving you the freedom to experiment. See what resonates with your audiences. Test, tweak, and repeat.

Transcend the filter

The smartest politicians this year have figured out that these new technologies, coupled with the boisterous arena of idea sharing that is the blogosphere, represent an alternate media universe. In this world, they can speak directly to their audience, unfiltered by editors and producers who traditionally serve as gatekeepers and partners in disseminating their messages.

You have this same opportunity, as this recent article from AdWeek asserts. Go to where your customers gather—in online forums, at tradeshows and "tweetups" and other events. Direct and relationship marketing are meant to be just that, a direct conversation between you and your audience. You have more channels than ever now, but there is one caveat. Your audience expects the conversation to be two-way. Which leads us to our next point...

Unleash your customers

Let your customers create content. Let them tell your story. "But what if they say something negative?" you ask. Be like Barack or John. Grow a tough hide.

Politicians are notorious for their thick skins and for turning missteps into advantages—qualities that companies need to embrace in the new realm of user-generated content (UGC).

As these videos show, when people create content around your product, service, or message, you stand to gain increased awareness, brand engagement and evangelism—or at least a reputation for having a sense of humor.

Barack Obama: This ad was created in response to a contest to present the candidate in 30 seconds.

John McCain: Comedian Stephen Colbert created a "green screen challenge" in response to the speech McCain gave against an unfortunate green background. This is one of the entries.

Market to your audience, but surprise them too

The Web sites for the two presumed nominees shed light on how they each perceive and reach out to their constituencies. Barack Obama's site has the Web 2.0 user in mind. It features YouTube-like videos, an interactive map, and lots of quick ways to enter into the information. 

He has recently added an Apple iPhone application as well, maintaining the technological lead. The web designers at Babcock & Jenkins, where I serve as content director, are particularly charmed by the "Powered by Hope" box at the lower right side of the homepage. This knowing nod to a Web trend spoke to them on their terms and made them laugh—not what you expect from a political site. 

John McCain's site plays on his military experience with its star and flag theme. Senator McCain has a banner ad that links to videos rather than the familiar video player, and while McCain links to his presence on Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube (several clicks into the site), his primary way of engaging is through constituency groups, such as veterans, women, sportsmen, available through the navigation.

* * *

In the end, good political marketing, like good B2B marketing, is a game of strong fundamentals. Know your audience. Have a rock-solid list and refine it as you go. Have a clear message that can morph and remain relevant in different situations. Tell the story as you want it told. And communicate often. Of course, as B2B marketers, we don't have the luxury of planning for four years between campaigns.

I'm Jean Fleming, and I approve this message.

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Jean Fleming is content director at Babcock & Jenkins (, a relationship marketing agency in Portland, Oregon. Reach her at

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  • by Kevin Horne Tue Oct 7, 2008 via web

    Nice commentary. I esp. liked the "call to action" advice. So many (bad) reasons marketers hesitate to ask for something at more, earlier touch points:
    - it's inappropriate, too pushy
    - we can't track it
    - we don't know what to ask for other than the sale
    - etc.
    All these objections can be overcome.

    Again, nicely done.

  • by Brandon Sutton Tue Oct 7, 2008 via web

    Great article Jean! We've been talking about this for a while - the politicians definitely provide excellent examples of marketing tactics and engagement opportunities. I was shocked when I saw the Obama app for the iPhone - talk about really being on the ball! Marketers far and wide can take a page out of this book and apply these principles with their own marketing. I think we are going to see a major shift in how campaigns are handled after this election, because there is no precedent for this kind of engagement in any other historical election. The game has changed, and once again it's time to lead, follow, or get out of the way!

  • by Jean Mon Oct 13, 2008 via web

    Thanks, Kevin, for the comments. Agree that we are sometimes too shy to cultivate--I think the key is having many different messages that line up with a key theme, something the pols are really good at.

    Brand, totally agree that this election will be a watershed in terms of how technology affects the outcome.

  • by aftab Sun Jun 14, 2009 via web

    Scope of Political Marketing Offer political Marketing Services

    Political Marketing is being used and implemented with different names and different shapes since centuries. In 1950 Political Marketing was defined as a separate subject please sees history of Political Marketing for reference and details.

    Still this subject is in developing phase and need to do a lot to formally recognize Political Marketing as separate subject. In my point of view Political Marketing is highly significant in all countries especially in democrat governments and more especially to developed countries. Political Marketing is essential for political parties, leaders, government and as well as for general public. Political Marketing brings stability in political culture of a country that in return brings prosperity in national economy at root and gross level. Without Political Marketing or misuse of Political Marketing it is really intricate to better understand public needs and it is so intricate to create and develop good governance in a society.

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    To better understand the scope of Political Marketing I would like to quote two examples. 1st for the country where Political Marketing is being implement since many years and in contrast to this the another country where Political culture is not developed yet in parties as well as political leaders are not aware about Political Marketing.

    On 1st hand I will like to quote USA. Where we can see very clear that Americans are implementing Political Marketing since many years in America, before elections the candidates create and develop a philosophy for their election campaign. So they are clear about what they are communicating in their dialogue. At all level their philosophy remains same, their goals, mission and objective does not change, audience to audience and place to place.

    What ever they communicate for coalition parties or public, in New York or in any other state, the theme of their communication at all level remains same because they are well prepared, we can’t find any contradiction in their speeches, it builds harmony and trust in public. As a result we can see that in America normally election forecasting is done before elections by survey and pools and election result proofs those predictions.

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    On other hand I would like to quote an example of a developing country where political culture is not as developed yet. We can see that in Pakistan there is political instability, political leaders in Pakistan are not well aware about the importance of Political Marketing due to lack of knowledge. There is no research, no philosophy and no proper developed campaign. One leader is talking and communicating other things compare to other leader of same party, even we can notice very clearly that same leader is communicating in different way with different theme and objective on different occasions and at different territories. Its due to lack of research, lack of proper philosophy and agenda and without preparation of any centralized campaign. As a result public don’t believe their promises and other parties get advantage of their contradictions, however we can see instability, lack of trust inside party and no clear vision.

    If we summarize all discussion and keep in mind both examples its clear that without research, developed philosophy and centralized political marketing and election campaign and theme it is impossible to build public trust and harmony at national level. we must give a direction to political activities to get good results for a better future.

    For the reason our organization, political marketing services slogan is “VOTE FOR TOMORROW” that describes well all functions of political marketing at all levels, government, political parties, leaders and for public.

    Article written by Mr. Aftab Hussain

  • by Brian Mon May 16, 2011 via web

    A great article!

    We put together a comprehensive list of political campaign marketing techniques that have been used over the years - please vote for the ones you think are the most effective and see what others think -

  • by Phil Weltman Mon Jan 18, 2016 via web

    Great article! Like Kevin said, I liked the "call to action" advice. I find this especially helpful when emailing past contributors, providing a call to action with a a donating ask for 1.2-2 times higher than their previous contribution. Rather than bombarding your supporters with email, personalize the email with relevant information at the right time. Well done!

  • by Jordin Faris Thu Mar 17, 2016 via web

    Social media has become critical when connecting with potential voters - but it has to be done right! Take a look at how one of the presidential candidates is using social media to his advantage.

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