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