Marketing Lessons From The US Election

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My apologies to Seth Godin for stealing the title of one of his recent blog posts. I hope he doesn’t mind. But, hey, I wanted to write about the same thing as he did, and there’s only so many different ways to title it.

There are three lessons marketers should come away with from this election season:

1) Stories matter. Again, apologies to Mr. Godin for stealing from his blog — his first takeaway was “stories really matter.” But my take is slightly different than Seth’s. For me, the stories that matter are the stories that voters told themselves — not the stories told by the candidates.

After all, the story that McCain told — that Obama wasn’t qualified or ready to lead — clearly didn’t connect with a majority of voters. And the story that Obama told — that voting for McCain was like voting for four more years of Bush — clearly didn’t resonate, since more people voted for McCain than voted for Bush in 2004.

Instead, what mattered were the stories that the voters told themselves. Stories about the state of the economy, the direction the country is on and needs to be, and who would be able to fix the economy and put the country back on the right track.

Where did these stories come from? From their research, their discussions, their experiences, their beliefs….from a million different sources and inputs. From a million different things that the candidates had absolutely no control over.

And that’s the lesson: The candidates couldn’t control the stories that voters told themselves, and neither can marketers. Marketers can only create “environments” (online, offline, service channels, etc.) in which customers and prospects can experience the company or product and form their own stories.

2) Engagement matters.
If the stories that customers tell themselves are the most important stories, and if those stories come from their experiences, then engaging customers (customer engagement) is the most important thing a marketer can do.

And that was clearly the key to Obama’s victory: His ability to engage — at both a behavioral and emotional level — a large number of voters. Did McCain get the same level of engagement? I doubt it.

But let’s not forget that McCain did (as I mentioned before) get more people to vote for him than voted for Bush four years ago. Which is important because of the third lesson….

3) What you measure matters. A local Boston paper ran a headline today claiming an Obama “landslide.” Bullsh*t. With 52% of the popular vote, Obama’s victory hardly qualifies as an landslide. And McCain did win (at least) 20 states.

On one hand, Republican “marketers” should be proud that they garnered more votes for their candidate than they did in the previous campaign. That’s a measure of success.

On the other hand, however, they should count it as a failure that there were states they carried in 2004 that they lost in 2008.

The lesson for marketers: What’s important to marketers here is the realization that, unlike a political campaign, with marketing campaigns, there is no winner or loser. There is only performance. Absolute campaign performance is one important measure of success. Generating a higher conversion rate in a campaign than a previous campaign is something to celebrate.

But which customers convert or respond is important, too. If marketers aren’t converting customers in their target market — i.e., the right customers — then it’s back to the campaign drawing board.

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