When election campaigning is like marketing for votes

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Politicians around the country are working their socks off to win our hearts and our votes. But can electioneering give us tips on how to win customers for our businesses?

You’ll have noticed there’s an election in a few weeks’ time. Like the ever-smiling lady who promotes eternal sales on kitchenware, or the bright yellow ads for one of our favourite supermarkets, campaigning is hard to miss.

I’m not as interested in politics as I probably should be, but I am interested in helping businesses define and tell their story. Election time seems to give us more stumbles to learn from than great examples to follow, probably because that’s what our media decides will appeal to us most. But there’s certainly lots of comparisons to be drawn.

The need to present an image which connects as strongly as we can with our audience is always a given, not dissimilar to the smiling candidates on hundreds of billboards lining our streets. We know from both local and general elections that, rightly or wrongly, a lot of voters are pretty disinterested and vote for the candidate they recognise or they simply like the look of.

So, in our marketing efforts, our first impression has to really hit home, both in terms of being true to our business or product’s brand story, but also in terms of relevance to our audience.

Election spending is capped, of course, but as marketers, we have to impose our own budget limits. We also have the luxury of being able to spread our messages over a longer schedule than the pollies do, and we don’t generally have a timeframe of enforced intensity. Thank goodness. But what recent elections have proven is that visibility wins votes, in the same way getting a good spread of reach and frequency in our advertising gets us noticed.

As an aside, I predict there’s one thing we’ll not see in the next election – two faces on billboards. Corflute’s cheap to replace but not that cheap!

Language is key too. And it’s not only what we say, but how we say it. Integrity and authenticity are as important in how we market as they are in winning votes. If we look like we’re stretching the truth, there’ll be plenty of potential customers who will see through us.

This election, more than any previous campaign, is very much about digital footprint. So much of what we say or do publically now has the potential to be captured for posterity.

Lucky for most of us, we don’t have journalists actively digging for dirt, but this does highlight the need for businesses to keep a real finger on the pulse of what can be found online about our business or products, or even about our people.

Its more than a bad review or a grumpy Facebook post, it’s anything a keyboard warrior can find about us or our business. Any error of judgement, dodgy deal, sub-standard service can lose customers, just as it can votes.

As much as it might be a bit of fun and make us laugh, the meme culture and those witty wizards with Photoshop can derail a message with a few clicks of a mouse. National’s billboards doctored to switch ‘delivering’ to be about pizzas stands out, but much of it is a little more cutting.

Marketing and PR people have always asked the question “what might the negative headline be?” when considering a campaign message, marketing approach or promotional offer. Now perhaps we should also be thinking about how our graphics could be doctored or what mocking hashtag might hit the Twittersphere.

I talk a lot about how important it is to focus on getting your brand story clear before you start thinking about how to tell your story. At election time, few of us go to the parties’ websites and read up on their policies and, at time of writing this, clarity about policies is what’s missing from all sides of the 2017 campaigns. I know it’s my responsibility to find out before I place my tick but… I’m not alone, am I?

In marketing our products and services, we can’t bury customers in detail but we have to tell them enough to want to buy and to make an informed decision. Depending on the product and the audience, the level of detail we share through the various tiers of our marketing activity will naturally vary. But leaving our customers to take too many guesses about what we’re really all about can send them straight to the opposition.

One important final message: Don’t forget to vote!

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About Author

Vicki Jones

Vicki Jones is director of Dugmore Jones, Hamilton-based marketing management consultancy. Email vicki@dugmorejones.co.nz

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