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Election time – are you buying it?

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It’s election time again, with candidates across the region trying to stand out from the crowd and win our vote. How are they doing at persuading us to buy what they’re selling? 

The chirpy orange balloon-man will be popping up on screens large and small to remind us to vote, as the nation’s local government deckchairs look for their next cohorts of councillors. 

Local councils are, independently, ramping up advertising campaigns to encourage you to vote. Some more emphatically than others and with different approaches, but each boosting the ‘be sure to vote’ message.  Their focus is clear – have your say on who makes council decisions.

With many of the candidates themselves, however, the focus is less clear. Political campaigning is essentially marketing yourself as a caretaker of a council seat and the responsibilities that go with it. Their challenge is getting enough information across so we understand who we’re voting for and what kind of councillor they’d be. 

The gaudy rectangles cluttering fences are, in many cases, all some people base their decision on. Oh, I recognise that name. I’ve heard of her. He’s got a nice smile. That’s the woman with the nice green background. Sadly, not unlikely responses.

Yes, each candidate has a cap on campaign spending. But, let’s face it, for most brands a hefty marketing budget would be a luxury, so it can be those that stand out by doing something different that make a better connection with us. 

As marketers selling our products or services, we must get our heads around the different ways to use the media toolkit available to us and understand how customers consume each media.

The residents that read the local community papers are the ones that bother to vote, but social media and digital marketing mean the candidate’s budget doesn’t need to be thrown into print nearly as much as it used to be. 

In the online world, our attention spans get full quickly, and we need snackability. The candidates who make the effort to do this well will get traction online, although maintaining responses to interactions is undoubtedly a huge task.

Every three years, more community groups host ‘meet the candidate’ evenings, giving us the opportunity to ask the hopefuls our questions face-to-face.  As much as the trend is to hide behind keyboards, these events are where we can see how they might actually perform in the debating chamber or committee rooms of council HQ. A politician’s product demo.

Just like when we make our decisions about choosing one brand of a product over another, there are regular criteria that influence whose box we chose. 

We want to know what capabilities these people will bring to the role, with a snapshot of their skills and experience.  We compare features across the products we’re selecting from, so we want to know what candidate fits our hopes and needs best. Or at least we should.

We shouldn’t only care about the practical aspects, the functional checklist of a few generic promises. Yeah, yeah – we know you’re committed to our community, will work hard, will listen to the voices of the people, make sensible decisions with our rating dollar…we get it. Frankly, we’d expect nothing less. 

But candidates should be offering us more than that just the usual banalities and Optic-white smiles.

When buying an item off the shelf (real or virtual), we increasingly make purpose-led decisions, gravitating towards brands who embrace the issues important to us. And that should, of course, be a major factor in choosing a person to represent our voice around the corridors of power. 

So why, I ask myself every election, are some candidates weak at ‘selling’ their values and purpose to us? Some talk with gusto about their career achievements or about how much they love their family, but fluff around the edges with mere generalisations about which issues they will champion or oppose. 

Don’t get me wrong – there are candidates doing a great job in being clear about what they stand for and giving us what we need to add them to our electoral shopping cart.

It is our responsibility to avoid the risk of ‘buyer remorse’ and make sure we do at least the basic research, to make sure we don’t look at what we bought with disappointment for the next three years. The candidates that fail to do enough to help us with that decision shouldn’t be surprised to stay left on the shelf.

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About Author

Vicki Jones

Vicki is the marketing manager at Waikato software specialist Company-X.