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Lessons From the 2014 Political Campaigns That Can be Applied to Your Marketing

By: John Houle

As I write this the day of the 2014 general elections, I can’t help but pass on some perspectives I have learned during my past 17 years working on local and statewide political campaigns.  Just as with any campaign, the goal is to reach the right people with a targeted message all within the confines of a strict budget.

Although we have seen an unprecedented amount of money spent in this election cycle, the reality is that even the best funded candidates do not have unlimited budgets and have to pick and choose where they spend their time and money.

The one undisputed fact we can take away from the elections is that television advertising is still by far the dominant media to disseminate a message. Rhode Island saw one of the highest per capita advertising spends on TV for the 2014 primaries, and the New Hampshire Senate race has surpassed the spending of the 2012 general elections in New Hampshire.  When you look at all the advertising options available to you, you cannot dismiss TV as the primary vehicle if you want to play in the big leagues.

Of course, you cannot discuss political television advertising without acknowledging the ugly little truth about political campaigns – negative ads work. Not that I am ever suggesting that you should engage in an outright assault on your competitors or use half truths to portray your opponent in the most negative light, but you should understand that the reason you see so many negative political ads is that they have a successful track record in campaigns. The general rule of thumb is that you only go negative when you are running from behind or if your opponent is gaining traction while you’re ahead.  Again, I don’t think there is any room in local business advertising for negative TV ads, and I believe they would only sour an already wary public.

One of the spillovers from TV though is the use of web videos to further deliver a message. No longer confined to the 30-second or 60-second television framework, today’s candidates all opt to place videos on their website and through social media. In fact, the big campaign announcements of yesterday have been replaced with carefully orchestrated biographical videos placed on YouTube and promoted on Facebook and Twitter.  One candidate I helped in the past received just as much traction from a relatively small investment in Facebook ads promoting his announcement video than he did on the larger dollar TV campaign he ran. I would never advocate completely replacing television dollars with social media, but I certainly would make sure all videos are sent out through social media, placing some money behind the posts to boost their reach.

All modern campaigns today rely heavily on social media and email marketing. Not only do they post their videos but also photos from all the events they attend. They provide links to positions they post on their website, and actively recruit and engage with volunteers and supporters. Of course, an effective campaign is always looking to grow its number of connections on social media and is posting daily and responding to its comments.  Campaigns realize that their targeted demographic actively uses social media on a daily basis, and they want to be where their likely voters are.

Email marketing has been utilized to raise money, recruit volunteers, and put out positions, both positive and negative. During the height of campaigns, candidates may send out targeted emails every single day. Email marketing continues to be one of the most cost effective strategies available to deliver a message, and the more tailored you make your messages, the more effective they will be. In addition, campaigns go to great length to have solid email contacts in the first place. You too should make sure all your email contacts are where they need to be as part of an effective email marketing strategy.

And any campaign, local or statewide, insurance agency or Main Street business, needs to have a plan and stick to it. And not just any plan, but a TV plan, a social media plan, an email marketing plan, all which work together to promote the message and ultimately win. In any campaign, the experts will say there are four key elements to winning a campaign: the candidate, the funding, the message, and the organization. You often cannot win if you do not succeed at 3 out of 4. So if you have a successful business, have a well-funded campaign, really drill down on the message, and have the right organization, you will win your own marketing campaign.

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