The recent election teaches important lessons about what really works in sales and marketing.
Mitt Romney (L) and Barack Obama (R) during the Presidential Debate at the University of Denver.
All elections are sales and marketing campaigns, from their big spends on airtime to their word-of-mouth networking on the ground. Because of this, elections always provide sales and marketing lessons that are applicable to the wider business world. This election was particularly rife with them:
1. Spamming your brand won't sell your product.
Modern elections spend billions of dollars on broadcast advertising, to surprisingly little effect, only managing to change a small number of voters to switch sides. The problem is that in today's brand-laden world, most people have become experts at tuning out repetitive messages and, indeed, quickly find them annoying rather than interesting or informative. If you want to be heard, you've got to target individuals, not broad swaths of the population.
2. Once you get angry, you've lost the argument.
Regardless of whether they're winning or losing, conservative pundits and their adherents often seem in a constant state of rage and disgust. While these powerful emotions provide a certain amount of internal motivation, they're weak tools when trying to bring others around to your viewpoint. The most important rule of negotiating is "never lose your temper" and the most important rule of selling is "don't take it personally." A quiet conversation always works better than a furious sales pitch.
3. Some folk dislike and mistrust CEOs.
Mitt Romney and Linda McMahon (in the Senate race in Connecticut) both tried to use their CVs as CEOs as their major "product feature." Unfortunately, after decades of downsizing, rightsizing, offsourcing and offshoring, the message that "I'm a CEO, trust me" doesn't fly with everybody. That's why product advertisements featuring a firm's CEO usually fall flat. It's no coincidence that the most successful CEO-centric ad campaigns have featured CEOs who don't look the part (Wendy's Dave Thomas, Ben and Jerry, etc.).
4. "Don't confuse selling with installing" no longer works.
This old sales adage comes from the world high tech, where salespeople became famous for promising far more functionality than their firm's engineers could possibly deliver. Similarly, Romney's economic plan was heavy on long-term vision but (according to most economists) mathematically impossible. This kind of disconnect might have worked back in the pre-Internet days, but today people expect to have all the detailed specs in hand, well before they buy.
5. Brand image takes years, not weeks, to change.
In order to get the nomination, Mitt Romney needed to change his brand image from a Massachusetts pragmatist to a "severe conservative." Then, to win the general election, he had to change his brand image back into more of a pragmatist again. Unfortunately, once a brand image is associated with a product, no amount of marketing can change it. The only thing that can change a brand is a substantive change in the product itself followed by enough time for a different buzz to evolve.
6. Product evangelism doesn't create new customers.
As in previous years, the religious right approached the election with the same one-minded fervency that they use to convert nonbelievers. While nobody could deny their passion for the issues, they apparently ended up mostly "preaching to the choir." In business, many companies try to implement Guy Kawasaki's concept of "product evangelism" and "converting people to your product." Unfortunately, fervent true-believers often annoy more people than they actually convert.