Why Political Parties should have Marketers run their Campaigns Part 3: The British Colombia election

This is the third in a series of blogs on why Political Parties should have Marketers run their campaign.  My last blog on this topic is Why Political Parties should have Marketers run their Campaigns Part 2: The US election

First let me say, that I have no partisan interest in any political party but am writing this blog as a marketing professional and someone who writes on marketing topics which deal with public sector organizations.

My key point in my blogs so far is that most people who run political campaigns are adept at communications and community outreach tactics but have probably never read a marketing book and think that tactics and strategy is the same thing. They’re not. Even the media when they refer to political marketing strategies are usually talking about tactics not strategy.

My blogs discussed the Marketing Warfare approach to strategic marketing which was developed by Al Ries and Jack Trout. After all elections are a form of warfare.

To illustrate their point, Ries and Trout compare marketing to a football game. If a team simply identifies the goal line and moves the ball toward it without regard to the competing team, they most likely will be blocked in their efforts. To win the game, the team must focus its efforts on outwitting, outflanking, or over-powering the other side. This is the case in football, war, and marketing, according to Marketing Warfare.

Let`s look at the most recent election in British Columbia (BC) . Sometimes known as the left coast.

According to Ries and Trout, the main competitor is the market leader that holds the majority of the market share i.e. the government in power (Liberals). The best strategy for a leader or in this case the incumbent is a defensive one. The Premier did not run on her record, but simply contrasted her party with the NDP. Until the dying days of the campaign, the NDP remained stubbornly on the high road, while the Liberals ran an expensive and relentless campaign of TV advertising that framed the ballot-box question – the economy – and prevented Adrian Dix the NDP leader  from rising above Ms. Clark the Liberal leader on the key metric of who would make the best premier according to Angus Reid

Then the NDP made the classic mistake in marketing strategy.

A weakness in the leader’s i.e. the Liberals strength must be found. Simply attacking any weakness is insufficient. For example, the leader may develop policies or programs which are similar to the challenger. The leader usually has the resources to defend against an attack against its weaknesses, whereas there may be weaknesses inherent in the leader’s strengths that cannot be defended.

The challenger ( NDP) had to attack on as narrow a front as possible. Generally, this means focusing on programs and policies where the leader is weak and cannot adopt as it would destroy their overall strategy. The reason for keeping the attack narrow is the principle of force; a narrow attack allows the challenger to concentrate their resources in the narrow area.  They could have focussed on the Liberal record , e.g. the Economy which has been struggling in BC in the past few years. However the NDP campaign was scattered and not focused. Frankly they were all over the place and did not run a disciplined campaign. Not sure why but maybe the polls told them they had it in the bag so they loss their focus.

The big issue in this election was the economy and voters were concerned that the NDP would wreck the economy if elected (they also had a legacy of being in power during the nineties when the economy was in the dumps). Clearly, the NDP had to make a strong case that if elected they would be strong economic managers and their focus for the next 4 years would be to create jobs and overall prosperity . This had to be there mantra . ( I hope the NDP in Ottawa are paying attention)

The NDP had to know that economc management was their big weakness, Also, the NDP according to Marketing Warfare theory has to focus on the leader i.e. Liberals and not worry about the other parties who were fighting for a few percent of the vote ( i.e. Greens & Conservatives) but the NDP took their eye off the ball. Worried about an emerging Green threat, Mr. Dix the NDP leader sought to pre-empt the party by going greenier-than-thou, specifically by promising to ban significantly greater tanker traffic out of the port of Vancouver, which would doom the export of Alberta oil to the Pacific. This was a stunning turnabout on a clear promise to withhold judgement until the pipeline application had been filed with details made available according to Gordon Gibson.

Why the significance of this change in policy? It crystallized a number of fears in the minds of voters. The Liberals had run a brutal campaign based on fear.  Fear of the NDP economic record in the last government. Fear of Adrian Dix and what he might do. 

The Liberals were relentlessly on message. It was all about the economy, and the ability to pay the bills for health care and such. They recognized the NDP weakness and like a good warrior attacked their weak link. The Liberals realized that families in BC are concerned about the economy and jobs. The Kinder Morgan flip-flop sent a message that the NDP would prefer the enviro-left to the development-right. The voters got the message, judged that the economy would suffer and made their choice.

The fact that the NDP would develop a position to take on the Green Party  flanker and not the leader i.e. Liberals was a crucial mistake in Marketing Warfare and one that someone who is skilled in marketing would probably not make. (obviously I have a bias )

Another mistake was the NDP decided to run a polite campaign while at the same time their major competitor went very negative, now I am not advocating negative campaigns but when the competition is throwing bombs at you, you don’t throw flowers; nice guys don’t win ball games.

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Why Political Parties should have Marketers run their Campaigns Part 2: The US election

This is a follow up to the blog I wrote last year on why Political Parties should have Marketers run their campaign.

First let me say, that I have no partisan interest in any political party but am writing this blog as a marketing professional and someone who writes on marketing topics which deal with government and non-profit organizations.

My key point in my initial blog was that most people who run political campaigns are adept at communications tactics but have probably never read a marketing book and think that tactics and strategy is the same thing. They’re not. Even the media when they refer to political marketing strategies are usually talking about tactics not strategy.

My blog discussed the Marketing Warfare approach to strategic marketing which was developed by Al Ries and Jack Trout.

To illustrate their point, Ries and Trout compare marketing to a football game. If a team simply identifies the goal line and moves the ball toward it without regard to the competing team, they most likely will be blocked in their efforts. To win the game, the team must focus its efforts on outwitting, outflanking, or over-powering the other side. This is the case in football, war, and marketing, according to Marketing Warfare.

Let`s look at the most recent election in the USA.

According to Ries and Trout, the main competitor is the market leader that holds the majority of the market share i.e. the government in power (Democrats). The best strategy for a leader or in this case the incumbent is a defensive one. Note the Democrats were clearly in a defensive mode trying to protect their lead and not take too many chances. The President did not run on his record, or his platform, but simply contrasted his party’s values with those of the Republicans, reminding his supporters on whose side he was on and which side his competitors were on. It proved to be the right strategy — but it could not have worked without a major assist from the Republicans. (More on that later)

The number two (challenger) best strategy is an offensive attack (i.e. the Republicans) on the market leader. The strength of the leader’s position is of primary importance because the leader has the top position in the mind of the consumer, and it is this position that must be attacked.

A weakness in the leader’s strength must be found. Simply attacking any weakness is insufficient. For example, the leader may develop policies or programs which are similar to the challenger. The leader usually has the resources to defend against an attack against its weaknesses, whereas there may be weaknesses inherent in the leader’s strengths that cannot be defended.

The challenger should attack on as narrow a front as possible. Generally, this means focusing on programs and policies where the leader is weak and cannot adopt as it would destroy their overall strategy. The reason for keeping the attack narrow is the principle of force; a narrow attack allows the challenger to concentrate their resources in the narrow area.  In this case, the Republican`s selected the economy as their key focus.  Obama was vulnerable during this campaign. Unemployment was hovering around 8% near the end of his term and no President had been re-elected since 1936 when it was above 7.2%. Congress was deadlocked, his signature domestic bill, Obamacare, was unpopular, and U.S. debt was growing at an unsustainable rate. Perfect scenario for the incumbent!

So what happened on November 6th?  The Republicans nearly won. Had about 300,000 votes gone the other way in four states — Florida, Ohio, Virginia and New Hampshire — Mitt Romney would be the president-elect today. The GOP kept control of the House, gave up but two Senate seats, and added at least one state governor.

As Andrew Coyne points out in his article in the National Post, this was a winnable election for the GOP in a sluggish economy against an incumbent with many economic challenges.

So why did Romney lose?

You are unlikely to win an election in the USA if you are giving away 75% of the Latino vote, nearly all of the African American vote, and substantial margins among Asians, women and young people. As FiveThirtyEight: Nate Silver’s Political Calculus discusses in his many blogs in the New York Times it is all about the arithmetic.

It is hard to win moderate and independent voters if you have spent much of the previous primary period  showcasing the  most intemperate voices in your party like  Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and of course “the Donald”. Large numbers of voters outside the GOP’s overwhelmingly white and male base simply could not imagine themselves voting for the party — not so much because of what it stands for as what it is: namely, not them.

As Andrew Coyne points out many voters might have voted for the GOP, were it not so evidently in the grip of a bunch of yahoos. That the GOP came within a couple of percentage points of winning even then suggests it should not be too hard to avoid such defeats in future. All that is required is to:

a)     reach out to voters it has gone to such great lengths to alienate until now, and
b)     stop behaving like yahoos.

Yes Romney had his limitations as a candidate: the stiffness, the rich, out of touch businessman, the serial flip-flops. And no doubt the Obama campaign’s — millions of dollars in harshly negative and unusually personal attack ads — reinforced those weaknesses by doing what Ries and Trout call repositioning the competition .

But it is important to recognize that Romney was already deeply wounded by his own party, through the lengthy primaries opposed by a succession of cranks, extremists and generally unsuitable alternatives.

Romney did himself no good by pandering to the conservative base so overtly (“I am a severe conservative”). But he shouldn’t have had to. The “Moderate Mitt” brand who emerged after the first televised debate against Obama positioned himself as distinctly right of centre by anyone’s standards, championing not only Medicare reform, but a radical overhaul of the tax code.

As for Romney, his message was in constant danger of being drowned out by ill-judged outbursts from members of his party, particularly on the abortion issue. (In retrospect the GOP should have done what Canadian Prime Mime Minister Steven Harper did with the abortion issue during the 2005 election, avoid it like the plague.) What cost Romney the election was less his own cautious conservatism than his party’s Yahooism. It is a marketing brand that no leader running for political office wants to wear in 2012.

There was a similar case in Canada this year where the Wildrose party was leading in the polls in Alberta just days before the election, but seemed to have lost the election partly from Yahooism. Leader Danielle Smith believes two factors kept her upstart Wildrose Party from forming Alberta’s government — controversial comments by two of her candidates and strategic voting (i.e. liberals and new democrats voted for the Progressive Conservatives because of their fear of “yahoos” taking over their province).

What actually happened was as the four-week provincial election campaign drew to a close, Wildrose candidates Allan Hunsperger and Ron Leech, both pastors, caused a stir with statements that critics called intolerant. Mr. Leech told a radio station he had an advantage in his Calgary riding because he is white. Edmonton’s Mr. Hunsperger, in a year-old blog posting, said gays will spend eternity in a “lake of fire, hell.”

In the case of the GOP, it’s one thing to be pro-life: many women are. It’s quite another for middle-aged men to be musing publicly about the necessity or otherwise of abortions in cases of “legitimate rape”. The Republicans must accommodate themselves to the changing face of America — not only in its demographic makeup, as in the rapid growth of the Latino population, but in social attitudes. Republicans will have to adapt to this new diversity or they will be “toast” in future elections.

 Another example of poor marketing is the slogans used by the GOP.

As Al Ries points out in an article in Ad Week “a two-sided slogan is like a two-sided knife. It cuts both ways. It says something positive about your brand and something negative about the competition.”

Ries’ thoughts on Romney’s slogan “Believe in America,” is that it’s a nice thought, but it’s a one-sided slogan. It says something positive about Mitt Romney, but what does it say about his opponent? (Remember in marketing warfare the challenger has to take an offensive attack on the market leader.) So let’s look at the slogan and its impact on Obama. Does Barack Obama not believe in America? A country that educated him at Harvard. A country that elected him to the Senate and the Presidency. A country that made him wealthy and world famous. Barack Obama doesn’t believe in America? Highly unlikely.

This begs the question: What does Obama believe in? The No. 1 issue among voters was clearly “jobs,” but Obama couldn’t claim much progress on this issue, at least at the beginning of the campaign, because the economy was in the doldrums. His best approach was to plead for more time to “finish the job.” The slogan used by the Obama campaign which was “Forward” did exactly that. Furthermore, a “Forward” slogan implies that Republicans want to go backward to policies that failed in the past. (Think W).”Forward” is a great marketing slogan because it cuts both ways. (i.e. it says something positive about your brand and something negative about the competition.)

In 2008 the Obama slogan was, “Change we can believe in,” which again was a two-sided slogan according to Reis. With the Republicans in power, John McCain couldn’t exactly advocate “change,” because that would offend his base. The best he could do would be to imply that he would do the job “better than Bush.”

John McCain’s slogans in 2008 were:

  • “Straight talker.”
  • “Best prepared to lead from day one.”
  • “Reform. Prosperity. Peace.”
  • “Country first.”

According to Reis, the only two-sided slogan was the second one (a weak one at that), but it didn’t have a chance of working because of the confusion with the other slogans.

Mitt Romney also ran for the Republican nomination in 2008. But do you remember the slogan he used? Probably not. “True strength for America’s future.”

Ries wonders why the GOP don’t have marketing people developing the slogans for their campaigns.

In the last few weeks, Romney changed his 2012 slogan to “Real change. Day one.” That was also a mistake because it just confused voters about what he stood for.

One effective technique is matching your strength against your opponent’s weakness. (e.g. Marketing Warfare strategy) What is Mitt Romney’s strength? He’s a successful business manager and Barack Obama has no business experience at all.

Reis suggests this two-sided slogan “Let’s run the country like a business”
This slogan would have dramatized the difference between the two candidates.

Romney could have talked about how current politicians have been running various government businesses. In the past year, Amtrak lost $1.3 billion. The Postal Service lost $5.1 billion. Freddie Mac lost $5.3 billion. Fannie Mae lost $16.9 billion.

Such an approach he suggests would have created “howls of anguish” from the competition. But that’s exactly what a political campaign needs to do. Force your opponent to focus on your issue and don’t worry about the negative attacks. You’ll be on the positive side, always the best side to be on.

“Furthermore, Reis states, a “business” focus would have translated well to the global scene. China is a threat, not because of Chinese aircraft carriers, but because of Chinese production facilities. America needs to win in the global marketplace by out-producing and out-marketing our foreign competitors.”

Now if this slogan would have worked or not is debatable, but the point here is that a challenger’s slogan has to be 2-sided as well as take an offensive marketing position.

Many pundits are suggesting that Obama won because of his ground game, his advertising or how his operatives combined “large-scale survey research” with “randomized experimental methods” to gain an edge in voter targeting.

All of these tactics had an impact, but tactics need a solid marketing strategy. It seems that the Obama folks clearly understood marketing and had a solid marketing strategy while the Romney team did not, which is surprising when you consider Romney comes from the world of business.

Let me know what you think.

 

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Political Parties should have Marketers run their Campaigns

I constantly hear political pundits talking about marketing in relation to politics but the truth is that most people I have met who run political campaigns here in the nation’s capital have probably never read a marketing book and think that communications strategy and marketing strategy is the same thing. They’re not.

So, to my readers who hopefully read my blogs because they think they may learn something about marketing in the public arena, I will try to bring some marketing thinking to the present Canadian election campaign. The Marketing Warfare approach to marketing which was developed by Al Ries and Jack Trout will be very helpful in explaining how the marketing approach can be helpful to better understand how to develop an effective strategy for a political campaign.

First, some background on the Marketing Warfare concept.

In Marketing Warfare Al Ries and Jack Trout argue that marketing is war and that the marketing concept’s customer-oriented philosophy is inadequate. Rather, companies would do better by becoming competitor-oriented. If the key to success were to introduce products closest to those wanted by customers, then the market leader would simply be the company that performed the best market research. Clearly, much more is required.

To illustrate their point, Ries and Trout compare marketing to a football game. If a team simply identifies the goal line and moves the ball toward it without regard to the competing team, they most likely will be blocked in their efforts. To win the game, the team must focus its efforts on outwitting, outflanking, or over-powering the other side. This is the case in football, war, and marketing, according to Marketing Warfare. Because of the importance of the competition faced by the firm, a good marketing plan should include an extensive section on competitors.

There’s a saying that it is easier to get to the top than to stay there. Ries and Trout disagree, arguing that once at the top, a company can use the power of its leadership position to stay there. The larger company has the resources to outnumber smaller competitors. It can advertise more, perform more R&D, open more sales outlets, etc. This is not to say that smaller companies do not stand a chance. Rather, smaller companies must recognize the principle of force and attempt to win the battle by means of a superior strategy, not by brute force.

Some managers may believe that they can overcome a larger competitor through superior employees. Ries and Trout maintain that while it may be possible to assemble a small group of star performers, on a larger scale the employee abilities will approach the mean. Another argument is that a better product will overcome other weaknesses. Again, Ries and Trout disagree. Once consumers already have in their minds that a product is number one, it is extremely difficult for another product, even if superior, to take over that number one place in the consumer’s mind.

The way to win the battle is not only to recruit superior employees (although this is a good thing to do) or to develop a superior product. Rather, Ries and Trout argue that to win the battle, a company must successfully execute a superior strategy. Source

Now this is pretty basic marketing strategy but many people who do not understand marketing think that marketing is about creating better or more compelling products. This may sound logical to the uninitiated but marketers know that this is not necessarily true.

Now think of the Canadian political situation.  You have the Conservatives, Liberals, New Democratic Party (NDP), Bloc Québécois (BQ) and the Greens as well as a number of other fringe parties but for this blog we will use these five.

Ries and Trout argue that marketing battles do not take place in geographic areas. Rather, marketing battles take place in the mind of the consumer. Ries and Trout propose that the most important information is to know which positions are held by which organizations in the mind of the consumer. In other words, who holds the high ground?

Ries and Trout discuss four strategies for fighting a marketing war:

  • defensive
  • offensive
  • flanking
  • guerrilla

A company’s market share relative to that of competitors determines which strategy is appropriate. There often is a significant market share gap between two competitors such that each has more market share compared to the next weaker competitor. Because of this large gap, the principle of force plays an important role in the choice of each firm’s strategy. Source

For this discussion, we will deal with the 5 political parties mentioned above.

In such an environment, each of the five parties has a different objective:

  • Number 1 market domination: This would be the Conservatives who are clearly the leaders
  • Number 2 increased market share: This is clearly the Liberals who are clearly number 2
  • Number 3 survival:  This is the NDP
  • Number 4 survival: The Greens and the BQ who are small players except the Bloc is the major player i.e. in the Defensive position in one market in Canada which makes them somewhat of an anomaly.

According to Ries and Trout, the main competitor is the market leader that holds the majority of the market share i.e.  The government. The best strategy for such an organization is a defensive one. Note the Conservatives are clearly in a defensive mode trying to protect their lead and not take too many chances. They are happy where they are for the most part and with a little bump can win a majority which is their endgame.

The number two best strategy is an offensive attack (i.e. the Liberals) on the market leader organization. The reason is that the gaining of market share from the number three organization is unlikely to make a large impact on the much larger number two organization. However, there are potentially significant rewards if market share can be gained from the dominant organization – the Conservatives. Some may argue that the Liberals and NDP share the vote (2 left of centre parties) and they also split the vote allowing the Conservatives to come up the middle. By eliminating the competition i.e. Number 3, puts them head to head with the Number 1 leader.

The number three organization is too small to sustain an offensive attack on a larger organization. (Although, this seems to be what the NDP seem to be doing and going down in the polls). Its best strategy often is to launch a flanking attack, avoiding direct competition, for example, by launching a program that is positioned very differently from those of the larger parties. That is clearly what the NDP should be doing.

The smallest organization probably does not have sufficient resources to launch any type of sustained attack. If it launched a flanking product, a larger competitor likely would launch a similar one and would have the resources to win more voters. The smallest organization would do best to pursue a guerrilla strategy, identifying a segment that is large enough to be interesting to them (i.e. the Quebec voters for the Bloc and Environmentalists for the Greens) but not large enough to attract too much competition from any of the larger organizations except in very niche markets. As mentioned above the BQ are in the offensive position in Quebec, necessitating the Conservatives and Liberals to run an Offensive campaign in that market.

So what are the key strategies for the political parties?

A defensive strategy is appropriate for the market leader. Ries and Trout outline three basic principles of defensive marketing warfare:

  1. Defensive strategies should only be pursued by the market leader. It is self-defeating for an organization to pretend that it is the market leader for the purpose of strategy selection. The market leader is the organization who has attained that position in the mind of the consumer.
  2. Attacking yourself is the best defensive strategy. Introducing programs better than your existing ones preempt similar moves by the competition. Even if the new programs or policies have less impact that your existing programs, it accomplishes the more important long-term goal of protecting the organization’s market share.
  3. The leader should always block strong offensive moves made by competitors. If the leader fails to do so, the competitor may become entrenched and permanently maintain market share.

An offensive strategy is appropriate for an organization that is number 2 in the market. Ries and Trout present the following three principles of offensive strategy:

  1. The challenger’s primary concern should be the strength of the leader’s position, not the challenger’s own strengths and weaknesses.
  2. The challenger should seek a weakness in the leader’s strength – not simply a weakness in the leader’s position.
  3. Attack on as narrow a front as possible. Avoid a broad attack at all costs.

The strength of the leader’s position is of primary importance because the leader has the top position in the mind of the consumer, and it is this position that must be attacked.

A weakness in the leader’s strength must be found. Simply attacking any weakness is insufficient. For example, the leader may develop policies or programs which are similar to the challenger. The leader usually has the resources to defend against an attack against its weaknesses, whereas there may be weaknesses inherent in the leader’s strengths that cannot be defended.

The challenger should attack on as narrow a front as possible. Generally, this means focusing on programs and policies where the leader is weak and cannot adopt as it would destroy their overall strategy. For example the political program in their red book if offered by the Conservatives would conflict with their basic strategy not to mention their conservative principles. The reason for keeping the attack narrow is the principle of force; a narrow attack allows the challenger to concentrate its resources in the narrow area, and in that area may present more force than the leader. Many number two political parties ignore this principle and try to increase market share by broadening their programs and policies to compete in more areas, often with disastrous consequences. A narrow attack is particularly effective when the leader has attempted to be all things to all people with their programs and policies. Many Conservatives feel that the party has become very much like the Liberals. Sometimes referred to as “Liberal Light” to describe the middle of the road policies which normally would not be associated with a Conservative party? In that situation, a challenger can identify a segment within the leader’s market and offer a program and policy that serves only that segment. The challenger then stands a chance of winning a position in the voter’s mind for that more narrow class of program.

A flanking attack is not a direct attack on the leader, but rather, an attack in an area where the leader has not established a strong position. Ries and Trout present the following three flanking principles:

  1. A flanking move is best made in an uncontested area. The product should be in a new category that does not compete directly with the leader and should be the first to target the segment.
  2. A flanking move should have an element of surprise. Surprise is important to prevent the leader from using its enormous resources to counter the move before it gains momentum.
  3. Follow-through (pursuit) is equally as important as the attack itself. The organization should follow-through and focus on solidifying its position once it is established before competitors launch competing products. Too often, political parties turn their attention to the programs and policies that are not performing well rather than strengthening the position of the winners. If the party does not have the resources to strengthen its newly won position, then perhaps it should have used a guerrilla strategy instead of a flanking one.

A flanking move does not require a totally new program. Instead, the program only needs to be different enough to carve its own position. Flanking is not a low-risk strategy. Market acceptance of an innovative program is unknown, and test marketing must be kept to a minimum to guard the element of surprise. Whether the leader will take prompt action in response is an unknown. Being well-tuned to the political environment is helpful since their public speeches often provide clues about their stance on potential programs. This is where the NDP should have a strategy which is very different from its competitors’ and needs to find policies and programs that are totally different that the Conservatives and Liberals.

Guerrilla marketing differs from a flanking campaign in that the guerrilla move is relatively small and differs significantly from the leader’s position. Guerrilla marketing is appropriate for organizations that, relative to the competition, are too small to launch offensive or flanking moves. Ries and Trout list the following three principles of guerrilla marketing warfare:

  1. Identify a segment that is small enough to defend. For example, the scope can be limited geographically, demographically, etc.
  2. Never act like the leader, even if successful in the guerrilla attack. Some parties that make a guerrilla move are successful in it and begin to act like the leader, building a larger, bureaucratic organization that slows it down and increases overhead costs. A guerrilla should resist the temptation to give up its lean and nimble organization.
  3. Be ready to enter or exit on short notice. If the market for the program takes a negative turn, the guerrilla should exit quickly rather than waste resources. Because the guerrilla has a nimble organization, it is better able to make a quick exit without suffering huge losses. Similarly, the guerrilla can respond more quickly to a market opportunity without spending months or years having committees analyze it. Guerrilla opportunities sometimes arise when a large organization discontinue marketing an idea or program, leaving a gap on which the guerrilla can capitalize if it acts quickly. For example the Liberals seem to have abandoned the environment leaving a large opening for the Greens (the problem is that the Environment is no longer top of mind among the voters, but that could change).

The idea of guerrilla marketing is to direct resources into a limited area, using the principle of force to win that area.

Demographic guerrillas target a specific segment of the population. Guerrillas target a specific field or issue using vertical marketing to tailor a program to the special needs of that niche. The focus is narrow and deep rather than broad and shallow. They may offer a unique program for which there is a small market.

Strategy can be developed using a top-down or a bottom-up approach. Ries and Trout argue for the bottom-up approach because a deep knowledge of the tactics actually used is needed to formulate a strategy that has the goal of achieving tactical objectives. More specifically, Ries and Trout argue that the sole purpose of a strategy is to put the forces in motion to overpower the competitor at the point of contact using the principle of force. In the marketing arena, it means overpowering the competitor in a specific position in the mind of the voter.

As I have mentioned in many of my other blogs marketing is about STRATEGY and NOT TACTICS. Ries and Trout explain that a good strategy does not depend on brilliant tactics. Mediocre tactics are usually sufficient for a good strategy. Even the best possible tactics are unlikely to compensate for a poor strategy. In political campaigns, advertising can be considered a tactic and many campaign managers falsely assume that success depends almost entirely on the quality of the advertising campaign. If a strategy requires top-notch tactics to win the battle, Ries and Trout maintain that such a strategy is unsound because tactical brilliance is rare.

Any strategy should take into account the probable response of the competitor. The best way to protect against a response is to attack the weakness in the leader’s strength so that the leader cannot respond without giving up its strength.

To support the argument of a bottom-up strategy, Ries and Trout point out that many large organizations incorrectly believe that they can do anything if they simply allocate enough resources. History shows otherwise and they give many examples in the business world. Such diversions they say “shift resources away from the point of battle where they are needed. This is one of the dangers that can be avoided by a bottom-up strategy based on what can be accomplished on the tactical level.”

Ries and Trout believe in having relatively few people involved in the strategic process. The organization needs a strong “marketing general” to formulate the strategy from the tactical realities. A marketing general has the following characteristics:

  • Flexibility – to adjust the strategy to the situation.
  • Courage – to make a decision and stand by it.
  • Boldness – to act without hesitation when the time is right.
  • Knows the facts – in order to formulate strategy from the ground up.
  • Knows the rules – but internalize them so they can be forgotten.
  • Lucky – marketing warfare has an element of chance; a good strategy only makes the odds more favourable.

Summary

Ries’ and Trout’s work in the business world have interesting and useful commonalities between political marketing strategy and business marketing strategy. The appropriate marketing strategy in business and politics depends on the organization’s position relative to its opponents. In developing its strategy, the political party must objectively determine its position in the market. Once this is done, a defensive, offensive, flanking, or guerrilla strategy can be selected depending on their position relative to the competition. It also helps if you have a marketing strategist running your campaign.

Recommended Reading

Al Ries and Jack Trout, Marketing Warfare

Note the book has been around for many years and many of the examples are 20 years old but the thinking behind the strategies is still relevant

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