A New Marketing Paradigm

By Hannah Wallace December 31, 2008

You are probably as happy as I am that the two nonstop years of positive and negative campaign messages of the presidential campaign are over. But step back. Is there something we can learn from the hundreds of millions of dollars spent by both parties that could strengthen our own marketing efforts? Yes, there is.

One, strong brand images will win. President-elect Obama developed one and Sen. John McCain did not. One candidate stayed on message and one was all over the media trying to find something that worked.  A simple comparison: Think about BMW, which has always been the “Ultimate Driving Machine” and Ford which is, what…Fix or Repair Daily?

Two, keeping the message simple is critical in this economic climate. Since everyone is confused and consumer confidence is disastrously low, this will resonate better than being complex and obtuse. A local school and a local doctor’s practice illustrate how effective simplicity can be: New Gate School’s “Investing in Futures” and Holcomb Facial Plastic Surgery’s “Unmask your Inner Beauty” clearly state their positive selling message and do not need a lot of copy to communicate. You just get it.

Three, be relevant. “Change” is the most relevant message for the times, and Obama owns it. He set the stage and everyone else had to play on it. Own your market positioning. Don’t let the competition define you.

Four, remember that business is a marathon race and not a 100-yard dash. Business owners cannot sacrifice their very existence for short-term gains. Resist the temptation to modify your brand and become something else. If you are a fine dining restaurant, keep doing what people expect and don’t downscale to a lesser product. You can’t go back later. Yes, you can use promotions and coupons and discounts, but do not lose sight of the brand positioning.

Five, relationships are probably your most important asset. Maintain and even grow them in a down market. How can you do that, especially if you have multiple constituencies? At a minimum, try to keep your advertising in front of your loyal customers. If you have to reduce schedules, then identify the best prospects and the appropriate media and then execute effectively against a smaller base.

Always be honest and share the bad news early. If you are having financial concerns, sit down with your vendors and develop a plan where they can be part of the solution. If you are cutting back, ask for their help. If they are truly partners they will respond positively. I have had to do this very thing. I have met with each of my media outlets and informed them of my strategy for the next six months. In some cases, they were not getting renewed until the market turns. In others, I had to ask for schedule modifications. A few had no changes. The results have been very encouraging.

Six, Obama’s campaign strategy will fill future textbooks. Historically, marketing draws its principles from war analogies: the frontal assault, the flanking attack or guerilla warfare. The former works when your enemies are vulnerable and you have more resources to throw at them. If your enemies are too entrenched, then try a flanking maneuver and hope to catch them off guard. And if none of that is possible, try to pick them off one at a time in pockets of weakness.

John McCain couldn’t win with a frontal attack because he was out-financed, out-positioned and Obama occupied the high ground with his message. So he resorted to a series of flanking maneuvers with his messages and guerrilla wars in key states.  Unfortunately for him, there weren’t enough battle grounds for him to win.

But Obama also proved there is a fourth principle: Use the new media and redefine marketing. If you ever doubted the value of the Internet or mobile marketing, you should now have enough proof that they work. The money raised, the BlackBerry communication, the e-mail blasts, the “get out the vote” texts, the social networking and the free ads on YouTube created massive free publicity campaigns. Marketing, political or otherwise, will never be the same.

Can we adapt this learning to 2009? Can we reduce advertising and yet maintain our market share? Can we use the Internet, cell phone and text messaging as a partial replacement for traditional and expensive media? Can we make our Web sites hard-working tools that protect our brand? Yes, we can!

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