What Every Marketer Can Learn From The NYC Mayoral Race

November 5 is fast approaching, and we here in the Big Apple are eagerly waiting to choose the next leader of the world’s greatest city.

Fall in an election year is a time for debates, mailings, unsolicited house visits and get-out-the-vote calls. Political campaigning is one of the oldest forms of advertising and we marketers have a lot to learn from them.

vote300Bill de Blasio, the democratic front-runner will face off against with Republican Joe Lhota as New Yorkers decide who lead New York City for the next four years. And, if you watch closely, you might notice that many of the campaign tactics played out between Lhota and de Blasio weren’t all that different from watching marketing campaigns between brands like Apple and Microsoft or Pepsi and Coke.

Should Microsoft go on the offensive, for instance, against Apple, or should they stick to a positive campaign? Should Coke try to convert Pepsi drinkers, or solidify its base?

We can get some insights by looking at the way political campaigns are run.

#1 Work closely with local communities.

Communities matter. This is the power of local. And this is as true in political campaigns as it is in business. Sure, we can focus on targeting individuals, but tapping into existing community groups and organizations can get your message out far more effectively. During a campaign, advertisements target  individual consumers, but organizers try to forge long-lasting relationships with neighborhood and community organizations. These groups are full of potential voters, but also serve as networks that can be activated to provide additional support. In business, this can mean providing sponsorship to local organizations like fundraisers, little league teams, and so on. A customer is great for business, but a customer who actively wants to support your business is even better.

#2 The message is more effective coming from a trusted voice, friend or family member.

Mobilizing community groups not only makes your job easier, it’s also more effective. That’s because messages, whether about a candidate or a product, are more likely to be considered when coming from a friend or trusted voice. In politics, this means a voter will be more receptive to a phone call or house visit from someone who shares a community affiliation than from an unrelated stranger. In marketing, this is why a positive review of a product from a friend is so effective. It’s also why a remark from a trusted radio personality is particularly compelling. Radio is the most intimate and authentic way to communicate with a local community.

#3 Use every available local medium.

We like to think of marketing as a one-two punch. It’s why we at CBS are crazy about cross-platform marketing. In politics, potential voters are sent mailings, called, visited in-person and presented with digital,  TV and radio ads. One ad, in a vacuum, is usually not enough to convert a target audiences. Similarly, marketers should realize that no one medium bests all the others. Platforms don’t compete with each other, they compliment each other.

#4 Target your supporters, not your opponents.

In NYC, grass-roots campaigns grow by mobilizing supporters. Most political advertising resources are targeted at voters who are already leaning toward a candidate. In other words, a savvy Republican candidate won’t waste time trying to get Democrats to change affiliations. Rather they’ll double down on mobilizing their base to get out the vote. The logic is simple. Not everyone votes, but everyone should. Campaigns are all about making sure that people who support you actually get out and vote on election day. That’s not to say converting undecided voters and chipping off supporters from the opposing party isn’t done. But the “grass-roots” part is all about your own supporters.

Similarly, marketers need to effectively target those who are most likely to be receptive to their product. Convincing a consumer who hates your product to buy it is not nearly as cost-effective as encouraging your existing fan base to buy your latest product or attend your latest sale.

#5 Your strategy as a market-leader is different than your strategy as a market-competitor. 

If you’re not the front-runner, mobilizing your base sometimes isn’t enough. In a political race, it’s often assumed that the front-runner needs to play it safe. Don’t go too heavily on the offensive, focus on mobilizing your base and avoid a scandal at any cost. But for those trailing in the polls, being bold isn’t an option, it’s a necessity. For a candidate trailing in the polls, playing it safe can only mean safely maintaining your current numbers. The point is to increase those numbers. And no business should be content with just maintaining the status quo. It’s all about learning and growing. Brands that aspire to be the top-dog in the market need to think big and make bold decisions in their marketing strategy.