5 Lessons from Politics

The first time I suggested using NationBuilder – a software for political organizations – to market a real estate agent, I got a look of shock and scepticism.

Was I out of my mind? There are tons of client relationship management systems tailor-made for realtors. Why wouldn’t I use one of them?

The truth is: politics is marketing. And politicians aren’t so different from real estate agents.

They use the same marketing tactics: mail-out flyers, “personal” emails, dinnertime phone calls, door-to-door sales. They’re both selling themselves and their trustworthiness. They even use the same buzzwords: honesty, integrity, success, family, service.

By borrowing the tactics that political campaigns use, business marketers can build better brands, be more effective marketers, and boost their bottom line. So here are five lessons business marketers should learn from the campaign trail.

Be a great storyteller

The Donald is a great example – he excels at fiction.

But seriously, speeches, campaign literature, and political marketing materials are rife with “storyisms”; mini-narratives about a candidate’s hometown, their family and friends, their early career struggles, and their ‘everyman’ vision for the country.

These storyisms humanize candidates, while still making them seem knowledgeable and trustworthy. They’re built to resonate – and the best ones do.

Small- and medium-sized business often forget that they can and should tell great stories. And they can harness already-existing narratives. The ‘buy local’ movement is a great example.

Take a small local coffee shop. They’re struggling to compete with the Starbucks down the road.

The local coffee shop is run by a young couple. They live in the neighbourhood, just above their cafe. They quit their finance jobs to open it. They use (and advertise) their responsibly-sourced coffee, that’s also roasted locally. They let their customers know that they give a small portion of every purchase to a local sports team. Now tell me you wouldn’t choose the local coffee shop over the generic impersonal corporate chain.

Of course you would! Consumers don’t spend their money logically. Purchasing, just like voting, is emotional.  And businesses that tell (and live) great stories attract more customers, retain more customers, and get more referrals.

Start right now:

What’s your brand’s story? Write it out like a short story.

Try to answer the following: Where and why did the business start? Why should people care about it? Who’s behind it? What do you stand for? What’s your vision for your community, city, country, planet in the future?

And then ask yourself whether this story will resonate with your ideal customer. How can you tell it in a way that adds value to their life? How can you incorporate this, or already-existing storyisms, into your business?


Marketing circles are all abuzz lately with talk of big data. And it’s no wonder, thanks to the rise of digital marketing, it’s now easier to measure, analyze, and review massive amounts of information in real time.

In the political world, though, data is nothing new (although the way we collect and analyze it is). The first political opinion poll in the United States was conducted in 1824 (Andrew Jackson was beating John Adams).

Data is paramount in the political world. Is your message resonating with voters? How many people support you? How many support your opponent? Who are these people and what do they care about?

Many small- to medium-sized businesses don’t deal with data. At all. They spend their precious marketing resources blindly and can’t really tell what’s working and what isn’t. But technology is cheaper and easier than ever. Facebook Insights and Google Analytics mean that you’re probably already collecting valuable data – even if you’re not analyzing it. Your competitors are using data to their benefit. You need to, too.

Start right now:

Invest in a Customer Relationship Management software. They pay for themselves a thousand times over.

They help you track and analyze your data, streamline your marketing efforts, and understand and retain your customers. There are so many options, too, even for small businesses.

If you’re not into the whole CRM system thing yet, you can at least go old-school. Sometimes the most effective data collection comes from just asking. “And how did you hear about us today?”

Make marketing everyone’s job

It’s hard for a small marketing department to compete with companies that have more people, more resources, and more expertise. We know. It’s not easy!

So what do you do? Make marketing everyone’s job.

Yes, political campaigns have dedicated marketing departments – they draft messaging, and make commercials – but talk to any campaign staffer from the lowly intern to the campaign manager and they’ll talk your ear off about why their candidate is the best. Chances are, they’ll tell you a great story (see #1!). And it’s authentic.

Your team, your people are “believers”. They know that every dollar matters. These brand advocates can recruit their friends, post on social media, maintain an online presence, edit and write blog posts, and so much more. It doesn’t have to be their job – they just have to have the go ahead to do it.

Start right now:

Embed marketing in your team culture. Share your marketing plan with your staff. Get their input on what’s working and what isn’t. Analyze and genuinely use their feedback in your strategies.

Encourage your employees and stakeholders (this means customers, too!) to use social media while they’re at your business. They can share photos or anecdotes of what’s going on, tag their friends, and immediately respond to anyone who engages with your brand. Support their social media use – and incentivize it through recognition, competitions, or simply thanking them.

Social marketing is democratic.

Campaigns value the low-hanging fruit

If political campaigns do one thing really, really well, it’s this: they know who their supporters are.

It’s not by accident. Campaigns spend a ton of time and resources to identify candidate supporters, how strongly they feel about the candidate, and how likely they are to actually go out and vote.

It’s an investment in voter identification that means they can more effectively target their efforts. They can spend money and time on potential or likely supporters, rather than wasting those resources on someone who will never be convinced to vote for their candidate.

Still, I’ve met so many marketers who focus their efforts on a population that will almost certainly never buy the product their selling. They’ll actively or accidentally ignore a wide group of prospective buyers who may even already be primed to become customers.

Sometimes, it’s because they don’t know that customer base exists. Other times, they don’t look beyond the customer base that they do know. They can’t imagine a particular demographic buying their product.

A great example is the fashion industry. Commercial designers of all budgets often openly refuse or simply forget to cater to “plus-size” consumers – a misnomered demographic that makes up more than half of the population. Let that sink in. Nobody is selling clothes that fit half of North Americans. What an opportunity – and what an oversight.

All businesses, and their marketing teams, should spend their resources where they’ll be most effective. Start with the low-hanging fruit. Go for near-potentials, and skip the probably-nots.

Start right now:

Start by identifying your leads.

Find the individuals or demographics that are your low-hanging fruit. Do they know about your product? Do they want to buy it? How likely are they to buy? How do you get them to make the purchasing decision?

A CRM is a great way to tag and score anybody who has interacted with your brand through calls, email, or social. It’s the easiest way to track all your leads through your sales process and analyze what’s working and what isn’t.

Build a community

Businesses talk about referrals all the time. From realtors, to app developers, to coffee shops.

And it’s no wonder. People are four times more likely to buy something if it’s been referred to them by a friend. Word-of-mouth is still one of the most important marketing tools in your business arsenal.

Brands in the digital space are doing this really well. Uber, for example, offers a pretty hefty incentive for those who refer their app to a friend. Their customers are now brand advocates. They’re your unbiased, unaffiliated, basically-free sales team.

Political campaigns have always done this really, really well. Referrals, social sharing, personal outreach – these help build new relationships and strengthen existing ones. Campaigns know that their success depends on building and maintaining relationships – with constituents, supporters, volunteers, and donors. And, the most successful campaigns leverage the personal networks of every member of their team.

Customers are a great vehicle for recruiting new customers, helping you find new markets, and sharing your brand story. The key to this is creating a community around your brand.

Start right now:

Treat your brand like a movement.

Frame your marketing as cause-oriented, and pay attention to relationships. What are you adding to the lives of your customers? How are they special to you – and not the other way around?

Personalize your marketing. It can be as simple as making sure all email communication is addressed specifically to them (which CRMs make easy).

Find and support a cause, and use your brand to advocate for that cause. Do you want to help bees? Promote recycling? Improve indoor air quality, or give aid to international crises? Make it authentic, and promote your business through that lens.

In short…

Our clients can be a bit wary when we suggest using a political CRM. It may seem strange.

But once they understand that political campaigns are simply well-executed marketing campaigns, and they start using the system, they see the benefit for them.

For the past two years we’ve been using NationBuilder, the preeminent political CRM, for many of our clients. We’ve seen real estate agents, catering companies, gardening centres, software companies, B2B sales, and professional associations all benefit from taking a campaign mindset in their marketing.

Not convinced? Drop us a line… We’d love to talk to you about it!

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