Wednesday, June 11, 2008


The Trademarks of Political Marketing

(An essay on the dos of clever marketing from a fresh political perspective)

A few weeks ago on this site, I penned a short essay on the effect of Senator Barak Obama’s work on Progressive Politics globally. On this occasion, I want to draw reader’s attention to the Senator’s brand-image to reinforce the importance and relevance of the traditional 4Ps or commonly described as the marketing mix: Price, Product, Promotion and Place.

Before examining this process systematically, it’s worth observing that before his actual Presidential campaign began, as far back as 2004 Senator Obama had laid the foundation for a viable political marketing strategy when on that occasion, his colleague, Senator John Kerry, lost the Presidential nomination. Even at that time, Obama recognised the importance of market principles and their application towards attracting voter interest. The aim was to maintain a viable message to the (suspected) electorate or voter-consumers who had to be convinced about the utility of his new product.

At the start of the campaign in 2007, the Senator test-marketed his product in smaller States to gauge voter reaction as well as media response to this litmus test. He then fused the most formidable campaign machinery with media moguls, political marketers and allied professionals, with the main goal – to plug the gap in the marketplace.

While commentators were busy rehearsing his failures in so-called Democratic `swing states’, Senator Obama was steadily re-positioning himself for a long-term marketing campaign for the Presidential nomination. Here is where he maximised the use of the 4Ps as his strategy became clearer – to make the Obama brand, a saleable and winnable commodity.

In his quest to promote his product effectively, the Illinois Senator employed the AIDA – Attract, Interest, Desire and Action – model another vital element in the marketing mix. In the process, he outspent his competitors, investing $75 million in advertisements and amassing 45 million online contributors, thereby recording an unprecedented feat in recent political marketing trends in the USA.

Even critics admitted that apart from his charisma, Obama had a honed understanding of the American mass market. He converted an intangible product into a real one by stimulating interest and action by voter-consumers who were at first, suspicious of his background and his political brand. His sale campaign attracted nearly 19 million voter-consumers outclassing both Democratic and Republican rivals alike, in the recently concluded Election Primaries.

Over the past 16 months, the Senator defined his product – the product of change by staking his reputation to great advantage. His unique selling points were hope, trust, faith and renewed confidence in self and the collective. He energised frustrated voters (consumers) to buy-in to a new product that they demanded for years, but couldn’t purchase anywhere. He converted his unvarnished product into a polished gem and sold it to 36 million, garnering over half of all voter-consumers including a fifth of all Democratic delegates (`prestigious buyers’ in this instance). He caused consumers to question their current `political brand’ and helped them to switch buying behaviour where it demanded most. Some analysts interpreted this calculated, high-risk strategy as Obama’s messianic appeal to frustrated `political souls’.

Obama’s message was transmitted through a variety of multi-media channels. The Internet and other web-based forums were used to hard-sell the product-message, as well as enlist millions of voter-consumers while carrying out a sustainable fund-raising campaign throughout the USA. His promotion campaign included a Manifesto which covered issues from the economy, defence, the environment and business to women’s affairs. In effect, Obama encapsulated America’s vision for the future with that of the world as a whole, using a simple message-brand called `change’.

As he branded his new product, the message was spread to over 50 locations, with various techniques used to target different States depending on the outcome of pre-market research carried out. When there were concerns about a particular place or State, the message or approach was modified to suit. The foundation of Senator Obama’s success was an unmistakable understanding of market segmentation. By creating segments for students, professionals, women, minorities, experts, trade unionists and others who were excluded from the political system, he gained momentum by tapping into gaps in the political market. In spite of securing approximately 43% of mainstream voters, the Senator’s success was comparatively relative to that of previous Democratic Presidential candidates who also vied for similar markets.

However, far from being the most single milestone in the history of political marketing, Senator Obama’s triumph was built on the achievements of other leaders from another generation (of lawyer-politicians); namely, the late President of Guyana, Desmond Hoyte, who maximised the mass media and the product of change (with the slogan `the end of an era and the beginning of a new epoch’) to win the 1985 Guyanese General Elections. Former President, Bill Clinton, also maximised the message of hope over adversity, to claim the White House in the early 1990s and ex-Premier, Tony Blair, who capitalised on a frustrated British electorate by introducing a “Third Way" product to oust his rivals in 1997.

Indeed, Senator Obama’s victory epitomised the art of political marketing by placing voter-consumers’ interest at centre of implementation. It is too, an instructive lesson for entrepreneurs who are keen on introducing new goods and services to attract consumers especially in highly competitive markets.

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