Don’t Learn Marketing Strategy From Politicians

By March 9, 2016Marketing

(Editors note, this blog is about marketing, not politics or any politician or political party)

Someone told me that Donald Trump knows how to market himself. He is hated and reviled by many, says sexist, offensive and potentially dangerous things, and has sued people for ridiculous claims.

Yet, he is successfully winning votes and arguably creating one of the most interesting campaigns most of us have ever seen, so no matter how you feel about him or his approach, he must be doing something right.

That doesn’t mean you should follow suit when marketing your business.

Why not? Trump is a successful businessman, and in his first foray into politics he has created more buzz than a swarm of bees, so why not follow his marketing lead?

For starters, your business is not a political campaign. Your business needs to survive longer than a campaign cycle. It needs to stay relevant and in people’s minds all the time, not just every four years. And while a politician’s competitors may be fierce, they only need to beat their rivals once or twice; your business needs to win every day.

Trump can say whatever he wants and get away with it; your business can’t. Just ask Budweiser, Bloomingdales, or Starbucks  about stuff their marketing campaigns said that they didn’t get away with. Trump can say “ban Muslim immigrants” and somehow gain votes, but Starbucks encouraging customers to talk about racial issues in America was met with severe negativity. He can make fun of Carly Fiorina’s appearance and call women fat slobs, while Walmart gets raked over the coals for including a “fat girls” sections in their Halloween ads. 

While following your business’s marketing strategy in Trump’s footsteps will definitely trip you up, Hillary Clinton’s marketing is nothing your business should mimic either.

Clinton’s approach is nearly the opposite of Trump. She speaks politely and doesn’t overtly insult people, and as of yet has made no sexual innuendos during a presidential debate. She tries to please people for their votes, everyone, and that can create difficulties.

She is having a hard time branding herself as a sincere person because tries to appease everyone instead of taking a definitive stance on many controversial issues. While your business goals are most likely to try to please as many people as possible and avoid controversy at all costs, sometimes it seems unavoidable.

I liken the problems Land’s End is currently going through to the Clinton campaign. Their latest catalog featuring an interview with Gloria Steinem (a prominent women’s rights activist and pro-choice proponent) drew the ire of many conservatives and caused (at least) 2 Catholic schools severing their ties with the company, and many others calling for a boycott. When Land’s End pulled the interview and apologized for it, they drew backlash from the other side, which is now also calling for boycotts.

I imagine the most frustrating part for Land’s End must be that the interview didn’t even mention the topic that got people infuriated. Still, rather than ride out the storm and hope it blew over, they decided to try appeasing one group of customers without thinking of their customer base at large.

Trump and Clinton aside, another reason not to learn marketing from politics is you likely have much more competition than any politician. One successful thing both parties have done is brand themselves as the only two options. How often have you heard, or even felt, that you’re just “wasting you vote” if you vote outside the two parties. That is no accident; it is a carefully crafted message that both parties are forever adjusting as our society grows and attitudes change.

Unfortunately, your business most likely does not have the luxury of being one of two options. Once people are convinced their choices are limited, those options don’t need to strive to be good. “The lesser of two evils” is all you have to be to get clients (in their case, votes). That won’t work for business. Unless your business is a utility or cable provider or something similar, there will always be more than two options. Even if you’re in a good location with no competition, there is always the risk of that changing.

The best way to keep your company strong is to always have a positive rapport with your clients or customers. Politicians only need to keep people happy while running their campaigns; your business needs to keep people satisfied as long as possible.

I feel this is currently an important topic to discuss due to the influx of political marketing we are being inundated with. The tactics used to successfully market messages to both the general and fringe masses will always be changing, along with new ideas and trends. Politicians and campaign managers may very often look to us business marketers and designers to keep up with those trends, but we should never look to politicians to inspire good marketing strategies.

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