If I was running for President today, I would be thinking about how Presidential campaigns are going to be run in 50 years because the COVID-19 crisis is accelerating the future as it relates to understanding, reaching and connecting with your customers (yes call them customers, it is a very useful paradigm) and turning prospective voters into your voters.
Let’s start by examining the constraints as they exist today:
- It is unlikely that you are going to be able to effectively reach and be able to communicate with your base with the traditional campaign rallies, they are a thing of the past. Even if social distancing rules are relaxed somewhat, people are unlikely to turn out in the numbers they did in the past, and even if they did do you want to risk being the cause for a rebound in infection counts—and make no mistake about it, if your rally spreads the virus, the numbers will tell the story, you won’t be able to hide it.
- Large numbers of your constituency think differently from you and me. They are a lot younger and look to different sources for the information that they use to make decisions and otherwise be influenced.
- The cost of a campaign is, any way you look at it, astronomical. You need to think about leveraging resources that have proven more effective than traditional methods of influencing mass audiences.
- There is a vast infrastructure in place ready (actually, designed specifically) for something like a Presidential campaign that must be run in the shadow of COVID-19. It is made up of technology that reaches something like 90% of the US population. That, by the way, is the same as the percentage of households that had television in 1960 when Kennedy debated Nixon on the TV and many say won the election because he was better suited to the technology better than Nixon. The technology we are talking about today is the Internet and the social media platforms that sit on top of it and the candidate who adapts to the environment and the technology will have a distinct advantage.
Let’s learn from business:
- The auto industry, even before COVID-19 was moving aggressively away from the traditional auto show (think campaign rally) realizing that social media campaigns combined with more personalized interactions with potential CUSTOMERS delivers a better bang for their buck.
Political campaigns have the opportunity to accelerate what may have been a slow and painful transition from in-person rallies to interactions that are more often and more effectively delivered via the Internet. It will undoubtedly be a struggle, but better to embrace the change rather than fight it. Because the change is going to happen one way or the other.
To that point, it has been my observation that some of the late-night television hosts have done a better job transitioning from having live audiences than others. Studying their successes and failures is informative and will shorten learning cycles. The point is that you can’t just move the techniques that worked in the past to the Internet. It is a different medium and requires a different mindset, but you must embrace it!
- Businesses call the process of moving into the digital world, Digital Transformation. Like any business process reengineering there are several things you need to do:
- Go big or go home. Half-hearted efforts are worse than no effort because you spend a lot of money and end up no better off than you were when you started spending the money. Make a sure that, from top to bottom, that the whole organization is bought in. The necessary transformations (both organizational and process) will be uncomfortable, because change always is, but way more comfortable than losing the election.
- Make a plan. You have three major objectives: 1) developing a new way of doing business: 2) getting all the players on board with this new way of doing business; and 3) then making it happen. Each of those imply major efforts that involve a lot of people, effort and cooperation. They can’t be done on the fly, so don’t try to do it that way.
- Get the right talent on board. You will need people who understand social media, creative types who will develop content that communicates your platform in a way that has impact and people who can make and implement the plan outlined in the previous point.
- Develop a compelling message that is both complete and well defined. In my last post I articulated an outline that could provide the basis for such a message. The important thing is that the message:
- Addresses the issues for all the constituencies. While it is tempting to focus on a few hot button issues it is a lot less effort and the 80/20 rule applies, right? No, not right. You are running for President of the United States. An approach that communicates your positions incompletely (and likely indicates that you don’t have well-crafted positions on those issues) alienates constituencies that might otherwise (if they understood your whole worldview) be part of your team. There was a Presidential candidate in 2016 who didn’t pay enough attention to some of her potential supporters and look what it got her.
- Prioritize. Make sure people know what comes first second and third. This sets expectations which is important in making people happy. For instance, I believe that people are happier if they are told that the weather will be bad, and it isn’t rather than vice versa. Which is why I think the local weather presenters always provide the worst-case weather scenario—they are managing expectations!
- Work out the details. Don’t just provide a “vision” of the future. Do detailed plans. You are already spending a fortune on the campaign, don’t skimp here. And, I know you might think that the chances you will ever be called on it are small, but the exercise will: 1) prepare you on the off chance someone asks; and 2) help you administration perform better because writing something down is a discipline that makes one think the issue through and equally importantly it memorializes it for everyone to know—which keeps everyone on the same page, the one you want them on.
- Finally, build a 21st century sales organization. Learn from the best sales organizations and adapt their techniques to your needs. For instance, the use of influencers is very effective. Influencers are well known people who already have a following and are willing to endorse your product (that would be you). Influencers use social media to promote your product.
I suggest that you devote significant resources to: 1) developing collateral material for influencers; 2) signing up influencers; and 3) developing programs that leverage the influencers. I would bet that there are a substantial number of “influencers” who would be happy to participate and probably even generate content that would turbocharge your outreach to your base.
Truth be told this whole influencer idea is very old. In 1980 George Brakeley wrote a book where he described the use of a volunteer organization of influencers to help with fundraising. It worked and still does.
COVID-19 has changed the playing field. It is accelerating many trends. The transition to an Internet-based marketing communications environment has been ongoing for some time. The 2016 election showed some first baby steps toward using the internet to influence voters. I say it is time to go big or go home!
— you can find this (days earlier) and other posts at www.niden.com.
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Martha Gershun says
I hope Biden listens to you, Howard. We need this win, and I think your road map is solid!