Marketing Lessons From Politics

It is presidential campaign season here in the USA. Personally, I find much of the political process annoying (at best). Yet, in the midst of the abysmal pre-election morass (and I mean that in the nicest way!), you and I can learn a lot to grow our businesses.

Politicians have to win votes to survive. You and I have to win the hearts and minds of our customers to get their votes (dollars). This is where Relationship Marketing is so important. Relationship Marketing – or what I call “R-Commerce” – focuses on more than just making a quick sale. It’s all about building a solid, long-term relationship with your customers by learning where they are coming from and what their needs are.

The principles of Relationship Marketing apply to both politics and what you and I do in our businesses. Here are some areas where I see similarities between the two.

It Is Not About Just Using the Web – It Is About Embracing Web 2.0.

You have to engage the customer. Merely shoving a bunch of information at people (think 1960s television, radio, newspaper ads) doesn’t cut it anymore. Politicians actively embrace the Net to raise funds. They allow supporters (and detractors) to comment on blogs, websites, etc. YouTube is an active part of the political process. Embrace these tools for your own business and reap the benefits.

Learn What Is Important to Your Customers and Play to Their Needs.

Politicians will stress the economy in economically challenged states. They slant their messages to the areas of “pain” for voters in any particular geographic area. Are they only pandering to those folks? Well, a case could be made for that. But it is important for them to address the issues that are relevant to the people.

You might know a lot of ways your widgets can help your prospective customers. However, the only ways that matter are the ones buyers think matter. An old phrase is still so true: What is important is what important people think is important. Buyers are the important people for you and me. Focus on their pain and be the pain-reliever.

Build Relationships on Two Levels: Retail and Wholesale.

Politicians build relationships at the retail level. They know certain people and call them directly. They make it a point to meet other people in person. But they also embrace the masses at the wholesale level through rallies, fund-raising dinners, the media, and more.

As businesspeople, we have to do that as well. Have some relationships that are very close. And other relationships that are made through the media. On the retail level, it means pressing the flesh. It means you have to be there. Yes, e-mail is great. Yes, telephone calls are great. And, yes, Skype video over the Net is fabulous. However, none of that takes the place of sitting down with someone and sharing one-on-one over some drinks.

Think of how you could use this same principle to get to know – and bond with – your customers. This is Relationship Marketing at its best.

Have a Compelling Message.

You have to stand out from the crowd. Without offending, you must have a unique message your customers can’t get elsewhere. A politician who sounds too radical or too much like everyone else is doomed. Yes, it is a difficult tightrope to walk. But successful politicians (the ones who win the race) – and successful businesspeople – have a clear, compelling message.

Public Speaking Is Critical.

Barack Obama is a good example of a great public speaker. Think, too, of Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, John Kennedy, and Winston Churchill.

In business, public speaking is a vital tool for extending your brand and building trust. When people see you speak in public, they will either want to embrace you and your message or discard you. In most cases, audiences want to support the speaker. People like saying they heard a particular person live and in person. However, if you come across as unsure and violate some of their core beliefs, you can alienate them.

Build Your Base of Supporters.

All politicians stress the message that their mission is not about them. It is about something bigger. “I can’t do it alone,” you’ll hear them say. Realistically speaking, every candidate is after power. However, they can’t say that. They have to communicate the impression that they are seeking election to serve their voters.

Realistically speaking, you are in business to make money. But marketers who focus on a bigger goal (“Helping you become financially independent” or “Making the world a safer, greener place”) garner more long-term support from their customers.

Michael Masterson has long demonstrated for us how to “think like the buyer.” That means understanding the buyer’s needs and problems. When you make it your mission to fulfill those needs and solve those problems, the money will flow to you.

Pollsters (and Tracking) Are Vital.

Politicians watch the polls to find out which issues matter to voters. You can find out what matters to your customers by using tools like Google Analytics, and WebTrends.

Know who is coming to your website. Know what they are looking for. Be aware of what is happening with the numbers that are vital to your business. Identify those key metrics and ratios and monitor them closely. Blogging and YouTube are two excellent tools for this. Wendy Montes de Oca’s article in ETR on polling shows what you can do to capitalize on this major trend.

Make Sure They Vote.

It is one thing for people to say they support a candidate. It is quite another for them to make the effort to actually vote and let their voices be heard.

Instead of voters, you’re looking for buyers. You want to make it easy for people to buy from you. Make your website easy to navigate. Make your retail store a joy to visit. Make it easy for clients to purchase your services. Promises won’t do it. You want to get your customers to vote for you – and continue voting for you – with their dollars. This is where Relationship Marketing really pays off.

As I said, the principles of Relationship Marketing apply just as well in the world of politics as they do in our own businesses. However, there is one very big difference. For us, “Election Day” is every day. And our campaign to win votes (customer dollars) starts all over again the next day. By making a strong commitment to continually make your business better and improve your campaign, you will always come out on top.

[Ed. Note: You can learn a lot about marketing from watching politicians. You can also discover valuable tricks of the trade from some of the top marketers in the business with ETR’s Direct Marketing Masters program. 

Terry Brock is a marketing coach and professional speaker who helps achievers succeed in business through profitable R-Commerce – Relationship Marketing. You can read his blog and watch his ground-breaking videos by going to and clicking on the “Terry’s Blog… Latest Update” button.]