This year we were lucky enough to be asked to help out with a couple of local election campaigns. With such a bizarre election going on in America, and social media platforms in particular bringing a whole new dimension to the process, it seemed fitting that we give a few thoughts on the lessons that we learned from the campaign trail that can translate to your business.
Know your audience
We’ve previously posted about knowing your audience from a commercial perspective, but in the election campaign that was really emphasised here in Hawkes Bay. As a general rule, the last few years' voter turnout has been less than half the population. In reality, what that means is a serious skew in the demographics of who is voting. The voting population is much older than the general population and targeting that demographic through online advertising and social media can be very tricky. This is certainly one instance where the trend to move away from conventional advertising didn’t hold entirely true; with newspaper, radio advertising and good old fashion leaflet drops still a very effective approach.
From a business point of view, understanding your audience is vital from a sales and marketing perspective. For the most part, our purchasing audience is moving from conventional media to online media, and even more noticeably, they are moving to mobile. What the election campaign hit home though was that if you want to be effective in reaching your audience, you need to tailor how your message reaches them.
The better the product, the better the campaign
We were very lucky with the candidates that we worked for, in that they all had clear policies and opinions that resounded with the public. However, when you look at the American election Donald Trump's campaign managers must wake up with cold sweats at times! As a ‘product’ he appeals to a very niche market and turns a lot of people off. That’s all good and well if you are able to survive off that niche market (as he did in the Republican Primary), but if you’re going for broad appeal, the outlook isn’t great. As advertisers, no matter how we package up a product, if at it’s core there is an issue, that issue will always shine through.
As business owners, that is something we need to constantly remember. If we put forward a product or service that isn’t desirable, no matter what advertising and spin we put behind it, there is always going to be a big risk it is going to fail. Always, always think of the potential customer and what they are after when creating your products and services – and if it’s a dud, don’t be surprised if a huge marketing campaign doesn’t help it.
One issue can change perception
In Hawkes Bay in particular we had a couple of issues completely dominate the conversation. The water crisis was one (although that wasn’t very polarising, because as a general rule we all agreed it needed fixing), and the Ruataniwha dam was the other headline grabber. In the Regional Council race in particular, the dam debate seemed to completely determine who people voted for. Every anti-dam candidate made it onto the Council, at the expense of very capable pro-dam candidates. In helping with the campaign, this was by far the trickiest area to work around, as obviously the candidates needed to choose which side of the argument they were on, and stick with it. From a neutral perspective the anti-dam campaign was certainly able to create far more passionate feeling through the media and the community. They harnessed the communities love of the environment and turned it against a project that the large majority of voters didn’t really know much about. In this regard it became just as much about selling your side of the issue as yourself as a candidate.
The big takeaway for businesses in this regard was definitely to listen to the customer, listen to the community and take note. Customers and clients always want to be heard, and if an issue begins to gain traction, it is so important to hear that issue and do something about it. Whether that is solving a problem, making a suggested change, or just educating the consumer base about why something is happening the way it is, it is far better to act than to let that issue take control and dictate the perception of your business.
Digital is still king – and growing
While I mentioned earlier that a large portion of the voting demographic was an older population, this campaign certainly affirmed that digital and social advertising is a hugely powerful tool in an election campaign. In an electorate where only 20,000 – 40,000 people vote, we were able to reach 200,000 people in a very targeted manner. In the American election you can see this in an even more obvious way. Whether it be Donald Trump’s tweets guiding the media conversation, or Hillary Clinton cleverly targeting specific minorities in her online advertising, social media is where a lot of that election is now being fought. In New Zealand, if we make a move to online voting next election, then the instant click and vote will completely shift the demographic of voters. That’s an exciting prospect, but regardless, a well run social media campaign where content is carefully crafted and individuals develop a connection with a candidate, is certainly a powerful campaign tool.
We shouldn’t really need to sell you on the power of online advertising and social media for your business. It is cheaper, can more effectively target groups you want to, and provides you with the ability to have a constant advertising presence. If used correctly you can reach thousands of people daily for tens of dollars – something small businesses never would have been able to do in the past. No matter what industry you are in there is a social media platform out there that will let you achieve the goals that you want to, and hopefully lead to more sales. 543 Designs puts its money where its mouth is and put 95% of our marketing budget online.
Negativity breeds negativity
This election campaign we got to see just how quickly someone can jump online and turn the conversation negative. Individuals who didn’t like a particular policy would constantly leave provocative and negative comments on candidate’s Facebook pages which could turn a good post, bad, quite quickly. For us, the way to stop these type of comments was not to ignore them, nor delete them, but to engage them with respect in a manner that left the individual feeling like their question had been answered, but without them feeling a need to add to the conversation further. That was a tricky balance to meet, but the key was never being combative, and the ‘ace up our sleeve’ was to always offer to call the commenter to chat further. By moving the conversation into a real world scenario 9 times out of 10 the sting was taken out of the comment and no long winded negative conversation would develop.
We actually hear this fear from business owners a lot – “what if I go on social media and someone makes a negative comment…can I delete that negative comment?”. Well – two things…yes you can, but no you shouldn’t. The first thing you have to acknowledge is that even if you aren’t on social media, that negative comment is likely to still be out there, but if you aren’t online you have no chance to respond and guide the conversation in the direction you want it to go. By having a social presence, and dealing with every negative comment with respect (and being candid in your response), you are far more likely to stop that negativity before it develops into something more widespread. Never be combative, or dismissive, and you can often turn negative into positive on social media. Furthermore, if you hold the high ground online, your supporters will often get in behind you. Most importantly, if you focus on providing fantastic products and service then you’ll get a huge swell of positive reviews, and those will far outweigh the negative.
Colour and branding
As we drove around the electorate through the campaign what we noticed the most was colour and how various candidates had branded themselves. In an outdoor setting, some colours disappeared into the background, while others jumped out at you as you drove past. Some candidates went for simplicity, focusing on only their name on the signage, while others listed policy after policy (which most of the time you couldn’t read when driving past at 100kms an hour!). The big takeaway for us personally was how powerful white is as a colour – particularly on a roadside. When you think of bright colours you think of oranges and pinks and yellows, and logic says they will be eye catching. But next time you have a drive down the road – particularly in more rural areas – notice how much a bright white stands out. By definition, white is the brightest colour out there, and we often forget to think of it that way. From a branding perspective, a real focus needed to be put on name recognition for the election, so while 2 word catch phrases do help, the candidate's name is absolutely what you want to reinforce. The only other comment we would have is to avoid orange. Yes it stands out, but it has a really polarising effect with the general public.
When going into business we often forget about how much colour and branding can convey. Too often we make a decision based on what colours WE like, when ultimately it’s not us who are going to be buying our products. Have a search for a colour emotion guide sometime and just see what people associate with different colours. Whenever we run a Facebook advert for 543 we’ll always run identical versions with different colour palettes to see which one performs the best. It’s quite amazing sometimes to see that even with the same words and the same picture, text in one colour can be twice as effective as text in another. The other takeaway is to be concise in any of your advertising. If you can get your message across in a few words, it will be punchy, memorable and effective. If you don’t, you run the risk of it being ignored.
Those are all our musings on being involved in an election campaign. It was certainly a thoroughly enjoyable experience and we look forward to implementing some of the lessons we learned into the business world in the future. As always, when you read through this blog I’m sure you’ll pick up a strong theme of thinking about the client, customer, or target audience. If you analyse everything you do in your business based on how it can improve the experience for the customer, you’re far more likely to have success – particularly in marketing.
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The founder of 543 Design & Online gives his thoughts on everything web and branding.
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