Career Development

Politicians, Don’t Sell Yourselves; Market Yourselves

Politics usually comes to you, and so there you are at the local school board meeting, just a bit hot under the collar because the board is considering cutting out the entire foreign language department just as your kid begins to express an interest in working overseas.

There you are. Suddenly, you’re a politician. You stand up and give an impassioned speech on why foreign language matters in this crazy, digital world of ours and suddenly you’re off to the races. After the meeting, some tongue tied mom of some other kid taps you on the shoulder and suggests you run for school board, because you can put into words what she thinks and feels.

Now you have one vote. But after that, you don’t know what to do.

It never occurred to you until now that running for office is somewhat like selling … electric swivel chairs.

Why electric swivel chairs? Well, because there is only one registered voter out there who even knows who you are. You want to sell them on your skills, your dedication, your stance on foreign languages. But you can’t, because nobody knows who you are.

In this compartmentalized world of ours, you have just bumped into a very common problem. Every new and most old products, every new and most old politicians know that the name of the game is not sales at all. The name of the game is marketing.

A certain number of people will vote. Give or take a few, it will be the same group as those who voted in the previous umpteen elections. But they won’t vote for you, even if they hate your opponent with a passion unless you get your name out there. Why? Well, aren’t we warned about the dangers of talking to strangers every day? And now you want people to whom you are a stranger to vote you into a position of responsibility? Good luck with that, pal.

Marketing is not sales. It looks like sales, but it is not sales. The big difference is that sales ends up with a transaction and marketing most assuredly does not.

The other difference is simple: Marketing comes before sales. This can best be explained by example.

Example One: Buying A Car

You head off to buy your first car, because you believe they are trustworthy enough, worth the money, reliable, fun to own. Guess what? All the marketing needed has already been done by those thousands of car advertisements and conversations you have heard all your life. The IDEA of owning a car is already sold to you. That’s the marketing part: Giving someone the idea that

Example Two: Vote For Me

Now there you are running for school board. A certain number of people will already vote, but they only vote on people they know and trust. The marketing side of running for office is you want people to know your name and to trust you.

Marketing Trust

Think about trust. Maybe you say “Trust me. I’m a trustworthy guy.”

Does it work? Well, to some degree. But just as many people get turned off by that as those who fall for it. After all, they’ve been burnt before and you just sound like everybody else.

Trust is a particular type of marketing problem, but one with a tried and true solution. You get someone the pubic trusts to say that he or she trusts you. If Mother Teresa (if she were still alive) or Cal Ripken Jr. stood up and said, “Vote for Joe Noggin. He’s a guy I trust,” then you’d be at least halfway home.

Name Recognition

Even if your name is John Smith, you will have to become a known entity before you can expect people to vote for you.

Consider the practical alternative. When you go to the polls, you see a list of names and you recognize the name of the incumbents, because their names get into the newspaper or on the radio with every board meeting. Then you see a name you’ve never heard of before. People almost never vote for that person.

Now you know the value of all those lawn signs during local elections. Newspapers write stories about candidates running for office, but not everyone even reads the newspapers anymore. Radios run stories, but voters could miss those, too. A few go to political meetings, but that’s hardly enough people to swing an election.

Signs, signs, signs

Signs win elections? Signs certainly do win elections. So do pens, refrigerator magnets and bumper stickers. Companies that sell political signs show the wide variety of options. Name recognition is everything, not just in local elections, either.

The pen, bumper sticker, visor and tee shirt with your name on it, pointedly, does two things: It allows name recognition to develop. And it implies (without a blatant, untrustworthy sales pitch) that the candidate is someone voters can trust. Why? Because when a bumper sticker is on a car belonging to someone else, then it implies that person trusts you. And friends and neighbors usually market trust better then a candidate can directly.

Is running for office about sales or marketing?

It would be great to figure that running for office was about your ideas. It is, but the ideas need to move into public awareness and often that means attaching your name to a simple concept, like trust, and marketing that idea to the point that voters will even listen to what you have to say.

It’s not about one or the other, anyway. It’s about making sure marketing precedes sales. Many ambitious politicians go on the stump and wonder why their bright ideas aren’t selling. It’s usually because they have not done their marketing first.

Leave a Comment