Because marketing is so visible and so expensive, it is easy to assume a good marketing campaign trumps the product, business process, or customer. We often see senior business executives more enamored with marketing at the expense of the other two. This generally leads to bad outcomes - in business or in politics.
Now politics is perception so marketing (and polling) do play a role. But relying on them exclusively can bite you, as Hilary Clinton learned during the 2007 primaries, despite being a pretty good product.
What can also bite you is believing that midterm (local) wins can translate to national elections. In 2010, the Republicans won simply by opposing President Obama. Their message, “We’ll stop ObamaCare, kill terrorists, hate anything a Democrat does, and lower taxes.”
The product/candidate didn’t matter as long as it could parrot the party line. Win first and worry about governing later, if ever.
Just months later, the Republican Primary candidates went back to the well: vilify the incumbent and make impossible, sound-byte promises that resonate with the base. All talk (spin) no substance (product).
But the Presidency is a different ballgame. The electoral college and broad-based support matter more than any one Congressional district. The dynamic is more complex, the scrutiny is greater, and your opponent is no longer a less competent and (even) more buffoon-like version of you.
Now the product matters as much if not more than the marketing. It must meet the needs of a much broader set of customers, it must be real, and it must convince skeptics. A shallow (and hollow) message won’t cut it.
Governor Romney lost because he assumed marketing would take him all the way. He let winning the primary go to his head, did not realize how different the new game was, and how much harder it is to convince undecided voters. He also assumed he and his plans were now fully-vetted and approved by all voters - no analysis or clarity required. “I’m bona fide!” And finally, he believed that the people attending his rallies represented all voters, that what swayed them would sway every voter he needed for the win, and that their fervency reflected their intent to turn out and vote.
The reason your base is called your base is because they love you and your platform, and hate your opponent. The relationship is irrational. Independents are less driven by emotion - they’re trying to make a reasoned choice based on factors matter to them.
The Romney camp didn’t grasp this - they reckoned that mere promises were enough to carry the day. They avoided specifics because they didn’t want to open cans of worms. Non-fanatics saw through it; they wanted:
- Specific, independently verified plans showing how 12 million jobs would be created.
- Proof that you can lower taxes, grow defense, not raise more money, lower the deficit, and allow everyone to take home more money.
- To know why he hated Latinos (and women?) so much.
- To learn Romney’s strategy to work with the Tea Party (something the Republican Speaker failed at), and a Democrat Senate.
But this wasn’t their only problem - remember the three elements in the equation - product, marketing, customer. They forgot that the only thing that counts in the end is a person showing up and voting (customer). They assumed that their voters would turn out, but did nothing to assure it. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
The President, invested early and extensively at the local level. He was able to overcome a number of setbacks (negative ad campaign, poor debate performance, weak economy, etc.) with his “ground game.” He avoided outlandish promises (12 million new jobs, lowering the deficit without raising taxes, etc.), and his local machine created relationships and helped people come out and vote.
In the wake of the election, the "evolved" Republican strategy for 2016 appears to be:
- Romney was too liberal - the next candidate needs to have unimpeachable conservative credentials (small government, lower taxes, bigger defense, loves God).
- Win the Latino and female vote - support amnesty and trumpet Marco Rubio and Susana Martinez, to demonstrate Latino/female kinship.
- Continue to deny inconvenient facts - the 2010 Republican House was the least functional ever; climate change does exist; lower taxes don’t magically create jobs; there is no fraud - voter id laws are designed to prevent Dems from voting; gay people families are just as normal as straight families. “Hey - let’s not change things too much, after all - there’s nothing wrong with the real us, the problem was Romney.”
#1 & #3 make sense. Republicans have a better chance of wining when they stay true to their roots. There is goodness in authenticity, misguided though it may be.
#2 - well... Latinos and women (and any other “target audience”) are not idiots - they can see through the lip service. If the Republicans truly wish to win over these constituencies, they will have to get over the idea that a marketing/spin campaign is all that’s needed.
Exit polls from the election showed that Americans are:
- 25% Liberal ~ 40% Moderate ~ 35% Conservative
- 39% Democrat ~ 33% Republican ~ 28% Independent
Neither party wins without the moderate/independent vote. This vote is by definition not emotionally attached to a party, and thus makes decisions by observing behavior, reviewing facts, and evaluating policies and plans.
Marketing alone can not convince them. The winning candidate will understand that you also have to show the substance of your product, and you have to directly and genuinely engage your customer.
I am a moderate/independent who will never affiliate with a party. I wanted to vote for Romney - on paper, he seemed the better candidate. BUT in reality, he lacked substance, disdained the voters, and exhibited a shocking lack of integrity. I changed my mind because all I saw was an empty suit whose only interest was self-interest.
To win, Republicans have to get past their Eric Cantorness and focus on the electorate - spin won't win.