Business IQ

Lessons from the US presidential campaigns

Jeff Haden
Business Journalist

Jeff Haden is a bestselling ghostwriter, speaker, Inc. Magazine contributing editor, and LinkedIn Influencer

Jeff Haden
Business Journalist

Jeff Haden is a bestselling ghostwriter, speaker, Inc. Magazine contributing editor, and LinkedIn Influencer

The current presidential campaigns in the United States are driving much of the media conversation globally. So what can businesses take away from the race for the highest office on the planet?

persons shadow against red and white stripped flooring

US presidential campaigns are some of the most sophisticated operations in the world: Coordinating messaging, outreach, marketing and advertising, and the efforts of hundreds of employees and thousands of volunteers.

And while you might not think of it this way, running a presidential campaign shares a number of similarities with running a business. It requires authenticity, a focus on your audience, accurate information and principles, just to name a few.

So what can businesses learn from the current U.S. presidential campaign?

Be authentic

If you want an engaged audience, or want engaged, loyal customers, authenticity and consistency are everything.

Constituents build emotional connections with a candidate and see him or her as more than just a “brand.” The same is true for your business. Ultimately customers buy from people and become loyal because they identify with those people —that means you must be able to make a genuine emotional connection by filling a need, solving a problem or satisfying an aspiration. The best candidates and the best brands form a real connection with their constituents and customers. 

You will never be all things to all people, and that’s okay. But to succeed over the long-term, it’s important to be yourself.

Focus on your audience

Donald Trump (yes, he is still in the race) is a great example of a person who aims to please his core constituency. He doesn’t care if many people dislike him or his message: He’s “preaching” to the people inclined to support him.

The same is true for any business; to create raving fans you must be different and must speak to their individual needs and desires.

Every disruptive business started small because its products or services — and definitely its messaging — were counterintuitive and even revolutionary. Is Trump revolutionary? Time will tell, but he has built a loyal core following.

So can you — if you focus on meeting the needs of your following.

Stand for something

Every candidate claims to stand for something: A policy, a position, an ideology or belief (some stand for too many “somethings” and, as the old saying goes, a politician who stands for everything stands for nothing).

Unfortunately, it’s often hard to tell what some candidates stand for since they craft and polish and “mainstream” their thoughts so as not to offend potential supporters.

The same is true for many businesses. “We work hard to meet your needs,” sounds soft. “We deliver on time every time” sounds dedicated and committed.

Don’t be afraid to take bold stands. Don’t be afraid to compare yourself to your competition. Don’t be afraid to be controversial (for the right reasons).

Your goal is to be remembered — and that sometimes means taking a bold stand and then backing up that claim with outstanding performance.

Stay consistent

And when you take a bold stance, stick to it; after all a promise isn’t worth much if it’s not fulfilled.

The same is true for businesses: Some brands focus on service, others on quality, others on price… and they maintain a laser focus on what makes them different.

So can you. Start by deciding on the word you want to define your business. How do you want customers to think about you and your company? Maybe you want them to feel healthier, or safer, or smarter, or more capable. Pick the word or words you want to define you.

And then work incredibly hard, not just on your messaging but on delivering that definition to your customers. 

Know how to reach different audiences

Much was made of President Obama’s grass roots campaigns, but research shows different types of marketing strategies were more effective depending on the nature of the audience.

Personal selling had a greater impact on people already disposed to vote for Obama, while advertising was more effective in convincing people who had not developed a strong affinity for either candidate.

The same is true for your business. Some customers may appreciate social media marketing strategies. Others may rely more heavily on review sites and word-of-mouth. Others may respond better to direct response advertising.

The key is to know your audience and your customers, and to meet them where they “live”. Your job is to go where your customers are… because if you wait for them to come to you, you may be waiting a long time.

Trust your vision

The best political campaigns lay out a vision for the future, often one that takes people time to understand and support.

So do the best companies. The idea of thousands of independent drivers providing millions of rides sounded crazy until Uber® pulled it off. The idea of thousands of people renting their homes to millions of people sounded crazy until Airbnb® pulled it off.

Those companies started with a vision and then saw that vision through in spite of doubters and naysayers.

And so can you. Back yourself: Back your ideas, your passion, and your perseverance, even if no one else does. You might be the person who pulls off what others think is impossible — but you definitely won’t if you don’t try.

Presidential candidates rely on a number of people to help them succeed. 

Read more about the importance of partnerships.

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