Political campaigns are an exercise in brand management. The questions asked inside campaign operations are similar to those asked inside marketing boardrooms: what types of issues should we support? What do we stand for? Is our message digestible to consumers and differentiated from our competitors?
As the U.S. election season continues, and the field of candidates has narrowed, it is those who have managed their brand most effectively who remain. The following are five key learnings sponsors can learn from the U.S. election.
1. Allocation of scarce resources is essential to victory
Campaigns must constantly make trade-offs with respect to both where they are spending their money and where the candidate is spending their time. Winnable regions are often prioritized versus wasting money and time in a region where the candidate is unlikely to have success.
Corporate sponsors have finite budgets as well. Factors such as business need, employee presence, and competitor activity often dictate market priority. Brands can leverage sponsorship to protect strategic markets with increased investment or as a launching pad in a developing market -- and can even benefit from using it to satisfy both objectives. While resource allocation in marketing is not as black and white as it is in politics (there can be more than one winner in marketing), the idea of trade-offs is still a reality in sponsorship.
2. Message discipline drives breakthrough and recall but can be limiting
Political candidates have a tendency to speak in soundbites, constantly reinforcing their positions and key messages. However, candidates who never stray from the same talking points can be viewed as one-dimensional or appear robotic and scripted, as former Republican candidate Marco Rubio was accused of being.
Sponsors who are more active are more likely to have their message breakthrough in a cluttered marketing landscape. However, brands must be conscious of message discipline as well. Adapting your activation narrative on a property by property basis or evolving your message over time are essential strategic tools to overcome consumer fatigue.
3. Must balance playing to your base and winning independents
Campaigns win by either winning undecided voters or by increasing turnout amongst their supporters. Two candidates for the Republican nomination, Ted Cruz and John Kasich differ in this respect. While Cruz has a defined base of socially conservative voters, Kasich's moderate positions are targeting independent voters who may be undecided between a Democrat and a Republican.
Sponsors can also face this dynamic in how they opt to activate. They can either attempt to drive customer acquisition (to win undecided voters) or they can reward their current customers with exclusive experiences (play to their base). Virgin Mobile's sponsorship of music festival Osheaga, in which they offered early ticket access was an effort to increase loyalty amongst existing clients.
4. Social media as price of entry versus a competitive advantage
Barack Obama's 2008 victory is recognized as the first time a major campaign leveraged social media to organize voter turnout and extend the reach of its message. It was in 2008 that Twitter was just beginning to gain popularity. Eight years ago, social media was a major competitive advantage for those who were early adopters. In 2016, a social media presence for campaigns has become more table stakes.
Social media extensions in sponsorship is no longer an added benefit but an expectation for sponsors. Social media must be at the heart of an activation plan versus serve as a tactical overlay to ensure sponsors are reaching their market effectively.
5. Mind the authenticity gap
One indicator of how successful a candidate is going to be in an election is the perception of that candidate's "authenticity". According to a New York Times / CBS poll taken in December, 76 per cent of Republican voters believe that Donald Trump "says what he believes," rather than "saying what people want to hear".
Authenticity is essential in corporate sponsorship as well. Brands who invest to support a certain property genre must ensure they are credible in their support -- an issue that is particularly prevalent in the cause sponsorship space. In 2009, RBC -- who through their Blue Water Project has pledged $50 million over a 10-year period to water protection charities -- was challenged for a lack of authenticity on the issue. The Rainforest Acton Network, a group of environmental activists, lobbied RBC to stop financing water polluting energy companies, taking the bank to task for hypocrisy. Sponsors who show support for social issues must take a disciplined internal audit of their operations to ensure they are "walking the talk".
S&E Sponsorship Group Inc. is Canada's leading sponsorship agency, providing strategic counsel and activation solutions to leading brands
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