Marketing Lessons from the World of Politics

Article by C.J. HaydenYou can’t turn on the television or open your mail in the U.S. these days without seeing a political ad. Between the
presidential election and local initiatives on the ballot in many cities and states, it seems that everyone is campaigning to get your vote.

The voting process actually has quite a bit in common with how people go about hiring an independent professional. When you vote for the candidate of your choice, you are voting to hire that person to work as your representative. Many of the factors on which you base your decision when you vote are similar to what your clients consider before they decide to hire you.

Take trust, for example. In order to vote for a candidate, you want to believe you can trust him or her. Your prospective clients want to believe the same about you. Or experience. You want to choose a candidate with enough experience to get the job done. Your clients want to hire a professional with the right kind of experience, too.

So with political campaigning going on all around us, let’s see what lessons it can provide about what works to persuade people to hire you… and what doesn’t.

1. The right slogan can build support.

Only time will tell whether current slogans like Barack Obama’s “Forward” or Mitt Romney’s “Believe in America” will help them win, but if you believe political slogans have no impact, think again. Bill Clinton’s “It’s the economy, stupid,” Ronald Reagan’s “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New deal for America” are all slogans that have been credited with swaying substantial numbers of voters.

Coining a tag line that presents your unique competitive advantage in one sentence can give you a powerful edge in marketing. Consider such classic advertising slogans as Apple’s “Think different” or Energizer’s “Keeps going and going.” Whether or not you ever run an ad, a distinctive tag line can still make you stand out by appearing on your business card, website, social media profiles, brochure, or the 30-second commercial you deliver at networking mixers.

2. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver.

It can be tempting to promise your prospective clients the moon to get their business, but notice what happens to politicians who do this once too often. When you raise people’s expectations too high, then can’t live up to your promises, you lose their trust and goodwill. Deceiving people to gain their votes may work once, but you won’t get re-elected. If you want to gain a reputation as someone who delivers what they promise, promise only what you know you can deliver.

3. A sure way to lose is trying to please everyone.

Just like voters know what they are looking for in a candidate, prospective clients know what they are looking for in a professional. Don’t be afraid to get specific about what you do best. When what you have to offer is a good match for what clients are seeking, it makes sense for them to hire you. You’ll build referrals and your reputation that way. But when you’d have to bend over backwards to fit their requirements, you’d be better off to let someone else get the job.

Know what you do well, and communicate your areas of expertise consistently in all your marketing efforts. Don’t flip-flop from one specialty to another, depending on who’s asking.

4. If you don’t have as much experience as the competition, you’ll need to prove your worth.

It’s a good idea to always assume that a prospective client will be comparing you to others in your field. If there’s a chance you might appear light on qualifications, be sure to offer your prospects evidence that you know what you’re doing.

For example, provide testimonials from satisfied clients or a portfolio of completed projects. Have a list available of past clients, where you’ve been published, or where you have spoken. Offer copies of articles you’ve written, a complimentary consultation, or some other kind of free sample of your work. Mention credibility boosters like these in your sales calls, and make them available on your website or in your marketing kit. Don’t wait until you are asked.

5. Underdogs can have a chance if they find their constituency.

When Jimmy Carter declared his candidacy for the Democratic nomination in 1976, his national name recognition was only 2%. But he got the attention of voters in that post-Watergate year by promoting himself as a Washington outsider who would reorganize government. In an age of whale-sized cars, the tiny Volkswagen Beetle became the bestselling car of all time by presenting itself as the antidote to conspicuous consumption with its “Think Small” campaign.

For most independent professionals, even a miniscule share of a sizable market can be enough to deliver all the clients you need. Carving out a narrowly defined niche for your services allows you to tailor your marketing so closely to the goals and desires of your prospective clients that you can become that niche’s Goliath. There’s nothing wrong with staying in a small pond when you can be the biggest fish in it.

6. Don’t be afraid to throw your hat in the ring.

There’s no question that running for office is hard work. Look at how much candidates put into each race. They craft campaign messages, buy ads, make speeches, write opinion pieces, make phone calls, and spend an enormous amount of time shaking hands and kissing babies at community gatherings. They do everything they can to make themselves more visible to the voters. And they do all that even when there’s more than a 50/50 chance they will ultimately lose.

In your own campaigns to gain new clients, you’ll win some and you’ll lose some. But don’t let the fear of losing the race stop you from running at all. In Franklin D. Roosevelt’s inaugural speech, he said, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” If you want to get elected, you can’t be afraid to run.

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