5 (Surprisingly Good) Lessons From The US Election Marketing Campaign

Convincing people to vote for you has become the epitome of marketing in election campaigns

Marketing has never played a bigger role in our lives than today. From choosing a dishwasher to buy or voting for the next president into a new term, election marketing campaign continues to play a crucial role in influencing our decisions.

As of today (8th November 2020) Joe Biden has won the presidential election. While I am sure there are various factors for his election success, I want to delve into the election marketing campaigns of both candidates and the takeaways you can apply for your own brand.

According to “The Psychology of Voting” report by Ohio state university, US voters have been found to vote mostly based on the political party they stand with and how they perceive the candidates (personality, ability to be strong and intelligence, etc) 

While voters also vote based on the policy put forward by political parties and their assessment of the incumbent party’s performance, voting is not a rational process. 

People will vote based on how you make them feel 

With marketing playing such an important role in politics, political parties have been putting massive resources into their election marketing campaign efforts. We want to assess the marketing efforts of political parties in the recent US elections and how you can use these lessons to better market your tech product.

Disclaimer: This is not a critique of each party’s policies or an argument for who you should vote for. It is an assessment of how well both parties are did from a marketing standpoint and will not delve into the merits or demerits of any policies

#1 When hit by a scandal, don’t waste time with denials and reframe it instead 

Donald Trump has been hit with multiple scandals throughout his presidency, which is a huge understatement. 

Trunmp has had so many (negative) books written about him, multiple allegations made against him and negative broadcast coverage of him at 95%, If any politician were to face just half of these issues, their chances at re-election would have been remote at best.

One is forced to wonder- How does he still stand a chance at re-election?

Instead of denying these allegations as most politicians usually do which makes them look guilty, Trump does not even mention them. 

Taken from USAtoday

Whether it is the issue of Covid-19, his tax returns, or allegations of his support for white supremacists, he manages to reframe the argument to his favour. This was a running theme in his election marketing campaign.

On the issue of Covid-19, instead of focusing on what his opponents are attacking him for (lives lost, not wearing masks etc), he focuses on reopening the economy, saving jobs and moving forward as a nation. 

When asked about his tax returns which may suggest corruption, he points to alleged corruption found with Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden.  

By reframing the argument, what is being focused on changes. For example, instead of focusing on the number of Covid-19 cases and deaths, Trump has turned the conversation to saving jobs, moving forward and learning to live with the virus. And based on that reframe, anyone who disagrees is against savings jobs and moving forward. 

On the other hand, Biden could have argued that since the number of Covid-19 cases shows no signs of slowing down, Trump is not the person to ensure a safe reopening of the economy. That Biden can save jobs as well as lives and point to countries that have successfully done just that. 

What you can do for your brand

When your brand is hit by negative news, continuously denying it makes you look guilty and search results for your brand will continue to be filled with the negative news. 

Always look to reframe the story to something you are confident in engaging in. For example, based on conventional wisdom a poor review of your product suggests a lack of care for users or an incompetent team. 

This can be reframed to the team working overtime to build new product features that many users wanted and in the process they may have neglected a few bugs on the platform. While this reframe acknowledges the neglect, it stems from the team wanting to bring highly sought after features to the users.

But note that constant reframing cannot be used all the time if you want to build trust with your users. For issues that do not impact your business greatly, acknowledging it directly and moving on from it quickly will be more effective.

#2 Never completely ignore allegations made against you, especially those that voters care about

Donald Trump’s mishandling of Covid-19

While this point seems to contradict my previous point, it really does not. Yes, constantly denying allegations towards you and trying to prove your innocence hurts your brand. 

But not addressing the allegations at all may hurt your brand even more. 

One of the main points Biden has been attacking Trump for during his campaign was his response to Covid-19. As of 8th November, the US has recorded 243,000 deaths from Covid-19. Needless to say, if Trump had completely ignored this point or said that this was “fake news” he would have lost credibility with everyone except his most loyal supporters. 

Instead, he pushed the narrative for his election campaign marketing to be about how it is the “China virus”. In addition, he focused on how the country needs to learn to live with it and open up as well as how death rates are going down. 

While this was an indirect acknowledgment of the issue, by responding he pushed voters closer to his narrative which is better than leaving voters to imagine their own narrative. 

The Hunter Biden scandal

Call it whatever you want- Russia’s interference with the election, pure corruption by Joe Biden and his family, or the mainstream media being blatantly biased towards Joe Biden. 

Taken from Axios

The matter of fact is that the Hunter Biden scandal was ignored way more than a scandal of this magnitude should have. Ironically, suppression of the story may have caused more damage to Joe Biden than the story itself.  

By not addressing this scandal even once, Biden has allowed Trump to spin this scandal in a more negative light than it really is. Furthermore, Twitter refusing to unlock the New York Post account unless the Hunter Biden posts are deleted only served to reinforce criticism or suspicions that the media is colluding with the Democrats to win the election.

While giving an answer on this issue may never convince the most loyal Trump supporter, it would have gone a long way in addressing the concerns of supporters who are on the fence. 

Instead, Biden allowed doubts to fester in the minds of these supporters who would have otherwise voted for him. By branding himself as the clean and just politician who is the logical choice from Trump who is viewed as chaotic, this scandal has stained his reputation, to say the least.

What you can do with your brand

When faced with negative reviews or negative news on your brand that circulate online, do not repeatedly defend yourself. However, NEVER completely ignore it. 

If these negative reviews are not handled, potential users who do a search of your brand name will read these reviews. At that point, it may be too little too late in making a good first impression, whether the review was a fair one or not.

Instead, answer these negative reviews just once with a comprehensive answer- an answer that addresses all points of contention. Respond to bad reviews on forums, app stores, social media channels and even send out a press release if needed. 

Let users decide for themselves after hearing from both sides and eventually it will die down.

#3 Show empathy to neutrals in your election marketing campaign

While there seems to be very little that both parties can agree on, I think everyone can agree that the 2020 US election is one of the most divisive election of all time. At times, it even seemed like you were either a Democrat or Republican and there was no in between.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

However, the election was always going to be decided by the voters who were on the fence. Loyal Trump and Biden supporters were always going to vote for their respective parties. 

Unless either party consisted of 50% or more of the country population (which was impossible) then the election result was going to be decided by people who could not make up their mind.

In this case, showing these voters that you understand their concerns and hesitations for voting is key in winning them over. However, neither party seems to have shown any level of empathy. Let us look at what were the main concerns neutrals had when it came to voting for each candidate.

Hesitation to vote for Trump 

Everyone knows that Donald Trump is not a “politician” by any definition of the word. Before becoming president, he was not a civil servant and was instead a reality TV star in “The Apprentice”. It is safe to say that before him , each president had public service experience and political connections before assuming the presidency.

While that itself may not have stopped the neutral voters from voting for him in the 2020 election (after all, large numbers of them voted for him in 2016) his volatile personality was the main factor.

After all, as the incumbent president, most voters would have expected him to carry himself as a president or to be “presidential”. Especially in this period of time where there is genuine fear amongst the population for their jobs and lives due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Tweets by Trump were mostly unsubstantiated or even if they were generally correct, he tends to exagerrate the real numbers. This gave the fact checkers plenty of material to discredit him and at a time where many neutral voters are looking for calm in these uncertain times, this has stopped them from voting for Trump.

Hesitation to vote for Biden

Calls to adopt socialism, to “transition away from” the oil industry and other policies put forward by the Democrats were arguably radical policies that would have changed the status quo drastically. 

This is not a critique of the policies itself, but of how it was presented to the public during the election campaign marketing. With so many industries affected by the Covid-19, many are learning how to adjust to living their life and dealing with unemployment. Businesses are frantically adjusting to survive the economic recession. 

If Biden had shown that his policies were more neutral and less confrontational and that he was willing to work with both parties in resolving their differences it would have swung more votes for him.

What you can do for your brand

Understand that there will always be users who are “unsellable” and it is a waste of resources trying to convert them. It is more important to market to users who are “on the fence”. This can be done by understanding the main hesitations they have towards you and pushing out different content that addresses these concerns. 

For example, Biden could have explained how he was going to phase out the oil industry while keeping jobs intact, which would have been the main concern of voters in the oil industry. 

When it came to Trump, Instead of tweeting about how the government responded well to Covid-19 and calling it the “China virus”, Trump could have acknowledged the shortcomings of the government’s response and how they will improve moving forward. This would have brought much needed calm and assurance to neutral voters and led to a better result. 

#4 Divisiveness is a double-edged sword in election campaign marketing

In the 2016 US elections, Donald Trump made multiple outlandish statements at the start, calling Mexicans “rapists” and saying that he will build a wall and get Mexico to pay for it. 

These were divisive comments that garnered plenty of attention from the media that earned him $2 billion worth of free media. Without these divisive and outrageous statements, he would not have received enough attention to generate the interest required for voters to elect him.

However, ironically what got him elected may have led to his demise in the 2020 US elections. This is because while divisive marketing may have created plenty of awareness for Trump in his election marketing campaign, it has created a lot of hate for him as well.

This hatred for him grew stronger as he continued making divisive statements, which converted some neutrals to haters. Had Trump switched to a more moderate stance after being elected, he may have stood a chance winning over this segment of neutrals. 

What you can do for your brand

Between being hated and not being known, being hated is always better.

Lack of brand awareness is one of the main reasons companies cannot gain traction for their lead generation efforts which led to the collapse of many companies. 

However, divisive and controversial marketing is not a sustainable marketing practice, especially if you want to scale up your marketing efforts. Once you have gained a certain level of traction, start posting content that builds up your credibility and trust with your users. 

This way, neutrals will not be alienated by your brand and your message will resonate with a wider audience.

#5 Authenticity and trust is the ultimate currency for any brand 

In this age of fake news, cancel culture and purely outlandish statements to garner attention, I believe many voters craved for authenticity and sources of information they could trust. 

The best way to build authenticity and trust was to be vulnerable and show voters their “real side”, whatever it was.

Photo by Savvas Stavrinos from Pexels

Could both sides have shown more “behind the scenes” footage of their election marketing campaigns? How about unedited footage of their interactions with voters? Did they share a genuine message to the voters on the real reason they were running for president?

Had either side humanized themselves instead of constantly showing their “strong” side, they would have appealed to the voters better. After all, voters do recognize that the candidates are human and they have their own flaws as well. 

What you can do for your brand

While demonstrating how fantastic your product is will win you many users, it seldom has emotional appeal. 

Where possible, try documenting your team’s struggles in resolving issues with the product. Or how you are currently navigating the difficulties of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

As more users can relate to your struggles, trust is built which will lead ot more upselling and referral opportunities for your company in the long term. 

Note that I am not advocating for you to share your struggles to the extent of making you seem incompetent. Do it in a measured way that will give you the best upside with the lowest level of risk!

Have your marketing efforts generated leads today?

Let me scale your marketing efforts even further! Reach out to me at [email protected] or contact me here and we will discuss the challenges you face in marketing your product and more importantly, what are the next tangible steps

My email: [email protected]

My LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jia-yung/

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US Elections 2020