Marketing Idea No. 150 – How Political Marketing Can Learn from Consumer Marketing

Written by John Quelch 

For all the coverage of the Presidential primaries, only half of eligible voters will likely cast ballots in November. While 20% of U.S. adults are political junkies, the rest can’t spare the time, don’t think their vote will matter, see no important differences among the candidates, or are turned off by the electoral process and candidates’ campaign tactics. They are the “vanishing voters” of U.S. politics.

There are five structural reasons why this is the case.

First, in U.S. general elections, voters usually see only two viable candidates on the ballot. That’s one reason turnout is low. In any other product category, there are many more choices. As a result, consumer interest – and consumption – is higher.

Second, in representative democracies, the consumer has to live with the majority decision. That also dampens enthusiasm. Not so in commerce. You can buy or own whichever brand, or suite of brands, you wish.

Third, in U.S. politics, citizens vote on a specified date once every two, four or six years. Maybe they have to register in advance, wait in line at the polling station, and use an out-of-date polling machine to do so. The commercial marketplace is much more convenient. Consumers can cast their votes at millions of points-of-purchase every day.

Fourth, some politicians understand that Branding 101 requires the development of a distinctive, appealing message, delivered consistently over time. But politicians can’t win by targeting a single niche segment. They have to win a majority on election day, and doing so often means parsing words, trying to have it both ways, and allegedly flip-flopping on issues. In addition, the winner-takes-all system often leads candidates to desperate tactics such as negative advertising to tear down their opponents rather than promoting their own virtues. Citizens can be forgiven for being cynical.

A final reason for consumer indifference to politics may be the effectiveness of commercial marketing. Most consumers have stronger relationships with brands like Starbucks (the “third place” after home and work) than with their elected representatives or the umbrella political brands, Democrat or Republican.

Yet there are reasons for hope. Citizen interest in this year’s primaries is high because there is no obvious winner and genuinely different candidates are competing on both sides. The Internet has greatly increased the opportunity for non-establishment, underfunded candidates to develop viable grass-roots campaigns. Voter questions and candidate answers in town meetings are now the standard. In other words, this year’s election process so far seems more open and democratic than ever.

Around $20 per vote will be spent on political advertising in this year’s presidential campaign. By commercial standards, and given the importance of the purchase decision, that doesn’t seem high.

What’s needed in politics is not less marketing but better marketing: focusing on current and emerging customer needs, developing product and service solutions, informing interested citizens about them and making them easily accessible. I remember Leonard Marsh, one of the three founders of Snapple, explaining the brand’s success: “We never thought of ourselves as any better than our customers.” Politicians need to view citizens not as occasional voters, donors and taxpayers but as their customers.

What do you think?


Marketing Idea No. 149 – New spaces in furniture marketing

While I was buying furniture for my apartment, it struck me – how difficult this whole exercise is turning out to be! And the reason behind that was, I was looking for something that is not there in the market.

So what was I looking for? Basically I was looking for something different that would stand out. And while standing on the pavements of the furniture market and looking at the same stuff stacked one atop the other, over and over again in each and every shop….i knew that’s not gonna happen.

In the past, all the value addition and differentiation has taken place in the high price furniture for the upper end of the population. But while we are forced to live in similar looking apartments because of the space crisis in the city, two things are essential for us to make that house a home, custom made by us to make it live-able for us. One is the color and the other is the furniture. While in recent past, there has been much development in the paint sector ( People can now customize the look of their rooms), furniture is one area where personalization and customization is absent.

Is there one brand that specializes in making small furniture for small family for small apartments? As more and more apartments are getting squeezed into a cramped space, isn’t it obvious that we will need much smaller furniture? How about furniture for senior citizens? Because of their physical stature, isn’t it obvious that they need special kind of furniture? How about furniture for young and trendy? How about furniture for physically handicapped? Furniture brands have long been vocal about reducing profit margin and price – stickiness. But what they should really be doing is looking for value addition by observing what customers really need.

There is obviously a lot of space out there for any new furniture brands to move into. It’s a matter of picking the right strategy and making it work.

Marketing Idea No. 147 – The Art of Greatness

Ask yourself, is your product great? Or is it just good enough?

Don’t just be good. Be great. The world is full of good enoughs. Do yourself and us a favor and don’t increase the list.

There is a good enough film opening up everyday in the theater. But there is only 1 film that holds the distinction of earning the highest number of Oscars and the highest grossing film of all time. And that’s Titanic.

There is a good enough coffee shop every corner. But there is only one coffee shop for which everyone walks for 3 blocks just to pay extra money for a really tasty coffee. And that’s Starbucks.

Music players ain the market are dime a dozen. But there is only one player that gets you emotionally satisfied and proud like none other. And that’s I-Pod. So if you put in that extra effort to make the journey from good to being great, that will always pay.

According to management guru Jim Collins, by following 3 simple principles EVERYONE can be great. And these are

1. Find out in what you can be the best in the world and in what you can never be

2. Find out what drives your economic engine, your business

3. Find out what are you passionate about

Sounds simple? Then why don’t you give it a try? The world is in need of greatness, not good enough-ness.

Marketing Idea No. 146 – Filtering the Blogosphere through a search engine for blogs

Understanding and accepting that Internet is the next frontier, believing and proposing that blogging is here to stay- what should be the logical next step?

A search engine for blogs in Internet.

What Google did for webpages, someone needs to do that exclusively for blogs. Because right now there are just too many blogs in the blogosphere and someone needs to filter out the garbage to present the right thing  to the right audience. Google can make a move, with a different brand. We need a different search engine tool and architecture for this. The key idea is – exclusivity and focus. We need an exclusive search engine for blogs, not one for both web pages and blogs.

And thats the next big thing in Internet.

Marketing Idea No. 145 – Dont be a One Hit Wonder

Why does Pakistan showcase a bunch of fast bowlers (Remember Mohammad Zahid? How about Kabir khan?) who all promised so much for a brief time and then passed into cricketing blackhole? Why does so many bands fail to reproduce a single hit after going platinum in their debut album? Why does so many fantastic child actors (i.e. Mickey Rooney, Macaulay Culkin) did not materialize their childhood promises and forever stayed as child actors who did not shine in adulthood?

Thats because they are one hit wonders. They had their 15 minutes of fame and then burnt into ashes, never to be found again. They are one trick pony, who did not become what they are destined to be for not adding value to their glittering career. And chances are your brand is like them. Because in branding, standing still in glory is never an option.

Your brand can be like WordPerfect, who once rode the waves of success but did nothing to hold on to that success and then Microsoft moved in for the kill. Your brand could be like IBM, who thought mainframes will stay forever and they are the king of mainframes. At least they should be credited as they have sold their computer business and moved into servicing. Your brand could be like Kodak, who thought as long as there are memories there will be a Kodak moment. They were arrogant enough to think that their “one wonder” will last forever. So instead of putting their earning from camera into finding the next “Wow” product, they enjoyed the sunshine from the throne. And alas! They were de-throned.  

Moral of the story : If your wonderful product is earning heaps of money, funnel that money into finding the next wonderful product. Dont be a one trick pony.  

Marketing Idea No. 144 – To-let and other items for sale

This idea is contributed by Ridwanul Karim 

The simplest, most economical and most effective advertisement in the world has to be the “To-Let” sign that hangs from any house that is up for sale and rent. Maximum exposure to the “Target audience” with minimum fuss. Job done.

Taking inspiration from that, we can use this simple technique to other products / categories. Think about how much money you can save from giving ads in classified sections. Why cant cars show “For Sale” sign all the time when they are for sale? (Its a limited practice now). You can expect a dozen phone calls just when you are stuck in traffic jam, if your car sticker says “For sale”. Why cant you use a laptop sticker like that which says “For sale”? How about your mobile handset? How about the furnitures? 

By doing this we are effectively removing our dependence from intermediaries like e-bay and doing the direct selling to the end customers.

Marketing Idea No. 143 – A Beautiful Hair Day

Outsourcing is a natural outgrowth of delegating what is less important and keeping what is more. We are just busy with too many things to look and keep up with everything – so why not let someone else worry about it while you put a tight leash around his neck? And such mentality is not only limited to corporate sector. As we spend most of our days trying to pay attention to too many things and diverting too many unwanted stimuli while trying to keep focused to what’s important, we are looking for outsourced partners to take care of our individual worries.  

With such an inroad available to customers life and heart, different industries can really seize the day. One such industry can be the hair care sector, specifically the hair salons.   When it comes to hair, few things are universally true.

  1. Very few people actually change their hair salon or barber simply because when it comes to hair people don’t want to take any risk. Hence “Bad Hair Day” is a popular cultural term that everyone is afraid of.
  2. When it comes to cutting hair, people always look for references. It can be the latest cut that Shahrukh Khan is sporting. Or it can be the last time everybody complemented your haircut. Whatever it is, there is always a reference.

Taking the last cue, how can you possible know what your hair looked like, last time when someone complemented your hair cut? One and only way would be to take photo, freeze your look in the frame and store it in a database. But that’s too much hassle for just about anyone. Unless of course someone else is doing it for you to add value to their business.  

This can be a really simple, low cost, effective way for even the smallest barber shops to add value. Since most of his clientele are repeat clients, he can afford to keep a small file for all the customers, buy a camera, take a “Before Hair cut – After Hair Cut” photo of the customers, and store it in their individual file. So whenever the customer wants to look at how effective his last hair cut was, the barber can reproduce it. Whenever the customer want to experiment with his look, but want to take a look at what his hair would look like last time he did an experiment, the barber can produce the photo.  

This is an invaluable service where the customer is removing the burden of remembering from the grateful customers on to himself. And in so doing, he is ensuring two things – he can charge premium price and yet he will never, ever lose that customer. You may get another barber, but you will never get to know what your hair looked like last time you looked beautiful. And that’s price-less.