As much as we might like to think we vote based on the policy each candidate puts forward before an election, the votes we (and millions of others) place are shaped by carefully targeted and highly optimized political marketing campaigns.
From talk show appearances to direct mail leaflets, a wide variety of techniques are used to influence public opinion of a political party, policy or candidate. In this blog post, we’ll explain five of the most popular and effective political marketing tactics.
Ready to start? Before you start marketing your party or candidate, you’ll need to prepare a public relations strategy. Learn how to deal with the media and generate buzz for your political candidate in our Public Relations Rules to Live By course.
Developing a narrative
The most important aspect of any political campaign is the narrative. The narrative is the story behind a candidate – their history, their beliefs, their personality and all of the traits and characteristics that make them worth voting for.
In the 2008 Presidential Election, two narratives competed against each other in the public arena. John McCain’s narrative was that of a proud war veteran made serious sacrifices for his country.
Barack Obama’s narrative, on the other hand, was that of a political outsider whose fresh approach and focus on creating real change would transform politics. Each of the candidates’ narratives shaped every other aspect of their political marketing.
Crafting a narrative that your voter base can relate to is one of the most important elements of running a political marketing campaign. A good narrative needs to be believable and relevant to the audience whose support you’re campaign for.
Other examples of a political narrative include the change in the brand of the UK’s Labour Party prior to the 1997 general election. Under Tony Blair, the narrative of the party changed from being an ‘old-fashioned’ left wing party to a more centrist party focused on refreshing and energizing British politics.
Creating a narrative is a branding strategy not unlike the tactics used by companies such as Nike and Apple. Instead of a product or company becoming a brand, a party or political candidate becomes a marketable brand that people can relate to.
Would you like to learn more about creating a narrative that people respond to and remember? Learn the fundamentals of branding yourself or your political party with Branding: How to Brand Yourself and Your Business.
Social media marketing
Social media is one of the most effective platforms for raising awareness of political issues, encouraging people to vote, and promoting political candidates. Since social media is primarily used by young people, it’s a great platform for energizing a voter demographic that’s typically uninterested in mainstream politics.
Political marketers use a variety of strategies to connect with potential voters using social media. These techniques range from honest and direct – such as operating an independent Facebook page – to misleading, dishonest and manipulative.
One of the most effective ways to generate support for a particular candidate using social media is to building a Facebook Page for the party or candidate. This allows a political marketer to reach thousands – or, in the case of a large party – millions of potential voters using status updates, messages and event invitations.
Do you think a Facebook Page could help you connect with your voter base? Learn how to create and market a Facebook Page for your party or candidate to connect with thousands of voters in our Social Media Management course.
While a Facebook Page lets you connect with people that are already interested in your party or candidate, it doesn’t allow you to expand your base easily. One of the best ways to attract new supporters is through the use of viral memes and videos.
Facebook and Twitter users love to share funny images, interesting videos and other content that relates to hot political issues. By creating viral videos and pictures, you can raise awareness of your candidate – or a hot political issue – organically.
Engineering virality is difficult, and trying too hard to make a video or image go viral can often have the opposite of the intended effect. The best viral videos look natural – they’re neither overly positive or overly negative about their subject matter.
Do you want to generate millions of views and attract thousands of new supporters with a viral image or video? Learn how to create viral content that spreads with our course, Create Awesome Videos That Thrive on Social Media & YouTube.
Winning an election requires your candidate getting more votes than their closest competitor. There are two ways to achieve this: bring attention to the good things your candidate will do, and bring attention to the bad things their competitor will do.
Negative campaigning is a form of political marketing that focuses on convincing voters not to vote for your candidate’s competitor. The most well known form of negative campaign is the attack advertisement – ads that talk about a candidate’s record of dodgy dealings, their questionable history or their political failures.
While negative campaigning might seem dirty and unsportsmanlike, it has a wide range of benefits. Since negative campaign is targeted towards those likely to vote for your competitor, it can sway these voters into changing their mind and shifting over to your candidate’s side.
Negative campaigning usually takes the form of television ads, newspaper columns, political debates and direct marketing. Social media is increasingly being used as a negative campaigning platform, with “Reasons not to vote for _____” starting to show up on Facebook and Twitter during recent elections.
Although it can be incredibly effective when done right, negative marketing can be ineffective without the positive campaign to support it. Learn how to develop a full marketing campaign that balances positive advertising and negative campaigning with our guide to Marketing Strategy.
Direct mail marketing
Brochures, leaflets, short form manifestos and other direct mail documents are all excellent tools for persuading people in a particular geographical area to vote for a certain candidate, party or policy.
Since direct mail is geographically targeted, it’s an extremely powerful marketing tactic for energizing a voter base prior to a local mayoral or council election. With the right amount of leaflets, yard signs and public rallies, towns and boroughs can swing election results and give your party or candidate a significant advantage.
Like all other forms of political marketing, direct mail marketing needs to reinforce the narrative you’ve created around a party, policy or candidate. It needs to focus on your benefits, your strategies for improving the community, and the advantages you and your party can offer over your competitors.
At its heart, direct mail marketing – whether it’s for a political campaign or a brand new product – is all about data. Learn how to use income data, previous vote history and other variables to craft targeted direct mail campaigns with Fundamentals of Direct Marketing: Practices That Profit.
Media and public relations
Old media platforms such as television and radio attract massive audiences, making them valuable tools in any political marketing platform. Being able to organize radio and TV appearances is one of the most important tasks of any political marketer.
Connecting with media insiders might seem difficult, but it’s surprisingly easy once you start thinking of media companies as groups of individuals instead of monolithic entities. With the right pitch, the right person, and the right strategy, you can easily earn massive amounts of publicity for your policy, party or candidate.
Are you completely new to the world of television, radio and print media? Learn the secrets to connecting with journalists, pitching your stories and earning airtime on a wide range of networks in our Media Training and Public Relations course.
How can you become a political marketer?
Becoming a political marketer isn’t simple, but it’s far from impossible. Bridging the gap between marketing and politics requires a deep knowledge of political systems and the marketing savvy to achieve your goals using the mainstream media.
For more information on establishing a career in political marketing, read our blog posts on developing a career as a political science graduate and careers for public relations experts.