What We Can Learn from Romney and Santorum

Article at a glance:

  • Political campaigns are all about marketing.
  • Good campaigns include early planning, strategizing.
  • Ads can’t buy likeability.

If Mitt Romney were a book and Rick Santorum were a product, how do you think they’d sell?

The pundits say Romney has done a good job positioning himself as a business expert, but he’s falling short on likeability. Santorum’s done a good job of coming across as down-to-earth and likeable, and positioning himself as a staunch conservative. But the latter may also hurt his appeal with middle-of-the-road Republicans.

Both candidates have gotten quite a bit of exposure through “free media,” such as news coverage and the debates, but Romney’s $53 million in TV advertising trounces Santorum’s $9 million.

There’s a reason they call these drawn-out political races “campaigns.” As with marketing campaigns, the candidates have a message they’re passionate about; they hope to position themselves as the best at what they do; they need voters to get to know and like them, and they accomplish much of this through traditional and social media.

At the end of their long road, the prize is a vote; at the end of yours, it’s a sale.

If you’re new to marketing, and all too familiar with the Republicans’ trek to the August national convention (just down the street from us in Tampa!), you can learn from watching Romney, Santorum and their political “machines.” Here are a few comparisons I’ve noticed:

  • Planning and organization are vital. The candidates have been strategizing for years; you know Romney had a plan, a budget and a team in place long before he launched his campaign last June 2. Santorum, meanwhile, has suffered because of poor organization; it may even have cost him convention delegates. And so it is with marketing. Even as you’re writing your book or developing your product, you should be pulling together a budget and a plan for positioning yourself in the marketplace. Launch with a well-coordinated splash and a strategy and timeline for keeping the momentum going as long as necessary.
  • Learn to delegate tasks. Political candidates are notoriously poor delegators, because they tend to be control freaks (nature of the beast, I guess). But campaign strategists say candidates fare much better when they focus on delivering their message and entrust other jobs to people with a particular expertise, starting with their campaign managers. Likewise, authors and entrepreneurs will be less effective if they’re trying to do all of their marketing themselves, from designing a website to writing a media pitch. If you can’t hire professionals, at least find friends who are.
  • Think carefully about your message(s).  If you’re passionate about what you have to share, you’ll have an easier time getting others excited about it, defending it when necessary and speaking knowledgeably about it. As we near the end of the nomination race with Romney holding a strong lead, we’ll notice him broadening his message to appeal to more voters. Whether you’re a candidate or in the throes of a marketing campaign, your message can shift depending on your needs, timing and news events. If you decide to change the focus, be sure your new message is in line with the image you’re trying to convey. (That’s where politicians often slip up!)
  • You can’t buy likeability. Romney spent $53 million on advertising and still, more than 10 months into his campaign, he’s referred to as “stiff.” The pundits say that if he wins the Republican nomination, he’s going to have a hard time running against President Obama, who’s considered quite likeable. Voters and buyers both gravitate toward the person or company they feel they know and like, and they don’t get that from advertising. They get the essence of you from you – from TV, radio and newspaper interviews, and social media, where you can show your personality. People can see your confidence, identify with the stories you tell and laugh at your witty comments.

These, of course are just a few elements of political and marketing campaigns.  Doing particularly well – or badly – on just one of these elements won’t guarantee success – or doom you to failure.

There’s one big noteworthy difference between a candidate’s political campaign and your marketing campaign, and it’s worth remembering: In politics, one person walks away with everything. In marketing, there are as many winners as there are people with good books and products.

And you don’t have to spend $53 million.

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