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April 2012

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Lessons from Political Marketing

by Jeanette McMurtry

A while ago, I was killing time before a speaking engagement in Indianapolis, and stumbled across a Barack Obama rally along with 30,000 other people. While I really didn’t have any intention in staying when I found the crowd at the City Park, the magnetic energy of the event kept me there. All around me were people from all walks of life, jammed together, in a steady rain around 10 PM at night, and nobody left. Once Stevie Wonder left the stage and Barack Obama came out, the crowd roared, people started singing, crying, and chanting. I had never seen anything like this before outside of a rock concert for Rod Stewart. As Obama took the stage and started talking, the energy in the crowd grew. People connected with each other and there seemed a strong sense of kinship among the crowd of 30,000 strangers, tired and wet in a city park.

I share this story not to promote one political candidate over another, but to illustrate the great synergy a brand can have with and among its customers. And yes, Barack Obama is a brand, just like John McCain and any politician on any level is. A brand is simply “a distinctive type or kind of something” according to the thesaurus tool on my computer. My definition of brand in today’s world, is a “distinctive kind of something that instills passion and strong emotion among others; that attracts people and unites like individuals and groups.” Regardless of what side of the political fence you’re on, you have to admit (or accept) the fact that Barack Obama has done just that in a short period of time.  The energy I felt in the crowd that night in Indianapolis was like none other I’ve experienced at any political event in my life. It was truly an example of people passionate about a brand.

So what is the magic formula behind the Obama brand, and other successful politicians? Personal relevance and affinity, empathy, and hope are just a few of the ingredients in a successful political marketing campaign.

How can marketers  replicate this formula to create synergy and passion for their brands? Following are just a few examples:

Personal Relevance:

Obama talks about life situations to which everyone can relate. He positions himself as an everyday person helping everyday people. Product and service brands need to do the same thing. If you position yourself as superior to your customers, and speak down to them, you likely won’t strike a positive chord. Your marketing materials, messages, and daily interaction need to communicate that you and your customers are one and the same in terms of values, needs, interests, and so on. When you can create a sense of affinity among your customers, you develop a rapport, a sense of partnership, and even a sense of trust, all of which are critical to getting the type of response you want and need to get desired results. You can do this by using language, graphics, style, and offers that directly reflect the lifestyle, values and needs of your target audience.

Politicians create a sense of oneness quite often simply by tossing the tie and corporate blazer or suit when stumping in front of crowds. And by sharing many stories of their direct interaction with people just like you facing the same challenges as you do. We’ve all heard it over and over again from all politicians in all campaigns because it works. In marketing, using examples of direct relevance to your customers works in creating a sense of understanding and oneness which isn’t just smart marketing today, it’s essential to success. 


Being able to empathize with Americans that have built their lives from scratch, overcome obstacles, and succeeded is one of the ways Obama has connected with so many people. We want to see people like ourselves succeed as it gives us hope for our own dreams. Product and service brands need to show how they understand what their customers are going through and how they have had similar experiences in order to create a connection.


I use this term not because it has been thrown around by the current election campaigns over the past two years, but because it is a fundamental part of our human psyche. Without hope that we can achieve our personal goals, our dreams, meet our basic needs, have warmth and security in our lives, we become cynical, complacent, and essentially shut out much of the world around us. When a brand, political or product based, creates hope among its target audiences, it creates the empathy and relevance mentioned above, along with trust and confidence. As a marketer, you can create hope by showing customers you understand their challenges, and are offering solutions that are valid and meaningful. Today, you can do this by showing how you can simplify their lives, provide the resources to accomplish jobs, tasks and achieve security, or anything else that your customers may be seeking.  

Politicians are not the only ones that create passion, fervor and strong emotional connections with their audiences. Brand marketers can do the same thing by putting themselves in the mind of their customers.  When you can learn to think like your customers and look at life from their perspective, you can create communications and experiences that are powerful, memorable, and invigorating. And this is what results in profitable loyal customers for life.

Jeanette McMurtry is a sales training and marketing consultant specializing in health care and direct marketing. She is an author and keynote presenter on innovative strategies and techniques for increasing customer value through engagement and emotional marketing. Jeanette can be reached at and 970-390-6909390-6909.

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