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March 23, 2016

Powerful Marketing Lessons From the 2016 Presidential Race

Nick Bandy

Article Cliff Notes

Your business relies on customers voting with their wallets. Dig in for the whole campaign, not a quick sale.

An inconsistent brand image drives voters into the arms of your competitors—better the devil they know than the one they don’t.

Know who your best buyers are, and keep selling to them. Sometimes there’s more grass on the other side, but it isn’t necessarily greener!

Politics is nothing but advertising.

What do politicians do? They try to stand out in a way they know will get votes. That is why we help companies create stand out digital branding that naturally leads to sales.

Instead of companies, you have politicians and political parties. Instead of customers, you have voters.

Of course, things get a bit complicated with lobbyists and Super PACs and all the shady backroom shenanigans, so let’s just keep it simple—politicians are brands trying to sell their vision to voters.

Just like business, there’s a lot at stake here. Especially in 2016, where one of the most heated Presidential races in recent memory is raging.

So what can we, as businessmen, learn from the trips and stumbles of this year’s Presidential hopefuls?

Turns out, a whole lot. Let’s take a look at…

marketing lessons from 2016 election

Exhibit A: Marco Rubio and Brand Inconsistency

Recently Republican candidate Marco Rubio tried a slick new tactic to put him ahead in the polls.

Marco had been getting hammered by frontrunner Donald Trump, known for his bombastic and hard-hitting style of speaking. Marco’s campaign manager, seeing Rubio was on the cusp of overtaking Trump in several key states, decided to change course with his debate strategy.

Your customers are fickle. Don’t take uncalculated risks or they may not give you a second chance.

Until that point, Marco had kept a cool (if sometimes robotic) demeanor, using crisp talking points and delivering speeches that likened him to a Republican Obama. To combat Trump’s more direct verbal salvos, Rubio fought fire with fire.

Literally overnight, Senator Rubio transformed himself into Trump Lite. His campaign became an embarrassment of mudslinging. Although his opponent was using largely the same techniques on defense, Rubio came off as insincere on offense.

Marco made comments about the size of Trump’s hands, insinuated that Trump has wet his pants at the debate, and generally came across as a buffoon.

Rubio’s new voice was like a teenager learning how to cuss for the first time. His speeches became timid, as if he was looking around after each vulgarity—expecting his dad to appear from behind the podium, switch in hand and ready to deliver a whipping.

But Rubio’s dad didn’t spank him; the voters did. His campaign took a nosedive, as his supporters (read: CUSTOMERS) were no longer buying what he had for sale. How could they trust him anymore if his entire personality could change on a whim?


If your company has built an audience on the promise of respect and class, and you change course to mimic a competitor with a completely different tone, of course many of your original fans are going to be wary.

Rubio left the Republican race after a disgraceful defeat in his home state of Florida. Lesson? Build a brand through consistency.

Don’t sacrifice your values to steal support from a competitor—your customers will be disillusioned, and your competitors’ customers aren’t going to reward you for being a copycat.

Exhibit B: Bernie Sanders and Marketing to the Wrong Audience

Senator Sanders of Vermont is the candidate from left field Hillary Clinton was probably praying she didn’t have to run against.

Sanders has successfully branded himself as a champion of the poor, minorities, college students, and working class Americans.

Public perception is the only reality that counts.

To be fair, the man was a civil rights protester back in the 60s, so his credentials are real.

The Sanders campaign is a grassroots machine banking on constant and fervid support from primarily young college students. College students are the demographic most active across all aspects of his political machine—from donations to canvassing to cold-calling potential voters.

To a savvy businessman, you’d think the Sanders campaign should be 100% focused on recruiting as many college students as possible. These are the type of brand ambassadors companies dream of, after all.

However, the Sanders campaign isn’t making college students its priority. Despite free education being one of his campaign’s pillars, outreach has mainly been to win over Hillary Clinton’s overwhelming support from black and Hispanic voters.

Now, on paper this looks like a solid strategy. There are about 38 million African-Americans in the US, compared to roughly 20 million college students. It makes sense that if you’re going to go all-in on a demographic, focusing on the one with more potential customers is the sound choice.

But the problem is simple—black voters prefer Hillary Clinton, and usually overwhelmingly so. In some states her support is over 90%.

This is part of a branding strategy that dates back to the 90s, when the media successfully labeled Bill Clinton as “America’s First Black President.”

People don’t forget a label like that. There’s power in words that stick, no matter whether they’re true or not.

If your company has mass appeal—and I mean HUGE appeal, like Sanders has with college students—with a particular demographic, you double-down and make those people your reason for living.

I’d much rather have 10 customers who spend every waking moment supporting me on social media than 1,000 slightly interested people who may or may not vote with their wallets.

That’s because the zealots in the first group convert and advertise for me. Not only is that less work for my business, but it’s also more genuine, more believable.

You don’t double-down on a losing strategy, folks.

If you’ve been trying hard to bust into a new demographic for months and just can’t, ask yourself:

Am I actually accomplishing anything here, or would my efforts be better spent upselling and cross-selling to my existing customers?

Don’t Forget the Basics

So many political blunders can be attributed to candidates forgetting (or never learning) the most basic marketing principles—in political parlance, it’s akin to abandoning or refusing to build a voting “base.”

Marketing and politics, after all, are just psychology. We can’t ignore the nuggets of business wisdom all around us, and the 2016 race is shaping up to be a gold mine.

Key takeaway?

Your business success is not inevitable. History is littered with failed businesses who failed to create a consistent brand (like Rubio) or didn’t tap into an existing, hungry audience (like Sanders).

How can we learn from their mistakes?

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