Today is Primary Day in Massachusetts for the open US Senate seat vacated earlier this year by now-Secretary of State John Kerry.
It has often been said that politics, sports and revenge are a Bostonian’s three favorite things (although a lahge regulah coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts may supplant one of the three on any given day). Even though this particular race has been relatively quiet by Massachusetts political standards, there are still tens of thousands of Bay Staters out voting, holding signs, making phone calls and eagerly awaiting the results.
For three of the five candidates running in the primary (3 Republicans and 2 Democrats) today marks the end of a very brief, but high-pressure and highly-visible marketing campaign. And for the other two candidates, the stakes grow even bigger.
There are lessons small businesses can learn from these types of political campaigns.
Political campaigns are, at their root, an exercise in executing a self-marketing strategy. Just like a new business introducing itself to the community, or an established business looking to retain its existing customers and attract new patrons, politicians have to promote their brand (themselves) as efficiently and effectively as possible.
In developing a marketing strategy, a politician, just like a business, first has to answer some basic questions:
Who am I? What do I have to offer? What makes me stand out? Why should the public purchase (cast a vote for) my services?
Once the politician has answered those questions, he or she then has to figure out, how do I best reach out to my potential customer base? (Stay tuned for more on this in a future post)
For a small business getting ready to launch a marketing campaign these questions are important. If you’re a bakery, what makes your edibles better than another bakery’s? If you’re a contractor, why should a homeowner hire you over another contractor? If you own a boutique, is there something about your background that allows you to provide better customer service or a superior product?
If you’re not able to answer these basic questions, it will be even tougher for your customers to do the same. Or, perhaps even more problematic, your customers may come up with answers that conflict with your goals and mission as a company. Instead of being known for designing beautiful backyard landscapes, you’re just the guy who cuts grass. Or instead of offering artisan coffee and freshly-baked pastries, you’re just the place that isn’t the chain coffee shop with the million-dollar advertising budget.
Who am I? What do I have to offer? What makes me stand out? Why should the public purchase my services?
Coming up with answers for these questions is not a luxury, it’s a critical part of your business plan. It’s an exercise every Fortune 500 company undertakes on a regular basis, often using well-paid consultants armed with reams of data.
But as a small business owner who is in direct contact with customers on a daily basis you are better positioned to know what makes you stand out from your competitors: after all you’re the one in daily contact with customers, you’re the one regularly involved in the production of your product, and who knows every employee (if you even have one).
There are multiple factors that go into becoming a successful politician. Few are able to win elections if they can’t give voters good reasons to vote for them. The same holds true for small businesses. Customers have many options. Give them a good reason to support what you do and they’ll vote with their wallets.