I like to learn about marketing in unexpected places. The U.S. presidential campaigns are especially fascinating because they represent a “high consideration” decision where, like many B2B products, you don’t know exactly what you’re going to get until the deal is done and you “install the solution”.
This isn’t a political blog, but the parallels between political and solution marketing are compelling.
Consider the fact that the goal of every marketing campaign is to shape perception, and then watch closely as well-funded political marketing machines go to work to convince us that their candidate is an exact match for our expectations around policy and personality.
The majority of votes cast in the American system align candidates in a particular party, so the fraction remaining are referred to as “swing” or undecided voters. The 1996 Presidential elections were centered around a very specific kind of swing voter: the “soccer mom.”
“Soccer moms” were, in short, middle-income working mothers with little time in their day in between their careers and their families. Certainly there were many other personas in the voting ranks and many other swing voters. If you look hard enough, you’ll find references to NASCAR Dads, among others. But in 1996, the Clinton marketing team realized that soccer moms had the power to put their man in the nation’s most important office (or not). So they allocated a disproportionate share of their marketing to campaigns that persuade the soccer mom persona.
Another important note is that the soccer mom was still very relevant to the outcome of the election in 2000. But by the 2004 Presidential elections, strategists knew that the “soccer mom” persona had changed. With the cataclysmic events of 2001, terrorism on American soil was a reality. Fears of anthrax in the mail and future attacks transformed the “soccer mom” into the “security mom.” These were still the same people, demographically – but their motivations and concerns were different. They were worried about the safety and security of their children in this newly scary world. And it would take entirely new messaging to reach them – messaging that the Bush campaign successfully delivered.
If you’re a B2B marketer who has been concerned about building buyer personas for every influencer you can think of, take a page from the political marketer’s lesson book. Focus on the buyer who is most likely to swing the vote your way, and don’t be surprised if she changes as a result of significant shifts in market, economic or political conditions.