Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Presidential Elections, Brands and Selling Print

Presidential elections are to the communication industries what War is to the defense industries. The only metric of success is winning. Timing is everything. Budgets are unlimited. The newest technology emerges and is brought to the ground in the service of winning.

It's worth a look at the differences between the Obama and McCain campaigns to get a glimpse at the 21st century communication ecology. My view is that McCain's strategy was from the 20th century. Obama's is from the 21st. Forget, for now, the content of the messages. Instead look at the campaigns from a "business" point of view.

First, Obama, Inc., invented a new business model. In the 20th century, revenue came from big customers. The risk is that losing big customers can really hurt. With a revenue stream from 2,000,000 small customers, the risk of losing one or two or a thousand is mitigated. The incentives of pleasing a group of big customers is replaced by a brand that appeals to masses of small customers. I'm thinking this may resonate for the printers whose client list included Lehman, Wachovia, Bear Stearns, or AIG.

Second, Obama, Inc. did not assume the hegemony of the 20th century mass media. They used the Internet to build a separate media channel, below the radar of MSM (main stream media). McCain, Inc. stayed with the old political model of raising money and giving it to TV. Note that in the last week, Obama,Inc.'s response to character attacks was to distribute a 15 minute "documentary" on the Keating Five. They didn't buy 15 minutes of national airtime. They sent the video to their network for free. Better, faster, and most important, cheaper.

Obama, Inc invested 2 years in building their new media channel. A long disciplined step by step strategy. No room for the short term hit. They understood that the "technology" of the internet may be a necessary condition of success, but they also understood that it was by no means sufficient. They used the small contribution to locate real customers, not just tire kickers.

As critical mass emerged from a number of customers, they supplied small activities to turn those customers into clients and then into communities of clients. From the politics business point of view if you don't get the volunteers on the ground, you've got nothing. Enthusiastic clients are always superior to paid staff to build a customer base.

This 21st century business model is more flexible, less expensive, and thus more effective than the mass market 2oth century model. When some unexpected event comes along, flexibility, intelligence trumps almost everything.

So, how does this strategy help in figuring out how to sell print?

1. Locate your customers.
These are the people who are buying what you are selling. Don't waste much time convincing or educating. If you have a product that some people want to buy, find them and sell it to them. If you don't have a product that some people want to buy, invent a new product.

2. Turn your customers into clients with a consistent series of small exchanges.
In politics, it is the giving of money. In printing, those small exchanges depend on where you are and what your customers are interested in. It might be a series of newsletters sent every two weeks to your customers. It might be a series of events focused on marketing or the problems of small business or the latest in new technologies. it might be a series of ultra short run books, authored by your clients. But whatever the content of the exchange, it has to be a series. One shot hits are a waste of time, focus and money.

3. Turn your clients into a community of clients.
Encourage them to talk, email, exchange with each other. You are the moderator. They supply the content. Perhaps you might consider a "customer advisory board" to give you the information you need to improve your customer facing performance. Or a once a month? or every two months? "best customer meeting" to brainstorm new developments and emerging needs. Xerox Premier Partners, Adobe User Groups, Salesforce.com user groups are models to look at.

Instead of "educating your customers" set up the media channel that allows them to educate you.

Important Note: This only works if you have a product that someone wants. If you don't, better go back to a 20th century model and keep your fingers crossed.

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