What CEOs Can Learn From Political Marketing

For years I have marveled at our political process and the marketing aspects of it.Every four years we go through [...]

September 9 2008 by Bob Donnelly


For years I have marveled at our political process and the marketing aspects of it.

Every four years we go through the product life cycle of a President. In many ways this is very much like the life cycle of any brand.

Depending upon a host of uncontrollable factors like wars, global climate crises and economic issues, the incumbent President either remains a popular brand, or is like the stuff in the “old blue can” – still only popular with the laggards.

Then we begin the political branding life cycle again. After the shake out of the wannabe’s, akin to many new ideas or proposed solutions to customer’s problems, we wind up with two possible political contenders with their own blends of more popular solutions for the nations ills.

Often these two new proposed political solutions resemble a reworked value proposition of the present – a modified mature product, or a completely new value proposition much like that of an embryonic new product. 

The current political race for the Presidency is a classic example of this predictable political marketing scenario. 

On one side we have a  revolutionary celebrity candidate in Barack Obama and on the other we have the old warhorse John McCain. Obviously, it appears as if a number of the innovators, early adopters and a fair share of the early majority are leaning in favor of Obama’s look and value proposition; currently labeled “Obamanomics.” McCain on the other hand seems to be holding onto a portion of the early majority, as well as a goodly number of the late majority, at this critical point in the evolution of this political branding campaign. 

Obama captures all of the elements of an exciting new brand in his appearance, screaming fans, ethnic background and rhetoric. While McCain exhibits all of the characteristics of a grey mature aging brand. Looking back at past campaigns it is reminiscent of many of the Kennedy vs. Nixon’s campaign photos and speeches. 

This is about marketing. Who can forget the wooden dry sermons of Walter Mondale, Al Gore and more recently, John Kerry. And, the classic photo of a “helmeted” Michael Dukakis in the tank that contributed to his losing his campaign for President? 

Whether a political brand or a consumer product, it’s about the customer. Marketing is about perception, not reality. 

The candidate with the greatest appeal and perceived best value proposition to the voters WINS, just like with brand marketing. Look at past popular Presidents starting back with Roosevelt, and then Kennedy, Reagan and even Clinton. 

What did they all have in common – a message of hope clothed in a powerful blend of perceived sincerity? It’s like any good brand value proposition. It reminds me of the initial, and continuing great Oil of Olay campaigns that perpetuates cosmetic “hope in a tube.” 

You, as CEO, are in a similar life cycle branding competition with your competitors and customers. What are you doing to be the winner and keep your branding value proposition fresh and appealing to customers? 

Just like McCain and Obama you need to carefully craft your brand value proposition to appeal to more customers than your competitors if you want to WIN. Then you have to just as carefully package and promote your brand. 

If you are struggling with developing or modifying your unique selling proposition to keep it updated and current, let me know. Let’s start a dialogue on how you can win the marketing race against your competition.

An entrepreneur himself, Bob has spent most of his career involved with starting, growing and selling businesses. Having held managerial positions with IBM, Pfizer and Exxon, he draws upon extensive organizational experience with large and small companies in advising CEOs of growing firms. He is available online to answer questions from Chief Executive readers, as well as offer workshops, tips, books to read and a monthly online column about common issues facing CEOs of growing firms. Bob has been featured in USA TODAY for his work with Inc 500 firms and is associated with NYU’s Stern Graduate School of business in their Center for Entrepreneurial Studies where he is a Venture Mentor, Marketing Strategist and Business Plan Reviewer.


He is the author of GUIDEBOOK TO PLANNING – A Common Sense Approach to Building Business Plans for Growing Firms, which has recently been reprinted. He is a past contributor to Chief Executive and one of his articles was featured in The Best of Chief Executive.  Email Bob at: rmdonnelly@chiefexecutive.net