4 Marketing Lessons We've Already Learned from the 2016 Election

Eighty-three years ago, FDR took to the nation’s radio waves—then cutting-edge technology—to speak directly to millions of Americans, calming them about the bank panics plaguing the nation following the stock market crash of 1929. The medium served FDR’s strengths, and maybe even developed them: “His radio persona did not simply mask his physical limitations. You could argue that his physical limitations forced him to develop the rhetorical genius perfectly suited to a radio era,” CNN explains.

Fifty-six years ago this month, presidential hopefuls Nixon and Kennedy took the stage in the nation’s first televised debate. Kennedy was young, relatively unknown, and one of the first Catholics to run for president on a major party ticket. Nixon, on the other hand, was a veteran lawmaker already serving as vice-president. In August of that year, Nixon ended up in the hospital with an infection after bashing his knee on a car door while campaigning in North Carolina, history.com reports. By September, he emerged, “sallow and 20 pounds underweight”. It’s a now-famous discrepancy: those who listened to the debates on the radio felt Nixon had won; those who saw Nixon contrasted with Kennedy’s healthy glow on the new medium of television counted Kennedy the clear winner. Medium, then, inarguably affected perception, and in politics, perception is paramount.

Fast-forward to 2008, and Barack Obama led the first truly social presidential campaign: US News reports that Obama won nearly 70 percent of the Facebook generation (millennials under 25)—a number unmatched since exit polling began in 1976. In fact, one of Obama’s key strategist was 24-year-old Chris Hughes, a Facebook co-founder. And the campaign left no digital stone unturned, says USNews. “Pulling out all the Web 2.0 stops, the Obama campaign used not only Facebook and YouTube but also MySpace, Twitter, Flickr, Digg, BlackPlanet, LinkedIn, AsianAve, MiGente, Glee, and others.”

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Which brings us, more or less, to today. Running a shrewd social media strategy as a part of a presidential campaign is no longer an option—John McCain may have been the last presidential candidate ever to shy away from a social media presence. Some have even argued that the web is transforming the very power dynamics of politics. “There are no barriers to entry on sites like Facebook and YouTube,” US News wrote in 2008. “Power is diffused because everybody can participate.”

So now that social is a given, and its influence inarguable, where do we stand? If 2008 was the Facebook election, what is 2016—the Snapchat election? The digital marketing election? And what lessons, if any, can marketers themselves take from the politicians we will all be watching so closely over the next two months?

1. Authenticity is more obvious on social than maybe anywhere else

Social is inherently personal, intimate, and usually only semi-scripted. Each network demands its own flavor of voice, tone, and formality (or lack thereof). Take, for example, Hillary Clinton’s very first Vine. It would have made very little sense for Hillary to focus on production value, or even substantive content, on the network, so she wisely went for a simple joke.

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And then there’s Clinton’s well-known retort to Trump on Twitter, saying simply, “delete your account.” The arguably brilliant response is largely tied to its medium: that response wouldn’t make as much sense on Facebook, but it works perfectly for Twitter because of its brevity—and because it pokes back at the trolls in a way many of us have also had to do on Twitter.

But Clinton has also had challenges around authenticity—she’s seen as both impersonal and unethical by some portions of the country. Former online communications strategist for presidential candidates Scott Walker and Rick Perry Liz Mair told Mashable that Clinton isn’t well-suited for the medium: "She’s very buttoned up and conservative in terms of her demeanor," she said. "That reads as overly poll tested and inauthentic to people. Anything she does [on social media] will be less effective." Ironically, social is the closest we ever get to #nofilter with presidential candidates. And they’d do well to keep that in mind.

2. Even when the stakes are high, experiment

In just one week in July, the Clinton campaign “launched a Spanish-language website and Twitter account, a Facebook Live of staffers reading the case names of more than 5,500 lawsuits associated with Trump, a Snapchat filter trolling the Republican National Convention and a social media tool called TrumpYourself that allows users to overlay Trump's most controversial statements on their Facebook profile photo,” according to Mashable.

Brands would be wise to draw inspiration from the experimentation of presidential candidates this year. Because social is ever-changing, it demands experimentation as due course. Bake experimentation—and potential failure—into your strategy from the start, and the likelihood of a risk paying off increases exponentially.

3. Controversy draws eyeballs

It almost goes without saying that Twitter is a natural home for controversy and, therefore, Trump. Much has already been written and intelligently argued about Trump’s prowess in social media—across platforms, but especially on Twitter. The truth remains that no matter your politics, the controversy Trump draws also commands attention in equal measure.

For brands, the goal may differ slightly: most brands would never walk headfirst into the kind of controversy Trump seems to thrive on. But there might be another lesson worth gleaning from his bravado: when controversy does arise, marketers can help brands have an opinion—help them take a stand. We covered Royal Caribbean Cruises’s recent success with the controversy around their Anthem of Seas cruise ship in a blog post, and a large part of that success dealt with not running from or shying away from potential trouble—especially on social.

4. What you produce has to be good for the internet

Finally, remember that there is perhaps no more critical audience out there than the one waiting on the other side of the keyboard. While this can be intimidating, it too presents an opportunity: Is your next campaign good, or is it Internet-good?

The Clinton campaign asked itself the same question early on: "It wasn’t going to be enough for us to be very good for a political campaign," Mair explained to Mashable. "If we want our content to break through, it has to be good for the internet."

So there you have it—four marketing lessons from the kind of presidential race no one could have predicted. Keep your eyes peeled for more posts from us in the coming months leading to the 2016 election.

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Jaime Netzer's picture

Jaime Netzer

@jaimenetzer
Jaime Netzer is Content Marketing Strategist, leading content operations in marketing at Spredfast. A Lawrence, Kansas native, she traded seasons for breakfast tacos seven years ago and hasn't looked back since. Also a fiction writer and journalist, Jaime tweets semi-regularly.