Influencer Marketing: 5 Insights From The 2016 Election

Pol­i­tics is mar­ket­ing. This elec­tion cycle is prov­ing to be an incred­i­ble case study in influ­encer mar­ket­ing that savvy mar­keters can learn from.

Chip Rosales By Chip Rosales from Rogue Marketing. Join the discussion » 0 comments

As the days and con­tests of this pri­ma­ry sea­son run out, there is an ever-increas­ing need for the can­di­dates to make the most of every oppor­tu­ni­ty. And there’s an oppor­tu­ni­ty for busi­ness mar­keters to learn about the pow­er of influ­encer mar­ket­ing from the things that have worked – and haven’t worked so well.

So far, less than half the states have had their say over who will be their party’s nom­i­nees for pres­i­dent. As the road to who will occu­py 1600 Penn­syl­va­nia Ave. tight­ens, one thing can be said for sure: it’s been a crazy polit­i­cal sea­son. We’ve had a social­ist, real­i­ty TV celebri­ty, neu­ro­sur­geon, gov­er­nor, sen­a­tor, busi­ness leader, and many more throw their names into the ring. There’s been name call­ing, per­son­al attacks, accu­sa­tions, unprece­dent­ed turnout… all on the road to the huge Novem­ber elec­tion. What does all this have to do with your role as a sea­soned mar­keter? Well, as crazy as it all is, this polit­i­cal land­scape is an incred­i­ble mir­ror of the cul­ture and busi­ness world you and con­sumers oper­ate in today. Though you may not have con­sid­ered it, this blood sport we call pol­i­tics is actu­al­ly mar­ket­ing. In the end it comes down to what mes­sage the can­di­date is sell­ing and what mes­sage the pop­u­la­tion is buy­ing. Here are five obser­va­tions from this year’s elec­tion cycle that mar­keters can learn from.

1. Influence The Influencer

Before the first votes were cast, can­di­dates had a state, just one, to focus on before mov­ing on. Although they only had to focus on one state, each indi­vid­ual state is made up of dozens of coun­ties. One can­di­date can only be in so many places at once. In Iowa, the Repub­li­can win­ner Ted Cruz, cer­tain­ly did his fair share of shak­ing hands and show­ing up in coun­ties across the state. But he’s just one man from Texas. The real secret was his abil­i­ty to use his influ­ence with local reli­gious and orga­ni­za­tion­al lead­ers. It was those peo­ple that then wield­ed their influ­ence inside their cir­cle. It’s one thing for an out­sider to say “Trust Me,” but quite anoth­er when an insid­er… who has expe­ri­ence with the out­sider… says to his group, “Trust TED.” In Iowa, the race was won on “ground game” and Cruz car­ried that state as a result of his influ­encers. Since then, more of the nation has been vot­ing at the same time. That makes it more dif­fi­cult to be all the places a can­di­date wants/needs to be at the same time. Influ­enc­ing the influ­encer was impor­tant in the ear­ly races… but it’s even more crit­i­cal as the con­test expands.

Marketing Takeaway

So what about you? How can this apply to your work and the brands you’re build­ing every day? It’s unlike­ly that your brand is talk­ing to con­sumers in just one mar­ket. You are more like­ly oper­at­ing in mul­ti­ple geo­gra­phies. No mat­ter how large your bud­get, it’s near­ly impos­si­ble to afford and be every­where you’d like to be. But more than that, peo­ple don’t trust brands or what brands have to say… but they do val­ue what their net­works and inner cir­cles say. Begin today to grow your list of pow­er users and pow­er influ­encers. Who has the audi­ence you’re look­ing for and has celebri­ty sta­tus with them? Find those peo­ple. Chances are good that their words and actions car­ry more weight than your brand’s ever will. (For more insights on this year’s big influ­encers, see our relat­ed post, Who’s Influ­enc­ing the 2016 Elec­tion?)

2. It’s Often Emotional

The Repub­li­can fron­trun­ner, Don­ald Trump, has tak­en more than a few shots from oth­ers who claim he is extreme­ly light on pol­i­cy. Late night come­di­ans and talk show hosts ded­i­cate pre­cious air time for man-on-the-street spots to reveal just how lit­tle the aver­age per­son knows about the per­son he or she may be pas­sion­ate­ly back­ing. It’s both fun­ny… and sad. For sup­port­ers of Trump, pol­i­cy specifics haven’t real­ly mat­tered. He has tapped into an under­ly­ing anger and is sim­ply reflect­ing that back. And the sta­di­ums have been full to over­flow­ing to hear him speak. Bernie Sanders has tapped into some­thing sim­i­lar on the Demo­c­ra­t­ic side. Although not able to yet turn that into a nom­i­na­tion bid, he has man­aged to move the pre­sump­tive nom­i­nee, Hillary Clin­ton, fur­ther and fur­ther left. Our envi­ron­ment isn’t as log­i­cal and ordered as we think. Every­thing is high­ly emo­tion­al. And the pop­u­la­tion has reward­ed can­di­dates who stand out­side of the nor­ma­tive pat­tern. Not con­vinced that emo­tion real­ly mat­ters? Think about all the ways that Clin­ton is work­ing to con­nect on an emo­tion­al lev­el. Often coined robot­ic and cold, you now see her in tele­vi­sion com­mer­cials play­ing the lov­ing grand­ma that won’t let a young girl be deport­ed or hit­ting the com­e­dy shows to poke fun at her­self. Why? Her resume is full of cre­den­tials that could be argued make her high­ly qual­i­fied for the job.

Marketing Takeaway

Your prod­uct or ser­vice may have a long list of incred­i­ble attrib­ut­es and fea­tures, too. But here’s the dan­ger: if you don’t tap into how you make life bet­ter or how to move a con­sumer for­ward, your amaz­ing prod­uct might be over­looked in favor of some­thing, well, more relat­able.

3. Smarts Are Great, Charisma Is Greater

Whether or not you agree with a candidate’s poli­cies, it’s hard to say that any of them lack smarts. To most peo­ple it’s clear that they had to have some­thing going on upstairs in order to get to the lev­el they are at. Jeb Bush is smart. John Kasich is smart. Ben Car­son is smart. Mar­tin O’Malley, Lin­coln Chafee, Lind­sey Gra­ham… they are all smart. When the thresh­old of smart (and will­ing to serve) is achieved, then what? Bush lacks ener­gy. Car­son doesn’t get worked up enough. Gra­ham can’t cut through. Kasich is too cere­bral. Clear­ly, it takes some­thing more. Those that have risen to the top are said to have boy­ish charm, or inter­nal fire, pas­sion and com­pelling sto­ries. In a phrase, they’re charis­mat­ic.

Marketing Takeaway

What about you? Chances are you pass the smart thresh­old too… If you run an agency, like I do, you’re com­pet­ing against oth­er agen­cies that do smart things too. If you’re lead­ing a team, there are oth­er smart lead­ers vying for atten­tion. If you’re mar­ket­ing to con­sumers, “smart” is cost of entry. Are you able to artic­u­late a com­pelling sto­ry or share a dri­ving pas­sion? If not, take a look at the nar­row­ing field of pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates to see how it’s done, and how those hang­ing on by a thread could be doing bet­ter.

4. Pick A Lane

Turns out that the style Trump brings is not only great for a tele­vi­sion show’s rat­ings, it fills sta­di­ums. It’s must see tele­vi­sion to see some­one lash out and hurl insults. “Los­er, light­weight, chok­er, dis­as­ter, hor­ri­ble, liar”… these are just a few of the terms rou­tine­ly used to talk about Trump’s com­pet­i­tive set. Phys­i­cal appear­ance, intel­lect, abil­i­ty, even “your mom” jabs (just ask Bush) have all been fair game for the front run­ner. As the field has nar­rowed, Trump’s most recent debates have allowed more time for pol­i­cy posi­tions rather than slo­gans and sound bites. And Trump’s per­for­mances, accord­ing to most, have been less than stel­lar as a result. In ear­ly March, pri­or to Super Tues­day, Mar­co Rubio made a shift and began return­ing the insults against the fron­trun­ner. He stopped talk­ing plans and pol­i­cy and start­ed talk­ing about hand size, sun tans, and oth­er triv­ial things. The pos­i­tive opti­mist turned neg­a­tive and it sent sup­port­ers and pun­dits in a tail­spin won­der­ing who the real Rubio was. Did it help? Not in the long-term. Ulti­mate­ly, he lost in his home state and dropped out of the race.

Marketing Takeaway

How does this exam­ple trans­fer to your mar­ket­ing role? Sim­ply put: avoid let­ting the crowd get you off your game. Dou­ble down on your strengths and real­ize that being true to a core posi­tion will result in you becom­ing more impor­tant to the peo­ple that respect those things. Own your space. Even if you see tem­po­rary increas­es when you mim­ic your com­pet­i­tive set, in most cas­es, you will like­ly lose more ground, and loy­al brand evan­ge­lists, when you try to be every­thing to every­one.

5. Competition Makes You Better

Pun­dits agree that you’ll now start to see Clin­ton move more to the cen­ter. In her cam­paign against Sanders she cer­tain­ly became a more qual­i­fied can­di­date and more refined in her mes­sage. Should Trump coast to the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion, he will also be bet­ter for the process, han­dling or solid­i­fy­ing his talk­ing points against any issues that may have been thrown at him.

Marketing Takeaway

As a mar­keter, con­sid­er your com­pet­i­tive set a gift. Whether you’re com­pet­ing for a posi­tion at work or tak­ing share in the mar­ket place at large, com­pe­ti­tion is a valu­able tool to help you refine your sto­ry and dou­ble down on your dif­fer­en­tia­tors. With­out com­pe­ti­tion, you become com­pla­cent and inno­va­tion stag­nates. With it, pas­sion, excite­ment, and loy­al­ty grows.

Chip Rosales

Written by Chip Rosales

Managing Partner, Rogue Marketing

Chip Rosales is a managing partner at Rogue Marketing, a digital strategy agency located in Dallas, Texas. For nearly 20 years, Chip has been reinventing the "rules," asking the question why and listening for what makes a brand different, so that it can be memorable and stand alone in the market. He has held a number of corporate CMO roles that allowed him to lead digital marketing teams, uncover emotional differentiators and build/amplify brands prior to starting his own agency in 2009.

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