Getting the message right
In marketing your brand, you want to persuade consumers to prefer your brand over competitors’ brands. In marketing your candidate, you want to persuade voters to prefer your candidate over the other candidates.
Besides promoting an appealing candidate (what makes a candidate appealing is another topic), carefully selecting the messaging of a party’s candidate is second most important factor in influencing voter choice. Essentially, there are two objectives: first, providing voters with a reason why voting for your candidate would be good for the country; second, explaining to voters why your opponent would be bad for the country.
You would think that the party that values social justice and greater equality would have the advantage since it could appeal to the largest number of voters. However, this is often not the case. The political party looking out for the special interests of its core supporters will cloak its principles in a populist message. In the U.S., the Republicans have been quite successful in doing this. Republication strategists hire marketing research firms to use focus groups to discover messages that resonate with voters. In the 2010 election cycle, Republican candidates’ message focused on job creation. They portrayed their Democratic opponents as being for Big Government, while the Republicans were in support creating jobs, jobs, and more jobs. The Republicans were united and consistent in delivering the message their strategists recommended and it worked very well for them in the election.
After the U.S. election, the Republicans did not focus on creating jobs, as they promised. They focused on (1) reducing or eliminating abortion rights for women, (2) destroying public unions, (3) and additional tax breaks for corporations. The question is how the Democrats will respond to the Republican’s actual record during the next campaign.
With respect to the upcoming Canadian election, how will the opposition use the Harper administration’s record in its messaging to gain a majority? In 2008, Drew Westin wrote The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation. Westin says that voters are emotional decision makers. The opposition, if it wants to be effective in its messaging, can use the majority’s record to frame the government’s values. What does the actual record reveal about what kind of people the current leaders are?
Voters believe that good people will make good decisions. Therefore, candidates have to deliver messages that frame their own good values that will benefit voters and their opponents’ misguided values that will worsen the plight of voters. While this sounds simple, finding the right message requires skill and careful implementation.
Walter Wymer is professor of marketing at the University of Lethbridge. His academic work has helped develop the field of nonprofit marketing.