- - Friday, May 8, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

President Obama famously said to Mitt Romney during a 2012 debate concerning Russia, the “1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back…”  Right now, that phrase rings true for many of the current GOP candidates’ messaging and marketing strategies.

The 1980s are calling, and they want their campaign marketing plans back.

That’s why 2016 is anyone’s race. The Republican nomination will likely draw a dozen or more candidates. Three second-tier candidates got into the race just this week, and no single candidate has consistently broken 20 percent in the polls.

With a 21st century marketing strategy, even a second-tier candidate like Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, or John Kasich could win this nomination.

Before laughing or ruling out any of these candidates, remember the 2012 campaign. Herman Cain, Michelle Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum all started as second-tier candidates and at some point became front-runners during the campaign.

It could happen again.

Breaking out in 2016 will take something out of the ordinary. The challenge becomes standing out in a wide field of conservatives whose overall conservative values and core messaging remain largely similar.

These candidates need a revolutionary approach to their messaging, marketing, and use of the latest digital technology. In 2008 and 2012, Republicans got their clocks cleaned by effective internet marketing, and that failure fit the Democrats’ caricature of the GOP: out-of-touch, stale, and outdated.

The only way to stand out is to show you have the modern marketing chops to beat Hillary Clinton and the Democrat machine.

One idea conservative candidates should embrace is to learn from cutting-edge businesses and embrace the concept of inbound, or content, marketing. In brief, this has replaced outbound, or traditional interruptive marketing, as it leverages rich, interesting and compelling content to attract an audience to your message, rather than just shouting it out or hitting the campaign trail with the typical and expected political attack ads.

Not only is content marketing more cost-effective, but it’s also just plain more effective. It can be in the form of short videos, animations, infographics, or brief eBooks, interactive quizzes, games, and dozens of other variations.

According to Joe Pulizzi, author of the best-selling Epic Content Marketing, he defines content marketing as: “the marketing and business process for creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

While we’re talking about elections here, and not selling for a profit, there’s little difference between selling a product or selling a political candidacy. In both cases, the audience’s media engagement habits are the same, whether the goal is selling a product or driving votes for a candidate. In both cases the audience is either using their wallet or their vote to obtain a desired outcome.

Republican campaigns need to understand that the outbound “push” marketing model that has been the standard for over a century no longer applies as it did in the past. With the ability to skip commercials, watch the news and favorite shows on demand, delete unwanted emails, and navigate the web’s almost infinite supply of content on your own terms, it’s now the audience –i.e, the electorate–who is in charge of the information they choose to receive. It’s not the candidate, or even the mainstream media.

These campaigns need to learn the media engagement habits of their audience, and be right there with the right content and message, whether that’s Snapchat (Sens. Paul and Rubio are in so far), Facebook, videos on YouTube, photos on Instagram, appearances on TV, or just a great interactive website.

Carly Fiorina gave us two good examples this week. First, she failed to register CarlyFiorina.org, which was used as a hilarious attack on her business record. But, when questioned by Seth Myers about the failure, she responded and created a viral video of her own when she told Myers she had just registered SethMyers.org for $16.

The best part: as that happened, SethMyers.org linked directly to her homepage, with a large donate button.

As the debate and frequent news interviews start, more voters will see chopped up clips online than will tune in to watch full events on broadcast television. Investing in team that knows how to create consumable, compelling content across a variety of media channels could ignite a breakout candidate.

Any current GOP candidate who thinks more like a cutting-edge brand, markets themselves like a business, and whose message breaks through and resonates with the audience will have a shot at winning this campaign—even those candidates who at this moment seem like they are second-tier.

J.P. Moran is the CEO of Blue Wave Marketing and a 20-year marketing veteran.

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