Corporate America, learn from political America


What do Donald J. Trump and Bernie Sanders have in common? Politically not much, but they are both disrupting the old order and surpassing expectations in this wildly unpredictable election season. In fact, all of the successful candidates from both sides of the aisle have broken with traditional campaign playbooks and are connecting in ways that suggest a new world order.

As the political spectrum has been upended by the impact of big data, social media and our society’s multicultural boom, so, too, has corporate America. Some agencies and brands have adapted quickly and are thriving as a result. Others have learned the hard way that what worked in the past won’t necessarily work in the future.

At our Hispanic advertising agency, we’re aiming to adapt not only to macro-trends, but also those at the micro-level that pertain to Latin audiences. It’s a volatile environment in which marketers need to remain flexible and steal good ideas from anywhere they can. The 2016 political season offers five lessons that brands would be wise to heed:

▪ Rewrite the rules: Tactically speaking, the playbook used by Barack Obama was effective and largely different from that of George W. Bush, including a focus on demographic segmentation and digital content creation. This same evolution continues and, in spite of the leapfrogs witnessed during the 2008 cycle, the tides have turned yet again. Politicians (and brands) need to be willing to cannibalize their own recipe for success and pivot to new strategic directions before they become necessary.

Apple is a great example. In the late ’90s, the desktop represented over 75 percent of Apple’s revenue. Then the iPod took the disproportionate growth trend within the company; that is, until the iPhone and iPad came along. Now the focus is on leveraging is vast consumer base approaching the billions. Obviously this is easier said than done, but the key insight remains; the most dangerous thing a company can do is rest on its laurels and assume its cash cow today won’t be its dead weight of tomorrow.

▪ Any publicity is good publicity: While there are obviously exceptions, this age-old adage has never been truer. More than ever before, the power of a quick retort or statement made in jest garners as much, if not more, buzz than a superbly executed Super Bowl spot or clever magazine ad. Integrated campaigns that offer shock value and disrupt the status quo will win out, even among traditional journalists. If there’s anything to be learned as a result of this campaign season, it is that consumers crave “honesty” — whether real or perceived — in the way they are targeted and in the way messages are delivered.

▪ Stay on message: Focus is critical, and politicians understand this with their ad-nauseam repetition of the same messaging over and over. That said, it works. Organizations should do fewer things better, find their voice and serve as a consistent beacon for the values they espouse (be they quality, speed, entertainment, reliability, etc). If you try to be all things to all people, you’ll probably be relevant to none.

▪ Technology rules: For the past decade, technological advances have vastly redefined the political process, and those changes are witnessed in states such as New Hampshire and South Carolina, where a crowd of 5,000 can be gathered in hours from social media, and a candidate can raise $5 million in small donations online based on one rousing speech. Those same tectonic shifts have upended the corporate landscape as well, providing massive opportunities to those who leverage these latest marketing tools to their benefit.

▪ Be bold: From eschewing big money, to directly attacking the press, candidates on both sides of the aisle have thought differently and positioned themselves as mavericks willing to take a chance. Although this comes with big risks, it can also deliver big rewards. Companies today need to be willing to forgo a bit of control (especially in social media) and stand out in a competitive marketplace filled with background noise. In order to cut through the clutter, brands need to take calculated risks and establish a bold voice.

There are stark differences between politics and business, but also many similarities.

Innovative leaders in both realms would be well-advised to adapt, get comfortable with change and understand the many factors out of their control. We may not be able to predict the returns in November 2016, but we can be certain the forecast includes uncertainty.

Mike Valdes-Fauli is president and CEO of Pinta, a marketing agency with offices in Miami, New York and Los Angeles.