What can brands learn from politicians?

While many companies get nervous when they hear the word “politics,” we’re not thinking of divisive political debates or any form of political expression when we ask that question – we’re thinking of the way your brand reaches out to customers, builds relationships with them, and maintains their trust over time. With that caveat in mind, you’ll see that brands and marketers can actually learn a whole lot from political campaigns.

It’s suggestive that we use the same word to describe any sustained effort to win support, whether it comes in the form of customers or votes: campaign. When successful politicians are on the campaign trail, they incorporate many of the strategic elements you’ll find in effective advertising and marketing campaigns. Candidates constantly road-test new ideas with different audiences, solicit feedback from constituents and voters, and engage with those constituents and voters across a diverse array of platforms.

However, political campaigns don’t just make engagement a priority – they’re built around the mobilization of larger and larger groups of supporters. And this isn’t only a matter of recruiting new people – it’s an ongoing process of finding ways to get these people more heavily involved with the campaign. Supporters hold fundraisers at their homes, organize events, make phone calls, stuff envelopes, write articles and letters to the editor, and so on. While all of this work may seem like a big ask, supporters who feel like contributors instead of mere bystanders are much more likely to remain active and loyal over the long run.

Customers are no different, which is why brands should always be thinking of ways to give them a greater stake in the company’s success. They won’t view this as an imposition – on the contrary, they want to feel like valued partners who brands rely upon to promote (and help craft) their messages, provide feedback on products and services, and even create content that can be used in advertising and marketing campaigns. Brands, advertisers, and marketers haven’t just entered a new era of customer engagement – they’ve entered a new era of customer participation.

Leveraging the networks and talents of consumers takes more than the occasional customer feedback survey or a few messages on social media. It takes concerted and persistent engagement – from the deployment of authentic user-generated content in advertising and marketing campaigns to the incorporation of consumer attitudes at every stage of product development to the amplification of customers’ voices across all your digital channels.

A political campaign can’t survive without volunteers – people who share a candidate’s vision and want to galvanize as much support for it as possible. While the brand-customer relationship has historically been more transactional and detached, this distinction has collapsed with the rise of social media, the increasing demand for authentic engagement, and the growing emphasis on corporate citizenship and responsibility.

These are all reasons why brands can analyze successful political campaigns when searching for innovative ways to attract support for their message and keep up momentum.