Posted on November 4 in Marketing Strategy

In Marketing and Politics, One Message Does NOT Fit All

Five tips to develop meaningful communication across broad demographics

Throughout this, one of the ugliest political seasons on record, I’ve been struck by how one-dimensional each candidate has been able to make their opponent appear and how accepting we, the public, have been in allowing this to be what we judge our decisions upon in the voting booth.

It hasn’t been hard to caricature candidates, I grant you, with larger-than-life, warts-and-all personalities on display. But regardless of whether the campaigns have been national or local, cardboard cutouts seem to be what we, the electorate, have been given to choose from.

Now, this is not a blog about politics, mainly because I’m sick to death of talking about and listening to pundits fill airtime on television and media. Thank goodness for the Great British Bake Off!  Instead, this blog is about messaging and painting with a broad brush.

In marketing, we follow and analyze trends, crunch data, develop “personas” of our customers, and focus group, all in an effort to craft just the right message for that audience through just the right channel. We also constantly work to engage and connect with our fickle customer base through social media until—if we’re lucky– they feel enough of a relationship to communicate independently with our brand(s).

Messaging is a nuanced thing. You can’t paint with a broad brush as this campaign season has done—just ask Starbucks, which just stepped in it again as it pushes people to have an honest discussion about race (remember last year’s “Race Together” campaign?) during one of the most contentious electoral seasons in history where race in its multiple dimensions is very much top of mind and EVERYONE is sensitive.

This year’s has shown more than ever that we cannot be put into buckets (or baskets), with broad, bland messaging that satisfies all demographic groups but falls short of meeting some of the most basic marketing questions: “I’m not familiar with you—tell me about yourself and why I should care.” “What makes you different?” “How will you solve my problem?” “What are the long-term effects of choosing you?”

Sure, tweets have only 144 characters and memes even fewer, so you can only scratch the surface of a subject on social, and it’s likely to resonate only with a sub-segment of your audience. Going back to politics, that’s why multi-platform coverage of the election has increased so dramatically (P.S. CNN crushed it).

So how do you tackle sticky subjects in marketing in ways that drive engagement?

  1. Decide if this is where your brand needs to play in the first place. Most brands have nothing to do with politics, and should stay away from putting a stake in that ground at the risk of alienating customers. Chick-fil-A was vocal about their stance on gay marriage and lost customers, but their core Southern consumers made up those lost sales. It’s my belief Chick-fil-A was able to run with that story because they’re privately owned, and am pretty sure no shareholders would have approved “going there.”
  1. Have a crystal-clear understanding of your audience(s), and craft multiple messaging using multiple tools to reach them and for them to reach you. This might be an online forum, invitations to focus groups (learn more about you? Yes, please!)

If you’re looking to converse about a subject on Facebook or through a TweetChat, that engagement needs to be moderated and facilitated in real time–carefully and constantly–to stay on the path of a healthy, productive conversation.

  1. Diversify your voice and audience to target multiple points of view, and have a multicultural team monitoring those engagements. And remember, the person different from you likely has a different, but very real, point of view, so invite participation. Once you have participation, LISTEN. You’ll learn a lot that you can apply to future campaigns and marketing efforts.
  1. Be careful about automation. People love automation tools, but remember, people are behind every screen and device, and people are writing the content for your brand. If you load up your CRM tool ahead of time and disaster strikes, be sure to:

a) Replace any inappropriate content with something immediate and heart-felt, and

b) Don’t try to capitalize on the issue. Someone should have mentioned that to this mattress company looking to boost business on the anniversary of 9/11. Hint: 9/11 jokes will always be “too soon.”

  1. Have significant conversations in your own offices, across departments, and make it the norm. Enable your mixed age/race/gender/politics team to have meaningful conversations so when the time comes for you to try a new voice or be at the forefront of a conversation, you get it right. Unless you are the same color, gender, sexual orientation, or occupation of the folks you’re talking to, you need to zip your lip and listen. Notice I didn’t say “age.” You’re never too old to learn something new.

In smaller companies this can happen naturally if that’s the culture you’ve cultivated. In larger companies, internal mentoring and diversity groups can provide this forum. I’ve learned more about how similar we are despite appearances from my friends and co-workers by having these conversations, but I also understand what can offend and why.

As humans, we each are shaped and influenced by a multitude of experiences, taboos, teachings and environments. It’s very difficult to message to one large group in a single stroke, which is why coffee cups doesn’t drive change, people do. Thoughtful, thought-provoking messaging based on research, cultural and social listening, a keen ear for news and its implications and restraint are your keys to continually creating compelling messages that resonate with all your audiences.

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