Learning From Political Misteps

“There are two types of people – those who com into a room and say, ‘Well here I am,’ and those who come in and say, ‘Ah, there you are.'”

– Frederick Collins

I love politics! No, not the skirmishing, nor the name-calling and not the ideology. Rather, I enjoy observing and analyzing political strategy and how politicians communicate with the electorate. There are many opportunities to learn from political successes and failures and to apply them to our own business. A case in point – the collapse of Rudolph Giuliani’s campaign for the presidency.

“America’s Mayor” – Mr. Giuliani is the type of person who walks into the room and announce, “Here I am!” His campaign relied heavily on the cult of personality. This might have worked if Mr. Giuliani were selling a new book – enough people would have come out for the entertainment factor and the chance to get close to a celebrity – they might have even bought a book!

But asking people to vote for you is a very different matter. Voters are more concerned about what you will do – for them – in the future. They do not care as much for what you did in the past – your accomplishments and your years of service enabled you to get into the race. When you are asking for their vote, they want to know your plans for the future and how they fit into your plans. They also want a candidate who walks into the room and says “Ah, there you are!”

Focus on your customers (the voters) and not on yourself. Concentrate on how you will satisfy their needs. Don’t shine the spotlight on your needs – for recognition, ego-stroking, votes, etc. Earning their vote is similar to completing a sale. People love to buy, but they hate to be sold. Identify their needs and present your solution as the best way to meet them.

Terrorism – the fear of another major attack on our country. Mr. Giuliani identified this as the burning issue for this campaign and he was convinced that he offered the ideal solution – he was the best candidate for this issue. He would craft his strategy around our vivid memories of 9/11/01 and the (significant) leadership that he provided in the aftermath of that fateful day. This was his message. This would enable him to walk in front of large crowds and announce, “Here I am! Remember what I did in response to 9/11?”

There was just one problem with this strategy: voters changed their mind. Now, other needs – for example, the fear of a declining economy, the high price of oil and the loss of jobs and homes – were more pressing. And Mr. Giuliani was not listening to the voters. He was not asking voters what mattered most to them. He was too busy trumpeting his leadership role in the war on terror.

Michael Powell and Michael Cooper wrote an insightful analysis about the collapse of the Giuliani campaign in the New York Times – “For Giuliani, a Dizzying Free-Fall.” Click on the hyper-link to read the complete article. Here is an excerpt:

Mr.Giuliani also relied on a New York-style approach to photo-friendly crowds. “Rudy went very heavy on Potemkin Village stops, working what I call ‘hostage audiences,’ ” Mr. Cullen said. “It looked like he was campaigning, but he didn’t know who he was talking to.”

Great business lesson: Know your audience before you start talking. Understand the needs of your target audience before you start advertising to them. Ask your audience what concerns them before you prescribe what they need. People love to buy, but they hate to be sold to.

In politics as in business, keep the focus on the voters – your customers. Connect with them. Build trust with them. Never take them for granted. Earn the sale and you will get their vote.

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