Can we blame the economy for company performance? 6 lessons brands should learn from political campaigns
I came back from my summer vacation a week ago hearing all the media noise about negative political ads, fluctuating stock markets, consumers cutting back on spending, businesses investing less, well, you know the rest. It is an election year, afterall.
As a strategic branding consultant, I couldn’t help but to research the effectiveness of the political attack ads that are designed to diminish positive effect for the opposing candidate’s target. I wondered if it is working. So many opposing views in articles and blogs.
I reviewed a meta-analytic assessment of the effects of negative political campaigns. This Research concludes that negative campaigning is no more effective than positive campaigning, but seems to be more memorable, generating greater campaign-relevant knowledge. It also suggests that negative campaigning has the potential to do damage to the political system itself, as it tends to reduce feelings of political efficacy, trust in government, and perhaps even satisfaction with government itself. However, contrary to the popular belief, it provides no support that it reduces or depresses voter turnarount. Interestingly, while the overall findings for intended turnout are negative, the overall findings for actual turnout is positive.
Net, net, I think the negative political attack ads are designed to energize the base and increase campaign interest–and contrary to current articles and blog posts, backlash effect is minimum. The country is already divided and strategic differentiations are clearly defined. There is not much any of our candidates can do or say to change the opposing views. With that said, I think the Democratic party has much more to gain by energizing and uniting their base, versus the Republican base who have been united and energized the entire time these past four years.
As for the undecided voters (are there any out there), this strategy may increase campaign interest, only if campaign-related knowledge is shared. More importantly, trust must be build on the information shared, which is hardly the case with intensely different fact sharing on each side. What is true is that you are neither wrong or right if the crowd disagrees with you—you are right only if your data and reasoning are right.
You would think that political parties can continue disagreeing on how to tax the top 2%, but at least agree on how to tax the 98% consumers to revive middle class, which will in turn improve the economy and business performances. What surprises me even more is the extend of discussion on taxes versus cultural values that are true behavioral motivators—in voting or consumption. If business leaders were more concerned about leveraging the cultural macro trends and driving sales and profit from the front end, versus cost cutting and bitter tax debates, they will actually end up making more money for all the shareholders.
What can we learn about from all this as it relates to branding and marketing strategies? Can we just sit back and blame the economy for the company performance? Here are 6 important lessons to learn and follow:
- People have a simple wish for a better life. Communicate how your brand can improve their current conditions.
- Energize your base through powerful, emotionally charged marketing campaigns.
- Great brands are built on beliefs and values. Decide which beliefs and values to include in your Value Propositions.
- In today’s economy, all consumers are seeking price value. Don’t lower your price at the expense of your quality and service. Lower it only to gain market share through a meaningful campaign.
- Gain trust by showing you truly care for your base target…share relevant trustworthy reasoning why the consumers should choose your brand…more importantly, deliver on your brand promise.
- Leverage the 3 major cultural macro trends, and step in to The New World Marketplace which is a far cry from the one taught in business textbooks.
Generation Y has come of age with the Harry Potter franchise. While on the surface, it would appear to be just an epic fantasy, to the generation, it means so much more. The themes of standing up for your beliefs, distrust of those in power, equality for all races and genders, as well as overcoming all obstacles through the actions of a few people, are indicative of Gen Y’s mindset. Harry Potter himself is a symbol of this generation, embodying all the characteristics they aspire to.
In my book, The New World Marketplace, I get in to details of the new values and ideological power of the youth culture. With a population estimated at 72 million, making up roughly 26% of the population, Gen Y is the most educated, diverse, tech savvy, optimistic yet disappointed, and soon to be the largest American generation–more than 3 times the size of Gen X. They have greater influence on cultural evolution than previous generation, with unique needs to connect and relate on an individual basis versus trying to fit into a “social norm.”
I explained the concept of “delaying adulthood” in both my book, and also my blog, Do You Really Know 20-somethings? Different studies have shown a range of 5-7 years of delay in reaching the five milestones to adulthood–completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying and having a child. I just read the most recent data by Pew Research survey that showed 24% of adults 18-34 moved back in with their parents in recent years because of economic conditions. I wondered why my previous research showed 40%–then, I realized that the vast majority of them never moved out in the first place. So here’s the latest numbers of young adults living with parents, according to the March 2012 survey by Pew Research:
- 39% of all young adults
- 53% of 18-24
- 41% of 25-29
- 17% of 30-34
This poses a big marketing twist for companies trying to reach this generation. How should branding messages to these multi-generational households look and feel like? The challenge is that these young adults who moved back in with parents because of economic necessities don’t all have a favorable outlook, although most do. But majority of them contribute to household expenses in one form or another. This changes the picture of parental financial support altogether.
What’s even more interesting is that this generation was raised in an era where the divorce rate was high, brief marriages were the norm and numerous partners was acceptable. While this has been raised as a major issue for many social experts as it relates to commitment, it has also resulted in this generation being very culturally liberal.
Ask yourself if your company is making certain assumptions and stereotypes when it comes to branding messages toward Gen Y. Do those messages contain personal growth, relationships, causes, beliefs, values and a sense of purpose? Gen Y is transforming business and branding norms. Connections, contacts, friends or fans, word of mouth, yelp reviews, and Facebook likes may end up mattering more than just a great Super Bowl Ad.
As much as these two words resemble one another, their social and political meaning are perceived antagonistic. You would think that revolution naturally follows evolution, as actions follow the desires to act. Are they fundamentally the same thing, differing only according to the time of their presence? Are revolutionists the true evolutionists? At what point Evolution turns into Revolution?
Evolution by definition means the change over time and variation causes in one or more inherited traits found in populations and individuals. Socially and culturally, it means the gradual and continuous development in morals, ideas, beliefs and values. The fearful word, Revolution, is a fundamental change in power or organizational structures that takes place in a sudden, short period of time, resulting in either complete change or modification of an existing constitution, culture, economy and socio-political institutions. It implies the sudden change, entailing some sort of catastrophe and pressure from the great masses below. Most speak well of natural progress of evolution in general, until they resent progress in a particular direction that challenges the norms and ideals of wealth, power and comfort of privileged worth preserving.
Seth’s Godin in his blog, “forever recession,” explains two types of recessions: a cyclical one that comes and goes – and a permanent one caused by the rise of productivity eliminating jobs for good – end of an era and start of another – a revolution. The industrial revolution fueled economy by massive factories and efficient assembly lines. The information technology revolution faded the local mass production. The internet squeezed inefficiencies out of many systems eliminating not only many clerical office jobs, but also enabling the move of interchangeable parts and jobs around the globe for “cheaper.” Every revolution destroys the last structure before the new one becomes profitable.
The revolutions we are seeing around the globe are not just about job eliminations for efficiencies. So many people have already shifted gears, training and changing expectations. People of all races, cultures, ages and lifestyles have access to the same information technology…their own factory. You would expect that this revolution will level the playing fields. But it has moved profits generated through efficiencies benefiting a very few, and the wealth of a nation has become sum of its tradable riches. Companies are holding on to the profit, not spending, not hiring. It is fueled when leaders are hell-bent on running each other into the ground instead of running the nation.
I spoke at a panel last week and was surprised of how women are still clinging to the old archetypes and mindsets, discussing “shift” of power, instead of partnership and linking. The social model needs to shift for women, as well as men. State of abundance replacing scarcity. Caring and relating more than just ‘networking.’ Lasting outcomes, not just short-term payoffs. Creating and innovating what makes life better and provide more meaning and authenticity – not just trading power, domination and money. The incoming tide is bearing us onward towards a future radically different from existing conditions.
So at what point evolution turns into revolution? When the tide gets stronger and voices are heard….when more people join and believe in the same values, causes and beliefs… .when the monstrous status quo has failed too many, too deserving, and for too long. Not just because of the rich getting richer, but at the loss of human dignity and sovereignty over one’s own fate to live a good meaningful life. We are the creators of our future. To make this a meaningful revolution, we must ask ourselves which human outcomes we want to evolve rapidly.
Atlanta (June 29, 2011) – Walk through the mall, a school or a business office today, and in nearly any city in the country, it will be obvious that “we” is getting trickier to define in terms of race, ethnicity and collective identity. Within relationships, cross-cultural is becoming the norm rather than the exception. This shift from a similar-looking status quo to one that incorporates a plethora of faces, has been referred to as “multiculturalism,” and this typically means both celebrating the uniqueness of each culture and navigating relationships with cultural differences. That might sound nice in an employee handbook, but what does it mean at the bank, at a PTA meeting, on a date or even at a wedding?
Farnaz Wallace, Founder of Farnaz Global and expert in multiculturalism and social and cultural change, has developed strategies and frameworks to help people and organizations find success in forming relationships across all kinds of cultural boundaries. “Multiculturalism should neither be a demand for special rights for minorities, nor a threat to protecting one’s own cultural identity and safety,” she says. “It is a phenomenon of resolving differences and building on commonalities based on values of trust, freedom, respect, equality, justice, dignity, open mindedness and mutual happiness.” (more…)
This is not just a woo-woo statement. It’s really true and proven over and over again. I hear people say they want a relationship, want to be married, have children…or stay single and enjoy the freedom…but when they get what they want, they are not happy or satisfied. I hear, see and experience companies and CEOs with aggressive growth plans wanting a strong candidate for a radical change, but when they see or get one, they are intimidated and revert back into protecting the traditional orthodoxies. We say we want this or that, but do we really understand the trade-offs for the benefits we desire? Are we ready for it?
Beliefs are important; they behoove us to guard our thoughts and actions. And they can change by the things we observe, experience and pay attention to. I read a study by Time magazine a while back which indicated that as women have gained more freedom, more education, more economic power, they have become less happy. Integrating the modern lifestyle with traditional visions of family life and relationships – something has to give, right? Women’s movement say it’s no longer a man’s world, but should it be a woman’s world? This study reported that more than two-thirds of women still think men resent powerful women, yet women are more likely than men to say female bosses are harder to work for than male ones (45%W, 29%M). What type of women’s movement are we having?
Men & women of all races and ages largely agree on life goals. Perhaps it’s a shared reality that should be under constant evaluation, and is gender and color neutral. We can’t always try to fit into social and cultural norms, because the template of happiness and success is constantly changing – and it is very unique and personal to each individual.
Heidi Grant points out to studies showing that when people “feel” they were rushed while deciding, they regret the decisions they make even when they turn out well. I agree, but also think cultures create and drive behavior, then habits, then results. When we say we “want” something that is in conflict with the culture and behavior that is deeply rooted in our subconscious minds, we don’t generate the results we so desire. Mind is two-dimensional. Life is not. Can you really draw the footprint of the house from the inside? Be careful what to wish for, you will just get it. And then what??
For my loyal readers, I’ve posted a press release and a TV interview I had with a local Atlanta TV station last month. Click here to watch. It was fun!
One more blackberry, one more orange juice, one more sandwich, another credit card…just slightly better. Incremental differences are not game changers. Sometimes more innovation can degrade a brand equity and position you in the manufacturing mindset– don’t speed up the line or it will never slow down.
Yes, freedom of choice is essential in pursue of happiness, but too much freedom can cause anxiety and confusion. Too many choices numb us, forcing us to opt out or make uninterested decisions.
Marketers often find another new & improved product, and create a campaign around it. Much more effective is to find a small and eager target, find a branding story, then make a product that resonates and makes the story work.
At the end of every business line, there is a human being. Think of these tips for future branding and relationships:
- Use and align values and beliefs as the blueprint for growth – earn trust and attention and you will have loyalty.
- Consumers will pay more for superior service, or give it up just for cheap. Don’t bite more than you can chew, know your benefits and trade-offs.
- Be transparent and authentic. Consumers know when you’re not being honest, so do your competitors.
- Satisfy higher human needs and connect through Purpose. Sell a story that people want to believe. Content that broaden their horizon, even when uncomfortable.
- Endorse brand humility. Once you believe you are exceptional, you stop innovating. Become your own future rival. Re-earn trust, attention and loyalty.
- More is Less…unless you want to be Netflix or itunes, and put everything out there letting the market sort it out. But where is the lever?
What type of 4-letter word is profit? It is and should be “good”. Over-branding can kill profit.
I use a unique emotional and cultural framework in my consulting and speaking business that revolve around beliefs and values. I thought it’d be a good idea to share a short blog on this topic with my loyal readers.
Beliefs are the assumptions we make about ourselves and others. Convictions and concepts we hold to be true, with or without evidence. How we expect things to be, what we think is true and real. Our beliefs grow from what we see, hear, experience and think about. And beliefs manifest in what we say and do. They are the basis for decision-making and drive consumption behavior for businesses, as well as how we communicate and relate with others.
Our values stem from our beliefs. Values are about how we think things or people ought to be in terms of qualities and guiding principles that are important to us – such as honesty, integrity, loyalty, trust, openness, freedom, peace, happiness, empathy, compassion, equality, faithfulness, etc. While some values are universal in unanimous global agreement – such as honesty, integrity, peace – many values vary based on culture, religion, and beliefs that are widely shared and rarely questioned.
I’ve seen many companies post their values on their web site. Some even mark leadership, innovation and customer focus as values. And why not. They are beliefs that are widely shared and rarely questioned. But I’d ask….are your values aligned with those of your customers and relationships that are important to you?
If you have any intentions to grab a piece of the $2 trillion marketplace that is multicultural and youthful where women have become key players, you may want to consider these values as thought starters in your cultural and emotional frameworks for marketing messages :
- Multicultural: Trust, Acceptance, Respect, Understanding
- Women: Trust, Equality, Thoughtfulness, Service
- Youth: Inspiration, Creativity, Freedom, Adventure
Yes, there are more…and with commonalities. Find them, communicate them, but most importantly, be honest and authentic about them. Your fans will know the difference.
Everyday businesses across America open for business. Who is walking through the door has changed significantly. We’ve had a decade of rapid multicultural growth, aging whites and housing boom and bust. Is your business ready to serve the needs of the New World Marketplace customers in this transformational decade?
Here are some shocking facts recently released by 2010 census:
- Hispanics now account for more than half of the US population increase over the last decade…a new milestone: 50 million, or 1 in 6 Americans. Among US children, Hispanics are already 1 in 4 of all newborns.
- More than 9 million Americans checked more than one race category…up 32% from 2000…a sign of multiracial growth.
- Hispanics and Asians are the two fastest growing demographic groups, increasing about 42% from 2000…Asians for the first time had the largest numeric gain than African Americans.
- Multiracial Americans are on track to increase by more than 25%.
- What’s even more shocking is that most companies still define “multicultural branding” as African American marketing…or if they are a bit more progressive, African American & Latino event sponsorships with possibly a small percent of ad budget. Really? Think again!!!
Here are a few frameworks to consider:
- Re-evaluate your core target. What is “General Market” afterall?
- Consider business models that capitalizes on motivations and attitudes with multicultural dimensions.
- It is no longer about degree of acculturation and melding with the mainstream culture. It is now about influencing , shaping and defining it!!!
- Dig deeper into the values and beliefs of your new multicultural customers….how they live, love, play…what they fear, resent…why they consume what they do. This goes beyond common held assumptions found in research questionnaires.
- Choose an “emotional space” to create a meaningful relationship with your multicultural customers….choose how you’d like your multiculti customer to feel after walking into your business. It’s an outside/in mindset.
The key to the kingdom is changing hands. Multiculturalism is now the rule, not the exception. Take time to really understand your new customers, who are the potential growth that is walking in your door.