I often mention here I'm a marketing/advertising guy. I say it because it directly shapes how I view the world in more ways than I care to admit. What is the phrase, when you are a hammer everything looks like a nail. Well when I encounter a business or even political problem I tend to view it as a marketing and/or messaging problem first and foremost. Maybe a little sad, but just how I roll.
Now with that little intro I often find our elected Democrats and talking heads/political consultants don't get Messaging 101. Heck I'd argue it is the #1 issue in our inability to get a more progressive agenda passed (yes more than the Party of No or "Blue Dogs"). I've gone through and looked at a lot of the Kos/Research 2000 polls the past several months and in almost every instance a large percentage of the public favors our policies (even if they don't realize it), so I have to think we have a serious messaging problem that we can't get more of them passed.
So I'm going to get "geeky" and talk about messaging for a few Diaries because it is something I know a lot about and something we're not doing well.
The most important things to understand about messaging are you have to keep it simple stupid. The message must speak to the pain of the target audience. And the message needs to be repeated time and time again.
Keeping It Simple Stupid (KISS)
Whenever I work with clients this is the most painful part of the marketing process. Clients want to be everything to everyone. In an ad they want to say their product is cost effective. Easy to use. Increases productivity. Stellar customer support. That may all be true, but you only have a few seconds to catch the attention of the target audience and you need to focus on one core message.
IMHO this is where we ran into problems with health care reform. We can all recall somebody on MSNBC running off all the benefits: no preexisting conditions, no cap on lifetime benefits, 30+ million more Americans will have access, lower costs across the board, exchanges, tax breaks for small businesses, kids can stay on their parents plan until 26, close the drug loophole, and it will lower the deficit.
How could that be more not simple for the "average" American that isn't a political junkie like those of us here?
It is everything and the kitchen sink approach to messaging. I am sure their polling and focus groups highlighted that this percentage of the population favored this part of the bill. Another group this part. So just mention them all in a long compound sentence and you make everybody happy. Well not so much.
Effective messaging just doesn't work this way. Never has and never will. When you try to appeal to anybody and everybody you fail.
Ad agencies and marketing firms have different terms they use, but pretty much every project has what is called a Creative Brief or a Creative Input Summary. It outlines the scope of the project. The target audience. All kinds of things. But the most important item included is called the Single Most Compelling Message. The single message that the marketing item is supposed to convey. There can be Secondary Support Points, but it is just one message. Not two, five, or ten. One message.
If I was hired by the DNC to consult on their messaging there is no question I'd rather hear the response to then, what was your Single Most Compelling Message for HCR? A close second would be what is the Single Most Compelling Message for keeping Democrats in control of the House and Senate in the midterms? I am 99% sure if I asked ten high-profile elected Democrats none could give me a consistent, direct answer.
And of course that is a problem. A huge problem.
Talk To The Pain Of Your Target Audience
Call it fear if you want, but talking to the pain of your target audience is a powerful messaging tool. Whenever I am stuck trying to get the Single Most Compelling Message from a client I ask them what keeps their prospects up at night in a cold sweat and how would your product or service alleviate that pain?
The Democrats should be asking the same question when they are trying to develop a message to promote their policies. How will this specific policy reduce their pain? Make them sleep better at night? Alleviate their pain and fears?
With HCR we did a pretty good job with this, cause the whole topic is based around pain pretty much 24/7. But I think with things like Cap & Trade, financial reform, DADT, and Immigration we could do a much better job.
I think we all know how good the Republicans are at playing the "fear card." They get messaging to fear and pain works. They are masters at it. Let’s take "Death Panels" as a key example. It played to the ultimate fear and pain. Our response (when it eventually came) was based on both a logical and factual argument. Not the pain of their loved ones health care plan not providing/paying for end of life consulting. A very powerful message only a few people used (like Keith on Countdown) to our advantage.
Repetition, Repetition, Repetition
When a client asks me my definition of effective marketing I say:
Delivering the right message to the right audience at the right time. Again, again, and again.
The research varies but the "average" American is exposed to more than 4,000 advertising messages a day. About the only way you can get away from somebody trying to market you something is to hide in a dark closet under some dirty cloths. There is a lot of "noise" out there so to break through the clutter you have to repeat what you want to convey time and time again.
It is also estimated that you have to expose somebody to a message at least 5-7 times before it starts to resonate. But you might have to say it 25 times to reach that person 5-7 times (it is about reach and frequency -- but we'll save that for another Diary).
I respect Frank Luntz from a professional point-of-view because he gets everything I've said here. He is very good at what he does, even if I don't agree with his politics. But the simple question is who in our party is doing what he does? Nobody I am aware of.
He puts together messaging documents, sends them out to the GOP faithful, and they start to own the terms of the debate. The catch phrases they want to use, with the meaning they want attached to them. Every Republican repeats them almost word for word on every media outlet they can get on. It is brilliant and effective. It is also Messaging 101.
Now I know a few of you are thinking at this point, well we're better than that. Why would we want to act like the Republicans. Let me be clear I am not remotely suggesting we lie, I am saying we need to be more focused and have much better message discipline. We need to use strategies and tactics that are proven. That when done correctly work.
Of course I'd prefer we didn't have to use these types of strategies and tactics. That instead we could have Lincoln/Douglas style debates. But alas that is not the world we live in. Just wishing it wasn't so won't change things.
Marketing for the DNC and our party in general shouldn't be considered rocket science. Of course tough decisions have to be made and I can only assume getting all the Democrats on the same page would be like herding cats.
But we have the resources and tools we need. Marketing is hard when you don't have the money to spend on paid media or free access to media outlets close to 24/7. Really, really hard if your product sucks. But we have access to money, media outlets, and our product doesn't in fact suck. So there is just no excuse we don't do a better job selling our vision for the nation.
When I read Crashing The Gate I had a lot of takeaways, but one far more than anything else jumped up at me. Why do so many people in our party keep hiring political consultants that lose elections more often then they win? I asked myself time and time again (and still do) why the heck the DNC doesn't hire a consumer marketing firm?
I know this may seem like a strange suggestion, but we use billion dollar consumer marketing firms to produce ads for military recruitment, the Census, and countless Public Service Announcements (just to name a few programs). More times than not they are very effective in their efforts.
Heck there are firms that don't even produce ads or direct mailers, all they do is help organizations develop messaging platforms. And again, they are very good at what they do (although not cheap). Do any of us really think if they can develop a successful message platform to sell hamburgers or a sports drink they couldn't also do something very compelling to help promote something as important as Immigration Reform, DADT, or Cap & Trade?
There is no doubt they could. And IMHO it is high-time the DNC hires one of these firms and gets a coherent messaging platform in place. It takes time to be done correctly, maybe too late for the mid-term elections, but we need to engage some firm to help us sooner rather than later. Because what we have now just isn't cutting it.