Democrats need to take Marketing 101

I am about to graduate from business school with a degree in marketing.  Now, many of you “financier” MBAers may look down on my marketing degree, but it is actually quite useful once you realize that every institution on earth needs to do one thing to survive: Sell.

The Catholic Church needs to sell its ideology, Goldman Sachs needs to sell its financial services, and Banana Republic needs to sell clothes.    The rest of this post will assume that the Democratic party (and all political parties in general) need to sell ideas to gain support and votes.

There is one crucial framework that marketing 101 that the Democrats are only recently getting wind of:  STP, which stands for segmenting, targeting and positioning.  Any institution worth its salt knows which consumer segments exist in its market, then  it does its homework to identify target  “customers” that are most likely to buy its goods, finally the institution develops a position that will appeal to its target customer.  Duh.

The #1 mistake that rookie institutions make is that they ignore STP and try to be all things for all people.  That is exactly what the Democrats have done for too long. Perhaps we should define the Dems as being cautious liberals or are they quirky conservatives? I’m not sure. I don’t think anyone is sure, and that is exactly why the Dems are having an identity crisis at the moment.

I’ll drive my STP point home with a simple analogy: clothing retail.   Sears was once the King of Retail. No retailer on earth sold as much to as many customers as Sears.  They grew and tried to be all things to all people.  Sears started selling clothes, then appliances, then eye glasses and car repair services. Sears even had a pest control service at one point in time.  This strategy seemed to work until more sophisticated retailers joined the party and focused on a specific segment then targeted them with a unique market offering/position.

If you look at the following chart as the spectrum of needs retail customers look for, you can safely place Sears smack dab in the middle.  There they are, trying to be all things to all people.  Competitors entered and made sure to meet specific customer needs.  Sears found itself straddling the market and was unable to fully meet the needs of their customers.  I mean, why would you shop at Sears and try to find something you like if you could find exactly what you want at the other stores? They lost share. They’ve lost sales. They are in trouble.

The Democrats lost Massachusetts because they “Pulled a Sears.”  They are straddling voters and coming out empty because they can’t fully satisfy the liberals nor can they compete with Republicans who are doing a better job of satisfying the conservatives.   The Democrats need to do some serious STP analysis.

Segment:  All voters ages 18+

Target:  Start with all voters that are not conservatives and then get much more specific than that.

Position: The political party best suited to accomplish _________________  (meet a need that the target audience wants met)

  • Stabilize the economy
  • Create incentives that help new industries (and jobs) develop so that the US remains competitive in the future
  • Restructure public services so that constituents receive higher value at lower costs (i.e. Health Care, Social Security, etc)
  • Etc, Etc, Etc

The point is that they need to define a position and try to execute a few things very well and not trying to solve all problems under the sky.

I must end this post by congratulating President Obama for having the cojones to tell the party exactly what my favorite Marketing 101 professor told us:  Focus, Specialize and Act Decisively.

President Obama recently said ““I think the natural political instinct is to tread lightly, keep your head down and to play it safe…don’t play safe.”  He’s right. The Dems cannot afford to play it safe, they need to focus and be unquestionably Democrat in rhetoric and action.


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