Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Don't Let Your Brand be Martha Coakley

It’s been clear for a week or two how the senate election in Massachusetts was going to end. But that doesn’t make it easier for people in and out of the state to accept. For the record, I’m a registered independent, on the email lists of both John Kerry and Barak Obama. If you mined both databases you’d find that I contribute early--important in politics. Not large amounts generally, but I did come close to maxing out in support of Obama. Ok, now you know more about me that I’m comfortable revealing, but it’s important to the story of why Martha Coakley lost when she was 30 points ahead for most of the campaign. I’m sure I’m not the only one who will say that it’s a textbook lesson in missed opportunities, but I’d like to give a marketing perspective.

1. Bad candidate. Snippy comments like ‘am I supposed to stand on a cold street corner and shake hands’ (not a direct quote, but you get the idea). That on a (cold) weekend when Scott Brown was all over the airwaves standing on a street corner shaking hands.
2. Bad messaging. Generic, appeals like ‘I’ll go to Washington and support health care for all’ (again not a direct quote). It’s typical of how I interpreted all of her ads: I’ll go to Washington and vote the straight party line. I don’t think that fits the mood of the electorate.
BTW; Massachusetts has universal health care with an individual mandate. It actually works pretty well. You either submit proof of insurance with your state tax form or pay a fine. It took a while for them to get systems in place to help people get insurance, but it seems to be working ok now.
This election wasn’t about health care per se. As I read it the main issue was government and government spending out of control.

3. Really bad campaign management.
• She announced her candidacy last summer and essentially disappeared for about 3 months, until a week or so before the primary election. She was 30 points ahead, and it made sense to save money, but no foundation was being built.
• The foundation needed was donors and an email list. Both Kerry and Obama have retained control of their lists but they make them available for acquisition on a limited basis from what I see. I never received a donor solicitation or anything else directly from the Coakley campaign. When they began to panic, senators and democratic campaign committees began forwarding her emails. Small Coakley list? I think so.
The email sign up is under the Get Involved tab on her site. Feels like kind of an afterthought. And when you go there, just a page asking for email and zip code. Nothing about what you’ll get, no privacy statement. Not best practices for any brand.
• When things started to turn about the first of the year the campaign had nothing to fall back on except fund-raise out of state (not a good image, given the nature of the campaign) and robo calls. Toward the end, I was getting maybe a dozen a day. I have ANI, so I didn’t answer them. Some did record, including one from the candidate on election day saying; “I know you’re getting a lot of these calls, but. . .” Is that going to affect behavior? Not unless maybe you forgot that yesterday was election day and that was pretty hard to do!
• Both candidates used direct mail and rental lists. I got two from Scott Brown the same day last week, obviously different lists. The same day I got one from Martha Coakley, also a rental list—thanks for knowing that I’m a loyalist!
• I saw Scott Brown ads all over the Internet during the last week. They were on sites like TechCrunch that would get traffic from Gen X and Gen Y techies, a large population in Massachusetts and likely to be independent voters. I saw no Coakley ads.
• Both had active Facebook and Twitter programs. I didn’t follow either—once again I was never asked—but the Boston Phoenix did. Another clear edge for Brown, apparently. I didn't see much PPC advertising for either, but I wasn't paying a lot of attention.

Neither campaign got below the surface of issues and that seemed to suit both of them for different reasons. I’ll leave it to political pundits to dissect the issues; just don’t believe all the nattering about health care as an issue; that’s also superficial.The impact, however, may be large; the media is not good at separating the two.

One comment last night did strike me. I think it was David Gergen who pointed out that the polls began to turn on the news of the sweetheart deals with Senators Nelson and Landrieu to win their health care votes. That was late November, and the turn makes sense from what I was seeing in terms of voter issues.

So this may have been a flawed brand from the beginning. But there is no doubt that the campaign did not speak to voter concerns—they could have been doing some serious listening last fall and some crafting of messages. In the end, when the crunch came, they had no way to reach a critical mass of supporters with a message that resonated.

I was told not long ago that this online media stuff was easy and it didn’t take much time. So wrong! Unless you have the strategy and the tools in place, you cannot react to either the good or the bad events that affect your brand! That’s the marketing message from this election. I wish I thought it was the only message.

1 comment:

Kenneth B. Schwartz Center said...

Thanks for the great post Mary Lou. I wish the mainstream media had reflected as thoughtfully on the election results! Jamie Rauscher