The Politics of Content

This post is not about politics, don’t worry -- but it is inspired by it.

Last week, we saw two monumental examples of implementing a content strategy: the announcement that Justin Trudeau will be running for the Liberal leadership and the U.S. debate between President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney. Business can not only learn from all three principals’ performances, but also how they move forward from here.

Trudeau’s announcement is a perfect example of knowing your audience and playing to its desires. His initial announcement, which first appeared on his own Web site, was designed to acknowledge the role that the youth demographic and social media audience has played in bringing the next-generation Trudeau to this place in his life.

In business terms, it’s a simple, effective way to reward those customers for their loyalty -- and it doesn’t cost a dime. When it comes to your on-line and social networking efforts, people sign up for newsletters, “like” your Facebook page, and “follow” you on Twitter not because they’re hanging on every word you say (although brand fidelity plays a part in it), but rather because they want to be part of a community -- and reap the benefits from that participation.

Very shortly thereafter, Trudeau was in Calgary, doing the traditional stumping and glad-handing. And this is another important lesson -- your on-line efforts and social networking are not the be-all-and-end-all. They are part and parcel of a larger communications strategy that reaps the benefits from both traditional and emerging practices. Your on-line audience may be more engaged, more interactive, and more willing to act as an advocate, but chances are they still represent a minority of your overall customer base. You can’t ignore Joe and Jill Average, which is why the savvy business will use its Web site and social networking to complement its traditional business-building and marketing efforts. 

And now we turn our attention south of the border. It’s safe to say that up until last week, Mr. Romney wasn’t exactly hitting on all cylinders. His campaign and speech gaffes were international news and the polling numbers were not great. And then came last week's debates and suddenly there’s momentum where there was once none.

Why? Because Romney’s team was able to reframe the message. For the first time, they were able to successfully establish its product -- the candidate -- in the way they want. What some businesses have a very hard time understanding is that you will never totally control your message on-line. You can massage it, you can try to guide it, but once you’ve made a statement, the community at large can conscript it to their own cause. Earlier this week, both sides had another opportunity at presenting their messages through their respective secondary voices

So what do you do? You re-frame the argument. You address concerns head on and you engage with your existing and potential customers. And this is where it will be interesting to watch the respective campaigns from a communications perspective here on out. The Obama brand is already established; the Romney brand has been established, largely by those outside of the Romney campaign. This debate has given customers something new to think about -- and while every statement, claim, and argument will be parsed, examined, and analysed within an inch of its life, the success of each campaign will come down to how they manage their messages.

Proactive statements or reactive responses? Full details on a Web site or releasing bits and pieces of a platform through sound bites? Ignoring counter-claims or dealing with them head on? All of these are business decisions about how you’re going to support your brand whether you’re selling a product -- or, in the case of politics, a person.

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