News article

7 marketing lessons from the campaign trail

On a bitterly cold evening last December I received an intriguing offer. Two local residents, one who I knew vaguely and the other who I’d never actually met before, asked if I’d run their independent campaign for the local council elections in May.

They knew my background as a long-time political activist, candidate and campaign organiser and wondered if I’d like to help.

I promised to mull on it over Christmas. Then in January they expanded the offer. “We can’t find a third candidate, so would you like to stand as well?”

Of course, I said “yes”! The chance to channel my inner Mandelson was too much to resist!

Less than four months later we stood on the makeshift stage in front of the municipal livery and waited for the announcement of the results.

Parties are products, voters are customers

The nature of election campaigns is that they are effectively product launches. You strive to persuade potential customers that your proposition is better than the other guy’s.

The key differential is that most products are given some time to establish themselves after launch. A political campaign only lasts a matter of weeks, and your potential customers only have until polling day to make their minds up.

Given the marketing nature of campaigns, here are seven lessons from our campaign trail that you could apply to marketing your business.

1. Get expert help if you need it

Right from the outset we decided that, if a campaign was worth running, we’d do it properly with no half measures.

For example, unlike many other independent candidates, we registered ourselves as a new party. We did this to establish name identity and a level of credibility with voters. It also meant we could access valuable customer data (more about this later).

We also recognised our own limitations and got expert help in where we needed it – particularly when it came to our website and brand identity.

While there’s a certain amount you can do yourself, there are some areas integral to the success of a campaign where marketing experience is invaluable.

2. Remember client data is a key asset

One reason we were so keen to access the data referred to earlier was that, as a new party, we didn’t have the wealth of historical voter information major parties enjoy.

Neither did we have access to sophisticated voter ID systems or doorstep apps. So, we did everything by hand – using methods I’d first used in campaigns more than 40 years ago!

With an eye to the future, we’ve now saved everything. So, if, in four years time, we run another campaign, there will be some data foundations to build on.

Up-to-date information about your clients and prospects is invaluable. It makes an effective contact strategy far easier to put together and gives a greater chance of success.

3. Have a plan and stick to it…but adapt where appropriate

From registering with the Electoral Commission in January through to knocking on doors to remind our supporters to get out and vote 30 minutes before the polls closed, we planned everything we did.

Of course, we ensured we had the flexibility to react to unforeseen events. We were happy to take advice and, if we thought it was appropriate, we followed it.

Our outline plan on day one was pretty much the plan we ended up following.

We also made sure that our volunteers were invested in the campaign by keeping them all updated with regular emails and calls.

4. Recognise the power of your brand

Having spent time and money getting our branding right we made sure it worked hard for us.

We only had a limited time to get our name and proposition known and recognised. Ensuring everything was consistent and easily recognised as coming from us was therefore crucial.

Our logo, colours, typeface, and design stayed consistent across all our collateral – online and printed – throughout the campaign. Looking at the collateral now, the one thing that stands out is how well it holds together as a suite of material.

5. Keep your messaging clear and consistent

Clear, simple messages are easier to understand are more likely to stick in the mind than anything complicated or buried in jargon.

I recalled an old direct sales expression about the “power of seven” – the number of times the average prospect has to hear a message before it sinks in. We wanted people to get bored of what we were saying, because then we’d know they’d got the message.

As a nod to campaigns of the past we even had a pledge card – five realistic one-line promises that we could be held to if we won.

6. Play to your strengths

From the outset, we decided to stick to what we could do well.

Our campaign struck a nerve with many people, so we soon had a team of volunteers who were happy to deliver leaflets. Consequently, we produced a lot! Some carried general content, while other focused on specific issues relevant to certain roads or estates.

As well as delivering leaflets, we also encouraged our supporters to be advocates for us. A candidate telling you something is one thing, but if it’s a neighbour, or someone you know who gives you the same message, the chances of success can be higher.

If you’re working with a limited budget, you need to be selective in terms of where you spend your money. Sometimes getting your existing clients to recommend your services and to become advocates for the business is the cheapest and most effective marketing approach in the book.

7. Get your marketing mix right

As long as it was affordable, we tried all sorts of things to get our name and message out there.

We put leaflets through doors and handed them out in shopping areas and at the local farmer’s market. We put posters up in windows and had billboards in front gardens.

We even sent a couple of volunteers up and down the local high street wearing sandwich boards!

Tying this all together was our social media campaign. We kept up a daily drumbeat of simple messages – about our campaign, the local area and anything else we thought would capture people’s attention.

We also recorded a series of short video clips and ran these on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. These got a remarkable number of hits.

Get in touch

If you want to get your message out there, we can help.

From developing your brand identity to ensuring you get full value from your website and client newsletters, get in touch to find out what we can do for you.

Contact us at or call us on 0115 8965 300.

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