Every Day is Election Day

If I’ve learned one thing from this crazy presidential election campaign, it’s that politicians know what it takes to win. They have a vision, a plan, campaign surrogates, and the willingness to fight with the gloves off, preferably in public view. Modern campaigns are almost religious in their faith in data, and readily — if sometimes awkwardly — embrace new technology (if you don’t believe me, Hillary Clinton is on Snapchat).

Despite the fact that many brand communicators come from politics, we sometimes lose our edge (or maybe it’s our nerve) when we walk through the corporate door. That’s a shame, because ultimately we need to be less corporate, and more brave. We need to behave more like candidates.

Today, with vast data sets at hand, finely-tuned social targeting, and unprecedented opportunities to drive the narrative with owned content, the need to remodel communications teams to look something more like a campaign, complete with scrappiness and swagger, could not be more timely. That means letting go of how things have always been done, and embracing a new way of storytelling. And it all starts with the North Star.

The core creative idea (or ‘The Optimistic Vision’): Winning campaigns almost always paint an optimistic vision of the future. What does your brand stand for today? How is it making lives better? Core creative ideas are often long-lasting: Coca-Cola stuck with ‘Open Happiness’ for seven years, and IBM has unified marketing around ‘Smarter Planet’ since 2008. At Spredfast, we call this our “North Star” — it’s always in the same place, and guides everything that we do.

Data sets you free: Data helps define your audience, tune your messaging, and assess whether you’ve successfully reached that audience. At Spredfast, we’ve started to map long-term coverage trends, track competitor announcements and statements, and conduct regular, in-depth interviews with stakeholders and influencers. We marry these findings with data from our own performance marketing team, as well as feedback from employees, to clarify our position in the competitive landscape. The goal is to find our own blind spots, and disrupt ourselves first. There are no sacred cows, no assumptive truths, and data beats politics.

Create (and testing) the message: Once the vision has filtered through the data, the message is born. Now it’s ready to be tested and refined. But don’t get too attached — it might not live very long. Any veteran of politics will tell you that if a message doesn’t resonate, you abandon it and get a new one. The beauty of the campaign model is that while the message changes, the North Star does not. The flexibility and creative potential are enormous.

Get the message out: As communicators, we usually focus the lion’s share of our effort on media relations. But modern brand PR is a daily street fight (if you need proof, read this extraordinary exchange on Medium between Amazon’s Jay Carney and New York Times executive editor Dean Bacquet). Attention is short and the noise cacophonous. That demands thinking outside the box and leaving nothing on the table. All levers should move in unison: advertising, performance marketing, media relations, social marketing, thought leadership, influencer relations, owned media, and analyst relations. This demands a degree of cross-functional planning and alignment that often doesn’t exist, and requires communicators to become enthusiastic digital believers and ‘next-gen PR’ prophets.

Enlist advocates and supporters: There are few things more important than enlisting super-fans and supporters to help carry your story to more people in more places. Most PR and social media programs include an “influencer” program, but making a true big bet on advocates is core to a campaign plan. True influence often comes in unexpected places, and assessing it is almost always a math exercise. Without third-party endorsement, there usually isn’t a story.

Differentiating your opponent: You don’t have competitors. You have opponents. It’s essential to communicate why your company and product are the better choice, and not let your opponent control the narrative. For example, according to the 2015 Forrester Social Relationship Platform Wave, Spredfast beats Sprinklr, our largest competitor, by nearly two points (out of five) in the strength of our product strategy, by a full point on revenue (a key marker of corporate stability), and by a full two points (again out of five) in onboarding and support. This isn’t boasting: it’s an objective analysis of our business by a third party. When you have that third-party validation, use it.

Shortly, I will get the opportunity to put this muscular framework into action. This week, I’m taking a new role at Spredfast as our first Global Vice President of Communications. In my new job, I’m joining a team of skilled communicators and marketers in building a brave brand. Together, we’re going to build a communications function that looks like a campaign team, not a hierarchical department.

Starting today, Spredfast communications is one team with a singular vision. Our software is our candidate. Our opponents get no more free shots. And we won’t forget that, in countless meeting rooms all over the world, every day is election day.