Political campaigning in a digital age.

As a marketer that believes in the adage of making stuff people want rather than trying to make people want stuff, I thought about how this (admittedly idealistic) approach could work within an area I’m not exactly qualified to talk about — political campaigning.

How do you make stuff the people you serve want, rather than try to make people want stuff? Translated to the campaign context:

How could political parties deliver marketing as a service rather than “Vote for us” campaigns based on nothing but promises that voters must trust to be true?

What if a party built digital products and services aimed at making people’s lives better, and “owned the interface” between the people and services? In completely different categories it’s been done before. Look at Uber and AirBNB each a poster child of their respective collaborative economy verticals. Neither own much in a way of physical assets or inventory, but rather, they’ve created the interface through which these physical “things” (cars for uber, houses/apartments for Airbnb) are accessed and utilised by the man on the street. They own the interface and therefore have a lot of power in terms of influence (not to mention the fact that they’re also collecting all the user behavioural data and using it to progress the experiences they create as a business). They’re a completely new paradigm to business, they’re not bound to the way things used to be done and so are able to look at solving problems based on the technology available to them today.

When the underlying reason for a political party is to serve the people, perhaps technology isn’t such a bad way of demonstrating it.

During the recent wave of Xenophobic attacks here in South Africa, it could have been invaluable if the ruling party (or savvy opposition for that matter) collaborated with a platform like Ushahidi to rapidly deploy a crisis reporting centre empowering people to map and reports of attacks?

What if an opposition party decided progress around education wasn’t happening fast enough and collaborated with the likes of a Khan Academy to develop a free mobile based distance learning curriculum that geared students for the future, providing them with a respected certificate or qualification should they pass.

Fighting corruption? What if something like CrimeLine opened an API that gave parties the ability to overlay a really simple user experience (the current one is seriously weak) to become a platform that rewards whistleblowers through an well considered, cleverly gamified experience that makes real impact?

There are many other angles where doing something rather than talking about it has been made viable through a digitally focused mindset, combining the powers of mobile technology and social dynamics, as well as a healthy level of collaboration with existing platforms. Jobs? Health services? Legal representation? Small business?

Most of these ideas would require funding, which is where a crowdfunding engine in the mould of a Kickstarter or locally-based Thundafund would play an important role. Giving people with the financial means the opportunity to back initiatives they believe in.

Marketing is about creating some form of value, and then telling people about it.

While I’m sure I’ve missed a number of important considerations (I blame ignorance!), the construct still feels a solid one: In delivering these products and services, parties are able to build stories and campaigns that are based on more than the good old election promise. A far more credible and ultimately more powerful way pitching yourself as the team to vote for.

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