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SXSW: Why Your Brand Should Study Political Campaigns

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Entrepreneur is on the ground for SXSW. Check back for highlights from the festival as well as insights on trends from a range of thought leaders and innovators.

When the modern political campaign emerged more than 50 years ago, it borrowed tactics from Madison Avenue ad agencies. Today, the tables are turned, and while many companies struggle to connect with their market, politicians and their teams are reinventing how they connect with and motivate their base. "The student is now the teacher," noted David Murphy, the president of ad agency Team Detroit.

Murphy shared this insight and others at a panel Friday at SXSW: What Marketers Can Learn From Political Campaigns. He and a team of other experts, including Rich Mintz and Michelle Mullineaux of Blue State Digital and Peter Bouchard of Civis Analytics, shared insights on what brand managers and marketers of any stripe can take from political campaigns.

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Stay on message
Culture and audiences change on the fly, so a brand should be ready and able to adapt. Murphy says that many modern companies lack "clarity and rigor" when it comes to internal and external messaging because departments such as PR and marketing are not properly integrated. This leads to a company appearing confused and can jeopardize a consistent brand. Once aligned, all departments can efficiently evolve based on new data – and react to emergencies with the same goal and messaging in mind.

The panelists suggest establishing the larger message of a brand, and issuing smaller, more pointed messages to pursue on a frequent basis, to stay on the offensive. It's the best way to avoid the "gotcha" moments that sink unsuccessful candidates -- and weak brands

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Rally with stories
Storytelling is the key to making voters – or customers – feel passionate and want to promote your brand for you. "Humans are hardwired to understand stories," Murphy says. Eyes will gloss over at the sight of hard data, but when that data is re-imagined as an on-brand story, it touches the right nerves.

Mintz used photographs from President Obama's Twitter feed as an example. By crafting his re-election as a triumphant tale (complete with the now-famous photograph of him embracing his wife), a political victory was reframed as a personal victory, a love story. And everyone loves a love story.

Of course, every campaign and every company must balance authenticity with performance. Mintz says that brands should seek out "moments of opportunity," scenes or scenarios that can tell an instant story and carry the weight of your message. Framing your brand in this away isn't inauthentic, Mintz explains. It simply offers customers a relatable gateway to understanding what you are all about.

Rethink how you find support
President Barack Obama's re-election campaign used carefully gathered statistics to determine the winnability of any given state well in advance of the actual election. The Obama campaign knew exactly where their fans were, knew exactly who wasn't going to buy what they were selling, and they knew where they could more efficiently advertise themselves to attract potential new followers. Collected data will guide you and keep your already focused-but-malleable message in check.

Equally important, the Obama campaign identified the fastest growing groups in the United States. By embracing women, Latinos and the LGBT community, the Obama campaign found an audience that was on the rise. The lesson to brands is to not rely so heavily on time-tested methods or who you believe is your core audience. Instead, build a brand that can survive well into the future and is relevant to the world you will be living in.