Building customer interest

Recently, found myself getting involved in another political campaign – this time, at the beginning of the campaign. And, as warned by others, the campaign is primarily focused on the business of campaigning – raising capital. I learned it before in startups – cash is the blood of the company/campaign. If it is not raised – people do not get paid, campaigns limp forward, and supporters have no reference in which to compare to you. In the absence of a market – fundraising becomes the measure of success.

But how can a candidate raise capital and increase visibility when the campaign does not sport a lightning rod like Katherine Harris or Gov. Schwarzenegger? Compare yourself to other candidates – when they are all Democrats? Campaigning on issues you are not sure will resonate with others – how do you know what a person will care about one year from now? The paradox is to generate a buzz about a candidate that get people interested in investing (read: donating) without losing the opportunity to position yourself in the best light at the time when most people are looking.

So, how can a campaign, like a startup, define the product when the customer does not provide you with a true understanding of what they want a year from now?

Stating the Obvious
This is not a new problem – candidates face this issue every election cycle – how do you get people interested in you when they are not paying attention and are often driven by the issue of the moment? In NY city, the Democratic primary had the lowest turnout – and most people did not notice there was a primary until THREE days before the voting happened. In one campaign I was focused on, the third place winner won his spot over the fourth place candidate – primarily because he was named Michael Brown, the same name of the FEMA Director who has just lost his job! The lowest turnout in decades – and people were impacted by name recognition rather than the issues.

Get some Dean magic – use the Internet?
Is the Internet the way to turbo-charge a candidate? One refrain I have dealt with in the past year is “Dean was able to make money off his Internet effort. Why can’t we?” This comment could be restructured to say “George Bush made a lot of money off his direct mail fliers. Why can’t we?” Or “google made money off of the search engine business. Why can’t we?”

Using the same technology or replicating the mechanics of the process does not guarantee success – a product is about the entire offering, not just the logistics or technology. In Geoffrey Moore’s books, we discuss the entire product offering – not just the core solution. Dean’s success started from his work in the VT Governorship and then, on the back of his anti-war message, with a belief of access (through Trippi, Zephir and Matt Gross) they implemented a two-way conversation with the interested mavens at the time. I remember February 2003 when I was part of the Dems Abroad group in London – and listened as one of these mavens espoused his allegiance to Dean – all from watching the DNC gathering in February – a full five months before his fundraising success became visible. Relationships are not just in politics – google did not become the powerful revenue beast it is today simply because of it’s search technology alone – the technology brought attention to the site, but the relationships it formed with content owners (though syndication of the search boxes and AdWords) and then with early adopters through the google search bar (tracking your behaviours to determine more relevant results) – the early adopters became the crucible that lead the way for the majority to get involved.

Bringing it Home
So how does this relate to the campaign I speak of? IMHO, it is all about generating relationships – reciprocal relationships that drive the energy of the campaign forward. Like the initial seed crystal in making silicon wafers (or the snowball that becomes the snowman), it is about building the relationship with the mavens that will grow into defining the candidate in the long run. By being the candidate that people take as their own and compare all others to. How can a candidate make the success happen in the long run – especially when most other people are not looking – and will only focus when the time is right – and they do what comes naturally to them: ask the mavens.

Sound like an idea?

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