What marketers can learn from this year’s Presidential candidates

Politics and marketing have a lot in common. Contributor Timothy Carter explores the similarities between the two and shows what insights we marketers can glean from the political realm.

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Super Tuesday is now behind us, but the march toward the 2016 Presidential election is still an exciting and volatile one.

We’ve already seen some surprises, from the types of candidates seeking the nomination on both sides of the aisle to the lasting level of competition between those candidates, but at the crux of these developments are a handful of key takeaways that can help you become a better marketer.

Politics and marketing

Before you start to question my methods, remember that politics is basically just a higher form of marketing. Candidates build themselves a platform. Like a brand, they strive for consistency, advertise their biggest offerings, try to influence key demographics and try to recover when things go wrong. The only difference is, instead of selling a product or service, they’re selling a personality — and every once in a while, a logical argument comes into play.

With that being said, we can look at the tactics that have emerged this political season to support unconventional and conventional candidates alike, and we can use what we learn to further our own marketing strategies. So what have we learned so far?

People want something different

For the past several election cycles, the same types of candidates have cropped up as nominees for each party. They’ve been long-seated, vocal members of each party, relatively moderate in their beliefs, who follow the rules somewhat straightforwardly and take the “beaten” path to the nomination.

This year’s Presidential race has been more of a scramble, with candidates breaking the norm and the most unique contenders standing out from the pack. Donald Trump, for example, came out of nowhere and has consistently made outlandish comments while campaigning in a seemingly disorganized, unconventional way. Bernie Sanders, on the other side, has been campaigning for socialism and radical changes to our current economic structure.

Is this a reflection of the current political zeitgeist? Possibly. But it also speaks to the demand from today’s users to see something different.

Thanks to limited attention spans, bombardments of information and the prevalence of instant gratification through digital media, users are hungry for anything that stands out in the sea of white noise. In the marketing world, this means it’s on you to differentiate yourself from the competition.

Controversy sells

Sanders’ following has grown bigger, consistently, since he started with almost nothing at the beginning of the campaign. Part of the reason he’s drawn so much attention is simply because he’s flaunting a controversial message: until recently, “socialism” has been a taboo word, and Sanders is defying expectations by brandishing it as a positive.

In an indirect comparison, Trump has drawn much criticism for what some consider to be xenophobic and racist comments — but at the same time, he’s gained more visibility by making them.

This isn’t to say that you should intentionally polarize your audience or that you should make controversial comments to get more attention; instead, walk away with the knowledge that defying the norm is usually a good thing. Even if you end up alienating some, you’ll still stand out from the crowd and earn more attention for taking a firm stance.

Money isn’t everything

Funding is always a point of contention in major elections. How much money are candidates receiving to push their ads? How much are they spending? Where are they getting it from?

Any cynic will tell you that elections come down to whoever spends the most money, and marketers who know the power that comes from additional ad investments are likely inclined to agree. However, this election cycle is proving to break from that norm.

According to data from Fox, the Republican candidates who spent the least are the ones leading the polls. After New Hampshire, Trump had spent about $40 per vote, while trailing candidate Jeb Bush spent nearly $1,200. Candidate Sanders is similarly defying expectations by running an increasingly successful campaign on a razor-thin budget.

Conclusively, how you spend money is far more important than how much you spend.

Strategies must change with the times

Traditional campaigning strategies simply aren’t working out. Modern voters, like modern consumers, have access to new technologies, demand faster answers and more data-driven results and are watching every minute of each candidate’s life with a keen eye.

Accordingly, the most successful candidates thus far have been ones to exploit these advantages. Bernie Sanders, for example, is finding much popularity among young voters thanks to his socially circulating infographics and social media-heavy campaign.

Similarly, your campaign must grow and adapt with the times. It isn’t easy to stay ahead of the curve, especially with the competition breathing down your neck, but what worked for your company just five years ago probably won’t work for you the same way today.


Political candidates aren’t the same as brands, but the tactics they use to increase their personal visibility and inspire loyalty among voters are effective enough to warrant exploration in a traditional marketing environment.

It doesn’t matter how big your budget is (to an extent), if you spend your money properly. You have to stand out if you want to get noticed. You should strive for a degree of controversy. And you should change your strategies to keep up with the times.

Do these things, and you might not win an election — but you will have more customers knocking down your door to buy from you.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Timothy Carter
Timothy Carter is the CRO of the Seattle digital marketing agency, SEO.co. He has spent more than 20 years in the world of SEO and digital marketing leading, building and scaling sales operations, helping companies increase revenue efficiency and drive growth from websites and sales teams. When Timothy isn't telling the world about the great work his company does, he's planning his next trip to Hawaii while drinking some Kona coffee.

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