You need better content.
If you’re a savvy communications strategist or a whiz-bang writer who knows the value of good content, then you already know everything I’m about to say.
This is for everyone else.
During the 2014 election cycle, I watched in frustration as far too many campaigns didn’t make their case as well as they might. They didn’t let the candidate’s true principles and personality show through. It was hidden behind carefully crafted talking points that were message-tested within an inch of their lives.
Too many candidates couched their positions in what they thought voters wanted to hear, instead of saying what they really believed.
Too many candidates focused on what they were against instead of running on what they stood for. Opposition messaging is part of the game in politics, but it shouldn’t be the whole ballgame. So we never really got to know who some of these men and women were. We only knew that they wanted you to vote against their opponents.
Who got it right? Senator Al Franken of Minnesota leaps to mind. So does Senator-elect Gary Peters of Michigan. Both of these winning campaigns illuminated the candidates’ humanity, a word used by Sen. Franken’s digital director, my friend Sara Cederberg, to describe what’s at the heart of good messaging. I could not agree more.
For example, Sen. Franken was frequently shown with his wife, Franni, telling stories of their life and work together. This photo of Al, Franni and their first grandson, Joseph, is at the top of the “Meet Al” page of the campaign website. The campaign gets bonus points for putting a button on every blog post that says “I care about this,” so supporters could instantly share content that reinforced their own values. The tone was consistently warm, friendly and fun where appropriate, yet serious when it needed to be. The campaign team found just the right balance.
In one of the best TV ads of the campaign cycle, Sen.-elect Peters showed off his favorite raggedy sweatshirt and worn-out shoes while his family teased him about being frugal. It was an entertaining spot that helped him drive home his message about careful spending. See for yourself.
When I was volunteering by making phone calls to voters in Michigan, one woman said, “Tell Gary Peters I just love that ad with the shoes! He should make more like that.” A refreshing change from the majority of comments I heard about people being sick of negative campaign ads.
That’s not to say that these candidates didn’t go on the offensive. Although their emphasis was on what they were fighting for, they talked about what they were fighting against. But they did it with solid facts about policy, not personal attacks.
What’s true for campaigns is just as true for any endeavor that requires persuasion. People want to feel an affinity for your candidate, your cause, your product. One of the very best ways to do that is through storytelling. Both campaigns did this extremely well.
Start with a clear mission statement and brand identity, which applies to both people and products. Then tell the story of the brand and make your mission clear. Everything else — social media, emails, videos, speeches, media interviews — builds on that. Keep the messaging disciplined and stay on point, absolutely. But never forget there’s a personality behind the brand, especially if there’s a person involved.
Sure, you need to know your audience. Factor in all the data and demographics that can help you tailor the message and target the right people. But your brand’s message comes first, always.
And don’t forget the details. Quality content matters, whether you’re writing a speech, a blog post, an ad or a tweet. Be consistent, be authentic and be accurate. We can all make mistakes, but spelling and grammar still count — especially when you want to persuade someone that you’re the best person for the job.
Most of all, be human. Let your brand’s humanity shine through. Interact with your audience on a personal level. Because in the end, if you’re going to win you need people to choose you, whether you’re a politician or a product. Give them something they can relate to. Make them like you enough to say “yes.”
[Typewriter photos by Steven Depolo (top) and Leo Reynolds (bottom).]