Op-Ed: What Can Digital Marketers Learn from the Election?

By Kiran Aditham 

Huge marketing strategist lead Josh Seifert returns with his monthly contribution to this here site. The headline should give you the basic premise of our scribe’s latest entry, in which he reveals who really won out in the wake of the 2012 election. Take it away, sir.

Living in New York, I thankfully did not have to endure the billions of dollars spent on political advertising this election myself, but now that the results are in and our feeds on Facebook and Twitter are returning to their normal political apathy, it’s probably worth exploring what we as marketers learned from politics this year.

Losing a United States Senate race in a conservative state as a Republican used to be the hardest thing in the world, but as Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock learned, the potential impact of saying something stupid is even greater than it used to be. Inflammatory gaffes now extend far beyond the news cycle with social media and instant memeification reaching people who have long since tuned out traditional media coverage. While brands rarely have occasion to address topics as controversial as politicians do, their offline behaviors still have significant potential to be amplified and shared for long periods of time far beyond the incident. Just ask FedEx executives if this old package delivery YouTube video is what they want people finding and watching nearly a year later. Fortunately for brands, this can be merely damaging and not wholly destructive.

A number of articles have been written about politically-charged Facebook wall posts driving unfriending behavior. While users might refrain from posting about brands as energetically as they share political views, the notion that users are being unfollowed for being too obnoxious in their friends’ social media feeds is something that marketers should think seriously about. If brands aren’t providing something valuable and shareable, then they’re just making noise and are best silenced – by users, if not by Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm.

One interesting trend I noticed, though biased due to the political leanings of my Facebook friends, Mitt Romney’s sponsored stories appeared at the top of my newsfeed, featuring friends who “liked” him, but Barack Obama’s messages appeared throughout, in the form of branded content developed by the campaign and organically shared by friends. Facebook’s paid media may be a critical component of a brand’s effort to deliver its message, but without an interesting and shareable presence behind that spending, there’s little reason for average users to care.

Regardless of political views, the undisputed winner this election was the statistician Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight, and presumably the New York Times as well, for licensing his content. Silver not only demonstrated the power that raw data can deliver in terms of making accurate predictions, but he harnessed publicly available data and turned it into unique, must-have content for anyone interested in politics this election. While many brands and marketers think about data simply as a way to measure marketing performance, perhaps the lesson from Silver’s success is in the potential value in using it to create unique products and content for brands as well.

(image via Policymic)