I often tell candidates that political campaigns, at their heart, are marketing campaigns. Like any marketing effort, political campaigns have products that need to be sold and consumers that need to be persuaded. Unlike selling soap or soda, though, the marketing efforts of political campaigns have much higher stakes: the product that needs to be sold is the candidate, and the consumers that need to be persuaded are the voters.
Most candidates understand this basic similarity with marketing. What they don’t understand, though, is that many of the same tactics that are used to market products are also used to persuade the voters in political campaigns. One such tactic is repetition.
It’s a fact – shoppers will often choose the brand of cookies, soap, hamburgers… or whatever they are shopping for, based on the name they know best. Sure, quality, price, and packaging make a big difference, but unless the brand name is one of the two or three that the consumer knows best, the product often doesn’t stand a chance of being purchased.
The same holds true with political campaigns. Voters, like consumers, have only a limited amount of time in their day – and most of it is not spent thinking about politics. Unlike candidates, volunteers, party leaders and consultants, the voters only think about political campaigns when they are forced to by advertisements, direct mail, debates and the like.
Most voters don’t take the time to sit down and reason through the choices they face on the ballot. Instead, many voters simply go into the polls on Election Day and vote for the candidate whose name they know or recognize. That’s one reason why incumbents are so hard to beat – they have been in the paper, on TV and radio, at town hall meeting and in parades, so the voters have heard their name before, even if they don’t know what elected office the incumbent holds.
For this reason, campaigns must work diligently to raise the “name ID” of the candidate. The name ID is the percentage of people who recognize the candidate’s name… who have seen, read, or heard it enough times to know it (even if they don’t know anything else about the candidate). Before the campaign can connect the candidate with a positive message, or introduce the candidate’s issue or bio to the voters, it must first work to raise the name ID of the candidate.
The key to raising name ID is repetition. The more times a voter sees, hears, or reads the candidate’s name, the more likely he or she is to be open to the candidate’s message, and to vote for him or her on Election Day. In short, in politics, repetition is a good thing. If you can get the candidate’s name in front of each of your targeted voters three, four, or five times, you will be far ahead of an opponent who only reaches the voter once during the campaign.
There are many ways to get your candidate’s name in front of the voters, including going door to door, doing literature drops, sending out direct mail, getting press coverage, placing newspaper, television, or radio ads, putting up signs, etc. The campaign should plan on using a combination of techniques for getting the candidate’s name out there and getting the voters to remember it.
In fact, the opportunities for repetition are endless. Take going door to door, for example. If you simply go door to door, that would count as presenting the candidate’s name to the voters once. If the candidate hands out literature as he goes door to door, that reinforces name ID with a second repletion. The campaign can go even further, though, if it has the resources. The campaign could mail out a postcard to every home the candidate will visit that says “I’ll be in your neighborhood next week.” That’s three repetitions. The campaign can also mail out an “It was nice to meet you last week” postcard after the walk. That’s four repetitions. If a group of voters wanted to put up signs for the candidate, a volunteer could drop them off at a later date. That’s five repetitions. The possibilities are endless.
A major part of any campaign plan should be getting the candidate’s name in front of the voters through repetition on a regular basis. By repeating exposure to the candidate’s name, the voters gradually become familiar with him or her and are much more likely to vote for the candidate on Election Day.
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