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At NationBuilder, we offer leadership solutions for political campaigns and political candidates as well as nonprofits, companies, higher education and associations. We have been helping political parties and candidates running for office for over five years and during that time we have learnt a lot of valuable lessons.

Some of our biggest customers in Europe include major UK political parties and candidates, French presidential candidates and both side of the UK’s EU referendum. I strongly believe that we have some lessons to learn from the political space. Lessons that marketers and company executives can apply immediately to your businesses.  

Because lessons learnt from one sector are absolutely valid in another. Even when it’s from one of the most archaic and traditional sectors – politics.

A lot has changed in just a few years, specifically in the way we communicate - we have gone from being able to communicate one to one, one to few, one to many and now many to many. This shift has radically changed the way communicate, the way we share, the way we organise and the way we get things done. Furthermore, what we are able to offer today in terms of technology was simply not possible just 10 years ago.

Smart data, not big data


The first lesson is about data. More specifically, about smart data, not big data. There has been (and still is) a lot of hype about big data, but political campaigns have stood out in this respect because they don’t just collect data, they use it.

They make sense of the data they have, analyse it, aggregate it all in attempt to paint a more complete picture of the people behind these data sets. Because the individuals behind the data is what matters the most - whether they are voters, volunteers or consumers.

For example, when you are able to turn an email address into more complete profile of who your people actually are this becomes a game changer. You are able to get a better understanding of who your supporters/voters/consumers are (1), establish more meaningful relationships as a result (2) and get them more actively involved (3).

One of the very first things most candidates running for office or political parties will do when they start using NationBuilder is to sync their membership data, donations data, social media data, volunteer data and address information together in one database in an attempt to match all the elements together and get a more complete profiles of their people.

If you only collect information and don’t take action, you are not going to see results. The true value of collecting data is how you take that data and do something with it.

It is great to have '1.6M' people in your database but if you can’t identify the top 5% who will help drive awareness, create a movement or community, lead others and, for example, drive sales. Then really all you have is a very large email list which brings which us to our second lesson. 

Find your leaders 


That top 5% of your database is what we refer to as your leaders. You will need these leaders if you are going to scale your business in an organic and efficient way.

Just like we have seen a shift in trust away from traditional politicians and institutions towards a new kind of leader and new forms of leadership, we are seeing the same in the commercial space. Simply put we are witnessing a leadership crisis in the world today, in all aspects of society, and we see this as a great opportunity.

According to research by Nielsen, "92% of consumers are more likely to act based on a friend referral over any traditional marketing method”. This number is fascinating especially when we know how much money, time and effort is put into all other forms of marketing. Very rarely does any budget go into word of mouth (WOM) strategies and activities. Yet, think about the last time you were referred a product, service or person (or you did the referring). I can guarantee you it happened in the last week, if not in the last 48 hours. And now think about what impact that had on you.

Another interesting stat is the following - “4.7% of a typical company’s customer base drives 100% of its WOM”. These are the people already engaged with your brand/product/service. Yet we have a general misconception which is to focus all marketing efforts and relationship-building efforts on that 95% that isn't aware or engaging with your brand. When actually if we focus on that 4.7% who trust and love your brand/product/service and want to engage with you, give them the platforms, the tools, the content to talk on your behalf so they can tap into their individual spheres of influence and reach that 95%, then this would be far more valuable.

For example, there is something to be said about political campaigns not knocking on 5M doors but rather identifying and focusing on the 5k doors that will open. Your efforts are best spent focusing your key messaging and activities towards the 'swing' votes - those people who are movable and persuadable rather than trying to persuade people who can't be persuaded.  

Give your leaders the tools and authority

Now that we have identified your top 5% you need to give them the tools, the platform, content.. and the authority to step up on your behalf. In Politics, this is commonly referred to as the ‘Snowflake Model’ - a way of organising teams of supporters or activists. It was popularised by the field programs of Obama in 2008 and 2012. And has slowly been making its way across the Atlantic.

A snowflake model "empowers local activists to take ownership of small organising teams". These leaders spearhead the core organising work of a campaign. 

There is something to be said about tapping into loyal customers’ spheres of influence and giving away some control and power. In the commercial space, your customers and fans are already talking about you and your products/services whether that is online or offline so you might aswell engage with them and help them do an even better job at promoting you and your products/services and reward them for it.

In the end, engaged customers become advocates and ambassadors for your products and overall company which in turn leads to greater brand awareness and ultimately drives sales.  

Build a community 


Hopefully by now you will see a general theme emerge - humans. History has showed us that putting people first generates value.

One of the big questions keeping most companies (organisations and political parties) awake at night is - what do millennial want? Research has shown us that what they want is authentic connections with the companies/organisations they love and believe in (the ‘coolness’ of a brand is merely a bi-product). From a strategy perspective, the ‘sweet spot’ is when we can make the best of both worlds and when you are able to - tap into the breadth of digital marketing and the depth of community building.

Websites, branding and a presence…

Politicians have come to understand that great branding, strong online presence, compelling messages are no longer enough to get voters engaged, taking part in politics and ultimately vote. You also need to build a sense of community (a movement).

If what millennials want is an authentic connection with the brands they love and trust. The one thing that these three elements have in common is that they all help companies, organisations and politicians continue to broadcaster rather than engage. They don’t actually help you build those authentic connections.

The reasons why (B2C) companies such as Airbnb, Uber, Converse, Nike… have all being extremely successful is because over the years they have created an authentic community of consumers. You are able to do this by doing all the above.

Hyper personalization 


One size does not fit all - it doesn’t work in women’s clothing and it certainly doesn’t work in marketing. In politics, it’s the Campaign Director’s job to know as much as possible about his donors, volunteers and activists overall electorate so the campaign can interact with them on a personal level to get them involved in the most effective way.

In marketing, it's the marketer's job to know as much as you can about your customers and fans so that you can interact with them in as personal and authentic way so that you offer something of value to them (beyond the product and service). You are able to offer hyper-personalised content and engagement only once you have analysed and made sense of all of the data you have at your disposal.

For companies, marketing in 2016 is not just about pushing product, goods or even services, it is also about spreading ideas, upholding values and creating movements and communities. And it is these same ideas, values and missions that allow you to authentically connect with your consumers

Finally, this stuff is hard and it takes time, resources and effort which is why so few people actually do it.

Note: This presentation was first presented at the A16Z Tech Summit in winter 2015.

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