As we enter the final weeks of the U.S. presidential race, I thought it might be interesting and fun to set our content marketing sights on the world of politics.
Political campaigns spend vast sums on marketing, and are amongst the most innovative and aggressive users of social media. They rely on a wide range of content to get their messages across – and tend to be very smart when it comes to using words and images to inform and persuade. So, perhaps other marketers can learn a thing or two from them.
I will cite examples, share tips and tricks, and try to do all this without getting too political. It is admittedly a wordy post – not meaning “lengthy”, but has a heavy focus on words, rather than the latest social media gimmicks. That is because I feel that it is ultimately words (and images too) that can make or break your campaigns: choose the right words, images and use the right concepts and your message will find its way.
Lesson #1 – Tailoring the Message and Content Delivery
Savvy politicians are masters at tailoring the message and style of delivery. I thought about this as I read the NY Times article Obama’s English. It focuses on use of language, and discusses how Obama and other politicians sometimes change the way they speak based on the audience. They modulate the words they use, altering tone, inflection, and even sometimes injecting foreign language words and phrases into the mix. Here is an excerpt:
Language is playing a role in this electoral season… Because language is a primary factor in shaping whether a politician is seen as “likable” or “relatable,” the stark differences in speaking styles between Mr. Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, are probably contributing to the persistently higher marks for “personality” that Mr. Obama has gotten in numerous polls….Our last three presidents have all been able to shift their speaking styles — an ability that is distinct from eloquence or empathy.
While politician speaking styles may not seem to have much to do with content marketing, more generally, we can see this as addressing people in a familiar way – or adapting content based on audience, something that is very relevant. Judy Gombita wrote about this in her Nutrition Byte column a few months back:
The Information Diet is succinct, yet packed with lots of nutritional information and suggestions for deliberate information consumption-habit changes. I’m actually flipping around its focus on information consumers to information creators—so that in the design process, you have the end “conscious” consumer in mind.
There was another great article about this on the CMI blog: 6 Tips for Optimizing Your Content for the Latest Trends in Consumption.
Lesson #2 – Finding the Words that Spark a Revolution, or at Least a P.O.
See the link to learn more. They are important topics because they get to the heart of how you use words to connect with audiences. You need to get inside the customer’s head and get a sense of what their world looks like when you are trying to persuade, or inspire action (see my post You Talking to Me? 6 Tips for Channeling the Voice of Customer). To draw them in, it helps if you frame the story in a way that makes sense, and synchs with their views. The words you choose should spring naturally from the frame.
E.g. Frank Luntz, author of Words that Work and frequent cable news commentator on right; and George Lakoff, author of Don’t Think of an Elephant on the left; are geniuses at zeroing in on the phrases that grab us and hit our hot buttons.
Perhaps some examples will help illustrate. Here are a few, via a description about Luntz from his book publisher’s (Hyperion) website:
It is hard to think of any other political consultant in America who has coined as many effective slogans as Luntz. Some, such as his branding of the estate, or inheritance, tax as the “death tax”, have remoulded conventional wisdom with devastating effect on their principally Democratic defenders. “Others have crept into common usage less dramatically but just as effectively. Take “exploring for energy” instead of “drilling for oil”, “tax relief” in place of “tax cuts.”
Luntz has a process for identifying the hot button phrases. Also, he feels that it is important to tap into emotions; see this text from his Wikipedia entry.
Luntz frequently tests word and phrase choices using focus groups and interviews. His stated purpose in this is the goal of causing audiences to react based on emotion. “80 percent of our life is emotion, and only 20 percent is intellect. I am much more interested in how you feel than how you think.
Many would dismiss these tactics as spin and deception. Others would say that it just amounts to shrewd use of language and ideas to get your point across. Regardless, I share this information only to point out the power of words, story frames and root metaphors in marketing and communications.
Lesson #3 – Writing to Persuade, Mastering the Art of Rhetoric
Most of the tips have been about writing so far, and I have one more, because it is so important, and relates to something that politicians do well: communicate to persuade.
I don’t recall seeing many other articles about persuasion in content and social media marketing; and that could be because we feel we are above this; after all we are not just peddlers and spinmeisters, right? But let’s face it; persuasion is a key part of what we do. Sure, we inform and educate sometimes – but we also seek to persuade in many ways; e.g. to get users to click on a link, come to an event, check out a trial offer, or that a certain product or service is a good one.
I was reminded of this when I read a NY Times article about the art of rhetoric, or communicating to persuade. It cites some examples from the world of politics, and included a bit of wisdom about writing that I would love to share:
If a piece of writing feels like a unit, it lends its argument an impression, however spurious, of coherence. The more each clause or sentence relates to those around it, whether in parallel or counterpoint, intellectually or musically, the more it will feel like an organic whole. Syntax can do much of the work of sense.
The tricolon, putting phrases into groups of three, is perennially effective… Lists, in general, work well. Try enumeratio: setting out your points one by one, to give the impression of clarity and command. Music matters, too. The effects of the tricolon, as of any number of other figures, are in some ways metrical. Think of how clusters of stressed syllables can sound resolute and determined. “Yes we can!” is three strong syllables… One of the most memorable lines in American history, for instance, is the clause in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” That, among other things, is an example of iambic pentameter… Rhetoric… is about patterns and echoes and resonances.
Lesson #4 – Use Powerful Images; Starting with Words, and Icons we Can Relate to
Perhaps a good segue from the use of words to images in content marketing is the following example (this does not necessarily tie in with politics, but I thought that it would be fun to share).
We tend to think of words and images as two different things. This isn’t always the case, as I learned by reading a great post on the Rising Above the Noise Blog. Here is an excerpt:
When it comes to online communications… The most abused and ignored skill set being typography…. By this, I do not mean “choosing a font” though there have been major strides in that direction of online typography. Just for the record, Typography means the art and technique of arranging type in order to make language visible.
The post shows some stunning examples that bring words to life through clever type and word art. Here is an image that was created to promote an art event involving Google, YouTube and the Guggenheim museum.
Getting back to the world of politics, I can cite several examples that got much attention recently – and that highlight the importance of using simple and powerful visuals.
The first comes from the Republican side of the political aisle, and is about using babies in political ads. I read about this in a New York Times story, which said:
Attack ads have come to this: President Obama makes babies cry… Babies are one of the oldest props in politics and advertising… But this year babies have surfaced in ads designed to help Republicans chip away at the overwhelming support the president enjoys among women.
Some may recall how Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu grabbed headlines and alerted the world to the rising and imminent danger of a nuclear-armed Iran in a recent United Nations address (see this Reuters story). The red line that he drew on the image of a bomb with a burning fuse graphically showed the threat. While some may have seen the display as a cheap prop, those of us in content marketing recognized it as an infographic – and one that was very powerful and effective, derived from the simplicity of the image and underlying message.
Even more recently, the Obama campaign jumped on Romney’s interjection of a pop culture icon – namely Sesame Street’s Big Bird – into the first Presidential debate. They used images in follow up commercials, and contrasted Sesame Street vs. Wall Street. Romney’s team predictably cried “fowl!” But their protests were drowned out by the large amount of attention the media lavished on the campaign.
Perhaps another message for content marketers is that it is not just the campaign that counts – but the media campaign and coverage about the campaign. It also supports my statement that the right words and images will bust out and get attention regardless of the specific promotional and social media tactics.
What do you think – have you noticed effective content marketing from the world of politics, and what can we learn from this?