How is Selling Coffee Like Marketing Candidates?

By Paul Ballew - Strategy + Candidate Services Florida Office

I used to help brands like Starbucks, Gillette and Coke sell a lot of stuff. Much of what I relied upon to do that was my understanding of consumer behavior. When you know who you’re talking to and how those people make decisions, it’s much easier to persuade them to choose your brand.

I’m also a researcher, so my curiosity pressed me to find out if I could use the same approach that I used to sell coffee to market progressive candidates. So, in July 2018 I accepted a position to manage the campaign of the Democratic nominee for US Congress in FL-04.

Managing a congressional campaign is not the traditional starting line for newbies, but recall I built brands before.  Anyway, how hard could this be? It didn’t take long to get my answer. North Florida is very challenging for progressives.  Districts in Florida have been artfully gerrymandered to preserve Republican majorities and representation for years. With twice as many registered Republicans than Democrats, FL-04 was no different. Nate Silver gave us a 1% chance of winning.  Unfortunately, he was correct.

My candidate didn’t win.  We did, however, close the gap by some 50,000 votes and with less than 400,000 votes cast, that’s a seismic shift for one election cycle.  We attributed much of that gain from the targeting strategies and decision frameworks we used. We identified the right target and then influenced their vote through subjective cues in the messaging. In other words, we marketed my candidate like coffee.

Here’s what you need to know:

Don’t Choose These:  Voters Who Vote By Party

Voters are too busy, or too indifferent to know, or care, where most candidates stand on the issues.  So how do they decide? The most obvious short-cut voters use is party affiliation. They assume that they will agree with most candidates in their party and it’s just easier for them to use the party affiliation heuristic to choose.  Incumbents have the added benefit of having a designation that further solidifies them as the popular choice. This group will account for approximately 75% of all voters. Don’t waste your time here.

Do Choose These: Voters Who Vote By Beliefs

These voters tend to voter across party lines.  They tend to vote for candidates they like. However, success is only achievable when you understand the decision framework and craft your messaging properly. Conventional wisdom will have you believe that these voters will choose the candidates who best reflect their own core beliefs.  However, the voter decision framework is just the opposite. Voters will decide which candidate they like, and then based on subjective cues, mold their own beliefs to fit that of the candidate.

As it turns out, proper targeting and sound decision frameworks sells both coffee and candidates.