Published on: January 27, 2010Notes and comment from The Content Guy
Orlando, Fl. -- Perhaps it was a measure of the seriousness of the 2010 Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Midwinter Executive Conference here that when the traditional politics slot came up yesterday, there was very little discussion of politics.
Of course, it may also be that because the speaker was David Plouffe, one of the architects of Barack Obama’s winning campaign for the presidency, nobody was in the mood for politics-as-usual; a Democrat sometimes can be seen as the skunk at the garden party at industry events, and the mood of the country seems to be moving away from Obama.
But if the people in the room could get over his politics, the fact is that Plouffe made some highly salient points about the ways in which marketing a politician resembles the marketing of a product or retail business.
For example, he said that one of the strengths of the Obama campaign was its commitment to treat volunteers as core to the effort, not additive; the best retailers will tell you that it is critical that employees are treated like an asset, not a liability.
Plouffe said that the Obama campaign was successful because it was able to create an advocacy movement for its message and candidate; effective marketers will tell you that when you convert a customer into an advocate, it is a major shift that speaks well for long-term success.
Plouffe noted that it was critical for the Obama campaign to commit to a strategy and stick with it, when certain primary losses created pressure to deviate. “You have to commit,” he said, saying that “if you flit from thing to thing, you never penetrate.” Tactics can change, he said, but strategy has to remain steadfast....and it is crucial that the message remain consistent, no matter whether one is communicating in a one-to-one fashion, to a crowd of 10,000 supporters, or via internet feed. All of which sounds like pretty good advice to marketers trying to decide how to use the internet in conjunction with their brick-and-mortar locations.
The author and campaign strategist also urged the audience to be both transparent and authentic in their dealings with customers, to ‘lift up the hood” in a way that creates better connections, especially with young voters/consumers. “The BS meter for young people is exceedingly low,” he said, and so marketers have to be careful not to sound a false note or appear to be obfuscating.
Plouffe had two additional suggestions for the audience. One, he urged attendees to pay very close attention to anecdotal feedback and not become slaves to research. “The feedback we got (from volunteers) was a lot more valuable than the results of a poll,” he said, noting that it usually was accurate and more leading edge than the data provided by pollsters. Which sounds like a pretty good parallel for the idea that businesses need to both empower and listen to employees, who are likely to have a better idea about what is going on in-store than pollsters and consultants.
Two, Plouffe told the audience that while they needed to pay close attention to the use of technologies such as email, texting, and social media such as Facebook and Twitter, the simple reality is that “what we did in the campaign is going to look like Jurassic Park before too long.” Plouffe said, for example, that people under 25 only use email to talk to their parents and bosses,m and that even texting has given way to communication via social media. “The mobile world is changing at warp speed,” he said.
Three other parallels gleaned from the Plouffe speech...
He pointed out that one important lesson from the campaign is that young voters often needed basic information if they were going to be effective - like how to vote, where to vote, etc... This would certainly seem to have some currency in the food retail world, where people often need to be taught how to shop, how to cook, how to make nutritionally responsible choices, etc... Just like the candidate who explained such things was the eventual victor, the marketer that takes such responsibilities seriously also heightens its chances for success.
Plouffe said that it was important for the Obama campaign to be everywhere with its efforts - on broadcast television, cable, radio, internet, newspapers, as well as in a vast array of “live” venues around the country. Campaigns cannot choose their means of communications, he suggested, implying that retailers and manufacturers also cannot. This ties into a long-held precept here on MNB - that retailer scan only be successful in the 21st century by being where shoppers want them, when shoppers want them, how shoppers want them, with products priced at a level that shoppers believe is appropriate.
Finally, Plouffe made the point that one of the differences between campaigning and governing is that in a campaign, you choose your narrative and stick to it, while governing allows other narratives to interrupt, take precedence, and interfere with formulated strategies. He urged marketers not to lose touch with their narratives, and to find a consistent message that will resonate with their target audiences.
In other news from the FMI Midwinter Executive Conference...
• Thom Blischok, president of consulting and innovation at Information Resources Inc. (IRI),gave an impassioned speech about the “lasting and pervasive economic sobriety” that is affecting consumer behavior in this country, noting that 38 percent of CPG purchases in 2009 were “on deal,” which was two percent higher than the previous year, reflecting an overall industrywide loss of $2 billion in revenues. And “we’ve taught them to shop on deal,” he said.
Since more than nine out of ten shoppers are using multiple banners as a way of finding the best deals, while at the same time saying overwhelmingly that they find the industry’s deal and sale structures to be confusing and even misleading, Blischok argued for a new simplicity that aligns assortments with solutions, and that takes note of the fact that shoppers are smarter, more savvy and better informed than ever before.
• Erik Peterson, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and director of the Global Strategy Institute, offered a look at what he called the seven revolutions that he believes are reshaping the globe between now and 2025. This was an intellectually challenging and often intimidatingly depressing presentation - while he noted that science is going to keep people alive for far longer, for example, he also talked about the increasing likelihood of weapons of mass destruction being used on the planet sometime in the near future. in other words, we’d be likely to live longer except that somebody is going to try to kill us.
• Samuel Randolph “Randy” Roberts, the former director of government relations at Publix, was honored posthumously by FMI with the Glen P. Woodard, Jr., Public Affairs Award. The award recognized Roberts’ leadership in helping the supermarket industry address important government issues, and was presented to Roberts’ wife, Sara, at the conference.
Roberts died in early 2009 at age 36.
• Donald R. “Don” Knauss, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of The Clorox Company, received FMI’s William H. Albers Industry Relations Award for his excellence in trading partner relations and consumer and community service.
• Finally, FMI released a statement praising the California Assembly Banking & Finance Committee and its Chairman, Pedro Nava, “for investigating credit card interchange or ‘swipe’ fees – hidden charges added to every plastic transaction that cost Californians nearly $5 billion a year and all Americans more than $48 billion.
- KC's View: