Marketing Lessons from the Presidential Debates

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Running for President is the ultimate marketing campaign and the Presidential Debates are the definitive dog and pony show.  

Presumably, the best and the brightest are hired for millions of dollars to get their candidate to the top. You don’t have to be interested in politics to learn from their wins and goofs:

  • Be prepared: You must take the time to study up on the pains and issues related to your prospect.

·       Goof: It was painful watching Jack Kemp debate Al Gore in the 1996 VP debate. Although more dynamic and more experienced, Kemp got this rump kicked by a very primed and practiced Al Gore.  Kemp clearly lost the debate and it hurt the ticket.

·       Goof: Clearly, Governor Perry has an impressive record to run on.  Unfortunately, he has often looked like the proverbial dear in a headlight when confronted with issues HE SHOULD HAVE BEEN WELL VERSED IN HAD HE BEEN PREPARED (such as foreign policy and the deficit). It seems he has one answer to every question (energy and jobs) and merely customizes it for the question.

·       Win: Michelle Bachman scored big points when asked if she was aghast that no Wall Street Banker had been prosecuted or was in jail. No, she said, the problem wasn’t Wall Street it was the federal government’s policies.  Her questioner looked like she had been struck upside the head.

  •  Package your idea: Making your ideas tangible, easy to understand, and even physical facilitates the buyer’s understanding and eliminates confusion.  It makes it easier for the buyer to recognize you and separates you from others.

·       Win: Cain’s 9-9-9 plan has garnered a lot of attention as he has followed this proven path to successful selling.  Here was an unknown candidate who brought forth a solution to a complex problem in a simple way for most people to understand.

·       Goof: What do the others stand for? These people are all basically saying the same things which causes they buyer to generally select the one they like the most, not the most qualified.  Which leads to…

  • Being smartest doesn’t mean you win: Beyond any doubt, the smartest person on the podium for these debates is Newt Gingrich.  Listen to his well thought out answers.  He has unparalleled experience over his peers.  Yet, he is down in the polls because of the likeability factor.

·       Win: Cain’s positive and humble attitude, as well as his down-to-earth, don’t talk over the buyer’s head approach, have given him more chemistry with the potential buyers than anyone else

  • Speak in terms of results: People want to know what’s in it for them.

·       Win: Huntsman’s singular positive points have come when he has discussed his impact on Utah’s economy as governor (results). Ditto Pawlenty (now out of the race).\

  • Speak in terms of experience: Experience removes the fear of hiring you. People ultimately don’t want to do business with a complete novice; experience removes their fear of failure in buying you.

·       Goof – Cain doesn’t speak about his fabulous credential as former Director of the Board of Governors of the Kansas City Federal Reserve. 

  • Be careful about non-verbal communications: Up to 97% of your total communication package is non-verbal, meaning not the words you speak but the way you say them and the way you look. Obama was perfectly packaged in this regard.

·       HUGE Goofs: Yipes! Have Huntsman or Pawlenty ever looked in the mirror when talking?  Did they do any video analysis?  They both look like they are snarling when off – and on – camera.

  • Tell stories: Giving examples helps give life to your ideas.

·       Win: When Cain talks in terms of frustration in trying to buy group health insurance for his National Restaurant Association he proves his point that the affordable health care issue does not have to be solved with a huge government program.  Similarly, when Perry talks about fighting the tort lobby to lower insurance premiums for physicians, and then having thousands relocate to Texas, he proves he has done something exceptional rather than stating facts.

  • Practice, Practice, Practice: Do not go into a sales interview, presentation or networking event unprepared. Inevitably, Murphy’s Law will come and bite you, as it has several of the candidates who simply weren’t up to speed on issues and problems they should have.

Allan S. Boress, CPA, FCPA is the author of 12 published books on marketing, selling and managing the business development process for CPAs.  The “I-Hate-Selling” CDs and Study Guide are available at

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