Massachusetts Election: A lesson in Generations and Marketing in the Networked Era

Political pundits were ablaze over the weekend dissecting the
special election held in Massachusetts last week, where at first glance
it seemed an outsider republican ousted the democratic front runner for
the legendary Ted Kennedy’s vacant Senate seat. I say the early
headlines reflected a preliminary analysis because it seems the
democratic candidate Martha Coakley may never have really been the
front runner, and once again an institution was out of touch with its
audience.

A generational-divide?

We are still waiting for the official voter statistics from Secretary of State Bill Galvin’s office,
but I am sure we will find a large number of younger residents voted
for Brown. Not because there is an ideological shift amongst this
cohort (all data suggests there is not) but because Brown ran a
campaign whose message was delivered in a tone and style that connected
with younger voters, and was delivered using mediums they embrace.

Coakley, by contrast, ran an old-school campaign; where the state’s
long-powerful party served her up as the right choice because; well,
because they told us so. And that’s how things work in the bluest of
blue states, right? Wrong. This is not Mike Dukakis’ Massachusetts and
the Kennedy’s don’t actually run the state. Turns out things have
changed since 1985 and no one told the Boomers on Beacon Hill.

I am not sure how democrats thought a generation that is
self-reliant and anti-institutional (Gen X) and a generation that needs
to be included in the process (Gen Y) would react positively to
Coakley’s approach.

Benjamin Franklin called it…

Customer insights, like fish, begin to smell after three days.

So how did Coakley fall out of alignment with voters? Marketers know
very well what happened; she let her customer data get stale.

The Coakley campaign worked off the erroneous assumption that recent
elections were an endorsement for democrats in perpetuity. True, voters
frustratingly reacted to years of republican rule that delivered poor
results, but that was then, and today is different. Turns out voters
are disengaged and frustrated with all of Washington. Her opponent paid
attention to what the customer was saying and quickly crafted a message
around their frustrations (good post on this concept at the Savvy B2B Marketing blog).

The power of the network

Having listened to customer concern and crafting a message around
it, the Brown campaign then leveraged the same viral and social media
marketing playbook that President Obama used to get elected: he
galvanize his customer base to engage them in the process and then gave
them the tools to promote his brand. This included leveraging their own
online community (Brown Brigade), effectively using existing social
media sites (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc), and even launching a
widget called the “voter bomb” which allowed voters to blast messages of support to their personal networks.

All of these tools represent how an organization can utilize Web 2.0
technologies to empower their customer base to become brand ambassadors
and spread the word to their networks, on their terms. The latter being
as important as the former.

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