Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Hillary Clinton's strategist misses the point, loses his job

Mark Penn, former Chief Strategist to the Hillary Clinton campaign, wrote a (rather fun) book, Microtrends, in which he analyses how by targeting small groups that are on the rise, you can have a big impact. An article in Portfolio magazine explains how he did precisely the opposite with Hillary Clinton's campaign. Penn tried to move the mountain rather than quarrying and mining away at a victory for his candidate. I suspect that he actually did apply his theory but just targeted the wrong groups. Penn went for the old micros traditional to the Democratic base rather than the new micros that Obama has attracted: independents, college students, affluent and well-educated liberals, disillusioned anti-Bush Republicans and so on....

What Penn's failure shows is that for all the polling in world you can't beat good old-fashioned political instinct. Any old mathematician can sit down to read and interpret polls. But it takes real political instinct to inspire whole new (and some old) groups of people. Obama has pursued his message of inspiration because that's what he believes. His organisation have maximised that appeal into a fund-raising and campaigning machine that is formidable and incredibly innovative.

Candidates that are built from the bottom up lack authenticity. Hence the likely failure of the say anything candidacy of Hillary Clinton. Better to have a candidate who lives and breathes their beliefs then work out how that can have maximum impact.

In politics it is not just about making a profit, it is about winning an election (or primary.) If you are an electronics manufacturer and sell millions of MP3 players because of clever targeting and marketing that's great. But in politics you have to get more than your rival not just satisfy your shareholders. Microtrends
are fine but they rarely suggest a winning strategy. That is down to good old-fashioned policy and politics.

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