Positioning on the Campaign trail

January 29th, 2008

This is not a political post. Rather, it is a cautionary tale. Okay, that’s a little grandiose, but it is instructive to look at the positioning that two savvy, experienced politicians woke up this morning to find themselves in. And it ain’t a good position.

Not so long ago Republican Rudy Giuliani and Democrat Hillary Clinton were the clear front-runners for the party’s nominations in the Presidential race, armed with boatloads of cash, wide party support and great name recognition (only first names needed!).

Now, one is all but toast, and the other is teetering on the brink. Why?  Because the campaign machines built around both have failed to fully understand today’s rocket-fueled media reality.

First: Rudy. Giuliani’s lousy position on this, the morning of the “do-or-die” Florida primary, is his own fault. Or at least the fault of the campaign decision to take, what amounts, to a two month hiatus. And because Rudy wasn’t front and center, leading a conversation about his plan for the country, others – candidates, bloggers, beltway pundits – filled in the enormous gap. They told whatever story they wanted about Giuliani – or worse for him, completely ignored his candidacy – and he never fired back. Giuliani left a giant vacuum that today’s hyper-fast campaign filled up with a lot of dirt for him, leaving him on the margins of the race. Ultimately, his inactivity has out-positioned him.

Hillary’s problem is the reemergence of “Clinton fatigue,” specifically, husband Bill’s overly aggressive behavior on the campaign trail. Long considered to be a saint of the Democratic party, the former Prez has turned into a political version of Britney Spears – a whole lotta drama. In its attempts to slow down Barack Obama’s momentum, the Clintons have turned to their tried and true attack tactics – this time, dangerously playing the race card.

The reliance on the elbows-up ploys that have worked in the past has suddenly made Hillary look like she’s playing a new game by the old rules. The Obama campaign has taken rapid advantage, using old lion Ted Kennedy to portray Hillary as an out-of-touch practitioner of old-style smash-mouth politics, while hailing Obama as the future of the country. The Clintons got out-positioned, simply by doing what they’ve always done. For Hillary, the good news is that at least she still has a good shot at her party’s nomination.

For marketers – and political campaigns – the message seems clear. You don’t have to do anything wrong to find yourself suddenly out-positioned by the competition. Today’s media world moves fast. If you can’t keep up, you will be left behind.

Posted Under: Point of View Marketing
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