When Bernie Sanders officially announced his candidacy for the Democratic Presidential nominee in April 2015 he was sitting at 10% popularity in national opinion polls. By comparison, Hillary Clinton, the most popular candidate (at the time), was at 60%.
In the 10 months that have followed, Sanders popularity has grown to 39.3% in the opinion polls to Clinton’s 54%, with the remainder being undecided. From a separation of 50 percentage points to a separation of 15 points.
Though polls aren’t always what they seem. On March 8, Bernie Sanders pulled off what Nate Silver called the biggest primary polling upset ever in Michigan. Winning the state’s Democratic primary after being down by roughly 22 percentage points in the final polls. Polls have margins of error. Votes do not.
Polls have margins of error.
Votes do not.
As with Donald Trump, Sanders, once an afterthought, is making the most of his time and his run towards a possible presidential nomination, here are some of the marketing strategies that are keeping him in the fight:
Timing is Everything
Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors was not the first company to conceive of or sell electric cars. From 1996-1999, General Motors produced and sold their EV1 model. The first electric car to be sold by a major automaker. They sold a little over 1,000.
Tesla started in 2003, selling their first car in 2008 and has since sold over 100,000. While there are a number of differences between these cars and the companies that contrast their success or lack thereof, the timing of the release was also important with green-conscious consumers and global warming being growing trends and concerns respectively.
The same is true of Sanders. It is not as if Sanders made a large change to his platform to make himself more electable or that he hadn’t been in politics his whole career.
His ideals have remained the same and right now, in a similar fashion to Trump, they match a large upswell within the country and because of this timing, he’s gone from fringe candidate to outright contender. Had Tesla started production in 1990, it may have failed. Had Sanders run for the nomination in 2000 or 2008, as a self-defined “socialist”, he probably would have done the same.
Let Others Push Your Brand
Sanders was voted Time magazine’s 2015 Person of the Year by its readers with nearly twice as many votes as the second-place finisher. This may come as a surprise since Angela Merkel was the official recipient of the award.
It’s 2016 when people find something they like or dislike they are going to make it known on social platforms and while a large fan base is beneficial, a vocal fan base is even better. Bernie Sanders is very popular on social media. Just as popular as Trump and more popular than Hillary Clinton. It is through these networks where candidates look to leverage their following to further push their message.
Voters and supporters can become your brand advocates, supporting and spreading your message though it does not hurt to help them out:
Play into Your Role
Bae: come over
Bernie: can’t I’m running for President
Bae: I have student loans
— Owen Hipwell (@ohip13) January 23, 2016
Some of these stories could have been written about any politician, Sanders is not the only politician to fly coach or run for his train and he certainly wasn’t running for it for any political purposes, everyone hates missing trains.
However, it is better to live your role than to be caught saying one thing and doing another. Denial is death in 2016, you cannot hide in the age of social media. As seen above, play into your role and let those around you push your brand. It only takes one person to say one thing, good or bad, that can make all the difference.
Sanders’ image is one people see as genuine and as more stories come out on Sanders, from as far back as 1963, what people thought of him from the beginning holds true. He plays into his role and benefits from it.
Need in most business’ case and most politicians case can be tied to timing. The need for less pollution and less reliance on fossil fuels is what worked for Tesla. The cars look nice and have lots of features, but being the only all-electric car at the time is what put the brand over the top.
Every politician addresses need. No one is running on the platform of making their country worse off than it is now. Some platforms are simple, most are complicated, and some make sense until you actually think them through.
Sanders is not saying anything other politicians haven’t said before, but there’s more weight behind what he is saying given his background. The need is there to alleviate the burden on the middle class and spread the wealth as the gap between the top and bottom continues to worsen.
It’s the first rule of any business – have a market. Right now, Sanders market is bigger than ever and he is taking full advantage.
Spend when you need to Spend
Statistically, the candidates who spend the most money on their campaigns win. This can occur for a number of reasons and money may not be entirely causal to whether a candidate is elected or not, but it’s extremely important. It’s sad that it works that way, but the numbers don’t lie.
Needing a surge in Michigan, even if just to save face in a losing cause, Sanders outspent Clinton and every other politician in the week leading up to the primary. The results, as we already know, speak for themselves. Despite being down in the polls, Sanders won 52% of the vote.
It’s about being aggressive when you need to be aggressive. A large loss by Sanders, as was predicted, would have been detrimental to his run. Not just in Michigan, but in the future primaries. By making the extra investment it hopes to perform well, Sanders ended up walking away with a surprising victory.
His team could have chalked Michigan up as a loss. Got out of there early and focussed on an easier state to win, but they held tough and they won.
Simplify the Message
As stated, electoral platforms are dense and complex. Voters don’t have time to weigh every aspect of a candidates ideas. Which is why it is important to condense and simplify the most important aspects of the platform.
If you knew nothing of Donald Trump’s campaign, you would, at least, know his slogan “Make American Great Again” and if you knew nothing of Barack Obama’s campaign and platform in 2008, you at least knew this:
The above poster, designed by Shepard Fairey of “Obey” fame, brought Obama’s whole campaign to that point to a head with a single image and one word. It marshalled his entire campaign into one fine point. The image is simple but it’s given its weight by the candidate and those supporting him. It’s effectiveness and virality speak for itself
For Sanders’, it’s his socialism. A word that you could not tie to a Presidential candidate before. Foreign policy, gun control, how this will balance with the economy – these are all things Sanders has but it’s the money on which he hangs his hat. Decrease the wage gap, make sure everyone working 40 hours a week is getting paid a livable wage.
Brands like Apple, Google, Netflix. These are all brands that have made their name on a simplified concept of what it is the whole brand does. We like things to be boiled down to their most basic concepts. It’s the same for Sanders and socialism. It’s a simple association, and it’s a simple message – there’s too much money in one place and that is only worsening. True. Simple. Effective.
You want to know what a person or brand stands for.
As William Gaddis (not Da Vinci) once said:
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
Sanders has established the need, has the message, and has the strategy that can allow him to stay close in a race he wasn’t expected to win. While this is not an endorsement of a candidate it’s an endorsement of what uses for any person, brand or product can teach us about marketing and growing success in any industry.
Having the message, staying true to oneself and, therefore, one’s brand can make all the difference between an also-ran and a true contender. It can be the difference between having a good product and having the right product at the right time for the right audience.