Friday, February 5, 2010

Only Be Different

I find politics an interesting place to study communications because all the polling and elections provides rich feedback as to what works and what doesn't. And right now, we are clearly searching for novelty. Look at the low poll numbers for each party, look at the unpredictable voting results (Obama won Indiana and North Carolina in 2008, Republicans won major races in New Jersey and Massachusetts in 2009).

Which is why I find the current strategies of both parties so pathetic. The one thing they seem completely unable to deliver is novelty. Now I don't mean novelty for its own sake, I mean looking at the issues and proposing a completely new, bold solution instead of rehashing previous positions (like the Republican's latest plan.)

Imagine, for example, if someone came out and said, "I propose a two year hiring freeze on all federal government jobs outside the military." They'd have your attention, right? Or, to take on another issue, "I propose every American under 65 have 'catastrophic health insurance' for any illness or injury with average treatment costs over $100,000." OK, one more: "I propose that the government stop issuing marriage licenses and provide domestic partner licensing to any two people who want it."

Now, I chose those as examples because they represent three points I believe in, but they may not fly as national policy. But any politician who said them would instantly get more attention than a Republican who talked generically about tax cuts or a Democrat pushing for a healthcare 'public option'. Because those ideas are old, stale, and predictable.

In marketing, we constantly ask if an idea is 'differentiating', but we use the word incorrectly, to mean "can my competitor say this, or have they said something similar?" But the real definition of differentiation should be "would this create a powerful sense in my audience's mind that my brand represents something unique and valuable?" If we're going to expend the time and money to say something, we should ask ourselves if it will strike anyone as truly different.

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