I grew up in retail, the son of a haberdasher, so it’s easy for me to look at the presidential campaign as a basic sales challenge. Or to quote my old man, “Don’t blame the customer for not buying a product if they were never talked to.” So why, in today’s politics, are Democrats not marketing our candidate to those who are most likely to support him?
If Democrats are going to win in November, they must be honest and acknowledge that Biden’s campaign has not yet built credibility among his base voters. His team is still not aggressively marketing to African Americans, Latinos or youth voters online while everyone is clearly at home and on the internet.
It’s time to learn from Hillary Clinton’s mistakes of not talking to key demographics in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio during the 2016 campaign. There are millions of potential Democratic voters in those states who need to be sold on the former vice president. This means hearing from more relatable sources that can validate Biden as a candidate they can trust.
It’s been almost three weeks since Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) paused his campaign and endorsed Biden. While this was a major step towards uniting the opposition to Donald Trump, we still are not seeing video ads of Bernie or other surrogates talking directly to their supporters about the importance of electing Biden.
It’s never been faster and cheaper to communicate these types of micro-targeted endorsements to key voters. The Democratic Party keeps sophisticated voter files. So Biden’s team could immediately start data-matching and engaging every voter who became involved in the Democratic primaries to make sure they are not forgotten and vote in the general election.
Democrats can’t afford not to communicate with their base allies.
But why wait for Joe? His campaign is in the middle of retooling. Bernie could easily send online ads to his supporters instead of waiting until Biden’s campaign asks him to attend last-minute rallies like 2016. Bernie should work right now to mobilize his massive email list like he has done to raise over $2 million for workers during the coronavirus pandemic and like he did for other candidates in the past. He could send video messages that give his base authentic reasons to support Joe. He does not need to wait until the Democratic convention in August to start this process.
Endorsements by Sanders, President Obama and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have increased Biden’s favorability by nine percentage points, according to Newsweek. Imagine if each of these Democratic juggernauts put his or her full weight behind Biden right now. This includes email lists, social media pushes, TV appearances and even digital endorsement ads.
Unfortunately, Hillary Clinton’s campaign didn’t spend money on online advertising to young voters during the entire summer of 2016. Her campaign only ran fundraising acquisition ads. Those ads did not provide concrete reasons on why to vote, but simply said, “I’m with her” and “Contribute a $1.” They never micro-targeted Bernie supporters with unique messages from credible messengers. Let’s hope this time is different.
Biden’s team needs a united base in this critical election. That means targeting all of the various self-identified left-leaning groups on social media with a comprehensive advertising campaign. This includes reaching out to social Democrats, progressives, liberals, new Democrats, Blue Dogs, yellow dogs, etc.
Let’s also hope Biden’s campaign recognizes that this year is different, and that Democrats shouldn’t rely on last-minute Get Out The Vote (GOTV) concerts and rallies in the final days of the campaign to save us from a second Trump term.
Instead, they have time to coordinate right now with all the primary candidates, utilizing data-sharing agreements and building a comprehensive outreach plan. This should be resolved quickly so we start to see, for instance, video ads of Andrew Yang talking directly to his supporters in an authentic way about why they need to unite behind the nominee now. The same goes for Warren, Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and all of the other Democrats who ran for president.
Let’s be honest, Jay-Z and Bernie Sanders flying into Cleveland for election-week rallies does not work, feel authentic or register young voters. For one thing, voters can’t register to vote in Ohio within 30 days of an election. For another, these efforts were always tired, costly and ineffective before a pandemic, so let’s change the playbook now knowing that they will be even less effective this year.
And finally, let’s not let Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Kerry or Howard Dean off the hook either. They should all be actively sending emails and campaign messages on behalf of Joe Biden right now, instead of waiting until the last few weeks of the campaign. They have all built massive lists and can quickly help with the fundraising deficit the Democrats need to quickly make up.
With Rep. Justin Amish (I-Mich.) exploring a run for president as a Libertarian, the margins could get even narrower. In 2016 libertarians received over 172,000 votes in Michigan, a state Biden will need to win.
Remember, not liking Donald Trump may not be enough to overthrow the sitting president. Voters are consumers, and they still need a concrete reason to “buy” Joe Biden.
Therefore, it’s time to start with basic brand building and authentic marketing from trusted allies and supporters. If you have a list of supporters, don’t wait for someone to ask you to get involved. Act now. The world is counting on us. All of us.