Politics can teach us a lot about marketing. Ron Paul’s story teaches us more than most. I’m not a Ron Paul follower but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from what he has done well and his problems.
When we teach marketing we suggest trying to serve the tastes of consumers, “the marketing concept”. Such logic draws marketers towards positions popular with the public. In competitive markets there is however another consideration. You should try to move away from your competitors to avoid ruinous competition. In political marketing being different from your competitors allows you the opportunity for a distinct message.
Ron Paul has done half of this superbly well. He has a distinct message and has carved himself a niche in the Republican party, serving the libertarian wing. They love him; funding and invigorating his campaigns. This leads us to his problem. He may have moved too far from the mainstream Republican voter to win a primary. Paul’s objective may be just to raise issues — rather than hope to win — in which case that isn’t a concern. If however he is serious about wanting to win the nomination he has a problem, his market is winner takes all. It isn’t enough to have an ultra-committed 20% of the vote. He needs to become more mainstream but how does he become more mainstream without alienating his current supporters? Strategic positioning is hard.
In the 2012 Republican primary Paul’s problem can be illustrated as below. He dominated a small set of voters but really needed more support from the larger mass of Republican primary voters.
There are a couple of lessons for the marketer to take from Ron Paul.
- The market you are in matters. Is holding a strong niche a good option in this market? Often it is. In winner takes all markets it is not.
- Balancing movement towards the greater number of customers while staying away from rivals is a useful way of conceptualizing how marketing works.
What is your company’s problem? Are you:
- Distinct but too niche?
- Do you occupy the mainstream but blandly seem like everyone else?
Ron Paul is a wonderful marketing lesson. In marketing you sometimes need to be different (like Paul) and yet mainstream (unlike Paul) which is usually tricky to do.
Read: My teaching case covers this and other issues. Neil Bendle, The Republican Primaries 2012 Ivey Publishing, Case:9B13A003, Available here.