Akachi Ngwu, Author, Entrepreneur

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Marketing lessons to improve political communication 19 Apr 2019

The landscape for marketing communications is unarguably being transformed by advancements in technology. The real game-changer has been the ability of marketing professionals to leverage Big Data to improve call to action (CTA) and drive higher return on advertising spend (ROAS). The imperative of consumer behavioural data as a tool to achieve successful audience targeting cannot be overstated.       

By integrating consumer behavioural data into the marketing strategy, media planners and buyers are able to leverage important metrics such as shopping habits, frequently used routes, preferred leisure locations, etc., to enhance engagement with customers. The use of technology to engage the audience is not only resonating with brand owners, it is also fancied by the political class as a way to reach their target market, namely the voters.

During the 2019 general election in Nigeria, we saw a utilization of integrated marketing, including the deployment of traditional, digital and social media as candidates running for various political offices jostled for the attention of the electorate. As the elections were underway, the country also recorded two decades of uninterrupted democratic governance.

The recent elections were marked by robust political participation in terms of an expansive landscape of candidates. Given the latitude for huge campaign spending in the country, as supported by the Electoral Act, many of the presidential, governorship, Senatorial and House of Representatives candidates as well as candidates for State Assembly elections spent large portions of their financial resources on publicity campaigns.

One distinguishing feature of the 2019 general election was the involvement of a record number of relatively young candidates who ran for various offices, thanks to the enactment of the Not Too Young To Run Act, which amended the Nigerian constitution by reducing the age limits for eligibility to run for certain elective offices.

Many of the candidates who were able to muster sizeable election war chests, and were also technology savvy, could connect with an electorate that is now engaged and mobile. According to Enhancing Financial Innovation & Access (EFInA), a development organization that promotes financial inclusion in Nigeria, 68.9 percent of the 99.6 million Nigerian adult population (18 years and above), own a mobile phone. As of November 2018, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) said total number of active mobile phone subscriber was over 169 million.

This becomes a formidable target market for various marketing campaigns, including electoral publicity campaigns. It becomes the responsibility of astute marketing professionals and political communication specialists to design and deliver resonating messages to the target audience – in this case the voting public – by capturing the various processes a customer (voter) passes through in the decision-making journey. These processes are ‘see’, ‘think’, ‘do’ and ‘care’. While this article is not an assessment of the marketing performances of parties and candidates in the last election, it behooves looking closely at these processes for the purpose of political marketing by future candidates.

See – The first stage in this process is to create awareness across multiple media. Political campaigns are designed to sell both the parties and their candidates so as to gain the support of the voting public. The campaign messages often include evidence of the previous performances of the parties and the candidates. A track record of service delivery, grasp of prevailing social and economic indices, clear understanding of governance responsibilities and grassroots mobilisation are important elements that voters want to see.

If a party has been in power for five election cycles, it is expected to show the voting public evidences of performance and achievement, whether it is fielding a new candidate or an incumbent. With that information, the electorate will be in a better position to make informed decision on the choices of candidates to vote into offices. Suffice to say most parties and candidates in the last election did not base their campaigns on their qualifications and professional or political achievements. Instead, they filled the media with oft-repeated promises.

Political marketing should be anchored on provision of social services, economic transformation and good governance. This should be forcefully and consistently presented until it is etched in the minds of the voters the values that will be created by the party or candidate when they take office. But more importantly, there should be concrete evidence of a track record of performance to validate the campaign rhetoric.

Think – Ideas are at the centre of politics and political campaigns. The second stage of the decision-making process by the voters is thinking about the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates to enable them make informed choices. Unless money and other material items are used to induce voters, the process of thinking about the right candidate to support is ideally driven by an informed decision that is anchored on the political campaign messages communicated. Rhetorical promises without substance would fail to persuade well-informed voters.

Do – This is the critical action stage of the process where the voter takes a decision, having looked at the field of candidates and appraised their performances and campaign promises. The ‘do’ criteria are varied at both individual and collective levels. Getting the commitment and support of the voters would have to come through strategic engagements between the voters and the candidates.

Care – This stage partly involves the responsibility of the candidates and parties, subsequent to their electoral victories, to provide dividends of democracy to the people. It is the last phase of the decision-making process, after candidates have been elected into the office. The onus is on the candidates to perform and justify the confidence reposed in them and their parties.

This stage also involves the responsibility of the citizens to monitor performance and engage with the political officeholders to continuously remind them of the people’s expectations. As part of their marketing portfolio, the officeholders can explore periodic town hall engagements as a means of getting feedback from the citizens as well as providing information on the activities of the government.

Conclusion

Every election presents a critical opportunity for politicians to engage with the citizens. And with every election in Nigeria since 1999, the political landscape has been changing as citizens become more aware and more empowered. The era has come when politicians need to leverage technology to enhance their engagement with the citizens for improved governance and also for more effective political communication.