Wednesday, November 05, 2008

What Technology Companies can Learn about Communications from the Recent Campaigns

Along with many of you, I have been watching this week's historic Presidential election very closely. In addition to its transformational nature in the story of the United States, the communications strategies of the Obama and McCain campaigns have differed dramatically and can provide some good lessons for start-up technology companies.

In short, the Obama campaign was an excellent example of "high concept" communications; while the McCain campaign followed a much more exclusively tactical path.

If you have read this blog in the past, you know that key elements of high concept communications are developing a simple and clear leadership vision and message which is the guidepost of a long-term communications strategy. With the creation of the "Change" high concept, the Obama campaign built the foundation of its entire communications architecture. And more than that, the campaign was quite disciplined about staying with this architecture – through thick and thin.

But it's also interesting to note that, at the same time as the Obama campaign defined and stuck with a clear architecture, it didn't forego any tactical advantage. A tremendous amount has been and will be written about the campaign's organization, on-the-ground tactics, and ground-breaking use of the Internet. The great communications strategy was not a substitute for those basics of great execution.

Juxtapose this very clear and consistent strategy with the McCain approach. To an outside observer, it didn't look like the campaign ever defined a unifying, overriding high concept that would inform an entire architecture. The communications seemed to change throughout the campaign with new slogans and approaches. Mind you, the campaign faced a number of "near death experiences" and needed to be fleet-of-foot to survive them; but it appears the campaign allowed that survival instinct to exclusively drive communications rather than finding a way to marry survival with a long-term strategy.

As part of this short-term, survival view of communications, the McCain campaign used "gimmicks" several times. (We believe Governor Palin and "Joe the Plumber" are good examples of this.) They appear to have generally offered short term benefit that ultimately became a deficit and backfired.

So, what are the lessons to be learned from these Presidential campaigns that can be applied to technology start-ups. First, let me explain that our view is that many start-ups share the core characteristic of Presidential campaigns in that they have the potential to “change the world” in some way but also live in a fast changing world where vision and survival are often at odds.

With this perspective the there are multiple lessons:

1. High concept communications works.

2. High concept communications both requires and enables a long-term view of the communications strategy. This means you want to be thoughtful up front about creating that strategy.

3. High concept communications does not argue against near term, practical execution decisions.

4. Gimmicks and hype are very risky.

5. Sometimes high concept communications takes both the will to be consistent and the creativity to marry it with the need for survival.

6. High concept communications are as important to a company as great products, technology, marketing, and business strategy. No single one of these can replace any the others.

Undoubtedly there are both more lessons and room for debate about these ideas. Please share them.

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1 Comments:

Blogger artifex said...

John Quelch, writing in HBR, makes similar points

http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/6081.html

7:50 AM  

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