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Tuesday
Aug162011

Business Lessons from 2012 Presidential Primaries

Is Mitt Romney in Trouble?

I don’t know if you know, but I don’t watch much TV. I especially shun all forms of live news, because I don’t want to get drawn into those infinite news cycles with their never-ending stories.

I love presidential politics, however. That’s why this past weekend I stuck my head out of my no-news cocoon just long enough to steal a glance at the political scene.

There are many parallels between presidential elections and business. (There are differences too, but that’s a topic for another day.) I first wrote about this in early 2008, during the democratic presidential primaries and again after the election in late 2008.

I want to be ahead of the curve this time and put those lessons to test. After all, what good is a theory if does not help forecast the future?

My initial read is that Mitt Romney’s campaign may be in serious trouble for these three reasons: 1) he has a weak message, 2) his delivery of that message is inauthentic and uninspiring and 3) two of his opponents have much stronger messages and can deliver them with more passion and conviction.

1) Weak message

You may remember that there are three ingredients - 3 M’s - that a presidential election, and a business, must have in place for it to be successful. These three ingredients are 1) Message, 2) Man/Woman Power, and 3) Money.

The most important of the three is Message. In other words, if the message is strong, it will attract people and money. But a weak message cannot be overcome by large amounts of money or the people behind the campaign.

A good message has three components: 1) What you would get if I was elected 2) Why you should believe that I can deliver that promise, and 3) Why I am the best option to deliver that promise over my competitors.  

The business corollary is: 1) What you would get if you bought our products or services, 2) Why you should believe that my business and I can deliver on the promise and 3) Why my business and I are the best option for you to have the above things delivered.

The stronger, more specific and more detailed the answers, the stronger the overall message. The better the narrative, the story and the personification of the message by the person delivering it, the more logical and emotional connection it creates with people.

Mr. Romney’s message is weak on the first component and questionable on the second one. It was quite strong on the third component until last weekend, when Rick Perry entered the race.

2) Inauthentic, uninspiring personification of the message

The messenger is at least as important as the message, perhaps more. The messenger, whether it is the presidential candidate, the business owner or a sales person working for a business, must personify the message, and connect through the message with the hearts and minds of people, not just relay the message handed down to her.

When a message is not true to the messenger, people see through it and we are perceived as inauthentic and insincere, even phony.

Mr. Romney looks and feels like a slick salesperson who will say what you want to hear to get the sale. He comes across as inauthentic even though we know that he has most of the right credentials for the job.

3) Opponents with authentic messages and inspiring delivery

Politics, as business, is a competitive game. To win, you don’t have to be perfect, just better than the competition. As long as the competition is weak and you are strong, you are assured a victory. But when you have a competition that is stronger, you have to work harder.

Michele Bachmann, while regarded by pundits as not having a broad-based appeal, has one thing that Mr. Romney does not have, and will probably never have, an authentic message that is true to her convictions and resonates with a strong base of supporters, however small in numbers.

Rick Perry has an authentic message, an engaging, passionate delivery that comes from his deep conviction to his message and a resume that backs up the primary claim of his message: job creation.

Lessons from the past

Mr. Romney’s campaign reminds me of Hillary Clinton’s in the summer of 2007. She, like Mr. Romney, had people and money in place but lacked the most crucial thing: an authentic message that deeply resonates and causes a movement around the candidate.

What to do?

Can Mitt Romney fix his message? Certainly, if he chose to buckle down and go through some intense, honest self-analysis, first by himself and then with his advisors.

Is he likely to do it? No. Why? Because it’s not in his nature. In other words, self-analysis does not come to him very naturally. If it was his nature, he would have done it by now. If he did not do in the last four years, when the pressure was off, he is unlikely to do it now when the pressure is on and getting more intense by the minute. I don’t see how his campaign people would let him ease off his busy schedule and allow him to lock himself up in a room for some hours every day so that he can truly figure out what he is all about. More importantly, I don’t see how he will allow himself to do it, simply because that’s not something that he would rather do if he had a choice.

What about Barack Obama?

While we are on the subject, where does Barack Obama fit into all this? Well, he has the same problem that Mitt Romney has and Hillary Clinton had in 2007: A lot of money, a great team, but a weak message.

What I find interesting is that what was Mr. Obama’s biggest strength in 2007 and 2008 is now his biggest weakness. In 2008, his message resonated with hundreds of millions of people and caused a movement around him that ultimately put him in the White House. This time around, a consistent message has been almost non-existent from the Obama Campaign.

If there was one thing that he can do for his reelection campaign right now, it would be to buckle down and hone his message.

Would he do it? I think that Mr. Obama is more likely to do it than Mr. Romney. Why? Again, because self-analysis comes to him naturally. In fact, being contemplative is probably one of his very basic needs. He may have even carved out enough mental space to allow him the opportunity to reflect, even in midst of his grueling schedule as the president. Also, the fact that he did it so effectively in the last election should give him plenty of confidence that that’s where he needs to focus his attention.

Here is some unabashed, and unsolicited, advise for Mr. Obama’s campaign.

To have an effective message, Mr. Obama needs to look for one thing that American people care about the most and make it a corner-stone of his campaign. A good bet is the economy. Then he needs to paint a clear picture of what he expects things to look like in 5 years in that area and what it will mean to Americans. Then he needs to lay out specific steps that his administration has already taken in the direction of that vision and those that they will continue to take if he is reelected. In other words, he needs to layout a logical, step-by-step path to recovery that would have been followed by his administration all along and will continue to follow after the reelection.

He also needs to emphatically and unequivocally point out all the mistakes that he thinks he has made, which will allow him to also lay blame on others where appropriate and claim credit for the things that his administration did get right. In other words, he needs to be ruthlessly honest, authentic and direct. Lastly, he needs to lay out a case for why he believes that reelecting him, and not his opponent, is the right choice for the American people.

Would it guarantee his victory? No. Could it generate a new sense of enthusiasm around him? If done right, yes. One thing is certain though, without a strong message, Mr. Obama will have to rely on a weak opponent, and that’s not a good place for him to be right now.

What about you?

Whether you are a business owner, a business leader, a worker-bee in the corporate world, a social organizer or a householder, you have a personal brand. A question you might want to ask yourself is: How do people perceive me?

  • Are you perceived as an authentic human being or a slick salesman?
  • Are people engaging with you in meaningful conversations or are they avoiding you?
  • Is there a passionate movement around you, however small, of excited well-wishers, including clients and prospects or are you surrounded by people who are indifferent to you and your message?


I have written quite a bit about the process of creating an authentic message for you and your business, products or services. Read more here: Want to Jump Start Your Sales? STOP Marketing!

Need help? At Awayre, LLC, we help businesses carve out an authentic message based on their unique strengths and weaknesses, a message that resonates in the marketplace and helps them create an engaged community of people who are eager to do business with them. For more, information contact me at bhavesh@awayre.com.

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