Small Business Lessons from the Campaign Trail

By Beacon Staff

Plenty has been written over the last week or so about the Obama campaign’s use of technology and social media (much less a zillion other things). There will be more as information about the design of the internals of the campaign are revealed or discovered.

Regardless of your politics, I suggest you read all of it, as there are important examples to use in your small business.

For example, late on election night, Mashable.com summarized notable social media and technology events during the 2008 Presidential election campaign.

A fundamental lesson of all of these social marketing tools, technologies, video sources and collaborative sites is matching your message to the market you’re trying to attract.

It means speaking to the prospect or customer using the language they use when discussing the topic they’re interested in. Or the need they have. Or the want they have.

For example, if you look at MySpace.com and check out the Obama campaign’s page, you don’t find just one profile. You find one for *each state*. If you go elsewhere, some things are similar, but some are not – the message is different. Not necessarily the overall message, but how it is presented and the words that are used.

You don’t find a MySpace-like message in MySpace lingo on LinkedIn (where the audience is all business people) any more than you would talk to a 45 year old customer in the same way
you’d talk to your teenage kid.

Look at your business communications, such as brochures, ads and other ways you attract new customers. Are you using the right language and the right lingo for the type of person you are trying to motivate, or are you using the same message for every possible customer.

It’s easier to use the same message for everyone, but it sure doesn’t sell like a message that’s fine tuned to the audience. You certainly don’t want to be treated like that, do you?

MTV Total Request Live and the Lawrence Welk Show are music shows…with wildly different audiences. If you tried to talk with the MTV crowd about the Lennon Sisters, they’ll look at you like you’re from Mars. Likewise, if you talk about Korn to a Welk viewer, they’re likely to think you mean a crop from Iowa, not a heavy metal band from Bakersfield California.

The mistakes don’t have to be that extreme.

Last week I was chatting with the owner of a business that does mechanical work on a special kind of a common machine. The owner noted that they have experts in common areas of work needed not only for special machines, but the kind of machines that any of us might own.

The concern was that people who own a “regular” machine weren’t asking their business to do that work, only the special machine owners were bringing their equipment there for work.

I suggested that no one knows they do that kind of work on normal machines because of their message and positioning.

Their message speaks to the enthusiast, The name of the business effectively says “We build and work on specialty machines”. It doesn’t even begin to send the message “regular work is done here on regular machines”. If you want to attract someone who needs quality work done on a regular machine, you have to speak their language. You aren’t going to attract them with a message that says “we do high end custom work only on specialty machines.”

The owner I was speaking with grasped the idea (and the solution) quickly once we discussed the problem from the customer’s point of view.

That’s the key. Quoting Robert Collier: “Enter the conversation already going on in the prospect’s mind.” And be sure to use the right lingo.

PS: Thanks to all who attended my Montana West Economic Development Entrepreneur to Entrepreneur (E2) session last week (and to Kim for asking me to speak). It was good to meet readers and talk about their challenges. If you have a topic that you’d like to see covered at E2, contact Kim Morisaki at 257-7711 or [email protected].

Want to learn more about Mark or ask him to write about a business, operations or marketing problem? See Mark’s site or contact him at [email protected].

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